Archive for November, 2016

Luke 19:28-38

November 22, 2016

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.

As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Luke 19:28-38

Juxtaposition: <noun> the fact of two things being seen or placed close together with contrasting effect.

Anyone in Jesus’ day would have realized the revolutionary nature of the shouts of the crowd as Jesus came riding toward Jerusalem on his little steed, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

They were not uncommon words. “King” and “Lord” were not uncommon titles. Parades were not uncommon events. What was uncommon was that those words, and that kind of parade, were reserved for the Roman emperor. What was uncommon was their use for someone as common as Jesus.

The triumphant march, mounted on a warhorse, followed by the Roman legion, newly captured slaves, the spoils of war – this was public theater at its finest. Carefully orchestrated. The ultimate display of ostentatious power and glory. And Luke juxtaposes all of this with Jesus riding into town on a colt.

There was an article in the paper the other day about the physical and financial impact of presidential travel. The two numbers that stuck in my mind were $236,000 an hour (the cost of operating Air Force One every time the president uses it to go somewhere) and $100,000 a day (the extra costs borne by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for a single presidential visit.) Jesus borrowed a colt.

Today is the anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It remains a tragic, horrific, memory. The reason there is such intensive and expensive security around our president, and president-elect, is to prevent this from ever happening again. Even with all of that, President Reagan was nearly killed one day, although surrounded by his protective detail. Security is expensive and, too often, illusory.

No one protected Jesus. No one stood up for him. No one testified on his behalf. His own closest friends sold him out and denied even knowing him. It truly was a rigged system.

Every single day people are attacked, even killed, because of their convictions, their faith, their willingness to stand up for those victimized by worldly power grabs. An attack on a president is uncommon; an attack on a protestor hardly makes the news. The juxtaposition says much about us.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we close our eyes and we imagine the scene. But in our imagination, we think we would do things differently. We like to believe we would have stood with you, shouting NO amidst the cries for your crucifixion, but in our heart of hearts we realize how easily we continue to be swayed by the illusions of earthly power, wealth, and grandeur. You alone are King, Lord, Savior, and you alone are worthy of our devotion. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Colossians 1:11-20

November 21, 2016

May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.

He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. Colossians 1:11-20

I wish I could talk personally to Jesus this morning. I wish he was sitting here next to my desk. I have a bunch of questions for him and I would love to hear his answers before I share my thoughts on this passage from Colossians.

I have always thought that Martin Luther would get angry if he knew that my tribe had labeled ourselves “Lutherans.” At least, I hope he would get angry if he knew. I like to imagine him saying something along the lines of “this isn’t about ME. It isn’t about MY ideas or MY interpretation of scripture. It is all about God, revealing all we need to know in Jesus, continuing to guide us through the Holy Spirit.”

So I would love to hear Jesus’ thoughts on that one.

And I would love to hear what Jesus thinks about all of our feeble attempts to capture his essence, his purpose, his identity, in our flowery words and our theologizing. It is a bit scary to think about this one but I would love to hear what Jesus would have to say about what we have put together (or torn into little pieces) that we call the “church” in all its forms. I like to imagine that he wouldn’t have much patience with conversation about the church. That he would much rather talk about how so many people have worked so hard to recapture his healing and teaching ministry through our hospitals and educational systems. I would love to hear what he thinks about modern farming and micro loans and the internet.

I am always carrying several people in my heart at a time. A young man questioning his faith. Another struggling to beat cancer. People grieving the loss of loved ones. People coming to grips with painful diagnoses and uncertain treatment paths. People who are so richly blessed but unsure of how to steward their lives. I would love to hear Jesus’ advice on what I should be doing today to make a difference in any of that.

I’d like to hear Jesus talk about what he sees going on now in our country. The Bible tells us that all things, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. I would like to hear his thoughts on that one. I’m afraid he wouldn’t have much patience for that topic either.

I’d like to have a personal talk with Jesus about all the questions that swirl in my head.

I think I just did.

He said to trust him, to do the next right thing, to realize that he is connected to everything, and that he loves me. I think that is all I need to know on a Monday morning.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, speak to us more deeply than words. Draw closer to us than our own selves. Use our eyes to see our lives and then tell us what you saw. Use our lives to touch the world today and then tell us it is enough. Let it be enough. Make us strong, patient, and persistent. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Jude 1:17-25

November 18, 2016

But you, beloved, must remember the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; for they said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, indulging their own ungodly lusts.” It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions.

