Encountering the Ten Commandments for the First Time, Again.

This Sunday’s lectionary text is a very familiar one – even for marginal church attenders and those have no desire for church.   It is the first account of the giving of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17).  We hear a lot about the Ten Commandments these days.  Especially where they should be or shouldn’t be displayed.  Everyone has an opinion.  Everyone is looking to control them.  But what does God have to say about the commandments that God gave?   These, after all, are created and given by God to humankind for our good.  In assuming this is an old and familiar story, are we missing how the commandments are life-giving?  In the fight for where they fit into our cultural life, are we missing the commandments purpose?

In my study this week, I’ve been challenged to see the commandments anew – as a life-giving gift that helps us lead a life that reflects the character and image of God.  If God is trustworthy, faithful, peaceful and desiring of relationship with creation, then we must live our lives in ways that resemble this.  Often, we read these commandments as negatives.  And they are written as such … “thou shall not…”  But the commands are parameters that are given for our benefit.  What if the class was challenged to write the commandments in the affirmative:  “Thou shall…”  or “You get to…”  or “Blessed are those who…”

In lieu of my own exegesis this week, (theological talk for critical explanation or interpretation of a text) I offer you all the following resources that shaped my study this week.  They are worth your consideration.  Two commentaries found online:

http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/lent-3b-2/?type=the_lectionary_gospel  Be sure to scroll down to the Exodus commentary found after the commentary on the gospel lesson.

http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2368  This commentary is more dense but worth wading into.  Among other things, it address our proclivity to control God rather than to allow God to guide us.

Finally, a reflection from Barbara Brown Taylor, found in the Feasting on the Word preaching commentary:

“Since the giving of the Torah on Sinai is celebrated during the Jewish festival of Shavuot, a wealth of story and tradition surrounds the first hearing of the commandments.  One midrash says that the people had little choice but to accept Torah from God, since God plucked up Sinai and held it over their heads, threatening to drop the mountain on them if they did not received the commandments.  In happy counterpoint to this legend, more and more religious Jews observe the first night of Shavuot by staying up all night to study Torah, Talmud and other sacred writings together.  They offer this annual all-night gathering, known as tikkun, for the mending of the world.”

If nothing else, stories and traditions like these remind Christian interpreters of the Ten Teachings that these teachings have been around a long time.  They are never our possession, any more than the God who uttered them is.  Instead, we stand among a people counted as God’s peculiar possession, set apart by holy speech and practice for the mending of God’s holy world.”  -Barbara Brown Taylor

How can the world be mended by our living in response to the Ten Commandments?

Taking Up Our Cross

The challenge to those we teach today is to understand the cross and apply it to our circumstances.

What is a cross?  Its symbolism and meaning are ubiquitous today.  It’s certainly more than an intersection of two lines.  It’s a fashion accessory for many.  We see it in appear in all types of art.  For sure, its a symbol of our faith.  We see placed prominently in Christian churches of all stripes.  We see it used as a memorial and in cemeteries.  Its presence can bring peace and assurance to our life and faith.  But unfortunately, it has also been misused over time as a symbol of intolerance, threat and fear.  Certain “Christian” bodies have used it to signify that their perspective is right and all others best move out of the way. While this is as far from the message of Christ as one can get, it actually is in keeping with the original Roman intent for the cross.

A Roman cross wasn’t a thing of beauty.  It was something to be feared.  It was an instrument the Roman authorities used to establish their rule far beyond Rome as they subdued people and civilizations that stretched as far north as modern day England, as far south as Morocco, and as far east as Iraq.  In doing so, they achieved a span of about 200 years, between 27 BC and 180 AD, which is known as “Pax Romana,” or Roman Peace.  During this time, their empire thrived, intricate roads were built connecting this vast empire and aqueducts carried fresh water into cities and dirty water away.  But the cross may have been one of its most useful instruments.

The cross was a popular method of dispatching threats to the empire. “Romans practiced both random and intentional violence against populations they had conquered, killing tens of thousands by crucifixion,” says New Testament scholar Hal Taussig, who is with the Union Theological Seminary in New York.

Crosses were then used as a way to repress any possible insurrection.  They were usually set up in public places, like at a crossroad, and became a signpost to all who traveled that Caesar and Rome was a power to take seriously.  This cross did not offer people traveling directions but rather, with a corpse left hanging on it offered directions of another kind:  Know your place in this Roman order and everything will remain peaceful for you.  Make even the slightest waves in opposition and you can expect to join this man on your own cross.  These “signposts” were found all over the Roman world.

This is what the disciples had in their minds when Jesus, after being identified as the Messiah, announced “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  Can you imagine both the horror and confusion that must have surrounded them?  This gifted rabbi that people had been flocking to hear speak and be healed by is telling us that he is the long awaited savior of our people.  He’s the Messiah!  But instead of saving us from the oppressive Romans, he is asking us to embrace their form of submission!

No wonder Peter, who first identifies Jesus as the Messiah, reacts so forcefully at Jesus’ teaching of his rejection.  Peter, like many of us, wants to take control of the situation and preserve his leader and movement.  Given the context of the Roman world, perhaps Jesus is simply stating a fact.  If I am what you say I am, the local authorities and ultimately Rome’s response will be to kill me.  But Peter’s desire to fight fire with fire was not the agenda God had planned for his son.  And, after forty days of training in the wilderness to resist satan’s temptations, Jesus’ work pays off as he resists any plan of self-preservation, even when it comes from his star pupil.

Would-be messiahs were nothing new in first century Palestine.  More than a few had risen to prominence, with their own band of disciples and the cause of God and nationalism as their banner.  Violence and death were always their end as they resisted the empire’s strength.  After each demise, there was nothing left to show for their efforts.  Jesus’ call was to embrace, on behalf of his followers, the path of savior through martyrdom.  Looking back at the witness of Christ in the gospels, it appears that part of God’s beautiful plan was that only through the embrace of self-sacrifice can the movement of God’s reign ever come in any significance.

What does this scripture have to say to followers of Christ today?  What kind of self denial and cross is Jesus asking us to carry?   And how abrupt and difficult is such a message to our ears?  To answer, we must first start with the question, “who do we say Jesus is?”

Who do we say Jesus is?  This question makes all the difference.  If we are going to take up our cross, we first have to believe the cause is worthy of suffering.

