THE REALLY BAD NEWS

Luke 4:21-30 — The Message

He came to Nazareth where he had been reared. As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place. When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written,
God’s Spirit is on me;
he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
recovery of sight to the blind,
to set the burdened and battered free,
to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”
He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he started in, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.”
All who were there, watching and listening, were surprised at how well he spoke. But they also said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son, the one we’ve known since he was a youngster?” He answered, “I suppose you’re going to quote the proverb, ‘Doctor, go heal yourself. Do here in your hometown what we heard you did in Capernaum.’ Well, let me tell you something: No prophet is ever welcomed in his hometown. Isn’t it a fact that there were many widows in Israel at the time of Elijah during that three and a half years of drought when famine devastated the land, but the only widow to whom Elijah was sent was in Sarepta in Sidon? And there were many lepers in Israel at the time of the prophet Elisha but the only one cleansed was Naaman the Syrian.” That set everyone in the meeting place seething with anger. They threw him out, banishing him from the village, then took him to a mountain cliff at the edge of the village to throw him to his doom, but he gave them the slip and was on his way.

When You See No Need to Escape

When You See No Need to Escape

The Really Bad News

According to this reading
Jesus did not come for us first
with the Good News —
he came for those who have nothing.
We already have what we need,
which is enough.
Maybe not everything we want,
but what we need.
I actually think that this is OK
because I do believe that the many
who have always been last,
who live at the bottom,
who seem to find themselves on the outside
of our social and
economic and
spiritual circles,
who,
because of their skin color,
nationality,
gender,
sexual orientation,
mental health,
intelligence,
their economic status,
or homelessness,
live in fear ̶
these are the ones to whom Jesus is referring in this text.
So let’s stop for just a bit
and check in with ourselves.
How do you feel
about hearing Jesus’
words and intentions?
How would you feel sitting in that synagogue
hearing Jesus make these statements of exclusion?
Think about it for a minute or two.
In Jesus’ time the expectations for the Messiah were generally political:
it was hoped he would be the one who would deliver
the occupied Jews out from under the thumb of the Roman Empire.
But then he goes off about not giving them the deliverance
they were expecting for themselves but
offering it to the down-and-outers,
the hopelessly helpless,
the very ones who
were not sitting in synagogue ̶
I can sort of understand those Jews
wanting to shove him off a cliff.
And yet in our own time
don’t we with access
and entitlement
get twisted up trying to co-opt
the pain of others?
In America
there is a ruling class,
and it is basically
white, male or male identified,
and rich,
wanting what it perceives
as its white pain
to be equal
to the pain of the blacks.
And yes,
for those who consider
their entitlement
and their
perceived success
as their right to
being first in line for
a front row ticket
to God’s kingdom,
this is indeed the really bad news.
Privileged men
don’t understand why women want
job opportunities and
pay equal to their own,
and are angered by
the concept that all
humans are humans
and all deserve
the promises Jesus makes here.
And we do deserve them,
and we will receive them,
but after the least of the least
have their needs met.
What I see as a truth
in this text
is that
when we truly
have a need
and pray for help
God answers us,
not because it is our right,
but because in
our asking
we become as the least
of the least.
If we never see ourselves as
least,
or as needing help
or salvation
neither
will be there for us.

JUBILEE: DISTRIBUTING THE LOVE

Luke 4:14-21 — Common English Bible

Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news about him spread throughout the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been raised. On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue as he normally did and stood up to read. The synagogue assistant gave him the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him. He began to explain to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”

