Jesus’ Wife Gets a Date

Gospel of Jesus WifeAs surely as political attack ads proliferate prior to polling, stories with supposed challenges to Christianity pop up in newspapers and magazines right before Christmas and Easter. One year it’s “The Gospel of Judas,” the next it’s “The Jesus Tomb.” Often there are articles months later that basically say, “We were wrong.” This year, the media’s Easter Basket is filled to overflowing with headlines that imply Jesus was . . .  married!

I just got 72,000 hits by typing “Jesus wife” into Google’s news search. Like children hunting Easter eggs that might contain chocolaty treats, the news folks apparently can’t resist this kind of story. Maybe you’ve seen the headlines:

  •  Scientific Tests Show “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Wasn’t Faked”
  • “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” Is Real, What Now?
  • Controversial “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” Is the Real Thing, Say Researchers

Just reading these pithy headings gives the impression that it has somehow been confirmed that Jesus was married.  But if you read the articles, you find they are as empty as a hollow chocolate Easter bunny.  The new “proof” is not that Jesus had a wife, but rather the date the “Gospel of Jesus Wife”was written. They’ve determined it’s not a modern forgery.

The testing shows conclusively that it was written as early as . . . several hundred years after Jesus’ death.  Wow. (Please read that “wow” with appropriate sarcasm, as if I was reacting to finding a peanut butter and chocolate candy made by anyone other than Reese’s in my Easter Basket.)

So, several hundred years after Jesus lived, someone wrote that he said something about his wife. But we don’t really know what.

The Gospel of Jesus WifeYou see, the “Gospel of Jesus Wife,” as impressive as it sounds, is actually a credit-card sized scrap of writing that is totally devoid of any context whatsoever.  At one edge, it says this, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife . . .” The rest of the sentence is missing because the paper is ripped. Not only do we have no idea if Jesus actually said those words, but we don’t know what he said about “my wife.”

Maybe Jesus was talking about the church, described as “The Bride of Christ” in Scripture. Maybe he was making some other analogy.

Henny YoungmanI kind of hope he was making a joke – perhaps he was taking a moment to be a 1st century Henny Youngman; the complete sentence could have been, “My wife, take her please.” Of course Jesus had a sense of humor, and if he did make jokes, would it be so surprising that they would have been repeated centuries later on the Borscht Belt circuit? Jesus was Jewish, after all.

But seriously, folks . . .

No, I’m not taking this very seriously. It’s really kind of silly, but par for the pre-Christian holiday course in American media.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not accusing the media of any vast conspiracy to undermine Christianity.  If that’s what they were doing, surely they could come up with something much better than this lame stuff.  They’re just trying to lure readers and web-surfers.

And besides, so what if Jesus was married?

I don’t think Jesus was married because one of the Gospel writers or Paul surely would have mentioned it; but it is possible they didn’t include that information because they just assumed everyone would know that rabbis got married and so Jesus, a rabbi, was married. Also, we don’t know everything about Jesus (John says all the books in the world couldn’t hold everything he did) so maybe that’s one of the things we don’t know.

What we do know is that Jesus never sinned. But getting married is not a sin.  And neither is – hold on to your pantaloons – sex.

Like anything else God created, sex when practiced as God intended (we can disagree about the particulars of that) is good. I think some of our resistance to Jesus being married stems from our puritanical and not necessarily Biblical attitudes about sex, even in marriage.  Paul writes that married people shouldn’t withhold intimacy from each other; we really should give that message equal prominence to the “purity until marriage” preaching.

If we found out Jesus were married, maybe we could let go of some of the paternalism that still pervades parts of the church.  (We need to do that whether or not Jesus was married.) The Roman Catholic Church would certainly have to reconsider that whole celibacy for priests thing, wouldn’t they?

If definitive evidence of Jesus being married was found tomorrow (this Jesus Wife Gospel thing ain’t it), it would not affect my faith one iota.

There’s only one thing that could be found that would challenge my faith – a tomb with Jesus’ body in it. But that’s not going to happen, because Jesus’ tomb was and is empty. Easter happened, and Jesus, whether married or not married, walked out of the tomb and proclaimed victory over death. That victory is my victory.  That victory is your victory.

And that is the Good News I’m holding on to and proclaiming this Holy Week.  The rest is hollow bunnies.

