Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
Luke 14:25-33

Just when you think you’ve found a way to read the Bible that doesn’t make you pull your hair out or throw it out the window, your journey comes to an abrupt halt in front of a monolithic roadblock like this one. Where is Brian McClaren when you need him? Will somebody from the “kinder, gentler Christianity” movement please stand up and do something with this thing? Anybody from the Jesus Seminar around? Dear God! This thing is heavy! What the bleep?

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.”

“anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

“any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”

Ok, before everyone rushes out to get their hammer and chisel and start rounding off the edges of this thing, let me tell you that it won’t help. Save your energy. Everyone makes a mad dash to point out that Jesus didn’t really mean you have to hate your momma. It was just a figure of speech, sort of a theological “shock and awe.” This is obvious from Matthew’s version, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me,” but ‘hello!’ this is not any easier to swallow.

Jesus is saying that if we’re going to follow Him we have to love Him more than our parents, our family, even our own lives. So before we all get too comfortable with this Jesus we’ve been touting on our blogs, you had better get in the Gospels and find out just which Jesus we’re talking about. Sure, it’s an easy thing to be in love with the Mr. Rogers version of Jesus, the flannel board version, the Santa Claus version, the social activist version, the Dr. Phil version, but what about the real version? Will the real Jesus please stand up?

That’s really what studying the Bible is about isn’t it? Trying to discover the authentic Jesus to enable us to live an authentic faith. The problem with a passage like this is that it demands a response. You cannot ignore it. You cannot move it. What do you do with it? You cannot explain it away. This isn’t a story about walking on water, raising the dead, or healing the blind. By all measures of scholarship this is the historical Jesus, raising the stakes for all of us in this merry band of “Christians” on the journey with Him to Jerusalem.

Some people apparently got the idea that hanging with Jesus was all about dinner parties, free hillside buffets, magic shows, witty debates, and adventure. No doubt many of those traveling with Him nearer to Jerusalem had the mentality of those that waved the palm branches and shouted “Hosanna!” when He walked into town. They thought He was launching a revolution to overthrow the Romans. Not quite.

Jesus would have been a lousy pastor today. We spend all our time trying to draw a crowd and keep it. He spent more of His time sending them away. Maybe this is like in Batman Returns when Bruce Wayne disperses his dinner party by faking a drunken rant in order to save them from the bad guys there to kill him. No, not hardly. This is an invitation to follow Him but at your own risk.

Often times in history the most devout fall into the extremism of belief, which almost always ends in “kill or be killed.” In the movie Syriana George Clooney’s character noted, “you can’t bomb this out of them.” We’ve seen modern reinterpretations of calls to arms, which usually entail fund-raising, letter writing, screaming from the top of your lungs wearing a plywood plackard, and in some cases guns, but when Jesus launched a revolution he went on neither offense nor defense. He went to Jerusalem as a lamb to the slaughter, silent before his shearers. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” It’s a revolution alright, but you don’t pick up your sword. You lay it down.

Less we get too comfortable with Jesus and rank Him among the other great spiritual teachers of history, He makes these outrageous claims, and we struggle to rationalize them. Just who does this guy think He is? Are we really prepared to follow Him? Do we have what it takes? Evangelicals spend all their energy telling people how easy it is to be “saved.” Then once you’re in, they spend the rest of your life telling you how many hoops you have to jump through to be a Christian. I’ve said for years that we’ve got to rewrite the brochures and the infomercials, because the church has no concept of “truth in advertising.”

I’m driving down the expressway and see the latest sermon series plastered on a billboard with cute graphics and catchy slogans, and I’ve got to shake my head. Is this what the gospel has become… a marketing campaign? Watered down, politically correct, culturally compatible, spoon fed mush? It may build big churches and big egos, but it’s a half gospel from a false Messiah. It’s an easy thing to be a “Christian” in America. Try doing it in Iran or China or Sudan. It’s not just about persecution. It’s about living an authentic faith in poverty. The prosperity gospel doesn’t go down so easy on an empty stomach.

I don’t know what to do with a passage like this. I don’t know what to do with a man like this. Sometimes I feel like turning around and walking off like the rich young ruler who went away sad. Other times I think myself committed, then we get to Jerusalem and before the day’s over I’ve denied Him three times. Geez.

All I know to do is in every small decision, every word, every action to choose to act on the side of love, to try to be selfless, to refuse to be owned by things and be swayed by the fickle winds of the culture. Maybe in some small way I can be subversive. Maybe, just maybe, for a moment I can follow Jesus.

If you’ve read my recent post Reading the Bible again for the first time, you would know that beginning this week I’ll be posting a weekly article on my study of the Gospel readings from the Revised Common Lectionary.

It’s been a while since I did any systematic study of a passage. I’ve enjoyed getting my feet wet again but have to go about it in a new way. I’m not preparing to write sermons. This isn’t a congregation. I’m trying to discover the impact of the text, reading through a new set of lenses, in hope of hearing what it says first of all to me personally and also to the broader faith community.

I don’t want this weekly post to be a mini-sermon, though you’re welcome to it if you need one, nor do I want to write a running commentary. I think I may include my personal commentary or behind the scenes work as a comment to the post for those die hard enough to want to read it.

It’s occured to me that you cannot have an honest dialouge about matters of faith and your journey deeper or farther away without first wrestling with scripture one on one. It’s easy to knock out theological lightweights and counter paper thin doctrinal diatribes, but it’s another matter altogether to wrestle with the angel until he blesses you, or in this case hear the text again for the first time.

You’re welcome to join the conversation any time. I always appreciate your feedback and comments, but as with everything on this blog it is a personal exercise in sanity that you are invited to eavesdrop on at your own peril.

For years I pillaged the Bible in search of sermons. I did my share of devotional reading too, but it was always hard to hear the text on a personal level separate from how it speaks to a congregation. When I left the pastorate, my reading of the Bible went the way of my church attendance for a while, but I did maintain devotions through the readings in Celtic Daily Prayer which had daily texts from the Old Testament, Psalms, and New Testament.

A lot of the reading that I’ve done lately has challenged me to go back to the text with a fresh pair of lenses with which to read, especially Marcus Borg’s book Reading the Bible Again for the First Time. There is a difference in reading devotional selections and wrestling with hard texts to flush out their context and bridge the gap to apply them today. I guess that is the one thing I miss most about being in the pulpit every week.

In the pursuit of fairness and balance I thought it might be best to begin with the lectionary selections and a weekly post on my struggle with the text. In particular I think I’m going to be using the gospel readings, because I’ve got unfinished business with the historical Jesus vs. evangelical Jesus. We’ll see what happens. It may generate discussion, but surely it will keep my edge sharpened.

I’ll try to have each post up by Saturday, just in case some of you guys still in the saddle want to bum some ideas from me to get your “Saturday night specials” ready for Sunday morning. Just kidding, I want to have my ideas in print before I hear a sermon that biases me towards the text. I make no promises, just giving you a warning for what’s coming.

I’m in love with words and dusty books,
the taste of deep red wine and salty ocean air,
drunk on a lonely tune and a sunset sky.

You might say that I am a romantic, in the classical sense. I go weak in the knees for ideas. I love nuance, symbolism, and possibilities. This makes me especially vulnerable to the seductive language of scripture.

Perhaps you’ve heard the expression “in love with the idea of being in love.” Dorothy Boyd’s description of her feelings for Jerry McGuire describe my affair with Christianity well, “I love him! I love him for the man he wants to be. And I love him for the man he almost is.” One of my favorite bloggers Real Live Preacher expressed this idea succinctly in a recent post:

Christianity has already shrunk in my lifetime from being the shining center of all truth and purpose to something less than that. Even looking at things from the inside, even willing to give the benefit of every doubt, Christianity seems like a bumbling, prosaic movement which is, as often as not, violent, anti-intellectual, and xenophobic.

But I love Christianity so much. Or at least I love what it could be. I want to hug it. I want to throw my arms around the beautiful language of salvation and redemption. I want to curl up in the warmth of my faith community, the people I love so deeply in this world. Truly they are like family to me. I feel I could get drunk on our ancient symbols, myths and stories, the ones that speak in luscious tones vibrating through a million voices across the centuries.

With time and disappointment love can change and devotion can wane, but for all that I have learned and all that I question about my faith I just cannot bring myself to walk away completely. In The Painted Veil Mother Superior said:

“I fell in love when I was 17… with God. A foolish girl with romantic notions about the life of a religious, but my love was passionate. Over the years my feelings have changed. He’s disappointed me. Ignored me. We’ve settled into a life of peaceful indifference. The old husband and wife who sit side by side on the sofa, but rarely speak. He knows I’ll never leave Him. This is my duty. But when love and duty are one, then grace is within you.”

I don’t stay from a sense of obligation or from fear of divine retribution. I think I stay because it’s familiar. These words I’ve heard so many times bring comfort when few others have. For all that I know there is more that I don’t know. I no longer look at the Bible as a rubik’s cube waiting to be solved. It has become more like a painting to me. One that requires long gazes from an open mind to appreciate. Every time I return I see something new in something old. Faith is not having all the right answers to spiritual questions. Faith is loving the idea of what could be, and the test of faith is in making small choices that bring those possibilities to life.