Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Men Who Fear Demons See Demons Everywhere

The title of this blog post comes from the character Brom, the mentor (the Obi-Wan!) from the popular book, Eragaon.  I chose it because it was selected as a quote "For Further Reflection" in a UCC.org contemplation over the focus scripture for Sunday.

And I can immediately see why.  It immediately reminds me of the religious authorities who have been observing Jesus doing what Jesus does:  healing folk and kicking demon butt.  (No wonder I always enjoy playing the cleric.)  And they come to the conclusion that the power that Jesus has over demons must be...


"Men who fear demons see demons everywhere."

I try very hard not be judgmental.  After all, Jesus rightfully points out that the act of judging invites being judged yourself.  But wow, Jesus sounds pretty judgmental himself in this story, doesn't he?

This is maybe one of the most human moments in the story of Jesus.  And in all honesty, I find a lot of comfort in that.  Jesus has been walking long miles and working long, exhausting days.  His fame has spread.  He is beset on every side by people needing his help and he is too good to say "Not right now, come back tomorrow when we're open."  He's too good to say "I'm sorry, it's the Sabbath.  I'm sorry, you're unclean.  I'm sorry, I shouldn't."  And so he is also beset by rulers and authorities who are afraid of the chaos that follows Jesus wherever he goes.

The poor man doesn't even have time to sit down and eat.  Have you ever had a day like that?  I know I have.  Are you at the top of your game on those days?  Or do you get a little...  cranky?  I know I do.  The fact that Jesus was human as well as divine--the very idea that maybe on a day like that he might have gotten a little cranky, too.  Well, maybe I can forgive myself for that failing every once in a while.

There's so much going on in this passage.  It's so chaotic that it's hard to parse out.  Jesus is cranky, yes, but he's still making a point that we need to hear, if we can just listen.

So what does Jesus say?  My power is not demonic.  It just doesn't even begin to make sense that the good things I do come from an evil place.  Everyone will be forgiven the blasphemies they utter--except for those spoken agains the Holy Spirit.  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.

What do all these things have to do with each other?  Is there a common theme in all this chaos?  I think maybe yes.  I think it's all a question of drawing lines, and drawing them in the right places.

The truth is that we were all made in the image of God, inherently good, but capable of going astray.  One of the ways I witness this truth in humanity is that nobody sets out to be evil.  The most believable villains in storytelling are the ones who honestly believe that they're doing the right thing.  It's all a matter of drawing lines and drawing them in the right places.

As a geek, this process of drawing lines makes me think of the Harry Potter series.  So much of that story was about trying to figure out when to follow the rules and when not to, what makes an act good and what makes it evil, what makes a person a hero or a villain, who you should associate with and why...

These are the same issues that the religious authorities I mentioned early were struggling with.  And the answer they seemed to come to is that you always follow the rules.  A good act is a lawful act.  A good person is one who always follows the rules.  A villain is a rule-breaker.

Lawful Evil
The opposite of Law is Chaos.  Chaos is the enemy.  Dungeons & Dragons actually has a great concept that'll help here.  They used to describe a character based on two axis.  One from Law to Chaos and one from Good to Evil.  What I'm trying to point out is that the struggle against chaos and the struggle against evil are not the same thing.  You can get so focused on suppressing chaos that you lose track of being good.  There's such a thing as Lawful Evil.  And it looks like Deloris Umbridge.

Or maybe Caiaphas.

Jesus is redrawing the line, drawing attention to the other axis, uplifting doing good as more important than suppressing chaos.  When he says that blaspheme against the Holy Spirit is the only unforgivable blaspheme, it's like saying that the only unforgivable sin is the rejection of forgiveness.  It feels really obvious when you put it that way, and I think that's what Jesus was trying to accomplish.  These good things I'm doing can't be evil because they're clearly good.  And the only true evil is intentionally confusing the two.

And of course the question, "Who is my family?" will always make me think of Harry.  We don't know what became of Joseph by this point in Jesus's life.  Only his mother and his siblings are mentioned here.  We also don't get to know if they ever actually get in to see Jesus.  I suspect the answer is "yes."  Jesus clearly loved and respected his family.  Mary is the recipient of one of the Seven Words from the Cross.  And his brother James would continue Jesus's work on behalf of the poor with such devotion that he became known as James the Just.  So when Jesus says, "Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother," is not a rejection of his family, but rather a broadening of it.

