Compassion or Attendance?

Luke 14:1, 7-14

At the end of this blog is a sermon I preached in 2013 on the Luke 14 text. There’s not much difference in how I have translated the text from the Greek from the typical versions:

     Now it happened, as Jesus entered into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, that they watched him closely. [The missing part in verses 2-6 is that Jesus helps a man who has dropsy on the Sabbath.] Then Jesus shared an image with the guests, noticing how they chose the places of honor, saying to them: “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the highest place, lest one more dearly valued than you was invited by him; and the one who invited you having spoken aloud will command you, ‘Give up this place,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 Instead, when you are invited, go sit down in the lowest place, so that when the one who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 Because anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be lifted up.” 12 Then he also said to him who invited him, “Whenever you give a breakfast or a main meal, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and it would be repayment to you. 13 Instead, when you give a feast, invite the poor, the disabled, the lame, those who cannot see. 14 For you will be fulfilled because they cannot repay you. Therefore, you will be repaid in the rising of virtue.”

           Are we going to be repaid by going to heaven because we go to church on Sundays or will we be “repaid” because we do good things for people? What did Jesus say? You are repaid in the virtue you demonstrate. If that messes with your theology, then reexamine your theology, not Jesus’s words.

You will be repaid for actions that come from the compassion in your heart that says, “I want to help you whether you are important or not—and whether it serves ME in eternity or not.”

James wrote: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble” (NIV).  That sounds a lot like Jesus. Christians wear the cross like it’s a sign of their commitment to the teachings of Jesus, and never do they visit orphans and widows. Interesting, isn’t it?

Is virtue about going to church every Sunday, or is it about helping those who are in need regardless of your eternal future?

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09-01-2013   “What’s For Dinner?”

It’s really embarrassing to be caught red-handed, bragging about yourself. I had a high school wrestling coach who preached to us, saying, “If you are any good – you won’t have to tell anyone about it because they will tell you how good you are.” In other words, your reputation will precede you if you deserve to be honored.

Of course, being a teenager, I had to see if that really applied to me. The wrestling team had finished a wrestling match in a town fifty miles away from our high school. A teammate and I were walking down the hallway after both of us had won our matches. My opponent came up to us to talk, and as part of the conversation, I piped in that “Charlie here and I won the County Wrestling Tournament last week.” And he said, “I know.  I was there.”

I felt about two feet tall. Instead of impressing him with my claim to greatness – I felt humiliated by my haughtiness and pride.  Had I been quiet about our accomplishment, he might have mentioned that he attended the tournament and I could have felt honored by his recognition – rather than feeling ashamed for bragging on myself.

I was the one that the Host of the Banquet served some humble pie. I was moved from a chair of higher importance that I chose for myself to a chair of lower importance – and that was an uncomfortable feeling. Jesus summed it up with, “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” That’s an important lesson in the gospel story.

Another important lesson has to do with inviting people to a banquet. When I was wrestling, I had to watch what I ate very closely. Refusing food wasn’t easy as a growing teenager. I remember using my study hour going to the library and page through Good Housekeeping magazines to look at the food and dinners laid out on banquet tables. And wrestling season was during Thanksgiving and Christmas! There was so much to eat and I denied myself all those delicious pleasures.

Sometimes we do that as Christians. We deny ourselves the feast that is available and waiting on the table. We do it because we think discipline, hard work, and denial of pleasures are the keys to getting what we want—which we think is the kingdom of heaven. We work so hard at being Christians when we are really the guests at the banquet. We are invited to the feast. No charge. No work. The moment we took our first breath, we were invited to the feast—life in the kingdom of God.

Since we are invited to a banquet, and we are called to invite others to the banquet, what’s for dinner? What do we tell others is on the table for them? What’s for dinner is the kingdom of heaven? The feast is already laid out on the table in front of us. We don’t have to die to receive it. It was John the Baptist and Jesus who said that the kingdom of heaven is at handit’s within your grasp – help yourself!

Help yourself to what? What’s on the table for us to share when we invite others to eat dinner in the kingdom of God?

The apostle Paul told the church in Rome what’s for dinner. He said the kingdom of God is not found in meat or drink; instead it’s in doing the right things, and in peace and joy in a spirit that is worthy of praise (Rom. 14:17). To the people of Galatia he said the banquet consists of these things: peace, joy, hope, love, goodness, kindness, patience, faithfulness, and self-control. These are the things available to you and me right now.

Let me take a moment to remind you of the Old Testament’s concept of heaven. This is from Genesis 1:6-9 (NKJV). 6 Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” 7 Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. 8 And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day.\

The kingdom of heaven is the space around the earth between the clouds and the oceans.

Then Jesus told us who we should invite to share in the peace, and joy, and hope, and love that is ours today. He said, “Invite the poor, the lame, the crippled, the blind.” Who needs more peace and joy in their lives than someone who has physical pain, hunger pains, mental and emotional pain, or spiritual distress? If you share your peace with them, you’ll be honored when those who do what is right are lifted up. Being lifted up (raised up) isn’t a reference to the resurrection. Jesus is talking about receiving honor from others.

There are some real advantages to interacting with people in pain, people for whom money or fame or power cannot bring joy or peace. For them, life is no longer about surface appearances – how can you look great in a hospital gown that doesn’t close tightly in the back? People in pain recognize that the $100,000 car sitting in their garage can’t help them find relief when they hurt too much to go anywhere. They are the ones who will appreciate your invitation to join you.

Another important point to remember: When you invite them to dinner – take your time! How can you find peace if you’re chomping at the bit to move to the next activity? Live in the moment. Quit trying to get out of it so soon. In the moment is where joy and peace in life are experienced. Learn to take your time. Let things unfold in their timing rather than rushing it.

