What Hope Can You Offer?

girl looking out from behind door
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/royryap/2336782175/">Roy Yap</a>

Galatians 1:1-5

A letter from Paul (and the rest of God’s family here with me), an Apostle whose authority is not connected with any human certification process or any human organization, but comes from Jesus himself, and from God who brought him back to life, to the gatherings in Galatia.

May God, who is our parent, and Jesus, who gave himself for our wrongdoing so that we could be free from the current mess the world is in, grant you grace and peace. That’s what God wanted. May God be forever acclaimed. Yes, may it be so.

As we look at Paul’s difficulties, perhaps one of the most fruitful possibilities is to learn from his mistakes.

Galatians is one of the earliest letters we have from Paul. (1 Thessalonians may be earlier, but it’s really a toss-up.) Perhaps what’s so astonishing about it is how things have gone so quickly sour. Already, it’s to the point that there is a broadly held misgiving among the churches throughout an entire region that Paul isn’t really a bona fide apostle. And who could blame them for being a little suspicious? After all, he wasn’t one of the twelve. To make matters worse, he wasn’t even in agreement with the twelve about a great many things.

Right at the beginning of this letter, Paul has to legitimate his claim to be an apostle, and the only legitimation he can give is that he has a vision straight from God. It was a hard sell then, and it’s still a hard sell now.

What buys Paul an audience, though, is his promise to make a case that Jesus can somehow get us out of the mess the world is in. If he can make a convincing case for that – well, maybe we’ll be able to believe the part about his direct line to God. It’s a hard case to make in just six short chapters.

So, what can we take away from this? An offer of hope trumps a claim to authority. Every time.

Instead of standing on ceremony, or insisting on credentials, or pulling rank, what hope can you offer the world today?

Don’t Be Afraid Just Because They Say So

Photo credit: ShandiLee

2 Peter 1:12-21

My intention is to keep reminding you of all this, even though you already know it and are convinced of its truth. So long as I’m alive, it’s the right thing for me to keep it fresh in your minds. And, since Jesus has told me that I won’t be around much longer, I’m doing my best to make sure you’ll keep remembering it after I’m gone.

When we told you about Jesus’ return to power we weren’t just perpetuate clever myths. We’d seen his majesty with our own eyes. He received honor and glory from God when the voice came to him from great glory saying, “This is my son, and I’m proud of him.” We heard the voice ourselves on the sacred mountain. Our word is truly reliable, and you’d best pay attention to it. It’s your light in a dark place, until daylight dawns and your hearts discern the morning star.

So first, get this: no truth of scripture is open to individual interpretation because no truth ever came from human effort. Rather, men and women spoke what God’s spirit moved them to speak.

From God’s lips to our ears. Simple as Ross Perot. Either you believe it or you don’t. Black or white, darkness or light. And there’s no room for any shades of gray. And certainly no minority report.

Except that the whole Bible is full of minority reports. Really, the whole Bible is a minority report.

But the best evidence that this particular passage is not what it claims to be is that it’s whole premise is fear. Do as we say, or you’ll be sorry. And it’s appeal to guilt. I’m going to die soon, so listen to a pathetic old man. Either Peter toward the end of his life still didn’t get the “fear not, you are forgiven” message Jesus was talking about, or (which is the most likely case) it’s not Peter writing. But it is among the origins of Christian fundamentalism.

Today insecure guilt-ridden people with no tolerance for dissent still co-opt the memory of Jesus to build their own empires. Sad, that they dupe so many people. But, always just as recognizable. Just look for fear and guilt.

I wish I could find something positive to say about it. I can’t. But I do have some advice. If you’re living in a community that holds Jesus and God over you to make you afraid and prohibits your consideration of any opinion other than it’s own, you don’t have to live that way. It’s not Jesus. It’s abuse.

Jesus’ Strategy for Church Bullies

Cartoon by David Hayward

Mark 1:21-28

On they went to Capernaum where, on the holy day, they went to church. And he started teaching. People were captivated with what he had to say because he had real conviction about it, rather than just droning on like the clergy. Right away, though, a person with an evil spirit started yelling: “You’ve got nothing to do with us, Jesus of Nowheresville. You’ve come here to wreck our church, haven’t you, you holier-than-thou-think-you’re-a-big-shot!”

But Jesus said, “Shut up and get out of here!” And the evil one left, shaking his fists and screaming obscenities all the way out the door.

Everyone was unsettled, whispering among themselves, saying, “How’d he do that? That took cojones! He even tells the s-o-bs where to get off – and they do!” And so he began to be famous around the region.

There’s one in every crowd. Every pastor arriving at a new congregation has to face the church bully. But you can find them in classrooms and offices, on the work-floor, at the PTA, and at the family reunion.

And as long as they get to be in charge things can simmer along in quiet unpleasantness. The clergy, the bosses, the teachers are free to drone on and on. Nothing exceptional happens. No mission happens. But try to start something exceptional, something remarkable, something worthwhile and all hell breaks loose. They’ll call you all kinds of names. They’ll make it personal.

Jesus has none of it. “Shut up and get out,” is the only appropriate response to a bully. They don’t go quietly. And, as Mark’s gospel continues we’ll see that they don’t stop making a commotion even after they’ve left. But the only way to make remarkable things happen is to keep them on the outside and shut them down.

And, yes, it takes real cojones to do it.

You Have the Power. Live It!

No Sermon, Pastor In LasVegas
Photo Credit: The Atomic Eye

Matthew 21:23-32

While Jesus was occupying the National Cathedral, the bishops and the priests came to interrupt his teaching, saying, “Show us your papers, and tell us who you’re working for?”

Jesus said, “Here’s the deal, you tell me something first, and then I’ll give you what you want. But first you tell me whether John’s baptism was heaven-sent, or if he just made it up himself.”

They debated among themselves: “If we say John was authorized by heaven, he’ll ask us why we didn’t believe him. But if we say he just invented it himself the crowds here, who all think he was heaven-sent, will lynch us.” So they said, “We don’t know.”

“Fine,” said Jesus. “Then I’m not showing you my papers either.

“But think about this:

A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, “Son, you need to put in a day’s work at the family business.” And the son said, “Hell, no.” But later on, he went anyway.

The man went to the second son with the same order, and the second son said, “Yes, Sir!” But then he never showed up.

“Now which son did what his father asked?”

“The first one,” they said.

Jesus said, “No doubt there are bookies and whores who are closer to God than you lot. John told you how to do right, but you passed him off. But there were bookies and whores who got it. And even when you saw they got it, you still ignored the truth he was telling you about yourselves.”

Jesus did tell them whose authority he had that day. But, in the same way they didn’t get what John was saying, they didn’t get what Jesus was saying either. Jesus got his authority from his baptism – John’s baptism – in which Jesus, along with the bookies, whores and rest of the crowds who were there that day “got” that they were all children of God.

It’s the same authority everyone has who has “got” that they are God’s children. And, in the same way, anyone of any religion or no religion, who has “got” a calling and knows who they really are has that same authority. It’s the authority of knowing oneself to be fully human. As such, Jesus’ authority and yours and mine is no less than any other human on the planet.

In spite of those who think of themselves as “higher authorities” and set up social, economic, political, and religious systems wherein everyone else is robbed of theirs, Jesus and the rest of us have the power to do what we are called to do, by virtue of our humanity – even if that means occupying the National Cathedral (or any other idolatrous monument).

This is what the parable is about. Those who, in spite of rough beginnings, discover their calling and show up for life – live. Those who talk a good line about how everybody else ought to live, but never show up to live it themselves – don’t.