Scripture: Luke 13:31-35
So often times as we move through our bible reading plans we zoom through passages and forget to really take the time to think about what they are saying. We read the words but can often fail to let the words soak into our hearts. The form of prayerfully reading scripture and meditating on it, called Lectio Divina, is a practice that takes time to read. You pray, read, and sit with the words. The difference between the one-year bible reading plan and Lectio Divina is like the difference between snow and rain as forms of precipitation. Our environments, ecosystems, farms, and lawns need water. I grew up in an area where our lives depended on precipitation. We would pray for rain, but if you would as any farmer they would have a preference in the form of precipitation they would ask for. In the spring they would pray for slow gentle rains, but most of all in the winter they would pray for snow. This week as much trouble as it has been for many of us in the city, has been an answer to prayers for the farmers in our area.
Snow is an amazing form of precipitation; it actually protects and waters the crops from harsh weather. Snow reflects heat. When a layer of snow covers a field of wheat it will often protect the fragile plant from the subfreezing temperatures of the air. While the snow is protecting the plant it gently waters them as well as it melts, the water goes directly into the soil. Snow is actually the most efficient watering system of nature. Slowly melting and shielding the plants it surrounds. Where the torrential rains of spring will often run off of the soil and down the hillside to collect in a valley where it forms streams, rivers, and in some cases it will even form a canyon as the water erodes the rock and soil. The difference between the slow prayerful reading of Lectio Divina and the rushing plans that push through scripture. Both are needed without the running streams and rivers Kansas City would be without water, but without the snow we would be without food.
I urge everyone to read scripture in both ways. Download the YouVersion App to your smart phone and tablets and start a plan to read through the bible in a timeframe you are comfortable with, but also slow down and practice the divine reading of prayer. The plan will give you a quick rush of biblical knowledge cleansing and watering the dry soul, but the prayerful reading of scripture will provide the protection and fulfilling nourishment we need to survive.
I begin this way to yet again remind us all of the three things Jesus did frequently. The disciplines of Christ: the practice of prayer, worship, and ministry. These three things are not only good but also vital for us to build a healthy spiritual life; each of these three disciplines builds and feeds on the others. Our ministry or service to others drives us to our knees in prayer and it also gives us reasons to celebrate and worship God. Our worship can encourage others to minister and also reveal to us that we need to seek the face of God in a deeper way. Our discipline in prayer provides the energy and direction in both our worship and our ministry. These three things keep us each centered on what is most important in our community, and in our spiritual lives.
Over the past few months if have noticed some things. It is easy to get caught up, in my own life I have gotten caught up in work, politics, church business, and several other things. Not that any of this is bad, but none of them are central. I get caught up and I allow an area of life to take over, and as a result I neglect another area. Suddenly what I have been caught up shoots roots into my soul and it begins to dominate my outlook, it can even be found in areas of life that it should not have influence. I learn this by taking the snowy approach at reading scripture.
This passage is all about what is central in our lives. It is about who or what controls life. If we quickly read over this passage we may miss that point and just get caught up in the idea of Jesus playing the role of a chicken and the people missing the point. This passage is very deep. If we let it seep into our souls it very well might change our outlook in life.
We first meet with Pharisees meeting with Jesus. I am glad that last week we had the privilege to hear a message from a Jewish Rabbi because he did highlight a fact that we often forget, Jesus was a Pharisee. He was a teacher within the Jewish faith and the teachers were Pharisees. When we take the quick approach to reading scripture we see that Jesus and Pharisees were often at odds, but this is not the full picture. They were religious leaders that had a different understanding of how best to approach the teaching and leading of people. In this passage Jesus and the Pharisees are on the same side. They are concerned for his well being, they are giving him a legitimate warning. They were telling him leave because they want to kill you. The problem was that the government was beginning to find the religious leaders, namely Jesus as a threat.
