On Sunday, many in San Francisco will be gathering for the annual Gay Pride March in San Francisco. The Gay Pride movement and parade started as a protest one year after bar in New York called the Stonewall Inn was raided 45 years ago today. This protest March was created, not to thrust a “lifestyle” on to the general public, but to bring awareness to a community, which was being treated differently and unjustly. Discrimination against GLBT folks was, and to some respect is, connected to unknowing and fear.
Walter Brueggemann brought that out in one of my doctoral classes when we were working through the book of Leviticus. There were two African Methodist Episcopal pastors in the class that went off on a tangent on homosexuality. When Brueggemann corrected the men as to what Leviticus was actually talking about, he looked at them and said, “It is hard to accept homosexuality because you find it Icky?”
The two pastors laugh, and my friend who I worshiped with while in Atlanta retorted, “Yeah, basically” to which Brueggemann pointed out how often we make laws because we do not know or understand things. He then brought it back to the controversial statement, especially to two pastors in a tradition so rooted in slavery, Jim Crow, and so much more racism. “It is easy to subjugate people who are separated from the whole or lay a moral decree upon them; that has been the excuse for many persecutions, including slavery.” The discussion that ensued was lively and powerful as the two men began to think deeper about their positions.
What really changed the dialogue concerning sexuality happened about fifteen years after Stonewall in the late eighties. A new disease was in full swing called AIDS. It was initially linked to the Gay community, which was the fastest spreading community for the gay male community. I won’t go into the history, but I would recommend someday sitting through a play, made into a miniseries called “Angels in America” to get a sense of the disease from the inside.
The visibility that AIDS bought forced many people come out as gay and encouraged others to come out in solidarity. By the late nineties, most people knew a gay person, by the mid 2000’s most people would say that they had a friend or family member that was gay.
In the last couple of years, we have really seen a change in the understanding of Sexuality. Though our denomination and some congregations continue to debate the issue of sexuality, society has made a shift, and for the first time a year ago a national survey showed most Americans supporting GLBT issues. Interestingly, among self-identified conservative and liberal young adults (18-30), both groups are overwhelmingly supportive of most GLBT rights issues.
Unfortunately, in the church the debate continues, often to the frustration of young adults, both conservative and liberal! The frustration comes from the debates over sexuality, which often have far more to do with being right than about the individuals and helping them to find a journey with God.
As a church, we have to examine and explore the issues that are in front of us in a way that Christ would. Though there are a few places in the bible that discuss the issues of homosexuality, all of them are in the context of worship or promiscuity in the Old Testament, or a specific forced sexual act of abuse that was linked to pedestry in the New Testament. Unfortunately, these few verses allow people to justify actions that are so against the teachings of Christ; you wonder what God would actually think.
As we get to know the vast community and diversity within this world, we have to start with the fact that we are all children of God. We all have emotions, we all hurt, and we all have Joy. Moreover, what God wants for us more then anything else is to be a loving community that enables people to have a deeper, fuller relationship with Him.
Today, it will have been 45 years since the Stonewall Riots, and our culture and world have changed considerably. The question that we have as a church, a denomination, and a world faith community, is: How are we going to learn to accept and support one another no matter what?
Luke 9:51-62 and Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Throughout the Bible, the calling narrative is repeated over and over. Often it involves an individual who is considered unworthy by their clan or by themselves, but the call, both in the Old and New Testaments, is ultimately unavoidable as is demonstrated in stories like Jonah’s.
Typically, the call to the ministry is reserved for a certain set of people, and usually neither the elite nor “most holy.” In modern parlance, they would be the last to get picked on the playground, or they might be the neighbor whom you know exists but always seems aloof or distant, or the one whom you just never expected much out of, that God chooses to use and to do incredible things.
The calling narratives follow a standard pattern of God reaching out to individuals to speak on behalf of God. Those who are picked often protest, either out of their weakness (Jeremiah), or their moral qualms over what God is asking them to do (Jonah), or forced humility (Paul), and so on. After the inevitable submission to God's way, the person who is called is almost immediately put on a pedestal as well as discounted. Nevertheless, the truth they speak is often foundational to the life God wants for us.
