Saturday, October 8, 2016

tossing off the baggage that is pulling down on me

toss it in the river & be free

Most of the time it strikes us as decidedly good news to hear that in Jesus Christ we’ve been adopted into the holy family of Israel…

Well, today is no such day. We hear about the behavior of these Hebrews, and are tempted to protest, they’re not my kin!

The trouble, though, is the behavior we hear about hits closer to home than we care to admit. This stiff-necked people’s conduct betrays a family resemblance, whether we admit it or not…

And that isn’t all that’s unsettling, either. There’s also God’s behavior. God’s behavior that isn’t familiar whatsoever…

In the scripture we watch as these two forces collide
The behavior of a people that’s more familiar than we care to admit, crashing into the behavior of God that’s completely unusual

To really catch the force of this impact, we have to walk back: God chooses Abraham to be the father of a chosen people. God will give that wandering Aramean offspring and a land to inhabit. And in their old age Abraham and Sarah finally give do birth to that miraculous chid of laughter. 
Isaac, in turn. has two sons of his own. The scoundrel younger son stealing birthright from his older brother. Jacob living each day by his whits. That promise following him through all the exploits. Until finally, in Egypt of all places, that promise made to his granddaddy began to look like it might actually be fulfilled…

It’s in the first chapter of Exodus that Pharaoh makes a policy of drowning the newborn hebrew boys, so numerous had Abraham’s descendants become. 
That wasn’t enough to stop God’s promise, though. The child of the reeds was lifted up from the river. In Exodus 9 that same boy stands up to Pharaoh. Moses uttering those famous words, “let my people go.”

With signs and wonders, God does indeed lead the people to freedom from the most powerful dictator in the world. Exodus 7 through 11, recounts the ten plagues. And chapter 14 tells of the Hebrews’ harrowing escape through the Red Sea. In chapter 20 the people get far enough away to stop. At  Mt. Sinai, where God speaks to them directly, giving the revelation of The Law. 
Afterward God calls Moses up the mountain for further revelation. 
God has freed the people. Now God gives them the Law so that they might know how to live in freedom. Next God will lead them to the promised land, fulfilling the promise made to Abraham. 

But to today we stop with the people, chapter 32. Or 40 days after Moses went up the mountain…

For everything God has got the people, we see 40 days is all it takes to undo everything God’s done. 
In his absence, the people gather around Aaron, Moses’ right-hand-man. They ask him to make a god for them. After all, they rationalize, Moses is gone and who knows what’s become of him. Maybe one god is as good as another, they bet…

What’s really troubling, though, is what the people don’t talk about; God.
After all, Moses didn’t bring the people up out of the land of Egypt; God did!
See, the people don’t just ask for a god in lieu of Moses. They’ve already put Moses in lieu of God!
This is how it goes, though. The moment you forget God, you fall into idolatry, assuming we have to be the ones to save ourselves. Even though we know we can’t.
The people try of sooth their anxiety with a golden calf. A stand-in for Moses’ faithfulness. A stand-in for God even.

Tragically this story is no different than a lot of what you might read in any church newsletter, for example. Or, a newspaper…

It’s at this all too familiar moment, that something unexpected happens. As Psalm 106 puts it, Moses stands in the breach. 
Stammering, no doubt. Refaced, sure, Moses speaks up. Apparently shocked by his own actions, his own words fail him; “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin; they have made for themselves gods of gold,” he admits. Then he ventures, “But now, if you will only forgive their sin,” and he can’t finish, his voice trails off.
This is not what anyone was expecting to happen. Least of all, Moses. Apparently.

Unusual though Moses’ behavior might be. Sticking his neck out for these stiff-necked people. It only gets weirder with God’s response to Moses’ insubordination.
Not only does God give Moses a hearing. God actually obeys Moses. Worst of all, God changes God’s mind! God decides not to give the people what they have coming!
You can just sit there, but I know this is outrageous behavior! 
When’s the last time any of you changed your mind? And here God does, even though God’s in the right! That’s crazy…

Moses is stiff-necked with God, and God doesn’t mind! Moses reminds God of the promise all the folks down the mountain have forgotten, and God doesn’t mind!
In this strange moment, God takes this all too familiar scene and does something unexpected! God does what the people don’t: God remembers.

Though the people fail to remember God, God does not forget them. God remembers the promise made to the people, although they have forgotten.

In the end, the very reason God ought to let the people have it, is the same reason God doesn’t! They’re stiff-necked. They deserved to be cast off, but they need to be saved. And God choses their need over their comeuppance. Think of that…

Because it’s strange. It’s not what anyone would expect. That these would be the people God would decide to make a people out of…
But, and here’s the rub, that’s what it means to live by grace. 