The family you build.
It's like Harry obsessing over discovering who Lily and James Potter were even as he formed his own family, Ron and Hermione, Ginny, the Weasley family, Sirius Black, Dumbledore...   There's the family you're born with and the family you build.

I think maybe we can all identify with that, right?

But what Jesus is doing here--and Jesus is want to do--is a little more extreme.  And it is something every church should be challenged by as it draws its lines.  The lines that dictate who is "in" and who is "out" of the house, so to speak.  Because if we're honest with ourselves, in many cases, "church family" ends up being code for "impossible for new people to belong."

But what Jesus says it that everyone who does the will of God is family.  Everyone.

How do we know if our neighbor is doing the will of God?

Come on now.  I think if you search your heart, you can tell.  You know instinctually when the Spirit of Truth and Light and Forgiveness is at work in a person.  You can tell when the Spirit that scatters rows of ducks and turns your expectations upside-down is at work.

Because good things happen.

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Lectionary texts

Genesis 3:8-15

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" He said, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" The man said, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate." Then the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this that you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent tricked me, and I ate." The Lord God said to the serpent,

"Because you have done this,
   cursed are you among all animals
   and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
   and dust you shall eat
   all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
   and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
   and you will strike his heel."

Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
   O God, hear my voice!

Let your ears be attentive
   to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O God, should mark iniquities,
   who could stand?

But there is forgiveness with you,
   so that you may be revered.

I wait for God, my soul waits,
   and in God's word I hope;

my soul waits for God
   more than those who watch for the morning,
   more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in God!
   For with God there is steadfast love,

With God is great power to redeem.
   It is God who will redeem Israel
      from all its iniquities.

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture — "I believed, and so I spoke" — we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

Mark 3:20-35

And the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, "He has gone out of his mind." And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons." And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

"Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin" — for they had said, "He has an unclean spirit."

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you." And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

First To Ride One Though...

The scene in the Gospel of John (properly called a pericope, for all you language geeks) which is the scriptural focus for Sunday reinforces the observations I've been making over the past few weeks—that Jesus's role in the Gospels is frequently that of a mentor.

In this case, Jesus's reputation has proceeded him.  Well, his reputation as a miracle worker, anyway.  But for some reason, out of all the Pharisees, Nicodemus seems to be the only one who's willing to follow the logic:  Jesus cannot do the things he does apart from God, therefore he is a man worth listening to.  Throughout the pericope, Nicodemus refers to Jesus as "Rabbi."  The word literally means "teacher," but it certainly has religious and cultural overtones.  We're talking about a specific kind of teaching here.  Not a dry and basic imparting of facts, but rather a process of leading the pupil to their own revelations.  A role which Jesus fills perfectly here.

Somehow I doubt any souls were won this day...
Much has been made of this pericope over the years.  After all, it inspired the phrase "Born-Again Christians" and a single verse out of the 17-verse scene has been used as an evangelical tool at countless sports venues.  (I think it has backfired, by and large.  And in all honesty I'd love to see a John 3:17 sign just once, "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.")

I'm afraid that the simple faith of the Born-Again Christians, while a beautiful and admirable thing, doesn't do justice to this pericope.  There's a real sense of spiritual wrestling here--Nicodemus's path is not a simple one.  The political ramifications of a Pharisee seeking out Jesus for a little Rabbinical instruction (he did come under cover of darkness, you'll notice) and the slow dawning of realization he undergoes (see what the Gospel writer did there?) seems to stand in contrast to the conversion experience frequently associated with the Born-Again movement.

But wait... what is that realization?

What does Jesus mean when he says that Nicodemus must be born again?  Well, actually, this is where language geeks have a leg-up, I think.  The Koine phrase can mean both "born again" and "born from above."  Poets use these kinds of phrases to say as much as humanly possible with as few words as they can:  and I do believe that the writer of the Gospel of John is a poet.

What does it mean to be born again from above?