The calling story that we encounter this week is a bit different from the typical call narrative. In this story, we see Jesus setting off on yet another journey. As he passes through Samaria, Jesus is rejected from staying in the Samaritan city. When the disciples create a plan for retribution, Jesus quashes it quickly with a strong rebuke.
This sets the stage for three unique call encounters. The first is a man who approaches Christ, most likely from the Samaritan city, and petitions to follow Christ. Jesus calls the man despite the fact that he wants to follow, but Jesus points out that the inhospitable community has already rejected him. So while Jesus was in the city, no one offered hospitality, but now that they were safely out of the city, it is ok to join?
Obviously knowing the answer, Jesus turns to a second man giving a command to follow him, to which that man is obviously honored, but speaks of the obligations that must be tended to first, namely burying his father. Jesus essentially tells the man to abandon the dead, since they are dead, there is work to be done among the living. However, knowing the tradition, we know that most likely the second man chose to stay in order to bury the father. In a way, the man was rejecting Christ for the Law instead of the propagation of the kingdom.
The third man to approach Christ, obviously seeing what is going on, extends the offer with the caveat that he needs to get his house in order and say farewell. Nevertheless, again, Christ points to the terms and conditions that the man is putting on the call, teaching that a faith in God is a call beyond; to be tied to the past, to the now, is ultimately to reject God.
What Christ is pointing to is the fact that there is a cost to following God. And though he would pay the ultimate cost, there was an expectation that once we accepted his grace, if we truly had faith, we would progress forward, accept God and do as God said, ultimately not on our own terms but by what God has laid before us.
As you prepare for worship, think about what is God calling for you? And how might others know that you walk in the Spirit with Christ?
If faith were a cookie, one might say that the combination of grace, trust, and hope are its core ingredients, like flour, sugar and some type of oil/butter are the basic ingredients are found in every aspect of faith. Furthermore, in a way, without grace, trust and hope, we become stuck in a faith that is ultimately empty, and a prison of individual survival.
Without grace, we can never move on. While there are many lessons and practices that come with grace, one example is what we learn from grace that allows us to forgive. When we forgive, we are enabled to let go of the things that we cannot control; we are also able to extend to others that have done us wrong a fresh start and the opportunity for a renewed relationship.
Without trust, we have no present to live in fully. Think of it this way, if we cannot learn to trust God or each other and the only one we can trust is ourselves, then we are never able to learn or grow. Moreover, without trust, we live in the false reality that we can rely exclusively on our own whims and desires. This often takes us down the dangerous path of Nihilism, an extreme negativity of the world, or Narcissism, the self-love devoid of community. This selfish approach to life gives us merely a moment-by-moment existence.
Without hope, our future is limited in the same way that a lack of grace and trust limits us. If there is nothing to hope for, what does that say to the whole life that God wants for us? Philosophers have struggled with this question for centuries. However, as Christians, we recognize that our hope in God transcends all things and at its root is a realization that hope allows us a freedom to live and recognition that there is something more to come.
This week these coalesce into the topic of Faith, which will lead us next week to Love. Nevertheless, this week we are exploring the story that is found in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) of Jesus Curing the Boy with a Demon. Here we see in great detail a topic that was raised toward the end of our discussion this past Sunday, and that is how the disciples who know, saw, and worked with Christ could still not believe.
In fact, in this passage, we see an obviously annoyed Christ coming to the aid of this boy because his disciples did not have a strong enough faith. Here the miracle really takes the back seat to the annoyance Christ has felt towards our society, which seems to be in a constant loop of faithlessness, or the bargaining mode of believing and following to the point of comfort and not beyond.