God takes this behavior that’s all too familiar, and does something unexpected. When we don’t repent, God does. When we forget, God doesn’t
God flips the script!

And that, sisters and brothers, is what it means to be adopted into the family of Israel. Even with scripture like this.
It’s not the family traits we’ve inherited, although we’re just as fickle. It’s isn’t the genes we share, although we’re just as prone to amnesia. It’s not even our genealogy, although our family tree has just as many crooked branches. 

No, what it means to be a part of the family of Israel is to have a gracious God. A God who remembers, when we forget. A God who repents, when we don’t. A God who will listen to the likes of us.
All to keep the promise made to Abraham. The promise made to you when you were baptized into this dysfunctional family. 

That’s what it means to be made a part of this family. 
To have a savior called, “messiah.” To have a Lord named, “Jesus.” To say that Hebrew who lived briefly, died violently and then rose is the full revelation of what God has been up to since the beginning to this very moment
That’s what God is doing right now: God is bringing you into this family history that continues by grace.
Now two opposing forces collide. 
God meets our infidelity head-on.
Perhaps you’ve forgotten the promise God made to you. Right now, God doesn’t. Perhaps you’ve dug in your heels, refusing to repent. Right now, God does

Right now, God suffers all those sacrifices we’ve make to our sacred cows. Opps, I mean golden calf. Just like that day around the mountain, God does something strange. God refuses to hold onto being right, to have you instead. 
At this moment God’s mercy overwhelms God’s justice, for you.

That’s what makes you a member of the family of Israel. With all the baggage that comes with it. Which is fine, because you have plenty of your own, don’t you? I know I do.

Here’s the good news, God’s going to take that baggage. No longer do your sins determine your family history, now what God has done, what Jesus does. 

You don’t have to be perfect to be a part of this family. To have God love you like a child. You just have to need God. And seeing as how God has brought you here, apparently you do. 

We all do. That’s what it means to be here. To be a part of this family. This is your history. Welcome home. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

i am he that comforts you

who are you to be afraid 

“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
-Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

It used to be that churches did mission by going it alone, starting another congregation. These days, the opposite is true. With fewer resources, congregations are having to learn how to work together. To share assets. To combine what we have, so other things are freed up (ideally for mission).
This is a BIG change. It does not come easily. 
It’s deeply embedded in our DNA to want to do our own thing, to be autonomous. Plus, many of us remember the days when each congregation was filled to the gills, when there was no need for collaboration…
Well, those days are past.
That’s a pretty blunt statement, isn’t it? I believe it is true, so I will say it again: those days are past
All those past habits, they threaten to get in the way of doing mission now. Clinging to our old ways. To something that is no longer. To our own little buildings. To our own preferences. To seeing, not just other Christians but lutherans for heavens sake(!), as competition. All that, gets in the way of mission these days. 
Old habits die hard, and that is true. But thank God we have a savior who can work with death! Isn’t it good news that God hasn’t left us the way we used to be? That apparently God has found us worthy of this trial? (2 Thessalonians 1:5)
Here’s the truth, as long as we keep trying to save the life we used to have, we will die. But, perhaps if we stop trying to save our old life, Jesus can make a new thing happen. Isn’t that what Jesus is always doing? Finding people who are dead, and then raising them up to new life?
I didn’t come up with this, by the way. Jesus said is first and better, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:35)
We’re about to sign a three year contract between Trinity and Faith. This is to share the expenses that comes with a pastor.
This is a big change, and their is anxiety about what that will mean. So, let me tell you frankly, no one on any of the councils (myself included) have any designs. However, we do know that we can’t just keep on doing things the way we’ve always done them
The first step was trying this for a year. The next step is committing to try it for three years. This is both more of a commitment, AND not much of one. Frankly, “contract” is secular language, and I am not wild about it. However, there are those of us who would rather act like a corporation than do something like share a call. Such is life…
This contract will force us to think a little more long-term. This contract will commit us to one another. This contract will free us to look at one another as partners
What comes next? Who knows. That’s God’s business. 
What we do know, though, is that our call is to follow Jesus. We don’t get to call the shots. What comes next? We will only know when God gets there. With, of course, prayer, discussion and discernment. 