Herod is mention by them. Herod the Roman appointed leader of Galilee and Perea the lands in northern Israel, was tuned into Jesus’ ministry. This is important to us for a number of reasons but mainly because Jesus was being seen as a political threat. Politics is all about control of people. When a new idea begins to divert attention from those in power it threatens the ability of those people to control the populous. Herod wanted to control his people, it was his job to control, and without control he would not have a livelihood. But who governments only control when people allow them to control, it does not matter if the Government is a monarchy, democracy, or an oligarchy those being controlled give that governing body the power to control, and when they lose the people they lose and the power is given to another. Herod is nervous because in his courts he is hearing the name of Jesus more often, and suddenly he is losing the control of people. Jesus is healing, feeding, and giving people a new life.
“Go and tell that fox.” is Jesus answer. He calls Herod a fox because is sly. He can twist and manipulate things to go in his favor. Jesus says, “tell that fox, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow…’” Jesus is saying I am ministering not seeking power. It is not any of his concern. He says that He will be doing this for a time and that Herod can come get him if he wants. The Government and national politics has no place in ministry of a church. No matter how sly and cunning a politician is it should not affect what we do as a church. If we are called to cast out demons, heal the sick, or feed the hungry we should precede. The ministry is more important that any nation, any politician, any government. Governments no matter how powerful cannot stop God; ask those Soviet Union how that works. All of our concern for what our government does in the world outside these walls should have no bearing in what God calls us to do inside them.
Now Jesus gets to the heart of the issue. “It is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.” This is a cryptic portion of scripture. Is Jesus talking of Jerusalem proper or Jerusalem the idea? Cryptic words can only be deciphered with discipline and understanding. Jesus is speaking not of the city but of religion. Jerusalem is the center of the faith tradition. Religion is about influence of people, much like government. It seeks to influence people to act in certain ways. Now before we get to far off remember that Jesus is telling the Religious leaders to tell this to the governmental leaders. Jesus is telling Herod that the government has less power than religion. It is religion that can silence the prophet not the government. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” Religion can get it wrong if the religion is focused on controlling and not guiding. “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wing, and you were not wiling! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the times comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
God does not desire us to be divided into religions and governments. He does not desire us to divide into political parties or denominations. These things are about control over people; Jesus spoke often against lording it over people. Those that desire control will be given just what they want. They will gain the house…but the house will eventually be found empty. This is contrary to everything that Jesus promoted. Jesus gathered by offering people something different then a leader to follow. He offered life. To the blind man he offered a life of sight, which lead them out of the life of begging and gave them the opportunity of a different life. To woman with a bleeding condition He offered a life without shame. To the leper he offered acceptance into a community instead of a life of rejection. To the woman caught in adultery he offered an alternative to the constant giving and seeking of lustful desires but one of respect and forgiveness. How He wanted to gather the religious into the brood but they were not willing.
Control…Who is in control…What is in control? Do we want to control? To exert control over other is not godly even if it is done in the halls of the most pious organization. Those that seek to control are not leaders of God but the murderers of prophets. I want to ask a hard question to each of us, one I hope we all will consider, do we want to control our community or do we want to gather? The hen does not seek to control her brood but to protect, direct, and encourage them into their next stage of life. Eventually all of the chicks become adults who will live their own. Jesus wants to gather us. He wants to protect, encourage, and direct our lives not to control our every movement but to transform us into a people that are less concerned with control and more concerned with transforming the earth to be as it is in Heaven. He wants us to offer life, hope, and opportunities to people so that they can move from being a brood and into disciplined people living a life of prayer, worship, and ministry. To gather a community Loving God, Embracing the Holy Spirit, and Living the Love of Christ with other.
Today as we join together in this time of communal prayer and open worship, let us remember the difference between snow and rain as well as control and gathering. I pray that we will allow the Spirit of God to let us release those things in our lives that we have allowed to gain control over us, and that we will move under the wings of the God that loves us and let Him guide us into Life.
Scripture: Luke 9: 28-43a
I am one of those types of people that comes to believe that every story about Jesus, what he has done in the past, and really in the present and future quickly become my favorite. I would have to say that it is not because of the events but how I read scripture. I love to read, I love to hear people tell stories. When I read and listen to the stories my mind is somehow transported into a different time and place. I guess I am really the kind of person that could still spend a day in a library just surrounded by books.