For modern Christians, it is hard for us to understand how the disciples could not have the faith in God in Christ since they knew him, could touch and walk with him. It is hard to imagine that their faith was as tentative as ours is at times. Think about it though: while they were in ministry with Christ, they began learning from a man who they saw as a teacher. As that relationship grew, so did their understanding of Christ, and really it was not until Christ’s own final ascension that all the disciples really came to fully understand what they were part of, so the faith they showed was very much tied to the moment and their reality.
As we think for this Sunday, ask yourself, how do I use Grace, Trust, and Hope as tools for my faith, and how can that bring me to a new and freer life in Christ through faith?
Since introduced to the writings of Dieterich Bonhoeffer, in college, I have been drawn to his writing. The first two books I read were Life Together and The Cost of Discipleship. Both books seemed to take the complexity of theology and make it comprehensible. As I continued my theological education, I began to be drawn in by the writings of Bonhoeffer, not only because of the clear and understandable approach but by the story of his life and how he changed his understanding and call through the experiences and life connections he made.
Foundational to his choice to join his family on a failed attempt to assassinate Hitler, was the time he spent in New York teaching at Union Theological Seminary and connecting with an African-American Church in Harlem. The church that he was at profoundly changed him and his understanding of community and justice.
By the time I was in seminary, I began to explore his letters and papers from prison. Again, you could see a change in the practical faith and Christian practice, but you could also see an unchanging identity as a person that was grounded in an identity within Christ, even among the doubts. To me this is exemplified in the poem “Who Am I” which shows the struggle of identity he is having, having been a prisoner in an unjust system, a man who is unable to be who he feels called to be and a child of God.
While this is about his time in prison, it speaks to the constant struggle that all people have between the multiple persona we have to put forward. While we are not in prison (though someone reading this might be, who knows) sometimes our lives can give off prison-like feelings. Moreover, we often find that we have to hold a different persona towards different people.
I learned this back when I was in seminary working as a chaplain at Marin General Hospital. I had been called in late one night to meet with a family of a young woman in her early sixties who had a mild heart attack. Unfortunately, because of her smoking her veins were not strong enough to do a catheterization, which did not leave many options for a recovery. When I met with the very Catholic family, they were incredibly appreciative of my presence, and when I left I told them that I would check back. The son thanked me and let me know that his uncle the bishop and aunt the nun would be arriving the next day, and they probably would not be needing the chaplain support anymore, but thanked me for the time I had given them.
That was a typical response, especially if the family already had a spiritual connection. However, when I had the ICU on the rounds the next day, I had a feeling like I should check in and just let them know I was thinking of them. By that time, the bishop had arrived along with his sister the nun. They were emotional, having just received news that there was less than a 10% chance of recovery. Then, to my surprise, they almost begged me to come in and sit with the family and pray with them.
It turns out that neither he, nor his sister felt they could be the “clergy” person. So for the first and only time in my life I was a Father, at least that is what they kept calling me as they reminisced, laughed, and cried through the mother’s last days. It was very interesting that when the time came, even though the Bishop performed the Sacrament of the Sick (aka the Last Rites) he asked me to do the other prayers.
As we sat waiting for the paperwork to be finished and the funeral home to come by, the Nun handed me a book, and said “I don’t know who taught you, but you definitely have a calling for care.” It turned out that not only had they been clergy, but also together they had written a book about the death and dying process. I was humbled.
The whole time I worked with that family I questioned what my role was, I asked what it was that God wanted me to do, and I explored within myself the greater call of presence beyond my “job.” At this point I prayed and took note of how God had used me even though I know I neither had the skill nor knowledge to do what I did, but could be effective though faith.
At any moment of my life, both in easy times and hard ones I think I would have a difficult time fully expressing who I am. Often I wonder who the authentic me might be, just as Bonhoeffer does in his poem. However, every time I let go and be the faithful person God calls me to be, I always seem to be amazed.
Ask who I am, and I would not be able to tell you many specifics, because that always seems to change, but one thing does not and will not change. The constant that keeps me both grounded and focused is the truth that I belong to God. Moreover, who I am to myself or to others is inconsequential to that which is who I am with God and how I let God work through me.
