Monthly Archives: January 2019

Spiritual Regifting

12 1-3 What I want to talk about now is the various ways God’s Spirit gets worked into our lives. This is complex and often misunderstood, but I want you to be informed and knowledgeable. Remember how you were when you didn’t know God, led from one phony god to another, never knowing what you were doing, just doing it because everybody else did it? It’s different in this life. God wants us to use our intelligence, to seek to understand as well as we can. For instance, by using your heads, you know perfectly well that the Spirit of God would never prompt anyone to say “Jesus be damned!” Nor would anyone be inclined to say “Jesus is Master!” without the insight of the Holy Spirit.

4-11 God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful:

wise counsel

clear understanding

simple trust

healing the sick

miraculous acts

proclamation

distinguishing between spirits

tongues

interpretation of tongues.

All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what, and when.  (I Corinthians 12:1-11 The Message)

First Church, Corinth: Spiritually Gifted. Service Minded. Doers.

Also: Competitive. Easily Led Astray. Individualistic.

This fledgling congregation was birthed in the midst of a cosmopolitan city.  Poverty rates were high.  Probably 30% of the population were slaves.

They lived in a society grounded in honor/shame.  If you behaved dishonorably, you dishonored your patron.  Behave properly and “mind your betters” kept you save from shame.

The Corinthian Church members had to make their way through this system of patronage and the worship of a variety of gods.  They couldn’t help bringing their culture into their church.

Paul reminds these fledgling congregants that they live in the world, but they are not of the world.  They’re behavior must be honorable to God.  By behaving in a dishonorable manner, they dishonor God.  For Christians, their patron took second seat.

There’s so much he has to teach them.  So much they have to learn about being honorable Christians.  In this particular part of the letter Paul turns to spiritual gifts. No one gift is better than another.  And remember that if God is their Patron, than we honor God when we worship Jesus and affirm that “Jesus is Lord.”

That’s a big deal.  Our every action and our very words tell others who we worship.  When we honor others and speak wisely, we honor God and we are saying, “Jesus is Lord.”  On the other hand, when we accept the world view of life and behave disrespectfully, we dishonor God and we’re saying in so many words, “Let Jesus be cursed!”

How do we affirm Jesus as Lord?  One way, is through “Spiritual Re-gifting.”  Re-gifting is both popular and infamous these days.  If we receive a gift that doesn’t suit our needs, we can push it to the back of the closet, give it away or wrap it up for someone else.  Many say that re-gifting shows a lack of respect to the original giver.  That when you fail to put the gift to use, you’re dishonoring yourself and the one who gifted you.

Each and every one of us are gifted.  The Holy Spirit gifts us in many different ways. Contrary to culture, these gifts are meant be given away!  If you’re a teacher, teach.  If you’re a healer, heal.  If you’re a giver, be generous.  Spiritual gifts aren’t meant to be held onto not used.

In John’s Gospel we read about Jesus’ first “sign.”  This sign occurred while he was attending a wedding in Cana with his mother.  Any wedding was the event of the season and the celebration lasted for days.  To run out of wine was to dishonor yourself and your guests.  It just couldn’t happen!

At this particular wedding, though, it did.  There was nothing the host could do.  He had nothing left in his storeroom to offer his guests.  Jesus’ mother encourages him to do something about it.  He orders the servants to fill up six stone water jars with water.  They did as they were told.  Then he told them to draw some of the water so that the wine steward could taste it.  They did.

Jesus blessed the host with the very best wine.  He expected the host to give the wine to his guests.

The wine steward was impressed beyond measure with the quality and quantity of this wine.  “You’ve saved the best for last!”  What the servants knew and the steward didn’t know, was that Jesus had produced wine from water.

Jesus made it happen.  The servants were entrusted to serve it.  They weren’t to keep it to themselves — they were to give it away.  A form of Spiritual Re-Gifting!

What gifts do you share for the common good?  What has God given you that you’ve re-gifted, perhaps multiple times?

I believe you’re doing it already.  And as  you come to realize what you’re doing, I trust that you’ll do more of it.

Spiritual re-gifting honors God, honors you and, most of all, honors the recipient.

One Spirit.  Many gifts.  Many ministries. Many Deeds.

Give it away and see what comes back.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

Advertisements

I’m Proud of You

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah,<sup class="footnote" data-fn="#fen-NRSV-25033a" data-link="[a]”>[a] 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with<sup class="footnote" data-fn="#fen-NRSV-25034b" data-link="[b]”>[b] the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19 But Herod the ruler,<sup class="footnote" data-fn="#fen-NRSV-25037c" data-link="[c]”>[c] who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added to them all by shutting up John in prison.

