Unrest: Attachment to Former Things

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 46:3-13

PSA: If I could only preach out of one book of the Bible for the rest of my life, it would be the book of Isaiah.  Good stuff.  Snuggle up.

My husband, Andrew, was a state-championship weightlifter in high school and continued lifting through college and post-graduate studies.  He loves it.  And because he loves it, I learned all about it.

In high school weightlifting competitions there are several lifts that the athletes complete: dead lift, clean-n-jerk, snatch, bench press, and others I cannot remember right now.  At the collegiate level the focus is on the clean-n-jerk and the snatch.

The mechanics are (in great generalization):

  • Clean-n-jerk – lift (or clean) the bar from the floor to your collarbone in one fluid motion; pause briefly at your collarbone; then jerk the bar over your head and plant your feet in a half-split position.  
  • Snatch – lift the bar from the floor to over your head in one fluid motion without stopping.  

I remember Andrew’s first competition while at Emory.  He had completed his snatches successfully and was on his last round of clean-n-jerks at his heaviest weight…some number north of 300 pounds.  He was worn out but adrenaline was helping him push through…but on his final lift…he ended up doing a front flip instead…

Andrew moved to clean the bar but his legs gave way under him.  The bar thudded back to the floor with his arms underneath it.  Don’t worry!  He wasn’t injured, but the force of the weight dropping pulled him over the front of the bar into a flip!  I was traumatized…Andrew was laughing.

The judges gave him all 10s for his dismount.

Our Scripture for this week describes how God’s people are being crushed under the weight of idols that they have cast and are carrying.  Isaiah 46:1 reads, “Bel bows down, Nebo stoops, their idols are on beasts and cattle; these things you carry are loaded as burdens on weary animals.”  Bel and Nebo are names of Babylonian gods.  The Israelites are deep in the throws of idolatry as they have created figures of these gods to worship, when they are to worship only the one true God!  The prophet Isaiah observes the heavy load these idols present and then the voice of God speaks.

“Listen…Remember…Listen” God says.

God sees the burden of the people and reminds them that because of what God has done they are not to be a people of burden any longer…yet the people have now created opportunity for burden through these idols.

These idols are lifeless but are somehow able to suck the life and vitality from the people who made them.

These idols are dragging down God’s people just as that bar dragged Andrew to the floor.  And just like Andrew, if God’s people don’t recognize what’s happening – and quick! – they, too, will end up on the flat of their backs.

Our relationship with God is crucial, it’s serious, it’s fundamental to who we are.  These attributes can make our relationship seem heavy when in actuality there is a lightness and freedom to this relationship.  This does not mean our relationship is carefree.  In fact, our relationship with God is the most intentional and intimate relationship we will ever share!  God made this so from the time of creation, continued it in the Incarnation of Jesus, and fosters it still today.

When we get mixed up with other things – former things – sin – that’s how and where the weight that drags us down creeps in, but calling on the name of the Lord, repenting, that is where we experience freedom.

God says, “I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4b).  Let go of the weight that’s holding you down.  Allow God to bring God’s true intention about in your life.  And then share that freedom with others.

Prayer: Let my people seek their freedom in the wilderness a while, from the aging shrines and structures, from the cloister and the aisle”: so the Son of God has spoken, and the storm clouds are unfurled, for God’s people must be scattered to be servants in the world.  Amen.  (From Let My People Seek Their Freedom, United Methodist Hymnal, 586, vs. 2.)

Unrest: Ignorance and Falsehoods

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ephesians 4:17-25

The community at Reeves’ is in for a real treat this weekend (I think) because they will have the privilege of hearing my husband preach!  Yay Andrew!!  I am away this weekend serving as the worship leader for one of the Florida United Methodist Conference’s Confirmation Retreat Weekends.

Translation – lots and LOTS of middle schoolers.

Bring.It.On.

So Andrew is preaching in my absence and it will be awesome.  He “preaches” (not sure if he would classify it that way) weekly to his senior high students at the church he serves in Orlando but on Sunday…he’s headed to “big church”.

Oh yeah.

(Why did we ever call it that?  Hmm…)

Now to the text.  Ephesians is a “chain letter” of sorts.  It begins “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ…” – and after this salutation the letter immediate jumps into the “meat” of the discourse.  Well the “to” – which in this letter is “Ephesus” could very easily have been “to” any settlement in Asia.  This epistle’s message was written in such a way that it could and did apply to fledgling and developing Christian communities all over 1st and 2nd Century CE Christendom.

In our particular passage this week, Paul is calling the community to task on the mixed signals their behaviors are sending.  They are feigning ignorance of the revelation they received in Christ.  When the community encountered Christ their weakness, their wickedness, their waywardness was exposed and they experienced how Christ could heal and make them whole.  For a time their practices and behaviors altered, but now they have returned to their old ways.

Weekly I volunteer in a first grade classroom at the neighboring elementary school to Reeves.  And each time I am in the classroom one of the students slips into old habits that result in correction and modification into new habits.  Sometimes the student will admit the mishap immediately…other times they play it off or play it down.  The Ephesians…they were playing it off and play it down and Paul as their teacher is bringing them back to a time of behavioral correction and modification for the sake of the gospel.

You can’t say that you have the Good News or that you are people of Good News if your actions are contrary to that Good News.

“You were taught to put away your former life, your old self” Paul says in Ephesians 4:22.  In Christ we have received the truth – what is good and holy and right.  So why would you – why would we – want to drag all that other stuff back out?  And why would we want to feign ignorance to the truth we have received in Christ?

Because that truth can cause unrest.  Because once we know the truth of Christ we cannot remain silent.  Truth stirs unrest and that unrest leads to action and to speech.  We squelch that by reverting to old, comfortable ways…by snuggling up to ignorance and falsehoods.

Sometimes the truth is very obvious and comes to us in likely ways.  And sometimes the truth can present it self to us in unlikely places and from unlikely people.

223569_10151300664466275_1947056240_n

And when Christ’s truth confronts us and stirs that unrest, we are reminded to put away those falsehoods, to put away that ignorance, and to be and speak the truth that we are to our neighbors.

Prayer:  Great God of truth, boldly confront the ignorance and falsehoods that we claim as foundation and truth.  Break their hold over us.  Cure our dependency on them.  Deepen our desire for the goodness of your truth, which is pure and steadfast and will not fail.  Bind us up in your truth that it will stir unrest in our lives to be and speak your truth in love to our neighbors.  In your name we pray, Amen.

Unrest: Out of Control

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jonah 4:1-11

This Sunday is the first Sunday of Lent and our Lenten Sermon Series at Reeves is entitled Unrest.  Lent is a great season of unrest.  In the life of Jesus this is the time where Jesus came into his own as an authority of  the Word of God.  This is the time he came into his role of as Messiah.

On the Sundays leading up to Easter we will study Scripture passages and scenarios of unrest and my hope is God will reveal to each of us in our own way how God is leading us to lean into and perhaps find comfort in unrest.

So Jonah…the guy that was swallowed by the fish.

Tangent – My husband taught this pericope to his students one night at youth group…the high school boys were all convinced that it was a salmon that swallowed Jonah.  I was convinced that high school boys are weird.

Back on track – Jonah was told by God to go to Nineveh.  He runs away and flees into the sea.  A terrible storm erupts and he is tossed overboard to calm the waves.  Jonah is swallowed by a fish, cries out to God in repentance from the belly of the fish, is spat up on dry ground, and makes his way to Nineveh.  He delivers God’s message that the people must repent or they will surely perish…

The Ninevites repent…God spares them…and Jonah…

is ticked.

Twice in the Scripture passage for this week God questions Jonah about the value of the anger.  The questions neither affirm nor condemn the anger.  They ask, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

As one commentator reflects on anger and on the figure of Jonah he writes, “Anger leads to destruction.  If it is repressed or suppressed, it burns the one who contains it; if it is expressed, it burns those to whom it is directed.  Although anger is an inevitable part of the human condition, the divine questioning offers the opportunity to work it through and to work through it.”*

I think it is wise that Jonah sat with his anger for a while.  I recall a song we used to sing in UMYF back in the day, “If I could just sit with you a while, I need you to hold me, moment by moment, till forever passes by.”

I have found myself sitting with a lot of things recently.  Just sitting and it hasn’t been pleasant.  It’s been a place of unrest.

I had a business professor in college – Dr. B! – we can all thank him for rubbing off the word marinate on me.  This is why he would say it: in business classes he would present a concept – for example credit cards – and someone would immediately want to I-ize meaning they’d want to take it to themselves, “so Dr. B. with credit cards I…”  And he would shut them down.  “Quit trying to walk with it!  You’re not ready to walk.  Just marinate.”  In other words, sit with it.

Sit with it.

Jonah sat with his anger.  The text doesn’t reveal if he ever understood that his anger could eventually consume him if he let it run rampant inward or consume others if he let it run rampant outward.  But he took time to sit with it.  I wonder what would happen with my anger, with individual anger, with collective anger if we all just sat with it for a while…if we let God hold us…if we let God make something else of the anger…of us…and then we walked with it?

I think it’s time we take time…that we make time.

That we sit with it.

Prayer: O God, your Scripture teaches that everyone must be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, for anger does not produce God’s righteousness (Jas 1:19).  Forgive us, Lord, in those moments when we are quick to anger, and invite us to join with Jonah and sit with you.  As we sit with you in that unrest, may we grasp your nearness and may your transformation touch us.  May we experience hope, healing, and revealing through the sitting.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

* Leander E. Keck et al., The New Interpreter’s Bible: Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature, Daniel, and The Twelve Prophets (Volume 7) (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 524.

Re-Enrolling

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Job …

A text from the Book of Job.  So for good measure…you could read it.  It’s just a bit of light reading…promise.

*snicker*

The worship service at Reeves this weekend will be entirely under lay leadership as I am on a little adventure out of town and my Lay Leader is preaching on a text from Job…he has 42 chapters from which to select…that should be fun!

It’s my first Sunday off since the end of September 2012…and I’ll be honest…I’m excited.  I’ll be spending the weekend camping in the great outdoors, breathing fresh air, clearing my head, roasting marshmallows, and releasing the mountains of tension in my shoulders.  And if not releasing…starting to release.  

But a thought before I head out.  I think it’s time I…and we…re-enroll.  

Last night at Bible Study we concluded a series by Ray Vander Laan entitled In the Dust of the Rabbi and Ray asked, “How can we as disciples go and make disciples, baptizing and teaching them to obey if we don’t know for ourselves what Jesus said?”  

If we haven’t spent time in the posture and practice of a talmid, the Hebrew word for disciple by

  • Praying
  • Searching the Scriptures
  • Attending worship
  • Studying alongside teachers

then how are we prepared to speak with integrity before others about joining us in the practices that we do?  We are not in a place to speak from the heart, to speak with and from personal experience, to speak with conviction, to speak with the fruits of faith to so as to move mountains!

And I don’t think we are in that place because, and yes, I’m about to say it, we are lazy.  You. Me. We. Are. Lazy.  

Just like everything else in life – “it” whatever “it” is – is not my primary responsibility.  

How many people come to church, sit in the pews waiting for the preacher or the choir members or the ushers or the Sunday School teachers or the fellowship directors or whoever to make them into the disciples that Christ wants them to be but won’t move one iota to contribute towards that call on his or her own?  

The talmids in Jesus’ day had to be responsible.  That was part of the job description.  It wasn’t an option; this behavior, this lifestyle was expected and required as one’s best offering to their rabbi…and yet we seem to offer Jesus leftovers week after week…

I co-lead a weekly high school ladies Bible study with a friend and colleague in ministry and we always try to come up with interesting ways for the girls to briefly share with us about their weeks.  One session it was describe your week through a food and one of the girls said something like “my week was like half-eaten week old Chinese food that’s been left in your car.”

Is that what we are offering to Jesus when we offer ourselves as talmids?  Is that the level of conviction and commitment we bring and then give to going in his name to make other talmids baptizing them and teaching them to obey?

Perhaps that’s why in a lot of places it looks like the church is just spinning its wheels…

My friends, I am reminded, I am convicted that there is so much work to be done.  Responsibility must be taken.  

As a clergy person I have to commit to equipping the persons I serve with the resources they need to be talmids. I have to stop making up excuses for not teaching resources and creating shortcuts for the persons I serve because it’s easier.  I am guilty of doing things myself because it’s easier to go it alone rather than partnering with another disciple.  Lord, forgive my pride and lead me to come alongside.  

And we all – everyone – have to get into the Word, get into worship, get into prayer, get into study.  

It’s time to get with it.  It’s time to take that responsibility.  

It’s time to re-enroll.