So let’s act like this mission is God’s not ours, okay? 
I will, if you will. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

violence without cause

hours 'til the dawn

You know, it’s more true than we like to admit, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

The old and faithful Abraham finally had the child he was promised back in Genesis 21. And Isaac, meaning laughter, has two children, twins of his own. Esau the eldest, and Jacob the huckster. Jacob who has a con going from the start, born holding his elder brother’s heel - trying to steal the birthright. Finally, in Genesis 27 he does steal the birthright from his older brother, Esau. 
And it is from there that Jacob drags the reputation of God’s family through the mud…

Jacob has twelve children himself. And in the scripture passage we just heard, you have to admit; the apple has not fallen far from the tree, has it?

Every single one of the characters in this story has a con going! Why they make “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” look like “Little House on the Prairie” by comparison! 
So much for good, biblical family values!

It all started with Jacob, and we see that being a father hasn’t changed him one whit. He’s still playing fast and loose. Doting on Joseph, his youngest. Not even trying to hide his favoritism from his other boys!

Not that Joseph is any saint, either… 
Just imagine the scene. His brother’s already don’t care for the preferential treatment he receives. Then, one day he comes up, wearing -by the way, the expensive robe his father gave him- and says; “hey, get a load of this dream.”
… And there’s no need to interpret what the dream means, they all get it…

The brothers figure his dream is a forecast of more of the same. More of Joseph being favored. His privilege even forcing them to bow to this bratty, baby of the family…

So one day, while they’re out shepherding, his brothers get their chance. Jacob in a brilliant move, has sent Joseph out to his brothers who can’t even share a peaceable word with him.

While Joseph’s still far off, the 11 brothers hatch their plan. “Here comes the dreamer,” they hiss. “Let’s kill him, then we’ll see just what shall become of his dream.” To make the whole thing look like a freak accident, they fabricate evidence, dipping his robe in the blood of a goat. 
No differently than when their dad slaughtered a goat to cheat his brother, Esau, out of the family inheritance back in Genesis 27. 
No, the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, has it…

Before they can act on their plan, though, there’s a twist. Reuben the eldest intervenes. “Let’s not kill him,” he reasons. “Just toss him in this pit. After all, he is our brother,” he intones; like the arrogant eldest he is.
Now, don’t be fooled. 
Reuben’s doesn’t have anyone’s intentions in mind, but his own. He’s planning to be the hero! He’s fixing to double-cross his brothers. When they’re gone, he’ll rescue Joseph, take him back to the old man and finally get the respect he’s deserved all along.

In this sleazy affirm, Reuben’s working his own angle! No different than daddy dearest, always plotting to advance his own narrow self-interest. 
No, the apple has not fallen far from the tree…

Well, his brother’s never suspect Reuben. So, instead of killing their brother, they just toss him in the pit. 
Once that’s done, they spread out to have a picnic. Reuben sneaks off, waiting for his chance to play the hero… 

But then, there’s another twist! Judah looks up and sees some merchants, and he gets an idea. They could make a little money out of this. 
“Boys, you’ve got to have that entrepreneurial spirit,” he insists. “Look here, we could sell Joseph. No reason not to make a little money.”
And presumably the brothers only kick themselves for not coming up with that one on their own. Not a one of them protests to this idea…
In no time, they make a deal. Joseph and his dreams are gone, and they’ve turned a profit! 
I don’t need to say it, do it? They’re all a bunch of cons! There isn’t a single honest one in the lot!
No, the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. They’re all Jacob’s kin…

But then there’s a twist none of the brothers counted on…
Bringing the tainted evidence to their father, they give the prized robe back to their dad. “Joseph won’t be needing this anymore, don’t you think,” they ask. Jacob sees the robe covered in blood, and connects all the dots; Joseph, his son is dead.
Instead of choosing a new favorite, though, Jacob refuses to be consoled. Even in death, Joseph will still be Jacob’s favorite…
Their plan has failed to displace Joseph as the apple of their father’s eye…
Now that’s where our lesson takes a big jump. Skipping over Joseph’s unlikely rise and fall and rise again, from slave to second in command of the world’s most powerful nation, Egypt. 

It’s Genesis 41 when Joseph gets his chance, interpreting Pharaoh’s dream of impending famine.
Joseph tells Pharaoh to stock up during the seven years of plenty, because there will seven years of famine afterward. He’s right on. When the famine does hit, Pharaoh’s storehouses are stocked. Everyone has to come to him to buy grain. Sold at a profit of course. Joseph makes Pharaoh very rich… 

Apparently, although not an Egyptian, in Joseph’s narcissism Pharaoh saw an ally. 
After everything, Joseph is still no different. If he can gain an edge, you can bet he’s going to take it.
No, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. He’s still Jacob’s son at heart…

Then there’s yet another twist. One even a guy like Joseph couldn't have seen coming.
In Genesis 42, Joseph’s brother go to Egypt to buy grain. Even after all these years, Joseph still recognizes them. All decked out in his regalia, though, the brothers don’t recognize him
Seeing them, it all comes back
Growing up in those fields that make the palace look shabby, being the apple of his father’s eye, but not because his ability to turn a profit. 
He also remembers, though, his brother’s betrayal.