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved;<sup class="footnote" data-fn="#fen-NRSV-25040d" data-link="[d]”>[d] with you I am well pleased.”  (Luke 3:15-22 NRSV)

It was spring.  The snow of a long winter had finally melted.  It was time to get outside; time to clean up the yard and make those minor repairs to the house.  I was sixteen: awkward, shy.  Trying to figure out who I was.  Trying to figure out what I would do after high school.

I had spent the day helping my dad scrape and paint the window frames.  Then we decided, unbeknownst to my mother, that the white porch railing needed to be black.  We scraped and painted for several hours.

We were cleaning up our mess when my Dad turned to me and said, “I like you.”

“Thank you,” I responded, not quite knowing where that had come from.

“You know,” he continued.  “We love our children.  Sometimes they aren’t easy to like.  I like you.”

Wow.  I treasured those words in my heart.  I was likable.  Maybe I’d make it in this world after all.

Luke doesn’t spend much time on Jesus’ baptism.  Matthew gives a better description.  Luke mentions it almost in passing.  So, let’s look at it that way.  Let’s not look at the baptism of Jesus, but what happened after.

Jesus was praying.  After he was baptized, he prayed.  Was it immediately after or did he go to a secluded place to pray?

This moment in the baptismal waters were important.  He entered them not because he was sinful or had anything to repent.  He entered into the waters with you and me and the rest of the world.  He came out of the waters a man ready to begin his ministry.

While he was praying, the heavens opened.  The Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove.  And then we hear God’s voice, “I claim you as my own.  I’m proud of you.”

When was the last time someone has said those words to you?  “I’m proud of you.”

Was it recently in a conversation with a friend?  Or has it been so many years that you can’t remember?

I’m proud of you.

What’s there to be proud of?  I mean Jesus was worthy of being claimed.  He was the Son of God.  He wasn’t sinful.  Of course God was proud of him.  That’s the easy part.

But, what about us?  Oh, sure, we begin the day with good intentions.  We’ll smile more, notice people around us with greater interest, speak peace-filled words.  Then we get out of bed.

We make our way through our day judging others; arguing our point without listening to others; fighting and clawing our way to … what?

Perhaps you remember the day you were baptized.  Perhaps you were baptized as an infant.  Perhaps you haven’t been baptized, yet.  Remember it anyway.

Think about that baptismal font filled with water made holy by God.  Think about the water in that font as the Psalmist describes it.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.  (Psalm 29:3-4 NRSV)

God is Lord of the waters.  Lord of the waters in that baptismal font; Lord of the waters of creation.  God is over all and in all.  When you remember your baptism, you might think of fresh, clear water that can’t hurt you.  This Psalm reminds us that God isn’t a puddle of water; God is all powerful.  To choose baptism is to choose to enter into the dangerous water and give yourself fully and completely to God.

And while Jesus entered his baptismal waters, Herod was locking up John the Baptizer for speaking truth to evil power.

Your baptism isn’t sweet; it’s powerful.  In those waters you are marked with the invisible sign that you belong to God.  And God is proud of you.

Still not sure?  Let’s see what the prophet Isaiah has to say:

43 But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.  (Isaiah 43:1-2 NRSV)

Don’t fear.  Why?  Because God calls you by your name; you belong to God.  Don’t fear.  Why?  Because when you pass through the waters and the rivers overwhelm you (which they will) God is with you.  When the fires of hell are scorching your feet (and they will) God is with you.

Yes, we’re a pretty messed humanity.  We often get it wrong.  We misunderstand; we take our anger out on those who may not deserve it; we point fingers; we judge.  Don’t fear.

Don’t fear because God knew you before you were born.  God gifted you with spiritual gifts to share with others.  God is with you.  God knows you’re trying.  And God is proud of you.

So gaze into those dangerous baptismal waters.  Consider your life and how much it means to be God’s beloved child.

Then hear God’s voice: “I’m proud of you!”

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


Politics and Change

Matthew 2:1-12

1-2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory— this was during Herod’s kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.”

3-4 When word of their inquiry got to Herod, he was terrified—and not Herod alone, but most of Jerusalem as well. Herod lost no time. He gathered all the high priests and religion scholars in the city together and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

5-6 They told him, “Bethlehem, Judah territory. The prophet Micah wrote it plainly:

It’s you, Bethlehem, in Judah’s land,
no longer bringing up the rear.
From you will come the leader
who will shepherd-rule my people, my Israel.”

