Archive for November, 2011

Wednesday, November 30th. Matthew 24:36-44

November 30, 2011

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. Matthew 24:36-44

 

Our readings for this first week of Advent are heavy on the “get ready” theme.  So let’s play with that.

 

We begin again with the reminder that no one but the Father knows what the future holds.  The best we can do are educated guesses, tracking past trends, reading the signs, and arguing our points.  It is like the on-going debate over climate change. One group tells us the sky is falling and the next group tells us the books are cooked.

 

Who to believe?  Where to turn?

 

Matthew portrays Jesus re-telling a portion of the Noah story.  Everyone was eating and drinking, having a high old time, when suddenly the rains started falling and everyone – except Noah and his family and a boatload of animals – got deep sixed. 

 

But Matthew tells us that Jesus then puts a new twist on the story. Instead of preserving one family and dropping the rest, the future means – poof! – one of two workers in a field will disappear.  One of two women grinding meal will disappear. One field worker and one grinder in heaven…and the other two left scratching their heads, “Now where in the world did the other one go?  I swear they were just standing right over there.”

 

Now let’s get serious again.  These are serious stories.  I remember first hearing them as a child, especially as a young teenager at a fundamentalist-minded Bible camp where they were used to absolutely terrify us at the prospect of being left behind.  To this day, that fear is much more than skin deep. 

 

No way, for me at least, does the joyful prospect of being “taken” counter balance the fearsome prospect of being “left behind.” I don’t want anyone to be left behind. Love doesn’t leave people behind.  In fact, not only do I believe that the work of the church is about not leaving anyone else behind, I’m not the least bit interested in heaven if it turns out to be an exclusive club. But those are Management decisions.

 

Then Jesus uses the thief analogy.  This is another scare tactic.  If the owner of the house knew when the thief was coming, he would be ready.  Ready for what?  To joyfully welcome the thief or to pull out the 12 gauge? 

 

I know something about thievery; I live in a big city.  I have had my car broken into more than once.  I have had all my lawn equipment stolen out of my garage.  My wife had her house robbed, on Ash Wednesday no less, of virtually everything of value.  The thieves left behind a smashed in door, an utterly trashed house, and a family that didn’t sleep well for weeks.

 

Only the Father knows – that’s all we need to know.  And Jesus, though he is full of surprises, isn’t a thief.  But he clearly has a place in his heart for thieves.  To at least one he said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  And that’s all we need to know.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, our future, our lives, the whole creation, is in your hands.  Set us free from fears which bind us.  Break down the walls that divide us. Come to us, abide with us, that we might always be ready to be surprised by joy.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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Tuesday, November 29th. 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

November 29, 2011

“Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, to the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind—just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

 

There is a way of being in the world that is based on the idea that the end justifies the means.  While he certainly didn’t invent it, this way of being is often attributed to Machiavelli’s work, The Prince

 

“The end justifies the means” says that, if we believe our goal is honorable or just then it doesn’t matter if we have to behave dishonorably or unjustly to attain it.  Following this path leads us into all sorts of ingenious ways of explaining away otherwise unacceptable behavior.

 

“The end justifies the means” is the way that most of the world works.  It certainly is the way that power is most often exercised.  It is the rationale for war.  Back in the struggle for civil rights, using fire hoses and other violent means of attacking protesters was explained as necessary actions (means) to avoid greater riots and damage (a peaceful end.)

 

But there is another way of being in the world.  Over against “the ends justify the means”, Dr. Martin Luther King often pointed out that “the means participate in the ends.”  That is, achieving a peaceful society would require peaceful protest.  The “ends”, the vision of where we are going, is acted out on a daily basis on the way toward those ends.

 

This way of being in the world, recognizing that the ends participate in the means, is how the Apostle Paul both models and teaches the Christian faith.  He lives today in the hope of tomorrow.  He puts his life on the line for the sake of the message he carries because he knows not only that it is worth it but that is what it means to follow Jesus who did the same.  He encourages the Corinthians to live faithful, blameless lives, in anticipation of the day when they will be declared blameless by the grace of God, in the presence of God.