A child reads and listens to stories differently than most adults. They do not just hear the story they visualize and become part of the story. They tie a cape on their back to become the characters, and they begin to carry the story on in their play. They not only hear the story they often become the story. Well maybe that was not the way you interacted with a book when you were younger, but it is how I did, my mom had video evidence of it. Miraculously that evidence went missing before she could use it against me.
How often do we read this story of Jesus, and just sit and ponder the theological implications of the situation? Come on everyone…Jesus was GLOWING; let your imagination get the best of you. He went up to the top of a mountain, started praying and began to glow. Scripture can be fun sometimes. Just think about it for a bit. What would you think about Jesus if you saw him standing there glowing before you? It’s probably best that he only brought Peter, James and John up there with him, I don’t know if Thomas could have handled it. He’d probably want to poke him with a stick or something.
The imagination is an amazing tool that many adults have let atrophy as they begin to mature. God gave us this mind and this ability for a reason. It is in the imagination that he can give us the greatest inspiration. Einstein began his theory of Relativity on a bus in a daydream, the author James Barrie was inspired to write one of the greatest plays, Peter Pan, watching children actively imagine as they played. And oddly enough some of the greatest theological and inspiring writings have come from using the imagination to visualize and interact with scripture.
I have often asked you to imagine the scene in scripture. To meditate on a character or what you might do if you were hearing the words directly. Today is no different. How could I not ask you to imagine this scene? Jesus was GLOWING! So I want you all to imagine this, make it as fantastic as you can, and answer one question: Would you want to stay?
Jesus withdrew often to pray. I have been saying this for the past few weeks. This is what is going on in this scripture. This time He takes three of his closest friends with him as he prays. In this time of prayer something amazing happens. This is not something that Jesus found strange but his friends were shocked. Have you ever really thought about this? Of course we can quickly say, “he didn’t find it strange he’s God.” I do not think that that answer is acceptable. It basically leaves out the reason for bringing the three friends up with him. Of course if he was trying to show them that he was God it might be a descent answer. But I think he was trying to prove a point that went beyond, I believe he was trying to prove to his disciples just how important and powerful prayer is.
Prayer is more than lifting our requests up to heaven to try to twist God’s favor to sway our way. Prayer is transforming. Remember Jesus started to GLOW! Prayer is where we join together with God, it is in prayer that God’s spirit begins to transform our lives and renew our minds. It is in prayer that we learn to hear the voice of God, where we discover who we are created to be. It is prayer where we become Children of the Light.
I love that phrase from our older Quaker vocabulary, Children of the Light, along with another phrase holding in the light. I really think it gives a wonderfully visual concept that connects this story with the power of prayer. Being held in the light means we take that concern of our friends into our hands and lift them up to God and somehow pass our hands beyond that veil that separates the realms of reality and place that concern before God. It also attaches us with the concepts of God presented by the writer of John when he speaks of the true light, which enlightens everyone, and the light shining into the darkness and the darkness not overcoming it. That in the light there is life. The light John speaks of in the beginning of his Gospel is filled with imagery that links right into this story. Jesus was Glowing.
Another man also known to have a radiant skin condition met Jesus on that mountain. Moses would also withdraw often to pray and when he did he would return to the camp and people would be afraid of him because his face would be shining, and as he stayed in the camp it would gradually fade. It happened so much that he would put a veil over his face, because the people began to notice the fading more than the shining. Moses was transformed. He too would glow after he spent time in prayer with God.
Then another man was seen, a man who spent most of his time running away from people out to kill him, because when this man went into prayer fire would come out of the heavens, and one time the fire that came down lifted him up carrying him beyond the veil. Fire and light, both have an illuminating property. These two pillars of faith were right there with our glowing Jesus.
The discipline of prayer is something similar between all of these figures. When we read about the prayers of these men they are not often eloquent like a politician’s speech, but are more likely simple words uttered out of a deeply intimate relationship. These men were drawn to pray, not out of duty but they found that the time they spent in prayer was where they drank the drafts of life. And when these men prayed it was as if the very laws of nature were held in suspension.
