Stump the Rector – Making friends with unrighteous mammon?

Monopoly

Joy writes
Ok, another one for “stump the rector”, while I was doing my readings for today one scripture has me completely stumped. Luke 16:9. I understand everything Jesus said before and after that part but I’m so confused by this part and I looked at several different translations trying to get more understanding and basically they all read in the same way. What exactly is Jesus saying here? Thanks! ~Puzzled and Confused in Nashville.

The New Living Translation is most helpful with this verse. It says “Here’s the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.”

I believe the “they” who welcome you are the ones that you helped with your worldly resources. Jesus is telling us here that we help ourselves in the future by helping others now. We use the fake riches of this world to store up true riches in the life to come. A cynic would say that is self-serving but Jesus is teaching us here that it is being a shrewd steward.

He wants us to understand that this life is a proving ground for the life to come. Look at the next verses, 11 and 12. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?”

So what people think of as riches in this world is really monopoly money and how we use this monopoly money now will determine if we are entrusted with true riches in the life to come. Also we need to understand that Jesus is not talking here about working your way into heaven by being generous. He is speaking here of how our rewards in heaven are determined. Are we going to hear “Well done good and faithful servant” or “Take what little he has and give it to the one who was faithful”?

Sermon – Found

Found

Luke 15:1-10 1Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3Then Jesus told them this parable: 4“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
8“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coin and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

What a difference a week makes! Last week we heard Jesus say that unless we hate our families, are willing to die and renounce our possessions we cannot be His disciples. Today we have two touching stories of precious things being lost and are now found, symbols of God longing for and finding us. Actually there is a third story that our lectionary today did not include. After talking about the lost sheep and the lost coin, Jesus tells the story of the lost son, which we often call the parable of the Prodigal Son. That is the most touching story of the three in terms of seeing God’s heart for us.

But before we take a closer look at the parables, let’s consider the bigger picture of fitting last week’s Gospel with this week. Is Jesus contradicting Himself? Is He providing an unclear image of the Father by on one hand giving us some very difficult sayings and then on the other hand telling some endearing parables? I suggest to you that He is not. What Jesus is giving us is a more complete picture of the Father.

In Romans 11 St. Paul says, “Behold the goodness and severity of God.” Another translation says, “Consider the kindness and sternness of God.” Jesus, in both His teachings and His actions, showed us both of these sides of God’s nature. On one hand He would take the children in His arms and bless them and on the other hand He would also take a whip and clear out the moneychangers in the temple. “Behold the goodness and severity of God.”

Saints in the past have understood this about God; that He is both goodness and severity. In Isaiah 45 God says, “I form light and create darkness, I will create weal and make woe.” When Job was so ill his wife suggested that he get it over with by cursing God and die. Job said, “You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad? (Job 2:10 NLT). Nor did the writer of Hebrews see any contradiction between these two sides of God’s nature. In fact He links them together. “The Lord disciplines those He loves and punishes those He accepts as His child.” (Heb 12:6).

When you read the lives of some of the heroes of the faith, you discover that they were quick to see difficult times as the chastening hand of God. I want to be clear. I am not saying that every bad thing that happens to us is God disciplining us. We need to pray and seek counsel and discern what is transpiring in our lives. But today, largely due to the imbalanced teaching about the goodness of God, we tend NEVER to look for God’s chastening hand to teach and correct us. If you listen to most of the TV preachers they will tell you that every difficulty as an act of the devil and you should rebuke it away. And yet Jesus said, “In this world you will have much tribulation, but fear not, I have overcome the world.”

When I was in Campus Crusade for Christ we used to tell everyone that law one of the four spiritual laws is “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” And then most of us would interpret the “wonderful life” part as God giving us the American dream of a wonderful family, a beautiful house and nice things. But such a perspective cannot be supported by Scripture. Someone recently posted on Facebook a picture of the early Christians being fed to the lions in the arena with the caption “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” It was a stark reminder that while God does indeed love us and has a wonderful life for us, His idea of wonderful may be very different from ours. It may be that we are full of wonder because we go through life saying. “I wonder why He did this?” “I wonder why God allowed that?”