Jewish meals took a more time than we are accustomed to spending at a meal. Meals took longer fifty years ago that they take today. Families don’t sit around the table as much as they used to. We mimic the culture when we put a four course meal on one ridiculously small dinner plate at a potluck and wolf it down so we can get to the next activity.

A Jewish meal was kind of like a Labor Day barbeque, very leisurely. Or better yet, it was more like fonduing, where there is time to sit around the table for conversation and getting to know each other, eating one course at a time, very slowly. Meals within a community are as much about connecting with others as they are about filling the stomach. Invite someone to share in your peace and love who will appreciate your gift of time and presence rather than those who think life is a competition rather than a time to offer their own unique self to the relationship.

The image our symbolic meal of Holy Communion reflects the relationship we have within the body of Christ. God invites all people to the feast of the kingdom of heaven. This is God’s table and God’s meal offered to us to bring peace to our spirits. It’s around this table and the tables in Fellowship Hall where we get to know others. Their gifts, their joys, their sorrows and pain, and they get to know ours. We find out that we’re more alike than we are different. And that makes people less scary.

It’s interesting that the church has made this sacrament meal exclusive to those who agree with what a group of men decided sixteen hundred years ago. Jesus ate with sinners and outcasts. It’s around the table that the bonds of love are built and strengthened.

Wherever we gather to serve or eat or worship, we are building relationships, becoming one, united as the body of Christ. That’s how our spirits are fed and we can share in peace, hope, love, joy, and all the blessings of God.

In Christ’s name, I invite you to the feast – the kingdom of God, for the kingdom of God is within your grasp. Come to receive his peace and joy, to be assured of His love and forgiveness, and to share this invitation with those you know who are hungry for peace, hope, and love. And then God will bring healing and wholeness to their soul.

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Law Does Not Trump Love

Luke 13:10-17  

     The Sabbath. A day of rest? Or a day of Law, sprinkled with a little good news? What serves you best? A church full of love or law? What serves the church best? Love or law? What kind of worship puts your mind and heart at ease? Do you feel rested when you leave Sunday worship? Or do you leave worship thinking there’s more work to be done? Does the church assist you in your rest? Where does God live? In the Temple/church? Or in you? Answer these questions honestly for yourself and I believe your worship experience will improve. The text for this coming Sunday might help you think about it. Here is my translation:

10 Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And behold, there was a woman upon whom a spirit of weaknesse had been holding fast for eighteen years, and was doubled over so that she was powerless to raise herself up to completion. 12 But when Jesus saw her, he summoned her and said, “Woman, you are set free from your weakness.” 13 Then he placed his hands on her, and immediately she was lifted up, and then she glorified God.

14 But the presiding elder of the synagogue objected, displeased that Jesus rendered voluntary servicef on the Sabbath. He told the crowd, “There are six days on which one ought to work; therefore come and be treated on them, but not on the Sabbath day.”

15 However, the Lord replied to him and said, “Hypocrites! Does not every one of you on the Sabbath release his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away so it can drink? 16 Therefore this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom adversity has bound – look! – for eighteen years, isn’t it right and proper for her to be released from this bond on the Sabbath?” 17 And having said these things, all who were opposing him were put to shame; and the whole crowd was joyful for all the noble things being done by him.

+  +  +

e  weakness, of mind or body, lack of understanding, lack of confidence, lack of restraint against corrupt desires, inability to bear trials and troubles, possibly affected by a traumatic experience.

healed, from the Greek word therapeuo which means “to serve, render voluntary service, heal, restore to health, minister to.”

+  +  +

     One way to view this is to consider that life places many burdens on us. Sometimes they are health related. Other times they are emotional, mental, or spiritual. The text has many levels for application. Jesus walked in and, with a few words and the touch of his hand, released a woman from her spirit of weakness.

     Wouldn’t you hope a Sunday sermon could release you from your weakness? I value the four years I spent in training for the ministry. The Lutheran seminary I attended for one year was a great experience. Yet throughout my whole Lutheran upbringing and then at the seminary, I was taught to dispense Law and Gospel equally.

     One of my seminary professors read my masters thesis and said there was too much “love fluff.” That alone would never do the job (whatever he thought the job was). But it squeaked through.

     I still question: isn’t the Gospel enough to save you? But preaching Law and Gospel is treated as a Lutheran law because Martin Luther said it. It doesn’t matter that Luther elsewhere said that love is the filter for all law, and laws that don’t promote or support love should be eliminated. We all pick out the quotations we like best and want to promote. It’s like church leaders are afraid you’ll fail (in the way all miserable sinners do) if you only get good news. Law is always how the institution attempts to keep control. The Gospel alone gives the sheep too much freedom to stray from what they’ve been told they must believe and do.

     There’s no doubt that law is important for the lawless. But the law for Christians, according to Luther, is love. We are not lawless. We have our law: Love. Follow love and you can throw out any holy book of rules.

     Truly I preached a lot of law in my sermons. Many sermons were only law—but that means they were only gospel. Love.

     Check out my page of quotations on what Martin Luther said about love and the law. He will free you. It’s sad to realize that Luther’s comments on love and law have been ignored by most seminaries and are unknown to most bishops and preachers.

     One way I look at the Luke 13 text is that Jesus freed the woman (like he has freed me) from the Law, which had been a burden to her to the point of causing her to buckle in on herself. She could stand up, totally free to love and enjoy and serve and rejoice. Lift off the weight of the Law and you can become the beautiful, loving person God created you to be. Period. It’s a simple lesson.

     If you trust in and follow the teachings of Jesus, not much Law is needed. Not much theology is needed. Just love God who dwells within you. God wouldn’t have picked you as a temple to live in if God didn’t create you as intended – which means you have every reason to love yourself wholeheartedly – and then, in joy, love your neighbor as yourself.

     There’s no pressure to follow the 613 laws in the Old Testament. Just one. That’s why Jesus said his yoke is light.

     Love. Do this and the world will be a better place. And you’ll have more freedom and more fun.

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Come To Terms with Your Accusers

Luke 12:49-56

Once upon a time I wrote a blog or two about the viability of reincarnation as a doctrine. Many in the first century believed in reincarnation. Jesus appears to have indicated the teaching was alive and well during his time. “Who do people say I am?”

Did Jesus know that the future church, at the insistence of Emperor Justinian, would vehemently work to remove reincarnation from consideration? There are many biblical texts that would make more sense if being born again referred to coming again in a new body. Elijah returned as John the Baptist, many people said Jesus was one of the old time prophets, and Herod thought Jesus was John the Baptist come back from the dead.

Reincarnation suggests that the eternal spirit goes through a learning/purification process each time it enters the body. It’s all about positive movement forward rather than punishment. When you purify silver by burning out impurities, you’re not punishing the silver because it has flaws. You’re eliminating what is not of value.

Not everyone bought into the idea of reincarnation in the first century. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead. We assume they were talking about resurrection into heaven like is commonly imagined today. But now I wonder if they believed they would rise into another body—reincarnation. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.

One of the goals of the Inquisition was to stamp out any person or group hanging onto the notion of resurrection into another body on earth. The Reformation may have rolled another stone in front of the tomb of reincarnation when it established the doctrine of grace alone. You don’t have do anything to go to heaven after you die except believe God’s unconditional love covered your sinful butt. I’m not saying the teaching is incorrect, but there may be far more to it than speaking a verbal confession that Jesus is Lord who paid all your karmic debts. There may actually be some work involved. But that’s a whole book and I don’t intend to write it. I just want you to consider that Luke 12:49-56 may refer at some level to the possibility that our eternal spirits may need to enter into a physical body more than one time.

Biblical context is important. Always look at the text prior to the one you’re studying. The common lectionary doesn’t allow us to hear Luke 12:41-48. In Jesus had told his disciples to strive for dominion over themselves (seek first the kingdom [dominion] – remembering that God dwells within you). Now this is my translation of 41-48:

     41 Then Peter said to him, “Master, do you tell this illustration to us alone, or does it apply to everyone?” 42 To that the Lord said, “Anyone then is a faithful manager, mindful of the master’s interests, whom a master will put in charge over his household to administer provisions in the right amounts and at the proper time. 43 Coming to completiona3 is the lowest of workers, that after arriving, his master will find working in this manner. 44 Most certainly, I tell you that he will put him in charge over all that he has. 45 Nevertheless if that same servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to mistreat the maids and children, to eat and even to drink and get drunk, 46 the master of that servant will arrive on a day he is not expecting, and at an hour he is not anticipating. Then he will scourge him severely and commend him to his fate among those who are not to be trusted. 47 Moreover, that servant who had understood the wishes of his master, but did not make the necessary preparations or carry out his wishes, he shall be punished with great severity. 48 But he who did not understand, yet committed things deserving of punishment, shall be less severely punished. For everyone who is given much, much will be expected of him; and to whomever much has been entrusted, even more will be asked of him.

          Footnote a3:  Blessed, the Aramaic word means “ripening, developing, coming to completion, maturing.”

     There are some not-so-obvious applications for reincarnation possible in this text, (as well as grace in verse 48) but it is not my focus today. Now that you know the context, take a look at my translation of Luke 12:49-56 (I have added my own explanations in green type to clarify the meaning.)

        49 “I came to start a fireb2 throughout the landc2 and how I wish it was already ablaze! 50 Truly, I have an immersiond2 to be cleansed with, and how I am constrained in this fleshe2 until it might be finished! 51 You think that I came to bestow tranquility throughout the landc2 [or You think I came to be like Buddha or Lao Tsu, teaching you things like meditation and solitude]. Not so, I tell you, but rather disagreement. 52 Because from this time forward, five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. 53 [Like the prophet Micah said], ‘They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.’”

        54 Then he also asked crowd, “When you see a cloud growing in the west, immediately you say, ‘A thunderstorm is coming.’ Indeed, it comes in this way. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘There will be a scorching heat.’ And it comes. 56 Hypocrites! You have analyzed and can interpret the manifestations of the earth and the sky, but you have not paid attention to examine the timing of what is going on now.

        57 “Yes, and why, even of yourselves, can you not decide what is the right thing to do? 58 For example, as you go with your accuser to the magistrate, make every effort on the journey to be released from him, that he may never drag you before one who passes judgment, for the judge will surrender you to the officer who administers the penalty, and the officer will throw you into prison. 59 I tell you, you shall not escape from that placef2 until you have repaid the last penny.”

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b2  fire, probably a metaphor for purification, or for passion.

c2 earth, land, country, it could also be a metaphor for the  physical body.

d2  baptism, esoterically, this could refer to the spirit’s purification through an intense struggle in the flesh (crucifixion) so it can learn, improve, grow to its full development – the Christos.

e2 sunechō: the Greek word means “held together, pressed in from all sides” which is a reference to his spirit being contained within the flesh or body.

f2  that place, the prison of pride, or the consequences of sin; esoterically, this could refer to the spirit’s imprisonment in the body. If karma is not satisfied, the cycle of reincarnation will continue.

     The last verse (59) doesn’t sound like grace alone. You need to graciously settle things with your accuser before someone else is called in to make a judgment about it. Chances are high that you are wrong about your lack of guilt.

What are the consequences of not making amends with people you’ve offended? You’ll end up “in prison” until every penny is paid. Is this to be taken literally, or might this mean someone won’t get out of prison (the cycle of rebirth into the body) until they do what is necessary to make amends for the violations they’ve committed (satisfying all karmic debt)?

If you don’t allow for reincarnation, then you’re trusting the biblical teaching (and universal spiritual law) that you reap what you sow is voided simply by your confession and expression of sorrow to the Deity in the sky. The literal interpretation of grace alone means you don’t have to do the hard and loving work of compensating the person you sinned against (even though this is a component of true repentance).

Think about it. Really. What is just and equitable? What is easy and what is hard? What’s human and what’s divine – saying you’re sorry to God or saying you’re sorry to your accuser?

Whether or not you can accept reincarnation, come to terms with your accusers—offer unconditional love to them while you can—just in case.

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Be Vigilant – Enter the Kingdom Today

 

     My translation of the text from Luke 12:32-40 offers a different understanding of this passage, which is often used in an apocalyptic bent. It’s amazing how different the Greek can be translated when you are not manipulating the text to support fourth century doctrines. Instead, if you take into account the imagery and metaphors, I suggest it means we should be wary of false teachers (even the false ego) who point to the future rather than being prepared to participate in the kingdom of heaven today. See what you think.

32 “Do not fear, little flock, because it pleases the Creator of you to give dominionm to you. 33 Sell what you have and show compassionn; make of yourselves vessels that are not becoming antiquated, an unfailing receptacle for what is most valuable to youo in your mindp, where no false teacherq comes near and nothing eats away at your good worksr 34 because whatever is most valuable to you,o that’s where your center of focuss will be.

35 “Support your creativity using right and harmonious guidancet and be passionate in your service;u and you yourselves be like those who are expecting their master as to when he might unleashv the wedding-feast, so that as soon as he comes and knocks they may open the door for him.

37 Coming to completionw are those servants who the owner finds vigilant when he arrives. Assuredly, I say to you that he will secure his own garmentsx and make them sit down to eat, and having come alongside he will serve them. 38 And if he might come (again) in the second or in the third watch,y and find them vigilant, reaching completionz are those servants. 39 Now understand this, that if a house-holder had known what time/season a thiefa1 is entering, he keeps vigilant and not permit his house to be robbed. 40 Therefore you also be ready, because the one season you do not expect, a false teachera2 is coming.

+  +  + FOOTNOTES +  +  +

kingdom: that perfect order of things which Jesus wanted to establish, rulership

give alms. Give to the poor, charity.

o treasure.

in the heavens, as a metaphor, the mind, the seat of higher consciousness. The true treasures of the mind are peace, hope, faith, love, joy, patience, self-control, etc.

q  thief, the name is transferred to false teachers, who do not care to instruct men, but abuse their confidence for their own gain.

moths destroy: Moths eats away at clothing, which is a metaphor for what is seen on the outside, i.e., good deeds.

o  treasure.

heart, the seat and centre of man’s personal life in which the distinctive character of the human manifests itself. Hence the significance of the heart as the starting point of the developments and manifestations of personal life, as well as the organ of their concentration and outgo.

t  Let your waist be girded with truth. Literally, your loins, the center of your creative powers with truth (in Aramaic, truth means right and harmonious guidance). This is a metaphor for making sure your creative powers are supported with good deeds.

and lamps burning. A metaphor for letting your light shine, or possibly be aware of what’s going on around you.

analuō. Literally means to unloosen.

Blessed, the Aramaic word means “ripening, developing, coming to completion, maturing.”

x  gird his own loins: metaphor for making sure his own actions support his creative energies and purposes.

there are four watches over a prison. The body is a tent, a temporary “prison” for the eternal spirit.

z  see footnote on blessed above.

a1  thief, metaphor for false teacher, or even the false ego that tries to steal the joy of the kingdom.

a2  son of man. In context, this cannot refer to Jesus since the reference goes back to the thief mentioned earlier. Son of man was also a reference to the image or actions or nature of a human being, someone who might be a false teacher/thief.

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     Jesus said, “Be cautious. There’s a thief who wants to break into your house and steal your peace of mind or your joy.” Who is the thief? The thief is the son of man. Now that sounds almost blasphemous. My favorite version of the Bible (NKJV) capitalizes every usage of the term “son of man” – conditioning us think this is merely another way to say, “the Son of God.” But the son of man is a Greek term that refers to one’s humanness, a person’s weak side – the side of you that is insecure, fearful, or remembers how people hurt you, or focuses on your failures. In today’s terminology, that might be the false self or the small ego.

     Jesus started saying, “Your heavenly Father wants to give you the kingdom.” He means in this life. If you are vigilant and using your creative energies to promote harmony and doing the right things, he is ready and willing to provide for your needs. But be cautious. The son of man, the part of you — that little voice on your left shoulder who whispers in your ear and tells you that you aren’t good enough, smart enough, or important enough – sometimes he gets into your head when you least expect it and causes you to get creative about not doing the right things. We all can get pretty creative about procrastinating, and avoiding the person we ought to be communicating with in order to patch up damaged relationships—anybody know what I’m talking about?

     Let your loins be girded with truth and lamps burning. The Aramaic word for truth means “right and harmonious guidance, that which liberates and opens possibilities.” Use your creative energies to bring forth harmony. Be aware of all that is going on around you. And be cautious. If you knew at what times your insecurity or your weak side was going to show up and throw a wrench into your peace of mind – you’d be ready for it.

     My book on the Beatitudes explained that blessed means “ripening, developing, coming to completion, maturing.” Mature [blessed] are those who the master finds on their guard in the second watch or the third watch of the night. The second watch is when you’re 40-60 years old, the third watch of life (when you’re over 60). You are being spiritually mature when you are still watching for that thief called insecurity to show up unexpectedly, even later in life when you think you know everything about yourself. Because that little voice keeps trying to break into your peaceful house.

     So how do you keep your weak side from showing up and taking over the house? How do you stay vigilant and awake? It’s a lifelong process to know yourself. That’s the spiritual journey…to know yourself…and to know you are a child of God. The spiritual life is a process of becoming aware of what makes you act – or react – the way you do when difficult things come up. It’s when our emotions are at their height that we stop using our heads and start doing what the weak side of us, the human side rather than godly side, wants to do.