Prayer is powerful but it is not magical. These men of ancient Hebrew history seemed to control God through prayer but that is not the truth. These men knew God. When Elijah prayed for the fire to come down on the alters of Carmel he did not command God but simply acknowledged that that moment was a good time for God to do what He had already told Elijah He was going to do. When Moses pleads before God for the sake of Israel, he did not change God’s mind but God was actually revealing to Moses what He was already doing and would continue to do. The same is true today. We say that we believe in the healing power of prayer, and I do believe, but I do not control God but instead we converse with God about a shared concern and He reveals his plan. I believe that Prayer changes things, like some many of our Christian authors claim, but I believe that that change is more often in our own perspective as we grow closer to the one that holds the world in his hands and places the stars in the skies with his finger tips.
So have you encountered the incredible Glowing Jesus? Have you experienced that time in the light, in a place where it seems as if everything around you just stops as you enjoy time in prayer? All to often we rush through prayer jumping in and out before the light even gets warmed up. But there are other times where it seems as if God was sitting in a chair waiting for us to stumble in. I have been in the light, no I am not saying that I glowed, but I have been in a place where the intimacy with God real. In that place I knew the mind of God for the situation that I held in the light. More often than not the conversation revealed that what I was asking was wrong and that God had something else in mind.
The disciples wanted to build shelters and stay there on that mountain because they like many of us were not accustom to hanging in that suspended state where the past, present, and future can all meet. They had a taste and they failed to realize what the true power of prayer really is. Prayer is where we talk with God. To talk with God means we tell Him what our needs are but also wait so He can tell us what His needs are. He may let us know that He is going to act in some supernatural way, He may tell us to just leave that concern for Him to worry about, and He may tell us to do what is right. There are even times where there is no concern we carry but we just go to spend time with our Friend. It is good for us to be there, just as the disciples said but we cannot stay. We cannot stay because the power of and in prayer is that it transforms us, it illuminates us and strengthens us to be the laborers God requires to extend his kingdom. In prayer we begin to see how His will can be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. In a sense prayer is where our imagination and God’s imagination meet and we can see and learn what it is God wants to do. We hold the concerns in the light, but we must then turn to walk back down that mountain to carry the answer and love of God back down to the people to whom we have been called to serve.
The very next day the incredible Glowing Jesus and his three disciples walked down the mountain and into a crowd to minister yet again. They immediately were met with agents of the adversary trying to leach the joy of that mountain radiance away. Yet the crowd knew that there was something about Jesus, something attracted them to him something drew them in. The darkness shall not overcome the light. And all were astounded at the greatness of God. We meet God in prayer, He illuminates and transforms us to do what he created us to do, and he sends us back out. We do not have to know exactly how everything will work, we just need to go and do what we are called to do, to shine in the darkness.
Prayer, Worship, and Ministry. The three things Jesus taught his disciples to do. Love God, Embrace the Holy Spirit, and Live the Love of Christ with Others are the three things we as Willow Creek Friends are called to do. They are the same, it is the journey of faith boiled down to the purest form, but often things in the purest form are also the most powerful. If we were to actually live this pure faith what would happen? I asked earlier as we imagined this scripture being played out before us if we would want to stay? I now ask as we join each other in Holy Expectancy and open worship will we be willing to go?
Scripture: Luke 4:21-30
Imagery is important to many of us. We hear a voice and often times we create an image of what the person speaking would look. When John F. Kennedy debated Richard Nixon in the first televised debate, we had the first image-based election. Those that listened to the debate had one idea of who dominated where those that watched the program had a different idea. Why was there a difference? Imagery. The voice and the face do not always fit our imagery. In the case of Kennedy and Nixon, those that listened thought Nixon won and those that watched favored Kennedy, because of image.
Image has always been an aspect of our human thought process. We use image in choosing a spouse or a president, we want the image in our mind to fit with the person filling the role. The funny thing is that God could care less about image because image can be faked. The celebrities of our culture on the stage they have an image that they put forth, but when they are living their daily life it is something totally different, in many cases we would have a difficult time recognizing some of them without their makeup. God does not care.
