Sunday, September 21, 2014

Serving in the Church or Sitting at Jesus' Feet: Martha and Mary May Challenge Church Attendance and Ministry

The famous story of Martha and Mary may serve as a challenge to today's questions about the role of the church organization in knowing who Jesus is and what he wants from us.

I left both the church as an attendee and as a minister to arguably sit at the feet of the One I purported to serve. And yes, I have been misunderstood by those who serve in the kitchen (read: church) who are working their asses off trying to do what might make the most sense. 

But Jesus, as he was wont to do, turned conventional and apparently godly perspectives on their heads by lauding Mary's choice to lazily but eagerly sit at his feet and hear his words over diligently and anxiously working at having a good church service to honor him.

It doesn't seem too much of a stretch at all to make this application today. Jesus' teachings and their subsequent documentation may go further and deeper than what we have assumed to be a simple application of not being so busy to take time to be in prayer. Perhaps this text stretches our understanding of American church activity and what can and should be Christian living. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Spirit of Zebedee is not the Spirit of God

James and John may have left their father in the boat when they responded to Jesus' invitation to become fishers of men but they still carried his "spirit". We applaud their courage to leave their "world" and what they thought they knew to be a part of an inner circle with a man and a message that attracted them. But some things aren't exposed immediately and time and experience are required for some things to come to light.

I'm guessing that these boys were steeped in the tradition and writings of their religious community. They may have even thought that they were like their father Abraham when they left their father to follow Jesus into unchartered territory. They new of Elijah and the God he represented when hearing the story of fire being called down on those who reject Yahweh. They learned the spirit of their father that embedded its perspective so deeply that it took a particular incident for it to be exposed. And this spirit was not accurate, in spite of the prophet that demonstrated it and the Scripture that documented it.

We know this because of what we have recorded in Luke 9: 51-56. James and John probably thought they would be commended for not only paying attention in Sunday School, but also for finding a relevant and timely application for what they had learned. They were confident in their theology. Their eagerness to judge people and wipe them out was confronted and condemned by God in Jesus Christ. The spirit of Zebedee was trumped by the Spirit of God.

They were ready and willing to use the Scripture but they lacked the right spirit. This is like the Pharisees who brought the adulterous woman to Jesus quoting Scripture but failing to know the Spirit. Jesus redirected them too.

I come from the same background in which I learned the Bible and embraced judgementalism as part of the spirit of God. Yes, I had left "my father" in "the boat with the hired servants" feeling sure of my personal conversion. I even went into professional ministry for 25 years. But I see myself in James and John, quick to judge in self-perceived righteousness but slow to understand how that spirit is not the right Spirit.

By Gods grace and the Spirit and words of Jesus, I, like James and John, am being confronted at deeper levels of theological error. The Spirit of God filters our interpretations of Scripture to more accurately reflect the God of the universe.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

John the Baptist lost his head long before he lost his head

John the Baptist had job security. Growing up he undoubtedly learned who he was as his father's son and what the future held for him. He would be a priest like his dad with clearly assigned tasks and times when those tasks would be performed. And he would embrace this destiny because it was instituted, ordained and supervised by the one true God. John didn't ask to be born into this family business but he could've felt the fortune other kids couldn't by being so.

Why, then, do we read about him being in the wilderness? How did his family feel about this clear rejection of their expectations? And how could he so blatantly turn against what the Torah so clearly instructed him to be and do? What possible "message" could be more important and valuable than that which was documented in the Scriptures of their day?

I like to think that I feel John. I feel the ministerial expectations of family and friends. I feel the angst of challenging the environment in which I was raised and the dogma I was fed to digest a message that appears to be out of sync with the religious culture of my day. And yet I feel, like John, I suppose, that what I am experiencing and what I am becoming is driven by the same Yahweh of my father too.

Certainly his son's direction was not easily understood and accepted by Zacharias, let alone the faith community.

But instead of getting credentialed and bringing who God is evolving him to be and the message that drives his being into the religious culture, Jon goes to the wilderness. Instead of seeking change from the inside out, John is "called" to a setting that will only allow, at best, change from the outside. And that's where insiders would go to get this annointed message from an unlikely messenger.

Once John accepted his calling, how did he proceed? Did he advertise? Did he go tent to tent on his bicycle inviting others to come hear him preach on Sunday morning? Did he start a blog and create a Facebook page for people to "like"?

We don't know. What we read is that people went to him. We assume people of all classes mad ages. We read that the established religious representatives quizzed him about his role. Perhaps they knew he was supposed to be working on this "inside" and they felt obligated to get him back on the conventional wagon. After all, God as they had come to believe wouldn't operate so unconventionally.

I find myself having rejected the conventional position on the inside of a church, preaching messages that might smack of anti-establishment themes in hopes of changing the religious culture of our time. Me and my "message" have moved to the wilderness waiting for God to validate what is happening in me. If it has merit, somehow insiders will find me and listen. If not, I'll be satisfied with locusts and wild honey when I could've had the spoils of temple sacrifices.

I hope it's worth losing my head over.