He can’t bring himself to just let bygones be bygones. He jerks his brothers around. Accusing them of espionage. Threatening the death sentence. The brothers are scared witless, of course. 
Eventually, though, it’s just too much. Joseph can’t keep it up. Weeping, he breaks down, revealing his identity to his brothers. 

It’s the moment from back in Genesis 33, all over again. When Jacob and Esau are reconciled. When, instead of bearing a grudge for all his trickery, Esau forgives his brother Jacob - their dad.

You see, the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. 
But now they’re acting like family in a way none of them would ever have imagined. Now they’re acting like their uncle, Esau. Apparently that moment of forgiveness had a bigger impact than any of them knew…
In the end, it turns out the bond of family of God is stronger than any of their sins. Reconciliation is more powerful than their own intentions. 

And there’s the twist no one saw coming…
It is at this moment that Joseph’s dream is finally fulfilled, isn’t it?
The brothers do indeed brothers bow to Joseph. But not in service. Instead they bow in love love. 
In love that dares to beg for reconciliation. In a love that’s brokenhearted
The brothers had intended to displace Joseph from their father’s love and undo his dream. But all the while, behind the scenes and certainly in unexpected way, God has been at work. God has intended it for good in the long-con of surprising grace, unscrupulous goodness. 
No one has mentioned God, not even the Scripture we just heard. And that’s the point! What God is up to can’t be spoken of, not until you look back and see that God’s been working an angle all along!

And that’s the twist not even you saw coming.
The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. No.
But the tree isn’t Jacob. It isn’t Isaac, either. And it certainly isn’t Abraham. It’s God.
Everyone of them, they’re con artist. 

But the biggest hustle in this story, is God’s.
God who stoops down to a family feud. 
God, who would take fratricide, to wrest good. Who would take hubris, to do good. Who would take even greed, to further good. Who would take a family of hucksters, to be about goodness

God the conman who would take all their dubious intentions, and put them in service of God’s great long-con. The con of surprising grace. Unscrupulous goodness.

That’s what it means not to fall far from the tree, you know. It’s being a forgiven con, living by grace… 

What? You don’t believe me???
This isn’t how any self-respecting God would behave, you protest? And beside, you say, the world doesn’t work like that anyway?
Perhaps not. Or, perhaps you too are in a hustle. A twist not even you can see coming…

No? …Well, fine. 
I’m not going to try and convince someone like you, anyway. You have got your own intentions, I see. You’re not about to be conned, are you??? 

Have your own way then. That’s the kind of people you are. As they say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…

Sunday, September 18, 2016

do not dismiss the promise

 that you made me

You heard the scripture. The only thing you can say after hearing something like that is, what are we going to do with a God like this?

This God who won’t be practical. This God who seems to think promises are more important than power.
This God who won’t play by our rules. This God we’re, frankly, not sure what to do with…

In fact, before God is finished with Abram, the poor guy will have to change his name. So different does he become. Apparently, Abram wouldn’t recognize the man on the other side of it all. After God’s has had God’s way with him, Abram won’t do anymore. God’s work has changed him completely, from then on out he will be Abraham. 

This is a God we’re not so sure about. 
See, the problem for folks like us is, we have more in common with Abram, than we do with Abraham…

In the scripture for today Abram is going about the business of everyday life. Filling out his life-insurance policy, he looks at the next of kin blank. With a pang of sorrow he begins to write in the name, not of his child, but a slave that was born in his household.

This is the sort of business we occupy most of our time with. The little, practical things of life. We’re a salt of the earth people. We keep our nose close to the grindstone. 
Which is why God’s response to Abram is so, well, off-putting.

God doesn’t console Abram. God doesn’t tell the guy he understands. God doesn’t even ask him to sit down and tell him how he’s feeling. 

Instead, God yanks the guy outside and points up. “You see those.” God barks. “Look at all the stars. You know what, count them. If you are able.”
“If I can do all that, Abram, don’t you think I can stay good on my word?” God puts it to Abram. Then, while Abram is still looking up, God says something unbelievable, “numerous as those stars are, so will your offspring be.”

Abram’s just trying to be practical. And God has him wasting his time counting stars!
Folks, what are we to do with a God like this?