Last Sunday, we explored the issue of salvation as it pertains to the law and faith. We learned that Paul makes a great distinction between the law, which cannot lead to faithfulness in God, and Faith in Christ that does. We also touched on the nature of a life in Christ that calls us to move in a direction of faithfulness and away from the law. This is based in Paul’s own story and witness of how he used the law to persecute those who were merely trying to be faithful to God.
The ultimate problem that Paul is pointing to is that a life of the law or a journey towards perfection, or even piety in life is one that will ultimately take you down a road which will lead you astray from God. This path happens because the driving force is not what the right thing to do is, but what the legal thing to do is. I am sure many of you have been in meetings and witnessed where people used the governing rules like Roberts Rules of Order to push an agenda. While legal, it’s not always in either the best interest of the organization or for the propagation of a deeper mission.
This week we take the discussion one step deeper, asking the question of how we are set free from the law. Within this freedom, we create a new moral structure that has the essential question of what is God calling us to do. This freedom to explore outside of law comes with a social price, as do all freedoms, that creates a system which is based on searching, question, and exploration rather than hard-and-fast answers or law and order. Though, not surprisingly, a life in Christ does not lead us to a path of nihilism or anarchy, because our life is to be life in response to our faith that is steeped in Christ, which calls us to live to something more.
This “living for something more” is exemplified in the supporting text from Luke that tells the story of the demon-possessed man. This is an interesting story of a unique chance at a second life. After being possessed and known to be possessed (probably a mental illness, but that does not matter for this discussion), the life that this man had to live would be one steeped in ostracism and harassment. After the healing, the man, realizing a new freedom from his possession, turns to Christ and asks to follow him, which Christ turns back, and redirects the man to go home and witness to the miracle. Faithfulness and devotion exampled here is based upon the action of going home, living into a freedom to live life fully.
Like the discussion of law, the directive that came from Christ was not to pursue a life of debauchery now that the possessed man was free, but to live in faithfulness, being a live witness to the work of Christ. The pericope in Galatians also reminds us that freedom from the law, which segregates us, changes us to no longer be separated by gender, ethnicity, or group; since we have been made one with Christ, our freedom calls us to live into a deeper promise of Christ and a more full life.
The journey to a deeper faith can take on many hats; by spending the last few weeks and the bulk of the rest of the summer exploring a “Way to God,” we try to build up a spiritual toolbox that you can have to begin to think holistically about faith. Kind of like the foodie trend of a “Deconstructed meal,” we are separating our specific aspects of faith to learn and appreciate all the elements that make up a faithful life. However, when we journey to seek out a “Way to God,” we also have to remember that there really is no formula for how to be faithful or reach an enlightened state.
The push for a uniform faith and approach causes many to explore the non-Christian forms of enlightenment through meditation, seeking interpersonal revelation, or something else to find the answers that seem to be lacking, because often the church is afraid to engage a questioning faith with nurture instead of answers. This means, as we are finding out, that when we engage a discussion on the topic of a “Way to God” we find that it is not an easy path. In fact, it is quite hard!
So far, we have explored being gracious and trusting. Being gracious can feel impossible when you do not feel very gracious. Trust can be equally difficult when your mind can go to every reason possible why you should not trust. This makes practicing grace and trust out of reach for most people. Being human this is a great roadblock, but as we will learn as we continue down the path that we are on when we learn to “let go and let God” we begin to find trust because our values and expectations become aligned with God.
Think about it this way. Pretend you have a teenager, and you see him/her biking without a helmet on. You run out and scold the child for not wearing the helmet, and they come back at you for how unfair you are for making them look stupid in that helmet. You as the adult know that the safety issue is paramount to the coolness factor, though your child can only see it from the perspective of being a teenager and the idea/understanding that they are invincible and coolness is way more important. We know that God has more knowledge than we do, just as the parent has more knowledge than the child. Once we accept that fact, it becomes easier to trust and subsequently easier to be gracious.