This is the question that gets this whole scene started.  Jesus and his disciples have been traveling from town to town preaching God’s kingdom, casting out demons and healing the sick.  He’s developed quite a fan club.  And Jesus wants to gauge his disciples by asking them about the folks they are encountering.  What are they saying about me?  Do they recognize me?  But ultimately, he wants to know if they, who have been with him the most, recognize him for who he really is.

When Peter makes his confession, the wheels start to turn. A messiah by any other name than Caesar is someone with a mark squarely on his shoulders.  The disciples have given up everything to follow him.  With this news, they may have to give up their life.  Peter and the others were probably ready to die for Jesus’ cause, to go down swinging in a fight against the evils of the empire.  What Peter did not like, what he didn’t fully understand, was Jesus’ acceptance of what seemed like defeat.  His teaching that he would die seemed like a certainty, not a possibility.  How could the Messiah be victorious when he was ready to accept death at the hands of the enemy?

Yet, as the story plays out, Jesus’ death is not the end but rather the beginning.  Jesus’ death changes everything.  Jesus’ willingness to trust fully in God’s authority over everything rather than the Ceasar’s violent version of reality, put Jesus on a cross but brought those who follow him life.  Today the Pax Romana is but an ancient history lesson.  But the gospel of Christ is embodied in every person who believes and follows.  Jesus’ death and resurrection was the ultimate signal that humans, no matter how powerful or threatening they appear, can’t really have any lasting power over God’s creation.

So, how we understand who Jesus is will make a difference in how we understand the cross that Jesus asks us to carry, and our willingness to pick it up and follow him.  What is our cross today?  Is it worth our sacrifice in order to bear it?

The challenge to those we teach today is to understand the cross and apply it to our circumstances.  The cross may not mean a literal death or martyrdom.  Rather, it may mean that we have to daily say no to things that stand in the way of our ability to fully trust in God alone.  What systems and technologies do we trust more than God?  Are we able to fully claim the way of Jesus above the way of capitalism, a particular political point of view, the threat of violence, a work ethic that drives us to continuous work or lifestyles that compromise our ability to see God at work and join God there?

These lifestyles, as an example, are not necessarily scandalous.  But, it very well may be in our comfort, in our overwhelming options of how to use our time and wealth, that we choose being served rather than serving. What does this look like?  If it is a continual guilt trip, then we don’t want it.  But, I think the Jesus way is a simple truth that our life is more than the conveniences we have become enslaved to.  As we follow Christ, we start to recognize this but too often we give into our own Peter rebuking us, trying to keep us safe, in a predictable place we can control.

Following Jesus is a greatest adventure.  Walking in his footsteps brings us purpose beyond anything else society can offer.  The tension is that society doesn’t want this adventure and doesn’t trust it or celebrate it.  Society wants to stay in a system that is predictable and controllable.  The adventure of faithfully following Jesus will either go under the radar of popular culture or it will be rejected.  This is just one of the crosses we as Christians are called to bear.  Being unpopular, crazy or both.

So, what does it mean to bear our cross?  We have collective crosses we must bear faithfully for God such as coming to terms with gun violence in America.  And we all have our own crosses that require sacrifice and faith to bear.  What will it look like for a community of Christ followers to bear our burdens (our crosses) together?  Is it possible?  I pray and hope that it is.

For a radical example of taking up the cross, Greg and Helms Jerrell have followed Jesus’ call to minister among a marginalized neighborhood in Charlotte, NC (http://qcfamilytree.org/).  Instead of pastoring in a church setting, which would have perhaps brought them more comforts and middle class lifestyle, they were called to Enderly Park.  Their choice has made them who they are and they wouldn’t change a thing!  A mission team will go to serve with them and learn with them June 27-30.  Sign up at http://www.hrbcrichmond.org/my-hrbc

Our Limiting God

“This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and everything living around you and everyone living after you. I’m putting my rainbow in the clouds, a sign of the covenant between me and the Earth. From now on, when I form a cloud over the Earth and the rainbow appears in the cloud, I’ll remember my covenant between me and you and everything living, that never again will floodwaters destroy all life. When the rainbow appears in the cloud, I’ll see it and remember the eternal covenant between God and everything living, every last living creature on Earth.” – Genesis 9:12-16, The Message

We study a familiar story this week, but we skip the two-by-two part along with the rains come tumbling down section and head straight to what God promises creation after the floodwaters subside.  In Genesis 9, we find the first mention of a covenant in the Bible.

In the ancient near east, a covenant was an agreement between two groups.  Most always, this agreement was a promise made by a conquering kingdom to not destroy the conquered kingdom and even protect this people in exchange for access to the conquered’s resources and land.  The agreement is reciprocal but not equal:  We the conquering will not destroy you but will protect you as long as we have access to the resources that will make us greater.  There is clearly a have and a have-not.

What we see in the covenant promise that God makes to Noah’s family on behalf of all creation is different.  Clearly God is the powerful player in this scene.  God has just all but wiped out his creation, save for Noah’s family and the two-by-twos.  But as one scholar puts it, God appears to be just a little shocked at the display of his strength toward creation. Therefore, God makes a unique covenant, a one-sided covenant, with the people and animals that God delivered.  In doing so, he sets his bow down in the clouds, as a warrior would do when he has come home from battle.

This rainbow becomes a sign for God and a reminder that he will never destroy creation again.  The rainbow acts as a reminder to God.  I admit I’ve never given much thought to the rainbow being a reminder for God.  I’ve always seen it as a reassuring sign for creation.  Why does God need reminding?

Perhaps it is because when God promises to not destroy, God is limiting his ability to bring to an end to his creation.  And from time to time, humanity’s propensity to selfishness might just frustrate God enough to consider it again.  And why would God want to do this?  If we look back to Genesis 6:5, we read that God saw the wickedness that had overtaken all of creation  – that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only to evil continually.  And God is sorry about his creation – enough to blot them out; except there is Noah. So God saves the only family that found favor in his sight.  And God destroyed the rest!

We don’t spend much time on this part of the flood story, do we?  We love the faithfulness of Noah and the way God saves his family and all the animals.  Its safe.  We make it a children’s story and decorate nurseries with these images.  But the times leading up to the flood and the catastrophic flood are far from G-rated!  There are very adult themes here.  God was fed up with the evil in his creation’s heart.  Seems like the world was like Las Vegas, times ten!  Even God’s angels got into the mess, falling in love with women and impregnating them with giants!  Really?  Read Genesis 6:1-4.

