Word for the Way: Stop

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“The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately” – Mark 11:3

Haggai is one of those curious prophets that I enjoy teaching about. He’s one of that blob of 12 prophets. Kids at my church do a great job memorizing the books of the Bible, until they get to the 12 minor prophets. Thats when things begin to break down. They’ll be going along well, “Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Ed, Ringo…” Yeah, sometimes they make a few up, but then again, wouldn’t the book of Ringo be awesome!

What I find curiously intriguing about the book of Haggai isn’t anything that Haggai prophesied. What I love are the narrator’s comments. Haggai, more than any other book in the Bible takes great pains to provide a date for each of Haggai’s four prophecies. When you do the math Haggai’s prophetic ministry was a grand total of four months. For a mere four months of Haggai’s life we hear about him in the Bible. We know nothing of his birth nor of his death. We don’t know what he did two days before the word of the Lord came to him nor do we know what he did a week after his last prophetic utterance…though I guess if he were like any good American celebrity he’d go to Disneyworld, but that’s just speculation. What really has me intrigued by Haggai is that the Lord had a peculiarly special need of him for four months and that was it.

This flies in my face and in the face of those I live and serve with. We value fortitude. I’m in it to the end; don’t quit; never give up! We value those who have served for a looong time. Those who served for four months only, well, we’d wonder what that person wanted from us and, clearly, they didn’t get it so off they went. Put in a good Biblical tone we’d say that person has no roots. No, we like our folks long serving and long suffering thank you very much.
Problem is that this simply doesn’t fit with the Biblical narrative. Haggai served for four months; Jonah likely only a few weeks…or even days. Simon of Cyrene only served for maybe a few hours; the colt from Palm Sunday for maybe less than an hour. Of course this isn’t to even mention the Lord God Almighty who created the cosmos stopping after just six days. Of course he resumes work the next day returning to his wonderfully creative ways. But it does make you think, if God works for six days and then stops how would he fair in our eyes; would we see him as one with fortitude or with no root? Curious questions to ponder. Now to be clear, you are a person of great worth to the Lord; he gave his only son for you remember. And of course the Lord wants you to be a co worker in his vineyard. But perhaps your service as a co worker might change and shift from time to time. You might be in active service one day, and a part of the reserves the next. You might be a starter this week and on the bench the next. You might be a Martha for a time and then you might be a Mary…and that’s actually ok. It’s ok to serve the Lord actively and it’s ok to rest for a while too…shoot, it’s downright Biblical. We might do well to ponder today why we don’t afford this blessed privilege of resting from our weary labors to ourselves, or to others. Perhaps the watchword for today is just Stop.

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Sermon Scribbles: Fig Trees

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“Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it.” – Luke 13:8

So here’s the thing about the Bible, especially with regard to the Gospels. If a curious little detail is in there then we need to pay attention to it. Ancient writing was a costly endeavor. To make a long story short, the longer you made something you were writing the more costly it became. So, you simply didn’t add extras; you put in only what you needed. So, we’re back around again, if a curious little detail is in there then you can darn well bet it’s a good idea to start paying attention.

Jesus tells us that a man has a vineyard with a fig tree planted in it. Now that’s a curious little detail. He could have just said that a man had a fig tree and left it at that, but he didn’t, he included this curious little detail. So what do we make of this? Well, Robert Farrar Capon, one of my favorite faithfully imaginative interpreters of Scripture sees it this way. The man is in the business of vineyards. It’s work for him, the fig tree is a hobby. Hobby’s bring joy and pleasure and life. In this parable, suggests Capon, the vineyard owner is God the Father. What is the vineyard? Well, we don’t really know. But, the fig tree is all of creation. Creation itself, with us in it, exists for God’s pleasure and joy…now that’s just good theology!

Now, this little fig tree has gone awry. Sound like any particular creation you’re aware of? He orders that it be cut down. Powerful people are accustomed to having their word carried out. How much more so with God? His word is far more than his bond. When he speaks things happen; light shines, earth forms, birds fly. He has spoken, “see that tree? Don’t eat it or else.” Well, they ate of it and now God’s got a little conundrum…can I say God has a conundrum? He’s said that humanity must die for their transgression, but then he’s also a God whose loving and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 145:8).

Enter God the Son, the gardener in this little story. Isn’t the mystery of the Trinity grand! Oh, don’t worry, I’m not going to try and explain the Trinity; simply bask thankfully in the presence of the Trinity. Jesus the gardener enters onto the seen, observes the awry and, for all intents and purposes, dead tree and replies, “let it alone.” It’s an interesting phrase, let it alone. In the Greek the phrase let it alone is the same Greek word that Jesus utters on the cross when he says, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Hmm…Jesus the Gardener observes the awry and dead tree and says forgive and Jesus the Gardener/savior observes the awry and dead trees (us) of creation and says forgive…interesting! God the Father has given all authority in heaven and on earth to Jesus. Jesus’ word will be the one that counts. If Jesus says death then death it will be; if he says life then life it will be. Jesus speaks life…but he goes one further, he smears that dead tree with something else that’s dead…manure. Heaping death upon death, in the mystery of Christ, brings about growth and life and fruitfulness. So Jesus’ death, smeared upon us dead trees brings the gifts of growth, life, and fruitfulness.
This parable is a lesson in what it means to live by grace alone. The tree has no chance. It doesn’t have a choice to produce or not produce, it’s dead to rights by the word of the vineyard owner; but that vineyard owner is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and brings in the gardener who speaks life and gives death for life. This is grace aplenty! Thanks to Robert Capon for the insights but thanks so much more so to Jesus for life and fruitfulness! Thank you Jesus!

If you’re interested in reading more from Robert Farrar Capon this is the book I was referencing: http://www.amazon.com/Kingdom-Grace-Judgment-Vindication-Parables/dp/0802839495/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1456328174&sr=1-1&keywords=robert+farrar+capon

Word for the Way: Gift

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“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9

My daughter’s favorite phrase right now is, “who gave this to me?” She’ll hold up a toy or a book or a shirt and ask “who gave this to me?” She seems to get on an almost intuitive level that all the things she has are gifts, not the result of anything that she has earned or worked for.

It’s interesting how children really get what we adults so easily forget. We’re convinced that things belong to us. I worked hard for this; I’ve earned this; it’s mine. Now don’t get me wrong, my daughter says more than her fair share of “it’s mine” and “no you can’t have it!” But I have this sneaky suspicion that it’s not her default position. When I’m honest with myself her less than exemplary behavior is something learned, from me! Jesus did say that we are to become like little children (Matthew 18:3). Children get this whole God thing, they understand concepts like trust and faith and grace and gift far better than we can. However, we adults are quick to scold them we they display a ready ability to learn and repeat the lessons of selfishness and misbehavior we’ve taught them. Be as little children said Jesus; not the childishness of adulthood that we pass off as maturity.

“Who gave this to me?” It’s a wonderful question. What if we asked this question each day? We wake up in the morning and ask with our first words, who gave this to me? We sit down to a meal and wonder aloud, who gave this to me? We see our friends and family, go to work, enjoy a sunset or anything really and exclaim, who gave this to me? I wonder what life would be like if that became our childlike default question.
Who gave this to me? It’s a grace filled question. Now grace is the one and only distinctive that we Christians have. It teaches us that all that we have, from the air that we breath to the people that we meet to the roof over our heads, from the gas in our cars to the food that we eat – even the jobs that we work; all of it and more is an expression of the pure and undeserved, never failing, always present, amazing Grace of the Lord God Almighty. But it doesn’t stop just there; God’s amazing Grace continues not just in the ordinary things of everyday life but also in the most extraordinary aspect of our lives, the saving, forgiving, life giving work of Jesus’ life death and resurrection for us. In Jesus you have all those things and more and, as St. Paul says in our text from Ephesians it’s not the result of you being a fantastic and or extraordinary person though you may well be those things and more. God’s Grace for you, be it ordinary or extraordinary is not now, ever has been, nor never will be the result of anything you’ve done or not done, it’s not dependent on your being a good person nor is it restricted to you if you’re a horrible one. It is there for you, for no other reason than that God wants you to have it. Who gave this to me? God did as a gift.