Archive for June, 2013

28
Jun
13

Dislodging the pearl

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“What does that mean?”

            We hear something that confuses or perplexes us. We don’t get it. We want to be able to apply a word or concept to our lives or see the world in a different, more helpful way. So we poke and prod and pry at this “information oyster” in the hope of dislodging the pearl of insight.

            As we live, you and I are meaning seekers. We are surrounded and engulfed with information all day, every day. But information is just the beginning. You might say information is the raw material from which meaning is made. Information has to be massaged into meaning.

            “The temperature is 46 degrees.” = information. “I need to grab a coat.” = meaning. 

            Sometimes we do the work of carving meaning out of information by ourselves. Sometimes we let others do the work for us. We let them because we trust them and they have demonstrated that they are skilled at it.

All of this is meant to “set the table” for the real question I want to ask today, which is: How do you use the Bible as a resource for life?

It is obvious that the Holy Bible is meant to serve as much more than a source of information. Even when we consider something as seemingly cut and dried as Jesus’ birth we have two narratives that offer wildly divergent views of those events. (Wise men no shepherds in one, shepherds no wise men in the other. A slaughter of innocent children in one, no mention of this incident in the other, etc.).

Instead the Bible is meant to be a storehouse of meaning. Sacred meaning… holy, divine meaning… ageless and eternally profound meaning. And even though I know all of these things, my experience reading the Bible and extracting meaning from it has been mixed.

There have been times when the light has shone brightly from its pages, illuminating meaning intended – or so it seemed – just for me in that moment.

At other times, reading the Bible has been like trying to see the bottom of a muddy farm pond. 

Sometimes my reading of the Bible elicits a resounding stamp of approval on my current thoughts and actions. MORE often though it challenges me, causing me to squirm uncomfortably in my seat.

And yet I return, again and again, in recognition of the Bible’s authority in my life.

Regarding the Bible, each of us has to decide, 1.) IF the Bible will have a role in our life, and (if your answer is “YES, it will”) 2.) HOW the Bible will play that role. Will we read it absolutely literally, seeing every word as written by the invisible hand of God, perfect and error-free and needing no interpretation? Or will we see it as, in the words of 2 Timothy 3:16, “inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…”

This is where the theological guidelines of United Methodism (from our Book of Discipline, 2012 edition) place us. We are invited to see scripture as INSPIRED by God… written by human beings. Requiring engagement, and yes, interpretation.

Some people hear the word “interpretation” and become righteously indignant. “Interpreting the word of God is a slippery slope!” they say. “Soon you will be twisting the Bible’s meaning to make it serve YOU instead of changing your life to fit with God! It is an insidious process that ultimately leads to sin and death.”

It sounds scary and it is meant to. And I resonate a little bit with that logic because I have seen evidence of that approach in my own life… looking to find the piece of scripture that justifies the decision that I have already made. And I do heartily agree that WE need to conform to God rather than the other way around.

But then I stumbled upon this; in my Bible reading yesterday I came across Mark 2:23-28. Stop for a moment and look it up and look it up. It is a story about Jesus and his disciples walking through fields of grain on the Sabbath. The disciples, as usual, were being knuckleheads. They were picking grain and eating it… a distinct no-no on the Sabbath. The Pharisees saw them and confronted Jesus: “What is the deal with your disciples?” And then, “Are they completely ignorant of the commandment about honoring the Sabbath?”

The Pharisees had them… dead to rights. Nothing is clearer than the Word of God that says, “Thou shalt honor the Sabbath Day and keep it holy. (Exodus 16:23, KJV).” But then Jesus responds with one of his trademark verbal bombshells and says, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27, NRSV).

BOOM! What we see here is Jesus INTERPRETING the scriptures. Based on a deep reading and understanding of the Exodus scroll Jesus is extracting the INSPIRATION of the commandment and re-applying it to the situation at hand. And I believe this is exactly the way Jesus would call us to use our Bibles today.

I am running a little longer than I intended to today, but I bring this topic to light for a reason. It is to help us navigate a faithful path in the way we understand events in the news and ask and answer the question, “What does this mean?” and “What does the Bible say about this?”

I thought of that yesterday when I heard the news about the Supreme Court handing down its landmark decisions doing away with the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Section Four of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. People on both sides of each issue ran immediately to the Bible to say why these were either the worst, most sinful decisions of all time or the best.

People of faith are called to follow God’s word and to find God’s heart in the pages of the Bible. But I believe with all of my heart that God also granted us the gift of reason with the express intention that we use it, in concert with God’s word and inspiration, to map a faithful path through the world. 

14
Jun
13

Did you notice?

… but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

Matthew 19:14

I had no idea!”

Do you remember the last thing that caused you to say that phrase?

I said it last week while I was reading a co-worker’s report on everything she and her team had done to set up our recent multi-faceted concert and event at church. I mean, it really should not have come as a surprise to me that there were TONS of details involved with each one of the facets of that event.

Because hey… if you are going to have s’mores, somebody needs to straighten out some coat hangers, don’t they? Somebody has to gather wood and build a fire, don’t they?

I certainly should have known about all of those details. I am the pastor of the church, after all, and she works right outside my office door. You’d have to be dense not to notice all of the wheels that were spinning for those several weeks leading up to the event.

How many other times have you said that same phrase? “I had no idea!” I also remember saying it when I was watching the news and saw some of the workouts and drills the Kansas City Chiefs were doing. I blurted out, “I had no idea they did all that stuff!” Or what about when you see everything that is involved in putting on a play or some other kind of dramatic production… “I had no idea what is involved!” you say… awestruck.

The fact of the matter is if we took the time to REALLY stop and listen and understand we would probably discover that we could say that about every single person we meet. We THINK we know who they are and what makes them tick but it will almost always – scratch that – it will always be the case that there is much more going on inside that person than we can possibly imagine.

There is much more MYSTERY. There is much more DEPTH. There is much, much more GREATNESS that lurks just below the surface with every one of YOU and with every other person you meet. And most of the time you and I just breeze right on by it… completely absorbed in OUR issues and OUR lives to the exclusion of everything else.

And THAT is just one more way we encounter the genius of Jesus. He was a NOTICER. He noticed things other people didn’t. He considered God to be present in every encounter, every moment, every situation he found himself in. He knew that every step he took was a step taken on holy ground and he treated it that way.

In Jesus’ time, children – especially young children – occupied an even lower social status than women. They provided no productive value to the family or society. They were seen as a nuisance to be managed and their presence minimized. And yet in this passage of scripture, Jesus says, “Let them come to me because it is to such as these that belongs the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Jesus noticed. He noticed people others didn’t. He noticed situations others ignored. He noticed the overlooked, the disregarded, the unseen of the world. Jesus calls us to notice, too. And the next time we find ourselves saying, “I had NO IDEA,” let that serve as a reminder to us to NOTICE and then to LOVE the world we inhabit. 

07
Jun
13

So right

Called it! Totally!”

            That is the phrase that often rings out when Joan and I play one of our favorite at-home games: Name that Next Line of Dialogue. High-fives follow.

            Because of our goofy work schedules we hardly ever watch TV shows in their actual broadcast time slots. Instead they pile up on our DVR until we’re forced to sit down for a marathon television show catching-up binge. Forced I tell you!

            Along with that kind of concentrated TV viewing comes an instinctive feel for the patterns of dialogue on scripted shows. When you hear the main character say X, you can almost predict that the companion will likely respond with Y. The fact that subtlety and sophistication are not regular hallmarks of TV writing these days is not really worth mentioning at this point.

            So we try to out-duel each other in successfully predicting what the next line of dialogue on the show will be. It’s fun! It’s fast! It’s competitive! You should try it sometime. Needless to say, reruns are not eligible for the game.

            One of the things that makes the game so much fun, of course, is being right. When the character speaks EXACTLY the words that you just predicted they would it gives you a little thrill of accomplishment. OK… I’ll admit I am easily amused. But still…

            Guessing lines of TV dialogue is not the only place I find I get a charge out of being right. I like being right when I drive. I like being right during meetings when some point is being debated. I like being right when… well, I guess in just about every situation I’m in! You might say “being right” is something I seem to aim for regularly.

            But lately I’ve had occasion to wonder if being right is quite as important as I sometimes make it out to be.

            And then this: earlier this week I read a blog from a man named Jim Palmer (no… not the former Orioles pitcher) titled, “15 Things Jesus Never Said.” #3 on that list was: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have correct theology.”

            Ouch!

            Jim, are you telling me that the 4 ½ years I spent in seminary learning theology… learning to tell “good” theology from “bad” theology and correct from incorrect was 4 ½ years worth of wasted time? Are you telling me that Jesus didn’t really care about “being right”?

            I don’t think either one of those is really the message I am meant to take away from Mr. Palmer, but it does make me stop and think. It makes me want to evaluate the effect of a relentless pursuit of “being right” on those around me.

It makes me stop and ask, “Is the reward of being able to do a little private victory dance really worth the toll it potentially takes on that relationship?” “Do the topics of my pursuit of rectitude really matter as much as I imagine they do?” And finally, “What is the message being sent by any church who elevates a pursuit of ‘rightness’ over the practice of mercy and grace?”

Jesus DID care about the difference between truth and falsehood and he said so on many occasions (see John 4:23, John 8:32, John 14:6, John 18:37 among others). But he never let “being right” masquerade as his primary mission on earth. And it just makes sense to me that those of us who purport to follow him would not make that our main mission either.

TODAY’S CHALLENGE: find one occasion (just one) when you can consciously bite your tongue when you find yourself tempted to correct another person’s trivial error.  In other words, practice “letting it go!”




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