To harken back to Adam and Eve’s original sin, it appears that the people of Noah’s day had no regard for God or his commands, which were created for the purpose of humanity’s flourishing.  People had their mind set on evil, day and night (6:5).  I take this to mean people did whatever made them feel good, putting their desire ahead of the good of the whole and the order that God had created.  Such disregard for God, the divine parent who cared so much for creation, was enough for any mortal to give up.  And for a moment, so the scripture says, so did God.

But there was Noah. God provided the necessary instructions for Noah’s family to survive.  They boarded a ship and the floods came.  But what about all those bent on evil?  What happened to them?  They got what they deserved, right?  Can you picture the hopeless struggle as the waters rush and rise?  Its not a pretty sight.  And now that Noah, his family and the animals had survived, God, fresh from his victory in battle, is ready to lay his weapon down for good.

What must it be like to be angry at creation?  Many of us have been angry at our children, sure.  But angry enough to kill?  Is this really the kind of God we read about in the rest of our Bible and worship?  Its hard to imagine.  But his wrath is right there in scripture. Is there more to this?

Since the beginning, civilizations have had their flood narratives.  What does one do when everything they know is wiped out by rushing water?  When lightening strikes from the sky?  Thunder rolls overhead?  We know a lot about the weather today (although not enough to control it or even predict it well).  But in ancient times, this was all mysterious and assigned to the anger of God.  Certainly, we know that sin is pervasive and at times almost irresistible to humanity.  Its can be enough for anyone (even a deity) to want to give up.

Recalling that much of the Torah was written down during the Babylonian exile, what might the homeless Israelites have thought of this story?  They believed their continual sin had carried them away into exile.  Might flood stories also be explained as righteous anger?

The beauty of God’s covenant is that, no matter the cause of the flood, we see God taking initiative to promise that no matter what evil may come in the future, God will not destroy, even though it may be tempting as evil can be so frustrating and hurtful.  But God is willing to be limited so that even when humanity turns to evil all the time (and I think we can admit it still happens) God will refuse to destroy.

With this in mind, I think the story can be more about who the LORD God is in contrast to those other near eastern gods.  Whatever resemblance God and the flood may have had in other flood stories, the covenanting God who limits his power out of love and compassion for creation is a far more compelling and, in the end, powerful.  It is also a foreshadowing of God’s final redemptive work through Jesus, as he limits himself all the more, taking the form of a human and denying any divine privilege. (Philippians 2)

What I take from this story is God does hate the state that sin leaves us in but loves us so much that he finds another way around the sin problem.  It wasn’t through destroying his wayward creation but being vulnerable enough to conquer the sin that would put Christ to death.

One last feature I noticed, with the help of others: God’s bow – the rainbow – is taut, as if strung and ready for action.  A bow that is strung will look more like the bending arch in the sky than one that is not loaded.  This could reflect that God is patient with his creation even though his patience is tense, full of pent up energy.  He’s laid his bow down but it doesn’t mean God is OK with the evil that remains in creation.  And because God was willing to suffer at the hands of evil, God knows all the better the terror that it inflicts on us.  Just look at the evil that leads one teenager to kill so many other innocents this week.  And even how we are becoming so used to it.  So, no.  God isn’t OK with the evil that woos us.  So, just as the rainbow is a reminder to God that he will never destroy his creation for even this, the strung, tense bow should also be a reminder that God doesn’t take our sin lightly.  In righteous love, God has defeated evil through his incarnational sacrifice.  But in God’s righteous anger, God is still burdened by the sin that keeps us from fully knowing and seeing his love, this side of the kingdom.

Therefore, I believe that anyone who suffers for righteousness sake, who stands up for God’s creation in the face of evil can expect to suffer but also expect to be blessed.  (Beatitudes, Matthew 5)

  • How does our lesson speak to God’s radical love in the face of even the heartbreaking events of this week?
  • While God will not destroy us because of our sin, what might the taut roundness of the rainbow reveal about God’s attitude toward sin?
  • Following God’s example, should our attitude toward sin be different than our attitude to those who sin?  How does our attitude toward sin and sinners reflect that God’s Kingdom is available to all?

 

 

Brilliant Dust

On Wednesday, we observed Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent.  In comparison to other Christian observances, this one may strike us as the strangest. On our way to resurrection and God’s plan of making all things new, what do we need to know about frailty, dust, death and repentance?  Lent, oddly, reminds us of our place in God’s larger story.  Still not a fan?  Hear me out.

The common refrain we hear during the imposition of ashes are the words: “Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return.”  Pleasant, I know, but this is on purpose.  In Genesis 2:7, we read of how God formed man from the dust of the ground.  We are created from dust.  And if we pay attention to the places we live and work, we notice we are good at creating dust.  Our bodies are constantly shedding and creating new skin. We are literally dust.

But the story doesn’t end with dust.  Genesis 2:7 continues to say “the Lord God breathed into the nostrils of this man and he became a living being.”  We are who we are because we carry God’s breath.  The word for human or man in these verses is adam, which means dirt in Hebrew and adamah means ground or land.  So God formed us from the dirt of God’s creation and gave us our uniqueness among all creation when God breathed divine breath into us.

Equipped with God’s life-giving breath, God empowers humans to have dominion over the dirt of the world.  With our God-given breath, we are able to cultivate life from the dirt which sustains us and all other living creatures.  But if we are honest, we are also capable these days of much more than sustaining lives.  We are also capable of destroying life, too.

As we quickly see in the next two chapters of Genesis, these special creatures called humans are also capable of turning their backs on their creator and capable of destroying God’s very good creation.  So, from Genesis 4 through today,  we continue to deal with this tension of creativity and destruction.  We see such beauty in our world.  People are capable of such kindness and self-sacrifice, one to another.  But people are also capable of destruction, cruelty and selfishness, too.

And before we, who were given the responsibility of divine creativity, alters God’s good work to an unrecognizable wasteland of greed and hubris that leads to destruction, we need a reminder of who we are and our place in God’s world (not our world).  The jarring words “remember – you are dust” are there to save us.  God created you with divine breath.  You bear the resemblance of God.  But you must also remember that none of us are God.

Acknowledging that we are not God is getting harder these days.  No one really goes around calling themselves god.  But check our behavior.  How often do we as individuals or as a society consult with our creator before moving ahead with our latest project that may impact the earth, the oceans or fellow human beings?  Our behavior reflects our unwillingness to accept that we are dust, that our bodies wear out and that our planet is also finite.  What it does show that we are deeply interested in ourselves.  We would make poor gods, at least when compared to the true God in whose likeness we are created.

And since we are created in God’s image and with God’s breath, the good news in all of these ashes is that there is deep meaning and purpose in our lives.  When we acknowledge that God created us with the responsibility to take this very good creation and do something beautiful with it, well, that should both scare us and excite us!

To quote one theologian’s musings on our spectacular dustiness:

“To regard ourselves responsible for our future, responsible for the very human race itself and the very planet itself, is not arrogance but recognition of the truth.  But all such human responsibility depends on one immense condition, that we never forget that we too are creatures, children of the same Majesty who formed the planet and the suns and galaxies which surround us.  In that sense, created and formed, given the gift of life, we are dust.  Brilliant dust? Yes.  Creative, thinking dust?  Yes, but still dust.  For all the brilliance and creativity and thought and imagination within that dust are the shimmering traces of that divine breath within us.”  -Herbert O’Driscoll, A Year of the Lord

Put a different way, we’ve been given this one brilliant and beautiful gift of a life from our creator.  How will we use it?  Will it reflect the intention and desires of our Lord?  Will it lift up and and bless both the creator and creation as worthy investments of our time, our creativity and praise?  Or will our abilities be forgotten and lost in self-adulation and even destruction?

Such questions remind me of a Switchfoot song, Live it Well, which asks the same kind of questions.

Healing Presence

Below, I start by restating the student sheet introduction statements.  Then, I give my impressions followed by a couple of video illustration suggestions.

What is important to know?  Jesus is not scared of brokenness – either physical or spiritual.  His willingness and ability to heal draws a crowd.  Jesus can give them what they long for.  What is it that they long for?  (Wholeness?  Acceptance?  New life?)

Where is God in these words?  Jesus’ healing is powerful.  The Greek word egeiro is used here and in Mark 16:6 in reference to Jesus’ resurrection.  It seems that Jesus’ work is not healing just for healing sake.  It is restorative.  For Simon’s mother in law, her social responsibility to was to provide for guests when they were present in her home.  Today, her guest was none other that the Son of God!   The healing restored to her the social expectation and meaning for a homemaker in 1st century Palestine.  It restored her dignity.  Don’t mistake the role of Simon’s mother as normative for today, however.  That would be missing the point!

So what does this mean for our lives? God recognized that nearness and even touch were important for building a relationship and trust.  Thus, God put on flesh and came near to his creation he was seeking to re-connect.  The incarnation, God becoming flesh, is a astounding show of God’s love for creation.  Jesus was willing to come into contact with all kinds – no matter their ailment.  That means none of us are ever to far gone for Jesus to come near to us and restore us!  In Mark 1, that included the demon possessed, the sick and the unclean – those skin diseases believed to be spread by touch.  If Christians are considered the body of Christ, what does our willingness or unwillingness to associate with others say about who Jesus is?

Now what is God’s word calling us to do?   How have we been healed and restored by God’s word or by God’s healing touch?  How has that healing allowed us to use our words and deeds to heal and restore others?

All of us are children of God, created in the image of God.  All of us also live in a world where sin still is present.  We can’t deny it – every new day brings heartache and disappointment for so many.  Our human condition brings with it the capacity to do great and creative things and to fail; to hurt others and let others down.  Some bodies are capable of at one point running a sub-four minute mile or jumping hurdles and the next moment succumbing to cancer.  It leads us all to ask, where is God in this?  If we are created in God’s image, why all the pain, the sickness, the heartbreak?  How are we, God’s children, capable of such beauty and such evil?  The simple answer, of course, is sin.  The sin that started in our inability to fully trust God but rather to think of ourselves as God.  Its that same sin, our desire to think of ourselves as God that prevents us from most fully reflecting the image of God.  Rather, its in our humility to trust God fully and to put our neighbor first that is ironically the way we reflect the divine.

Mark introduces Jesus, the Son of God, in fast-paced snippets.  We learn about John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism, Jesus’ wilderness temptations, Jesus’ proclamation that he embodied God’s reign come near and his call of his first disciples, all within the first 20 verses of chapter one!

Then, we find Jesus teaching in the synagogue on a Sabbath.  He spoke with authority, which is to say he was interpreting the scriptures without the help of another teacher or prophet.  (See N. T. Wright, Mark for Everyone p. 11, last paragraph).  Who better to recognize the authority of his teaching than the demon possessing a man present in the synagogue?  The demon obeys Jesus’ command and the assembly is amazed.

The scene switches to Simon’s mother-in-law’s home.  There, she is sick and unable to offer the typical hospitality that was expected of a first century Jewish home.    We don’t know anything about her illness.  But what seems to be significant is that Jesus is able to restore her health in such an effective way that she begins to serve her guests.  I don’t think this is a story about God’s desire for gender roles.  What it does speak to, however, is that in Jesus’ day, a woman’s role was wrapped up in her ability to offer hospitality to her guests.  Her sickness may have been grave.  She may have been brought back from the brink.  But at the least, her dignity was restored as she was able to provide what her peers would have expected her to do with guests in her home.

In the section after our reading, Jesus and his disciples happen upon a leper.  Lepers were some of the untouchable in Jesus’ day, with fear that their skin disease would be caught not just by touch but if they were within eye shot of others.   Therefore, lepers existed outside towns, alone and ostracized. This leper also recognizes who Jesus is and asks for healing.  Jesus is filled with compassion instead of repulsed as most would have been. (the Greek is splagchnizomai which is translated indignant or filled with compassion)  He reaches out and touches the leper!  And the leper is healed.

What do these miracles have in common?  What do they mean for we who follow Jesus, today?

For each of these people, the man demon possessed, the sick mother-in-law and the leper, were all  in one form or another considered less than whole.  One was possessed.  We may consider this person mentally ill today although this is to not diminish the reality demonic forces.  One could no longer do the tasks that gave her meaning. And the last was completely cut off from the community because of a physical ailment. But, when, in the NT, the person with leprosy was declared clean, it was her/his ticket to re-enter community, to be engaged again in work, family, worship, life. When the demonized person was set free, s/he was set free to fully connect again with others. Simon’s mother-in-law was raised to do the things that gave her purpose and meaning. The person who carried a sick one to Jesus walked home arm-in-arm with that one. These are not stories of magic; they are stories of human community being healed from the brokenness that sickness, disease, and mental illness can bring.

We know of the faithful Christians who do not receive the healing they prayed for, who suffer in a quiet but dignified way.  Is there hope for them in this scripture?  There is, if healing equals human connection.  If healing means God’s love for humanity does not depend on what society deems as acceptable.  If healing means that because of God’s work in Jesus, all can find full communion with God.  But this truth must be echoed in the way Christians in the present treat all God’s children.  That all people are worthy of our care, our time and our effort.

Martin Luther King’s vision of a Beloved Community that reflects God’s reign is the outcome of this kind of healing.  To offer a quote from Dr. King:  “But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. The type of love that I stress here is not eros, a sort of esthetic or romantic love; not philia, a sort of reciprocal love between personal friends; but it is agape which is understanding goodwill for all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. It is the love of God working in the lives of men. This is the love that may well be the salvation of our civilization.”

from “The Role of the Church in Facing the Nation’s Chief Moral Dilemma,” 1957

God’s Kingdom, God’s rule is evident in this world when, in seeking God first, we are able to offer to others the dignity of a love that seeks to elevate others instead of ourselves.  As Jesus says later in Mark:  Whoever wants to be first among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  (Mark 10:43-44).

Did you see Patch Adams when it was released in 1998?  It is the true story of an unconventional Dr. who learned to offer healing to others in unconditional ways.  In one scene, he brings laughter to children suffering from cancer in a sterile and serious hospital ward. https://youtu.be/byPJ22JDFjI  In another he argues that all people can be doctors when they see one another not as patients or problems but as people who can offer healing. https://youtu.be/Pr9ruvxA3K4 These clips may be helpful in illustrating the point or starting a conversation.

Discernment, Calling and MLK

Today’s lesson asks learners to consider how Samuel’s discernment of God’s call on him informs how we, in present day, discern God’s call.  This is an important topic!  How we hear, understand and interpret the voice of God will determine how we make choices big and small, treat our neighbors and bear witness to God.  So, getting discernment right is critical.  In 2014, the church went through a brief discernment exercise in order to hear God’s voice and know God’s longings for our church’s worship services.  I wrote a discernment guide each class used.  In advance of this Sunday’s lesson, I think it is important to take a look at an excerpt of that guide.


What is Discernment?

In its simplest form, spiritual discernment is the choosing between two perceived good options, through the leadership of God’s Holy Spirit.   Discernment shifts the question, however, from what we personally want, wish, or think to God’s yearning or longing for our lives within the particular question.  Discernment, then, is a discipline.  It does not come naturally to we who live in a sin-sick world.  While we are a redeemed people, the culture in which we live is constantly telling us through numerous modes to put our personal wishes and desires first.  Put another way, we have been taught that we indeed are the captain of our ship; that we are right!

The Biblical witness tells us otherwise.  In fact, it reminds us that we often are wrong.  Stories throughout the Bible reveal that God has a plan for creation but it also shows the disastrous results of what happens when God’s people follow their own desires and will instead of God’s.  Following God’s desire for us requires what Paul called “dying to yourself.”  Giving up control and being led to places and situations that we may not choose alone.  This is why following the path of Jesus seems so unattractive to a culture that believes it knows best.

But Jesus’ witness and Paul’s testimony actually proves a paradox about life; that giving up control – this dying – is actually finding life, for the first time!  (Philippians 2; Galatians 2)  So we must admit that what we are embarking on is neither natural for us nor easy.  It takes practice.  And it is not a goal we can ever fully achieve.  Rather, it’s an exercise that works particular spiritual muscles.  If we stop, the muscles atrophy and become weak.

In seeking spiritual discernment, the first question is “who is in charge?” and the second is “how do I know what God wants me to do?”  Closely following both questions is the question “how do I recognize God’s voice above my own voice, simply echoing back my own desires?”

Since spiritual discernment requires relinquishing control, it is important that we do not sabotage the process by bringing our agendas or desires to the table.  (Again, this is not an easy process!)  If we believe God is in control and we are to find abundant life by being obedient, then we have to become “indifferent” to the outcome we seek.  This is far from an uncaring attitude but rather another way of stating that we truly want to make God’s desire our desire.  Therefore, a key term to keep with you throughout the discernment process is an attitude and posture of “holy indifference.”

Discernment is an art, not a science.  It is about finding God’s yearning for the direction of each of our lives individually, and the direction of our congregation, corporately.  It is not a once-and-for-all answer to our questions but a continual seeking for God’s longing as we accept the invitation to live into the abundance God so freely gives us.¹

So spiritual discernment can be compared to a process or a journey.  It is not linear – it doesn’t follow a step one, step two, step three format.  While this guide will give you the tools and practices to listen for God’s longing for your life, it ultimately is about cultivating a relationship, which requires give-and-take.

Relationships that are intimate and successful are those that cultivate trust and practice listening.  These are critical in the spiritual discernment process.  God desires a relationship with each of us.  We have to trust that God, through the Holy Spirit, desires to be known.  Through the practices laid out in this guide, we have to learn to be in tune with God’s voice.  This means we must practice the discipline of listening.  Once again, in our    culture, listening to one another, much less God, is a challenge that requires much practice.  It’s the emptying of our own noise and the noise around us so we can be available to the movement of something that is both otherworldly and at the same time very close.

Knowing God’s longing for us throughout our life becomes clearer as we continue to practice holy indifference, trust in God, and in listening to God’s spirit through prayer, study, silence, spiritual friendships, worship, and service to others.  Eventually, as we continue these practices, spiritual discernment becomes a way of life.


 

The story of Samuel’s call is both straightforward and difficult.  The narrative is simple to follow – God calls Samuel three times but Samuel doesn’t recognize God’s voice.  It is not until Eli recognizes God’s work in Samuel’s confusion that Eli helps direct Samuel’s ears.

Application for today’s lesson is important:

  • How do you recognize and trust the voice of God?
  • How do you recognize and scrutinize your own voice?
  • Who is in charge?  Is it God or you?
    • Eli’s sons put themselves in charge of the temple rituals, instead of trusting God.  God refuses to work in people who put their interests ahead of God’s.  Like Eli’s sons, they will miss out on the blessing of God working through them to heal the world.
  • Who is an Eli in your life – someone who recognizes the voice of God and points you in the direction where you can hear it, no matter the consequences of the message?

Answers don’t come quick or easy when an individual or group sets out to discern the voice of God.  But it is the only way to test our own bias and the pull of the fallen world against the longings of God.  Often, it is in the process or journey of discernment that growth happens.  I pray that your group hears this hard but important truth.

Monday is the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.  MLK founded his movement of nonviolent resistance on the witness of Christ and his faith that God stands with weak, the marginalized, the poor and the hungry.  In order to stand in non-violent protest, in order to love their enemies, in order to not strike back, the beloved community that Dr. King helped form had to practice.  They practiced getting shouted at, punched, attacked.  And they practiced not striking back.  They also practiced looking their attacker in the eye, what they believed would be a disarming reaction to their attack.  They did this because, like Jesus, they believed even their enemies were children of God and that they had the capacity for good.  The discipline to behave in this way, to radially love your enemies is not a simple choice.  In order to say yes to such a call, it takes a discerning heart.  May we cultivate discerning hearts as we at HRBC create God’s beloved community here.

I’ve share this before, but kids president does a great job honoring MLK:  Watch and share his video here:

Order Out of Chaos

This week’s review of Feasting on the Word material:

  1. Thinking theologically about chaos and order in Genesis 1
  2. Encouragement for using small group discussions
  3. An online resource for crashing waves
  4. Wifi password

How do we explain chaos we experience in our lives, see in others’ lives or see in our world, today?  In the same way, how do we explain the amazing order we find in creation and in our world?  Our bodies are amazing examples of order.  Also, if the earth’s orbit or axis varied just slightly, the earth wouldn’t be able to sustain life.  We see incredible examples of order and chaos around us.  So, how do we explain it?  This question is one of the chief theological questions that all religions deal with and one that God, as made known to us in the Bible, doesn’t shy away from.  God answers these pressing questions right at the beginning with the opening line:

“In the beginning, God…”

Before we can attempt to explain order and chaos, we have to start with our belief that before all of this, there was God.  God brought life and order out of chaos and God called it good.  The account of this process of bringing order out of chaos in Genesis 1 gives some detail to how God did this.  The author describes God working over a period of days and creating the world through God’s voice.  God speaks and there is life.  We aren’t given any more detail than this.  So, the scientific mind in each of us will be left unsatisfied with such scant detail.  The point of Genesis 1 is not for God to let us in on the specifics of God’s creative work but to simply yet confidently state that it is God who did the creating.  And also to point out that God invites his creation – men and women – into the creative process.  We too are given the ability to create.

In Genesis 1, God creates humankind in God’s image.  In some way, we resemble God.  The ability to order and create are a couple of these attributes that resemble God.  God gave humans the authority to rule over the rest of creation and to use his creation to continue to create.  The theological implications of this belief leads us to ask how we have used our creativity and ability to rule and order since.  Are we creative in relationship with God and in obedient faith in God?  Or do we strike out on our own, distrusting God and believing that we can truly be in charge, alone?  This is the outcome of the fall.  Believing the serpent’s lie, that God did not have our best interest in mind, humans bought into the notion that they could order their own lives outside of God.  Ironically, this re-introduced chaos into the world.   Thus, we live with the tension of beauty and order in creation alongside chaos that sin introduced.

The author of the lesson refers to the Genesis account of creation as having been written during the days of the Babylonian exile.  Many scholars, based on textual and archeological research, believe that much of the Old Testament came to its form during and after the Babylonian Exile.  This is the first time that this culture, with its oral tradition, had to face the reality that being carried into a different culture may necessitate a written account of its history and how God has moved among them.  Not that everything was written down at the same time.  There are also stories of Hilkiah finding the book of the law in the temple while it was undergoing renovations (2 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34).  This is just prior to exile.  There is a sense that the King Josiah and the people were not familiar nor did they obey the law that they found in the temple.  This may imply that the reason they were under siege from foreign nations was their disregard of the law.

No matter when the creation story was recorded, the Babylonian exile is a huge moment in Israel’s history.  It was a time of national defeat and humiliation.  It was a time when God’s order didn’t hold and was understood as punishment for Israel’s unfaithfulness, their desire to follow their own desires instead of God’s.  Remembering the creation story – that God brought order out of chaos – must have given the people facing life in a foreign land hope.  God could overcome chaos once more.

How does faith in God’s creative work then and now bring us hope in the present, when things feel out of order, uncertain, even scary?

What is significant about water in the Genesis story?  As the lesson mentions, the gospel lesson for this week is found in Mark 1:4-11, the story of Jesus’ baptism.  What role does water play in the gospel lesson?  How does our baptism reflect a change in our lives – from chaos without God to order and purpose under God?  Note that God affirms both creation and Jesus’ baptism as being good.

Our new material employs a lot of small group discussion.  How often does your class work in small groups?  Small group work may initially be uncomfortable for some.  Instead of listening to others, small group discussion invites everyone to contribute.  For introverts, this can be much easier than contributing in a large group setting.  It also keeps one or two folks from always dominating the conversation.  Some of the best insight can come from those who don’t normally contribute.  Small group discussions allow everyone to be heard.  After small group discussions, invite each group to report back to the larger group.  You will multiply your insight and wisdom for the collective group by using this strategy!  Even small classes can split into small groups of two or three per group.  Just be sure to give specific instructions and have the discussion questions available for each group.

This week’s lesson suggests using ocean sounds to direct the class’ attention to God’s creative work.  For those who have access to a laptop or smart phone, I’ve found a good YouTube channel that plays ocean waves crashing.  Look it up and use it during your intro!

https://youtu.be/PoAeFpUB1hA

Also, be aware that you will need to sign on to our open wifi at church.  The password is: John3:17.  This simply keeps people off our wifi who don’t need to use it, thus slowing down the connection for those who do need it.  Hope you find your connection speeding up!

 

Advent Oaks

If salvation is not another place and time but the reality of this world as it should be (what we mean when we say the Kingdom of God), then Isaiah asks us to think about how we might participate in ushering in what is, theologically speaking, the “real world.”  Being missional, in light of this passage, means profoundly challenging all forms of cultural Christianity that would make “church” an end in itself, a community of the saved devoted to maintaining a building, a set of programs, and a fellowship of the like-minded.  -Scott Bader Saye

This week’s lesson material encourages you to open class on the third Sunday of Advent by asking what salvation means to each class member:

  • Salvation means God’s deliverance in the here and now
  • Salvation means life with God in heaven after we die.

Of course, there is not a right or wrong answer here.  In fact, both are correct.  For most, however, one or the other receives most of our attention.  And much has to do with worldview, life circumstances, and what we first learned about God.

For some, life has been and remains difficult.  Others see how life is unfair for so many folks.  These may even feel guilty due to their relative ease and others pain.  Heaven offers them a hope that God does have something better and eternal that helps make sense of the suffering here on earth.  Goodness does win out in the end for those who can’t see a different outcome here.

For others, life has been hard and unfair.  Or they acknowledge to have lead a blessed life while acknowledging this isn’t the case for everyone.  Yet, they don’t assign hardship to God’s will.  It is the sin-filled world that works temporarily against God’s desire.  Humanity’s role is to repent for its participation in sin and join God in bringing about the world God had in mind when he called it out of the void.  They believe heaven will one day come, when everything will be set right.  But in the meantime, God’s people are called to be actively involved in bringing heaven to earth through righteousness.

When I say righteousness, I don’t mean for it to sound churchy – that makes it less meaningful and accessible.  Righteousness is really just desiring what God desires.  If heaven is a place where God’s intentions and plans are always met, then as Christians living here on earth, our desire should be that our living matches heaven as much as possible.  That includes how we treat our neighbors – whether they live across the street or across the world.

In our study today, we get to look at salvation in the light of the second group of people.  Salvation happens when a big change takes place in our lives and impacts the way we understand the world and our place in it.  We confess that God, through Christ, bring us salvation when we understand that without Jesus our sin-filled life would have its way in us.  First, we would be separate from God.  Our sinful behavior creates me-focused living that often takes advantage of all of God’s creation for our own benefit.  Sin leads us to abuse relationships – even all of God’s creation – all for the sake of me.

Salvation occurs when the Holy Spirit opens our awareness to the fact that we were made to know and follow God – to be in a relationship with God.  Our new awareness that we are headed down a dead-end path that we were not created for causes us to repent and seek God.  Seeking God leads to righteousness and righteousness leads to desiring God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Which leads us to our passage today.  Isaiah 61:1-4 is a familiar passage – Jesus quotes this passage in Luke 4, when he announces his ministry by reading the Isaiah passage from the scroll and saying “today, the scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

So, what does God want?  For Isaiah, it is a people whose communal life is dedicated to God and whose behavior is so counter to the way the world behaves, others have to take notice.  Our society awards winners based on how successful they are.  How much money to you make?  How popular are you?  Do you look a certain way, drive the right thing, live in the right zip code?  None of these things are wrong in and of themselves.  But we have a way of making these things the ultimate – our God – so that we are willing to do whatever it takes to possess them, even at the expense of other people.

Isaiah, and later Jesus, says righteousness is all about wanting what is best for others, sometimes maybe, at the expense of ourselves, instead of what is best for us at the expense of others.  Jesus certainly modeled this as he was willing die on a cross so that our eyes might be opened and we might have life with God.

This is what advent prepares us for.  Are we prepared to welcome God among us who is willing to lay his very life down for our sakes?  And who challenges us to do the same for others?  Are we willing to proclaim good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim release for the prisoners, to comfort those who mourn and proclaim the Lord’s favor, at the expense of our getting ahead in the dominant system we live in?

For those who are, they will be recognized as “oaks of righteousness” by our creating and saving God.  Oaks stand strong and live long lives.  They lay down deep roots.  They do not spring up overnight.  Perhaps this means that it takes we humans a long time of growth and training to reach such a counter-intuitive and faithful way of life.  Or perhaps our faithfulness to the things God desires for his creation transforms us into strong, wise oaks.  Either way, to be compared to an oak is a good thing to hear from our Lord.

Finally, our lesson helps us see that God’s desire all along is for all creation to live in a loving, self-sacrificing relationship with one another.  In looking back at Leviticus 25:1-28, 35-43, we see that God sets up a way of living together for the Hebrews that requires concern for one another.  For sure, there are consequences for bad choices or behavior.  If  you don’t manage your resources correctly, and you may lose your land and your income.  But even when that happens, the people of Israel are counseled to not take advantage of people in need.  Rather, in all dealings with people who are in a weakened state, God calls his chosen people to deal fairly and justly.  We even see that God has concern for the land that nourishes life. Every seven years, the people are told to let the land rest for a year (and in doing so, allow their servants rest, too).  And every 50 years, the Israelites are to forgive any their debts of their fellow people and restore them to their former wealth.  They are to give everyone a chance, whether they deserve it or not, and start over again.

Why?  God says, “for the land is mine” Lev. 25:23 and “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be your God.” Lev. 25:38.  God reminds the Israelites that he called them from nothing and gave them a name and a land.  They did nothing to earn it.  So treat each other the way I’ve treated you.

We’d do good to remember the same is true for us as well.  God started this relationship – he made us and gave us meaning.  Sin pulled us away from seeing and realizing our purpose.  God sent us his son as messiah, to redeem us from our sin and set our purpose back on its proper course.  As righteous oaks, we continue to follow in his Son’s footsteps in the present tense, longing after what God desires for all his creation.

 

Preparing for Christmas

December is the time of year that I pull out what I consider my favorite movie and watch it again and again.  While I like movies, I’m not one to watch movies over and over again or remember the dialogue enough to quote it word for word.  Except for one:  Christmas Vacation.  Christmas Vacation, though rather irreverent, puts a smile on my face every time I see it.  So this week’s lesson, all about preparation and good news, reminded me of a classic scene in the movie.

Christmas Vacation Clip

Clark Griswold loves Christmas.  In the movie, he is determined to give his family “the best family Christmas ever!”  In addition to the perfect experience, he also wants to give the best gift – a swimming pool.  Only problem is, he has to put a large down payment on the pool before he gets his Christmas bonus, a check he has to have to cover the cost.  He grows anxious when, come Christmas Eve, his check has still not shown up.    Finally, a knock at the door reveals a delivery man who has an envelope from the company.  Unfortunately, the gift inside the envelope isn’t quiet what Clark has prepared for.

  • How do you prepare for Christmas?
  • Does it matter how we prepare for Christmas?
  • Do much effort do you give to the secular Christmas and how much to spiritual?
  • Often times, there is a let-down after the busyness of the season?  Why?  Might the amount of attention we give shopping and parties versus the time we give preparing our spirits for Christ have a direct correlation?
  • When have you been disappointed when something you have looked forward to doesn’t work out?

This week’s lesson is about preparing the way to receive the good news about Jesus, the Messiah.  Our text is Mark 1:1-8 and the first verse will set the stage for our lesson.  “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.”

For Christians who have been hearing “the good news” or “gospel” for some time, this language can seem rather mundane and ordinary.  There is the temptation to get past this introduction and get to the meat of the story.  While Mark’s gospel obliges this request and doesn’t mess around with a lot of details, it also doesn’t include a birth story or any childhood mention.  He gets straight to the point, starting with Jesus’ baptism.  So this Advent season, sitting with Mark as our guide, we are left with John the Baptist’s message of preparation, repentance and forgiveness.  How does this message help us prepare for Christmas?  Knowing a little more about the context of Mark’s audience and the language he employees, even in verse one, will help.

The roots of an announcement of “good news” or “gospel” as a new beginning of peace and prosperity can be traced to the Old Testament, especially in Isaiah’s announcement of hope for the faithful exiles in Babylon (Isaiah 40:9; 52:7; 61:1).  The herald of good news pointed to a hope that lay in the future.  The Old Testament lesson for Sunday (Isaiah 40:1-11) illustrates this.

In the more immediate context of Mark, “good news” is linked with the announcement of military victories.  During Jesus’ day a Roman messenger bringing good news may have looked like this:

The messenger appears, raises his right hand in greeting and calls out with a loud voice: Greetings…we are victors!”  By his appearance it is known already that he brings good news.  His face shines, his spear is decked with laurel, his head is crowned, he swings a branch of palms, joy fills the city, euangelia (sacrifices for good news) are offered, the temples are garlanded and the one to whom the message is owed is honored with a wreath.

By the time of Mark, the term good news or gospel was closely connected with the acclamation of Caesar Augustus as a divine man who by his victories had inaugurated a new era of peace for all the world.  An inscription from Priene in Asia Minor links the term “good news” to Augustus who is also called “savior.”  Against this background, Mark 1:1 would have been understood as both the fulfillment of the messianic hopes of Israel and a polemic against the cult of the emperor.  Mark’s message is the crucified, not the enthroned, should be worshiped for overcoming evil and ushering in a new kingdom of peace and deliverance.

Knowing this, Mark starts his story of Jesus with quite a strong statement.  This Jesus is significant.  Mark then quotes Isaiah 40:3, Exodus 23:20 and Malachi 3:1 when he refers to John the Baptist’s work of preparation:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way” – “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

What is the significance of this voice calling out for Mark’s audience and why is it important for we modern Christians to hear during advent, as we prepare to celebrate Christmas?  Mark’s earliest audience would have heard the following Old Testament scripture in John’s voice:

In Exodus 23:20, God promises protection through an angel who will go before them to protect them and guide them as they take the land of Canaan.  God, through the angel, was preparing the way for Israel to be established as a light unto the nations.  The greek word for angel can also mean messenger.

Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament and is addressed to a people who had grown indifferent to God’s presence and their role as light to the world.  Malachi’s name is literally “my messenger” and his aim was to stir his audience to a renewed commitment.  Malachi 3:1 portrays a mysterious and unpredictable God that an apathetic people would be fearful of encountering.

Isaiah 40 is a well known advent text that portrays God as comforter to a people who, in exile, have paid their debts.  The messenger asks his hearers to make a way for this forgiving God who stands above and beyond time while we are subject to finality.

Part of John’s call for preparation was baptism.  Baptism does not hold the same meaning this side of the cross as it did for Jews in the first century.  While baptism now reflects a change in status from death to new life in the light of Jesus’ sacrifice, both call for repentance.  Repentance is a recognition of sin and a complete turn from an old way of behavior to a new and different way.  Essenes, Jews who lived an ascetic life of piety and purity in the wilderness, practiced ritual washings that required repentance which brought forgiveness. But repentance had to be genuine – no saying one thing and then behaving in your old manner.  Baptism meant nothing if nothing changed.  Essenes may have influenced John’s understanding of baptism.

Josephus, a Jewish historian alive at the time of Jesus, reports that John the Baptist,

“Exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice towards their fellows and piety towards God, and so doing to join in baptism.  In his view this was a necessary preliminary if baptism was to be acceptable to God.”

So what does Mark 1:1-8 teach our modern ears in regards to preparation for Christmas and faithful living?

  1. Jesus is the Messiah.  He may come to us in unexpected ways:  as a baby born into poverty to an unwed mother, in the wilderness, or challenging the people and things which we give priority.  In the end, Jesus – the Son of God – is victorious.  His strength, however, is found in his selflessness, gentleness and his truthfulness.  Unlike other conquerors of the past, there is nothing for Jesus to hide or conceal, making his truthfulness both good news to those who are prepared to receive it and inconvenient for those who chose to avoid it.
  2. Repentance forgives and prepares.  The good thing about a beginning (v. 1) is that it conveys newness.  Genuine repentance recognizes we haven’t lived according to the way we were created to live. We haven’t contributed to God’s shalom (wholeness).  Genuine repentance says, “knowing what I know now about my life, I’m going to live in a different way.”  John’s baptism marked that moment in which folks could look back and say “at that moment, I changed my direction.”  Unlike the people in Malachi, those who sought baptism in the Jordan were ready to give up their apathy toward God and were thus ready to recognize God when God appeared.

So how do we confess that Jesus is good news today?  What stands in our way?  More importantly, does our confession match our action?  Are we genuine? Nothing could be more damaging in 2017 than a confession that is not complemented by behavior and action.  I’m afraid that nowadays, our society expects to be disappointed by our leaders.  How can our confession that Jesus is Messiah overcome the failings of so many leaders in religion, business, government and entertainment?

How might our preparation of the way of the Lord this advent help us recognized God at work among us?