How many times?

                Last night my daughter Isabelle was coloring on the table.  “Isabelle, are we supposed to color on the table?” I asked.  “No, daddy,” she mournfully replied.  Frustrated, I quickly responded, “Honestly, how many times must we go through this?”  With chin to chest, out of the top of her eyes, she answered, “Three?”  Daddy was not happy.  Well, I’d be lying if I didn’t chuckle a little at her honesty.  After all, I offered that hanging curve ball right over the plate.  Why am I surprised she took a swing?

                Where did this answer come from?  Does she actually think we would go through this routine three times before bath water was drawn for the evening?  Do I normally give her “three strikes and you’re out?”  Is she trying to convince me that “third time’s the charm” because in just two more strokes her masterpiece would be finished and whatever time-out I could throw at her would be worth it?

                That night I looked at myself in the mirror, and I said, “Three times.  Ha!  Wait, did she get that from me?”  There’s a sobering thought.  I peered into the mirror for a long, pensive look.  This is the person my daughter sees each and every day.  Who am I?  Now, there’s a sobering question.

                “Who am I?” is a difficult question to answer.  Logic breaks down when it is self-referential.  Just take the sentence, “This sentence is false.”  If the sentence is true, then it is false.  If the sentence is false, then it must be true (I know, I probably need a hobby).  So, how do I answer this question?  Paul gives us a hint in Galatians 2:19-20, “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me . . . so who is it then that I should see in the mirror?  Who am I?  I am a member of the body of Christ.

                On the other hand, if Isabelle saw the light of Christ shining through me all the time, instead of “Three?” her response may have been, “Seventy times seven, father,” but that’s for another article.

Pastoral Prayer–Sunday, August 29, 2010

            God of glory, in humility you have revealed yourself in the incarnation of your Son, Jesus Christ, who took the lowest place among us that we might be raised to the heights of divinity.  Teach us to walk the path he prepared for us so that we might take a place at the table with all who seek the joy of his kingdom.

            Holy Father, in your goodness, you provide for the needy.  Remove from us the sins of greed and pride, which mock the humility of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Open our hearts in generosity and justice to the neglected and lonely, that in showing esteem for others, we may honor and please you.

            Sovereign Lord, on this day, the 5th anniversary of hurricane Katrina, let us remember those who lost their lives under the waves of surging water, those who gave their lives to save the stranded, those who survived with a memory scarred, and those who continue to rebuild the city.  Inspire us, Father, with Your Holy Spirit, that when the next hurricane arrives we will be ready.

            Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

 –Revised Common Lectionary Prayers and The Book of Common Prayer

Are Your "For" or "Against" the Ground Zero Mosque?

“Are you for or against the Ground Zero Mosque?” This is a question I’ve recently received with some frequency. What does it mean to be “for” it? What does it mean to be “against” it? Why do I think, being a United Methodist from Shreveport, Louisiana, that I should have an opinion in the first place? I choose to answer this question with three different responses. Footnotes to follow.

1. False

2. First, show me a coin.

3. 641 is a prime number

Ok, now for the footnotes. My first response, false, is my way of saying that this question, “Are you for or against the Ground Zero Mosque,” isn’t the right question to ask. It creates a false dichotomy. It assumes that you can either be “for” it or “against” it. Never mind the fact that it’s not a Mosque, nor is it at Ground Zero. Isn’t this question a slice of our contemporary partisan society? We are so eager to make camps into which we organize our friends and our enemies, and there is no compromise. It seems that disagreement naturally leads to divorce or a complete severing of relationship. If this were a true and right and holy way to commune, each week I would only be serving communion to myself, which misses the point.

So, answer number two. I haven’t been in biz long, but I’ve been pastoring long enough to know when the most appropriate response is “First, show me a coin,” meaning that the persons asking the question aren’t really interested in an answer as much as entrapment. For these folks, it doesn’t really matter if I am “for” or “against” because both positions carry a formidable amount of baggage, which can be used as projectiles should the situation take a terrible turn.