The-Empty-Tomb

 

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“The Jesus Parade” – a Sermon for Palm Sunday

Palm_Sunday_Tver_15th_cJohn 12:12-27

Have you ever been to a Christmas parade? I remember going when my sister and I were little kids. We would get there early to get a spot where we could sit on the curb with mom and dad in lawn chairs behind us. We would take snacks and sometimes toys for the long wait, but time seemed to slow down as the hour for the parade got closer. We asked, “How much longer” over and over until my dad got tire of looking at his watch and told us, “It’ll get here when it gets here.”

Then, as time for the start of the parade finally arrived, I remember wondering how long it would take for it to get to where WE were sitting. I can still feel my eyes straining to see as far back up the street as I could, standing on tip-toe as I looked for the flashing red police car lights that were always at the head of the parade.

At the first sight of those flashing lights, the crowd lining the street would press a little closer and move around to get the best view of what was about to begin. Then, before you’d know it, that police car would be creeping by and the parade would have started! There were bands and floats and Shriners in little cars and clowns and horses and local celebrities in convertibles throwing candy to the crowd. It was great – especially when the bands would play a song instead of just marching along keeping the beat with their percussion.

As good as the whole Christmas parade was, it was all just a prelude for the Guest of Honor. I don’t mean the Grand Marshal, usually a local TV news anchor or some actor who’d moved out to California and gotten a few bit parts in movies or on television. Although one time I remember the Grand Marshall was one of the kids on “The Waltons” TV show; not John Boy, though, but rather one of the lesser Waltons. I don’t even remember if it was a boy or a girl.

But even John Boy wouldn’t have been bigger than the Man at the end of the parade – the one that everything had been building up for.

As the last of the floats crawled by and the final pooper scoopers cleaned up after the horses, you’d see that big ol’ sleigh heading toward you. And there he was, bundled in his bright red suit and waving a white-gloved hand, soaking up the adulation of the kids in the crowd – and even the adults.

Santa in the Disney ParadeSanta!

And along with every one of those kids I’d be imagining what Santa was going to bring me that year. What was he going to leave under my Christmas tree? Maybe a bike, or an electric football game, or something I hadn’t even imagined yet. And I’d make a mental note to try to be good extra good that year, and I sure hoped Santa would look down from that sleigh and see I was certainly a Good Boy, worthy of anything his elves could whip up . . .

And that’s what it must have been like for a lot of the crowd that turned out for the parade in Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday.

They’d heard this rabbi from Nazareth did amazing things. What could he do for them? Could he heal them or their family members, feed them if they were hungry, make them rich?

Word had surely reached Jerusalem from Bethany, less than two miles away, that Jesus had brought a man back to life. That man had been in the tomb for four days – don’t you think that detail about how the corpse stunk had been part of the story that had been shared – and Jesus had called him out of that tomb and he had been alive!

It was Passover in Jerusalem. Jewish pilgrims had gathered for the festival from all over the Roman Empire and the city was bursting at the seams with people and excitement. What would Jesus do now? Certainly many who lined the streets waiting for the Jesus parade must have wondered what the next big show would be.

Some were hoping to see Jesus free the Jews from their Roman occupiers. After all, wasn’t much of what Jesus did and said in outright defiance of Rome – and if he could perform spectacular miracles, surely he could kick out the Romans.

Others were there because they had heard about those miracles – Jesus feeding thousands with a few loaves of bread and a few fish, walking on water, and casting demons out of people. And don’t you think word had spread ahead of the procession that Jesus had just, on the way into town, healed two blind men who could now SEE!

now you see me posterDid you see the movie, “Now You See Me” that came out last year? It was about four magicians – called “The Four Horsemen,” who did amazing magic. They had a big show in Las Vegas, and then one in New Orleans, and they announced a final show was going to happen on a rooftop in New York City. The people of New York had heard about their awesome magic, so thousands of people crowded around the building, abuzz with excitement about what The Four Horsemen might do next. They were hoping to be amazed.

Many in the crowd in Jerusalem that day were hoping to be amazed.

Those crowds waited for the Jesus parade in Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, standing on tip-toes and straining their eyes up the road toward the city gate to catch their first glimpse of Jesus and his followers on the way.