I believe that Jesus is giving Nicodemus (and the Gospel writer is giving the reader) a prophecy.  In both the sense of a word from God and in the sense of "this is a thing that's going to happen."  In the second sense, it's pretty vague.  Basically Jesus is leading Nicodemus to the conclusion that God is doing a brand-new thing.  Not just a little thing, either.  We're talking about real Game Changer where Nothing Will Ever Be The Same Again.

We're talking about Hiccup discovering that dragons and humans are not mutual adversaries in How to Train Your Dragon.  We're leading up to the idea of a dragon revolution against the Red Death.

In the sense of it being a word from God, though, we can learn what kind of belief is required--the kind that most closely resembles trust in God.  Jesus tells us (Nicodemus, you, me...) that this Game Changer will be like Moses raising the serpent in the wilderness.  It will result in what Mark J. Suriano describes as "...the healing of the world ...so that we might be made whole and entire."

In other words, what God did through Jesus changes everything for the better.

So how should we respond to this good news?

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Lectionary texts

Isaiah 6:1-8

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.

And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!"

Psalm 29

Ascribe to God, O heavenly beings,
   ascribe to God glory and strength.

Ascribe to God the glory of God's name;
   worship God in holy splendor.

The voice of God is over the waters;
  the God of glory thunders,
God, over mighty waters.

The voice of God is powerful;
  the voice of God is full of majesty.

The voice of God breaks the cedars;
   God breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

God makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
  and Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of God flashes forth
  in flames of fire.

The voice of God shakes the wilderness;
  God shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of God causes the oaks to whirl,
   and strips the forest bare;
and in God's temple all say, "Glory!"

God sits enthroned over the flood;
  God sits enthroned as ruler forever.

May God give strength to God's people!
  May God bless God's people with peace!

Romans 8:12-17

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ — if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

John 3:1-17

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.' The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

You Sound Welsh

I have a problem today.

The best geek illustration of Pentecost—isn't.

Hold still for your injection of
Translator Microbes, sir!
No, they won't do the cuss words.
Now hold still.
When I read the story of Pentecost from a geek perspective, I immediately find myself remembering some of my favorite Star Trek episodes.  Some of my favorite moments from Farscape, and Doctor Who.  And, of course, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

I'm talking about the Universal Translator as it appears in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Darmok" and the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Sanctuary."

I'm talking about the way Translator Microbes do nothing to help the rest of the crew understand John Crichton's Earthly pop-culture references.

I'm talking about the wonderful moment in the Doctor Who episode "The Fires of Pompeii" where Donna Noble learns that the TARDIS is psychic and provides translations directly into its passengers' minds.
Quick as she is, Donna immediately understands that while she's speaking modern English, the people she's talking to in Pompeii are hearing Latin.  And then she wonders what would happen if she tried to speak Latin.
So Donna, a modern-day Welshman, approaches the nearest merchant and busts out with  "veni vidi vici!"
To which the merchant slowly and carefully replies, "Me no a-speak Celtic!  No can do, missy!"  And the Doctor adds, "Welsh, you sound Welsh."

And, of course, I'm talking about the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy's Babel Fish:

"The Babel fish is small, yellow, leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe.  It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier, but from those around it.  It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with.  It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain which has supplied them.  The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language.  The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish."

Maybe some day I'll devote an entry to the philosophical load of dingo's kidneys that is Oolon Colluphid's best-selling book, Well That About Wraps It Up For God.  But not today.  That screwy intelligent design argument against the existence of God isn't my problem today.

My problem is Phlebotinum.

The TV Tropes site describes phlebotinum as "...plot fuel.  Without it, the story would grind to an abrupt halt. It's the science that powers the FTL drive on the starship so the characters can get somewhere...  things unknown to science or magic that do basically anything.  The reader does not know how Phlebotinum would work and the creators hope nobody cares."

Why is this a problem?  Because TV Tropes also accurately describes Translator Microbes and the like as phlebotinum.  And then they go on to cite the power of tongues at Pentecost as an example.

So is that what's going on in the story of Pentecost?  That powerful moment when the Holy Spirit descends on the disciples and they begin to preach to the diverse crowed in Jerusalem—each in their own tongues...  is it just plot fuel?