This week we lift up the topic of Hope. Hope and trust are integrally linked since one cannot trust without hope, and that hope is what allows us to live. Without hope in the future, our lives become focused on the now, and our future is lost to survivalism or egotism, both of which take us to an empty life. However, when we have hope in God, we are living to something bigger than ourselves. This means that our values realign to a focus on living to God rather than the reality of living for today. This means that the overriding question of our lives is not “what is best for me;” rather, it is what the greater good in fulfilling God’s mission might be.
Living into hope is very basic; it is the acceptance that there is something more than what we have, or as Donald McKim puts it:
“The Christian anticipation of the future as the fulfillment of God’s purpose based on God’s covenant faithfulness and the resurrection of Jesus Christ as known by the work of the Holy Spirit in the church.”
In lay terms, hope is the knowledge that God has a greater plan for the future, which he has shown us through the promise he made to us through the life and death of Christ which we exemplify through the church that witnesses to each other the work of the Holy Spirit.
As you think about the service this week, explore the journey we are on to find a way to God through deepening our faithfulness. More specifically, ask yourself how God that is active and involved within this world is giving signs of reality and hope that is present but not always visible. And ask yourself how living into hope may change your life.
As a Pastor, I spend a lot of time thinking about Faith. For many, faith has to be tangible, something that they can touch or manipulate. Nevertheless, as we know from stories like Thomas, the faith in what we cannot see is even more desirable. While it is easier to believe what you see, the truth is not always held up within the tangible world. Think of the magician or illusionist that can make one thing appear to be something completely different. Moreover, what if what you see is only part of the whole. Like magic, it could even just be a façade. When we think of faith, it is something much deeper than anything tangible.
The Bible starts in Genesis 1:1 with “In the beginning God created. . .” the significance, not only in the setup for how things come biblically, but in the life of faithful people, it is a reminder that our ultimate foundation is in God and God alone. With this theocentric (God centered) faith, we recognize that our life is ordered under and in relationship with God. However, in order to understand what this faith is, we have to have a language to discuss and understand it; this is where theology becomes important. The simple definition of theology is that it is the words we use to describe God. In that respect, Theology, dogma, traditions, etc. are tools, which better help us to understand our faith, and grow in our belief in our God.
The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms says that faith:
“In Christianity (is) belief, trust, and obedience to God as revealed in Jesus Christ. It is the means of salvation (Eph. 2:8-9) or eternal life (John 6:40). Faith affects all dimensions of one's existence: intellect, emotions, and will.”
When we talk about faith, we recognize that it means so many different things to so many different people. Some people have a great deal of faith, and you would never know it. Conversely, there are many who you think are deeply rooted in their faith and are not. To that end, faith can be a very touchy subject.
When I was in seminary, I participated in a class offered at the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland. While there, I had a sit-down interview with Alexander Beloposky, who was in the Orthodox tradition working on issues of youth and Ecumenism. It was a fascinating interview for many reasons. Most interestingly, I vividly remember the discussion on faith. He said that one of the most difficult areas in ecumenical dialogue was to talk about what people believed, not because they were afraid of the discussion, but because they did not want to offend others.
My experience is that regardless of the age, many people have a difficult time talking about faith. Often, when people do begin to talk about their faith, they leave out those times of struggle, creating what appears to be a perfect and unquestioned faith as if the individual's faith was untouched. I remember visiting a Presbyterian Seminary where an individual was telling us the story of how God clearly spoke to him as he was eating a hamburger, telling him to go to seminary. I did not go to that seminary. While there may be the occasional person (I have yet to meet him/her) who has never questioned his/her faith, the reality is that we all struggle at one point or another, and often it is in the struggle where we get that moment of clarity about our faith and begin to see God in a new way.