When Jesus finally arrived, they shouted “Hosanna” – which you heard in Children’s Time means “Save Us!” “Save us from sickness” or “Save us from money problems.” “Save us from Rome!” “Save us from boredom by showing us something amazing.”

“Just give us what we want. Just change our situation. Just show us a miracle. And then we’ll believe.”

It is easy to judge the crowds on that first Palm Sunday. But are they really so much different than you and me?

When we’re honest, we all want something from Jesus. Healing for us or a family member or a friend. Solutions to our financial issues. Restoration of our relationships. A bigger TV (okay, maybe not that one). Power, success, and so on.

And we may disagree about what’s wrong with our society and our government, but we all have ideas about how Jesus should fix it.

And we certainly would love to see a miracle – wouldn’t that be cool?

Now, don’t get me wrong – praying for healing, praying for a miracle, praying for societal change – there is nothing wrong with any of that. It’s what we’re supposed to do, really.

And sometimes we do get what we ask for. People get healed that doctors say shouldn’t have gotten well, or money miraculously shows up when we need it, or relationships get mended that seemed to have been over.

But miracles – at least the kind that fix our earthly problems – are the exception. That’s why they’re called miracles.

If you’re looking for me to explain this morning why miracles happen sometimes and they don’t other times, I can’t. I have no idea why one person is healed and another dies. I have no idea why one person’s job is saved and why another person loses their job and their home.

I don’t know why Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead but there were still thousands of others who died in Israel during his earthly ministry. I don’t know why he healed those two blind men on the way to Jerusalem while so many others were left not seeing.

What I do know is that Jesus did not enter Jerusalem that day to be Santa Claus – to give everyone what they wanted or even what they thought they needed. He didn’t march into Jerusalem to kick out the Romans and he didn’t show up simply to amaze everyone.

He came to Jerusalem for one thing . . . to die.

Actually, Jesus gave the people in Jerusalem that day exactly what they asked for. They shouted, “Hosanna” – “Save us!” And that is just what he did.

He saved them, and he saved us. He saved the world the only way he could. By dying.

So really, those who wanted something for themselves got it. They got forgiveness, and new life, and salvation.

Those who wanted a new kingdom got that, too. By dying, Jesus established a new kind of kingdom, a kingdom based on love rather than hate, on inclusion rather than boundaries, on giving rather than taking.

And those who wanted to be amazed – those who were looking for a miracle. They certainly got that!

If a miracle is a demonstration of great power, if it is something totally unexpected, if it is something that awes and amazes, what else can you call . . . Good Friday. (You thought I was going to say Easter, didn’t you . . . but that’s next week. As a professor of mine at seminary used to say, “Let’s not Easter over Good Friday. Let’s not lose what is remarkable and life-changing and world-altering about the crucifixion by rushing ahead to Easter.)

Sure, Jesus could have come into Jerusalem granted everyone’s wishes, or he could have an army of angels obliterate the Romans. He could have put on a really big show.

But none of that would not have been nearly as surprising – nor would it have had nearly as much impact – as his death of the cross.

The crucifixion was no temporary fix, it was no fleeting show. No matter how big the magic trick, no matter how big the miracle, eventually the crowds – and we are going to ask, “Okay, what’s next.”

On the Cross, Jesus said, “It is FINISHED.” Death, sin and satan were defeated once and for all. God was revealed more clearly on earth than God ever had been . . . or ever would be . . . revealed. On the Cross Jesus provided the ultimate picture of God’s self-sacrificing love for us, a love that even entered death.

So maybe lots of folks in Jerusalem turned out for the Jesus Parade for what we would say would be the wrong reasons. So maybe WE go to Jesus with selfish and self-centered requests.

But Jesus didn’t die for perfect people. Jesus died for those people shouting “Hosanna,” whatever their motivation.

Jesus died for us, not just in spite of but because of our flaws and our failures.

The crucifixion is God’s answer to our cries of “Hosanna!” “Save us!”

On the cross, Jesus did.

AMEN

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Noah, the Film: A Rant, a Review, and a Recommendation

noah-movie-posterJustice and mercy. Those are the big themes of the new Darren Aronofsky version of Noah that opened to huge ticket sales and significant controversy this weekend. In the midst of big-budget CGI effects – supposedly the most complex ever produced by George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic – justice and mercy are explored in the character of Noah . . . and in the nature of God.