This begs the larger question, of why if God loves us would He create weal and make woe in the first place? Why is He both kind and stern? We go back to the writer of Hebrews. “The Lord disciplines those He loves and punishes those He accepts as His child.”

Have you ever been in the grocery store where a little kid is pitching a royal fit and the parent is doing nothing but saying “Now Hunter, if you don’t stop that you are going to get a time out when we get home” and little Hunter cranks it up a few more notches? Because of the way I was raised, I want to go over, yank little Hunter off the floor, and as my Father used to say, give him something to cry about. But I don’t do that for two reasons. One, I would get arrested….again. And two, he’s not my kid. That’s the key! God disciplines us because we are His kids. Any good parent knows that one of the worst kinds of abuse is to ignore your child and to allow them to do whatever they want whenever they want. A good parent is all up in their child’s business; directing, teaching, and showing that they care by correcting them. We have some wonderful parents in this parish who are actively involved in their children’s lives by both nurturing and correcting them. That is how they show their love.

Our heavenly Father shows His love for us by doing the same. So there is no contradiction at all between Jesus’ very hard sayings and His loving parables. Jesus is showing us the kindness and the sternness of our Heavenly Father. We need to be grateful that God does not make the mistake that so many modern parents make, with disastrous consequences I might add, of trying to be our buddy. He is our God and Father and He disciplines those that He loves and we are the better for it.

With that out of the way, let’s look closer into these parables. What precipitates these parables is a controversy. The types of folks with whom Jesus is associating scandalize the religious people. They are upset with Jesus. And isn’t it interesting that in those days tax collectors were lumped in with other kinds of immoral people. Of course we wouldn’t dream today of making such an equivocation today! (hint hint, nod nod, wink wink).

But to be fair to the religious people I don’t think we can compare their reaction then to how we would feel today if Jesus were hanging out with some hippies. The Law of God was their life and for Jesus to be hanging out with law breakers would be more like us hearing today that Jesus attended a Klan meeting or had supper with Louise Farrakhan. Our first thought would be that He was giving tacit approval to them simply by being with them. So perhaps we can understand why they were so upset. But Jesus wants them to look at it from God’s point of view.

To answer them, Jesus tells two stories, one of a lost sheep and one of a lost coin. The first thing that jumps out to me in the stories is who it is that is lost. I say that because I hear people often use the expression, “I found the Lord” but according to these parables He was not the one that was lost, rather we are.

Surely Ray, everyone knows that! Actually they don’t. The religious people in Jesus’ day were as lost as the tax collectors and sinners but they did not realize it. Jesus even tweaked them with a bit of irony. “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents that over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” He does not say it but the unspoken end of that sentence is “over the ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance….or at least think that they don’t.”

We may not be Pharisees and scribes looking down our noses at tax collectors and sinners but we are often guilty of seeing others as sinners but not so much ourselves. It is so much easier to be outraged with Miley Cyrus than it is to realize that I have strayed from the fold this week. It is so much easier to be thinking to myself, “Man I wish so and so was here to hear this sermon” than it is to allow the Holy Spirit to convict me of my own sin. Just as in AA the road to recovery begins by admitting that you are powerless and that your life has become unmanageable, so the first step to being found by the Lord is to admit that you are lost.

But can you belong to God and still be lost? Who did the lost sheep belong to before it was lost? Who did the coin belong to before it was lost? And wasn’t the lost son still a son?

I’m not talking here about eternal security or not. That is another topic altogether. What I am saying it that we need to guard against thinking that we are so righteous that we do not stand in need of repentance. As God’s sheep we can and do stray. David lost his way with Bathsheba. Peter lost his way when he denied Jesus. Thomas lost his way when he doubted the Resurrection. As in the parables, each of these lost ones were found again, but for a time they were lost and so can we.

The next thing that stands out in these parables is the intensity with which their saviors sought them. With the lost sheep, the shepherd was willing to leave the 99 behind just to go after the 1. In the case of the lost coin, the woman lights a lamp and sweeps the entire house searching for the one coin.