Third answer: 641 is a prime number. So what does it mean to be for it? What does it mean to be against it. Closer to the contextual point, “What does it mean to you if I say I am for it?” “What does it mean to you if I say I am against it?”

Imagine a machine consisting only of dominoes. This machine’s job is to figure out if 641 is a prime number. Let’s assume that there is a row of red dominoes, which, if they fall, means that the machine has deduced that 641 is a prime number. If the red dominoes do not fall, then the machine has “figured out” that 641 is not a prime number. Let’s say a bistander is observing the dominoes and notices that the red dominoes fall. She asks, “Why did the red dominoes fall?”

Answer A: Because the dominoes in front of the red ones fell, thus causing the red dominoes to fall.

Answer B: Because 641 is a prime number.

I say this because questions such as these are often asked in the realm of Answer A. People want a “Yes” or “No,” in order to see if my dominoes are arranged in the “correct” pattern. They are not concerned with the larger realities, whether or not the way the dominoes are falling actually means something. They are only concerned that the dominoes are falling according to the way they traditionally ought to fall. In other words, there is a “right” way and a “wrong” way for the dominoes to fall.

See, the problem with Answer A is that it’s really not an answer at all because you are left with the obvious question, “Then why did the black domino which hit the red domino fall, and why did the domino before that fall . . .” and so on and so forth. The answer is the same and it doesn’t tell you anything, really. My fear is that saying I am for the Mosque or against the Mosque will be the end of the discussion. I am either a friend or an enemy. I have nothing to contribute and we have nothing to learn. Will my dominoes fall or won’t they?

“Are you for or against the Ground Zero Mosque,” is just not a helpful question. A much better question would be, “Have you been across the street to the Islamic Association of Arabia, which is right on Broadmoor’s doorstep to form a relationship with those who worship there?” Until we can answer affirmatively, I’m not sure we’ve gained the right to have an opinion on this issue.

There’s more to investigate such as, “How is it that something is ‘right’ or ‘wrong,'” and “Why do I feel the need to always have an enemy,” but I’m going to walk across the street.

Are Your “For” or “Against” the Ground Zero Mosque?

“Are you for or against the Ground Zero Mosque?” This is a question I’ve recently received with some frequency. What does it mean to be “for” it? What does it mean to be “against” it? Why do I think, being a United Methodist from Shreveport, Louisiana, that I should have an opinion in the first place? I choose to answer this question with three different responses. Footnotes to follow.

1. False

2. First, show me a coin.

3. 641 is a prime number

Ok, now for the footnotes. My first response, false, is my way of saying that this question, “Are you for or against the Ground Zero Mosque,” isn’t the right question to ask. It creates a false dichotomy. It assumes that you can either be “for” it or “against” it. Never mind the fact that it’s not a Mosque, nor is it at Ground Zero. Isn’t this question a slice of our contemporary partisan society? We are so eager to make camps into which we organize our friends and our enemies, and there is no compromise. It seems that disagreement naturally leads to divorce or a complete severing of relationship. If this were a true and right and holy way to commune, each week I would only be serving communion to myself, which misses the point.

So, answer number two. I haven’t been in biz long, but I’ve been pastoring long enough to know when the most appropriate response is “First, show me a coin,” meaning that the persons asking the question aren’t really interested in an answer as much as entrapment. For these folks, it doesn’t really matter if I am “for” or “against” because both positions carry a formidable amount of baggage, which can be used as projectiles should the situation take a terrible turn.

Third answer: 641 is a prime number. So what does it mean to be for it? What does it mean to be against it. Closer to the contextual point, “What does it mean to you if I say I am for it?” “What does it mean to you if I say I am against it?”

Imagine a machine consisting only of dominoes. This machine’s job is to figure out if 641 is a prime number. Let’s assume that there is a row of red dominoes, which, if they fall, means that the machine has deduced that 641 is a prime number. If the red dominoes do not fall, then the machine has “figured out” that 641 is not a prime number. Let’s say a bistander is observing the dominoes and notices that the red dominoes fall. She asks, “Why did the red dominoes fall?”