transformation detail #22

Jubilee: Distributing the Love

The Jewish people had waited
for the coming of the year of Jubilee —
that special year promised by God.
It was a year
for which they would save up,
putting aside
enough supplies the prior year
so they could live
a full year without working.
Like the weekly Sabbath,
it was full of regulations
and rules, so the people of God
could concentrate on God
instead of hand-to-mouth survival.
Captives were also freed.
Debts were to be forgiven
and written off by the lender,
properties that had been
passed down by birthright
and lost to indebtedness
were to be returned
to the original families.
It was a year of economic leveling.
It was a year of reestablishing equity
and redistributing of wealth among the people.
It was a year of which to dream,
but to avoid in real life
because it meant not only getting stuff back,
but giving stuff up.
Some claim it was celebrated
until the 6th Century BCE
and that the year of Jubilee
had not actually occurred since.
Jesus’ claim here
is that it is in him that the Jubilee is reinstated.
This is why I have come to see
that Christianity itself
should be,
if it is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus
a system of leveling
of the economics of all societies.
I see Christianity as
distinct for Marxism and Socialism only
in that they are systems bereft of God,
or Jesus.
Functionally
and structurally there is not
a lot of difference in the systems.
Because Jesus IS the year of Jubilee
Christianity should be as well.
By extension,
as followers of Jesus,
WE are anointed
to be that year as well.
And as Jesus attempted,
we are to attempt
to free the captives and
forgive our debtors.
This is neither an abstract
concept nor is it a fiction,
it is our commission.
But you see,
it is easier to have our debts forgiven,
than to forgive a debt owed to us.
Redistribution of love,
of wealth,
of health,
of freedom,
of access and entitlement
becomes a messy endeavor
for many Christians
and is a concept
some think might
best left in the pages
of the Bible.
Nonetheless,
while we can’t do it all,
maybe even nothing at all,
we are called to try
to bring about
some part of this year
through the living of our lives.
To discover what part
of it we can do.
It is not just what
we are called to proclaim,
this is what we are asked
to attempt to
live out.

Ephesians 4:25-5:2 — New Revised Standard Version

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Conversion = Turning Over A New Leaf

Conversion = Turning Over A New Leaf

Conversion
What is it that that we
might/ought
change in our lives?
How would we be different
than say we are now?
We all seem to exist
somewhere
between thinking
we are just as spiffy as all get out
and thinking
we are complete losers.
We might not admit to this,
or we might want
to go to war about it,
or make sure to come
up after the service
to point out how you are not
puffed up
or that you think
you are a loser.
Fine.
OK.
So we don’t really steal.
We don’t really lie.
Or do physical, emotional, or spiritual harm to anyone.
Well, maybe…
But if it is true that we are not like this,
why do we take criticism
so personally?
Why do we hurt
so badly when we are maligned?
My point here,
and I do have a point,
is that
we all need to undergo some
form of conversion.
We all need to change
in some way or another.
To rise up just a little higher
on the spiritual evolutionary scale.
Our work is never complete.
I believe that our journey
is never going to be over.
We can always grow
more into
the image of God
that we were created
to become.
Being angry about anything
over a long period of time
is damaging to our own spirits.
Allowing ourselves
to flair out with a napalm bomb of rage
is damaging
to our own soul
and to anyone around us.
Do you trust yourself
more than you trust God?
Do you allow insecurity
and its attendant anxiety to
destroy your own spirit
by not believing you are ever
good enough?
And we might say
we have not committed murder,
but saying things
that demean another’s character,
even if it is true,
is in and of itself a form of
spiritual assassination.
Where is it in your life
that conversion
needs to take place?
What do you need to
do to
become a better
imitator
of the God of all love?

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Psalm 14 — New Revised Standard Version

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
there is no one who does good.
The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise,
who seek after God.
They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse;
there is no one who does good,
no, not one.
Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
who eat up my people as they eat bread,
and do not call upon the Lord?
There they shall be in great terror,
for God is with the company of the righteous.
You would confound the plans of the poor,
but the Lord is their refuge.
O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.

And The Fools

And The Fools

Are the “Fools” Really Fools?

An apologetic for monotheism,
a denunciation of godlessness,
a blow to atheism:
this is one of the intentions
of this Psalm.
I meet people
every day who
deny every tenant of Christianity,
ridicule its existence,
and basically hate God.
But I have been thinking
lately that they might be right
in thinking this
because of the model
of Christianity
with which they have been presented.
Some notions that some Christians hold:
that there is a loving God
who will cast sinners
into a fiery hell,
that homosexuality
can be “cured” by repentance
and salvation,
a denial of science
and the scientific method,
judging that which is
uncomfortable
as a sin,
that claiming the name of
Jesus in some magical formula
is the only way to avoid hell,
that it is somehow OK
to fear and hate other races.
The list goes on and on,
and I wonder how anyone
could possibly be a Christian
if that was the only Christianity
they encountered—
until I remember that being a Christian
should be more about following Jesus
than about claiming Jesus,
and that Christianity
if it is based only upon
doctrine, theology, dogma, judgment, or fear
is faux, false, phony Christianity!
And those
who can’t buy into any of this
sham that masquerades as Christianity
are not fools to deny all of that — however,
they are missing out
on a lot of love and affirmation by doing so.
I do not,
will not,
believe in
or follow a God
or be part of a religion
that is either designed
to encourage and mollify our fears
for purposes of
by naming them as the “norm”
by which others might be judged,
or worship
at any altar built
upon the premise that it is
the only possible altar
at which God can conceivably be worshiped.
When Christianity is molded
around the words and deeds of Jesus
it is a system worthy of my worship.
When Christianity inflicts wounds
instead of facilitating healing,
it is not for me,
and neither is its God.
So I say to any
who think that the God
or the form of Christianity
they have encountered is
sick, or evil, or irrelevant
you are probably correct,
but I strongly suggest
that is not the only
form of Christianity out there.
There are entire communions and churches,
denominations even,
who actively seek to
walk Jesus’ path,
the one that loves unconditionally,
facilitates healing in the world,
affirms all, and welcomes all.
Such is the Jesus-centered Christianity I follow.

I WILL LIVE WHERE I WILL CHOOSE

2 Samuel 7:1-14 New Revised Standard Version
Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.” But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.

In My House

IN MY HOUSE

I Will Live Where I Will Choose

This reading presents an interesting idea.
David wants to build God
a house for God.
God wants nothing
of David’s idea,
not needing a house.
David wants God’s house
to look like it is the
home of the God of
a conquering king.
God is satisfied
living in a tent.
The idea is that God’s desire
for where to worship God,
has nothing
to do with humanity’s need
for design, style, pomp, flair, beauty,
or bragging rights.
Entire cathedrals
have been built on David’s premise.
Super-structures
made of glass and gold,
brick and stone,
taking generations and
entire livelihoods to construct.

WHO ARE YOU?

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Ephesians 1:3-14 — New Revised Standard Version
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Who Are You

The Perplexity of Self

Who Are You?
I once was told by a pastor-friend
of the evangelical/fundamentalist persuasion
that he found nothing to helpful
for himself in anything Jesus said,
but that it was Paul who spoke to him the most.
It has taken me two degrees in theology
and much reflection to figure out
why he would say such a thing.
Thirteen books in the New Testament
have traditionally
been considered
to be written by Paul.
New Testament scholar, Marc Borg,
and others,
have deduced that Paul
may have only written seven of them:
Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians,
Philippians, Philemon, and 1 Thessalonians.
Our text today,
Ephesians,
was not written by Paul,
and not written to the Ephesians,
but to a wider,
more mystical congregation,
worshiping a sterile,
cosmic Christ,
not a sweaty,
earthy Jesus.
Many of the issues Paul faced,
such as the fundamental spiritual
differences between
Jews and Gentiles
in the wider church setting,
were resolved and now in the past
for this writer,
who may not be Paul,
yet who was clearly writing out of the
Pauline tradition and community.
The questions that arise for me
from this text are,
who are we,
who are you,
and who are you not?
By this reading,
members of the “church”
are adopted by God as God’s children,
redeemed, forgiven,
rich in God’s grace,
God’s own.
But this “church,” us,
is, also for this writer,
a spiritual,
mystical, clannish, churchy,
tribal contraption.
Is this who we are, really?
Are you,
we,
really what is claimed
for us in this passage?
Understand,
this writer’s agenda
is more about defining
what it means to be church
and what it means
to be a follower of Jesus the Christ,
than one who walks with
Jesus the man from Nazareth,
and emulates his very
concrete examples
and teachings.
In contrast to my friend,
I have generally been more
of a Jesus-person
than a Christ-person.
Less a follower of the cosmic Christ
than one who walks
with the grittiness of a real human Jesus.
Given the choice,
and I am daily,
I would choose to be
known as one who facilitates healing,
feeds the hungry,
clothes the naked,
and fights for the justice of God,
like Jesus,
than one who is known
by some mystical church membership.
But I only answer for myself.
What about you?
How do you define yourself?
Who do you choose to follow?
And, what does that mean for you?
You see,
I think that the cosmically oriented congregations
tend to stop with worship
not having a lot of connection
to the exigency of
any outside their frame of reference,
while the more identified to the
sweaty, earthy Jesus
have a deeply rooted sense
of the existential needs
of all creation.

IF AS IF

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Mark 4:26-34, New Revised Standard Version He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does … Continue reading