No.  No I don't think so.

The Holy Spirit is a way more important character than a simple phlebotinum.  And this event is a more important plot point than any Translator Microbes.  It's actually on par with the idea that Han shot first.  If Han isn't a complete amoral scoundrel at the beginning of A New Hope, then it's no surprise when he saves Luke at the last moment in the Death Star run.

Think of it this way:  The Tower of Babel (for which the fish is named, by the way) is when Han shot first.  The gift of tongues at Pentecost is Han saving Luke in the Death Star bombing run.

In the story of the Tower of Babel, humanity is cursed with a multiplicity of language so we cannot work together.  Apparently we were a danger to ourselves and others when were able to put our collective minds to it.

Pentecost represents a reversal of that position.

Because if we use our powers only for good, imagine what we could do if we put our heads together!

Use your powers for good,
Rev. Josh

Lectionary Texts:

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs — in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power." All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'"

John 15:26-27:16:4b-15

[Jesus said:] "When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

"I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, 'Where are you going?' But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts.

"Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

But With The Blast Shield Down...

In the previous post I told you about the Farewell Discourse of Jesus.  I likened it to the final words of Yoda, for example.

But Jesus's relationship with his disciples might be better described by the example of Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Teacher.  Mentor.  But the kind who walks side by side with you.  The kind who sets out on the adventure with you.  The kind who travels with you.  The kind who adventures with you.

Think about it this way:  The disciples are Luke Skywalker, whining that they can't see anything with the blast shield down, and Jesus is exactly like Obi-Wan patiently explaining (over and over again) to use the Force, Luke!

Perhaps even more than "There is another Skywalker," the Farewell Prayer or High Priestly Prayer is "You can't win, Darth.  If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine..."  Not that Jesus is speaking to the Big Bad.  But is like a little like the point where Obi-Wan makes darn sure that he's standing where Luke can see his big moment.

As Jesus prays, he is no longer speaking directly to his disciples, but rather to God.  But they're all sitting right there, overhearing the divine conversation.  Luke may not have gotten to overhear Obi-Wan's words, but he got to see them put into action.  And in his angst and confusion, Luke cries out, "No!"

Which also sounds pretty much like the disciples, doesn't it?  Over and over again, they just don't get it.  But the time is coming, and coming soon, where they must stand on their own two feet.  Or twenty-two feet.  You get what I mean.

Of course, Luke—just like the disciples—hasn't been completely abandoned.  He still has the Force.  Heck, he still has Obi-Wan in a very real sense.

And that's what this prayer is about.  The disciples may need to step up, but they won't have to do it without being empowered.  Because before Jesus has his big moment, he petitions God on their behalf.

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Lectionary texts

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Psalm 1

Happy are those who do not follow
   the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
   or sit in the seat of scoffers;

but their delight is in
   the law of God,
and on God's law
   they meditate day and night.

They are like trees
   planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
   and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

The wicked are not so,
   but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand
   in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation
   of the righteous;

for God watches over
   the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

1 John 5:9-13

If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son. Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

John 17:6-19

[Jesus said:] "I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

"And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.

"Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth."

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

There... Is... Another...

There's nothing quite like a good final speech, is there?  I don't mean unintentionally funny "narm" moments.  I'm definitely not talking about intentionally funny "Facing the Bullets" one-liners.  I'm talking about those moments where someone knows they're dying and somehow has time to impart some important last thoughts.