It would have been easier for the shepherd to comfort himself over the loss by reminding himself that he still had 99 sheep left. The woman could have comforted herself with the knowledge that it was only one dime out of a dollar that was gone. But that was not their character. And so it is not God’s character to allow His lost sheep to wander off without initiating a search. The Scripture says that God is not willing that any would perish but that all would come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

St. Paul was acutely aware of this part of God’s nature because he experienced this intense love that pursues the sinner. In his letter to Timothy he describes himself as a former blasphemer, a persecutor and man of violence. He was as lost as lost could be and he wasn’t exactly going to a church revival when he came to Christ. In fact he did not come to Christ, Christ came to him. The Good Shepherd sought him out, confronted him on the road to Damascus and turned a blasphemer into an Apostle.

Jesus said that those who are forgiven much, love much and that is why we see the depth of love and devotion in Paul. I have heard many times people say that they have trouble with Paul. They find him abrasive and even arrogant and some question his teachings. But I don’t see him that way. For me, it’s not until I have been beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, stoned and left for dead, as many times as Paul, that I would be willing to suggest that he didn’t know what he was talking about. Paul considered himself to be the least of all the Apostles and yet God made the last become first in that He used Paul more than any other to give us the New Testament. He who was for intents and purposes completely lost, was completely found.

The last thing I want to point out from the parables are the responses to finding what was lost. The shepherd’s response to finding the lost sheep was that he rejoiced. He even called his friends to rejoice with him. Similarly the woman called together her friends and neighbors to rejoice with her upon finding the lost coin. Jesus said that there is joy in heaven when a sinner repents. In the parable of the Prodigal Son the Father not only rushes out to greet his returning son but he calls for a feast. It sounds to me that there is a whole lot of happiness going on in these stories.

That is important to see because people tend to think of repentance as some dour religious exercise but it is just the opposite. Repentance opens the door to celebration. At the end of a confession the priest says “Now there is rejoicing in heaven; for you were lost and are found; you were dead and now alive in Christ Jesus our Lord. Go in peace. The Lord has put away all your sins.” (BCP p451).

It is in the anticipation of heaven’s joy that we should come to worship. Yes we have sinned throughout the week and we may have strayed a little or even a lot and that is grievous to us. But if we will come with genuine repentance then we will go from being lost to being found, from being dead to being alive and having been forgiven much we will love much. The title given to the priest who says Mass in the Prayer Book is “Celebrant.” He is the Celebrant because we come together to celebrate our redemption. And what is even more astonishing and cause for celebration is that Jesus Christ offers Himself to us as the feast at our homecoming.

One more take away from this story. We should be willing to be like Jesus and face criticism and misunderstanding in order to reach out to others. Not long after coming to Middle Tennessee a gentleman asked if I would join him for a drink at the VFW. We walked in together around suppertime. The place was dark and the sun shone in behind us so as we entered all eyes turned to us. Immediately someone yelled out “Holy @#$% it’s a priest.” While part of me wanted to turn around and go back out of the door, the other part of me knew that Jesus would stay because Jesus hung out with tax collectors and sinners, and so talked myself into staying. This is not to say that the VFW is full of tax collectors and sinners but you get my point.

Anyway, after a rough start, by the end of the night people were coming up and introducing themselves to me and I even had to turn down one old boy who wanted to do a confession right then and there. Some may have thought that I had no right to be there but if you are doing what you believe the Lord wants you to do then it does not really matter what others think.

Cursillo has a wonderful saying, “Make a friend, be a friend, bring a friend to Christ.” We need to be like Jesus and go where the people are who need Him the most. When God uses you to bring a lost sheep back into the fold it is an incredible experience. You can almost hear heaven rejoicing. Amen.

