Sunday, April 26, 2015

This week's lesson (April 25 - May 1): Christ as lord of the Sabbath

When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, "Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests stood and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight." 
So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, "Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, 'What do these stones mean?' tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever." -- Joshua 4:1-7, NIV.
You don't usually answer a legal question with, "Once upon a time."

But that's what Jesus does in Luke 6:1-5.

The Pharisees, remember, want to know why Christ's followers "are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?"

Jesus responds with a anecdote about David.

They want to discuss the rules that tell us how to follow God, in other words: the halakha.

Jesus replies with a story about someone who follows God -- about something we might call haggadah.

Like so many debates today, in other words -- debates about divorce, debates about women's ordination, debates about LGBT issues . . . it would seem that halakha is not enough; we also need haggadah.

And yes, rules are important. God's law is important. Stories alone are not enough.

But as we discuss the Sabbath (or divorce, or women's ordination, or LGBT issues), we need to make sure that we honor the stories people bring to the discussion -- stories about the way those issues have played out in their lives.

To be sure, it's easy to treat these things as "legal issues."

But even legal issues need some "testimony."

Monday, April 20, 2015

This week's lesson (April 18-24): the call to discipleship

Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feed did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD you God disciplines you. -- Deuteronomy 8:2-5, NIV
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Unfortunately, the reverse is also true.

You can't just pick up and go, after all. No, there are bags to pack. Tickets to buy. Rooms to reserve, routes to research, and emergency back-up plans to prepare for those unexpected events that we try to expect anyway.

All of which takes time.

All of which takes effort.

All of which Jesus avoid when he sends out his followers without "a purse or bag or sandals" (Luke 10:4, NIV).

And no, he's not saying that planning isn't important -- it is, especially when you're dealing with children.

But Christ is dealing with adults:
  • Adults he's trained.
  • Adults he's given a clear mission statement.
  • Adults who need to find out just how far they can go with nothing but their wits, their training,  and God's spirit to guide.
They're like students in one of those wilderness survival courses, in other words -- the kind where they take you into the woods for your final exam, then make you find your way home with nothing but a knife, a book of matches, and a brown paper bag.

And like those students (or like anyone whose luggage has been lost by an airline), they're going to find out that you can get by with a lot less than you ever thought you could.

So don't be surprised if Jesus does the same to you.

No, don't be surprised if he asks you to jump right into a situation without all the planning and preparation you'd like to have.

Nothing wrong with planning and preparation, mind you.

But sometimes, you need to start with that first step.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

This week's lesson (April 11-17): Who is Jesus Christ?

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. -- 2 Peter 1:16-18, NIV
They say that "seeing is believing."

Obviously, they've never met some believers.

When it comes to special effects, after all, few things beat the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36).
  • There's the same "voice from the sky" you heard at Christ's baptism.
  • There's the same announcement that Christ is God's son.
  • But this time, you also get Moses AND Elijah AND Christ himself lit up "like a flash of lightning."
All of which should have made an impression; all of which should have reinforced God's command to "Listen up!"
Unfortunately, it doesn't . . . and they don't. 
No, Peter has already dismissed Christ's prediction of suffering and death (Matthew 16:22, and Mark 8:32) -- and when Jesus repeats it after the Transfiguration, his disciples still don't believe (Luke 9:45).
When it comes to Jesus, in other words, his followers hear what they want to hear -- and if they don't want to hear something, then no amount of signs, wonders, miracles, and heavenly fireworks can make them do otherwise.
All of which suggests that seeing isn't always believing.
No, sometimes we need to believe before we can see.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

This week's lesson (April 4-10): baptism and the temptations

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are -- yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." -- Hebrews 4:15f (NIV).
What would you do with a billion dollars?

Not enough?

Okay, we'll make it a trillion.

Understand the lure of unlimited wealth, after all, and you understand the quiz in Luke 4:1-13 . . .

And yes, it's an quiz; the word we translate as "temptation" ("peirasmos") carries with it the idea of an assay, an exam, an attempt to figure out just exactly what's going on around here.

(Come to think of it, "Satan" was originally a title given the Persian officials who were the equivalent of our "Inspectors-General" or "auditors.")

To borrow an image from Kierkegaard, in other words, the devil shows up in a cheap, brown suit . . . opens his battered briefcase . . . pulls out a notebook and a #2 pencil . . . then proceeds to ask Jesus "a few, simple questions -- just for the record."
  • "If you are the Son of God, then you can do anything you want -- am I right?"
  • "If you are the Son of God, then you must be invulnerable to any harm -- isn't that correct?"
  • "And if you could be the most powerful person on this planet, then what would you do in order to be that person?"
In short, the temptations are a personality test; they're the devil's attempt to figure out just what Jesus is really like.
Does he have unlimited powers of his own?
Would he like unlimited powers of his own?
Or does he rely on God -- does he say, "Thy will be done"?
To be sure, you don't need to be the Son of God in order to take this test.
You don't even need a trillion dollars.
No, all it takes it what you've got today.