I'm talking about Master Yoda's final moments:
Hmm.  That face you make.  Look I so old to young eyes?
No... of course not.
I do, yes, I do!  Sick have I become.  Old and weak.  When nine hundred years old you reach, look as good you will not. Hmm?  Soon will I rest.  Yes, forever sleep.  Earned it, I have.
:  Master Yoda, you can't die.
YODA:  Strong am I with the Force... but not that strong!  Twilight is upon me and soon night must fall.  That is the way of things ... the way of the Force.
LUKE:  But I need your help.  I've come back to complete the training.
No more training do you require.  Already know you that which you need.
:  Then I am a Jedi?
Ohhh.  Not yet.  One thing remains:  Vader. You must confront Vader.  Then, only then, a Jedi will you be.  And confront him you will.
:  Master Yoda... is Darth Vader my father?
:  Mmm... rest I need.  Yes... rest.
:  Yoda, I must know.
Your father he is.  Told you, did he?
:  Yes.
Unexpected this is, and unfortunate...
:  Unfortunate that I know the truth?
No.  Unfortunate that you rushed to face him... that incomplete was your training.  Not ready for the burden were you.
:  Well, I'm sorry.
Remember, a Jedi's strength flows from the Force.  But beware. Anger, fear, aggression.  The dark side are they.  Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.  Luke...Luke...Do not...Do not underestimate the powers of the Emperor, or suffer your father's fate, you will.  Luke, when gone am I [cough], the last of the Jedi will you be.  Luke, the Force runs strong in your family.  Pass on what you have learned, Luke...  There is... another...Sky...Sky...walker.
I'm talking about the final words of Thorin Oakenshield to Bilbo Baggins:

"Farewell, good thief...  There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West.  Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure.  If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world..."

I'm talking about The Doctor's recorded last words to Rose:
This is Emergency Programme One.  Rose, now listen.  This is important.  If this message is activated, then it can only mean one thing.  We must be in danger, and I mean fatal.  I'm dead, or about to die any second with no chance of escape.  And that's okay.  Hope it's a good death. But I promised to look after you, and that's what I'm doing. The TARDIS is taking you home. [Rose protests]  And I bet you're fussing and moaning now.  Typical!  But hold on and just listen a bit more.  The TARDIS can never return for me.  Emergency Programme One means I'm facing an enemy that should never get their hands on this machine.  So this is what you should do:  let the TARDIS die.  Just let this old box gather dust.  No one can open it.  No one will even notice it.  Let it become a strange little thing standing on a street corner.  And over the years, the world will move on and the box will be buried.  And if you wanna remember me, then you can do one thing, that's all, one thing.  Have a good life.  Do that for me, Rose.  Have a fantastic life.
There are so many really strong examples of what I'm talking about.  But my all-time favorite final speech—and I'm not just saying this because I'm a Christian—is the Farewell Discourse of Jesus.

Jesus has plenty of time to speak to the Disciples while Judas is slinking off to bring men with clubs and swords to arrest him.  But don't worry, I won't quote the whole thing here.  Just the most important part:
 "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.  I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.  I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.  You did not choose me but I chose you.  And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.  I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another."
Be good to each other,
Love one another,
Rev. Josh

Lectionary texts

Acts 10: 44-48

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Psalm 98

O sing to God a new song,
    for God has done marvelous things.

God's strong hand and holy arm
    have given God the victory.

God has made known God's victory;
    and has revealed God's vindication
in the sight of the nations.

God has remembered having steadfast love
    and faithfulness to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth
    have seen the victory of our God.

Make a joyful noise to God,
    all the earth;
break forth into joyous song
    and sing praises.

Sing praises to God
    with the lyre,
with the lyre and
    the sound of melody.

With trumpets and the sound of the horn
    make a joyful noise
before the Ruler, the Sovereign.

Let the sea roar,
    and all that fills it;
the world and those who live in it.

Let the floods clap their hands;
    let the hills sing together for joy
at the presence of God,
    for God is coming to judge the earth.

God will judge the world
    with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.

1 John 5: 1-6

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.

John 15:9-17

[Jesus said:] "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another."

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Form Blazing Sword!

Last week I talked about the image of Jesus as the Good the Shepherd and we His sheep.  Despite the fluffy and sappy art associated with it, it turned out to be a pretty strong image.

This week I get to talk about vines.

Once again, it sounds like a weak imagine.  But it's not.

I dunno if you've ever been to a winery or (much less fun, by the way) needed to clear out wild grapevines, but it's really, really hard to tell which parts are the vine and which are the branches—all of it is just that entwined.

When people talk about having a personal relationship with Christ, that's what it's supposed to be like—an intimacy so completely entwined that it's hard to tell where one part ends and the next begins.