 

The end, fellowship with God eternally, is lived out today as we share fellowship with one another.  We love as we will be loved.  We forgive as we will be forgiven.  Knowing our future informs our present.  As Paul would later write, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

 

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, even as we begin our Advent waiting, fill us with a sense of where you are taking us, where we are going, that we might live out of that hope each day.  Forgive us for losing sight of you, for taking too much into our own hands, for the damage we cause to ourselves and others, for living out of fear. Help us live faithfully, blamelessly, honorably, until we see you face to face.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Monday, November 28th. Daniel 12:1-4

November 28, 2011

At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. But you, Daniel, keep the words secret and the book sealed until the time of the end. Many shall be running back and forth, and evil shall increase.” Daniel 12:1-4

 

This is quite the reading to begin our first week of Advent.  It is taken from the last vision in the book of Daniel.  Daniel is one of the few examples of apocalyptic literature in the Bible. 

 

Like the book of Revelation and portions of Ezekiel, apocalyptic literature is written during times of severe ordeal – in the case of Daniel, probably in the midst of the struggles and fallout after the Greek domination of Israel.  Common features of apocalyptic writings include the use of visions, dreams, exotic creatures, symbolism and numerology.  All of that is in Daniel and all of that opens a wide door to misinterpretation, misapplication and abuse.

 

The key to listening well to apocalyptic writing is also its danger.  We do well to listen more with our heart than our head, to pay attention to our emotional reactions more than turning it into a mathematical Rubic’s cube of speculation.  Apocalyptic literature is an art form like poetry, painting, and music.  It is better appreciated this way than reduced to a talking head on television warning us that the Russians are coming.

 

The hero in this final vision is Michael, the archangel, God’s bodyguard.  Central to the purpose of the book – encouraging people to faithfulness in the midst of trial and hardship – is the hope that the bad guys will be both defeated and punished while those who remain faithful will be rewarded.  Thus Michael, a biblical superhero, comes in to save the day.

 

My favorite angel story was told to me by Duane Ferchen, my supervising pastor during my internship.  He told me about a Christmas pageant that happened in his first parish, out on the prairie of eastern Montana.  They didn’t have enough children to play all the parts to the roles of the angels were left to the men of the congregation.  He said it was an amazing sight to see six big beefy pot-bellied farmers in their blue jeans and white t-shirts, wings affixed to their shoulders, come thundering down the center aisle of the church to take their place as protectors to the rest of the cast.

 

How could I forget such a vision?  And how could the readers of Daniel not take heart from a book that promises that, in the end, God wins.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, as we enter this Advent season of preparation for Christmas, we pray that this season bring us visions not only of Christmases past but also of the grand future that you are preparing for your people.  May our hope in you sustain us in the midst of whatever is happening in our lives.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Tuesday, November 22nd. Romans 12:14-21

November 22, 2011

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:14-21

 

The college I attended, Concordia College in Moorhead, MN, had an honor code that was taken very seriously by every student I knew.  It wasn’t complicated.  My memory of it is limited to not cheating and not messing around with anyone else’s stuff.  I do remember once that I forgot my backpack full of books and notebooks on a couch in the student center.  Two days later (obviously two days not focused on studying), I realized I lost it.  I retraced my steps and found it just where I had left it.  That was normal for life at Concordia.

 

I also remember the mission statement of that college.  Though I graduated 29 years ago, I often remember and will never forget:  The purpose of Concordia College is to influence the affairs of the world by sending into society thoughtful and informed men and women dedicated to the Christian life.

 

From the first time I heard that I thought to myself, “I want to be one of those people.”

 

This all came to mind for me in reading again from the advice on Christian character Paul gave to the Romans.  I thought about growing up in a small town, about Robert Fulghum’s classic, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”, about the formation that happened for me in college.  His words seem so simple.  So common sense.  And so absolutely other-worldly.

 

Don’t just be with people, really be with them.  Feel free to feel their joys and sorrows with them.  Strive to get along well with others.  Don’t think you have to be, or act like, you are better than anyone else.  You are good enough and that is good enough.

 

Don’t “get back” at people.  Doing so damages yourself so why do double damage?  If you are to do anything, practice kindness and generosity.  Be a force for good in the world.

 

This seems so simple because it really is simple. It is also possible.  One thought at a time.  One action at a time.  One day at a time.

 

Perhaps the right question to ask is, “How (rather than what) do I want to be when I grow up?”

 

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, you have broken down the dividing wall of hostility that divides us from God and one another.  We pray for your help so that we might live our lives out of that reality.  That we might, in word and deed, love our neighbors as we love ourselves, grounded always in your love for us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Monday, November 21st. Acts 4:32-37

November 21, 2011

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. Acts 4:32-37

 

Money doesn’t grow on trees.

 

Is there a child in the world who hasn’t heard their parents say this line – or some other cultural equivalent?

 

Is there a parent who hasn’t said this line only to hear their smarty-pants child come back with “Yes it does because it is made of paper”.  Which, if patience is available to said parent, then turns to an explanation of the cotton content of modern money.  And there you go.

 

Here’s the truth….money doesn’t grow on trees.

 

Here’s another truth….the vast majority of people with marketable skills AND a job (those two no longer go together as they once did) acquire enough money to provide the minimum needs for sustaining their lives.  Right now we are living through a difficult period of economic change.  It affects virtually everyone.  A 10%+ unemployment rate in many parts of the United States, interest income down, a highly volatile stock market, glaring problems in the European countries – all of this has increased our anxiety and hit us in the pocketbooks.  But the vast majority of us still have food to eat, a place to sleep, and enough left over to share with others.

 

It isn’t like this everywhere.  It isn’t like this for everyone.  But that has always been the case.  There has always been and there will always be wide disparities in how the good gifts of God are provided, acquired, managed, distributed and saved.

 

In this scene from Acts 4, the spiritual reawakening which has come in the power of the indwelling Spirit of God has also produced a new kind of social awareness.  The new disciples are loving one another, not just in words, but in deeds.  They are sharing what they have with those who have little or nothing, the result of which is that there are no needy among them.

 

Some of what is shared comes from the daily incomes of people.  Some of what is shared comes from accumulated assets which are being sold and the proceeds donated.  This passage makes conservative capitalists nervous (it sounds too much like socialism or even communism) but it must sound like water on parched land to the poor.  It is a vision of a very different life than the dog eat dog survival rat race that is the most common way of being in the world.

 

But remember.  Money doesn’t grow on trees.  God is not magically dropping lottery winnings on the early church.  People are experiencing “enough” in life because those with “more than enough” are sharing what they have.  God gives everything but it takes human beings to manage the distribution of that everything.  The issue isn’t “is that possible?” – the issue here is “are we willing?”

 

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, thank you for all that we are and all that we have.  Thank you for the privilege of daily work and a trustworthy income.  Thank you for opportunities to share with others.  Especially this week we pray for an attitude of gratitude that flows into a heart of generosity. We pray today for those without enough, for those seeking jobs, for those who work hard but struggle to meet the demands of their lives.  Where we can be helpful, relieve our anxiety and give us the willingness to share.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Friday, November 18th. Revelation 3:14-22

November 18, 2011

“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation: “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” Revelation 3:14-22

 

Martin Luther King said that the opposite of love was not hate but apathy.  Winston Churchill said that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph would be for good men to do nothing.  And the angel writing to the church of Laodicea on God’s behalf says “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

 

Of themselves, the Laodiceans say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.”

 

Warner Sallman’s painting, “Christ at Heart’s Door” is one of the most iconic images reproduced in stained glass and behind the altar of many traditional congregations.  People are quick to notice that there isn’t a knob on the outside of the door (Jesus does the knocking but we have to open the door).  We are less apt to notice the lighting which puts Jesus at the center of a heart that includes the door.

 

Whenever I’ve seen this image, I always think about the Easter Sunday scene in John when Jesus passes through the locked door to join the fearful disciples.  The idea that God is somehow less powerful than the locked doors of a human heart seems ludicrous to me because I can’t imagine God being less powerful than anything.  God, after all, is God.

But I do recognize the Laodiceans.  I do recognize the self satisfaction of a positive balance in the bank; the egotism that says that life is all about me; the rationalism that explains away God; the consumerism that reduces the Christian faith to meeting my needs the way I want them met when I want them met how I want them met as long as I want them met.  I get all of that because I have all of that.  And because I have all of that, I see it in others.

The writer says:  “You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked”.  To that I would respond, “Actually, late at night when we can’t sleep, or when life takes uncontrollable turns in the bright light of day, or when we run up against the illusion of self control or hear yet another shrill voice telling us the world is rushing toward self destruction, we realize all of that.  For that is precisely what we are medicating ourselves against.”

 

“Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”

 

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, come into our lives again today.  Forgive us for all that we do that separates us from you and us from one another.  Come to us as we huddle in fear or run in rebellion.  Don’t let us go!  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Thursday, November 17th 2 Timothy 2:1-13

November 17, 2011

You then, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus; and what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well. Share in suffering like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving in the army gets entangled in everyday affairs; the soldier’s aim is to please the enlisting officer. And in the case of an athlete, no one is crowned without competing according to the rules. It is the farmer who does the work who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in all things. Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David–that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself. 2 Timothy 2:1-13

 

A man was brought before a judge for his arraignment.  The judge saw that the man did not have an attorney.  “Sir, do you not have an attorney to represent you?” asked the judge.

 

“No your honor.  I can’t afford an attorney.”

 

“Don’t worry, son,” said the judge, “We’ll find an attorney for you.”

 

“Thank you very much,” said the accused, “And while you’re at it, I could use some really good witnesses too.”

 

Jesus can use some really good witnesses as well.

 

He went to the cross alone.  The Bible tells us that there were some who witnessed against Jesus, but their stories were obviously crossed and trumped up.  The stony silence is that Jesus had no witnesses who spoke up on his behalf.  At best, those who would have spoken up for Jesus stood at a distance, at worst they ran away.

 

But on Easter Sunday night, Jesus entered the room where his friends were hiding and he gave them a new purpose.  “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  And then again at the beginning of Acts:  “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

 

1 and 2 Timothy are letters of encouragement to a young church leader, an invitation to excellence and persistence in witnessing to Jesus.  There are warnings that the way will not be easy, there will be suffering and hardship.  There is the reminder that witnesses do not travel alone. 

 

And there is the promise: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, we pray that you give us opportunity to commend the faith that is in us today.  Bring people to us who have something to say that we need to hear and in our hearing, may they sense your care.  Bring us opportunities to share what we have with others, and in our sharing, may they know your provision.  Bring us people who have lost hope, that we might provide encouragement, and in our encouragement, may they sense your strength.  Use us as your witnesses.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen. 

Wednesday, November 15th. 2 Samuel 22:1-4,17-32

November 16, 2011

“David spoke to the LORD the words of this song on the day when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said: The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies…”

 

“He reached from on high, he took me, he drew me out of mighty waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, from those who hated me; for they were too mighty for me. They came upon me in the day of my calamity, but the LORD was my stay. He brought me out into a broad place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me. The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God. For all his ordinances were before me, and from his statutes I did not turn aside. I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from guilt. Therefore the LORD has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness in his sight. With the loyal you show yourself loyal; with the blameless you show yourself blameless; with the pure you show yourself pure, and with the crooked you show yourself perverse. You deliver a humble people, but your eyes are upon the haughty to bring them down. Indeed, you are my lamp, O LORD, the LORD lightens my darkness. By you I can crush a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall. This God–his way is perfect; the promise of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all who take refuge in him. For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?” 2 Samuel 22:1-4, 17-32

 

Winston Churchill is usually quoted as the first to say “History is written by the victors.”  He also said, “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”  So it goes.

 

David is remembered as the greatest king of Israel – but that is to say far more about Israel than about David.  Solomon is remembered as the wisest king of Israel for largely the same reasons.  They sit in the shadows of the past, the glory days.  Theirs are the names that Israel needed to remember as it suffered through a calamitous history.  If David and Solomon were courageous, wise and faithful, then Israel could remember a similar national consciousness.

 

So we come to this passage from 2 Samuel.  This is David’s song of deliverance after a lifetime as a warrior king.  Soon David’s reign would chug chug to an end.  He would be reduced to his bed.  He would be told of one son taking the kingship on his own and then, at the urging of Bathsheba and Nathan, David himself would pass the mantle to Solomon.  But now, in this song, David sings praise to God to whom all glory and honor truly belongs.

 

The “revisionism” in this song isn’t about God but about David.  David claims his own innocence, his personal blamelessness.  Which, of course, is not true.  David was not perfect.  He did some utterly heinous things. And yet God did raise David up as king.  God did protect David.  Israel did move into a new national identity with expanded borders and greater security.  And yes, history is written by the victors.

 

We would do better then to read this song as a song about God rather than a song about David’s character.  God is steadfast, faithful, powerful, a deliverer, One worthy to be praised.  This is the God in whom we trust.

 

Yet we do well to also remember the words of Abraham Lincoln.  In response to a pastor visiting in the White House who said, “I hope God is on our side,” Lincoln replied, “’I am not at all concerned about that for I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.'”

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, we are often tempted to see you as “our” God and reduce you to an idea, a motto, an inscription on a coffee cup.  This is our pride and our folly, our projection of you onto a canvas of our own creation.  This is our fear writ large.  Open our eyes to see clearly – forgive us our pride, our fear, our selfcenteredness.  Guide us to walk and live on your side, in your will, as you reveal it to us along the way.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Tuesday, November 15th. Joshua 24:1,14-15

November 15, 2011

Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God…”Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:1, 14-15

Edwin Friedman, in his book A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, calls it “self differentiation.” By that he refers to the capacity of a leader to define his or her own position within the larger system they seek to lead. He writes:

“After Generation to Generation [his first book] was first published, I began to receive calls from leaders in various parts of the country. At first I listened to the details of their experience, trying to learn more about my own theories. Then one day I realized that almost everyone who called was functioning in a reactive, defensive way and failing to define his or her own position clearly. They had become so focused on the aches and pains (the pathology) in the system that they had been thrown off course by the complaints. They had stopped supplying vision, or had burned out fighting the resistance; they had ceased to be the strength in the system. In short, they had forgotten to lead. I therefore stopped listening to the content of everyone’s complaints and, irrespective of the location of their problem or the nature of their institution, began saying the same thing to everyone: ‘You have to get up before your people and give an ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.’”

This is precisely what Joshua does.

Joshua finished what had begun under Moses. He had led the people of Israel into the promised land. He consolidated their newly won territory, divided it among the tribes, and now, in the 24th chapter, he gathered the people together to remind them that every blessing they and their families had received were gifts from God. Gifts that came with a tag, “Use as Intended.”

Joshua was aware that the people had been hedging their bets. Along the way they had been gathering up local deities, false gods, gods who are no gods…just in case. This is all so human – always looking for a loophole, always seeking an edge, acting without thinking clearly – but it will not do for the people of God. God doesn’t want us wasting our time chasing gods who are not gods!

So Joshua self defines. He can’t personally dig through everyone’s tents, looking for evidence of their wayward faith. He can’t personally insure, let alone effect, the devotion of his people to the God who has blessed them with life. But he can lead. He can share what he is about; he can take a stand.

Someone witty once said that if we don’t stand for something, we will fall for anything. So Joshua tells the people, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, at first it seems ludicrous to us that your people, having seen all they had seen, were still attracted by gods who are not gods. But then we think about all in our lives that we attach importance to, even more importance than we attach to our faith in you. We think of all that drives us, tempts us, distracts us, and takes us off course. Thank you for the willingness of Joshua to offer us a path to understanding our lives and our purpose. For we too seek to serve you and your will for life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, November 14th. Luke 12:41-48

November 14, 2011

Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?”  And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.  Luke 12:41-48

 

What is Peter looking for in his initial question?

 

In the 12th chapter of Luke, Jesus tells stories and uses real life examples to encourage his listeners both to a sense of urgency in their calling and to greater trust that they will be OK.  Jesus seems to jump from one extreme to the other.  Consider verses 5-7: 

 

But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

 

If you are really keying into what Jesus is saying, it might be a bit crazy making.  How do you keep up with that?  So maybe what Peter is seeking is (positive slant) some clear direction to just what he ought to do or (negative slant) a loophole that gets him off the hook.

 

Thus we find ourselves at the end of the church calendar year.  Christ the King Sunday is just around the corner.  Now is the time of the year when we are hearing the “hurry up and wait” stories of the Bible.  We find ourselves turning another page in the same faith whose 1st century adherents were absolutely convinced that Jesus was coming back to wrap the whole experiment up by next Tuesday.

 

But we still wait.  Christ is King and we are ambassadors of that disputed sovereignty but we all know that we are settled in for the long haul.  We are only the most recent age to assume it will all end with us.  So Peter’s question becomes our question.

 

And Jesus answers…..with a story.  At best he offers a cryptic “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, you have given us all that we need.  Life, love, purpose.  You have brought us into a new relationship with you and with others in the church.  You give us the freedom to love and be loved, to forgive and be forgiven, to receive and to share.  Give us also that rare combination of urgency and patience, that we ever be ready to act quickly in your name and that we be equally ready to rest patiently in your promises.  For we know we have been given much.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.