When the people of Israel chose their first king, they chose Saul. Saul was a head taller than everyone else. He looked like a warrior, he was handsome and he portrait the image of a king. Saul did not act the part. When Saul was face with a giant problem, he like everyone else hid out in his tent, waiting for someone else to face the giant. The king that God chose to lead his people in the ancient days of Israel was different. No one expected him. David was the youngest of the family and to be honest the family was not that great in the nation. David was not very big, was not the greatest looking, but there was something about him that did set him apart. He was a man after the very heart of God. He did not care what others thought and instead he drove forward with God. David faced the giant that made the nation tremble because he had faith in God, not in the image.
Image is not everything even though that is what our culture would like us to believe. The ad campaigns we will watch on TV between football breaks, will all be focused on image. Very little will be on substance, because image sells the goods. For instance a few years ago a car was introduced to the market that had a great image. The Prius was the very image of green; it gets great gas mileage and has very low emissions, which gives it a great eco-friendly image. On the other side of the spectrum is the Hummer; its image was one of a different variety. The Hummer was the image of tough, rugged, and strength. It consumes fuel like a body builder consumes protein shakes. I read an article about the greenness of these two vehicles around the time the prices of fuel began to rise, in the article it stated that the actual pollution factors were not exactly what the image portrait, would you believe that in the total manufacture and use of the vehicles you could drive a hummer for over 10 years and not pollute the environment as much as a prius. Now this is older news and I am sure the statistics have changed, and I am not saying that I dislike the prius I actually like the prius in many ways. My son rolls his eyes when we look at cars because he looks at sports cars and I look at fuel economy. I would buy a prius over a hummer any day. But sometimes the image we see is not exactly the whole truth.
We have an image in mind for many things. The image that we like is wealth, power, and beauty. These are the things that drive our culture. These are the tools use in our economy. Yet just like the difference between Saul and David, the things that mater in God’s eyes are not what we would imagine.
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” Jesus says. The scripture that he refers to is that Messianic prophecy of the anointed one bringing the good news to the poor, giving sight to the blind, and freeing the captive and oppressed, and proclaiming of the year of the Lord’s favor, that we spoke about last Sunday. Today is that time, Jesus says. The terms year and today, like most units of time in Scripture can have a double meaning, it can mean one year or it can mean and an era, today or right now. In this case the year of the Lord’s favor is an era. Jesus is saying that today, or right now, is the beginning of a new era.
Can you imagine the excitement? They had this image of what was going to happen when that era began and this native son just said that that time is now. But wait, “isn’t this Joseph’s son?” In the very meeting of worship where the proclamation of a new era was being announce already people were beginning to see a differences between the image in their mind and the face before them. This is Jesus, Joseph’s son, the carpenter. The Messiah was to be a king, a warrior, not a handy man that you would call to help hang a door. They knew and were excited about the ministry their native son had in the surrounding area but seriously this is just Jesus, they knew him and as far as they cared he was nothing great. Their own children used to play with him, they went to school with him, and they had Joseph and sons do work for them. This is just a carpenter not a king.
Image is not everything. There is a reason it is difficult for people to come back to their hometown if they have made a name for themselves outside the community. It is because the hometown has not changed. If I were to go back to my old high school, I would find like many of you that the popular people in high school that did not move away from home were still the popular people in the community. If they held a class office they now hold a city office, and the football team probably forms the sheriff’s department. They hold their position because they have always held a position. Jesus’ hometown is like many small towns across America, there are the rulers and the people. Jesus is nothing great in their eyes because He is just the son of Joseph.
Prophets are not easily accepted in their hometown because prophets tend to shake things up. They bring out into the open and say that things are not as they should be, which is fine if you are talking about another place, but it becomes personal when you say those things about your home. Elijah and Elisha were pretty important prophets in the history of Israel. Jesus points out that of all the people that were in need from their own nation these guys said what they said and it was to outsiders that they ministered, because it was the outsiders that listened. A widow from Sidon received blessing during the famine, not because she was better than all the other widows but because she opened her life and doors up to Elijah when everyone else hated him for proclaiming that it was their sin that kept the rain from falling. And Elisha healed the Syrian king an enemy of Israel, right in the middle of turmoil. Israel rejected the prophets and the blessings went to those that listened and responded, the outsiders. The hometown people did not receive the blessing because they were too caught up in themselves to listen.
