Scripture: James 1:17-27
Why do we do what we do? Why do good people do rotten things? Why do some people that are basically rotten en up doing something good?
One of the greatest images I have read comes from CS Lewis his book The Last Battle, it speaks of a very devoted and honarable man from a land that worships Tash instead of the Great Lion. Those that entered the barn where it was believed to be the dwelling place of Aslan three things happened. For those that believed in Tash were met by the demon and either scared witless or eaten. If they rejected the demon and Aslan found themselves sitting in a dark barn with only dirty water and donkey feed to eat. Yet those that devoted their lives to Aslan found themselves in the most remarkable place, they were in Narnia but in a better Narnia. What is intresting in this story is that there was this one man who devoted his entire life to Tash yet there he was walking in Narnia. They were all confused because to everyone involved it should not have happened.
The answer Lewis gave was that this man who thought he was devoted to Tash was actually worshiping Aslan because he was doing good, one cannot do good without having a spark of Aslan in their life. On the flip side those that do evil in the name of Aslan were actually worshiping Tash, the evil vulture demon.
Lewis wrote in such a creative way, a way that speaks deeply to children and adults alike, a truth that theologians still struggle with today. Who is good and who is evil? And how do we know what and why we are doing things?
In the passage above James, who most believe was the brother of Jesus, says to the readers, “every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming from the Father of lights, with whom there is no varitaton or shadow do to change.” Basically James and Lewis are saying the same thing if you do good thing you are doing them because the spark of God with in you is speaking through your actions. Now that may make some of you very upset because some very bad groups have done some good things. I am saying that even those people are acting in accordance to some direction from God.
Now not everyone knows this. The will take credit for the good deed and receive the honor to themselves. Sometimes they do the good deed to get a tax break, or a more positive public image. They believe that they are doing good appart from any divine being, some even refuse to believe in the existance of a divine being. But good is done: poor children get libraries, schools receive computers, medical care is given to the sick.
Then there are those that do terrible things in the name of their God. Many of us in American hear stories of religous groups that are sending people to their death bombing trains and busses and are shocked to hear that there are willing people lining up for the their chance. Why do they line up, because they are told that they are doing something good. After the terroist attack on New York and Washington DC many young people joined the military freely because they thought they were doing good. And in their minds they are doing good, but the result of their devotion is evil.
One cannot say that the killing of humanity is good, we can justify it in many ways, but in every case to kill is wrong, it is evil, it removes from life a son, daughter, mother, brother, father and sister. In that removal there is the loss of a parent or child, the loss of income, and hatred. There is much evil even in the most justifiable war. Those that are involved have emotional, physical, and spiritual issues that they may never be able to over come.
James tells us to be slow to anger, because anger does not produce rightousness. Those devoted to anger are not honored by God. Hate is not a rightious activity. Just as the doing of good is not ever demonic.
This is a very difficult thing. To know the truth you have to wade through layers of lies. Often the worst offenders are also the most generous, and some of the groups that talk the loudest about generosity are the least likely to give.
How do we not get caught in this web? We need to know who we are, who we serve, and why we do it. If all good gifts, come from God, ad everything else is from other places, I want the good stuff. I also want to be a conduit of good. To do this one must be able to discern evil in all areas, especially in oneself. As you pray today, I pray that the shadows of evil will come over you and that you will be able to be conduits of good.