This God who won’t be practical. This God who seems to think counting stars is more important than having your insurance in order.
This God who won’t play by our rules. This God we’re not sure what to do with…

That isn’t all, either. Before the episodes is over, it will get even more audacious. Before Abram regains his balance, God doubles-down!
“This land that you’re camping in,” God gestures. “It’s all going to be your’s.”

That’s too much, of course. Abram can’t just nod-along. Rubbing his eyes as they adjust from looking into the night sky, he asks, “how am I going to know.

Abram’s a consummate practicalist. If he’s really going to inherit the land, his name ought to be on the deed. Instead of drawing up the paperwork, though, God tells Abram to get a sacrifice ready. 
Why, it’d be like your realtor telling you they’ve got a great scoop. But when you ask them to show it to you, they tell you to meet them at church! 

What on earth are we to do with a God like this?
This God who refuses to be practical. This God who seems to think something like a promise is more important than having the paperwork notarized.
This God who won’t play by our rules. This God we’re not sure what to do with…

There’s more, though. 
Before Abram can even get around to asking about the deed, God adds a rider. “This land will be your’s, Abram. But here’s the thing, you won’t live to occupy it…”

And of course Abram is at a loss for words.
And just as well, because God ends the whole thing with the most audacious act of all.
God. Goes. Through. The. Animals. Sacrificed!

Let me tell how these covenants worked. Person A in making a promise to person B, would make would walk between the animals. In effect, Person A invoked the same fate upon themselves if they didn’t keep up their end of the deal.

God shows Abram, “you will have offspring and you will have land. Impotent though you may be, long dead though you may you be before any of your kin settle it.” 
“It’s all as good as yours, right now. You have it in trust. And if I don’t keep this promise, well then, may I be suffer the same fate as these animals I pass between.”

What are we to do with a God like this?
Consider the solemnity of what God does. Consider the audaciousness of it. That God would risk death for the old man!

This is a God who won’t be reasonable. A God who would risk death instead of just prescribing fertility drugs or registering the deed.

This God won’t play by our rules. This God we’re not sure what to do with…

The truth is, we understand Abram. We get him. We share his concerns. The trouble, though, is God won’t deal with Abram the way we expect. Every time Abram asks God for some perfectly reasonable guarantee, God just raises intensifies that first promise!

We’re not sure what to do with a God like that. 
And of course, neither was Abram. 
That’s why, by the time everything is said and done, Abram name will change. So different has it all made him. 

And in the end, that’s all you can do with a God like this. A God who refuses to be practical. A God who decides to care for you by doing something like making you a promise. Risking death.

God makes a promise to Abram that’s too big to turn into a life insurance policy and too wide to put on a deed. All you can do with a promise like that, is believe it. Trust the one who makes it. 

Which is exactly the way God prefers it. When Abram’s counting the stars, over the moon at the one who made such a promise, God counts that as righteousness

This is what God wants. This is God’s will for you. To believe God’s promises. Trust the one who makes them. 
This is righteousness. This is what God’s looking for. 

First God promised a family and the farm, and then God makes a covenant with Abraham. And between those two things, faith happens. Between the promise and ritual, faith is created.
Which is what God reckons as righteous. 

Right now, you stand in the same place as Abram, don’t you?
Only it’s reversed, isn’t it? 
You’ve had the ritual. I already declared that in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, your sins were forgiveness. You need to hear the promise.

So listen up, here’s the promise - and it’s a whopper; you are the evidence of God’s fidelity to Abram. Let me say that again, you are the evidence of God’s fidelity to Abram.

God made an oath to Abram; property and progeny. God took it so seriously God risked death. 
And for you, God died
In Jesus Christ God died, so that the promise made to Abram would be fulfilled. That God would make a family for Abram. Not bound by biology, but rather what God has done. By faith, as St. Paul says. A family formed by God’s determination to gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 
You are the consequence of all that, God’s fidelity to Abram. You are the consequence of what Jesus has done. 

What was promised to Abram, in Jesus Christ happens to you. In Jesus Christ, God delivers the promise of old through you, to you. In Jesus Christ, you are an offspring of Abraham. In Jesus Christ you are a part of the great history of God’s people. It’s full of twists and turns. Unexpected ups and downs.
But all the while it’s couched in this incredible, unexpected, unstoppable love of God.

For now, yes, we walk by faith. Just like like Abram. 
And, just like Abram you won’t see the promise fulfilled until after you’ve passed on. 