The further reality of faith is that it is messy and often not very clear. It sometimes puts us in difficult situations, and often it lifts us up for no apparent reason. Ultimately, faith is this incredible relationship that we have with God. Paul speaks often about faith throughout his letters. He reminds those in his communities that the faith is open to all since it is not a faith owned by humankind, but one that is owned by God. He writes in Romans 4:16: “For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham”
As you can see faith can be a messy thing, but as a church, it is the foundational call that we have to be a tool helping each other and helping the world to develop a theocentric life. Where our faith in God is not a façade nor is it tangibly seen, rather it is a faith that both transcends everything and is all-encompassing of our whole being.
Yours in Christ,
This week in our Gathering service we are going to continue our theme of “The Way To God” by looking at trust. I picked the theme of trust out of the direction of the discussion this past week about graciousness, realizing that within being gracious we must have trust. Without one, you cannot have the other.
Think about it this way, How would you ever be able to accept God’s grace if you did not trust that God would be there on the other side? The truth of the matter is that we cannot even begin our journey to faithfulness, unless we learn trust. However, what trust is may be different to everybody, so in my search for a good basic definition I came across this one in the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms it defines trust as:
Confidence in something or someone, often used as a primary description of Faith. Trust is to be placed in God (Ps 4:5) who Justifies (Rom 4:5) and is ultimately trustworthy (2 Tim 1:12).
This made me think of the trust that a child has towards a parent. Without question, the young child will have an expectation that their parent is someone to be trusted. This relationship of trust between a child and parent will last until the moment the child learns of their parents' humanity, and the child begins to second-guess the parent, oddly this seems to coincide with puberty, but that is another week! Nevertheless, the pure trust of the child toward the parent that we can observe is the same level of trust that God requires us to give.
With the constraints of our human condition, trusting others, especially God is difficult. It is especially difficult in a society like ours where the concept of “Rugged Individualism” teaches us to dawn a “winner takes all” attitude or to do whatever it takes to get ahead. This often teaches us to trust others, but only with conditions. The problem that we have is that when we do not allow trust into our lives, we begin to only listen to like-minded people, or even worse, believe that we are the ultimate authority, foregoing input or understandings that might not conform to our own perspective.
So as we prepare for this Sunday to think about how we trust, and possibly do not trust, others. Take that perspective and meditate on how you trust or do not trust God. Lastly, ask how can we create change in our own lives and in our culture to create one of trust.
The joy of growing up in a wealthy suburb was that everything we needed was at our fingertips. Though like most teenagers who claim their towns offer nothing to do, we complained, but the reality was we were not left with much want, including one of the best school districts in the country. Our high school out-performed even some of the most elite private high schools. However, with that system, and insanely motivated parents, came a level of pressure that played out in many ways. From narcissism to depression, the psychological toll was great.
I remember a time when I was in fifth grade, and one of my friends got her first B ever. When she looked at her paper, she began to sob, wildly! I believe she now has a PhD. Unfortunately that was tame. By the time I graduated high school the suicide rates were pretty high I personally knew 4 kids, but with friends of friends, I knew of a dozen more.
For most of the kids who committed suicide that I either knew or knew of, the pressure to be perfect was a key driver to the act. That perfection was seen in the need for perfect grades because they were told that if they did not have them, they would not get into college, and their lives would be over. For others, it was because they did not fit a perception of who they should be, making them feel as if they were outcasts. This group included kids who were gay, and some who were socially awkward.
To combat this, our schools would teach early the by-line “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” But for a kid who feels that they can never live up to the high expectations of the culture, their perceived imperfection drives them to a place that makes what we all know to be temporary feel like anything but temporary.
However, when the bar is set at an unattainable place, it is hard to see past it.
When I was a sophomore, I went over to a friend's house. Billy (changed name) was home alone, and I did not call before I went over. I rang the doorbell, but there was no answer, so I checked the door to see if it would open. It did. I looked around the house and went up to Billy’s room. Billy was sitting on his bed, with his dad’s revolver sitting next to him. When I saw him and he saw me, he started to cry.
Billy was a good student, but did not fit in and was teased for being gay, even though he did not admit to it. The night before the attempt, Billy got into a fight with his dad where his dad lost it and said “Why can’t you just be a real man!”