Answer A: Because the dominoes in front of the red ones fell, thus causing the red dominoes to fall.

Answer B: Because 641 is a prime number.

I say this because questions such as these are often asked in the realm of Answer A. People want a “Yes” or “No,” in order to see if my dominoes are arranged in the “correct” pattern. They are not concerned with the larger realities, whether or not the way the dominoes are falling actually means something. They are only concerned that the dominoes are falling according to the way they traditionally ought to fall. In other words, there is a “right” way and a “wrong” way for the dominoes to fall.

See, the problem with Answer A is that it’s really not an answer at all because you are left with the obvious question, “Then why did the black domino which hit the red domino fall, and why did the domino before that fall . . .” and so on and so forth. The answer is the same and it doesn’t tell you anything, really. My fear is that saying I am for the Mosque or against the Mosque will be the end of the discussion. I am either a friend or an enemy. I have nothing to contribute and we have nothing to learn. Will my dominoes fall or won’t they?

“Are you for or against the Ground Zero Mosque,” is just not a helpful question. A much better question would be, “Have you been across the street to the Islamic Association of Arabia, which is right on Broadmoor’s doorstep to form a relationship with those who worship there?” Until we can answer affirmatively, I’m not sure we’ve gained the right to have an opinion on this issue.

There’s more to investigate such as, “How is it that something is ‘right’ or ‘wrong,'” and “Why do I feel the need to always have an enemy,” but I’m going to walk across the street.

So What Now–The U2Charist!

Here’s a little taste of what’s to come . . . I hope to see you at the U2Charist Sunday morning at 11:00.  Peace . . .

For the past five weeks we’ve been on an amazing journey together.  We started with where it all started, with creation.  God was so filled with love that God couldn’t keep it within the divine heart.  God called creation into being: Let There Be.  Scripture tells us that God is love, so in the name of love we were created through love in order to love God and each other.  It is in the name of love that we are here today.

But there comes a time in our Christian journey when we are filled with questions and doubts and fears, when we secretly write in our journals that we still haven’t found what we’ve been looking for.  Which Jesus is the right Jesus?  Is Jesus conservative or liberal?  Are we to follow the Roman Catholic Jesus or the Orthodox Jesus or the Pentecostal Jesus or the liberation theology Jesus?  It’s enough to make your head spin!

 But then we hear that we are all one in Christ.  That in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female, and that through the waters of baptism we all become one in the body of Christ.  We realize that faith in Christ supersedes, is over and above these silly walls we have built to segregate and quarantine.  Salvation is not nearly as much being saved from something as it is being saved for something, being set apart by God not from the world, but for the transformation of the world.

Then we received a vision of heaven, a place where the streets have no name because the streets don’t need names because we know where we’re going.  We read that Christ is with God in heaven and when Christ is revealed before the Father we too are being revealed because Christ is living within us.  It is not I who live, but Christ who lives within me.  Christ is what it means to be alive and this life will be revealed by those who believe.

 And last week we talked about that Beautiful Day when God set the rainbow in the clouds and made a promise that God would not deal with evil by destroying it; rather God will work tirelessly to redeem it, going so far as to become human, so that we might find life.

So here we are today . . . Come on Sunday to hear more.  Don’t forget, this Sunday is the U2charist.  You won’t want to miss it!

Beautiful Day: Genesis 9:8-17

God looked into the divine heart and found only sorrow.  God was sorry that God had made humanity, so God places the earth on the divine scales of judgment and finds the earth wanting.  God decides to blot out from the earth all human beings and animals, and creeping things, and birds of the air.  God didn’t want to destroy humanity.  God wanted to destroy everything.  Human wickedness didn’t pollute humanity, human wickedness polluted all creation.  God weighs God’s options, and God decides to blot out wickedness.

But there is hope.  God calls Noah and his family to build an ark and fill it with the male and the female of every living thing.  It rains and pours for forty long dayzies, dayzies.  Then God remembers Noah and the rain stops, the waters recede, and the Ark lands on dry land on the top of Mount Arrarat.   You may have seen paintings and pictures of the next scene.  Noah opens the ark and releases the dove.  All of the animals are on the poop deck, literally.  The rainbow is in the clouded background.  Everyone is getting along—lions and tigers and bears are not feasting on the rabbits and canteloupe and aardvarks.  The platform is lowered and all of the animals in two straight lines calmly leave the ark and begin their new life on a brand new world.  It almost seems too good to be true.

About 5 years ago, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.  Twenty-six foot high storm surges battered the coast, smothering almost everything in its path.  The city of New Orleans was under water for nearly three weeks.  People sought refuge in the ark called the Superdome.  When the waters receded the city was full of dead bodies, toxic mold, and starving, thirsty people.  This is a far cry from our artists’ rendition of Genesis 8.  I can’t help but wonder what Noah saw from the bow of the ark.  What did the world look like?  On this, scripture is eerily silent.  It seems that covenants with God can be a terrible, gruesome thing, like that of a cross.

But there is hope.  Noah steps off the ark and builds and altar and prepares a sacrifice for God, and it is at this moment when there is a dramatic change in the nature of God.  God says that never again will God destroy every living creature because of humanity’s wickedness.  From this moment on, God will not destroy evil.  God will redeem evil.  God will not destroy.  God will redeem.

In 2006 I lead a team of undergrads to do home repair in New Orleans.    We drove into the city around 10:30 pm and the city was as dark as you could imagine.  There were almost no lights anywhere.  I’ve heard several preachers say that God sent the hurricane to smite the wicked of New Orleans, but did you know that one of the only areas not affected by the storm was the French Quarter?  Anyway, the next day we arrived at Mrs. Helena’s 100 year old shotgun home on Louisiana Avenue. Mrs Helena’s family had been living in this house for three generations.  We moved all of her furniture to the curb.  We threw out most of her possessions.  We tore out her drywall and we cleaned out mold.  When the house was but a shell, it looked as if the house might make it.  Mrs. Helena might not have to tear it down.  There seemed to be the slightest glimmer of hope.  Near the end of our week I sat down with Mrs. Helena on her front porch and I asked her what her thoughts were concerning the storm and its aftermath.  She simply pointed out into her front yard and said, “Do you see that tree?  If it hadn’t been for the flood water, the wind would have sent that tree crashing down onto my house.  Thank God for the flood.”

Thank God for the flood?  Did I hear that correctly?  I never would have thought I’d hear those words come from a New Orleanian mouth.  Thank God for the flood.  I’m not sure what Noah said when the waters receded, but where Noah is silent, scripture tells us that Noah built and altar to the Lord and gave thanks to the Lord for the blessings that Noah had.  During that brief and holy moment on Mrs. Helena’s porch, Mrs. Helena gave thanks for the blessings that she did have, vowing to build upon what God had provided.  In that brief, holy moment outside of the Ark, God spoke to God’s own heart vowing to never again destroy the world. 

God makes a covenant with Noah, sealing God’s promise, and in order to remember that promise, God placed a rainbow in the clouds.  God says to Noah that when the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember my everlasting covenant between me and all the flesh of the earth.  God repeats this over and over again, almost as if God is actively trying to stay God’s hand.  But then the language changes as if God is no longer speaking to God’s self.  It seems as if God is prompting us, like a pastor to a bridegroom on his wedding day, “When the bow is in the clouds—I will see it and remember—the everlasting covenant—-between God—-and every living creature——of all flesh——that is on the earth.”  It seems that God is speaking, pausing to hear our response.  What is your reponse?

Pastoral Prayer–Sunday, August 15, 2010

Gracious God, you love justice and hate oppression, you give peace to those who seek it, and you condemn the rage of violence.  When the flood waters covered the face of the earth, the rain ceased so that you might give humanity a second chance.  When you heard your people’s cry in Egypt, you sent Moses to bring a spirit of freedom.  When your children were asked to sing their song in a foreign land, you sent them home to prepare the way of the Messiah.  Gracious God, give us the courage to stand against evil, oppression, and abuse, so that your story of salvation may ring with truth in the ears of a hurting world.

Holy Father, Father of Christ, the pioneer and perfector of our faith, who came to bring the fire of the Spirit upon the earth, that it might be kindled for the perfection of our faith, we pray for those who are in need of the gift of faith, a vision of hope, and an experience of love.  Pour out your Spirit upon us so that we, the church, might go out into the world, faithful stewards of hope and love.  We especially pray this morning for those in the midst of divorce, those experiencing the division of a broken family, those rebuilding a betrayal of trust

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, as we continue to pray saying:

 Our Father, who art in heaven

Hallowed be thy name

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread

And forgive us our trespasses

As we forgive those who trespass against us

Lead us not into temptation

But deliver us from evil

For thine is the kingdom

And the power

And the glory, forever

Amen!

Where the Streets Have No Name: Colossians 3:1-11

To say that my sense of direction is bad is an understatement.  Whether it’s something in the blood or awareness in the brain, or the simple ability to pay attention to where you are going, I don’t have it.  My wife, Christie, has it.  It’s a gift.  She only has to go somewhere once to know how to get back there.  Not long ago I had to be at Amy and David Simon’s house without my GPS, so I called Christie to help navigate me.  The conversation went something like this:

 “Honey, can you help me get to Amy and David Simon’s house?”

“Dear, we’ve been there a dozen times.”

“I’m not interested in the score, I’m interested in directions.”

I’m not interested in the score, I’m interested in directions.  Too often we think about the road to heaven as a score card—If you do this you’re in.  If you do that, you’re out.  Colossians gives us an intriguing picture of heaven: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”  One thing of which we can be certain is that Christ is seated at the right hand of God, meaning that Christ is in communion with God in heaven.  Colossians is saying that our lives are wrapped up in Christ and when Christ is revealed we too are revealed.  In other words, Christ is what it means to be alive, and that life is revealed by those who believe.

Our role as Christians is not to live according to a checklist.  Lists can be helpful.  We have one today.  “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry . . . get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.”  The problem with checklists, or as Paul would say, the Law, is that it begins to become the manifestation of our faith—our faith is no longer in Christ, it is in the checklist itself.  It’s as if to say, “As long as I don’t slander, I am living the life of Christ; as long as I don’t do x, y, or z, I am living the life.”  This is a terribly frustrating way to live.  It’s like trying to get to Amy and David’s house with my GPS and the GPS tells me at each intersection, “Don’t take a right here.  Don’t merge at the next intersection.  In three point two miles, don’t turn.”  Friends, hear me, we do put to death these things: lying, gossip, greed; but the goal of Christianity is not to not gossip, or to never tell a lie.  The goal of Christianity is to reveal Christ.  Christ is what it means to be alive, and this life will be revealed by those who believe!

“Where the Streets Have No Name” gives us a compelling image of what heaven is.  I would image that if at some point during this worship service, all of the street signs disappear, you would still be able to get home.  I might not, but thankfully Christie is here.  How is it that without any sign posts you would still be able to navigate the streets?  Well, you’ve done it before.  You’ve done it often.  It’s familiar.  The more familiar something is the less sign posts you need.  This is why the habits of the church are so important.  The habits of fasting, prayer, mission, stewardship, worship, communion . . .

Once there was a rich man.  He met and fell in love with a young maiden.  She was lovely in form, and lovelier still in character.  He rejoiced when he saw her.  Yet he grieved also.  For he knew that he was not like her.  His face was hideous and his heart was cruel.  He considered how he could win her hand. 

Eventually he hit upon a plan.  He went to see a mask maker.  He said, “Make me a mask that I shall become handsome.  Then, perhaps, I may win the love of this noble young woman.”  The mask maker did as he was bid.  The man was transformed into a handsome figure.  He tried hard to summon a character to match.  It was sufficient to win the heart and hand of the fair maiden, and they were married.  Then years of increasing happiness followed.  But the man knew he was carrying a secret.  He sensed that true love could not be founded on deceit.  He had to know if his wife really loved him, if she loved the man behind the mask.  So one day, with a heavy heart and trembling hand, he knocked a second time on the mask maker’s door.  “It is time to remove the mask,” he said.  He walked slowly and anxiously back to his home.  He greeted his wife.

To his astonishment, she made no comment, nor showed him any untoward reaction.  There was no scream, no horror, no revulsion.  He searched for a mirror.  He looked—and saw no ungliness but a face as handsome as the mask, a face so different from his original face.  He was amazed and overjoyed—but bewildered and confused.  He ran back to the mask maker to find some kind of explanation.  The mask maker said, “You have changed.  You loved a beautiful person.  You have become beautiful too.  You have become beautiful through loving her.  You become like the face of the one whom you love.”[1]

These Christian habits: prayer, study, communion, worship, begin to reveal the Christ within us to the point where we no longer have to think to serve the poor and release the captive and liberate the oppressed.  We no longer have to think about abstaining from slander and greed.  We no longer need street signs to show us the way home.  The Christ within us becomes our life, and it is our duty to reveal this Christ to the world.  Christ is what it means to be alive, and this life is revealed by those who believe.  These habits begin to form our character so that pathways of love are no longer foreign or difficult to find.  Heaven is a place where the streets have no name because we don’t need them.  We know how to get there.  “When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.  Praise be to God.  Amen!


[1] Sam Wells, Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics, (Grand Rapides: Brazos Press, 2004), 85.

One (We Get To Carry Each Other): Galatians 3:27-29

A Rabbi sat down with his disciples and asked them, “How can you tell when night has ended and the day has begun?”  One student offered, “It is when, at a distance, you can tell a sheep from a goat.”  “No,” the Rabbi replied.  Another student answered, “It is when, at a distance, you can tell a date tree from a palm tree.”  Again the Rabbi replied, “No.”  Another student asked the Rabbi, “How can you tell when night has ended and the day has begun?”  The Rabbi answered, “It is when, at a distance, you can look into the face of another and see a brother or sister.  Until then, it is night.”

These short verses from Galatians reveal to us what Christianity looks like by the light of day.  “There is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  It is the cornerstone of Paul’s understanding of the Gospel.  While Paul was writing, the Church was in the midst of a crisis.  Should you or should you not be circumcised in order to become a Christian.  It would be scandalous, or at least a bit silly, when someone comes forward to be baptized for me to ask if he had been circumcised.  What a peculiar ritual our baptismal liturgy would be if we performed circumcision in the sanctuary between the children’s moment and the scripture reading.  I imagine it would hinder church growth.  Of course, we know the answer to this question in today’s church, in the contemporary context, but I’m not sure if we’ve fully realized what Paul was teaching. 

 It’s like our United Methodist slogan, for lack of a better term, “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors, the People of The United Methodist Church.”  Of course our hearts and minds and doors are open, but that doesn’t mean that we as a United Methodist body of Christ are where we need to be in terms of hospitality and reconciliation.  “Open Heart, Open Minds, Open Doors,” isn’t necessarily a statement about the way things are; rather it is a statement about the way we hope to be.  It isn’t yet who we are, but we are working toward this sacred goal.  We might chuckle at the circumcision debate, but as the body of Christ, we are still working on all being one.

This does not mean that we are called to be the same.  As Irene Zimmerman writes: “In Bethlehem a baby’s cry shatters barriers.  Women, men of every creed, culture, race, gaze across the rubbled walls in wonder, finding every face luminous with godliness!”  We are to look across the rubbled walls which we had erected to find each face reflecting the image of God.  Paul is writing to a community which built a wall between Jew and Greek.  You were either Jew or “other.”  Once Paul began sharing the Gospel in the Gentile community, new, “other” people were claiming to be heirs of Abraham’s promise.  Several Jewish Christians were claiming that in order to be Christian, you must first be Jewish, and this was something Paul vigorously fought.  These Jewish Christians had it backwards.  Paul says, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”  Paul acknowledges differences. 

He doesn’t say, “There are no Jews.  There are no Greeks.”  He says, “There is no longer Jew or Greek,” meaning that you are Jewish, and you are a Greek, but there is no longer a divide between you.  In other words, the goal of Christianity is not to color the world gray; rather we are called to see the beauty of red and blue and heliotrope.  It’s not that red is better than blue, or blue is more deserving than red, or that salvation means that red must become blue or both need to be purple.  God created red and God created blue.  There is no longer red or blue, but through baptism all colors are heir to the promise.

In the year 2000, J. Louis Martyn presented his Anchor Bible Commentary on Galatians at the Society of Biblical Literature.  One of the scholars at the meeting said that she understood how the Jew/Greek divide pertained to the context of the letter to the Galatians, but she found it difficult to understand how the rest of Galatians 3:28 (slave or free, male and female) fit into Paul’s context.  She asked what Paul meant by adding slave or free, male and female to this baptismal formula.  Martyn replied, “I don’t know.”  So, for matters which confuse even the commentary writers, with your blessing, I’m going to table talking about the “slave or free, male and female,” aspects of this verse for another sermon on another day.  There’s enough in this verse for a sermon series in and of itself.

“One life, one blood, one life you’ve got to do what you should.  One life with each other, sister, brother.  One life, but we’re not the same, we get to carry each other.  One.”  Bono sings about this “oneness” in Christ as a mutual burden we are to share.  Even more provocative is that he sings of it as a privilege.  “We get to carry each other,” he sings.  And what a privilege it is!  How thankful I am that life in Christ is not about survival of the fittest.  How thankful I am that baptism isn’t reserved for only the wealthy or self sufficient or sane.  How thankful I am that we are called to carry each other because I know there have been times in my life when I’ve needed to be carried. 

Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche community writes:

“God seems pleased to call together in Christian communities people who, humanly speaking, are very different . . . The most beautiful communities are created from just this diversity of people and temperaments.  This means that each person must love the others with all their differences, and work with them for the community.  These people would never have chosen to live with each other.  Humanly speaking, it seems an impossible challenge.  But it is precisely because it is impossible that they believe that God has chosen them to live in this community.  So then the impossible becomes possible.  They no longer rely on their own human abilities, but on their Father who has called them to live together.  He will give them a new heart and spirit which will enable them all to become witnesses to love.  In fact, the more impossible it is . . . the more of a sign it is that their love comes from God and that Jesus is living.  By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

 How can you tell when night has ended and the day has begun?  When you can look at another and see the face of a brother or sister.  Until then, it is night.  This table around which we gather is where day begins.  We gather around the one table as the one body of Christ.  We are not the same.  We are blue and red, rich and poor, married and single . . . the list goes on, but this table is the only place in the entire world where your past, your failures, your successes, your victories or defeats, don’t matter.  You are a child of God and this is the supper which your Heavenly Father has prepared.  One bread.  One body.  One people.  Different, but beautiful.  Come and experience the light of day.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen!

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For: Colossians 2:6-19

Brian McLaren, in his book, A Generous Orthodoxy, writes about the seven Jesus’ he has found throughout his Christian Journey.  He first met the “Conservative Protestant Jesus,” who was born to die for his sin, but there was something missing because it seemed to individualistic and legalistic.  So, he kept searching.  He then found the “Pentecostal/Charismatic Jesus,” who was present and personal, full of life and energy, yet this Jesus didn’t seem to have much concern for the world or the church’s history.  So, he kept searching.  He then found the “Roman Catholic Jesus,” who was steeped in tradition and full of compassion, but this Jesus seemed too exclusive.  So, he kept searching.  This led him to find the “Eastern Orthodox Jesus,” who was full of mystery and the Trinity,” which led him to the “Liberal Protestant Jesus,” who focused on social justice, which led him to the “Anabaptist Jesus,” who was a pacifist and full of peace, which led to the “Liberation Theology Jesus,” who fought against global injustice for the poor and oppressed.  Sometimes this Christian Journey is really confusing.  Which Jesus is the right Jesus?

Bono is apparently on this same search party in “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”  He writes, “I have climbed highest mountains, I have run through the fields, only to be with you.  I have run, I have crawled, I have scaled these city walls, only to be with you, but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for . . . I have burned with desire, I have held the hand of the devil . . .”  This is a man on a mission.  He even goes so far to say offer a sinner’s prayer saying, “You broke the bonds, and you loosed the chains, carried the cross of my shame, you know I believe it, but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”  Many of us have stories like this—searching for the right Jesus, at least, it seems that so many have such a strong opinion about the one they’ve found.

Maybe you’re not searching for Jesus so much as a renewed passion for faith in Christ.  You have experienced the honeymoon of conversion, where your cup runneth over, and you feel that God is with you, but now it’s hard to remember how God called you here in the first place.  CS Lewis writes about this experience in The Screwtape Letters, which is a collection of letters written from an elder demon, Screwtape, to a demon-in-training, Wormwood.  In order for Wormwood to climb hellish corporate ladder, he must convince his patient to turn his back on God.  About half way through the book, Wormwood is doing a fine job:

 My dear Wormwood, obviously you are making excellent progress . . . I am almost glad to hear that [your patient] is still a churchgoer and a communicant.  I know there are dangers in this; but anything is better than that he should realize the break he has made with the first month of his Christian life.  As long as he retains externally the habits of a Christian, he can still be made to think of himself as one who has adopted a few new friends and amusements, but whose spiritual state is much the same as it was six weeks ago . . . a few weeks ago you had to tempt him with inattention in his prayers: but now, you will find him opening his arms to you and almost begging you to distract his purpose and benumb his heart . . . You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness, but do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy, God . . . Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick.

 Later Wormwood begins to slip up.  Screwtape writes, “My dear Wormwood, the most alarming thing in your last account of the patient is that he is making none of those confident resolutions which marked his original conversion.  No more lavish promises of perpetual virtue, I gather; not even the expectation of an endowment of ‘grace’ for life, but only a hope for the daily and hourly pittance to meet the daily and hourly temptation!  This is very bad.”

The great prophet Elijah came to a point in his ministry when he felt alone and abandoned by God.  He was fasting for 40 days and 40 night, sleeping in a cave.  God came to him and asked him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  Elijah answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword.  I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”  Times are rough for Elijah.  I find hope that this great prophet, too, went through struggles.  God said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about the pass by.”  Then there was a great wind which split rocks, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire, and after the fire there was the sound of silence, or a still, small voice.

This was the problem with the Colossian church.  They were being led away from faith by philosophies and the elements of the world.  They were searching for Christ in creation, whether it be rock and trees or philosophical thought.  You see, the Colossians had it backwards.  They were finding philosophies which worked for them, and then mapping faith onto it.  It’s like saying, “I agree with the Republicans, therefore Jesus must be a Republican,” or “I love worship when I leave with a warm, fuzzy feeling, therefore Jesus came that we might have warm, fuzzy feelings.”  What Brian McLauren discovered is that all of these different Jesuses that he was discovering wasn’t really Jesus at all.  He was simply looking at the bottom of a well.  He was really looking into a mirror.  He was conforming Jesus into his own image instead of being conformed to Christ.  Christianity is not about finding the right Jesus, it is about realizing that you have already been found by Christ.  If you continue to search for a Jesus who suits you, you will never find him because faith lifts our eyes to God and our arms to each other.  It’s not about me. Paul writes,

“For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every rule and authority . . . when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.  And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands.  He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.”

 It is not about finding the right Jesus, it is realizing that you have been found by Jesus, the one who forgives and redeems and gives life.  If we believe in this forgiveness and this life, and provide to others forgiveness and life, then how could you have found the wrong Jesus?  If you still haven’t found what you’re looking for, I have a suggestion.  After God reveals himself to Elijah, God asks, “Elijah, what are you doing here?”  Elijah responds with the same grievance as before.  So God says, “Go down the mountain and serve.”  So . . . go down the mountain and serve.  Go and forgive someone.  Go and do something life-giving for someone in need . . . let me know how it goes.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.