But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on some who are wavering; save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies.

Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. Jude 1:17-25

So how many different branches of Christianity are there? To what degree is the Body of Christ divided? Every once in awhile someone will ask me that question and I never answer it well. It is too confusing. Just read this article and try not to get confused. Or discouraged.

Jude tells us this morning that divisions within the church are caused by “scoffers”, by “worldly people” who are “devoid of the Spirit.” Of course Jude would say that. That is what we all say. Few leaders, in any of the thousands of twigs of the Christian tree, are going to say “our fellowship exists because of the teaching of a disbelieving worldly leader who wanted to steer us away from the one true faith that existed before we came along.” But we’re not above saying (although not so impolitely) such things about others outside of our tribe. This isn’t good. It is a tendency rooted in something other than love. It soils the Christian witness to the world.

And yet these are the words from today’s reading that catch our attention. It is the splinter in our neighbor’s eye that we are so quick to notice, despite the log in our own. Thankfully Jude leads us away from judging others and redirects us back to getting our own house in order.

What are we encouraged to do? To grow in our faith and understanding, to pray for help, to rely on the love of God, to anticipate the mercy of Jesus Christ, and to lead with that same mercy in our relationships and witness to the world.

That sounds good to me.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you are merciful to us, may we be merciful to others. You love us, may we love others. Rather than tearing down other Christians, use us to build up our common witness – that we all might grow in faith, understanding, mercy, and love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

1 John 4:1-8

November 17, 2016

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world.

Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and whoever is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 1 John 4:1-8

“Encouragement” is a beautiful word. Like the cowardly lion, we all have courage within us, even when we don’t always realize it. When people encourage us, our courage reservoir is being filled up. We need that. We all need that. I love that it was Barnabas, introduced in Acts 4 as the “son of encouragement” who took the new convert Saul, under his wing.

Today we hear from 1 John, one of the three little letters of encouragement that come near the end of the New Testament. Written out of the same school of thought that gave us the Gospel of John, I always picture the writer as an old respected leader called by God to encourage the Christian community.

He reminds us today to “test the spirits.” In John’s Gospel, Jesus said that, after he went away, he would send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to teach and guide the church (John 14.) Now in this first letter, the writer tells us that this very spirit is within us. He describes this spirit as a power greater than the spirits which would deceive us. And he tells us how to tell the difference.

The Holy Spirit confesses that Jesus is God in the flesh. That God is a “down to earth” God. It is this Spirit who communicates truth to us, and it is this Spirit within us who discerns the truth. But this Spirit is opposed by other spirits that often seem to receive a much warmer welcome in the world.

The distinctive visible attribute of the Holy Spirit working within us is love. Agape love. Self giving, self sacrificing, love. Love which seeks the best for the neighbor. Love that seeks to choose on behalf of, and in the best interests of, the neighbor. This love is supernatural, it is beyond us, because it is God’s love which flows to us, and through us, into the world.

Left to our own devices, we will follow whatever voices tell us exactly what we want to hear. We will listen to those voices that promise us a free lunch, that tell us we are better or different than others, that appeal to our basest appetites and instincts. Those are the voices of the false spirits. They might use the word “love” but the world they seek to create is anything but loving.

Beloved, let us love one another.  It was in John’s gospel that Jesus says that the world will know us by our love (John 13.)

So how are we doing? If you asked someone walking down the sidewalk today what is the first word that comes to their minds when they think about Christianity, how would they answer? If that first word isn’t “love” then God has some more work to do within us.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you create us in love. You redeem us in love. You send us to love. Though we stray, wander, even get lost, your love for us never ends. As we move into our day, ground us deeply in your love, that we might reflect your love into the world in real, practical, down to earth ways, whether the world likes it or not. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Exodus 14:10-20

November 15, 2016

As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”

But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.”

The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night. Exodus 14:10-20

You all know this story. Or, like me, you know the broad outlines of this story. It has been a long time since you actually read it. And the last time you read it, (when?, like me, you can’t really remember), you never paid all that much attention to the details. Well, welcome back.

The first time that the Lord rescued the Israelites (from famine) was when he sent them to Egypt, under the care of the brother they had sold into slavery. Joseph, who would be their earthly rescuer, was the first of the Israelis to become a slave. He had a nice position, he had a lot of power, he had pharaoh’s ear, but he was still a slave. He was just doing pharaoh’s bidding rather than Potiphar’s. A slave to the very rich is still a slave, even if he dresses better.

Then things changed. They always do. Pharaohs come and pharaohs go. Policies change like underwear. Israel looked up and their status had changed from honored and privileged guests to slave laborers. Thus they remained for many many years. (Click here if you want to hear the argument that their slavery in Egypt lasted about 215 years rather than the 400 years that Hollywood taught you.)

God raised up Moses, (precursor to Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas and every other slave who has sought the release of their fellow slaves,) and brought him to Pharaoh The Latest, with the demand that he let the Israelites go. The demand, not the polite request. The demand, backed up with plague upon plague. But pharaoh was stubborn. Slaves are handy. Pharaoh, no surprise here, went back on his word time and time again. Until the night that they drove old Dixie down, the Passover, the deaths of the first born, and Pharaoh the Latest had enough. He opened a window and the slaves ran through.

And then they stopped. Which brings us now to the text for today. Notice the exchange between God and Moses. Moses tells the people, “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” Then God immediately replies, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground.” Moses says “just stand there” and God says “do something!”

Presidents, like pharaohs, come and go. Policies change. Realities shift. Promises are made and broken. Today, many people in the United States taste a freedom their forebears only dreamed of. Others look forward to a new freedom just around the corner, the ability to come out of the shadows and live in peace. The freedom to be is a precious thing. Once won it is hard to give back. Once glimpsed it is hard to close your eyes again.

The Exodus has many lessons to teach us. Among them, our eagerness to trade the slavery of the known for the arduous trek into the freedom that God is preparing for us. Our willingness to keep still, even to go back, rather than stand up, move forward, and trust God on the way. Moses lifted his staff and the people took one more step toward glory.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, in slavery our lives are defined by our captors. Our lives are controlled by our captors. In slavery we suffer. In freedom we are defined by you. In freedom we assume our responsibilities. In freedom we suffer too, but our suffering is growing pains rather than the ties that bind us down. Give us the courage to walk into freedom, trusting you all the way. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 21:25-38

November 14, 2016

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, as it was called. And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple. Luke 21:25-38

Every child learns the story of the little boy who cried “Wolf!” When the wolf finally came, the townspeople didn’t believe him. He was wrong before. He tricked them before. Why should they believe him now?

What does Jesus mean when he says “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place”? Is he crying wolf? Or is something else going on?

We are now approaching the end of the year on the Christian calendar. Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the year, is almost here. This is the time of the year when we hear what we have always been taught are the “end times prophecies” of Jesus. These are the scary parts of the Bible that terrified me in middle school. The “you better be ready OR ELSE” parts of the Bible that made me squirm in my seat and accept Jesus into my heart every time the person in the front of the room said I had to.

Is that the point? After reading all the Jesus stories about how he helped people, fed people, healed people, confronted the authorities, reached out across boundaries by healing foreigners, engaging with women, is the story now going to close with Jesus scaring people into being good little boys and girls OR ELSE?

The text says that people would get up early in the morning to go down to the temple to listen to what Jesus was teaching. Was Jesus just using emotional manipulation to draw a crowd? Or is something else, something deeper, going on?

People who have been blessed to discover a new life through finding a God that works for them through the 12 Steps of AA also come away with a long list of pithy sayings. Little one liners that help them stay on track. This morning I’m thinking about the line where the person says that they used to live “with one foot in the past and one foot in the middle, pissing on the present.” The obvious point here is that dwelling on a past you can’t change is futile. Living in the future is fantasy. All we really have to work with is today, and that is all that God asks of us. To live today. Taking one step at a time, hopefully in the right direction.

Whenever I teach the creation stories I work very hard to help people see that those two stories are theological arguments about the way life really works in the present. They aren’t history lessons. This morning I’m thinking the very same thing about the “end times prophecies.” They aren’t scenes of coming attractions – they are intended the lift the veil that covers our eyes about the way life really works right now. Over against our “oh, I’ll get around to it someday” way of living with our eyes closed, Jesus wants us to remain alert. Awake.

Jesus’ words are not coming to us as a snapshot of a moment in history, when Jesus talked to those people way back there – he is talking to us, today, now, in the present. To be alert, to stay awake, lest we miss the redemption that Jesus is bringing us right now. The redemption of love, not the rejection of being left behind.