Stump the Rector – The Dual Nature of Christ

Dual Nature

John writes

I was discussing the nature of Truth with one of the members of my discussion group in Philosophy on Monday and I said that in my opinion, Truth will only be fully realized when a person dies and is united with the Father in Heaven because He is all-knowing and we are co-heirs with Christ in the glory of God. He said that he disagreed with me because, according to him, Christ did not know all. I agreed with him to a point, saying that there was a big difference between Jesus of Nazareth and the glorified Christ. In my mind, Jesus of Nazareth, being fully human, would not have known everything, but when He was glorified and united with God, He returned to that state of omniscience. My friend countered by saying, “Then why did Jesus say that he would not know the hour in which he was to return?” I was momentarily speechless, but then it occurred to me that the yet to be glorified Jesus would not have known this, but when He came into His glory, He would know all. We eventually agreed to disagree and we moved on with the discussion. I just wanted to know where you stood and what your thoughts were on this issue.

Wow John, thanks for pitching me such a soft ball. Really? Okay I will give it a try.

I agree with you in part but I do see an important omission in your argument. The Church Fathers and first Ecumenical Councils that began in 325AD took great care in being specific about the nature of Christ and defending against various heresies. For example one heresy said that Jesus did not become divine until His baptism. Another said that He only appeared to be human because His divinity would have absorbed His humanity like putting a teaspoon of water into the ocean. But what the Fathers argued from Scripture and reason was that Jesus was at the same time fully God and fully man. There were two distinct natures in one Person. The natures were not so divorced from one another that we end up with two Persons nor were they so confounded to become only one nature. So in the Nicene Creed we confess both that He is “God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God” and that He “was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man.”

Some argued that when St. Paul in Philippians says that Christ “emptied Himself” that He emptied Himself of His divinity to become man, but others argued how does God ungod Himself? What He emptied Himself of was His divine rights and privileges in order to become a servant. But He was still God.

We see glimpses of His dual nature throughout the Gospels. We see His humanity when He is weary or hungry or when He states limited knowledge in that He does not know when He will return. We see glimpses of His divinity when He has foreknowledge of His death, when demons obey Him, when He raises Lazarus from the dead, when He declares that He existed before Abraham and when He conquers death. Both natures coexist in one Person.

In His glorification He remains fully God and fully man except now He is no longer emptied of His divine rights and privileges. He knows when He will return. They’ve talked.

At our glorification we will not become omniscient as God is, because we will never be gods. But Paul does indicate in Corinthians that our knowledge will be complete. He said, “we will know as we are known.”

Okay Bubba, we are at then end of what I know about that topic. As Forest would say, “And that’s all I have to say about that.”

Lessons from 9/11

9-11 cross

9“Huddle together, you nations, and be terrified.
Listen, all you distant lands.
Prepare for battle, but you will be crushed!
Yes, prepare for battle, but you will be crushed!
10Call your councils of war, but they will be worthless.
Develop your strategies, but they will not succeed.
For God is with us!”
11The LORD has given me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does. He said,
12“Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do,
and don’t live in dread of what frightens them.
13Make the LORD of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life.
He is the one you should fear.
He is the one who should make you tremble.
14He will keep you safe.

I found these words from Isaiah for September 11 in the One Year Bible to be exactly what I needed to hear. I have been wondering for the last couple of days what lessons we have learned since that terrible day 12 years ago and my immediate response is to doubt that we have learned anything at all. From my perspective we have acted as a nation that has lost its moral compass. Here are some reasons for coming to that conclusion.

We lack the common sense that comes from moral clarity. Through the poison of political correctness we cannot even be honest about who attacked us. (Hint; it wasn’t a bunch of Methodists). Instead we pat down 90 year old wheelchair bound women in the airport. We bend over backwards not to offend foreigners while the NSA spies on our own citizens. When we are not being p.c. we are being paranoid.

With disastrous results, we have tried to impose our way of life on nations that do not want it. The so-called Arab Spring has become a nightmare and only served to further destabilize the whole region. The consequence has been to expose the Church to increased persecution. Over 70 churches in Egypt alone have been attacked.

We have demonstrated selective moral outrage. One year ago our embassy was attacked and the ambassador was killed, his body defiled and we have made no response nor have we the people been given answers. Christians all over Africa are being slaughtered and it is not even mentioned. But now we are told that it is our duty to enter into Syria’s civil war. It has been said that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” but in the case of both the Syrian government and the rebels, I see no friends. In fact the Syrian rebels have been attacking Christians and leaders like the Catholic Patriarch of Syria have begged us to stay out of it.

If we have learned nothing since 9/11, then what is the answer? It is to return to our moral compass. As Isaiah put it, “The Lord has given me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does.” How do we do that? I draw three pieces of wisdom from Isaiah’s words.

First we need to realize that that the secular answers are never going to be enough. They can call all the councils and prepare all the strategies they want, but in the end man alone cannot conquer evil. What will save us is to have God with us. We knew that right after 9/11, when attendance in the churches swelled, but it did not take us long to return to our old ways of putting God right behind football and Dancing with the Stars.

Second Isaiah said we are not to call everything a conspiracy or to live in dread as they do. We waste valuable time and energy looking for plans and plots that may or may not exist. We waste even more time and energy when we live in fear. Even if we could prove that it all goes back to the Illuminate, or the New World Order, or Wal-Mart, what difference would it make? The Scriptures tell us two important things. First is what is really behind it all are principalities and powers. Second, Christ has defeated them. Thus we do not live in fear. We can be concerned, we can be moved to action, but we are not to be afraid.

Third, Isaiah says that we are to “Make the LORD of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life. He is the one you should fear.” That is such an interesting expression “to make the Lord holy in your life.” The E.S.V. says, “him you shall honor as holy.” We do that when we look to the Lord first and foremost. The Psalmist said, “Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation….How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD .”
There is a fourth thing that Isaiah does not mention but must not be overlooked in our response to evil. Prayer. John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress said, “Prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge for Satan.” Instead of fighting with folks on the Internet we need to be doing battle in prayer. We underestimate what a powerful weapon it is as well as conduit for God’s peace. St. Paul said,
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

And while we are praying, let us remember the victims of 9/11 and their families and loved ones. May we be inspired by the countless stories of heroism where men and women lived out Jesus’ words by laying down their lives for their friends.

Sermon – Luke 14:25-33

Wax On Wax Off

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
31“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

According to the Gospel today, all we have to do to be a follower of Jesus is to hate our families, be willing to die and to give away everything that we own. I’m thinking that if folks knew it was going to be that easy they would be busting down the doors to get in here. It should be standing room only in every Church in the land!

Okay, these are some tough sayings. To use current church jargon, Jesus was not being very seeker sensitive. What was He trying to accomplish here? The challenge for us with this text is to determine what He was saying and also how we can make sense of these words for us today.

First we need to put up some rails so we don’t go off the cliff. There are two extremes that people face when confronted with Jesus’ teachings. One is to try to domesticate Jesus’ hard words so that they don’t sting quite so badly. Or more importantly so that we can keep doing what we are doing with no need to change anything about our lives. So when Jesus said that we should be storing up our treasures in heaven and not on earth, He certainly didn’t mean for us to take that literally and become generous to the poor. It was a sort of guideline for us to think about while we are buying more stuff.

The second extreme is when people take everything that Jesus says literally and out of context. This is how cults and fanatics are born. Jesus said to give it all away so give it to the leader and make him rich while you live in poverty. I went to seminary just a few miles from the mansion of Rev. Sung Myung Moon. It was a gorgeous place in Gloucester and I wondered how many roses the Moonies had to sell to keep in those digs.

It is in the land between these two extremes that we can discover what Jesus is teaching. But first notice whom He is addressing. This is not a private conversation with a chosen few. He did not pull Peter, James and John aside. The text says that a large crowd was traveling with Jesus and “he turned and said to them….” There can be no doubt that He is calling for complete commitment here but this is not just for those who are seeking ordination or for those who feel called to the convent or monastery. He addressed these words to the crowd. Of course we also know that not everyone will answer this call to commitment, then or now, and so as Jesus put it, while many are called few are chosen.

Jesus’ first condition for being a disciple had to have been shocking to the crowd. These people were raised on the Law. It was a commandment to honor father and mother. The second part of the summary of the law was to love your neighbor as yourself. This goes all the way back to Leviticus 19. So why is Jesus now saying that to be His disciple we must hate our families? That in itself sounds very cultish.

To begin with, we must understand that Jesus was using a Semitic expression that means to love less. We use the word “hate” that way sometimes in English. I have said before that I love canned peas but I hate frozen peas. But when I say that I am not being literal. I don’t like the taste of frozen peas but I don’t actually hate them. No frozen pea ever shot my pa, or stole my horse or called me a coward. It’s another way of saying that I so prefer canned peas to frozen peas that frozen peas are not even on my radar screen.

Thus when Jesus says we should hate our family, He is really saying that compared to how much we love Him; our family should not be on the radar screen. But why is such a comparison even necessary?

I suggest to you that Jesus did not just pull this condition out of the air. He knew that was going to be a real test very soon for many of His follower. We recently heard Jesus say that He had not come to bring peace but division. He said, “Families will be split apart, three in favor of me and two against – or two in favor and three against, Father will be divided against the son and the son against father” Lk 12:52,53. As the leaders plotted to kill Jesus and His followers put out of the synagogue, families were going to be divided.

And this kind of division continues to this day. I have read of children in other parts of the world being driven out of their families and some even threatened with death when they converted to Christianity. Here in the US we don’t think of losing our families when we become a Christian but Jesus tells us here that to be a disciple we must be willing to lose everyone in order to follow Him.

The second condition that Jesus places on those who would follow Him is that they must be willing to take up their cross. We must remember that in Jesus’ day crosses were not beloved pieces of jewelry. The one I wear is very meaningful to me because my deceased mentor, Fr. Kieran, left it to me. It is a piece that inspires me to want to be a better priest. But in Jesus day the only association with the cross was that is was an instrument of death. Jesus uses it as a symbol of the disciple dying. The disciple is to die to his own will and say to the Master “Thy will be done.” Jesus was the perfect model for us in the garden when He wrestled with His Father over His impending death and finally yielded to the Father’s will.

Immediately after saying we must take up our cross, Jesus gives two parables about counting the cost. One is counting the cost for building a tower before you begin to build it so that you are sure that you have enough money to complete the job. The other is of a king going out to war and first sitting down to see if he has enough men or if he should seek peace.

I think that Jesus puts the analogies right after the call to take up the cross because He does not want his disciples to be followers not fanatics. He wants His followers to be fully committed but He does not want them to be rash. Before they actually pick up the cross to follow Him they need to think it through and to realize the implications. As I read somewhere recently, before we accept the call to be Jesus’ hands and feet we need to remember what the world did to Jesus’ hands and feet.

This call to count the cost should make us rethink how much of the Church does evangelism. For example I was trained in a campus ministry to use pretty much the same techniques as a car salesman and do whatever I had to do to close the deal. Then I was to report back how many accepted Christ that day which also felt like a sales meeting. I felt smarmy doing it but at the time I didn’t know any better. Eventually however my discomfort grew to the point that I said I could do it no more and I left that campus ministry.

This is not an isolated example. I was talking to a brother and he described how at the end of their service of a church he used to attend that would dim the lights and play music quietly as the pastor said a prayer all to set the atmosphere to persuade people to make a decision to follow Jesus. But we never see Jesus cajole or caress or smooth-talk someone into becoming a disciple. What did He do? He put the skunk on the table and therefore so should we.

Tell them that Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life and there is no other and it is going to cost you to follow Him. Tell them “No cross, no crown.” Instead of being like a car salesman the Church needs to be like the Marines and say that we are looking for a few good men. That was essentially what Jesus was saying when He put these conditions before the crowd. What He knew, and what I have learned the hard way, is that if you have to talk someone into becoming a disciple then you will have to talk them into remaining a disciple. Plus they will be the first ones to jump ship when things get tough.

The third condition that Jesus gives for becoming His disciple is that we are to give up all our possessions. There is a hilarious commercial on the radio from a safe company where the guy says “Instead of buying a safe, why don’t you just bring us all your stuff to us and we will give it away, you rich people.” Is that what Jesus is calling us to do?

We know in the book of Acts that Christians in Jerusalem took Jesus literally here. They sold what they had and they laid it at the feet of the Apostles. But looking back we know also that it is likely that God had them do that because in 70 the city would be sacked by the Romans so there was no need for a long range plan.

It does not seem that this pattern was followed as the Church grew into other lands. We are told of Christians owning businesses. Paul speaks to Philemon of the church that meets in his home. Christians are called upon to be generous and to share what they had. You can’t be generous in sharing if you have nothing to share. So while some may be called to give up all they have, I am not convinced that is what Jesus is calling everyone to do in order to be a disciple. Just as He did not mean that we are to literally hate our families and He did not mean that we are to literally pick up a wooden cross, so He did not literally mean to give up all our possessions. Several translations, like the English Standard Version says that we are to “renounce” our possessions. To renounce is to formally declare that we are abandoning any claim or right to something. In a way we do that every week at the offertory. What do we say when we present our gifts to God? “All things come of Thee Oh Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.”

We must truly grasp that as a disciple we have no claim or right to our possessions because they do not belong to us. It all belongs to God and we are merely stewards of what is His. So in renouncing our possessions we are stating that as stewards we do not allow our stuff to own us. Jesus put it another way when He said that you could not have two Masters. You cannot serve both God and Mammon. He did not say that you cannot own money; He said that you cannot serve it. We are to have only one God.

A priest now deceased lived here in Middle Tennessee. He had quite a reputation of being a godly man and he also lived a pretty humble existence. His overcoat became pretty worn and so his wife saved all year to buy him a new one. She presented it to him on Christmas and true to form he was grateful but said that he did not need two overcoats. The doorbell rang and he answered the door to find a homeless man on his porch asking for help. After helping the man he returned to the family room the family asked if he had given the homeless man his old coat. He said “no. He had given him the new one.

To be honest I am not there yet. I would have given the man my old coat and felt pretty good about myself. But if you think about it the priest did the right thing because who was really at his door that Christmas morning?

My hope is that since this kind of generosity is a fruit of the Spirit, the more we grow in the Spirit, the more our perspectives will change and we will more quickly and naturally do the right thing.

Jesus offered discipleship too the crowd but it came with some stiff conditions. However allow me to put those conditions in context for us. He said in another place that if we come to Him with burdens that He will give us rest. So these conditions are not intended to be added burdens. They are actually means of finding rest. Imagine how unburdened you would be if the only person in the world that you cared about what they thought of you was Jesus. That is the fruit of the first condition. Imagine how much more peace you would have in your life if you could trust completely in God’s will being done in your life. That is the fruit of the second condition. And how free would we all be if we were not worried about material things! That comes with condition three.

Like Moses speaking to Israel, Jesus is putting before us life and death, blessings and curses. He wants us to choose life, but the choice is ours. May we choose wisely.

Stump the Rector – More About Angels

The Archangel Michael

Karen wrote:
If we have guardian angels, why do people suffer horrible deaths through accidents, murder and disease? Of what good are these Angels when they can’t or won’t protect us?

Karen, first let me admit I am no angel expert. My understanding is very limited. I stated in a recent post that we should believe in them because they show up literally from Genesis to Revelation in the Bible. They seem to have rank and order since there are Angels and there are Archangels. They interject themselves in the affairs of man like removing Lot and his family from Sodom before destruction or opening the prison cell for the Apostles. They are heralds of great news such as telling the shepherds of the birth of Christ. They rejoice in heaven when a lost sheep comes home.

As wonderful as these created spirits are, at the same time we are not to give Angels undue attention and especially we are not make them objects of our worship. This much I do know and hope that we believe these things in common.

But allow me to try to answer your question by asking a question. Couldn’t you ask the same question about God? “If there is a God then why do people suffer horrible accidents, murder and disease? Of what good is God when He can’t or won’t protect us?”

And yet we know that God is good and God is all powerful and we know that bad things still happen. Bad things happening therefore is not evidence that God cannot or will not help us. It is evidence that we live in a fallen world and that sometimes things happen that are beyond our comprehension. There is a will and way of God that is beyond our understanding and we are called to trust Him to work ALL things out to our good, even the bad things.

So because Angels do not protect us every time is not reason to doubt that they protect us much of the time. There is a story in the Old Testament of Daniel praying and it took 21 days for the prayer to be answered. When Daniel asked why the delay, the Angel told him that it took him that long to fight his way down here.

I think it is an act of mercy that we don’t fully realize the spiritual warfare and evil that exists all around us and what forces the Angels drive from us. I imagine that if we did we would be balled up in fetal position all day, paralyzed by fear.

Allow me to tell you of what I believe to be angelic protection in my life. I was driving on Sunday afternoons to Cookeville to teach a Lenten series. Most of the drive was on the interstate and at one point I looked across the highway and I saw a priest on foot, walking along the shoulder, headed in the opposite direction. I surmised that his car had broken down so I drove to the next exit, turned around and drove in the direction that he was walking. I drove far past where I had first seen him but I never came across him nor his presumed broken down car. It was as if had vanished.

I first thought that someone had picked him up before I was able to get to him but I was only out of his sight for a few minutes. In that brief time that they would still be negotiating a ride by the time I got to them. Plus I never saw an abandoned car on the other side of the road nor could I reasonably explain why a priest would be walking down the interstate in full clericals on a warm sunny Sunday afternoon. As I meditated on it, my impression was that God had sent an angel to detour me to avoid danger up the road. Because he was dressed like a priest I felt an obligation to a fellow cleric and that is what caused me to turn around. For all I know, this delay had spared my life.

While that story is pure conjecture on my part, I believe that God has blessed us with these good spirits who work His will for our lives. While they do not protect everyone every time, we can be thankful for all that they do. Our response should be to join with them in offering praise and thanksgiving to God.

Stump the Rector – What do you say when someone dies?

tears_of_sadness

My sister-in-law’s father passed yesterday, after a long battle with cancer. I sat down to write a condolence card, but am having trouble with wording. I’ve been blessed that both of my parents are still alive, so I haven’t dealt with the death of a parent. What I feel is that I’m so sorry that she doesn’t have her dad on earth with her anymore, but I’m relieved that he’s in a MUCH better place and not suffering horribly any longer. How do I say that in a kind, loving way? What is an appropriate thing to say to someone who is grieving with the loss of a close family member?

First I commend you for not rushing in with a greeting card kind of response because that can do more damage than good. People don’t need to hear “God needed another angel.” Besides being terrible theology, that does not help. They also don’t want to hear, “He’s in a better place.” They know that already and so it comes across as insulting, even though we did not mean it that way.

Second, let’s get the setting correct. A friend or family member is in mourning, and that truth is that mourning makes the rest of us uncomfortable. Therefore we must remind ourselves that this is not about our comfort level but it is about their grieving. Mourning is God’s way of bringing about eventual healing and so we short-circuit God’s healing process if we try to help them “turn their lemon into lemonade.” They don’t want lemonade right now. They want to weep and they need us to weep with them.

The Bible says that there is a time and season for everything under heaven. If it is time to mourn then it is time to mourn. A professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary told us of a friend who was a missionary that was back in the States raising support. While doing so his son was killed in a car accident. Rather than mourning the family took the position of, “Praise the Lord, he is with Jesus now.” Within the year the daughter committed suicide and the wife was hospitalized due to an emotional breakdown. If Jesus can weep at Lazarus’ tomb, even while knowing that He will soon raise Him from the dead, then it is not unspiritual of us to mourn.

Thus one of the best things we can do with those who mourn, is to assure them that they are not alone. Sometimes, often times, we don’t really need to say anything. What can we say? Instead we offer them the “ministry of presence” and we weep along with them. A hug and a simple “I am so, so sorry” goes a long way.

When writing a note, recognize their loss. This validates their mourning. Second refer to the hope that we have in the resurrection. Third assure them of your prayers for the Holy Comforter to come along side and bring them peace. Keep it simple and sweet. They are not in the mood for an epistle.

We all say “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to call.” We mean it but they won’t call. So it is also helpful to follow up in a few days with a call. This once again assures them that they are not alone.

You are being not only a good family member but you are also being Christ-like to want to care for those who are hurting. Ask Him to use you and His love will guide you as you minister to them.