The Rant

You might be surprised to read anything about God in reference to this film. The usual Christian purveyors of pique (Wal Mart won’t say “Merry Christmas” to meeeee!) have been spreading the word to their faithful followers (donors) that God is not present in Noah. That is poppycock (this is mostly a family blog, so I didn’t use the first word that came to mind). True, the word “God” is never uttered. But there are countless references to “The Creator” that obviously refer to You Know Who.

Saying that Noah is not a movie about God is like saying the Bible Book of Esther is not about God because God’s name is never mentioned. (Trivia Extra – the only other book of the Bible without any reference to God is Song of Songs.) I didn’t count, but I would estimate “The Creator” is referred to, prayed to, cried out to, or otherwise invoked a couple dozen times or more.

The Review

As surely as Jacob by the Jabbok River, Noah wrestles with God.  Not physically like Jacob, but certainly his spiritual grappling with God is just as real.  And it’s not just the character of Noah doing the wrestling, but Noah the movie is a barbed-wire-steel-cage match. The contention is not over the existence of God, but about God’s goodness . . . or not. I agree with something my wife Karen said after we saw the film, “I think whoever directed this movie needs to reconsider whether they’re really an atheist.” It is true that Darren Aronofsky has identified himself as an atheist, but he certainly is contending with Something in this film.

The Creator in Noah is not the candy-coated God of Sunday School flannel-board arks. There is nothing wrong with telling stories to children on their level; my daughter’s room was decorated in a Noah’s Ark theme from infancy through Elementary School. But this is a grown-up version of the story, and of God. Sure, the animals are cool and many are cute, but Aronofsky does not shield us from the reality that two of every kind of animal being saved meant that countless other furry critters were drowned. And he makes us especially aware that one family safely on the ark left the rest of humanity clinging to whatever would float – or, in one memorable tableau, the last exposed shards of rocky peaks – in a desperate but fruitless effort to survive.

noah's arkPerhaps the most effective scene in the film occurs soon after the rain has begun and the ark has set sail. Noah and his family eat silently as the screams of the drowning masses reach them from outside the safety of the ark. I sat there in the theater wishing right along with the family in the ark that those shrieking pleas would cease, but knowing silence would mean they had all died.

In the unflinching portrayal of the deadly and destructive consequences of what has come to be called “Noah’s flood,” the film raises this question: What kind of God would unleash such horror on the world, and the creatures, that God has created? Is this “Creator” only about justice, or is there mercy to be found in his character?

Noah (the man) lives out this question. At first, he believes that he and his family have been saved because they are the only good people in a world where everyone else is depraved. It is only just that they be saved while everyone else perishes. But on the ark he realizes that those who have been spared are just as sinful (my word, not Aronofsky’s) as everyone else. At first, Noah takes this to mean that God intends for humanity – including Noah’s potential descendants – to cease after those on the ark finish the job of making sure “innocent” animals survive. Only able to see God’s justice, he is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to make sure that happens. But eventually (I’m trying to write this without spoiling some important plot points) Noah does give in to mercy, and in doing so begins to be aware of the Creator’s mercy.

This business about Noah being less-than-perfect may surprise some folks who have gotten the idea that God spared Noah because he was righteous. But that’s not exactly what the Bible says – it says that Noah found favor with (or received grace from) God and then after that he was blameless or righteous. Like Abraham and other Bible heroes, Noah was an imperfect man called out of God’s graciousness, not because he deserved it. In Christian terms, Noah was a sinner like everyone else, and was only righteous because of God’s action, not his. So I believe Noah gets Noah’s imperfection right, and also hints at God’s graciousness.

Noah is an intensely spiritual film. That being said, it is not a “Christian movie,” something that seems to have upset many earnest Christians (not just the Christian Industrial Complex referenced in the rant). But the story of Noah does not belong only to Christians – it was first, and still is, part of the Hebrew Scriptures. Aronofsky grew up inculcated in Judaism, so it is no surprise that his version of Noah is at its heart a type of Jewish Midrash, with its gap-filling storytelling and earnest grappling with the text.

charlton heston - 10 commandmentsSo Noah does not follow the Biblical texts exactly. That’s a good thing, because if it did we’d only have a fifteen minute or so movie, unless there was lots of time filled with shots of the ark drifting on the waves. The story only takes up three chapters in Genesis. The Bible was not written screen-ready; every Bible movie from The Ten Commandments to Son of God has had to add things that are not specified in Scripture to constitute any kind of a watchable film.

Certainly this Noah is much more faithful to the text than the 1990′s television movie, with its pirate battles and conflation with the Sodom and Gomorrah story which according to the Bible took place at least a thousand years later.

Some of the criticism of Noah has claimed the film has an environmental agenda.  That may be, but the environmental themes do not drown out the depiction of mankind before the flood pretty much as the Bible depicts – doing wanton evil.  In visits to the cities of man, Noah and members of his family find all manners of abuse going on, particularly of women and those who are weak. The film’s embodiment of evil, Tubal Cain, says that he is equal to the Creator because he can give life and take life. The environmental degradation depicted in Noah is more a symptom of man’s depravity than the primary evil.

The Recommendation

I’ve written about a thousand words and I haven’t answered the two most basic questions: Did I like it? Should you see it?

noah castThere were parts of Noah I liked very much. For the most part, the effects reflected the millions spent on them. Spiritually, I appreciated the depth of the questions raised.  The acting in general was quite good for what in many ways is an action-adventure genre film. Russell Crowe was excellent capturing Noah’s existential struggle. As Charlton Heston is to Moses, Russell Crowe is now to Noah. Jennifer Connelly was a serviceable Mrs. Noah (not named Joan of Ark, unfortunately), and Emma Watson gave a well-rounded performance as Noah’s daughter-in-law.

One unusual addition to the story by Aronofsky I didn’t appreciate at first are the Watchers.  These are stone giants that look, move and sound like cousins of the Ents in the Lord of the Rings series. Apparently they are Aronofsky’s vision of the giants and or Nephilim in Genesis; no one knows exactly what they were like so one can grant him artistic license. They seemed kind of ridiculous, but Aronofsky does use them skillfully in the story and I came to appreciate them when they become a recipient of the Creator’s (God’s) grace in a very surprising and beautiful way.

There were many derivative elements that detracted from my enjoyment of the film. I’m a big fan of Anthony Hopkins, but his Methuselah was so reminiscent of Gandalf that I couldn’t get Ian McKellen’s wizard out of my head when he was onscreen. Ham’s character arc reminded me too much of Edmund in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

And then there was Tubal Cain. I’m not sure if it was Ray Winstone’s portrayal or the way the character was written, but I never really bought into his evil. The representation of everything about humanity that deserves destruction should have been more charismatic, more interesting. But all I could think of when Tubal Cain stowed away on the ark was Dr. Smith on the old Lost in Space television show (he stowed away aboard their flying saucer).  Hardly a menacing image.

So the answer to “Did I like it” is . . . mostly. I’m glad I saw it but it is certainly not one of my favorite films ever or even of the past year or so. I am not a big fan of big budget action-adventure movies and there were many elements of those kind of films in Noah.

So, should you see it?

We saw Noah on an Imax-size screen. If you can see it under those conditions, it is certainly worth the time and money. It is an epic film that should be seen in the theater and will definitely lose something on smaller screens.

I also think it is valuable for Christians to go see Noah so they can talk about it with non-Christians.  Unlike movies like Son of God and God’s Not Dead that mostly “preach to the choir,” Noah will be seen by many unChristians. It provides an opportunity not only or even primarily for evangelism, but for just plain conversation with folks who believe something different.

A place to start a discussion might be in the beginning. When Noah and his family are on the ark, Noah says that he will tell them the first story he heard.  It is the story of creation and the fall told, except for a blurring of some of the six days, with great reverence for the Genesis text. The accompanying, ultra-real visuals depict the progress of creation and of life, in a way that leaves ambiguous whether this is happening over a few days or over millions of years. It is a beautiful, and thought-provoking few minutes, well worth viewing and discussing, like a great deal of Noah.


 

You can read Karen’s review of Noah here.

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Movies | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Forbidden Brownies (Our Story)

In our bickering about whether Genesis 3 is literally true or allegory, we miss the real Truth: either way, Genesis 3 is Our Story . . .

brownies piece missingOnce upon a time, my mom made the most amazing brownies.  When they were cooking the whole house would smell like a big ol’ Hershey bar.  My mouth would water in anticipation of the timer’s “Ding” that would signal the wait was almost over.  Just a few minutes to cool, and then . . . chocolate nirvana!

