Thursday, January 26, 2017

Parable: The Disciple and the Tourist

In the early 1990’s as the Gulf War had pretty much wrapped up—Saddam still had a couple of incursions left in him that took me and a couple of battalions of Marines to the brink of flying back over to that place of sun and sand in the last century—but on this day, I found myself moving my family from South Carolina to Camp Pendleton, California.  It was an interesting trip, especially transiting the western United States, places the rest of my family had not seen at that time.

The trip took a little longer that planned as my daughter of 14 years of age decided that she wasn’t going to go any farther.  We had stopped at a souvenir place in Arizona and apparently, the stress of moving cross country reached its peak on the front steps of the place where you can buy rose rocks, headdresses, and rattlesnake eggs.  She declared that she was not going any farther.

She still sends us a post card every now and then.  She gets a discount at the souvenir place.  No!  After about 45 minutes of discussing how California was not the end of the world, we are all on our way once again.

When we finally arrived at Camp Pendleton, we checked into the hostess house—sort of a military motel for those in transit. As we prepared to go house hunting the next day, we turned the television on just in time for the local news which led off with footage of a couple of houses sliding down the side of a hill somewhere in the San Diego area.  Apparently, it does rain in southern California, and when you build your house to close to the edge of the hill, your foundation finds out that it is not anchored very well.

I expected to see some surfers in southern California.  I did not expect to see a house surfing down the side of a hill.  It looked cool until it hit bottom.  That part was not so good.

Welcome to sunny southern California.  In my time there, there were a few periods of heavy rain which caused flooding and in one case washed away a bridge, making my commute from home to office an hour and a half instead of thirty minutes.

The scripture talks about building houses but the message is about building lives.  Jesus delivered this parable at the end of what today we call the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus began with a series of blessings that we call the Beatitudes. 

Those were followed by the first parable that we explored, a lamp on a stand.  Then came a series of very direct teachings on the fulfillment of the law, murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, and of course, lex talionis from which he would speak about an eye for an eye.  Jesus continued with teachings on love for our enemies, giving to the needy, prayer, fasting, treasures in heaven, worry, judging, and confidently asking our Father in heaven for what we need. 

He spoke in stern terms of a narrow and a wide gate and only the narrow gate leads to life.  He talked about knowing the true believer from the false prophets by their fruit.  The people who had gathered to listen to Jesus surely got some rock-solid teaching.  There is no warm fuzzy stuff here.  This is core discipleship.

I have to wonder if Jesus was reading minds as he was wrapping up.  Perhaps he heard people thinking:

Wow!  That was a good seminar.  Something to think on for sure.

Man, that was some good stuff.  We will be talking about this at the water cooler at work all next week.

This Jesus is a cool dude.  What a philosopher.

I have to wonder if Jesus was thinking, I need to stress that this is not an academic gatheringThis is how you are to live.

In any case, the Sermon on the Mount wrapped up with the parable of the wise and foolish builders. 

Who was the wise builder?  The one who took what Jesus had taught and put it into practice.  Remember, that Jesus was teaching some tough stuff.  Love your enemies.  Don’t judge others.  Don’t even think about doing evil things in your heart.  Forgive.  Really, forgive. 

In the middle of your messy lives, forgive each other.  Love each other, even those who don’t love you back.  Don’t give worry any place in your heart or your mind.  Trust in God.  Seek God and his kingdom and his righteousness before anything else.  Stop wasting time worrying about the things that God has already made provision for.

If you want to live wisely, put these things into practice.  You will be like the builder that anchored his foundation in solid rock. 

A strong foundation does not mean that the storms will pass you by.  It means that you are prepared to weather the storms.  God wants to bless you and for you to have good things and for your children’s children to live in his protection, but you will have storms in your life. 

The people of this time had seen storms.  They had seen rivers rise to flood stage.  Whatever was not anchored firmly was crushed and swept away.  Even if the superstructure appeared solid, a flimsy foundation condemned the entire building. 

The houses that I watched slide down the side of the hill in California were not shacks.  These were houses that priced about half a million or more.  They were a good solid house as evidenced by them sliding down the hill mostly intact, at least until the impact at the bottom. 

But the foundation was not anchored into anything that would withstand the storm.

The apostle Paul talks about building upon the one foundation that is Christ.  No other foundation is suitable.  He goes on to say that we need to build wisely upon this single foundation.  James as he writes to his fellow Hebrew believers scattered around the world reminds them—and us—that the words of Jesus must be put into action.  We can’t just listen to them and go on with business as usual if we are his disciple.

Jesus completed the second half of this parable saying that if you heard his words and then did not put them into practice, you were like the person who build his house upon the sand.
It probably went up quicker.  The ground was probably already smooth from the last flood.  The superstructure could look great, but if the foundation was only in sand it would wash away with the first big storm.

It is quite amazing at how the finest looking structure disintegrates when it has no foundation.  Drive around the countryside some time and look for old houses and barns that were not built upon much of a foundation.  They begin to twist and lean and contort into all sorts of shapes.  If you have ever seen a building of any size swept away by water, you witnessed these same contortions accelerated by the flood.

Jesus said if you heard his words—in our time we read his words—and did not put them into practice, we are just living a life of deceit that will not survive the storm.  Things seem great when the river stays within its normal boundaries but we are ill prepared for the storms that life brings, and there will be storms.

Most of your Bibles title this parable the wise and foolish builders.  I suggest an alternate title for today’s Christians:  The disciple and the tourist.

The disciple believes that Jesus is not only Savior but Lord and Master as well.  As such, the disciple follows where he leads.  For the most part, that means we study the Bible, especially the teachings of Jesus, and do our best to put them into practice. 

We know that we don’t always get it right, but our foundation is Christ and we are taking what he taught us and doing the best that we can with it.  Remember that he is our great high Priest who knows what it is like to be human so he understands when we stumble, but we do take what he taught and put it into practice.

Think about the word practice for a moment.  It means to apply a concept or a theory or an idea as opposed to just thinking about it.  Practice involves repetition.  Think of the baseball player than only swings his bat a couple of times between games—he has a name, it’s easy out

Practice involves repetition. But what are we repeating?

When teaching thinking skills, there is a short antiphonal—ask and answer—mantra that is often used. 

Does practice make perfect?  No!  Perfect practice makes perfect.

The disciple repeatedly practices the things that Jesus taught.  Even if we don’t get it quite right the first time or the twenty-first time, we don’t give up.  For things like loving your enemy, it might be the one hundred and twenty-first time before we get the hang of it, but we don’t give up.

The tourist hears what Jesus has to say, thinks about it, and then makes a commentary about it.  His or her entire response to the grace of God that we know in Jesus and the teachings of our Savior remains in the theoretical arena.

The tourist will listen and assess, make a commentary, and sometimes even advise others, but won’t step onto the playing field of discipleship.  The tourist remains in the false safety of the sidelines. 

I share something that is not from the Bible put which illustrates the difference between being one who puts what they believe into practice from those who sit on the sidelines.  It will sound familiar to many.  It is from Theodore Roosevelt’s Citizens In A Republic speech.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
I have been to many places as a tourist.  I wasn’t going to live there.  I wanted to enjoy the sites and the culture and the food.  I bought some souvenirs and some postcards.  I took plenty of pictures.

When I went to Mexico, I didn’t become a Mexican.  In Rome, I did not become a Roman.  I ate their food and bought their tee shirts but I was not going to become one of them.

So too are many who say they are Christians.  I am sure that many have professed Jesus as Lord and are saved from death, but have not taken steps to fully live.  They miss out on life.  They have the fire insurance and probably some Christian tee shirts, but they are missing out on life and what we might call blessed assurance.  It is more than a song.

Many read what Jesus teaches but do not want to put it into practice.  Their own understanding is a comfort zone that is so hard to abandon.  Trust in the Lord with all you heart and lean not on your own understanding seems to be a bridge too far.

For those who made the journey through Proverbs with me over the course of a year, one theme prevailed.  I can word it differently:

There is the path of the righteous and that of the wicked.
The wise follow God’s precepts but the fools hate them.
There are those who seek God and his ways and those trying to hide from him.

My modern-day summation is that there is God’s way and there is everything else. 

So often people who know what God has to say—they even can quote of the words of Jesus—want to live by their own understanding and expect God to bless them when they won’t live his way.

Here is an example used many times before.  God tells you to plant cucumbers but you think the ground is better suited for tomatoes, so you plant tomatoes.  You pray and ask God to bless your tomato crop and then you complain to everyone you know that God doesn’t listen to your prayers when your tomatoes don’t make.

Wise and foolish builders.
Disciples and tourists.
Crops of cucumbers and crops of tomatoes.

Simple dichotomies that we make complicated.  Jesus said put his words into practice.  His teachings do not end with a letter grade on a multiple-choice test.  There is a lab.  It is called life.

In life, the better choice is always God’s way.  A couple decades ago, the big thing was WWJD.  What would Jesus do?

The actual question should be:  What did Jesus tell us to do?

The follow up is:  Are we doing it?  Are we taking his words and putting them into practice?

We have been told that not to do so is futility.  Whatever gains that we perceive that we make in this life are easily washed away, much like the comparison he made with treasures on earth and treasures in heaven. 

What we have invested in heaven is safe and secure.  What we have here may have the illusion of security but it can rust and corrode or be eaten by vermin and insects.  

Jesus told all who were listening that security in this life comes from knowing him and following him, and that means what Jesus says is gold to us.  It is the firmest foundation around.  Not to build upon this rock-solid foundation by doing what he says is foolishness.

What we build upon a foundation of sand—of foolishness—will not survive the storm.

We are going to have storms.  Some we may get to rebuke as our Master did.  Some we are to weather in the rock-solid foundation of his teachings. 

Are we wise or foolish builders?
Are we disciples or tourists?

Next month’s memory verse should be a good reminder that following Jesus is more than an academic exercise.

Little children, we must not love with word or speech, but with truth and action.

The words on the side of our building say, God’s Love in Action.  Life is about taking what Jesus taught us and putting it into practice.  This is how we reach fullness and abundance and enrich the relationship with our Father in heaven that we know in Christ Jesus.

We have a Helper that is with us every step of the way.  Why would we not want to put the words of Jesus into practice in everything that we do?

Listen to the parable once more, this time in the Good News Translation.

So then, anyone who hears these words of mine and obeys them is like a wise man who built his house on rock.  The rain poured down, the rivers flooded over, and the wind blew hard against that house. But it did not fall, because it was built on rock.

 But anyone who hears these words of mine and does not obey them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain poured down, the rivers flooded over, the wind blew hard against that house, and it fell. And what a terrible fall that was!

We are disciples, not tourists.  We are wise builders, not foolish ones.  We are not listening to God’s word and the teachings of Jesus just so we can comment on them at some later date.

We are people who put the words of our Master into practice.  We put his words into practice.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Bigger Barns

                              Read Luke 12:13-21

Don’t we all want to be rich?  Don’t we all long for that bumper crop, windfall profits, or winning lottery ticket?
There are two topics which the politically correct preachers know to stay away from.  Some may have Bibles annotated with steer clear of these, or soften before use highlighted in the margins.  These are of course, evangelism—people get nervous when you tell them that they are supposed to share this good news of salvation with others.  Some worry about sharing their faith with a complete stranger.  Others are more worried about talking with friends and coworkers.
The second-steer clear topic is telling people what to do with their money.  We like our money and our stuff and we don’t want anyone telling us what to do with it.  Jesus didn’t get the memo about steering clear of this topic.
The selected scripture follows Jesus teaching his disciples within a very large crowd.  Jesus has warned his disciples and the crowd against hypocrisy.  He has told them to fear only God.  He has told his disciples not to worry about what they will say when they are testifying, that the Holy Spirit will provide the necessary words. 
In the midst of this crowd is a disgruntled young man.  His father has obviously died, probably recently and he wants his share of the estate.  By the question he hurls at Jesus, we can assume that this has not been done yet.  Perhaps the older brother is keeping the estate intact and acting in his father’s stead providing for his mother and younger siblings.  Perhaps he is just slow to take care of business.  Perhaps he is just not being fair.
In any case, this young man does not seem too interested in what Jesus has to teach about how to live or about the kingdom of God; he wants his problem solved, and he wants Jesus to solve it for him, and as he is inserting his question into this situation, we might presume that he wants it solved now.
Jesus replies with something of a rebuke, asking who made me the judge of this matter.  He doesn’t ask for the facts, set a hearing date, or even refer the case to another authority.  Instead, Jesus warns not just the young man, but all against all kinds of greed. 
He says that a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. 
In 2010, we might say, your life is not your stuff.
But in 2010, the world, especially the good ole USA would say, “Oh yes it is.”
If you don’t have an IPad, IPhone, new car, designer clothes, or a gold ring through your nose, then who are you?
Our world says, you are your stuff.
The young man who wanted his inheritance was surely wrapped up in getting his stuff.  Stuffitis may have existed at this time.  People probably called their stuff their things or belongings, so thingitis or belongingitis might be the early forms of this disease.
Jesus does teach with a story.  This is the story of a rich man.  Let’s stop there.  This man doesn’t become rich because of one bumper crop.  He is rich.  He doesn’t have a barn, he has barns—plural, many, several barns.  He begins with a man who is not struggling in the world.  Surely he has put some effort into his wealth, but he is rich at the beginning of this story.
Then he has a good crop and he is faced with a problem.  He has no place to store his crop.  In the taxonomy of problems, this is what we call a good problem to have.  His barns are full and he has more to come.  What to do?
I think most of us could come up with some plausible options.
·             He could sell the crop.
·             He could be generous and give the crop away.
·            He could build more storage units.
It would seem like selling the crop would be the best business strategy, but a savvy farmer might hold onto the crop to a time when it fetched a higher price.  Everyone is selling at harvest time.  Why not sit on the grain for a few months and see what the prices rises to in the off season.  It is a shrewd strategy if you can afford to wait, and obviously, the rich man could afford to wait—or so he thought.
Of course it might also be good business strategy to sell the crop and put the money on deposit with the bankers.  Perhaps the return on investment is a little less, but it would solve the storage problem.
Giving the crop away would have found the rich man to be still rich, but he did not select this course either.  Perhaps it was not a habit in his life.  Maybe this thought never crossed his mind.
So that leaves building more storage units—or storage capacity.  Most of us probably would not have come up with the idea of tearing down the existing structures and building new ones in their place.  That’s not the way we do things.  When our house gets full of stuff, we enclose the carport and make it a garage.  When the garage gets full, we put a storage shed outback.  When the storage shed gets full, we rent one.  When the rented unit gets full, we kick a kid out of the house so we can use that room for our stuff.
Maybe in Hollywood or downtown Los Angeles or New York City you would tear down a structure to put up a new one because land is at a premium; but that would not seem to be the case in the agrarian world of this story.
So why would the rich man tear down what he had and build new barns?
Perhaps his actions project his attitude.
The man was thinking that he had plenty of grain and goods.  Why not just kick back and enjoy it.  Why not flaunt it.  There is a little arrogance in building new barns in place of old ones.  Extravagance and greed seem like the opposite ends of an affluent economy, but they do seem to coexist quite well together. 
Now we can beat up on the rich man all day, but there is nothing in the text to suggest that he came by his wealth in an unsavory manner.  He probably had been a hard working man with a good head on his shoulders, knew a good deal when he saw it, steered clear of ventures not likely to prosper.  In this story, we might suspect that his crop was planted on good soil and received adequate rainfall and he came by his abundance by good, honest business smarts and effort.
There is nothing wrong or evil about having a bumper crop.
There is nothing wrong with storing grain, or even storing stuff.
There is nothing wrong with building barns or even tearing down existing structures to build new ones.
Likewise, there is nothing wrong with money.
There is nothing wrong with stuff.
There is nothing wrong with new cars and trucks.
There is nothing wrong with new homes or closing in a carport to make a new room.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to wear nice clothing.
There is nothing wrong with being rich.
So why does Jesus say to this man, “You fool!  This very night your life will be demanded of you.”
Does that mean that we have to die poor?
He goes on to say that then who will get what you have prepared for yourself.  This is how it will be for anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God.
How can we be rich towards God?
The number one answer is the tithe.  This says, God the first fruits of all I receive are yours.  You don’t come after taxes, after the bills, after the car payment, or after the kids get new shoes.  You come first in my life and yes in my pocketbook, checkbook, paycheck, wheat check, royalty check, social security check.  God, you are first.
Many would say, when I am rich enough, then I will tithe.  When I have just a little more, I will tithe.  Because of grace, I don’t need to tithe.  God says give out of what you have, not what you don’t have.  God says he will return great blessings for honoring him with the tithe.  He says, go ahead and test me—see if I won’t shower you with blessings.
The next is meeting the needs that we can.  Sometimes we do this with money.  Sometimes we do this with our stuff.  Sometimes it is our time.  Often, it needs to be all of these.  We are rich towards God by being rich towards his people—towards this whole creation of humankind.
 We like to say that I own my stuff; it doesn’t own me. 
Are we sure?
We like to think that we manage our time well.
Are we sure?
We like to think that we do the best we can with our money.
Are we sure?
What are the metrics for knowing these things?  How about, “Are we rich towards God?”
Jesus grew up in an Eastern culture that was accustomed to extensive use of hyperbole, but when he said do not store up treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal, he was not exaggerating.  This is a direct statement that we can take literally.
When he said store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal, he was again being very direct. 
This is same message delivered via the parable of the rich fool or the story of bigger barns.
Were our lives to end today, what would the ledger say about our richness towards God?  I am not talking about the tithe—that which we all should give.  I am talking about truly giving to God.   How?  You may already be doing some of these.
·        The meal that we buy for someone.
·        The school supplies for the kids.
·        The food offerings that keep the pantry full.
·        Helping a stranger stranded on a road.
·        Teaching a class.
·        Driving the van.
·        Cooking for others.
·        Feeding others.
·        Helping someone make a budget
·        Giving someone a job.
·        Coaching a team.
·        Speaking to a group.
·        Listening
·        Being a shoulder to cry on.
·        Being an encourager.
·        Just sitting quietly with someone without looking at our watch every 10 minutes.
·        The things we do for others expecting nothing in return.
What do we do with our time, our stuff, and our money?  We are not defined by our money or our stuff, but we may be known in eternity by what we did with what we had.
The rich man was a fool because he believed he could be happy, content, and care free by storing up treasures in this world. 
Not too many months ago, many of us embarked upon a journey called One Month to Live.  We explored how we would live if our lives would end in 30 days.  Many considered all the things that we might want to do before we left this earth, and we used skydiving, mountain climbing, and bull riding as our metaphors for whatever it was we wanted to do before we died.  Most of us realized that living life to the full was about fully living it doing the things that God wanted us to do.  Abundance was not what we had accumulated, but what we gave.
God tells us to enjoy all those things that many people seem to crave, but only after we have sought his kingdom.
The young man seeking to enlist Jesus as arbitrator in his family’s affairs was saying, give me what is mine!
Jesus tells us to give God what we want to be ours for eternity.  He says to be on guard against all kinds of greed; yet paradoxically, the more we give away, the more we are preparing—the more we lay away--for our eternity.  If you want something to be yours, then give it to God, and do so richly.
So should we all take a vow of poverty?
Do we live void of anything other than basic sustenance?
I don’t think so, with the possible exception of those who may have a Spiritual Gift of poverty.  We should live abundantly now and abundantly in eternity.  We should live as rich people—people who are rich towards God.
It is not about how much or how little we have.  In whatever we have, are we rich towards God?
Jesus offers a rhetorical question after God says that your life will be demanded of you this very night.  , he says, “Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”
Our earthly minds would run through a normal cycle of possessions succession.  First son, wife, other siblings, brothers or sisters may be in different orders based upon the century, customs, and laws in force.  But that’s not really the answer to the question.
Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?
You will.
When I die, I will get what I have prepared for myself.
They say, you can’t take it with you; but that doesn’t mean that you can’t send it on ahead of you.
Jesus is telling us to use the things that we have in this world purposefully.  Don’t serve greed, serve God.  Be rich towards God.
Some may be thinking back to the times of Joseph in Egypt when he directed the building of barns and storehouses on a massive scale.  If he had a better marketing department, there would be Barns R Us and Storehouses Galore outlets all over the country.  He didn’t do this for his own prosperity or glory; he did this purposefully knowing that after seven prosperous years would follow seven years of famine.  Joseph lived with purpose and lived richly towards God by caring for an entire nation, including his own that would seek refuge and grow in this land.
The rich man in the parable wanted to retire from being purposeful.  He just wanted to eat, drink, and be merry.  His desire was to be the ultimate consumer.
Let us all ask ourselves a simple question.  What is your vision of retirement?
It’s a fair question.  What do you want your retirement to look like?
Many will describe not working, travel, relaxing, not working, spending time with family, not working, and having all of our bills paid, of course.
And how much of a nest egg will that take?
Some people fall into the trap of living to build that nest egg.  That is the focus of their lives, and along the way they missed out on living the abundant life we are called to and the missed out on being rich towards God.
It’s called a scarcity mentality.  There might not be enough for everyone, so I better get what I can get and hold onto it.
I am not telling you to empty out your 401Ks or Roth IRAs.  We should be good stewards of the money, gifts, talents, possessions, and everything that God has blessed us with.  We should put something away for a rainy day or when we stop working for a paycheck, but we should not wait until the end of our lives to be rich towards God. 
You want a good economic model for tough times.  Imagine if you had done this when you first started earning money.
Tithe:  10%
Life Savings (aka retirement):  10%
Purposeful Living:  80%
How many of you began calculating what you would have to live on at age 65.  On average for a modest wage earner, it’s just over a quarter million with a terrible economy and interest rates and closer to a million if the interest rates are a bit healthier.
But the real security here is not in what you sock away in savings, but in living purposefully with the other 80%.  Living for God with what we have to live on.
You might think, but I am not the rich man in the story.  I have bills to pay.
I need a place to live.  Yes you do.
I need a car.  Yes you do.
I need to pay my utilities in my home.  Yes you do.
I need a phone.  Yes you do.
I need food.  Yes you do.
The question is what are you going to do living in your heated and air conditioned home?  What are you going to do with your automatic transmission, tinted windows car?  What are you going to do with the calories you ingest?
Are you going to eat, drink, and be merry and satisfy you every want or live richly towards God?
God wants you to have a roof over your head, running water, a car that works, and food for your family not so we can be self-satisfied, self-absorbed, and self-centered; but so we can be rich—rich towards God by loving, serving, and helping others in this world.
We should tithe, then give where we see needs beyond the tithe, then live our lives rich towards God.
Seems like everyone wants to be rich and we can be.  With whatever we have, we can all be rich towards God.

The Good Samaritan

This is one of the more familiar parables in the Bible.  The term Good Samaritan is so common these days that we forget what a contradiction in terms, what an oxymoron it would have been to use this term 2000 years ago.

The term Good Samaritan is not even used in the scripture.  This is a title or pericope heading that attached itself to the text in later years.  In Luke’s Gospel, this story is sandwiched in between the sending of the 72 and a very personal encounter with Mary who truly valued her time with Jesus and Martha who remained wrapped up in things of the world.

This parable begins with a question.  It is a question from a teacher of the law who is seeking to best Jesus in public more than he is seeking an answer.

The teacher asks, what must I do to inherit eternal life.

Jesus answers with a question and the teacher replies:  Love the Lord with all you heart, soul, strength, and mind; and to love your neighbor as yourself. 

Jesus replies, yes you got the right answer.  Do this and you will live. 

There is another train of thought that could be pursued here—he didn’t say the words, Jesus is Lord or whosoever believeth in hiim, and Jesus told him he would live if he did these four things.  We don’t have a ticket for that train at this time.  Perhaps we will board that train on another day.

The teacher wants to take one more shot and asks who is my neighbor?

Jesus tells the parable, in which we can easily see five or six main characters.  The robbers set the story in motion by ambushing a man.

The man is probably a Jew.  Jesus was talking to a teacher of the law and most of the people around him at this time were likely Jews.  The man was one of them.  The crowd likely had empathy for the man.

Next we have the priest and the Levite.  Both see the man and pass by on the other side.  Our reaction in the twenty-first century is often look at how sanctimonious these religious leaders were.  We have seen that holier than thou attitude before.

These two might have received a little more sympathy from the Jewish crowd.  After all, Priests had to remain clean and pure to fulfill their duties in the temple.  Some might have said, they were just following the law and the provisions and commentaries on the law found in the Talmud and Mishnah.  The teacher of the law, however, should have known that the Mishnah provided and exception to these restrictive guidelines when encountering an abandon corpse. 

If we take the words literally that both the Priest and the Levite are going down the road, then they were leaving Jerusalem which was several hundred feet above sea level and Jericho was below sea level.  Today, we might say that we were going down the road and in western Oklahoma that term may or may not connote a change in altitude.  But if the priest and the Levite were both going down, then they were leaving Jerusalem, traveling the same direction as the man, and thus would have concluded any temple duties which would have required purification.
In any case, both passed the man on the other side of the road.

Next we come to the Samaritan.  I would suspect that there might have even been a few boos and hisses at the mention of this character.  It’s not that there was underlying racial hatred towards the Samaritans.  There was overt racial hatred towards these “half breeds.”  Whether the roots of this hatred go back to the time of the Babylonian Captivity or were a more recent development really doesn’t bear on the situation.  Racial hatred is racial hatred and it is not going to be dispelled by finding the historical roots.  Hatred is a condition of the heart and many in the crowd that was listening likely had this hatred ingrained in their hearts.

When Jesus asks the teacher of the law which one of the three was a neighbor to the man who was robbed, the teacher replies the one who showed mercy.  Perhaps this is just the teacher revealing his insight into the parable or perhaps it is his reluctance to say the word Samaritan without spitting at the same time.

But it is the Samaritan who does what most had hoped the priest or the Levite would do.  He cares for the man with his own oil, and wine, and beast of burden.  He brings him to an Inn and doesn’t drop him off.  He cares for him overnight.  The next day, he pays the innkeeper in advance and tells him that he will settle accounts upon his return and pay him anything else that he is due.  The Samaritan truly shows love and mercy.

There is another human character in this story, one who has no lines to say or action, but who perhaps has something to reveal.  That is the innkeeper.  He accepts the Samaritan at his word that he will make good on any expense incurred by the innkeeper.  This tells us that he either witnessed something that inspired trust in the Samaritan or there was an existing relationship.  In either case, the innkeeper agrees—at least we hear of no objection—to keep and care for the beaten man. 

Others throughout history have interpreted this parable allegorically.  Origin Adamatius, one of the church fathers that lived in the second and third centuries would offer the following representations.

The man in Adam.
Jerusalem is Paradise.
Jericho is the world.
The priest is the law.
The Levite represents the prophets.
The beast or donkey is the Lord’s incarnate body.
The Inn which accepts all—whosoever will may come—is the church.
The Innkeeper is the head of the church.
The Samaritan is Christ and the message to the Innkeeper that he will settle accounts upon his return reminds us of the second coming of Christ.

Augustine and others might parallel this traditional allegorical interpretation to some degree.  They might add that the robbers were the Devil and his angels.

John Newton, who would write Amazing Grace and lived in the 18th and 19th centuries, also penned these lines supporting the traditional allegorical interpretation:

How kind the good Samaritan
To him who fell among the thieves!
Thus Jesus pities fallen man,
And heals the wounds the soul receives.

There have been many interpretations of this parable through the ages, but this morning, I would like to focus on the two very direct statements that Jesus makes in conjunction with this scripture.

The first comes before the parable when the teacher responds to the question posed by Jesus, how do you interpret the law.  The man says love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus says do this and you will live.  The conversation could have stopped here.  Jesus said love God with everything that you are and everything that you have.  Jesus said, truly love God.

We—the generations of believers who followed—are enriched by the parable that followed the teacher’s question, who is my neighbor.  Jesus answered the teacher’s question with a parable and with a command.

When the teacher revealed that the neighbor was the one who showed mercy; Jesus said go and do likewise.

The answer to who is my neighbor is to be a neighbor.  For all of the interpretation and representation that this parable may include; the directive words are to love God and to be a neighbor—to love one another.  We are not to be so much concerned about who to love or where to love or in what circumstances do we show love.  We are told to go and do likewise—to be mercy, to be love, to be a neighbor.

It is a wonderful parable that so many have tried to make more intricate than it need be.  Love God, love each other, and be a neighbor are powerful and direct.

There are so many ways to examine this parable, but the question to us is what are we going to do in response to this teaching?

How about:
Love God.
Love one another.
Be a neighbor.


Friday, January 20, 2017

Parable: A Lamp on a Stand

We begin a study of parables.  We know that Jesus taught in parables but we don't always know what we are supposed do with the parable.  So, let's begin with some general parameters on parables.
Parables make a comparison.  They use analogy sometimes with tools such as metaphor and simile.  Some may even be considered allegory, that is each or at least many elements of the parable directly represent something else. 
Others are more general but all should consider the context of the time.  We can't always reduce a parable to a lesson learned or what many would consider a moral such as in a fable, but there is always something to be learned.
Sometimes the parable speaks to us without interpretation.  Sometimes it begs to be dissected.
Sometimes Jesus compared things in heaven to things on earth or in our lives.  He is the only one who can make this comparison.  We may speculate.  Jesus spoke in the first person with authority.
Sometimes his comparisons involved things that we all know.  Such is the case in this first parable that we will examine, that of a lamp on a stand.
Jesus spoke to his disciples and told them that they were the light of the world.  That's is a bold declaration by our Master because he is the light of the world.
Jesus is the light of the world; yet, he tells his disciples that they are the light of the world.  Light is important and associated with God and his goodness.  We do not live in the darkness but in the light.  Angels are described as stars.  We are children of the light.
Recall the time that Jesus and his disciples were at the Jordan and received news of the death of Lazarus.  Many of the disciples were afraid to return to the area surrounding Jerusalem.  Jesus told them that walking with him was like walking in daylight.  If we live in the light, we don't stumble.
But Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world.  He didn’t say that we could be the light of the world.  He said that we are.  Our light cannot be hidden from the world so we need to live wise and holy lives.
We are commissioned not only to bring good news to the world but to be light in this world.  What we do and say cannot be hidden from the world.  Why would we want to hide it?
We are to be seen by the world.  People should see how we live and speak and get a glimpse of God's goodness.  People should praise God because of what they see in us.
We need to understand that we are the light of the world.  Christ is the light but much like our commission, he has entrusted us with being light on his behalf.  If we truly understand that then we must also understand that it is contrary to our Christ-given nature to hide our light.
A lamp is made to bring light to a whole room.  We don't light it to hide it.  We sing, Hide it under a bushel?  No!  It's a good song for today, but we should understand that the bushel was not a measure two thousand years ago.  The measure described was probably even smaller than today's bushel, but the principle remains intact even if the basket size might have grown over the ages.
What we need to understand is that the light of Christ is not just for ourselves.  It, like the good news that we have received, is to be shared with others.
What does that mean in our personal application?
Consider our approach to leading people to God.  We could use the scare the hell out of them approach.  It is valid logic.  Live in paradise or burn in hell?  Eternal paradise or eternal separation from God?  In terms of simple dichotomy, this approach makes sense, in the context of what Jesus wants from us--to follow him--these hellfire and damnation approaches leave us ill-equipped for discipleship.
In the accept God's grace or else approach, accepting the ultimatum seems to be the end of the game.  Being the light of the world is not the natural follow-on.  But the natural follow-on to receiving the grace of God is to share the grace of God.
Salvation is not game over it’s game on!
Not to be a light to others is salt without saltiness.  That is, to receive grace and not live by grace, leaves us in a worthless state.  The parable is about a lamp on a stand but Jesus ties it closely with the metaphor of being the salt of the earth. 
Salt brings flavor to life.  It is the God-seasoning of life.  Saltiness is abundance.  Saltiness lets us savor life in bringing our Savior to the world.  But what happens if we retreat from the world?
Our salt is no longer salty.  We have gone from brining the very essence of life to being common material for footpaths.
What happens when we withdraw from the world by trying to hide our light?  We miss out on being the people that God made us to be.  We are the light of the world.  Why would we deny who we are?
Our light must shine for it is from Jesus.  We are called to shine for God lives within us.  We are luminaries to the world.  We are to spiritually enlighten the world.
You can't hide a city that sits atop a hill.  Even our best stealth technology can't hide it.  Likewise, we who follow Christ really can't blend in with the world.  Why would we want to?
Sometimes it seems that we try very hard to camouflage ourselves as creatures who are citizens of the world; but it just aint' so.  Our nature is to be light, live in the light, and share the light.  That is who God made us to be.  We realize the lampstands that we are as we grow in grace and give off more and more of Christ's light to a world that seems to grow darker and darker.
Sometimes we let our mistakes get in the way of letting our light shine before others.  We think that we are not qualified to let God’s light from within us.  We must understand something that came to clarity in the Christian world almost 500 years ago as we entered the period known as the reformation; that the law showed us what we ought to do, but grace shows us what God has done for us.
Our light shines when we get out of the business of measuring ourselves against unobtainable standards and live in the light of grace.  Our message transcends any fraility in our human nature.  Our light is God's love for us.
That love must not be hidden.  We cannot live contrary to our nature.  Such existence is not living.  Salt that is not salty or light that is hidden defy the purposes for which they were created.
A disciple who does not share God's love in word and deed, speech and action, spirit and truth tries to live a dichotomous life.  Such a person can only know dissonance in resisting their God-given nature and purpose.
Our charge is to bring God's light into this world so that people will know him as they come to know us and in those revealing encounters, we will bring glory to God.
The question before us is simple.  Are we shining our lights?
Are we taking what God has given us and sharing it with others or are we reatreating from the purpose for which he made us?
Advancing or retreating?
Light or darkness?
Living or denying our God-given purpose?
Who lights a lamp and then sticks it under a bowl or under the bed or lights it just to hide it?
Here is something that is not explicit in the parable but was obvious to those listening to Jesus.  Nobody lights a lamp in the middle of the day.  It is just not effective because the sun shines so brightly.  Light is needed in darkness.
One day, living fully in God's presence will be the only light that we need; however, today the world is retreating from God and his goodness and his light.  We must shine now more than ever.  Our mission--our God-given mission--has never been more important.
How is the world to know God's mercy if those who know God best shrink away from their purpose? Salt without saltiness and hidden lights won't get the job done. 
Long ago when I was still young enough to drive from the east coast to western Oklahoma without stopping for sleep, I was somewhere between Weatherford and Clinton.  My endurance was about gone and the effects of caffeine and loud music were becoming less and less.  I could see the lights of Clinton in the distance.  They stretched out across the horizon and then in an instant, they were gone.
That will wake you immediately.  The horizon had gone totally black.  Not only had the city gone but there were no stars in the sky.  Everything was dark.  When you have been driving for 24 hours straight and are already on the edge of consciousness, that experience will transport you immediately to the Twilight Zone.  A dozen possible scenarios raced through my mind, none of them comforting.
Before I could resolve in my mind the concept of an entire city disappearing and every light in the sky going dark, the light emerged again.  I had simply driven under an overpass that effectively blocked my vision of everything except the road immediately in front of me.  My mind immediately reset to normal but those two seconds have stuck with me for almost 4 decades now.
A city that could not be hidden vanished instantly.  It was gone.  There was only darkness.  I can't describe the mix of thoughts emotions that I lived in that instant but I was so relieved when the lights appeared again.
Imagine those two seconds of darkness as the world’s perspective of existence.  The world longs for light.  It is mostly looking in the wrong places, but it wants light.  It craves light but sometimes gets comfortable with darkness.
How could God leave the world in total darkness?  He didn’t.  You are the light of the world. 
Here the parable once more.  This is from the New King James Version.
You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
Let us not deny our God-given nature.  Let us be like a lamp on a stand and bring the light of Christ to all those around us.
Let your light shine now, more than ever.