Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Come to the Party

In the parable of the prodigal son, the story ends with the older brother standing outside the house seething as the people have their party.  He’s mad at the people, his little brother, and his father.
This is the end of a series of parables that Jesus used to address Pharisees and teachers who resented his going to parties with the tax collectors and prostitutes. Usually, when I read about that older brother, I find myself contemptuous of him. But Jesus was not trying to lead us to contempt. Look at the story again, and you see the father begging his son to come in, to be a part of the celebration.
Likewise, Jesus was not condemning the onlookers. He was asking them to join the party.  This is an interesting concept. He’s not angry with the self righteous. He’s not telling them to shut up and go away. He wants them come be a part of the joy.
It was hard for them. They wanted to shut the party down which was not going to happen. However, they could join if they wanted.
Question: Do I want to make my world a highly controlled (and joyless) place or can I lay aside my selfish desires and join the party that’s already in progress?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Which Mountain Are You Climbing?

Which Mountain Are You Climbing? 

In Hebrews 12:18-24, the writer summons images of two different mountains for the reader to consider.  

First, there is Sinai, the dark forbidding mountain on which the Ten Commandments were written. Remember how there was thunder and lightning, how the ground shook at the sound of God’s voice? The people were afraid and they knew if they touched even the foot of the mountain, they would die.

And yet that fear and dread did not keep the Israelites from straying. Right there in the shadow of the dark mountain, they made a golden calf--something smaller, prettier,  less frightening to worship.

Anxiety over an angry God and fear of punishment--these things do not  inspire virtue. They never have.  Yet, many of us still see the God of Mt. Sinai and we try to scare ourselves and others into living right. How well is that working for us?

Check around the house to see if you have anything equivalent to a golden calf.  

The writer told us to put aside the image of Sinai and focus on Zion, the beautiful city of Jerusalem set on a hill.  The Jews thought of Zion and it made them think of home, a place where they could reside fully with each other and with God.  Rather than avoiding it, they went to it, singing joyous hymns along the way, celebrating that they could go home and be free.  

Zion became our metaphor for heaven, the home we are headed for, where all will be made right, and we’ll be with the God who is lovely and healing.   

Zion is the image that allows us to endure difficulties and avoid temptation. Zion inspires us to persevere. Zion cheers us when we’re weary. It’s what puts a song of praise in our hearts as we make our journey.  

Which mountain are you climbing?  

The Touching Spirit

The city I visited was very nice. Beautiful scenery. The helping staff at the hotel and the restaurants were nice and went out of their way to be helpful and polite.  But the customers were a different matter. I saw people scream at staff members on two occasion, simply, I assume because they could get away with it.  Not cool.

I went walking every morning in perfect weather amidst beautiful landscaping with tall fir trees and lovely flowers of every hue.  Lots of other people did too.  But none of them looked at me, much less said hello like we do here in Oklahoma.  I’m glad to be back.

Around here, when I encounter someone who looks down and stays quiet, I assume something might be wrong, so I make sure to catch their eye and say, “Hi, how are you?” Because I really want to know.  

At church, I hug, pat shoulders, or shake hands with everyone I encounter. It’s partly me. I’m a toucher.  It’s also them--most people need a touch. Sometimes a person doesn’t want to be touched. It’s not hard to tell, and I respect that, but most people like the contact.  

Jesus was a toucher. He could have healed every sick person he encountered with a word, or a blink, or even a thought. But usually he touched them, even the lepers. Especially the lepers.  

We come to church for the contact with each other as well as with God.  We could stay home to worship. We can turn on the TV to hear some preaching and listen to music, and for some, by necessity, that has to suffice.  But there’s something healing about the physical company of others. It’s allows for a fuller experience of the Holy Spirit’s presence.   

Everywhere we go, we have the chance to heal or to harm. We can bless or we can curse.  I opt for blessing when I can. I try to avoid hurting others and I hope others do to.  But I hate being ignored and I hate ignoring anyone who crosses my path, whether it be on a walk, at the hotel, or on a plane.  

Or at church.