Friday, June 28, 2013

Fit To Follow

I spent the first part of this week with the First Baptist Church Gaithersburg youth group at Impact Virginia in Wise, VA.  It was such a wonderful experience for me....these young people are amazing....the adult who came with them are amazing.  Four of the young people from FBCG were on the construction team I was assigned to.  Watching them work; the energy they brought to the task; the way they teamed with other youth to get the job done made me proud to be associated with them.  And it all fit with this week's scripture about not looking back once you've put your hand to the plow (Luke 9:51-62).  These youth are excited about the idea of following Jesus into places that call for commitment and energy and effort.  It was exciting to see them live that out.

The scripture passage (especially when you add the verses 46-50 right before) are about the demands of following Jesus:

  1. We have to give up our old ideas about greatness and power (46-48)
  2. We have to give up the idea that being 'one of us' is a requirement for following-Jesus points to the idea that there may be a whole boatload of folks doing His will that we know nothing about, or who aren't part of our 'group' (49-50)
  3. We have to give up our ideas about revenge and judgment toward those who don't accept us (51-56)
  4. We have to give up some of the things that give us security (57-58)
  5. Even the good demands of society may need to take a back seat to the claims of Jesus (59-60)
  6. We have to commit to moving forward....the past needs to become the past.  We've put our hand to the plow, and looking back just messes up the straight line we're trying to plow in.  We keep our eyes ahead; on the kingdom, on the cross, on Jesus as we follow Him up the road.
Following Jesus is an activity, not a theological affirmation.  It is a relationship, an identity, a commitment to putting one foot in front of the other-even when we can sometimes hardly see Jesus there in front through the fog caused by our own limitations.

This is the kind of Jesus I see these young people wanting to follow; one who calls them out into the world to serve, who makes demands for commitment, who challenges them to reach beyond their comfort zone.  At least this is what I saw this past week....and it warmed my heart.

We'll talk about it more on Sunday.  Hope to see you then.
Shalom,
Stephen


Friday, June 21, 2013

The Healing Of One Single Man

The story that makes up our New Testament lesson for Sunday is another one of those that many of us grew up on in Sunday School.  In Luke 8:26-39 we have the story of Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee into the "country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee."  This means that Jesus is going into Gentile territory.  Now Jesus may have just wanted to get out from under the watchful eye of Herod for a little bit; or the storm that he stilled in verses 22-25 may have blown the boat close to this region....we really don't know.
 
What is peculiar is that Jesus lands here, heals one man, then leaves.  That's it.  The next verse after this account is "Now when Jesus returned...." (v.40)  Isn't that strange.  For one man, Jesus land in Gentile country, heals him, the sails home to Galilee.   One man.  One naked, crazy, self destructive, lonely, frightened, gentile man.

When I was growing up....in Jr. Hi and High School....it was popular for speakers to tell us that we needed to remember that "if you had been the only person in the world, Jesus would have come to save you."  I heard it a lot.  And frankly, it seemed kind of trite and contrived.  But this story kind of makes me think again about that comment.  This man didn't seek Jesus out, he wasn't in his right mind, he couldn't even respond to Jesus' question about what his name was-answering with a description of his condition.  Yet he was the only one that Jesus heals.  Why?  I don't know.  I just know that Jesus healed him. 

When I am feeling alone and frightened, isolated and not in my 'right mind'; when I think that life has taken me, or I have chosen to go, into places that Jesus would never think of wandering into; when I feel like I'm not worth God's time-or anyone else's for that matter; I need to hear this story again.  This is one of those "Old, old stories" that I need to hear.  Maybe you do too.

Shalom,
Stephen

Friday, June 14, 2013

Willing To Be Plowed

One of the things that I find most interesting about the parables of Jesus is that they can be viewed from so many angles. 

It used to be that scholars thought that a parable had only one point to make.  There was, for them, one single, sharp point that Jesus was trying to teach....and that was it.  Things have changed; now theologians and scholars have caught up with the rest of us and realize that a parable is like a jewel with many facets.  When held up in the light, there are a multitude of things that one can learn about what Jesus was trying to share with His listeners.

One of these struck home to me this week as I was studying the account of the Parable of the Sower found in Luke 8:4-8.  Because this parable is found in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, we can pretty well bet that the early Church thought it was important.

Anyway, in my reading I discovered that nearly everyone kept some kind of garden or crop growing.  In our day we think of a small number of folks who grow the largest amount of food.  But it was not so in 1st century Palestine.  So the "sower" could have been almost anyone.  Another thing that I found interesting about this parable is that you and I (as listeners to the parable) are referred to by Jesus as both "seed" and "soil" in His explanation of the parable.

Finally, though, the thing I'd like to focus on here is the fact that often seeds were sown, and then plowed.  This is why seed could be described as falling on rocks, hard packed dirt, or among weeds.  The seeds were sown and then the ground was plowed, turning the soil and burying the seed.  Now if you and I take the view for a moment that we are "soil," then the question comes up (at least in my mind) "are we willing to be plowed?  Are we willing to have our lives turned over and over by God's processes and God's working so that God's word can take root in our lives?"  Or do we insist that things remain the same; that the boat isn't rocked; and continue to expect that God will work in us?

It isn't, by the way, that God won't work in us.  But it's that God's ability to work in my (our) life is impacted my the willingness to let God break up the 'hard packed' and 'rocky' areas....softening them to make them workable and 'weeding' the places where life's cares have taken over and choke out what is truly important.

This is a challenge to become open and vulnerable to transforming nature of God's activity in our lives.  It is a very, very scary challenge.  It rates for me right up there with my fear of jumping out of airplanes (never gonna happen), and scuba diving (might happen-but the one time I tried was terrifying).  Plus, it calls for a kind of spiritual discipline that most of us find difficult....one in which we are more receptive than active....listening for guidance and being willing to be changed.

I hope perhaps you'll be able to join us Sunday as we continue to explore this parable.

Shalom,
Stephen

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

God's Gumbo

Last Sunday night at our Quest worship service I used an image on the screen that said, "Jesus Wants Your Flavor In God's Gumbo."  I kind of like that.  I sorta stole it from one of my favorite Lutheran ministers, Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber.  Nadia grew up in a very strict fundamentalist church (not Lutheran...not Baptist either); and I was moved when she said, talking to a group of youth in New Orleans a while back, that, "they didn't want my flavor in their gumbo."  I found it sad, in part, because I grew up in a Southern Baptist church where, though I wouldn't have put it that way, I felt very much that way.  My questions, my need to challenge, my political leanings made me one of those who never quite fit it there.

I wish I could tell you that things have changed; that people no longer look at Christians and think "they're against......"  But I can't.  I wish I could tell you that Nadia's tattoos, or my politics, or someone else's style of dress, or their color or ethnicity doesn't alienate some folks from others in some churches.  Sadly, these are still part of the battles we're fighting.

This Sunday is 'Multicultural Sunday' at First Baptist Gaithersburg.  We'll be celebrating the rich diversity of this congregation.  We'll be how glad we are to have such a broad representation of racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds represented each Sunday in worship-and in the ongoing life of this congregation.

But more than this, we are celebrating a commitment to deepening our community as the Body of Christ: our commitment to learning from each other as we explore the ways in which different folks read scripture based on their experiences; our commitment to reaching out to persons who are new to this country and this community; and our commitment to the truth that Jesus welcomes EVERYONE into His Father's house.

I hope you'll be able to join us on Sunday as we celebrate.  And no matter what, remember

JESUS WANTS YOUR FLAVOR IN GOD'S GUMBO!

Shalom,
Stephen