But God has made you this promise. God has even died to deliver this promise to you. To forge you into the family of God. To stay true to Abram.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

i want to start again

sunsets, new babbling man

It may have been the first time, but it certainly wasn't the last. And you know what I mean…
We start here, at “The Fall.” And where else? After all, this is as far back as we can go. Our eyes have been opened, we can’t see how things were before…

This account of God carefully creating everything, zooms onto this day. We watch as the first article of the creed, happens. God, the caring Father creates heaven, earth and all that’s in-between. 
The verdant creation. All the animals of the field and birds of the air. God’s search for a suitable companion for the Adam. Finally forming another human. The barely contained joy over all that God has done; “This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh,” cried Adam. 

But of course we all know what happens. 
And not because we’re biblical scholars. No. We know this story because it’s our story. 
The fall is tragic. But not only in and of itself. It’s tragic in its all reoccurrences, its many manifestations… 
This is the story that proves the old saying, “It may have been the first time, but it certainly wasn’t the last.”

After all these years, we’re still no different than the first two humans. Surrounded by all God’s goodness, we too doubt God’s good intentions…
And that’s what’s happening in this story, you know.

This isn’t a story of rebellion or Sin’s coercion. Adam and Eve don’t storm heaven. The serpent has no real power. The only power the serpent has is that of suggestion, which is the merely the lack of faith’s power…

It all starts with the serpent coming up to Adam’s companion, Even…
And before we go any further, none of this “it’s was all Eve’s fault” nonsense, guys. First, Adam already tried to throw the poor woman under the bus once, and God wasn’t convinced then. Second, the Bible is clear. Adam is there the whole dang time. He never speaks up. When he’s handed the fruit, all he does is shrug and take a bite! And another thing, Eve is described as Adam’s “helper.” You know who else the Bible describes as a helper? God. Yeah…

Now that, that’s clear up, let’s go on.
The serpent comes up. “God didn’t say…,” the snake ventures.
“That’s right,” Eve replies. “God didn’t. There’s just the one tree we can’t eat of,” or, she adds, “touch it. If we do, we’ll die.”
The serpent sees his chance, and strikes. “You will not die. God’s only trying to scare you,” the serpent lies. “Take this and you will see good and evil for yourself, God knows. You too can be like God.”

Then, Eve looks at the tree in a different way. Not as God’s, but as something to take.
Notice her evaluation, though. That the fruit is good for food, a delight to the eyes, and desired to make one wise. 
Did you catch that??? Eve already knows good!
All there is to gain from eating the fruit, is to know evil too.
Surrounded by all the goodness of God, Eve imagines in her heart of hearts that God is still holding back! After all, there’s evil to know too…

Well, it may have been the first time one of us doubted God, but it certainly wasn’t the last. Was it?
We are no different. Surrounded by all God has given us, we still doubt. Maybe God is holding back something great. After all, we think, there’s evil to know.

And just as Adam and Eve couldn’t predict, let alone bear, the consequences of their action - neither can we
Now they know evil. And their vision is forever changed. Now everything looks different. Had God not expelled these two from Eden, they would have destroyed it themselves with their newly tinged sight. 
It may have been the first time, but it certainly wasn’t the last, was it? After all, we know what that’s like, don’t we? 
To take something we shouldn’t, only to have our vision forever mutilated. Like the first time we lied, and then lived doomed to always look at others and wonder if they weren’t lying right back to us…

There’s more to sin’s consequences than just that, though.
These two learn to take for themselves, but now their harmony is broken. Now the two look at each other, and there is shame. Taking fig leaves and try to hide from each other, in plain sight. 

Yes, it may have been the first time, but it certainly wasn’t the last, was it? After all, we know what that’s like too, don’t we?
We also look at one another with sight tinged by self-interest. We try and hide our true selves from one other. So many people living under the weight of constantly living under the scrutinizing gaze of other’s interest. 

But the final blow comes when they hear a rustle in the leaves behind them… 
Martin Luther, commenting on this story, said it was probably only the breeze. When you’re guilty, though, you constantly expect the other shoe to drop. Adam and Eve are no different. 
They hear the trees rustling, and they bolt. Trying to hide from the one who had made everything with their care in mind. It’s sad, isn’t it?

Well, it may have been the first time, but it certainly wasn’t the last, was it? After all, we know what that’s like, don’t we?
You don’t need me to climb up here in the pulpit and convict you with your sins. Your own consciousness is doing a fine job, I’ll bet. Those times you were driving down the highway and you spotted a cop car. You foot went instinctively to the break, even if you we’re going the speed limit. We cannot escape your consciouses. 

Sin is its own punishment, isn’t it?

This story, the fall, it’s tragic. But I submit to you, this is no mere tragedy. This is something else. Something more. Don’t forget, the story doesn’t end here. It doesn’t end with Adam and Eve pathetically running.
Something happens.
God shows up. God shows up, walking. In human form…
Right when Sin threatens to ruin everything, God shows up. God doesn’t sit back to wait and see what will happen. God doesn’t leave the two to their own consequences. God shows up. Shows up walking, embodied, in human form. 