If The Good Shepherd is "You Shall Not Pass" then The Vine is Voltron or (God forgive me) Captain Planet.  One of those deals where combined powers are greater than the sum of their parts.

For the record, Jesus forms the head.
Except, of course, the fact that the special powers (the sweet, sweet grapes) you gain by being entwined with Christ is not a Blazing Sword or a...  a...  whatever Captain Planet's deal was.

It's hard to say what it is without sounding completely and utterly sappy, like some creepy Bo Dallas motivational speaker.  But when you look at the example of the modern Christian saints, you can see how powerful the answer really is.

Mother Theresa

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fred Rogers...

The fruit is love.  Love like Gandalf facing down the Balrog.  Love like a Blazing Sword.

Love for God.

Love for Humanity.

That's the fruit of the Vine.

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Lectionary texts

Acts 8:26-40

Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.

Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go over to this chariot and join it." So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" He replied, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

    "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth.
     In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth."

The eunuch asked Philip, "About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?" Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?"
He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.

But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

Psalm 22:25-31

From you comes my praise
   in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear God.

The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek God shall praise God.
May your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth
    shall remember and turn to God;
and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before God.

For dominion belongs to God,
    and God rules over the nations.

To God, indeed, shall all who sleep
    in the earth bow down;
before God shall bow all
    who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for God.

Posterity will serve God;
   future generations will be told about God,

and proclaim God's deliverance
   to a people yet unborn,
saying that God has done it.

1 John 4:7-21

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God.

So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us.

Those who say, "I love God," and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

John 15:1-8

[Jesus said:] "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

They Mostly Come At Night... Mostly.

Awww!  =D
I suspect that the passage from the Gospel of John commonly known as "The Good Shepherd" usually provokes warm and fluffy imagery.  And I blame Bernhard Blockhorst.  You probably haven't heard of him.  In all honesty, I had to look him up myself.  But I bet you've seen images of his painting, "The Good Shepherd."  Doesn't Jesus look all serene?  And look at how calmly the sheep gather at his feet!

And he's holding a lamb!  A lamb!

All soft, and fluffy...

But that's so not what this passage is about.  It's not a soft and fluffy thing.  It's just hard for us to see it because we aren't shepherds in first century Palestine.

So I've been trying to find a way to express the danger—the legitimate fear—that should be wrapped up in the phrase, "the wolf snatches them and scatters them..."

The closest I've been able to come in gamer terms was one of the very first things that happened to me when I played Red Dead Redemption for the first time.  I've left the ranch for the first time and I'm cantering my way to Armadillo because, quite frankly, I'm not feeling competent enough to gallop yet.

And that's when I hear a man shrilling crying for help.  I reign my horse in, clear leather, and shoot a wolf—just in time to watch the rest of the pack bring the poor guy down.  All in less time than it took for you to read that sentence.

Poor sucker never had a chance.

In real life?  I just have to ask you if you've ever met the gaze of a large dog intent on protecting its territory—or its people?

I'm domesticated!
And now stop and think—that's a domesticated dog.

So when Jesus talks about the difference between the hired hand and the good shepherd—when he says that the hired hand saves his own hide rather than face off against the wolf to protect the sheep.  When Jesus says the good shepherd lays his life down for the sheep—we're not talking warm and fluffy.

We're talking Gandolf facing down the Balrog and crying out "You shall not pass!"

We're talking the Battlestar Pegasus staying behind and stomping on Cylons to secure the escape of Galactica.

We're talking Gorman and Vasquez taking as many Aliens with them as possible with a grenade.

The hired hand sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away because he doesn't care about the sheep.  But the Good Shepherd, Jesus?

He loves us.

Not in a soft and fluffy way.

In a die to defend you way.

So be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Lectionary texts

Acts 4:5-12

The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, "By what power or by what name did you do this?" Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is 'the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.' There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved."

Psalm 23

God is my shepherd,
  I shall not want.
God makes me lie down in green pastures;
  and leads me beside still waters;

God restores my soul.
  and leads me in right paths
for the sake of God's name.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
  I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
  your rod and your staff — they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
  in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
  my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
  all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of God
  my whole life long.

1 John 3:16-24

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

John 10:11-18

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father."