7-8 Herod then arranged a secret meeting with the scholars from the East. Pretending to be as devout as they were, he got them to tell him exactly when the birth-announcement star appeared. Then he told them the prophecy about Bethlehem, and said, “Go find this child. Leave no stone unturned. As soon as you find him, send word and I’ll join you at once in your worship.”

9-10 Instructed by the king, they set off. Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time!

11 They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh.

12 In a dream, they were warned not to report back to Herod. So they worked out another route, left the territory without being seen, and returned to their own country.  (The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson)

Note:  I am grateful to the work of Marcus Borg & John Dominic Crossan who helped me flesh out this blog with their book “The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Birth.  (New York, HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 2007)

This is the conclusion of the Christmas story.  John the Baptist has been born and a few months later Jesus was born.  The angels  announced the birth of the Christ child.  Shepherds, the marginalized citizens, heard the announcement and paid homage.  Time has passed, Jesus is not yet two years old.  Wise men from the East arrive in Jerusalem.

“We’re looking for the newborn king of the Jews”.  They couldn’t have done more damage if they’d dropped a bomb in the city center.

Why did Luke write about these scholars?  What purpose do they have in the Christmas story?

One response is that these are the gentiles who first recognized the Messiah.  Jesus came for all humanity, not just the Jews.

Another response points out the threat and the promise of this child.  In Luke’s gospel, Mary sings about the greatness of this honor to bear the savior.  “for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name…He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;” (Luke 1:49, 51 NRSV)

Later, when Mary and Joseph bring the baby to the temple for her purification, Simeon steps on the stage saying, “I can rest in peace.  I’ve seen my heart’s desire: the Messiah.”  The audience sighs with joy.  But, Simeon isn’t done, yet.  “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed, so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed — and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.” (Luke 2:34b-35 NRSV)

Yes, the story shares with us that Jesus came for Jews and Gentiles.  Yes, Jesus came to set things right and will stir things up.  Is that all?  Is this simply a nice conclusion to the Christmas story?

I suggest there’s more.  I suggest that this is not a conclusion, but a sort of commencement.  Like a high school or college commencement, this is an ending that points away from itself to something more important.

Whether they realize it or not, these wise men are pointing to a new kingdom.  This kingdom is a singular and dangerous threat to the existing world.

The kingdom of the world is ruled by Caesar Augustus.  According to Borg and Crossan, he was called Son of God, Lord and savior of the world.  He was also considered the son of Apollo, the god of light.  Therefore, Caesar was considered the Light of the World.  He is worshiped as a god.  He is the savior the people believe they need; the conqueror who brings peace.

Caesar appoints his minions and Herod is one of them.  He is King of the Jews whose job it is to keep them in line.  He keeps his throne only by the grace of Caesar.  In truth he is an evil ruler who distorts the truth and even kills in order to hang on to that power.  Read ahead a few verses and we discover that he has all baby boys under two years of age living in and around Bethlehem slaughtered, in an attempt to kill this new King of the Jews.

The wise men point to the birth of a new kingdom led by the King of the Jews, the Light of the World, Lord, and Savior of the World.  Wait.  That’s Caesar’s role.  We can’t have two saviors, can we?

And now, this lovely, tender story points to a clash: the kingdom of Caesar and the kingdom of God.

The magi don’t conclude the Christmas story, they point us forward.  And Luke’s gospel will continue to move us into the challenge of decision.  We live in Caesar’s world.  It’s easy to see and hard to understand.  It’s complicated.  There are no easy answers.  A move in one direction creates havoc somewhere else.  And sometimes we catch ourselves worshiping the wrong thing.

We also worship the Messiah while struggling to understand the Kingdom of God.  This is the kingdom that tells us that if our hearts are saddened to the point of breaking over injustice and poverty, we’re blessed.  That persecution brings blessing.  That the Law of Moses is important and must be studied; not for the purpose of legalism or a threat, but going deeply in order to find God at the heart of it.  And that God is like a father standing with his nose pressed up against the window pane, watching for his prodigal son to return and when he does, embarrasses everyone around him by running down the road to welcome him back.

This is the kingdom of God: upside down, backwards, inside out.  It’s a kingdom I want to understand more fully.

The kingdom of this world has a lot going for it.  I believe that God is at work in the world bringing in the kingdom.  We see it in moments of grace.  The kingdom of God is brought into the world every time a human being or a group of human beings stand up to the kingdom of Caesar and say, “We have a better way.”  That’s what Desmond Tutu did in South Africa.  It’s what you and I do on our best days when we stop a bully or assert justice.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 

 


%d bloggers like this: