Friday, October 24, 2008

The Last Question

In Matthew 22:36, Jesus is asked the last and 'greatest' question. His challengers don't know it will be their last question. They merely await his answer, possibly smug, once again thinking they have trapped the rabbi into a no win scenario. They do finally learn that with Jesus, the only limited situation is the one he chooses to accept.

Jesus is a scholar of the Psalms. He quotes from a psalm of triumph and victory in this passage. By doing so, I think he is not just handing his accusers a tricky question of their own, but by referencing the Psalms, he offers a source, an example of following the 'greatest' commandment. In the Psalms, God is praised from joyous hearts. God is petitioned from tear-full souls. God is cajoled by angry voices. God is the one to be bargained with, promised, traded, petitioned, subjected to, praised, honored, and worshiped. ALL of life is under God's hand and in the Psalms we hear ALL of life presented to God, the good, bad and ugly. (Ps. 137:9) What better example could there be of the first and greatest commandment?

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
Then just so we know that Jesus is more that your average Shema singing rabbi, he grafts in the holistic intent of the Law from Leviticus 19:18 which is the centerpiece of his ministry of integrity. One can't just know the Law, or spout the Law, but one must be able to live the Law, right down to the neighbor's welfare.

I guess I've watched too much news this week to have much hope that we will ever get this life of integrity straight. Then I open my favorite copy of The Psalms (BCP) and read from my heart using the psalmists' words

Come now and look upon the works of the LORD, what awesome things he has done on earth. It is he who makes war to cease in all the world; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear, and burns the shields with fire. Be still, then, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold." 46:9-12
"Give thanks to the LORD, for the LORD is good; God's mercy endures for ever." Praise God!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

God's Call

One's personal life is all consuming it's without a doubt. In recent days I've noticed the stock market roller coaster ride and I've seen most debates, some baseball playoffs, and know of the Redskins win. But I missed the Blog Action Day, I'm behind on my Women's Retreat preparation, and I didn't finish reading today's headlines. All because I've been focused on the process of being called to a new congregation. Certainly it's been a self-focused experience in some ways and an 'other-focused' experience in another way.

My D.E. used the phrase, 'lean on the door' to describe the discernment process. He said, "Don't make any decisions, just lean on the door and see if God's spirit responds. See if it opens." I love the expression and the image. I leaned, it opened, and December 1 I begin as pastor of the Arlington Church of the Brethren.

Change is never easy so telling the youth of the congregation where I currently serve is the hardest. Implementing transitions and leadership will be plenty of work. Finishing, without trying to do everything, will be a challenge. Preparing for Advent while getting up-to-speed on a new congregation will be - well I don't know what it will be like, but I'm looking forward to it none-the-less. Perhaps best of all is the feeling that I am following God's lead. Certainly it serves me well because it is a unique opportunity for me to lead and be in partnership with a great group of people who are also following God's lead.

"God's Will" is a concept that is often used to explain the misunderstood or justify self-interest. It's important to me to declare my self-interest in this call while recognizing that there is more to it. Because God is able to use us - anyone, anywhere - if we are open to the Spirit's leading and willing to 'lean on the door'. Rather than getting too busy with details while moving away from one call and to another, the challenge will be to discern the faithful path and remain honest about the pleasure and pain I incur. The challenge is to keep leaning and listening all during the busy transition, always discerning the call of God which never ends.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What Then?

Matthew 22:15-22
How easy it is to let something you enjoy get left behind when life gets busy. It seems blog-writing is one of those things, along with the all-time 'left-behind' activity - working out at the gym. As important as these things are to me, I get focussed on what is right in front of me and nothing else. It's tunnel vision in tight little compartments that blocks out parts of my life, even parts I like.
Compartmentalizing is both necessary and dangerous. How easily we divide our civil life from religious life. Like Luther's two-kingdoms, we separate church and state, school friends from church friends, street language from "polite-company" language and on it goes. There are so many ways in which we divide and wall off one part of life from another.  These coping mechanisms (as they might be called) are just what allows reasonable people to do unreasonable things. 
Dexter, (Showtime series) is a great brother, a conscientious employee of the police department, he is great with his girlfriend's kids, and he soon will be a father. He is good at compartmentalizing, he says, for in his weaker moments, he's a serial killer. He kills according to his code which supplies justification for this compartment of life.   It's fiction, but the news in December 2002 told of  a "kid-next-door" who used torture and humiliation as a military officer when the compartment with priority was labeled 'terrorism abatement'.  
Jesus said to return to the emperor what is the emperor's and give to God what is God's. So which of those mental compartments are God's, which are ours, which belong to the government, which belong to someone else? Can we continue to separate parts of our lives to such an extent that we can justify behavior in one compartment that would be horrible in another? I don't think tax money is the only thing to which Jesus referred. Is it not obvious that all of life belongs to God? And yet if God-time is merely one compartment of our life, perhaps "that which belongs to God" is a but a small portion of the whole. Who are we kidding? When life is done and breath is gone, compartments will vanish and there will only be God. What then?

Friday, October 3, 2008


Last night I did my usual stint as pre-school "rap" leader at our mid-week program. During the course of the night there was a scuffle over a toy. "Mine!" one toddler yells and an intervention was called for. It is a typical scene in early childhood and I think it is a behavior we never overcome. Dreams of ownership begin early. I had the radio on a lot this week and several advertisements caught my attention. "Make sure your grass is the greenest in the neighborhood." "Act now to own your home." "Update your Will so that your money stays in your family." Ownership and the focus on ours and mine seems ingrained and constantly reinforced.

I've been spending time with the 'Wicked Tenants' this week since I wrote the previous post. I believe that we share their problem of desiring ownership. It goes far beyond a temptation. It's a goal of life, admired, understood and shared by people of every social class. We are conditioned to work toward ownership; owning is better than renting. We even get tax breaks for ownership. "Accumulate, store in barns" are all part of the same pattern of greed that grows out of a desire to provide for ourselves and make a safe future. Yet the ownership issue is in a slightly different category. We understand greed as over-providing, far beyond what is needed. But ownership is just a good step along the path of self-sufficiency. What we don't see is that even our desire for self-sufficiency is bad when it is raised to the level of a 'god' an ideal and idol that must be achieved. 

How can we identify with the tenants? We understand them. They want only to own what they have worked so hard to achieve. Perhaps similar to colonists who work and develop a land and then desire to make it their own. Oversimplification? yes, perhaps but if we really look at the tenants, their desire is our own. It is all about ownership; to have stock in and gain the profits from our work. And we call them "wicked tenants" because their desires led to violence and violence soon led to death, just like in our world. No matter how I look at it, it does seem that they are us and we are they