Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Book Club Blog : Luke 9,10

This weekend, I heard a story about the kingdom of God breaking in.

My friend had a challenging workplace situation - people were tense, blaming each other, trying to cover up their own mistakes and highlight the mistakes of others. In the middle of that my friend, being a follower of Jesus, inserts a new thing - forgiveness, serving others instead of her own agenda, the offer of friendship. It changed the tone, opened a way for something new.

"Every disciple," Jesus said, "when fully trained, will be like her master."

In the early chapters of Luke we saw that the promised kingdom of God breaks in. The kingdom is announced: good news for those who recognize that they are poor and welcome the invitation.
Now there is a shift, How will the kingdom of God, the reign of God come? Now we begin to see his plan: the kingdom comes through ordinary people who join Him in the Way.

In Luke 9 the training begins. The whole middle part of Luke – (9:51- 19:27) is a long section that takes them from Galilee to Jerusalem. If you have a “red-letter edition” you will see that it is almost all red letters. Jesus is training his followers. Here are some observations about that training:

  • Jesus gives them his own power and authority (9:1) to “overcome all the power of the enemy.” (10:18)
  • He commissions them to do just what He does: announce the kingdom, heal the sick, defeat evil. (9:1)
  • Herod is perplexed. The crowd is confused. It is the ones who follow him who see him for who he really is. (9:7, 19, 28-36)
  • Jesus tells them to do something they can’t do with their own resources - feed the crowd. They need to learn that they are dependent on him for resources. Jesus feeds the crowd – through his followers.
  • They are with him – when he withdraws to pray and when he enters the fray. (oops, sorry, inadvertent rhyme ). They are always learning from him to be true sons and daughters. (remember that Luke points out that there were women following too.)
  • They are invited to the way of the cross. He sets his face towards Jerusalem – the place of his “exodus” (Most versions say ‘departure”- but the word is actually exodus!) The way he invites them along is not one of power and success. The way Jesus rules is not by killing his enemies – but by dying for them.
  • Like Jesus, they were invited to a singular focus, a singular allegiance to the Kingdom of God. (9:57-62)
  • They are nothing special: they lack faith, they don’t understand, they have some bad ideas (shall we blast them?? They thought they were Jack Bauer), they wanted to be “the greatest”, and they are not wise and learned but little children. (They come back excited over what God has done through them – and Jesus thanks God that he hasn’t revealed this to the smart people! Kind of pointed, don’t you think?)
  • They are blessed – happy and privileged – to see what they see when they follow Jesus.
  • There is “one thing necessary” (10:41) – and that is to learn from Jesus, sitting at his feet.

    Now – a question in my mind. Why is the story of the Good Samaritan placed there? Any thoughts?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Be Careful How You Hear - Luke 7,8

Jesus is announcing the presence of the kingdom – in words and deeds. In the presence of the king, life is being restored – the centurion’s servant (“they found the servant well”), the dead son (“the dead man sat up and began to speak and Jesus gave him to his mother”), the woman of the city (“her sins, which are many, are forgiven … go in peace”), the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear. People seeing and hearing and coming to life.

And who is welcoming the kingdom? Who is it for?

Jesus had said “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Here are some observations about what characterizes those who receive the kingdom:

  • The centurion was aware he had no claim on the kingdom – though powerful in the kingdom of this world, he was poor when it came to God. Not one of the people of God, he did not expect that he was entitled. But he recognized authority in Jesus – authority that was given by the God of the universe (who else could raise the dead and forgive sins? The centurion, being in Capernaum, had seen all this). And so, acknowledged his poverty, his unworthiness – he asked.
  • The widow had nothing – absolutely nothing. Her only son would have been her means of support and her only hope for the future.
  • The “woman of the city” knew she had a debt and, understanding what Jesus had been saying to the crowds (maybe she was at Levi’s big shindig!) knew that even she was welcome to the kingdom. She responded with love and gratitude.
  • The crowd and the Pharisees and lawyers had some expectations of what they expected in a prophet from God, what he ought to say and do, and what kind of people he ought to shun (“what did you go out to see?” “If he were a prophet, he would know what kind of person was touching him.” ). The Pharisees like Simon thought the kingdom belonged to them – they were the ones who kept the law, after all, who understood the Scripture!

Jesus’ “parable of the sower” (really it should be called the parable of the soils) makes it clear that it is the condition of the heart of the hearer that matters. Are the hearers the sort of people who are prepared to receive it? "As for that good soil, they are those who hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience … Be careful how you hear … My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

So – its poverty and receptivity that make way for the kingdom of God to take root, bringing life in us, among us. Do you see yourself in these stories?

I am going to stop there – because I think that 8:22 starts a new emphasis. So instead of going on to 9, 10, let’s stay with 8:22-56 for another week! (Maybe that has something to do with the fact that this is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible?)

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Kingdom of God at The Lord's Gym

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

The Lord’s Gym is in part of the New Life Church. I was there to help with a Navigator seminar “Listening and Healing Prayer” There were about 60 people at the seminar, and a recovery rally in the next room, neighborhood teenagers playing basketball in the gym, vets using the exercise machines, women shopping at the Lord’s Closet for free clothes. It’s a busy place.
The New Life Church is a recovery church – and the people there were either recovering alcoholics, drug addicts, workers or some combination. I sat with Sally* who had a tattoo around her neck and said coming there kept her from getting into trouble; with Sue, Cindy and John who were homeless and living in the shelter. Andrea had been out of prison a week… Molly had just been kicked out of the clean and sober house and didn’t know where she was going to go. Sometimes, she confessed, she stole food – just like she and her sister did when they were kids and no one was there to take care of them. No one there had anything left to hide, or bothered to pretend that they had much going for them. They sang the worship songs wholeheartedly.
During the weekend we listened to the Lord, prayed for one another, cried, ate pizza and chips and celebrated God’s love, forgiveness and welcome. Many of these people were used to being problems… they had social workers and psychiatrists and parole officers. They almost all had parents who were alcoholics or addicts and been abused in some way – beaten, neglected, raped. Told how worthless and unwanted they were – told by their parents and other adults that they were white trash, or an effing lying bitch, or stupid. This weekend at the Lord’s gym they were told something different – that they were children of God, brothers and sisters, loved and forgiven and that they could help each other. They prayed for each other, and it wasn’t the experts, or the professionals or the educated people who heard God – but each of them. The kingdom of God showed up there in the Lord’s gym.
Do I really believe that knowledge, intelligence, education, financial security, and a good family background aren’t the hard currency of the kingdom of God? As I read Luke, I see that the people who received the kingdom – the ones to whom the kingdom belonged - were the desperate, the outcasts, the ones with a big debt to be forgiven… the poor. The ones who know they are poor.

*the names are changed

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Luke 5, 6 New Things...

Luke has established Jesus’ continuity with the past: This is the fulfillment of God’s rescue plan! But now we begin to see how very different it looks when God breaks in than we expect it to.

In 4:43, Jesus states his purpose: to tell the good news of the kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God – the reign of God, comes out of the future, breaking into the present. It is not a return to anything – it is radically new, different and surprising. We are invited to step into it now. And when we do, we are not determined by our past, but by our future in God’s new world.

Look at the stories in this chapter and how something new breaks in to people lives. Peter is the fishing expert. He knows how things work. Jesus steps in, shows him something entirely new, and invites him into it. The leper recognizes the person who has the power to change his condition. But will he, he wonders? The paralytic and his friends come hoping for something new – and get more than they expected. Levi had a new kind of life offered to him from out of the blue, unearned and unlooked for. The parable Jesus tells (5:36-39) punctuates all this change – there’s no making incremental change here, no adding on a little Jesus to what you already have. This is turning everything upside down. And some, who like things as they are, won’t like it … “the old is good” they say.

Jesus himself is the center and the heart of all this change, the bridegroom himself. The kingdom has arrived in Jesus – he is making everything new, the fulfillment of all the old stories and the long preparations (like the Sabbath 6:1-11). He puts together a new people (6:12-16, 12 apostles, 12 tribes of Israel) and gives them a new charter, (6:17-49) like God gave a charter to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy. It’s pretty crazy! “You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all!” (6:20) What????

The kingdom of God is always coming to us, every day. It is really hard to change, frightening to let go of old ways of doing things, old certainties about God or about yourself, old habits of personality that you think are just you. But I tell you what … I really, really, really don’t want to get stuck. You can get stuck at any age, but I am at an age when people very often do get stuck, give up repenting, give up turning around, embracing the kingdom that is always coming and the unexpected Jesus who is turning things upside down and inviting us into His new world. Sometimes it is only when the “old” isn’t so good that we are ready to get up and follow when the invitation comes.

So I am looking out for the invitation today.