Scripture: Song of Solomon 2:8-13 Has anyone other than me ever wondered what a romance novel is doing in the bible? Seriously the content of this on book if it were to be made into a movie would be rate R if not X. Yet here it is in scripture and here you are reading it. There are some that will spiritualize the book and say all the intimacy is symbolic of our relationship with God. Bernard of Clairvaux has a very great work in this area one I personally fell in love with. The thing is Bernard was a monk so I can understand why he refered every form of intimacy to his relationship with God. On the flip side there are some that will basically take the book as it is written. Which is a love story between Solomon and one of his 400 odd wives. I can understand this as well. Their are seveal great teachers that use this book to teach other about love and marriage. The thing is life is physical and spiritual. I believe that both ways of looking at may be benifital. I think we miss out of the totality of this book because we look at it in one of these two ways. It is no wonder that our ideas of sexuality and marriage are so messed up. You see a love story is in the bible that should tell us that there is more to marriage than the physical. There is a spiritual side to it as well. One that reflects and reminds us of God the creator and lover of creation. Marriage is a reenactment of creation in some way. The love and passion God had in creating the world is reflected in the love and passion between the couple. The issue is marriage has become cheap. Too many people enter an exit too easily and many fail to even reflect on what is behind this most sacred of mysteries. It is sacred because it is the part of human relations that we can participate in the ongoing creation of the world around us. It is not for everyone. It is an act of worship. Without God it is merely a biological expression. Without the physical it is a pointless contract with shared assets. It has meaning only through and in God, we cannot make it anything it is not. It is a sacred act of worship honoring creation, the intimacy and dedication God has for humanity, and honoring to humanity. Have we ever really honestly looked at marriage? We are getting worked up about it but why? I know we have various ideas, but what are our ideas based ourselves or God? I am going to guess that most of us have a personal agenda of some sort, and along with that I am sure each of us have a very messed up understanding of marriage and human sexuality. “Arise, my love, my fair one and come away” God is calling us to a relationship with him. Before we do too much with marriage maybe we need to learn a bit about love first. Today as you pray I encourage you all to consider your relationships and how they encourage both the body and spirit.
Scripture: John 6:56-69
An American hero is gone. The death of Neil Armstrong is the closing of an era. For years I would spend my Saturday morning just before the cartoons started, that’s right kids there was a time when cartoons were only on one day a week, and on that day it was only on from 8-12, well before the cartoons started I would often sit on the floor in the living room watching videos of Apollo 11. I would eagerly watch as the shadow of lunar module neared the surface of the moon, and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end as I heard the voice of Neil Armstrong say, “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
I can only imagine if I were to have been watching live. I heard the stories, watched the videos, and stood in amazement while I viewed the relics of an era that passed before my birth. The last great pioneers, the last explorers, the men and eventually women that inspired me to do my homework are slowly passing on into the mystery of death. They pursued a mystery that inspired science fiction writers for centuries. These explorers that inspired the past generations pass on, yet what do they leave behind?
Do we still dream or are our dreams silenced by the stresses and obligations of life? I used to imagine as a child of being the first man to land on Mars, I would run tests to see if during the season after the dust storms when the skies of mars were clear if there were high amounts of carbon dioxide in the air do to the dry ice at the poles. It is funny how plans and dreams change. I never even tried to go out into space. The era of space exploration is nearly over, at least the era that we have known in the past. It is no longer a realm of exploration but entering into the era of profiteers.
With the changing of time come new adventures. For my generation it is not space that holds the world in awe but areas of genetics. I moved from being the first man on Mars to dreaming of becoming a genetic engineer. To be able to manipulate genetic codes to increase the potential of food, or even to unlock the possibility of biological computers became the next great frontier. Of course there is many different opinion in this area but I was excited by the possibilities.
Plans change, and dreams evolve. I do not know if you noticed but not only am I not sitting in a Mars rover, I am not engineering crops either. Something grabbed hold of my adventurous spirit that again moved my life.
An enigma often drives the human mind into action. For the artist they may see something that inspires them to make an attempt to create. To a writer they get a news story or a bit of research that grows into a novel. A mystery or a challenge is presented before them and they cannot rest until they have mastered it. For others it may be a new technological advance like the smart phone or an Ipod that inspires something greater. They are challenged to make programs or apps to improve life or at least make it more entertaining.
Imagine just for a moment the disciples of Jesus. They know that they are living in a time where things are about to change all around them. They can nearly feel, taste, and smell the emergence of a new age. For centuries the teachers of their culture have said that God will send a messiah, an anointed person that would lead the nation of Israel into greatness. Everyone in the nation was eagerly anticipating the advent of this person. Some of these people feared the coming of this great man; they lived in fear because they had a life built upon the current systems. If this man came in their lifetime everything would change and their livelihoods would be threatened. They invested their time and energy in keeping things the same. Then there is the other side, those that anticipate the advent of the Christ as the hopeful future and fulfillment of the nation and culture.
This is a setting that we find these men and women. Last week and this week we meet Jesus in one of His most difficult teachings. He tells them to gain the ultimate dream that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood. The very saying is so crazy to our rational ears that it is even 2000 years later hard to even imagine how they could have been received on the day that they were spoken. We know that they said it was hard to understand and who could accept it. To these those listening Jesus is either telling them to participate in the most un-kosher of meals or He was saying that He was the mother of life.
Jesus asks, “Does this offend you?” Does it offend us? Every Christian denomination has an interpretation as to what Jesus exactly means when He says these words. For some they believe that Bread and Wine become the actual blood and flesh of Jesus that the believers would then consume, and in doing so Christ is literally in them. Some believe that the Spirit hovers around the bread and wine and by eating and drinking we are allowing the Spirit to enter. Others believe that it is a symbolic statement where we remember the words spoken and through the memory we are inspired to reflect more deeply on Christ. Which is the truth? Could it be that all are correct?
It is one of the greatest mysteries of the Christian faith, what is the truth of the Lord’s Supper? This conversation occurred just prior to the Passover Feast, the time where the Hebrew people remembered that God preserved them while allowing the first born of all the Egyptians to die. The angel of death passed over their houses because they painted on the frames of their doorways the blood of a lamb. Their salvation was shared with everyone in the house; those that ate were ready to be called into action at a moment. What saved the people from the threat of death? Was it the blood, the meal or the trust in the declaration of God?
Some would say that the blood saved them, and they would be right. Others would say they were saved by their faith, and they too are correct. But what if I were to say that the Angel of Death could not affect them because they had inside of them the Spirit of Life? They ate and drank in the name of God. They shared the meal with their friends and their families; there was an intimacy between God and the people. What does this say, where is the spark of life?
Jesus goes on to mystify His followers by suggesting that the spirit is greater than the physical. That there is something greater at work, something that fills the body, that inspires and grants true life.
I ask what is it that drives you? What excites you, inspires you, gives you a reason to go beyond? This is the mystery of intimacy with God. We are both body and spirit. We cannot separate these aspects of our lives. We can, however, starve one. Through the lens of history we have observed what happens when a culture starves one aspect of humanity. The Soviet and Nazi cultures both tried to focus all the attention to the body, or the physical aspect of humanity. They devoted themselves to nationalism, science, and social experiments. In the process of focusing their full attention to the physical they lost the humanity, the culture became inhumane. On the other end of the spectrum there are societies that focus all their energies on the spiritual or religious. The golden age of the church, history often refers to as the dark ages. This era gave us witch trials, the inquisition, and the crusades. In all the spirituality they too lost sight of the humanity, and became inhumane.
We may be quick to think that Jesus is embracing the spiritual focus. The culture of the Hebrews was a theocratic culture, a culture under the rule of God. It would be easy to assume that theirs was a culture that focused on the spirit above all else. The problem is that they were looking not for God but a king. Their minds were stuck in the physical. They had lost sight of the true spirit that gave the power, this is why Jesus stormed into the temple over turning the tables and driving out the sacrifical animals. They no longer focused on the worship of God but on the worship of the status quo. There must be a fusion between the body and spirit. There needs to be a balance between the religious and the scientific. Without this balance we lose intimacy with God and ourselves, we lose our humanity and we fail to treat others as people loved by God.
Jesus in His ministry feed the body and the soul. He healed the body and the soul. Jesus says I am the true bread; those that eat of me gain life. They gain food for the body and more. Those that ate of the bread of Christ were inspired to do more, to boldly go to the ends of the earth preaching the Gospel that the kingdom of God was at hand. Those that neglect the true intimacy of Christ begin to fade into darkness. They begin to lash out, responding to many like a caged animal if any of their life choices are questioned. They seek honor and status. But what do they truly gain?
When Neil Armstrong was asked about his mission to the moon, it was not uncommon for him to simply say that he was just doing his job. He never regarded himself as a national hero, but always as an engineer complete with white socks and a pocket protector. A man that inspired me and countless others to try harder ultimately led me to the very feet of Christ. A man of science in some way assisted my journey to become a man of the spirit. I know nothing of Neil Armstrong’s faith, but I do understand his passion. He lived by spirit. As Friends that is really all we urge. We gather together to encourage one another to live the life God leads within you, to strive to follow the dreams, find your ministry wherever that leads, and to embrace the light burning within you. That light has a name, Jesus, and in Him we have life. Not only life in this physical realm but life everlasting. As we enter this time of open worship let us look at our lives, our passions and our fears. And let us enter into a new era where we embrace the fullness of life in ourselves and in those around us through that intimacy of Humanity and God.