Draw Near to Justice

Image Credit: Daily Theology dailytheology.org

December 16, 2018 Advent 3

Luke 3:7-18

This is the time of year that many people live for. The festivities and parties. The lights and the pageantry. The giving and the receiving.  While we may be in the season of Advent in the church, many others are in the season of indulgence. Spending beyond their means so that they can attempt to bring joy to a friend or family member.

It is in light of this that we continue to wait in Advent. We wait to rejoice in the birth of a baby that is going to change the world. We wait for the light that is to be born into the world that calls out the darkness. We wait with bated breath for the hope promised to us by our ancestors.

With this,we find ourselves in the third week of Advent. How wonderful it is to be greeted by the insults of John the Baptist, “You brood of vipers!” Wow, he know show to wake us up from our complacency. He continues to call us out of our comfort zone and into the reality of this world. He attempts to pull our attention away from the office Christmas parties and the twinkling lights. Through John the Baptist we are called to live alongside our neighbors and draw near to the justice found in Jesus.

John the Baptist was the voice crying out in the wilderness. He causes us to sit up straight and pay attention because the message he must share is so much different then others we have been hearing. He speaks with a voice of resistance. A voice that is not afraid to proclaim the message he has been given to share. This resistance will eventually get him killed.

While John resists those in authority, our society tends to resist the gospel message in parts.I will be bold to say that many live lives of apathy. It is much easier to just sit back and worry about yourself then it is to step outside of your comfort zone and feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or welcome the stranger. We may know we need to repent of this apathy, yet it is so much easier to sit down and relax.

The people that are listening to John are thirsty for instruction. They want to know what they should do. This has not changed much over time. The early Israelites were also asking for a king and someone to guide them and tell them what to do. It continues in the Israel of John’s time as they want to know what they should do when he calls them out of their complacency and desire to stay where they are at.

It is easy to look in the past and think that it was better then and want the same thing today. However, as John cries out in the wilderness, it is a reminder for us that we too are called out of our complacency and our drawn near to the incarnate God. The Son of God was born human so that we could connect in relationship and get a glimpse of the great mystery.

John’s message comes as a sign of grace for us in a world that is broken and needs the love God has promised to all of creation. A love that John points to in his proclamation.A love that is born into the world so that all will come to know God and be baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Bearing good fruit is part of the message that John shares. We all want to bear good fruit. When those that chose to follow John the Baptist ask, “What then should we do?” he pulls his answer from the law that came before him. You must share a coat if you have two! You must not over-tax people and only take what has been prescribed!You must not extort through threats or false accusations! We too, should be following these instructions of John the Baptist.

However, our redemption does not hinge on these actions. The promise of Jesus following John the Baptist to baptize in the Holy Spirit connects us with something much greater. It is here that we encounter the grace of God that washes over us regardless of our actions. God’s love for us was made clear in the death of Jesus and we are given hope through the resurrection.

We are drawn near to justice this advent season because of Jesus. Through the grace that we receive in baptism and being fed at the table, we should desire to bear good fruit, not because we have to, but because we want to. Because we desire to encounter God in our neighbors and the stranger. The awesome thing is that Trinity does a fantastic job of this through our various ministries, including MCREST and the bags we recently filled for the Detroit Rescue Mission. By doing so, we speak boldly to the voices of injustice and proclaim more boldly with love. May you continue to be bold in your proclamation of love this holiday season.

Let us pray. God of justice, you raise up the sinner and fulfill the promise of resurrection. May we continue to be embraced in your love this season and respond in acting in justice for all of creation. Amen.

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Authority, What is it Good For?

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October 1, 2017

Who among us, would love to sit down with Jesus and ask him some questions? I am sure that we can all think of some questions to ask.

Would they be much different than the question that was asked by the priests and the elders, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

Several years ago Dr. Phil was being interviewed on television. One question asked, was “if you could interview anyone in the world, past or present, who would it be?” Dr. Phil replied, without hesitation, “Jesus Christ. I would like to have a conversation with him about the meaning of life.” If he had read today’s gospel, I wonder if Dr. Phil would still want to interview Jesus. For one thing, Jesus would not be a good interview. Time and time again, we read of his encounters in the gospels with those questioning him, and it is always turned back to those doing the questioning. Jesus would quickly turn the tables. Perhaps even literally, as he did in the Temple.

Dr. Phil would be sorry that he even posed this question to Jesus. After being turned upside down and inside out, Jesus would be encouraging him to sell everything he owned, give the money to the poor, and to follow him.

So, who is ready to interview Jesus?

There is clearly a difference in opinion from the chief priests and elders that have shown up in the Temple and what Jesus is teaching to those that are gathered to listen. Those listening to Jesus are eager to learn what he has to say and how that can affect their lives not only in the present, but also in the time to come.

The chief priests and elders are the ones that are accustomed to having the authority. People come to them to answer the questions and to solve the problems that come up in 1st century Jerusalem. The people, for the most part, have been complacent. Yes, you do have the occasional radical teacher that gets up and attempts to stir up trouble.

Jesus is different. The chief priests and the elders sense this, yet do not want to admit it. They know the answers to the questions that they are asking. They just do not want to hear them. They are being called out in front of everyone and this is not what they were expecting. They thought that they could quickly shut Jesus down. However, Jesus is different. His authority does not come from any human entity, and this is what they fear, and to some extent, already know deep in their hearts. They sense the authority that Jesus speaks with and are wondering where that leaves them.

Jesus is turning everything upside down and inside out.