I wonder how we would respond to a prophet from our own community? If someone here were to get excited about a ministry of some sort would we support it or let it pass by because they are just someone’s kid, or maybe they are from a family that is not seen as being weighty? Image and truth, the image is what we look at, the truth is where God sits. The image is the Messiah coming in to bring about the kingdom of God in some mighty and victorious swoop; the truth is something the kingdom of God is already all around us.
The people of Nazareth went into a rage when Jesus said these words to them, they drove him out of town, and up onto a hill to through Him over a cliff. I wonder why they were so angry? The first answer is that he claimed to be the Messiah and his face did not fit the image that they had for the role. The second answer and probably the more applicable is that Jesus was telling them that because they were closed to change they were going to be left behind from the blessing of the coming kingdom. These were religious and devout men and Jesus was basically calling them worthless hypocrites. They were saying all the right words in the synagogue and playing the right roles, but in actuality they were no better than those ancient children of the Northern Kingdom that rejected God and were forever lost.
In God’s economy, the tools used to produce and measure success are quite different than what we use in the world. The ones with the most are often the ones that God will use the least, and the ones that have the least will often receive the greatest blessing. The first will be the last and the last will be the first, or the great will be humbled and the humble glorified. God does things differently than the world, because what matters to Him and what matters to the world is different. We tend to measure success in terms of power and wealth; in God’s economy those things are not important. In His economy, or in his Kingdom wealth is just a tool used to gain what is really important. Power or the influence over people is often measured by how many bodies we can convince to follow and serve us. In God’s kingdom influence is used in serving others. Our opinions and our money are just tools, in God’s eyes the amount of money you placed in the offering plate is nothing but some screws and wrenches used in building up the kingdom. We think it is important because that is what the world uses to deem our worth, but to God our bank account is of no greater value than the items in our junk drawers, which are only useful when they are put to use.
We are just like those people in Nazareth or ancient Israel. We are fine with a preacher saying how those poor people in Africa, Nepal, or Iran need the Gospel. We accept and understand that. While we pray for them our community is falling apart around us and we are just sitting around saying I sure wish Jesus would return and rapture us. By saying that we are actually saying that we do not believe in God. By even uttering words similar to that we are actually saying that we give up, that we do not trust that God can do what He says He can do. We are not supposed to sit back and wait for the Messiah to come, we are supposed to spread the Kingdom of God. Yet instead of focusing on the kingdom we get trapped in the world’s ideas of politics, economics, and philosophy. We watch the news and hear of Egypt rioting and we want to send drones in to level the nation instead of sending ministers. We hear of shootings and we want to ban guns instead of going into the city to help get kids out of or prevent them from joining gangs. The church is forgetting what is important in God’s economy. It is not about money or power but lives. It is not about controlling but serving others. It is not about letting the world rot in their sin but to minister to them and anointing them with the healing oils of Christ.
We often get caught up in the image of things, instead of getting caught up in the truth. We want a big thriving church because that gives us the image of a strong spiritual life. The image is just a mask if we do not truly have the reality. Our church will not grow unless we are true to ourselves and to God. We have gone too long trying to be something we are not. We are Friends, we have a history and a legacy that is beautiful; one that promotes simplicity of life, peace, integrity in word and deed, community, and equality of all people before God. I have said that our spiritual ancestors tried to distill Christianity down to the most pure and essential forms and in that process they found prayer, worship, and ministry to be that expression. Those are the activities Jesus himself participated in. He withdrew often to pray, He made it His custom to worship, and He ministered to those marginalized by society.
Those men 2000 years ago sought to throw Jesus, their King, off a cliff, and we ask why? It was because Jesus told them that they had the words all right but the actions all wrong. It does not matter if we have the correct theology if we are not willing to live that theology out. Jesus wants us to bless those around us, like the widow Zarephath. He wants us to open up our meetinghouses and bring healing to those that oppose us like Elisha did with the Naaman. This begins with recognizing what the image and the truth are, to learn the difference between the tools and the products. The Friends Church will grow in the future, but only when we open our lives to the Spirit’s leading and follow Him even when that leading seems like it is coming from the most unlikely of places from the least likely people. It will come when we become a people Loving God, Embracing the Holy Spirit, and Living the Love of Christ with others.