     Mature are those that the master finds vigilant even in the second and third portions of their lives, who continue, as they grow old, to learn about themselves and God. They are building a treasure in their minds that is unfailing. They’re beginning to know and understand God within themselves, and that’s when the kingdom comes.

0 - inherit (sm)

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The True Gift is Trust

Luke 12:13-21

     You and I were not born to accumulate wealth or fame or power. We were given a higher purpose. Whether or not we live out that purpose is up to us. This is my translation of Luke 12:13-21 

13 Then someone from the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14 But he said to him, “Man, who appointed me a judge or negotiator for you?”

15 So he said to them, “Become mentally aware and guard yourself from any greedy desire to have more because even when a person has abundance, a purpose-filled lifea does not develop from the things he possesses.”

16 Therefore he offered them an illustration, saying: “The land of a certain rich man produced abundantly.

17 So he began reasoning within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’

18 So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.

19 And I will say to my soul,b “Soul, you possess many goods set aside for many years; retire in ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’

20 However the Creatorc said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is called forth from you.’ Therefore whatsoever you saved up, whose will they be?’

21 “In this way, one accumulates riches for himself, but is not abundantly supplied (with trust) toward the Creator.”

angel in the sky*  *  *

zoa: The NT identifies three kinds of life: bios, psuche, and zoa. Body, mind, and the life or purpose for which you were born.

psuche: a name for the mind, personality, ego-self aspect of life.

theos: the name “God” would be appropriate here because Luke is writing to Gentiles and “God” as a name for the Deity was taken from pagans by Christians. Not only that, but the Greek name for the sky-god was Ouranos. Interestingly in the fourth century, Jerome translated basileia ton ouranos as the kingdom of the heavens (skies). It could just as easily been translated the kingdom of Ouranos, the sky-god, since they are the same Greek word. A simple point that identifies that many nations worshiped a Deity in the sky/heavens.

*  *  *

     This story naturally flows into Luke’s version of “Don’t worry about tomorrow,” reminding me of the song from Annie: the sun will come out tomorrow. Stop worrying about the future. Live out your purpose and passion (zoa life) today. Pray for trust so that you can live fully within each moment of the day. After all, the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that to have wealth and to be able to enjoy it is a gift from God. The true gift is an abundance of trust, not wealth.

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The Lord’s Prayer – Pray for Maturity

Luke 11:1-13  

     There are three basic differences between the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11 and the one found in Matthew 6. My focus in the book I wrote about a translation of the prayer coming out of the Aramaic language1a was on Matthew’s version. The three differences are these:

     (1) Matthew says “Our Father who art in heaven” while Luke says “Father.”

     (2) Matthew says “forgive us our debts” while Luke says “forgive us our sins.”

     (3) Matthew says “deliver us from evil” while Luke leaves that completely out.

     The simple explanation is that Matthew was writing primarily to a Jewish audience while Luke was writing to a Gentile audience. That would be one thing to analyze – why these would be important changes based on the audiences.

     Another thing to note is that Jesus doesn’t teach his disciples to pray for good weather for tomorrow’s picnic, or for things that will make life more fun, or for things that raise us up in the eyes of others. God knows our physical needs, but our greatest need is to grow into maturity so we can be the person we were created to be, helping bring the kingdom of peace and love to fruition in the world. Here’s my current interpretation:

     Now it came to pass that Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” So he said to them, “Whenever you pray, say:

      All encompassing Creatora       Let your reputationb be purified.       May your form of governing come into being.      3 Give us our daily bread every day.      4 And set us free from our unloving actions,      For we also set free everyone who is indebted to us.      Likewise, do not bring us into a time of trial.”

          5 Also, he said to them, “Which of you will have a friend, and will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves 6because a friend of mine has come to me on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And from within he decides to answer, ‘Do not bother me. The door has already been shut, and my young children are with me in bed. I cannot rise up and give you anything’? I tell you, even if he will not rise and help him because he is his friend, yet at least because of his shameless persistence, he will rise and give him whatever he needs.

          9 “Even so to you I conclude: ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone asking receives, and the one seeking finds, and to the one knocking it will be opened. 11 Moreover, which father among you, if a son asks for a fish, instead of a fish will give him a serpent? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you who are undeveloped,c know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the all encompassing Creator in the skiesd give a lifee worthy of praisef to those who ask him!”

     You probably noticed that I didn’t follow the traditional translation of the Greek, pneuma agion, as Holy Spirit in the last verse. Another way could also be “a pure spirit.” I just try to translate according to first century possibilities – and at the time this was written, the Holy Spirit had not been established as the third person of the Trinity. That was a decision made in the fourth century by the most powerful of many diverse understandings. Since I’m finishing a book that focuses a lot on the word “life” in the New Testament, I’m predisposed to make sense of it the way I did.

*  *  *

Father: I tend to “name” God in ways that are not so human-like. Naming itself limits the scope of the Creator who is undefinable and unexplainable.

name: By a usage chiefly Hebraistic the name is used for everything which the name covers, everything the thought or feeling of which is roused in the mind by mentioning, hearing, remembering, the name, i. e. for one’s rank, authority, interests, pleasure, command, excellences, deeds, etc. Why does God’s name need to be purified? Because Jewish tradition painted God as less than loving at times.

poneros: full of hardship, annoyances, and labors; often translated as “evil.” The Aramaic word for “evil” means unripe, undeveloped, immature, something not done in the right time. Matthew’s version would tell us to ask to be delivered from unripeness or immaturity.

heaven: according to Genesis, heaven is the space between the water above the earth (clouds) and the water covering the earth (oceans). Yet that’s too literalistic, since the sun, moon, and stars are above the clouds.

pneuma: usually translated “spirit or breath or wind” but in some places as “life” which is explained in Greek lexicons as the disposition or influence which fills and governs the soul of any one; the efficient source of any power, affection, emotion, desire, etc.

agios: holy, pure, worthy of praise.

     So the Lord’s Prayer teaches us to pray for things that help us to grow in maturity and to be persistent about it. What do you think?

 

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Ripening in Faith

Luke 10:38-42

     Do you still think of God the same way as when you were a child? Do you still think of God the same way as ten years ago? Some people might say that the truth doesn’t change, so “No, I don’t think of God any different.” Well, I agree that God doesn’t change. But do you think the ability of a child or a person to conceive of God (and God’s will) can change? If one’s ability to think and put ideas together to discern truth hasn’t changed since you were taught “religion” – or even in the past five years – it might be good to reflect on that. I think we can learn that in the story of Mary and Martha.

 blackberries2    There are few sermons that I gave ten years ago that I’d be able to preach the same today. Why? Because my concept of God continues to change as I continue to read and interpret the Bible (as well as other ancient wisdom teachings), and then connect them with my ever-increasing life experiences.

     There’s a difference between having the faith of a child and having the intellect or beliefs of a child. There’s a difference between having child-like faith and having childish faith.  I think the story of Mary and Martha gives some insight into the fact that it is important to give heed to our need for spiritual growth over the need to always be believing “the right things” or “what we’ve been taught we are supposed to do.”

     As you’ve seen in previous posts, I enjoy retranslating the Gospels based on my changing understanding of God. This is my current version of this story of Mary and Martha. I say “current” because next year when I’m putting it all together to publish it, I may have some new insights and experiences that would inspire me to adapt it.

     There’s really only one change of words in this story that lends a new perspective to it. See if you can find it.

     38 Now as they were traveling, he entered a village where a certain woman named Martha received him as a guest into her house. 39 She also had a sister named Mary who seated herself at Jesus’s feet and kept listening to the master’s teaching. 40 However Martha was preoccupied because of so many to serve. So she approached him and said, “Master, do you not care that my sister abandoned me to serve by myself? Therefore command her so that she might help me.”

     41 But the Master answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are full of anxiety and disturbed about many things. 42 But little is needed beyond one thing; in fact, Mary chose the ripeningn portion which will not be taken from her.”

     Did you ever understand what the “good part” meant in this story? It’s hard to say that serving others isn’t almost as good as listening to Jesus. Martha was following everything she was taught she was supposed to do as a woman in that culture. Mary wasn’t paying much attention to tradition. She was caught up in the moment. She was being filled with new understandings. That’s the kind of thing that can’t be taken away from you.  

     The word for good in Aramaic means “ripening, developing.” Mary was growing in her understanding of God. She was not reading a book. She was sitting at the feet of Wisdom learning about loving one another. How many theological teachings did Jesus offer to explain the nature of God? He didn’t have to explain the nature of God in words. He revealed God in his actions. His words taught people how to get along with each other.

     If you haven’t read the Bible since confirmation class, or even in the last five years, how can you be growing in your understanding of God? By listening to someone else’s concept of God? What if they haven’t read the Bible in the last ten years? When I say Bible, I have to qualify that. The Old Testament is the Jewish understanding of God, written a thousand years before Jesus came and revealed the Father to the world. Jesus came to reveal an image of God that was different from the past. That’s why in the Gospel of John, Jesus told the Pharisees – experts in the scriptures – that they didn’t know God. He said this five times. They didn’t know God even though they had memorized the scriptures. Reflect on that. Then pick up the New Testament, and study the new witness and testimony to the truth.

     Don’t get me wrong. The Old Testament is full of practical value and ancient wisdom that is undecipherable by children in the faith. It’s full of poetic and literary genius. Yet we have had to overlook some early “commands” that are clearly not acceptable in the twenty-first century. I’ll just mention one – we don’t put people to death for picking up sticks (working) on the Sabbath like Moses sanctioned. If there’s one we’ve had to overlook, then you can be sure there are some in the other 613 “laws” that may not be appropriate, either. That’s why Jesus told some parables about separating the good from the bad. (I discuss this in my book about the kingdom of heaven.) But this is off the point of the story.

     Just because someone went to seminary doesn’t mean they understand God. And it doesn’t mean they have grown in their own understanding of the Inconceivable. Some preachers and teachers are saying the same things that they learned long ago with the same understanding of God as when they were twenty.

     Seminaries teach head knowledge. They teach what people believed three hundred years after Jesus lived as if we can’t know any more about God than what someone else understood in the fourth century (or as late as the sixteenth century). Few seminaries teach budding spiritual leaders how to listen for the voice of God that dwells within their own hearts. Those that make an attempt rarely make it a requirement. They don’t teach developing leaders how to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to his voice. They don’t instruct them how to teach you to sit at the feet of Jesus. I’m suspicious that it’s because they don’t trust God is able to teach you exactly what they learned in seminary. And it might be something different than what they think you are supposed to believe. Even worse, you might not need them if you can hear God yourself.

     God is inconceivable and ever-expanding. Theology has put God in a box. And there are a lot of closed boxes out there. Which box are you trusting is true? Maybe it’s time to lift the lid and peek outside the box.

     Jesus quoted Isaiah (I think) when he said, “They will be taught by God.”

     Only God can teach you. Why? Because you have had different experiences from anyone else. Only God can put his Word into your heart based on your experiences. Get a Bible, sit down and read it yourself. Focus on the new witness to the goodness of God. Let Jesus and the Holy Spirit teach you about God. And if anyone tells you something different from what your heart heard when you were reading (not what your brain has been conditioned to believe), take it under advisement, reflect on it, and ask the Holy Spirit whether you should accept it or not. After all, St. Paul said, “Work out your own salvation with much fear and trembling.” Work out your own salvation…listen and be taught by God.

     If your understanding of God has not changed in the last two years, are you Mary or Martha?

     Maturing (ripening) in faith is a many layered thing. Each time you read the scriptures, another layer develops and your wisdom grows deeper…and sweeter…and more fruitful.

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The Mature Samaritan

Luke 10:25-37

     So many words in the Bible have lost their flexibility and potential for meaning because of the theology and repetition that has been conferred to them. I’m finishing up a book about the term “eternal life.” Even modern day commentaries suggest the Greek words (aionios zoa) mean something different or in addition to what I was taught as a child. Religion tends to focus on the afterlife when what Jesus spoke of was life in the world today. Simply stated, aionios zoa refers to a life that is true to God’s purposes in this age. You’ll have to wait for the book to get the details.

     When I translate the Greek terms, I like to use synonyms or other options for the Greek words (instead of accepting King James translators’ choices) to see if they open up the text a bit. I’ve often been pleasantly surprised. In the following translation, you’ll see I’ve replaced terms like “love,” “inherit,” “heart,” “mind,” and “soul.” Not only that, but in the traditional title of the story, The Good Samaritan, I’ve replaced “good” with “mature.”

     Why? Because the Aramaic word for good means “ripe” or “fully developed” or “mature.” Isn’t someone who does the right thing, even though he or she has a difference of opinion with another, one we can call mature?

     All the changes I’ve made have come from options in the Greek lexicon. Even if you question whether a different way of understanding “eternal life” is valid or not, take a look at how a new perspective of “eternal life” affects the story of the “Mature Samaritan.”

25 Then behold, one who was familiar with the law stood up and challenged [Jesus], saying, “Teacher, what must I do to experience a life true to God’s purposesl in this age?”

26 So he answered him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”

27 Whereupon, he said, “‘You shall be committed to the Lord your God with all your sincerity, with all your personality, with all your ability, and with all your thoughts,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’

28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live a life true to God’s purposes.”

29 However, wanting to make himself appear righteous, he asked Jesus, “But who is my neighbor?”

30 Answering his reply, Jesus said, “A certain man was descending from Jerusalem to Jericho. Now he was surrounded by robbers, who even stripped him of his clothing. And having severely beat him, they left him half dead. 31 Now by chance a certain priest was descending on that road. But after seeing him, he passed by on the other side. 32 Likewise a Levite (a priest’s assistant), approached the place, and having observed him, passed by on the other side. 33 Then a certain Samaritann traveling the road came upon him.  When he saw him, he felt compassion. 34 So he came near to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine; then he mounted him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

35 On the next day, he took out two silver coins, gave them to the innkeeper and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return, I will repay you.’ 36 So which of these three seems to you to have been a neighbor to him assaulted by the robbers?”

37 And he said, “The one who actively showed compassion to him.”

Therefore Jesus said to him, “You go and actively bring forth the same compassion.”

+  +  +

The Greek for eternal life actually means a life of purpose and meaning, true to God’s purposes for which one is created.

m Jerusalem is 2490 ft. above sea level, Jericho is 846 ft .below sea level, and there is 24 miles between them.

Samaritans were despised by the Jews.

+  +  +

     The only impact my changes make in a new translation of this wonderful story is that aionios zoa (eternal life) is something you and I can experience today. We don’t have to wait until the afterlife to experience a life true to God’s purposes in the age in which we are living.

     I’ve also described the kingdom of heaven as applying to the life we live today in my book, In Living Color: The Kingdom of Heaven for Today. Click on this link or on the link in the column to the right. Jesus taught us how to live a meaningful life today rather than how to reach for a comfortable life when we are dead.

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Is There More?

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

     Jesus is said to have cast out demons. In my book “In Living Color: The Kingdom of Heaven for Today,” chapter eleven was devoted to teaching you how you can cast out demons and unclean spirits.  He taught his disciples how to do it. You have every capacity to do everything they did.

     Also, in that book, I showed that the kingdom of God refers to something in this plane of existence on earth. In fact, the kingdom of God refers more to a way of ruling or the way in which a domain operates than merely to a place in the afterlife.

     The name for God in Aramaic is alaha. It means oneness or unity. To reduce the book into ten words, the kingdom of heaven/God is about the development or advancement of Oneness – within you as well as in the world around you.

     My favorite pastime is to change words in the Bible. It removes the theological baggage often attached to them. Many times it sounds different when you simply insert another option from a Greek lexicon.

     Therefore, this is my translation of Luke 10:1-11, 16-20:

      Now after this, the Master appointed seventy-two others that he sent in pairs ahead of him into every town and village where he himself was about to visit. And he said to them, “There’s so much to reap, but so few workers. Therefore, ask the harvest master to send out workers into his harvest. You go. Look. I am sending you out as lambs among wolves.a Do not bring a wallet, nor bag, nor shoes; and do not embrace anyone in greeting on the road. But whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Let peace come to this house.’ And when a child of peace is there, your tranquility will settle upon it; if not, it will return to you. So live in that house, eating and drinking from what they provide, for a worker deserves his wages. Do not move from house to house. Also wherever you enter a city that welcomes you, live on what they commit to you. Indeed, attend to those who are weak, and tell them, ‘The advancement of Unity/Oneness has been offered to you.’ 10 But whatever city you enter, and they do not accept you, go out into its streets and declare, 11 ‘Even the dust of your city that sticks to our feet, we wipe off against you. Nevertheless be aware of this – that the advancement of Unity/Oneness has been offered to you.’ … 16 The one who listens to you listens to me; and the one who ignores you ignores me. Additionally, he who ignores me ignores the one who sent me.” 17 Therefore the seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Master, even the demonsd are obedient to us when we follow your methods.”e  18 So he said to them, “I was watching the adversary fall like lightning from the sky. 19 Behold, I have entrusted you with the ability to trample on serpentsf and scorpions,g and against every ability of the enemy, and absolutely no one shall treat you unjustly. 20 Nevertheless do not be pleased about this, that life-forcesh are being obedient to you, but be pleased that your namese are being recorded by the universe.”i

a nonviolent, passive people among greedy, cruel men.

demons, possibly in the form of parasites, roundworms that appear to be snake-like when removed from under the skin.

in your name. One’s name stands for everything they do, their reputation and actions. To act in someone’s name is to follow what they do and therefore one’s actions reveal their name/reputation.

See (d) to connect serpents with demons. On a metaphorical level, with the ancients, the serpent was an emblem of cunning and wisdom, thus in Matt. 23:33, crafty hypocrites are called serpents.

scorpions, those animals/people with a poisonous sting.

spirits. Another definition of pneuma is “the life-force that animates the body.”

this is a poetic reference to a universal belief that many recognize as karma – you will reap what you sow. The universe/sky keeps a record of your actions. You will be repaid for your kindnesses, as well as your unkindnesses.

~~~

     The New Testament is full of references to “you will reap what you sow.” If you help others, you will be repaid in kind. Condemn others and you will be repaid in kind. This is not only Christian wisdom. It’s the wisdom of thousands of years prior to Jesus. It applies to clergy as well as to laypersons.

     What happens to debts left unpaid at death? Does some sprinkled water erase them? Do a few prescribed words of confession erase them? Are the laws of the universe (that have been set in place by God) nullified by our rituals? Is there more? Have you thought about it? More important, do you think the kingdom of God will only be found in the afterlife? Just asking questions today.

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In God We Trust – Really?

 

     Have you ever wondered why the slogan “In God We Trust” is printed on our money?  Isn’t that oxymoronic? Maybe we should start imprinting the same slogan on our guns. That might calm our trigger-happy fears so that our aim can be more deadly. In God we trust. Really?

     The fourth stanza of the Star-Spangled Banner (written during the War of 1812) contains the phrase “And this be our motto: In God is our trust.” In 1861, Rev. M.R. Watkinson petitioned the Treasury Department to add a statement recognizing the Almighty God in some way on our coins “to relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism.” Part of the motivation was to declare the God was on the Union side of the Civil War (Wikipedia). Of course He was.

     A nation whose Christian occupants claim it is built on Christian values prints a God-trusting slogan on its Mammon. That’s putting sheep’s clothing on a wolf.

     Then the Red Scare in the 1950’s led the conservatives in congress to distinguish the United States from the Soviet Union, which promoted state atheism. In God We Trust became the official motto in 1956.

     Jesus said, “Love your enemy.” He trusted we’d use our intelligence to figure out how to do that, with money and with guns.

     I’m not unreasonable. I don’t believe Jesus would suggest you or I stand back and watch as innocent people are victimized. Nor do I think Jesus was promoting the total absence of protective weapons. There are dangerous people in the world who have never felt love nor given it. They are in it for themselves. They live in their own hell. They don’t trust in God, nor do they trust people. Here’s evidence that Jesus understood the reality of the need for reasonable protection:

35 Jesus said to them, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “No, not a thing.” 36 He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” 38 They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” He replied, “It is enough.” 39 He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him (Luke 22:35-39 NRSV).

Pirate     Jesus realized the time for confrontation had come and he was leading his disciples into a firestorm fueled by emotion. And the people with the “guns” to be feared were (as usual) the religious ones. It’s okay to be prepared because there are irrational people who operate from emotions. It’s okay to defend yourself. The Koran also says it’s okay to defend yourself. However, it agrees that aggression is wrong.

     Eleven disciples and two swords. Jesus said, “It is enough.”

     The religion of Islam is not bad. Just like swords are not bad and guns are not bad. People are just undeveloped. The meaning of Islam comes from the Arabic root “Salema” which means peace, purity, submission, and obedience. In the religious sense, Islam means submission to the will of God and obedience to God’s law. The professed Islamic militants who promote aggression are not obedient to God’s law as written in their Koran, they are hypocrites…just like those Christians who promote aggression and retaliation are not obedient to the guidance of the One they call Christ.

     Christians who promote an eye for an eye retaliation are not being obedience to the teachings of Jesus, who said, “You have heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I tell you, do not resist an evil person” (Matt. 5:38-39 NKJV). Jesus wasn’t saying, don’t defend yourself. He was saying, don’t retaliate. Don’t repay evil with evil. You will only continue the cycle of sin and evil. Don’t add gasoline to the fire. Be mature. Rise above evil. Sit down with your enemy and find out what he/she fears from you. Then assure him/her that you also want him/her to be secure and happy in life. Then work to make it happen. This is loving your enemy. Show him/her what it looks like to be mature. Remove fear, don’t increase it.

     One last point:

“Do not fear those who would kill the body but cannot kill the soul…But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Therefore whoever confesses (homologeō) Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies (arneomai) Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt.10:28, 30-33 NKJV).

     What is the context? It’s trusting in God. To “confess” Jesus is to agree with him and his teachings. It’s trusting his teachings are true. Here are the definitions for the two underlined words in the passage:

homologeō – to speak or say the same together with another, that is to say to speak the same language, to say the same things, that is to say to assent, accord, agree with, coincide with, grant, admit, confess.

arneomai – to deny, disown; to say no, refuse, decline, renounce, reject.

     Do you agree with Jesus and his teachings? They are one and the same thing. You decide for yourself.

     Put your faith into action. Trust in God. Trust in Jesus. Really…trust!

     But do background check first…and don’t give a sword or a gun to anyone (especially a religious leader) who has a history of acting before he thinks, like Peter, the first pope of the church. Go figure.

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