One afternoon when I was in middle school mom pulled a pan of deliciousness out of the oven and put it on a dish towel laid out on the counter.  I hovered nearby and waited to hear Just How Long I would have to wait.  Mom picked up her purse, “I’ve got to run to the store.”  Then she uttered the saddest words I knew, “Don’t touch these.  I’m taking them to work tomorrow.”  Then she added, “There’s plenty of other good stuff for you to snack on.”

♦♦♦

Once upon a time, God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  They had everything they would ever need, and, more than that, all that they could ever want.  Almost.  God only gave them one rule – “Don’t eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  You’ll die if you do.”

At some point after that, the Tempter came to Eve in the form of a snake.  The writer of Genesis doesn’t tell us how long Adam and Eve were in the garden before this happened, but my guess is that if God made the rule in the morning, they were tempted to break it by that afternoon.  That’s how we humans are. 

Tempter-snake asked, “Did God really say you couldn’t eat any fruit?”  Eve answered, “We can eat anything but the fruit from that one tree.  God will kill us if we eat it.”

♦♦♦

Soon after my mom left, my friend Dustin (name changed to protect the not-so-innocent) stopped by.  The aroma hit him as soon as he walked in the door, “Brownies!”  With their siren-song aroma and promise of cocoa ecstasy, the brownies drew him over to where they were cooling.  “Let’s have some.”

“We can’t.”

“Your mom never lets you have anything!”

“There are some Pop Tarts in the pantry.  And some Chips Ahoy.  Anything else.   Mom will kill me if we get into those brownies.”

“Your mom’s not going to kill you!  She just wants to keep all the good stuff for her and her friends.”

♦♦♦

You’re not going to die if you eat that fruit,” Tempter-snake said. “God just doesn’t want you to be like, well, God.  God wants to keep that good and evil knowledge to himself.”

Eve took another peek at the fruit on the taboo tree.  It looked so tasty!  And good and evil . . . she had no idea what that meant but why shouldn’t she and Adam know everything God knows?

So she picked one, and she took a bite.

♦♦♦

Dustin spoke truth.  I had a right to those brownies. Mom was just being selfish.  They looked and smelled so yummy. 

So I cut two out two brownie squares.  I gave one to Dustin.  And we ate.  Gosh they were good!

♦♦♦

Eve passed the fruit to Adam, who was right there with her.  Yes, Adam was there all the time. He was just as culpable as Eve.  (Sorry guys, it wasn’t all the woman’s fault!)  Maybe more guilty, as he stood back and waited to see what would happen to Eve before he ate.  (Just like a man, some of you women may be saying.)

Tempter-snake got out of there quick.  Adam and Eve knew right away they’d messed up.  For the first time ever, they knew what it meant to be embarrassed.  They tried to hide themselves by sewing leaves together and wearing them. 

Then they heard God coming.  What had always before been a sweet anticipation had become another new sensation.  It couldn’t be just the bit of fruit in their bellies that made their stomachs turn just then.  As ridiculous as it was, they tried to hide from God in the lushness of the garden.

“Where are you?” God called out. Of course God knew the answer to that.

♦♦♦

Dustin was out the back door as soon as we heard mom’s car pull into the driveway.  I fled to my room, shut the door, and put on a Pink Floyd record.  I covered my ears with headphones and tried to look nonchalant, lost in “Wish You Were Here.”

My mom knocked.  “Are you in there?”  Of course she knew the answer to that.

♦♦♦

Adam peeked out of the underbrush.  “Here I am.  I heard you coming.  But I was naked so I hid.”

“WHO TOLD YOU THAT YOU WERE NAKED?”  It had never been an issue before.  There had been no guilt to cover.  “Did you eat from that tree I told you not to touch?”

“It was the woman . . . the woman you made to be with me.  She gave it to me and I ate it.”  You may think Adam was blaming Eve, but hear what he said again.  “The woman you made . . .” Adam indicted God!

♦♦♦

Oh.  Hi mom.  I came in here because I didn’t want to get blamed for the brownies getting eaten.”

“And who ate them, gremlins?”

“Look, mom.  You did such a great job making those brownies.  They smelled soooo good.  They were perfect.  I couldn’t help it.  You never should have left them there.  You know I couldn’t resist.”

“So it’s my fault?”

“Dustin.  It was Dustin’s idea. Dustin made me.”

♦♦♦

God asked Eve what had happened.

“The devil made me do it,” Eve answered.

 ♦♦♦

Neither God nor my mom bought the excuses or the fingers of blame.  Adam, Eve, and I were all punished.

But we were also forgiven, and neither God nor mom stopped loving their children.

♦♦♦

The worst punishment of all was for Tempter-snake.  A Descendant of Adam and Eve’s would crush him and his sin-and-death power once and for all as He died on a cross.  God would do this for us even though this is our story, the Truth of who we are.

THE END

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Some Rhetorical Questions about Love, Foot Washing, and Gaydar

FootWashingQuestions for the day:  If proposed legislation passes that would “protect” Christian businesses from having to serve gay folks, how will those Christians know who is gay and who is not?  Where exactly is gaydar on those lists of gifts of the Spirit in either Romans or I Corninthians?

Undaunted by their defeat in Arizona, some Christians are pushing laws in other states that would allow discrimination for religious reasons.  This is not just a “gay issue;” there is no enumeration in some of these laws of who could be excluded on religious grounds.  I suppose Christian businesses could refuse to serve those who live together without being married, unwed mothers, people with tattoos, men with long hair, women with short hair or wearing jewelry, and on and on.

Here’s another pair of questions:  Aren’t we Christians called to serve our neighbor? And wasn’t Jesus’ point in the parable of the Good Samaritan that our neighbor is well, everyone?

I’ve been pondering this over the past few days as I prepared a sermon about Jesus washing the feet of his disciples in John 13.  This story amazes me, that Jesus – the Son of God – would stoop down and clean the stinking, filthy feet of his followers.  That God in human flesh would take on the role of a servant – or a slave! – for that motley band who had followed him for three years but still had no real idea what he was all about, and who would desert him (and deny even knowing him) when he was arrested in just a few hours.

I am blown away by the moment when Jesus stoops down at Judas’ feet.  The King of the Universe pours water over the feet of the traitor, and then wipes away the mud and the muck and the filth from the feet of the one who would soon turn Jesus over to those who wanted him dead . . . with a kiss.  Jesus served in just about the most humiliating way possible this man who, John tells us, Jesus knew is doing the work of Satan.

Another question: Isn’t this scene of self-abasing service a picture of the radical love of Jesus, a love that embraces and serves those who oppose and differ from us?

And a real-world question: When we Christians make our “rights” our focus, when we try to use the power of the world rather than the power of love, aren’t we are playing the game Judas – and by proxy, Satan – played?  Judas/Satan enlisted the powers of the world – the religious leaders, the might of the Roman empire.  Jesus responded with . . . love and service.

It seems to me that if we Christians are going to love as Jesus loved, then no matter how we feel about gay folks – or anyone else who is “different” –instead of seeking a legal mandate to exclude “them,” we would be going out of our way to serve especially those who act or believe differently.

A final question: Wouldn’t it be awesome if Christians were known more for how we serve (love) without limits rather than who we seek to exclude?

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Overflowing with Hope? (A Juvenile Justice Story)

md djs logoA post on Facebook this morning got me thinking about the 7 years  I worked as a Juvenile Probation Officer . . .

(Name and some details have been changed.)

I got to know Thomas when I was working as a “Probation Counselor” for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services. He was 15. He had grown up in inner-city Baltimore with his mother. Thomas’ father had recently moved with him to the suburban/rural county in which I worked to get him away from the drugs and violence that surrounded him, and in which he was becoming involved.

Like most attempts at “geographical cures,” the move was less than successful. Although our county’s population was far less than Baltimore City, all the same problems were there, just on a smaller scale.  Surveys showed, in fact, that the per-capita use of crack cocaine at the time in the county was actually higher than the rate in Baltimore City.

Shortly after the move, Thomas got sucked into the county’s drug culture. It wasn’t long before he was swept up into the juvenile justice system. Within a year he had been placed in a residential facility. That is where I got to know Thomas, visiting him every couple of weeks to monitor his progress in the program and to prepare for his return home.

But Thomas did not consider living with his father “home.” Home was the city and its streets. That is where he longed to return. That is where he felt at home. During one of my visits, he asked, as he always did, about going to live with his mother when he got out rather than his father’s. I pointed out that he could better prepare for his future with his father.

I might as well have been talking about preparing for a trip to Mars. “I”ll be dead before I’m 21, anyway,” he predicted. “Either that or in jail.  And I’d rather be dead than in jail.”

Thomas was on my probation caseload for the next couple of years. He did eventually leave the program and live at his father’s house for a time, but for many reasons that didn’t work out. Eventually he returned to the city to live with his mother.

One day, Thomas’ father showed up unexpectedly at my office. “They found him in a ditch,” he said.

Thomas had beaten his prediction by 3 years.

Like too many children growing up in our communities, Thomas had no HOPE.   He did not see a future for himself, so he lived day to-day with no real thought of what tomorrow would bring.  Today was as bleak and painful as yesterday.  There was no sign tomorrow would be any different, so why worry about it?

Why hope?

Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

How can individuals, churches, and other organizations “overflow with hope” so that it showers young people like Thomas who grow up without it? I invite you to think and pray about that.

The answers are certainly not only spiritual. We cannot neglect the most basic needs. Physical poverty is certainly a catalyst for hopelessness.  Food insecurity, homelessness, and lack of access to medical care are not hope-inspiring conditions.

And the fruits of hopelessness include not just juvenile delinquency but also substance abuse and teenage pregnancy.

Our children – especially those children we don’t typically think of as “ours,” – need to share in our abundance of hope.

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Limping through Lent

Sunrise: Sea of Galilee

Sunrise: Sea of Galilee

Seven days down, 33 more to go . . .

I know, that sort of sucks as a Lenten attitude.  And Jesus said when you fast, don’t go around all mopey advertising that you are fasting.  So I’m working on it.  But it’s hard.

It’s not food from which I’m fasting.  It’s sleep.  I’m getting up early (for me) during Lent because a couple of years ago I had the idea to have Morning Prayer at the church each day of Lent at 7:00.  It was a moment of temporary insanity when I forgot that I am a night person.  Maybe it was the Holy Spirit’s idea, demonstrating again that God has a sense of humor.  I am more likely to see the sunrise because I’ve stayed up to it, not gotten up for it.

And the time change is killing me.

It’s not really that I’m getting up a lot earlier.  It’s that I’m having to deal with people – admittedly people I like – before I’m ready.  You see, besides being a night person I’m an introvert, which doesn’t mean that I don’t like people (mostly) but that I am energized by alone time.  First thing in the morning I can benefit from some solitude to charge up for the rest of the day where I am called to be Pastor Dave: Functional Extrovert.

You might be thinking I could get up even earlier so I’d have some time before I have to get ready and get to Morning Prayer.

That’s not going to happen.  While I was in Israel I got up before dawn to take pictures of the sunrise over the Sea of Galilee.  It was a Holy Land Miracle, unlikely to be duplicated at home.

Morning Prayer has been a good discipline for me, though.  For forty days, my somewhat-less-than-exemplary devotional life gets some structure.  You wouldn’t think a pastor would need that kind of help.  I am in the Bible constantly preparing sermons and Bible studies, and I pray with folks all the time, but as for regular time for me to pray and sit with God . . . not so much.

Plus, it’s great for the church.  One of the most important things we do as a church is to pray together.  It should be the foundation of everything we do.  After all it is God’s church, not ours, so we need to be in consistent conversation with God.  It’s not that crowds of people show up for Morning Prayer – we can all fit in my office, blessedly crowded some days – but that each day we are praying  for our congregation and for those in need and for the world. 

So, God willing, I’ll keep getting up and going to Morning Prayer.  And I will work on my attitude, or more exactly do my best to surrender my crankiness to the Holy Spirit.

I get to do this for 33 more days!  (How’s that for a start?)

If you’re in the area, you’re invited to join us at Christ Lutheran Church of Millersville for Morning Prayer during Lent.  We meet every day but Sundays at 7am.  Scripture and prayer time take about 20 minutes.  On Mondays, we meet at Panera Bread near the church; Tuesday-Saturday we’re at in my office.  Lent ends on Easter, April 20.

If you can’t make it and have anything you’d like us to lift up during our prayer time, let me know through the comments below or the “Contact” button above.  

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Prayer | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments