Friday, May 31, 2013

The Man By The Side Of The Road

This Sunday morning's scripture at First Baptist Gaithersburg is the parable Jesus told that has taken on the name of "The Good Samaritan."  You can find it in Luke 10:25-42.  There are a whole lot of things we can 'get' from this parable,  but I'd like to focus on just one for the blog today:  the man by the side of the road was naked.

Now before you go looking all weird at me, let me make my point.  He had been attacked by robbers who beat him up and left him near dead and who then stole all his clothes.  This means that there was no way for those who passed by him on the road; the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan to have any idea who he was, what ethnic group he was part of, or what economic class he came from.  He couldn't even talk so his accent or language couldn't give him away.  He was simply a man in need.  Apparently, to Jesus, that's all we need to know when Jesus tells us to "go and do likewise."

Three additional quick 'bullet points':

  • How much does this man remind you of Jesus' saying, "I was hungry and you feed me, naked and you clothed me, homeless and you took me in......as you did to the least of these, you did it to me"?
  • Tie that awareness to the fact that Jesus would, not to distant from the telling of this parable, be stripped, beaten, and left to die on a cross on the side of the road.  The meaning of this man in the parable takes on great importance.
  • Finally, it may be worth noticing that while the wine and oil that the Samaritan used on the stranger's wounds was part of a 1st century 'first aid kit', they are also elements of the daily temple sacrifice.  Jesus telling about them is, I think, another way of pointing out that regardless of what our gifts and sacrifices are in church, unless they are repeated in our daily lives as we come across the wounded and hurting, they will mean nothing.
It may be that we've focused so much on the Samaritan (and there is a bunch of stuff to focus on) that we miss that the most important person in this story is the man on the side of the road.  For it is in him, both in the parable and in our lives today that we meet and help or ignore Jesus.

Hope to see you Sunday.
Shalom

Friday, May 17, 2013

Pentecost Every Day?

I have spent this week in Nashville, TN at the Festival of Homiletics.  It has been a mind boggling experience to be surrounded by so many people committed to improving the way we preach the Gospel.  From as far away as Australia and as close as down the block from where we're meeting they've come.  And then there are the ones who are leading the workshops, giving the lectures, and preaching in our worship services.....incredible.  They are incredible both for the quality of their preaching, and for the vulnerability with which they share their own struggles with this task of finding the words again and again and again to hopefully draw folks toward the Kingdom.

Some of the things they've said to us are, frankly, scary.  We look at one another during the lunch breaks and go, "could I do that? could I preach that way to my congregation?"  I'm pretty lucky...I serve a congregation that has been, so far, very open to different ways of approaching things.  But I did have one truly frightening moment.

My frightening moment occurred in a conversation with Rev. Grace Imathiu, a United Methodist pastor from Kenya now serving a church in the United States.  I was telling her about First Baptist Church Gaithersburg and its great multi-cultural composition.  She looked at me and said, "How exciting and scary.....Pentecost every day."  The more I thought about that, the scarier it got.  Pentecost every day.......Pentecost every day.......Pentecost every day?!?!?

What on earth would that look like?  I imagine that even the disciples might have gotten anxious at the idea.  That kind of stuff draws attention.  And attention draws the authorities.  They didn't need to be back under the eye of the Romans again.  So some folks got to hear the good news in their own language...and they'd never spoken those languages before....what would Spirit have them doing next? Pentecost every day?

I've been turning that over and over ever since Grace said those words to me.  Pentecost every day.  What I do know is that it's scary in the same way that going rock climbing for the first time, or down a zip line, or following Jesus.....you know that once you do it, things-and you-won't be the same again...ever.  Pentecost every day.

What would it look like at FBCG?  If being multi-cultural turned into Pentecost every day?  Who would hear the good news?  What languages would the Spirit teach us to speak?  Would they think we were nuts too?  I haven't got an answer yet.  I may not have a complete answer by Sunday either....probably won't.  But I'm going to keep living with this exciting, scary idea: "Pentecost every day" until something breaks open in me.  I'm going to keep praying about it.  I hope you'll be praying about it too....and come Sunday, maybe we can fashion part of an answer together.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Disturbingly Ignored Ascension

This is Ascension Sunday.  The scripture is Acts 1:  3-11.

It's a really strong temptation to preach a Mother's Day sermon and avoid the Ascension all together.  And while my sermon title is "Not A Mother's Day Text," you'll have to come to church to find out what that is all about.

The Gospels don't say much about the Ascension.  I mean really not much.  Mark only gives it one verse-the same with Luke in his Gospel.  And if you think some folks have trouble with the idea of bodily resurrection (something which, by the way, I believe is critical to our faith), they turn absolutely green around this 'ascended into heaven in a cloud' stuff.

The Ascension raises a lot of issues.  First of all, if you believe in a bodily resurrection, where did the body go?  Well, the Ascension takes care of 'disposal of the body,' but is that all it's about?  Is the only thing this is good for is getting rid of a body that we don't know what to do with?  I don't think so.  In fact, it is possible to look at the Ascension as the hinge on which Luke's total picture of the life of Jesus and the growth of the Church swings.  It is the move into a new phase of God's work in the New Creation.

Think of it like this......

When I was a young father and my children were learning to ride a bicycle, there was a 'process' to that learning.  I would run along beside the bike, holding onto the back of the seat so that they could learn balance and peddling without falling down.  Then, I would let go and just run along side so that I could help them stabilize if they needed me.  Now while this isn't a perfect image, it tells us a little bit about what is going on.  When Jesus was among humanity in a physical body, He was God's hand 'on the bicycle' so to speak.  Teaching, healing, demonstrating what the Kingdom looks like in how He related to those around Him.  The Ascension is both the 'letting go' and preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit....which is how God' runs along side the bicycle.'  The image, of course, breaks down in that God in the Spirit empowers our work for the New Creation; and there is never a time when God leaves us to go riding off on our own.....but you get sorta where I'm going with this.

Our task as the Church is to work toward the New Creation, the Kingdom of God, becoming reality.  Scripture tells us in a multitude of places and ways-from Genesis to Revelation-that we are partners with God, called to help in the process of setting right the things in our world that have gone horribly wrong.  Some of those things: particularly sin and death; were things that there was no way for us to deal with-we were, and are, powerless over them.  Jesus dealt with them on the cross.  There are other things: injustice, hunger, violence, etc. that we ARE not only capable of dealing with, but commanded to deal with....this is our call as Church...as the Body of Christ.  Jesus spent His earthly life teaching us how to do so.

So....having conquered sin and death, it isn't that Jesus goes away to wait until He can snatch us up to heaven when we die (though we are promised that we will be with Him when that time comes), it's that God moves now to empower us to do our part in the drama of unfolding the New Creation that will finally culminate in the coming of the Kingdom.

What happens when we look at the Ascension, and our relationship to it, in this way?  I hope you'll join us Sunday when we try to explore a little what this all has to do with you and me in the here and now.

Shalom,
Stephen

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Following The Verbs In The Biblical Story

I have been spending some time this week listening to the Beecher Lectures at Yale University of Rev. Dr. Anna Carter Florence.  They are amazing.  Dr. Florence's background is in theatre and she brings some great insights from theatre into bible study and preparing to preach.

One of her ideas is to take a passage and to focus on the verbs.  Focusing on the various actions in the passage rescues us from getting bogged down in the archaic or the strange and missing what is going on.  The fact that she suggests doing this after looking at the scholarly work around the passage is a good protection against simply reading our current culture into the passage.

When we've lifted out the verbs, she suggests noting which ones grab us...move us in some way.

I was doing this as I prepared for this Sunday's sermon on John 5:1-18, which is the story of the man who had been sick for 38 years and Jesus heals him at the Pool of Bethzatha.  It seems that there is a believe that an angel occasionally comes down and stirs the water.  When this happens, the first one into the water is healed.

In response to Jesus asking him if he wishes to be healed, the man says, "I have no one to help me.  And while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me."

I turned the story this way and that.  I looked a bunch of verbs.  I went over this story using this model with the wonderful Bible Study group that meets as part of the Wednesday night Prayer Meeting at First Baptist Church Gaithersburg.  They came up with a lot of great stuff.....all of which gave me new facets of the story to look at.

Then, a particular verb phrase reached up from the text and grabbed me by the collar.  It was making my way from the quote above.  Think for a minute about what it looks like for a man so sick that he can't get to the pool to be trying to "make my way."  Does he hobble?  Drag himself? Crawl?  What does it do to someone to do this for 38 years?  Couple that with "I have no one to help me."  I have no one, 38 years of lonely, hobbling life at the pool.  What does that do?

When we use these verbs to climb into the story the text is telling, it draws us into the story underneath that story....in this case, the 38 year story of life at the pool.

What happens when we let this passage challenge the way we look at the man begging on the street corner?  When we let it challenge the way we do ministry and mission in our church?  When we let it challenge our view of what Jesus, and hence God, is up to in our world?

Try following the verbs the next time you're reading scripture in your devotional time.  Let Spirit use them to open you to something new.

Hope to see you Sunday.

Shalom