Friday, January 30, 2009

Luke 3,4 The True Son

The story so far …
God created Adam and Eve to be his true children, to live in fellowship with him and act as his regent on earth. They were designed to live with responsibility and creativity and fellowship – like the One who made them. But man rebelled against that vocation, choosing to act independently of God, wanting to be god.

But God didn’t give up. He chose one man, Abraham, one family, one people to fulfill the vocation that He had given mankind. They were to act as His regents, live as his people and through them, God promised, all peoples would be restored as well. How did Israel respond to that calling? You can read the story in Psalm 78.
They forgot God’s covenant and refused to live by his law (Ps. 78:10)
They forgot what He had done (78:11)
They willfully put God to the test by “demanding the food they craved” ( v18)
They “spoke against” God, asking: “Can God spread a table in the desert? He provided us water, but can he also give us food??” (v 19)
They did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance. (v22)
They were disloyal and faithless, and “aroused his jealousy with their idols”; i.e. they put other things above God. (uh oh.)
Their hearts were not loyal to God, their spirits were not faithful to Him. They decided it would be better to be back in Egypt with their meat pots without God, than out in the desert and starving with God. (its all about the food…) (Ps 78:8)
They tested him at Masseh (means testing) When things got difficult, in spite of all He had done, they asked “Is the Lord with us or not?” (Ex. 17:7)

God still doesn’t give up though! Psalm 78 ends with God’s choice of David – one faithful shepherd “with integrity of heart”. God’s good rule on earth would one day come – through one like David who would be faithful to God. In Luke 3, John the Baptist is paving the way for this One … Jesus comes to be baptized - and a voice from heaven declared “this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus is taking on the vocation of being the true human being, the true Son.

But he must first demonstrate that he is faithful to God – a true son and not a rebel. So, like Israel, he is tested in the desert. And in contrast to Adam, in contrast to Israel, he refuses to provide for his own needs, refuses to doubt God’s faithfulness, refuses to take the place of God. He stays loyal to God and to His calling to be God’s true Son.

Then, immediately, in Nazareth – he announces His vocation as the Son, begins to make the point that this vocation is not only towards the nation of Israel but to the nations of the world, and then begins to exercise his vocation, bringing good news to the poor, freeing the captives, bringing sight to the blind. In the presence of the true Son of God, the kingdom – the rule of God through His anointed representative – has arrived!

Here is what I realized as I listened to the Spirit speaking to me through this text: I, like Israel, am prone to forget what God has done, to want most whatever it is I think will give me life, to be loyal to me and not to God. (I feel sad about that: I think that it would hurt God’s feelings to be distrusted.) But really this story is not about me. There is one who was loyal to his Father above himself, who was the true son, the true human being, and his loyalty brings the benefits of God’s rule to me too.

And I am so glad God is not a quitter.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Luke 1,2 - God Breaks In

On Inauguration Day, CNN put together a “photosynyth” – a compilation of thousands of photos taken when President Obama took the oath of office. The completed photo shows the moment from all different perspectives and distances.

Luke’s narrative about Jesus is similar. In oral tradition, events were recounted by people to one another until a composite story emerged. This story was told and retold – using the same words and phrases (like some of your family stories which always use the same words!). This oral account was trusted – people could write anything in books, but a witness (my aunt Hannah was there!) was reliable.

At the time Luke compiled his narrative later in the first century, the message of Jesus has spread beyond the towns and villages where they had taken place. The original witnesses were dying (or scattered by the Roman crackdown in 68-70 AD). Luke researched and compiled the histories to preserve the story.

Notice the historical details in the story – this is something that happened – in history, in the lives of real people. The historic details are there right next to the things that we think of as “supernatural” – angels, prophecies, impossible births. Into the world of ordinary people – a priest doing his duty, a faithful but disappointed old woman, a young girl, shepherds doing their jobs- In the midst of time and space and ordinary people – God breaks in, and transforms the “ordinary” into the place where we meet God. Earth and heaven overlap. The poet George Herbert calls prayer “heaven in ordinarie.” After Luke 1,2 nothing is just ordinary – it is all the place where God has shown up and is showing up.

Notice too, that this is a promised break-in! The chapter is full of references to the ongoing story of which this is the next and greatest chapter – the promise of Elijah (1:17), the promise of a King to sit on David’s throne (1:32,33), the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel (1:68-79) and to the whole world (2:29-32). Remember that at this time, God had been silent for 400 years – no word from the Lord, no prophet. In that time they had been overrun and oppressed by one pagan nation after another. The rulers of this world were in power, it seemed. Where was God? Had he abandoned them? Had He given up on them, forgotten his promises? There were some who still hoped and looked for some change, some intervention, who were faithful to what God had told them, who were steeped in His words in the past, who still had faith that He was faithful. And when God did break in – they recognized Him.

Those who watched the 2009 inauguration against the backdrop of another gathering 46 years ago on the Capitol Mall had a fuller understanding of its significance. Those who saw the events in this chapter against the backdrop of Israel’s story understood its cosmic significance. Without that backdrop it would have been not much more than a surprising local story (“Elizabeth is Expecting: Why isn’t Zach Talking?”). Against that backdrop it becomes a story that is personal, national and cosmic. It is the same with our stories!

This I think is the story Luke tells – God breaks in. As you read the book, look for this: when God breaks in, what did that look like? Who are the kinds of characters in the story? What is it that God does when he breaks into the “ordinary” world? What did people expect it to look like? What was surprising – or disconcerting – about it? How do people respond? … How do you respond?

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Book Club

Some of my friends in England – not being familiar with the idea of “bible study” - called our group a book club. We are having a “book club” here in Anacortes, reading the gospel of Luke. I would like to invite you to join in if you would like some companionship and structure for your Bible reading for the next few months. I will be posting here some of the fruit of our study and meditation and living-it-out.

I am so convinced that there is nothing more important in life than being “with God” - nothing more important for me and how I live and nothing more important for my effect on other people and the world around me. There is nothing more important, more valuable for me – and therefore nothing I want more for my friends. I am so convinced that the way that happens is that God speaks – through His word, by His Spirit, in the company of His people and in the context of real life – and as we hear and say yes to Him through the days of our lives we meet Him, we find Him, we are changed by him and find life in Him. It is a long process – not quick or easily measured, and takes patience.

This year has been a challenging one to my faith –I have asked myself again – what is God up to? What can I expect? Did we just make all this up? Does the story that the Bible tells make sense in life? And where I come back to – as I have before – is that in spite of the mysteries, in spite of all that I do not understand (and do not like), in spite of how hard it is to live out of the truth the Bible tells – there is no where else to go to find life. As Peter said to Jesus when Jesus asked him if he wanted to go away too “Where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

So my motivation for this time together is not primarily for greater knowledge of the Bible (although that is valuable) and not just for getting together (even though I love that and need it!). My motivation is that we would be stimulated to hear God speak in His word and listen and be transformed.

Everyone has wrestled with the practice of a “quiet time” - tried, succeeded sometimes, failed sometimes, felt guilty, etc. I would like to encourage you to aim to spend at least a few minutes each day in listening to the Word – even if it is just a paragraph, or a verse. I know it is hard to find the time to do, (especially when you have young children and work!) and you won’t always succeed. But I think that it is so valuable that it is worth persisting. It doesn’t matter whether you "get something out of it." If you listen every day, inviting the Spirit to speak, ready to say yes – you will be transformed over time.

Here is a way to approach reading: (Based on the tradition of “lectio divina” or sacred reading. Sounds so clever in Latin!)

  • Prepare: Invite the Spirit to speak to you – remind yourself that you are listening to a person – the God who speaks.
  • Read (lectio): the chapter or just one story or paragraph, or verse. What stands out to me? What gets my attention?
  • Meditate (meditatio): Mull it over. Why does this stand out to me? What would it have been like to be there? What puzzles me about this?
  • Pray (oratio): Respond to God – Is there something He is saying to me here? God is speaking - what is my reply?
  • Live (contemplatio): As you go through your day or week come back to the words or thoughts that stood out to you. How does this connect with my life?

Here is a quote I like from Eugene Peterson’s Eat this Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading:

"Christians feed on Scripture. Holy Scripture nurtures the holy community as food nurtures the human body. Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.”

We will be reading about 2 chapters a week (starting this week), and finish by Easter. It's too fast, but there is value in reading in order to get a bigger view of the story. But don't be constrained by that ... stick with the word or verse or story that speaks to you, long enough so that you can hear.

I do best when I read in company with others. I hope that you will join us!