This thing God does, reverses the whole story. And I mean all of it. From Adam and Eve, all the way to you. In fact, this thing God does even transforms the old saying from a cynical observation to a Gospel shout!
It may have been the first time, but it certainly wasn’t the last.

Folks, from the very beginning God has determined to be gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 
God won’t let what we’ve unleashed, overtake us. God shows up. God shows up, walking around, in human form, calling out. Searching for terrified sinners. 
Sin may be its own punishment, but God refuses to leave you to its power

Even here, at the beginning. As far back as we can go. Our plight may be exposed. But so it our hope. Our salvation.
As soon as Sin and all its consequences rear their ugly head, God doesn’t lose a moment. God shows up. Shows up in human form, walking.
And that may have been the first time God showed up, but it most certainly won’t be the last. 

Two-thousand years ago, God showed up too. Walking. In human form. Searching out lost and terrified sinners. It surprised everyone. But given the first thing God did once Sin showed up, it shouldn’t have. 

And today. God is shows up today too, you know.
You may not have been expecting it. Perhaps you thought you were just going to church. You had consigned yourself to evil and all its consequences. Given the first thing God did once Sin showed up, though, you should have expected more

It’s the old saying all over again. Only now God has transformed it. 
It may have been the first time God showed up, but it isn’t the last.

God heals the rift. God does this by reversing the whole thing. Sending the Son to walk amongst us, to reconcile us first to God. Then, having peace with God, we finally have true peace with one another. We finally have eyes that can see good
We’ve seen enough evil, haven’t we? We could use seeing some good. 

God does this, right now. The reversal of the Fall happens to you, today. Do like Eve, only backward. Take the fruit! Only the fruit from the tree of life, instead; Jesus himself. 
The Holy Spirit already offered you this fruit as your sins were forgiven. 
Here’s the thing, the serpent may be crafty, but the Holy Spirit is relentless. Even now as you dare to believe that simply by taking Jesus for yourself, you could be healed of your Sin, the fruit of life is offered to you again. And that’s not all, in the holy meal, around the table, the fruit of the tree of life will be offered to you again, Jesus’ very body and blood. 

This account of the first and only sin, may be the first time God showed up, but it isn’t the last. 
This God who shows up, walking; comes for you. Just as it was for Adam and Eve, so it is for you. You can’t escape this God. This God who creates everything with care, this God who takes human flesh, hasn’t given up since the beginning, and this God isn’t about to give up now

Yes, you know the story of the beginning, the fall. But in Jesus Christ you also know the end
The God who shows up, walking, will not let Sin ruin the whole thing. This God is determined to rescue us from our sin. 

The fall may have been the first time God showed up walking around searing for terrified sinners, but it wasn’t the last. Not by a long shot. Believe me. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

i took your counsel

& came to ruin

Perhaps you’re wondering why, exactly, our first lesson is the one we just heard. After all, it sounds… well… just a little… familiar, doesn’t it?

Don’t be fooled, though, the lessons is not a repeat of last week’s…
Well… Not exactly, anyway.

Last week we heard the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai; right after the Israelites had been freed. Today, though, we hear the reiteration of these Ten Commands; 40 years later. Right before the Israelites leave the wilderness for the Promised Land. 

Here, Moses is giving his final sermon. All he can come up with though, is that old refrain again. “Second verse, same as the first; a little bit louder, a little bit worse!”

Moses’ uncertainty about how well those commands took the first time, is betrayed. Apparently Moses isn’t exactly confident in the mettle of those who are about to inhabit the property promised to Abraham long ago…
Apparently before God’s people come into the Promised Land, Moses feels the need to restate a few things…

Here, right before God’s promises to Abraham of progeny and property are fulfilled, Moses stops Abraham’s descendants and gives this loooong sermon.
All of Deuteronomy long…
Apparently God’s people need to be prepared to receive what was promised long ago. It is as if getting what they’ve been waiting for, is as much of a threat to their faith, as waiting for it was…
Like that song on the radio warns, “getting what you want can break your heart.”

So before God’s people settle the land God promised, Moses gives an extended sermon. A sermon about what it means to be God’s people in the land they’ve been waiting to inhabit. A sermon about how to retain their identity as God’s people now that they’ve ended their sojourn… 

…Now the tragedy, of course, is our story shows over and over again that the very thing Moses feared, happened. Beguiled by the blessings, we’ve forgotten the giver of every good gift. Mistaken the gift for the giver…

But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. 
To truly understand this tragedy, we have to know it’s content. Especially since it is hard to hear. Since it is something we vigilantly avoid hearing…

…So… Did you notice the difference between this week’s first lesson and last week’s?
…The truth is, although the change is somewhat subtle, it’s also fairly obvious… 
While most of the lesson is the same. Where it isn’t, it really isn’t… 
The change is, *DING,* you guessed it!
In the Third Commandment. The Sabbath command…

There’s a few significant changes:
First, the command’s range has been expanded. Now the command includes others. No longer is the command to rest only for God’s people. Now everyone who works with, or for God’s people are to enjoy this rest too. 
This is, at it were, the first fair labor-law. 

Second, the command has been inverted. At Sinai, the command began will a call to remember. In other words, remembering God’s deliverance was the motivation to keep the command, to rest.
Now, though, the command is flipped, isn’t it? 
Now it begins with a call to observe the sabbath day.
Now the command makes a promise. Observing the sabbath will remind us of God’s action… 
That’s something, isn’t it? 
We think rituals have to buttress what we already understand. Here, though, it says otherwise. Observing this day will serve to make us understand something we couldn’t have otherwise.

Finally, the command itself has been expanded. Now the command includes why this day is to be kept. What observing this day will remind us of. “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm…”
Now the command says what this day is about, not just rest. Not the rhythms of creation, but God’s deliverance

In the final moments when God’s people stop wandering and begin settling, Moses gives them this last sermon. 
It begins with the Ten Commandments. Verbatim, more or less. Except when it comes to the Third Command, the Sabbath Command…

Now, apparently, the Sabbath command is going to be important in a different way. Now it is going to be easy to forget God’s deliverance. Now it is going to be easy to withhold God’s blessings. 
Now that God’s promise is about to be fulfilled, it will be easy for God’s people to believe they’ve earned what’s been bestowed. Now it will be easy for God’s people to hoard God’s gifts…

Okay. I’m not the only one this sounds familiar to, right?
The reason why Moses retells this sermon, is the very reason why we need to hear this retelling. 
In the often overlooked book of the Bible. In this often ignored retelling of the commands, we see what Paul meant when he said we, Gentiles, have been grafted on to the tree of Israel. 
Their story, is our story. The tragedy that God’s people failed to heed Moses’ sermon, is our tragedy too, isn’t it?

The Ten Commandments given at Sinai aren’t so much for us. We stopped journeying long ago. We put down our stakes. We’ve settled. 
Now the Ten Commands given at the edge of the Promised Land, though, those are for a people like us. A people who have come into a land and settled it. 

We too have been tempted, and maybe have, forgotten the one who delivered us. We too have been beguiled, mistaking the gifts for the Giver of every good thing. We too have tried to hoard our blessings. We too have fallen for the illusion we’ve earned all our blessings.
*Just spend a little time with subsistence farmers in a place like Honduras if you need help getting over that illusion.*

What Moses feared, happened. It’s the story of God’s people, over and over again. It wasn’t only a people called “Israel” who refused to listen to Moses. A people called “Christian” have too, haven’t we? 

Here, I’ll lay my cards on the table. The first week I did the “what” of the sabbath. The second week, the “how.” Today is the “why.” 

Why Moses retold the Ten Commands at the threshold of the Promised Land. Why we hear this retelling today.
Why we do something as odd as give over 14 percent of our days, to something as unproductive of worship. 
It’s because there’s something we need to remember. Something we’ve forgotten, or maybe even never heard. Something we’re dying to be told. Something we can’t believe unless we stop, and someone else tells us.
You’ve stopped. For better or worse, I’m the someone else. 
So, listen up; you’re not here out of habit. You’re not even here because you’re a good, god-fearing Christian; which has always been open to debate, anyway… 

No, the only reason you’re here, is because God has done something; delivered you. You’re here because God brought you out, to hear this: God rescued you with a mighty arm and an outstretched hand. That’s who you are now. That’s your story. That’s our story. God has taken the tragedy of our failure to heed Moses’s words, and transformed it into the story of our redemption.
Never forget that, okay? 
Your sins, they do not define you. Death will not destroy you. You’ve been delivered. 

Keep this day, God will hold true. Simply keeping this day, in and of itself, will remind you of your deliverance. 

In case you’ve already forgotten, and this promise is so easy to lose, isn’t it? 
I’ll say it again: The only reason you’re here is because God has done something; delivered you. You’re here because God brought you out, to hear this: God rescued you with a mighty arm and an outstretched hand. That’s who you are, now. That’s your story, now.
Never forget that.

Keep this day, and God will not let you forget either.