Friday, June 27, 2008

The Binding of Issac

I have been "listening" in on lectionary discussions this week regarding the Genesis passage chapter 22:1-19; the "binding of Issac". As preachers we tend to avoid this text. As teachers, we never want to teach it to children. (and surely never show them the pictures!) Perhaps this text doesn't stand alone in scripture as much as we think. Last week's gospel pericope included the following:
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it." (Matthew 37-39)
It is hard not to be grasped by the child binding (to use the Jewish phrasing) and to not be horrified by a father willing to kill his child. We are so accustomed to reading horror like this in the newspaper that we forget we are to read scripture in a different manner and mindset than the daily news. If we set aside the graphic details and look deeper, we see that Abraham is promising with his actions that nothing will get between him and his God. Abraham is living Jesus' words which come so many generations later. Abraham is about to give up, to lose his very life because in that day, one's life is only continued thru offspring. Abraham is willing to end even his link to 'eternal' life thru this son (given by God) because he trusts in the promise of the hesed God, the Steadfast One.

The details are not the focus of this story. We recognize it's parallel to Jesus' carrying the cross, as Issac carries the wood. We hear the appropriate response of Abraham, "Here I am." We should also note that Issac disappears and is not even mentioned coming down the mountain. Issac is a very 2-dimensional character at best in the Genesis story. He gets us from one generation to another, often thru fumbling efforts. To focus on Issac and what he is feeling or thinking is to miss the point entirely.

We admit that none of us have the level of trust Abraham shows. That none of us could raise the knife. Thank God, we are not asked to. This story shows the ultimate level of commitment a human can have. This story shows how one man, so committed to God's promise, could begin a salvation history in humanity that continues to this day. A salvation history, in which we participate. If we make a commitment, in any small beginning way, and trust in Abraham's God, the One who delivers.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Carpenter's Apprentice

Matthew 10:24-25 "A disciple is not above the teacher nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher and the slave like the master."
Mr. Ryan knew how to keep a kid out of trouble so when I kept hanging around the barn he was renovating into a church, he gave me a job to do. I was 10, maybe less, and my dad had been called as the congregation's first pastor. They bought a small farm making the farm house our parsonage and the barn would soon to be a sanctuary and classrooms. I was out of school for the summer and nothing was a tempting as the nearby work site. Instead of telling me to stay clear and be safe, Mr. Ryan set me to pulling nails out of a supply of used firring strips. He gave me a hammer and showed me how to use the claw end and how to wedge my foot as a brace without putting a nail into it. Then he left me to my work. I was the apprentice for the summer.

Discipling youth should be a similar task for us a teachers and preachers. Yet we are more often found instructing and questioning; asking if our words are understood and requiring repetition of key phrases and important scripture concepts. When I think back to Mr. Ryan, I realize that he didn't ask me how I was going to pull out those nails, nor did I reply to his instructions with details such as, "I'm going to take the claw and put the tines on either side of the nail. Then I'm going to pull with appropriate force until the nail is freed from the wood. . ." No, I simply put my hammer in the right spot and pulled. If the nail didn't come out, I pulled harder. Mr. Ryan showed me how to use the hammer head as a lever and once he saw that I could get a nail out - with some effort - he left me alone to work. He was never far away and called me over from time to time to snap a chalk line (the highlight of my day) or see something new he was doing. But he didn't hover over me, or inundate me with questions. I had been shown the way, it was my turn to do it.

We hear a lot about what Christian education programs should and shouldn't do. We certainly try a variety of plans and programs. Yet there is no substitute for a master's teaching and there is no better way to learn than to be an apprentice. One willing and open learner with one patient and loving teacher. Soon there is one more accomplished disciple in the world ready to take on another apprentice. Such a simple equation; 1 + 1 = 1 more.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Twelve

The twelve inspire me on days like today because they often seem clueless. While that seems to occur most often in Mark's gospel, even here in Matthew the Twelve are sent, but never seem to go anywhere. Perhaps that's the best I can say today, called but stationary. I'm blaming it on my ankle for the immediate future which is stiff and sore and slowly recovering from an injury. That's what I get for playing games in the dark with youth at a lock-in. If I look closely at my work for the week, I wonder how much of it qualifies with Matt. 10:7-8's list? Here's one writer's take on it.

Matthew 10:8
[8] “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.

“A Disciple’s Task List”
Is your calendar a little full this morning? Have you checked it to see if it meshes with God’s agenda for your day? In between, writing letters, making phone calls and stopping at the store—did you also put in; “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons?” Source: Jerry Goebel: 2007 ©

Perhaps I should review my job description and my life with this list in mind. It puts life in perspective, doesn't it? Proclaim the good news comes first, not teaching, nor programing, but proclaiming. I wonder where flashlight tag fits in?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Who me?

Pastors get surprised by biblical texts too. I've stared at Caravaggio's "The Calling of St. Matthew" so often that I'd forgotten how short the scripture citation is.
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him. Matthew 9:9

Ever since I first saw 'The Calling' I've imagined the internal struggle of Matthew; "Who me?" he seems to say with one hand on the coins and the other pointing at self. In this very moment he considers the call. It had to be that understanding of the individual moment of call that so interested the five women clergy standing in front of the picture in Rome. It has to be why that picture continues to fascinate me, a year later.

Clergy like to speak of calling; the calling of vocation, the call to ministry, and the call to follow Christ. In fact, everyone responds to a calling, of some sort, others just don't use the term 'call' to describe it. God calls us to many things, but mostly into Divine Relationship. There is no higher calling and no other answer is as important. It matters much less what we do, as long as we are in relationship with God. It is that relationship which requires the decision to commit your very life. Today we think of being called to a vocation, Matthew was called away from one and into the relationship of true living.