Two thousand years later, we are not much different. We place ourselves in the same situations as the chief priests and elders. We question those areas in our lives that we do not like and when the answer is too hard for us to bear we either ignore it or try to make up excuses for our actions.

We struggle with authority today. Of course there are those that are in positions that naturally have authority assigned to them. Our elected officials are one example of this. In the business world, people are hired or placed into positions of authority as well. While it makes me uncomfortable, I know that pastors even hold a position of authority. In all of these positions, there is a difference between the actual authority that someone has and the authority that is perceived. This perceived authority can flow both ways.

Authority works alongside respect. If the person in authority does little to gain the respect of those that they are called to lead, then there is going to be resistance. We have seen this happen throughout the history of the world as we know it. Sometimes those that resist prevail and at other times those in authority attempt to quickly squash it.

While we are in the midst of remembering the Reformation, it is a good example of resistance. Martin Luther resisted the authority of the sixteenth century and listened to God. The more he studied, the more he began to question the direction of the church. In his words and actions, a reformation had been carried out that we are called to still carry forward today.

Acts of resistance happen to this day as humanity struggles to live into the world that God has given to us. This will continue to be so until we can sit down and talk to one another. To let Jesus guide us and take the words of the gospel seriously, compelling us to live as equals with our sisters and brothers.

Jesus brings an even greater resistance to the Roman Empire in the 1st century. This resistance made people uncomfortable and question everyone that was serving in a position of authority. While the chief priests and elders wished Jesus to have no authority at all, it was not theirs to take away.

In Jesus we find an authority that cannot be taken away by any earthly manner. It is not an authority from humans. It is an authority from God alone. As the questions surface, it is revealed that true authority lies in Jesus, and Jesus alone. It is in this that we encounter a grace which is greater than anything of our own making or doing.

Jesus does not say that the chief priests and elders are going to be left out of the kingdom of God. What he is saying is that they are going to have to wait their turn. In his response, Jesus’ intentions in both his question to the religious leaders of John’s baptism and in his question about which of the two sons did the will of the father, is that the God of Israel who gives him authority is the same God of Israel who welcomes sinners and prostitutes. (FOTW, Year A, Charlotte Dudley Cleghorn)

This is the grace of God that washes over all of us in our baptisms. Our role and position in life is not going to get us anywhere. It does not matter how much authority we have. The love of Christ welcomes all and at times may even surprise us. Our desire should be to walk arm and arm with each other, regardless of race, sex, ability, or sexuality. As we begin to do so in our earthly realm, we bring the kingdom of God just a little closer.

While we would all love to ask Jesus some questions, does it really matter. Where we can truly grow is through listening. Listening to our sisters and brothers that have different experiences to share. Listening to the words of Jesus as we read them in the bible. Listening to the Spirit speaking to us in our lives.

Perhaps, the questions that we should be asking should be directed to ourselves. What is it like to answer a question which you know the correct answer but do not want to hear? What is it like to be asked a question that may call you to change your mind, your way of being and doing? As we allow the Spirit to work with us in answering these questions, we begin to grow. Here we encounter the God that walks alongside us.

Let us pray, embracing God, you enter our lives in the most unexpected ways. We find you in the most difficult questions. May the Spirit continue to push and pull us into the kingdom that you have promised us. May our hearts and minds be open to all that is you. Amen.

Old Scratch: a Review

A Review of Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubter and the Disenchanted by Richard Beck.

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Before I picked up this book, I had never heard of the term Old Scratch when referring to the Devil. Richard Beck, a psychology professor, introduces the term after being reminded of it while leading a Bible study in a prison. The appearance of Satan, or the Devil, or Old Scratch, is alive and well in the prison system. It comes in the realization of the crimes that one has committed. It also comes with the fear of turning your back to some of the fellow inmates. It is also found within yourself.

The thought of a physical devil has always seemed to turn me off. While there is sin and brokenness that persists in our world, I believe that the “devil” is present in that and at times we fall to it. Beck appears to back up this understanding to some point, while not disregarding the fact that some people do truly succumb to demons within their lives and perhaps even need to be exorcised. Becks says, “a satan is more of a relationship than a person. Anything that is facing you in an antagonistic or adversarial way–working against you as an opponent or enemy–is standing before you as ha satan, as an adversary, as a satan” (pg. 8).

His whole thesis is that we need to get to a point where we are at spiritual warfare with those forces within our lives that are satan. While we are surrounded with the negative, God’s presence is also constantly around us, giving us comfort and support. It is true that the world is suffering, and has been from the time of creation, “and in the face of that suffering Jesus went about doing good and healing all those under the power of the devil” (pg 83).

It really comes down to the point that our world in counter-cultural to the one that Jesus brought into view with the Kingdom of God. At this time in our country, this really speaks to our current political state and the division within. “All of this is simply to say that the confession that Jesus is Lord of all turns the world upside down. But much closer to home, that confession turns my world upside down. Idolatry isn’t just about the nation-state. the kingdom of God uproots all the idols of my life, petty and great” (pg. 170).

The spiritual warfare he speaks of must be more than just saying we are going to pray for something. We must be called into action, to live and be with those that are struggling, and realize our own inward struggles. We must be up to “angelic troublemaking,” and provide a resistance to whatever gets in the way of the kingdom of God. Spiritual warfare is living the kingdom of God.

Beck takes the reader on a great history of thoughts on the devil and comes to a conclusion that speaks to the wholeness that God calls us to as God’s children. While his call to action may not be entirely new, it speaks to the greater need for humanity to be in touch with the greater spiritualness that surrounds us in our lives. It is a call to resistance to speaks to us in a bold prophetic way in our current time.