Sunday, May 31, 2015

This week's lesson (May 30-June 5): following Jesus in everyday life

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your nick, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.            -- Proverbs 3:3f, NIV.
"You must also be ready," said Jesus, "because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

"Yes, you are like the children whose parents gave them the job of mowing the lawn and weeding the yard and feeding the dog while the parents go into town for a day of shopping -- and it will be good for those children if their parents find them doing all these things when those parents return.

"But suppose those children says to themselves, 'Our parents delay their coming; indeed, they shall not be home again before it is night'  -- and straightaway they do text all their friends so that all those friends come over to the house, and they all do eat and drink and get drunk, and great is the noise thereof.

"I tell you the truth," said Jesus, "the parents of those children shall come home at a time when they are not expected, at an hour when it is most inconvenient, and there shall be weeping and wailing and a great gnashing of teeth.

"For you have been trusted much," said Jesus. "That is why much is now expected of you."

Sunday, May 24, 2015

This week's lesson (May 23-29): Jesus, the master teacher

This is what the LORD says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take of hold . . . for the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me. -- Isaiah 44:24 - 45:4, NIV
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

"What is written in the Law?" Jesus replied. "How do you read it?"

He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' "

"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

In reply, Jesus said: "A man was teaching in a Christian school, and he did repeatedly abuse one of his students -- and when the child's parents heard of this, they did go unto their pastor, and the pastor did go unto the teacher, and he did counsel the teacher, and did pray with the teacher, so that the teacher did promise that nothing like this would ever happen again.

"But the teacher continued to abuse that student -- and many others besides . . . until the outcry of the children and their parents did reach the Superintendent of Christian Education. And the Superintendent of Christian Education did go unto that teacher, and did counsel that teacher, and did pray with that teacher. And when the teacher did promise that nothing like this would ever happen again, the Superintendent of Christian Education transferred that teacher to another school, so that he could "get a fresh start."

"But there arose a lawyer -- a lawyer who was not a member of that church or any other . . . and on behalf of the children and their parents, the lawyer filed a series of lawsuits against the teacher, and the school, and the pastor, and the church, and the Superintendent of Christian Education, and many others besides.

"And the lawyer did win those lawsuits."

"And the lawyer did collect millions upon millions of dollars in damages from those lawsuits"

"And because of those lawsuits, that teacher was fired -- fired, jailed, and not allowed to teach again . . . and policies were put in place to make sure that nothing like this would ever happen again to children (or if it did happen, then it would not be allowed to continue).

"So tell me," said Jesus, "which of the three do you think was a neighbor to the children who were harmed by this teacher: the pastor, the Superintendent of Christian Education, or the lawyer?"

The expert in the law replied, "The one who did stop the abuse."

And Jesus said, "Go and do likewise."

Sunday, May 17, 2015

This week's lesson (May 16-22): the mission of Jesus

. . . This is what the Sovereign LORD says: "I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again. They will return to it and remove all its vile images and detestable idols. I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God." -- Ezekiel 11:17-20, NIV
And behold . . . 
A shepherd did have a hundred sheep, but one of them was lost. So he did lay out money for a team of professional sheep search-and-rescue personnel, and they did find the sheep that was lost, and they did bring it back to the shepherd, and great was the rejoicing of one and all . . . but soon after that, the shepherd lost it again.

And behold . . . 
A woman had ten silver coins, but lost one inside her house. So she did go outside the house, and did search carefully for it . . . and when people asked her why she did search outside the house for the coin when she had lost it inside, she did answer them and say, "The light is better here; that is why I would rather search outside than in."

And behold . . . 
There was a man who had two sons, the younger of whom did ask for his share of the estate, did receive it, and did leave for a far-off country. But when his neighbors asked the man if he was troubled by the absence of his younger son, he did speak unto them and say, "A fifty-percent retention rate is well-above average -- and besides, I'm sure he will be back when he has children."

Monday, May 11, 2015

This week's lesson (May 9-15): Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and prayer

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. -- Romans 8:26f, NIV
Prayer is not magic . . .

More's the pity.

Magic promises results, after all -- yes, all you need to do is say the right words in the proper way, and you will get what you want.
  • It's not like you're actually talking with someone, in other words.
  • There's none of the uncertainty that comes from dealing with a real person. 
  • No, magical words are like coins in a vending machine: use the right ones, and good things will happen. 
Unfortunately, God has resisted all our attempts to treat prayer this way. 
  • Use ancient languages (such as Hebrew, Latin, or Jacobean English)? No luck.
  • Use special formulae (such as Asking, Believing, and Claiming God's promises)? No luck.
  •  Recycle successful prayers of the past (such as the one by Jabez)? Good luck with that!
No, despite our best efforts, prayer remains nothing more than a conversation with God -- a God who blesses us, but who stubbornly refuses to obey our commands.

In short, prayer demands that we treat God as a person -- not as a thing to be manipulated, but as a person to be loved.

And where's the magic in that?

Sunday, May 03, 2015

This week's lesson (May 2-8): women in the ministry of Jesus

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." 
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. -- Genesis 1:26f, NIV
Let us now praise uppity women.

Consider the Canaanite woman who would not take "no" for an answer . . .

(And yes, I know her story's in Matthew 15:21ff, and not in the Gospel of Luke, but cut me some slack, okay?)

But consider the nameless woman who's daughter needs to be healed -- but whose request for that healing is met with an indifference that borders on cruelty.
  • "Send her away," say Christ's disciples, "for she keeps crying out after us."
  • "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel," Jesus tells her.
  • And when she persists, Jesus tells her that, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs."
So there she is: ignored, insulted, denied . . .

And if she had been the kind of sweet, demure, and submissive woman who "knows her place," then that would have been the end of this story. Yes, the story would have ended with:
  • Her daughter not healed.
  • The disciples unchallenged.
  • And its readers puzzled (to say the least) by Christ's uncharacteristic action.
But the story does not end there.

No, like the importunate widow of Luke 181ff, she demands justice -- and she does so with the subversive humor that oppressed people have always used as a weapon.

"I may be a dog," she says, "but even puppies get crumbs from the table."

And with that, Jesus commends her faith, grants her request, and gives this story a happy ending . . .

But there's a happy ending, notice, only because this woman did not "know her place."

No, she was definitely "uppity."

So let us praise her and her sisters -- yes, let us praise the women who marched and prayed, who argued and wrote, who filed complaints with the EEOC and who majored in Theology when everybody told them they'd never get a job as a pastor . . .

Yes, let us now honor uppity women.

For just like this woman, they make God look better.