Let us pray: Come Lord Jesus. Come to us now, today. Wake up our faith, our trust in you. Open our eyes to the realities of our broken world, that we might join you in the birthing of a new creation. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Ephesians 1:15-23

November 11, 2016

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Ephesians 1:15-23

It never occurred to me, when God saw fit to schedule my first opportunity to work as an associate pastor at a congregation here in Houston, that I would spend the rest of my life in this town. Or that I would come to realize what a wonderful blessing that has been. Especially now that I have reached that stage in ministry where children I baptized have reached out to me to perform their weddings. And where great friends of mine have now gotten ever closer, and have passed over, to the other side.

There are massive cemeteries right along the highway that connects the places where I have served. I drive by it often. I have been part of many funerals there. Sometimes I don’t even notice them. Sometimes I do. Every time that I’m there for a funeral I realize the disconnect between those who are grieving and those who are just driving by.

Houston has a huge medical center. A tremendous complex of hospitals and medical schools and research facilities. It is just down the street from our church. There too it is so easy to just drive on by without realizing the gut wrenching realities that people are facing in their lives inside each of those buildings. All the people there to help all the people there who hurt.

I helped a couple get married last Saturday. This Sunday I will be privileged to speak those holy words as I baptize the third child born to a young couple at Faith. Saturday night we will host a famous Chinese evangelist as she sings and shares her faith with those who come. All of this because of the mysterious movement of God’s Holy Spirit, whose power continues to infuse us with the power of faith that enlightens the eyes of our hearts.

We worry so much about what we believe is entirely up to us. That is the price we pay when we think that life is all about us. But when we are given those precious moments of insight, those little glimpses into the power and presence of God, then we are able to realize that God is up to something far bigger, far better, far more beautiful, than we could ever imagine. Trust God in all things and you are able then to reconnect the disparate moments of your life and know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, from cradle to grave and beyond, you have caught us up into the mystery of your love, the fellowship of the church, the glory of creation, and the greater glory yet to come. Continue to open the eyes of our hearts that we might truly see. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Revelation 7:9-17

November 10, 2016

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:9-17

The book of Revelation is a tough read. Full of symbols, numerology, mythic creatures, and obscure poetry, it is precisely the kind of literature that lends itself to the idea that its true meaning, its true power, is only available to a select group of insiders who speak its language. Which is the point.

Apocalyptic literature like Revelation is the science fiction of the Bible. Scholars tell us that it is the kind of literature that emerges in times of great stress and oppression. Fittingly, it was probably written sometime in the 90’s CE, during the reign of Emperor Domitian. Domitian is often described using words like despot, tyrant, authoritarian, personality cult. He was very popular among the people who benefited from his iron hand rule and very unpopular among those who suffered – including the Senators he dismissed and the Christians he fed to the lions in the very popular games that he grew to entertain Roman crowds.

Domitian’s quest was to restore the Roman empire to the power and glory of the days under Caesar Augustus. He took divine titles for himself and for his family. As always, the tension between earthly kingdoms and the Kingdom of God put Christians under suspicion. Their choice was to “go along to get along” or to retreat, and when pushed, resist. Depending on who the emperor was, and the struggles the empire was facing, there were periods of great oppression in the first century but there were also periods of benign neglect. Along the way, the book of Revelation was written.

The Christian talk of temples and kingdoms, the vision of a future without hunger, thirst, tears or death, the final victory of God over the forces of evil – all of this is powerful, even more powerful if you read it while you are hungry, thirsty, grieving, and terrified. It is a reminder to us that earthly empires rise and fall. That people will always be prone to idolize earthly characters, who inevitably fall short. Domitian was assassinated. Christ is King.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, when times get hard and the future is uncertain, or when times are great and the future seems wide open, protect us against the temptation to seek our salvation from the gods who are not gods. Keep our eyes firmly fixed on you and that future vision where the many divisions of this life are healed as you bring us into that great multitude from every nation where death has died and tears have dried. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Morning After The Election

November 9, 2016

Greetings everyone.

I wrote today’s devotion last night when the results of today’s election were not known. This morning I shared a message with our congregation via Facebook. (Which kind of goes against the grain for me since I have been largely ignoring Facebook since July.) But it is a wonderful communication tool. So here is the message that I sent to our beautiful folks at Faith Lutheran Church:

Here we are, the morning after the election. Some people are thrilled and others are devastated – which is the inevitable result of every election. This morning is a good time to pray, just as every morning is a good time to pray.
 
So let us pray for the health, well-being, wisdom, and judgment of President Elect Trump and all who were chosen by the people to serve the people. Let us pray for an orderly and peaceful transition as the results of the election work their way throughout our entire governance system in the weeks and months to come.
 
Let us pray for those who feel like their deepest hopes and fears were both dashed and celebrated in this election.
 
And let us pray that, no matter which ways the winds of culture blow, we might do our part in our own little corner of the garden, to follow Jesus in blessing the world with the kind of faith that really works in our daily lives, the hope that tomorrow will be better because of what God is doing today, and the love that binds up the brokenness of hearts, minds, bodies, and lives.
 
This morning my mind keeps going back to the words of that beautiful prayer from St. Francis:
 
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
 
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

November 9, 2016

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died.

For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.

Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Everything that I was taught about the New Testament in the seminary, and everything that I have read since, at least by reputable scholars, is that Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica is the oldest writing in the New Testament. Written, maybe, from Corinth, in, maybe, 52 CE, it helps us see the thinking of the young Paul, the early Paul. Even though there is obviously a lot of conjecture and educated guesses here, one thing is certain. Beyond a doubt. Paul was wrong.

The young Paul, the early Paul, clearly and certainly expected that Jesus would return as an avenging angel, leading a celestial army, heralded by a heavenly trumpet, in Paul’s own lifetime. He expected Jesus to suck the dead out of the ground where they had been buried. He expected a sea of bodies to rise through the air and meet Jesus in the clouds. The dead would go up as Jesus would come down, and those still alive, including Paul, would party with Jesus forever.

Paul was wrong.

Paul was as wrong as William Miller was when he preached that Jesus was coming back sometime between March 1843 and March 1844. Eventually they settled on October 22nd as the big day. Many gave their possessions away, thinking they wouldn’t need them anymore. Imagine their surprise – estimates are that over 100,000 people came to fervently believe that Jesus was coming back that very night – to wake up on October 23rd.

You would think that would have settled it. That people would realize that their anticipation of the second coming was misguided. That they had been, however innocently, misled. But that isn’t what happened. Instead they went back to the Bible again. And some found the parable of the virgins in Matthew 25 to explain Jesus’ delay. I don’t know, I guess something suddenly came up for Jesus other than bodies flying into the clouds from their graves.

And yet there are still today millions of Christians who remain convinced that Paul’s sense of the future IS what is going to happen, exactly in the way the Bible describes. Absolutely convinced. And I say – knowing that people will not like to hear this, and freely admitting that it is my opinion – I believe that they are just as wrong now as Paul was then.

Does that mean that I don’t believe “in the Bible”? Absolutely not. I take the Bible very seriously. It is God’s Word to all of us, especially to those who actually read it. But I do not take the Bible literally. To do so elevates an idea above the plain words of the text and that is idolatrous. To hear the plain words of the text is to listen well to the Bible. And when I read the plain words of this passage from 1 Thessalonians, it is clear to me that Paul’s understanding and expectation of the future was simply wrong.

I think even Paul figured that out over time as his final work, the letter to the Romans, never mentions trumpets or clouds or meeting Jesus in the air. He came to a new understanding. He grew. He matured.

By the time you read this the election will be over. As in every election, some will wake up this morning feeling excited, vindicated, hopeful about the future. Others will wake up feeling devastated, deflated, less hopeful about the future. People from both parties have joked that if their candidate doesn’t win they are moving to Canada. Oh well, if they aren’t willing to stay and work to make things better it probably is best for all concerned if they go. Just know that they will still run into real life there too and it will still be far more complicated than simple answers suggest.

But let’s do let Paul words be a warning to us. People can be dead wrong about a lot of things. Only time will tell.

Jesus will put a wrap on it when he is good and ready. In his time, not in ours. And between now and then he was crystal clear what he expects from us – to love God and to love our neighbor, to baptize and make disciples, to teach and to serve. Nothing about yesterday’s election changes a thing about any of that.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, like Paul we look forward with anticipation for whatever it is that you have prepared for us. By grace we hope to be included in it. But now we will live for today. We pray all the best for those who were elected to office yesterday and for the common good that we all strive toward. We pray for encouragement to the discouraged and courage and wisdom for those who will soon assume new positions of honor, authority, and trust. In Jesus’ name. Amen.