In fairness to Billy’s dad, he quickly apologized. As Billy told me, but he could not help but think of how nobody saw him as a “real” man, and he did not think he ever would be. At that point, I sat on his bed, squeezing between him and the gun, put my arm around him, and said it would be ok. After a good cry, Billy took off to the bathroom. I popped out the cartridge of his dad’s gun. Billy put the gun back, and I asked Billy to come home with me. The whole thing scared the you-know-what out of me.
We left a note for Billy’s mom that he was coming to my house, so she would not freak-out when he was not home. Billy’s mom was smart, figuring something was up, and took Billy to the Dairy Queen where he told her everything.
Billy’s mom told him something powerful: “I love you just the way you are, and you are perfect in my eyes!”
You see the problem that so many kids, and I have to say, myself included, growing up in the high-pressure community, was that perfection was defined by others and not ourselves.
One thing I learned from that experience and from growing up in that community is that the pursuit of perfection is really not what life is about. I remember talking with my youth pastor at the time, and Jim (our youth pastor) asked me, “What would the world be like if we were all perfect? It would be pretty boring, wouldn’t it?” Then he talked about the Prophets and David.
You remember David, the Great King of the Israelites. When God picked him, not only was he not the perfect son, he was so scrawny and imperfect; he was not even invited to the selection. In fact, throughout all of David’s life, as good as a King as he was, he was just about the most flawed individual in the Bible. Yet, God loved him and continued to bless him.
As Christians, we have to always ask ourselves what standards are we living up to, what our society says is perfection or what God might say is perfection. I know it would have been impossible be perfect when living up to the standards of that community. However, I also know that though I will never be flawless, I have been blessed with God’s perfect love, as we all have.
When we are able to be authentic and live up to the potential that is within us, and not capitulating to commercial stereotype or false success, we will always be perfect in the eyes of God.
Yours in Christ,
This past Sunday we struggled with the question of whether we could have the faith enough to put forward our own child as a sacrifice, like Abraham. In the process, we explored what tools, we might have to help us find a deeper faith; some of those we identified were asking, learning, trusting, and accepting, to name a few.
This week we are going to further the discussion of faithfulness by looking at a passage from Luke 13:18-30. While most of the time when this passage is explored, we highlight the last verse in this pericope “Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.(NRSV)” This time, through the use of a combination of translations, we are going to begin to explore the journey to salvation by exploring the need to be gracious.
This pericope starts with two parables, that of the mustard seed and the yeast. These two parables highlight a reality that all people feel when we compare our small lives to the greater world, and as we judge ourselves successful or not based on how big or small we are. Each parable in its own way is telling us not to fret over our perceived inadequacies because in “the measure of kingdom work is in the result not the small and obscure beginnings” Both begin to highlight the reality that if we allow grace to work, we can accept that things which are small will and can grow given time and nurture.
However, what is really interesting is the apocalyptic conclusion of this passage, which is also relating to the eventual fall of Jerusalem. Luke 13:22-30 picks up with the theme coming from the two previous parables and is a theme of faithfulness. When Jesus is asked by the woman about the road to salvation, Jesus gives one of the harshest answers by establishing an image where there are those who will be accepted through the door and those who are not.
The problem that is posed with the door, is that for many Christians, myself included, the graciousness of Christ would not allow there to be an in or an out crowd. Nevertheless, reading further you can see where Christ is going. The reason I am using The Message version is mainly because of this line in Luke 13:28 “strangers to grace.” For me, in reading commentaries and doing my own translating, this line is the key. For over and over, Christ teaches us to practice and be like him. This means that when it comes to grace, if we do not practice Grace, how could we ever possibly accept it?
Together the three passages give a direction to accept the fact that God is using us and not get overwrought with the details of perceived success; rather, be driven to act and react to where God is calling, allowing grace to be our guide, and allow God to use us recognizing that through his Grace, what we cannot see will become a reality.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen