Tag Archives: Jesus

Pulpit Fiction Podcast episode 155. Jesus’ sorrow for Jerusalem, and more

Click on the link below to listen to the latest episode of the Pulpit Fiction Podcast. This is the podcast for preachers, seekers, and Bible geeks. Rev. Eric Fistler and I spend about an hour each week with the readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. We have two main Bible study portions as well as segments from special guests, music, and whatever else comes to mind. You can listen directly here, or you can go to http://PulpitFiction.us to get all the show notes, links to what we talk about, and download the podcast to your mobile device and listen anywhere you go.

This episode is for the second Sunday in Lent. The two main readings are the Pharisees warning Jesus and his subsequent sorrow over Jerusalem, and the promise God makes to Abram. Our Psalmist in the field, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan, examines Psalm 27. There’s also a great song by talented artist Amy Cox. Click on the link below to listen now.

Pulpit Fiction Podcast Episode 155

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Are we there yet?

The prophet George Carlin once said, “Have you ever noticed that everyone driving slower than you is an idiot, and everyone driving faster than you is a maniac?” This, I believe is why everyone, to some extant, is a backseat driver.

We’ve all been riding with someone who is either a maniac or an idiot. It can be hard to suppress those feelings when you are quite sure you  will either be dreadfully late or die ina fiery wreck.

Have you ever driven with a backseat driver? I’m not naming any names, but I may have experienced it from time to time. It can be infuriating to listen to the unwanted advice. “Are you going to turn?” “You’re in the wrong lane.” I think in our heart of hearts, we’re all backseat drivers. Some of us are just more expressive about it than others. As a driver though, have you ever had enough and just said, “Do you want to drive? Do you want me to pull over so we can switch and you can take over?” Have you ever actually done it?

You know who were the worst set of backseat drivers? The disciples. Over and over the disciples have a different idea than Jesus as to where they should be going. Over and over again they think they’re going to restore the Kingdom of David, or they think they’re going to save their friend, or they think they are going to nice people’s homes with nice food and nice customs. And over and over again Jesus shakes his head, closes his eyes, pinches his upper nose (at least that’s how I picture it), and says, “will you please let me drive?” Until finally he does it. He does what every brow-beaten driver has dreamed of doing. He pulls over, gets out, and says, “Okay, you drive.”

This is the story that is known by many Christians as The Ascension. It is the end of the Easter season, but not yet Pentecost. It is the hinge upon which the writer of Luke and Acts connects those two works. The Gospel of Luke ends with Jesus being taken up to heaven and the disciples worshiping, and then going to Jerusalem. Acts, which is the sequel, picks up with a quick intro, a “Previously on…” and then tells the story of Jesus’ ascension with a little more detail. Jesus, in his last act on the earth, tells the disciples that they will soon be baptized with the Holy Spirit. They ask, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?” Read: “Are we there yet?” They figure this must be it. They’ve been with this guy for so long, surely this is finally the time. Instead, Jesus tells them, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses to Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Then he leaves. This body, which had already defied the laws of physics by appearing in locked rooms and disappearing at dinner tables, is ‘lifted up.’ Jesus is gone.

He actually does it. He gets out of the car and says, “You drive.” So we took over, and just think of all the places we’ve gone.

We’ve taken it through building empires, inquisitions and crusades.

We’ve taken it through the suppression of science, the trial of Galileo.

We’ve taken it to grand cathedrals built on the backs of the poor to prop up the powerful.

We’ve taken it to explain plagues and keep people in the dust and shame in the shadow of an angry god.

We’ve taken it to the subjugation of women and used it to justify untold abuses and violence.

We’ve taken it to manifest destiny, claiming God as the motivation of the genocide of a people.

We’ve taken it to enslave a people based on their race.

We’ve taken it to Holocausts and concentration camps.

We’ve taken it to marginalize the LGBT population.

Jesus left and left us in charge and we used the power to subjugate those who look wrong, act wrong, pray wrong, love wrong, and were born wrong. We keep getting off course. How many times have we lost our way?

The thing is, Jesus gave us directions. He told us the way. The problem is, the directions seemed a little vague. Go to Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria, then the ends of the earth.  Now, I can’t help but think that Jesus really screwed up with this one. I mean, I’ve threatened to get out before, but I’ve never done it. I’ve never once let my kids actually take the wheel because I know that things wouldn’t go well. And if I did get out of the car and let the kids drive, would anyone blame them for driving off the road and crashing into a tree? No. I would be blamed.

And what kind of directions are those? Is there any wonder we’ve veered off course from time to time? So we stop and lament and cry out to God. We shake our fist at the sky and say, “Why?” and we wonder why we aren’t there yet.

Then the angel of the Lord appears and asks, “Why are you looking at the sky?” The answer is not in looking to the sky. As much as I’d like it to be, the answer is not above in the clouds. The answer is not going to come down. The answer is not in the right orthodoxy or the right prayers or the right creeds. As much as I wish Jesus had stuck around for a little while longer, maybe it is time to stop waiting for Jesus to come, and start acting as if Jesus is already in our midst.

Instead of looking up, waiting for Jesus to give us the simple answer, we need to be reminded of the directions he actually gave us, and start looking out. Jesus gave us the power, and Jesus gave us directions. “Go and testify to me to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the world.” Start in this city, then out into the countryside, then into enemy territory, then to all the world.

Testify to the love of Jesus Christ. Testify to the way that Jesus lived. Testify to the hearts that were changed, the hungry that were fed, the unwelcome that were invited. Testify to the love that was willing to go even to the cross. Testify to the faith that sent two women to look for him at the tomb, and only to be asked, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Testify to the love that conquered the grave. Testify to the love that stands among you, scarred from the nails but still willing to reach out and embrace those who had abandoned and denied him. Testify to the love that knows not manipulation or coercion. Testify to the love that is not of armies and force and restoring kings and sitting upon thrones. Testify to the love that is the Kingdom of God, the love that says that all are welcome, all are free, all are filled, and all are loved.

Go to the ends of the earth to testify to Christ’s love, but start with your own heart. Start in your own cities, in your circles. Testify to Christ’s love to strangers and even enemies. Go to the ends of the earth, and stop looking up. Stop looking for the living among the dead. Instead look out. Look out to your neighbor.  Look out to the one who is despised. Look out to the sick and the poor and the hungry. Look out and find Jesus not in the clouds, but among the least of these, his brothers and sisters.

We won’t find the answers as long as we keep looking up. Look out and be inspired by those that are following. Look around you and see the others that have figured out the way, who know the truth that we won’t find Jesus in cemeteries or the sky. We’ll find him on the journey. We’ll find him when we follow his directions.

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The 10 Commandments of Jesus

This is not comprehensive.  What are some commandments that you would add?

This is not comprehensive. What are some commandments that you would add?

There are a lot of people that clamor to put the Ten Commandments in public places.  I believe too firmly in the separation of Church and State to want to see that happen.  Yet sometimes I wonder why no one seems to want to put the sermon on the mount in the courthouse lobby?  Jesus said, “When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too.”  How would that go over?  After we put the sermon on the mount at the courthouse, could we put Luke’s sermon on the plain on Wall Street?  How would that fit?  He said to “lend expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35 in the sermon on the plain).  What would that do to our economic system?  

Really, I can’t help but wonder if there is any way to reconcile a realistic society with Jesus’ teaching.  Does our justice system of punishment and retribution have anything to do with the grace and peace that Jesus taught?  Could our society function on the premise of turning the other cheek?  Could our economic structures survive Jesus’ teaching about money?  Jesus places some pretty big demands on his followers.  It is hard to imagine how it would even work.

But then, do the systems we have in place now work? I’m not sure a society can function under the rules Jesus laid out, but I’m also pretty sure no society has really tried.

“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” – Gilbert K. Chesterton

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The strangest of them all

ImagePhyllis Tickle calls it “The most difficult parable of them all.” David Lose calls it “The most confusing parable.”  The New International Version labels it “The Parable of the Shrewd Manager.”  The New Revised Standard uses the word “Dishonest” instead of shrewd.  The Common English Bible goes it different direction with the subheading “Faithfulness with Money.”

All parables have an element of strangeness.  That is sort of the point of them.  Jesus uses parables to teach about the Kingdom of God, which is a strange concept.  Forgiveness, compassion, self-sacrifice, these are counter-cultural concepts that take strange stories to understand. Some parables are strange because we don’t understand the cultural weight of words like Levite or Samaritan.  Some parables are strange because of the actions people take (who would plant a weed – one that gets really big – in a garden?) Yet despite the general strangeness of Jesus’ parables, the one found in Luke 16:1-13 seems to be the three-dollar bill.

It is a story of an owner and a manager.  The owner discovers that his manager has been dishonest, fearing that he is going to be fired, the manager decides to do some dealing.  Facing impending unemployment, he decides to make some quick deals so that “people will welcome me in their houses.”  He goes to a few of the owner’s clients and settles their debt at much lower rates.  Collecting about half as much as they owe, the manager figures that the clients will be grateful to him, and treat him well in the future.  The owner finds out about the tactics, and this is where it gets strange.

The owner commends the man for acting “shrewdly” in the NIV and NRSV, “cleverly” in the CEB.  What?  The manager, who was already identified as dishonest, goes about being more dishonest, and the owner praises him?  This one is a tough one to figure out.  Why would the owner praise him?  In most parables, the owner or master is supposed to be God.  Here we seem to have God praising a man that screwed him.  There is only small consolation in remembering that the disciples rarely understood Jesus’ strange stories either.

So what are we left with?  What is the good news?  I think it comes down to the same place that most of Jesus’ strange stories come to: relationships.  At the beginning of the story, we have many strained relationships.  There is a strained employer-employee relationship.  There are debts and debtors.  What are we left with at the end of the story?  Reconciled relationship and cancelled debt.  It makes no sense for the owner to praise someone for cancelling the debts people owed him.  He did not get what was coming to him, and yet he celebrated.

Perhaps a quick scan around the rest of the Gospel of Luke will help lift the fog from this confusing story.  Remember when Jesus taught the disciples to pray? Back in chapter 11, he tells them “Give us each day our daily bread.  And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.”  What if Jesus actually meant that?  “But wait!” you might be saying, “He wasn’t talking about money.  He was talking about sin, and you know, trespasses (whatever that is supposed to mean).”  All I have to say is, really?  You don’t think Jesus was talking about money?  This is the Gospel of Luke we’re talking about, the one that says “Blessed you that are poor… Blessed are you who are hungry now…” not “Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” like the Gospel of Matthew.   It is in the Gospel of Luke that Jesus says, “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”  Later he tells a man to “Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me;” (Luke 18:22).  Then he says “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God'” (Luke 18:24).

And don’t give me the line about the gate in Jerusalem that was called the “Needle’s Eye” or some such nonsense.  There is no archaeological evidence of this mythical gate.  There are, however, many non-canonical uses of a similar phrase to explain something that is really, really hard.

On Episode 29 of the Pulpit Fiction Podcast, Eric and I discuss this difficult parable, and the lament found in Jeremiah 8:18-19:1

On Episode 29 of the Pulpit Fiction Podcast, Eric and I discuss this difficult parable, and the lament found in Jeremiah 8:18-19:1

All of this is to say, maybe Jesus is trying to teach us something about the nature of relationships and money, and our relationships with money.  Perhaps the manager was praised because he put relationships ahead of money.  You could argue that his motivation was less than pure, but in the end, he valued his ability to “be invited into people’s homes” over his ability to please his boss.  And maybe the owner cared more about his manager’s heart than he did about his bottom line.  The Pharisees didn’t get it.  They valued money, and understood that having money was the same as having God’s favor.  Jesus is reminding them that there are things in this world more important than wealth.  Perhaps the level of confusion that this parable stirs is evidence of how remarkably important it really is.  This one blows our mind, because it seems to go against all of our common understanding of fairness.

And that’s just it.  The Kingdom of God has little to do with fairness.  It has little to do with keeping proper ledgers and making sure that everyone gets what is their due.  The Kingdom of God is about relationships.  It is about reconciliation.  It is about forgiving our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  It is not an easy story to hear.  It is sometimes an even harder story to live.  It doesn’t make good economic sense.  Jesus had a funny way of not making  sense.

It doesn’t make sense to plant a weed in a garden.  It doesn’t make sense to ruin a whole vat of flour with some leaven.  It doesn’t make sense to turn your other cheek, throw a party for people that can’t invite you to theirs, leave behind a flock because one sheep strayed, or throw a party for your good-for-nothing son who finally came back home with his tail between his legs.

It doesn’t make sense that God would come to earth and take on flesh.  It doesn’t make sense that God would claim me as his own, or invite me to the Table of Grace.  It doesn’t make sense that Jesus would do all he could for a people that responded by nailing him to a cross.  It doesn’t make sense that tomb was empty, or that disciples have been able to experience Christ in the breaking of bread for centuries since he was said to be dead.

This strange parable is a doozie.  It is a challenge.  It is a challenge to look at what cancelling debt really looks like.  It is a challenge to take a close look at how I serve wealth over God.  It is a challenge to look at how I spend money, how I save money, and how I treat others.  It is a strange one, all right.  Maybe that’s how God intended it.

Listen to the Pulpit Fiction Podcast about this parable

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Thursday-Friday Devotional, part 6

The next few posts are going to be a running devotional, reading through the Gospel of Mark, with short commentary and prayer.  I will post several of these over the next few days, leading up to the Easter.
SCRIPTURE

Mark 15:1-15  At daybreak, the chief priests—with the elders, legal experts, and the whole Sanhedrin—formed a plan. They bound Jesus, led him away, and turned him over to Pilate. Pilate questioned him, “ Are you the king of the Jews?”

Jesus replied, “That’s what you say.” The chief priests were accusing him of many things. Pilate asked him again, “Aren’t you going to answer? What about all these accusations? ” But Jesus gave no more answers, so that Pilate marveled.

During the festival, Pilate released one prisoner to them, whomever they requested. A man named Barabbas was locked up with the rebels who had committed murder during an uprising. The crowd pushed forward and asked Pilate to release someone, as he regularly did. Pilate answered them, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?”  He knew that the chief priests had handed him over because of jealousy. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas to them instead. Pilate replied, “Then what do you want me to do with the one you call king of the Jews?”

They shouted back, “Crucify him!”

Pilate said to them, “Why? What wrong has he done?”

They shouted even louder, “Crucify him!”

Pilate wanted to satisfy the crowd, so he released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus whipped, then handed him over to be crucified.

REFLECTION

I’ve heard all my life that Jesus was sent to die for our sins.  It is such an important part of the American Christian ethos that it is usually said uncritically.  “Jesus died on the cross for me.”  For some, this just rolls off the tongue without much thought, and when people do think about it, they think only of their own sin.  It becomes a very privatized way of thinking of Jesus.  And while I am not opposed to thinking that Jesus died on the cross for me, I can’t think it uncritically.  Something about this passage doesn’t sit right.

If I am to believe that Jesus came to die on the cross for me, than why I am so upset when I read about this exchange?  If Jesus’ mission was to die on the cross, then isn’t it a good thing that the people chose to save Barabbas?   Then why does reading this fill me with regret?  Why do I get frustrated with the suddenly neutered Pilate who just wants to appease the crowd?  There are a lot of ways to understand what happened when Jesus died on the cross.  One of them is to believe that Jesus came to die on the cross for me.  But this just doesn’t sit well as the only explanation.  If it was, then this scene wouldn’t be heart-wrenching.

Here’s another way to understand what happened here.  Jesus came to announce “God’s good news; saying; ‘Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!'” (Mark 1:15) He announced it to fishermen, interrupting their lives even in the midst of a catch.  He was so compelling that the set aside full nets to follow.  He proclaimed it to the demon-possessed, to the lepers, the sinners and the tax-collectors.  He gathered followers along the Judean countryside by forgiving sins, feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked.  He reached out to women and children.  He healed on the Sabbath. He calmed the storms, fed the multitudes, and redefined what it meant to be holy.  He looked beyond the letter of the law and revealed to the people the heart of God.  For all of this, and for upsetting the powers that be, he was condemned.

He was given a mockery of a trial, and taken to the Roman authority to be dealt with.  He was condemned to death, not because God needed him to die, but because we could not allow him to live.  In our brokenness, humanity clung to old ways of knowing about power.  They clung to a system that subjugated a people.  They clung to an institution that robbed the widows’ of their houses.  They clung to the power of the sword and the Pax Romana, as enforced by the Legionnaire’s spear.  How tightly do we still cling?

When given a choice between Jesus or Barabbas they chose.  They chose the man that had committed murder during an insurrection.  They chose the sword.  They chose the power of the world.  They chose the one that would try to overthrow Caesar by the only method that they understood.  And in that choice lays the ultimate tragedy of our existence. When humanity had the choice between the Kingdom of God and the power of the world, they chose the world.  When given the chance to save the man that taught them to “love their enemy,” they chose the man that murdered his enemy.

They made the choice then, and it is the choice we continue to make.  Every time we choose to hold onto bitterness and anger. Every time we refuse to reconcile. Every time we turn a blind eye to injustice and suffering.  Every time we condemn another to make ourselves feel safe. Every time we choose the way of the world, we choose Barabbas.  And we may as well be shouting “Crucify him!”

PRAYER

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.  Hear our cries for redemption.  As you go closer to the cross, we see our own complicity.  I want to be blind no longer.  Open my eyes that I may see not only the cross, but the path that led you to that cross.  Open my eyes not only to the cross, but to the hope that lies beyond it.  Keep that hope alive in me on this journey.  Amen.

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