June 7, 1992
When Human Ingenuity is Too Much
(Genesis 11:1-9; Ads 2:1-21)
At Genesis 11:1 comes this: “the whole earth had one language and the same words.” The balance of our lectionary text deals with this prominent theme. In a way, this idea of the whole earth having one language is an intriguing one. In fact, an artificial language called Esperanto was created simply for the purpose of international communication. In addition, the Berlitz Corporation’s business is to help international travelers learn foreign languages for tourism and business.
We live today in an international arena to an extent the world has never seen. International markets for products are as extensive as ever — we also see the tension it causes, even in our own political processes. The fact that our economic system is so tied to other nations, and the idea of “buy American” so appealing at first blush, it is easy to forget that if this philosophy were implemented, then American workers would be hurt, too. This is because no nation is strictly independent today, as perhaps they had been in earlier days. As we nations buy from each other we also work for each other.
Speaking the Same Tongue
The idea of one language seems like a good sign and symbol of unity. Why would it not be a good thing we think today? The answer from Genesis 11 is embedded in verse 6: “And the Lord said, ‘Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them’.” With the unity symbolized by a common language we might expect a noble attempt to do something worthy.
This text, however, says no! When the people have a common language, they do not do good, but try and become as God (or gods). The text itself says that, “nothing they propose to do will be impossible for them.” It is for this reason that the Lord scattered them abroad and confused their language. It is ironic that human unity is a problem for God — as is human disunity. This is yet another example of people’s penchant for using God’s good gifts in ways that are not for the ultimate good of the rest of God’s creation.
Not Speaking the Same Tongue
If speaking one universal human language was a problem for the Lord, humans speaking multitudes of languages has been a human problem ever since. On the international scene, many quandaries of rival powers in the world could be solved if leaders would/could talk with one another. In state and local governments, often what appear to be be philosophical differences are merely obstacles in communication. This is true in families and churches, too.
The Bible can likewise be so understood. As I am fond of saying to my church, communication is the fundamental problem most of us have in understanding the Bible. We either don’t understand what it is trying to tell us or — we do understand.
The scripture, at this point in our discussion, gives us an interesting window on the nature of human beings. When we communicate well, then we are prone to over-reach our God-given limitations as creations of God. On the other hand, it is true from the history of human experience that when people do not communicate then trouble is to be expected. These two contrasting pictures of the human condition might make us think that people cannot ever really solve the most problematic aspects of their own humanity.
The Gift of God’s Grace
The great gift to the church of Jesus Christ at Pentecost was that God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, made it once again possible for all people to speak the same language. This time it was not so “nothing they do will be impossible,” but rather so that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Thus, by the gift of God’s grace, people’s lives may be for making a name for their God, rather than for themselves. For human creatures to be unified for something worthy, it is God’s spirit guiding, shaping, and leading. This is the message of Pentecost. (DM)
June 14, 1992
Passing the Truth Along
(John 16:12-15)
John’s gospel is full of enigmatic sayings of Jesus. These are no doubt easier to understand from the perspective of twenty centuries, but even now they often sound mysterious. One phrase which is repeated over and over in this gospel is the one that Jesus says regarding “His hour.” One instance of this hour business is at the wedding at Cana. The guests have run out of wine, Jesus’ mother reports. And His reply, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”
So much for honoring your parents — unless, that is, there is a deeper and more profound meaning than meets our eye. We all should come to know that when Jesus says or does something which seems strange to us, there is a deeper meaning.
John uses this idea, “my hour has not yet come,” to emphasize the eschatological or history-making nature of His ministry. The hour of His departure is crucial to the theme of the Kingdom or Realm of God in the other Gospels. In John the hour is tied to the inauguration of eternal life, which is a phrase John uses to mean what Matthew, Mark, and Luke mean when they use Kingdom language.
Somehow when Jesus’ hour comes, this sense of God’s time will signal that the new age has arrived. Parables of wheat, tares, the fig tree and other agricultural images, all point to the growing and dynamic aspects of the coming of the Realm of God.
Our text ties directly into this theme, for Jesus is preparing His disciples for His departure. In chapter 12, Jesus raised Lazarus and thereby marked both of them, for the chief priest planned to put them both (Jesus and Lazarus) to death (John 12:10). For John, the moment of truth comes when some Greeks, representing all Gentiles, come seeking Jesus. When these make the request to see Jesus, via Andrew, Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” This is to say, the time is fulfilled and ripe for the ultimate events in salvation history to take place — passion, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus as the Christ of God.
At John 16:12-15, Jesus says “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own, but will speak whatever He hears, and He will declare to you the things that are to come.” This is part of our text and tells the disciples — and us — something we need to know. When Jesus leaves to be with God, Jesus does not leave God’s people alone. This Spirit of truth will come and guide the people. They will not be left alone.
As a pastor I visit in many persons’ homes throughout the week. Invariably, I see photographs of long-departed relatives on these family walls. These pictures occupy places of honor. Why? It is because though these persons have long since departed this life, they nonetheless continue to exert an influence on our lives. When Jesus departed this physical world, left in His stead was the truth. Perhaps it was a reminder that no matter where or when or why we ever speak the truth, when we do we are speaking it as a remembrance of Christ. (DM)
June 21, 1992
No Free Lunch: The Paradox of Salvation
(Luke 9:18-24)
My wife and I were driving down the interstate heading for what she calls God’s country (Alabama). I saw a large billboard for McDonald’s. It said “Tour Buses Welcome! Drivers Eat Free.” Now is that true? Of course not. If it were, the rest of the folks on the bus wouldn’t have to pay as much for their food. The bus driver may not shell out any money, but his meal is not free. Somebody pays for his meal.
We’re all familiar with the buy one, get one free sales at the grocery store. Do you really get that other item free? Of course not. If you did, the rest of the groceries you buy wouldn’t cost you as much. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
What’s a paradox? A paradox is two statements that are true but on the surface seem to contradict one another.
On the one hand salvation is free. Romans 8:23 tells us that the gift of God (salvation) is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Ephesians 2:8-9 makes it clear that “by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works lest any man should boast.” Salvation is God’s free gift, freely offered to all persons regardless of race, religion, color, or creed. There is nothing you can do to earn it. You can’t buy it. You can’t make yourself good enough to deserve it. It is free.
On the other hand, salvation has a price; it costs. Our salvation cost God. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” God sacrificed His Son in order to make possible the free gift of salvation.
Now we come to the real paradox of salvation. Our salvation cost God. Our salvation cost Jesus Christ. And, our salvation costs you and me. You say, “Wait a minute! You just said salvation is free; there’s nothing you can do to earn it, buy it, or deserve it. And now you’re saying we have to pay for it?” That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that if you’ve truly had a life-changing experience with Jesus Christ, your commitment to God will cost you. In Luke 9:23 we have a clear expression of the cost involved: “And He said to them all, if any man will come after me, let him deny self, take up his cross daily, and follow me.”
Paul recognized the cost of salvation. In Galatians 2:20 he expressed his acceptance of that cost: “For I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me and the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Baptism pictures the cost of salvation. We die to self. We rise to new life, a life of obedience to Jesus Christ, a life controlled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. When a person comes to Jesus Christ for salvation, that person is making a commitment to live a life of self-denial, self-sacrifice, and obedience to Jesus Christ as the Lord of his/her life. If any person will come after me, they must deny self, take up his or her cross, and follow me.
Now, let’s look at how we, as Christians, have responded to the cost of salvation.
God made salvation simple but we’ve made it easy. Many times we stress the freeness of salvation but forget to mention (or de-emphasize) the demands of salvation. Maybe it’s because we don’t want to scare them off. If we start talking about denying self, sacrificing self, and giving total obedience to the Lord, they might decide that they want nothing to do with Christianity. But Christ always let people know up front what they were getting into. We tell them that all they have to do is profess faith in Jesus Christ, be baptized and then be seated. The result is that we’ve created a generation of pew bumps: people who sit in the pew and never get involved in ministering to others; people who are saved but never work out their salvation with fear and trembling. And, after a time, they begin to find out that the Christian life is not as easy as they were led to believe and when that happens they begin to disappear.
Christ said count the cost; we say consider the gain. This is the response of many TV evangelists. They hold up the carrot of prosperity, health, materialism. “Receive Jesus Christ and receive all these things!” What they don’t realize is that by focusing on the materialism of this world, they have given themselves to this world.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe that God blesses us and that we should ask for those things that we need. But God’s Word doesn’t promise riches and prosperity to Christ’s followers. We may experience riches and prosperity but Christ tells His followers to expect instead persecution, tribulation, and suffering as the blessings we are most likely to receive. Emphasizing health, wealth, and prosperity creates Christians who cannot accept sickness, persecution, poverty, or suffering. When they begin to experience these things they often become bitter, accuse God of abandoning them, and fall away.
Our greatest need is to live up to the commitment we made to Jesus Christ when He gave us the free gift of salvation. We need to back up our profession of faith with a life that illustrates what we proclaim as Christians. (SR)
June 28, 1992
Settling the Big Question First
(1 Kings 19:15-21)
Our text has two distinct parts. The first four verses have to do with the meeting of God and Elijah on the mountain called Horeb. Elijah had previously shown the power of the Lord in ending the great drought, slaughtered the 450 prophets of Baal, and then fled for his life from Queen Jezebel. Our text picks up right after the Lord speaks to Elijah in a still small voice.
Then the Lord, our text tells us, said to Elijah various things; for instance, you shall anoint Hazael and Jehu kings “and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah as prophet in your place.” These appear to be God’s final directives for his faithful prophet Elijah. We see this in the choice of Elisha, the successor. All those who have been unfaithful will be dealt with by the sword or the prophet.
The Lord does make this promise: “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” There will be a reward for those who have not fallen away and chased after false gods. These are the faithful witnesses.
The second part of our scripture tells the story of Elisha’s being found by Elijah. Elijah finds his successor out plowing his field behind a team of a dozen oxen. Elijah then throws his mantle over him in an act of divine call. But an odd thing happens: Elisha left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” (verse 21). Why does Elijah say such a thing?
A similar incident, of a would-be follower, occurs in Matthew 8. A scribe informs Jesus he will follow Him anywhere. Jesus replies foxes and birds have a home-base, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head. In Luke 9, a similar scene in Jesus’ ministry is acted out. Persons along the road say to Jesus they are willing to follow Him wherever He goes. One even says something quite similar to Elisha, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:61-62). Pretty sharp words!
These reactions of Jesus and Elijah are puzzling. Why do Elijah and Jesus say these things to those seeking to follow and become disciples? Perhaps the reactions of Jesus and Elijah are ways of testing the mettle of those saying they want to follow the narrow way. To be a disciple means one must put everything else in life within the perspective of ultimate allegiance to the kingdom of God. The point can well be sung, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and its righteousness ….”
Our question for discipleship today should or could be, what is it that keeps us from putting God absolutely first in our lives? Is it the tithe? marital fidelity? prayer for the enemy? Whatever in our lives which makes God penultimate — and thereby not ultimate — are those things that are idols. What is God’s test for us?
This story from 1 Kings does have a fitting ending. It says: “Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.” (DM)
July 5, 1992
Lost and Found!
(1 Kings 21:1-3, 17-21)
The text under scrutiny for this Sunday is, if it is anything, a story used to teach a moral imperative. The heart and soul of this story is that for those who choose to oppress their weaker neighbor, divine punishment will be the consequence for such perversion of justice. The biblical story as it unfolds is most concerned with the plight of the widow, the stranger, the orphan, and those who are oftentimes oppressed. This story of Naboth’s vineyard is one in a long tradition of stories that make it clear the God of the Bible will punish those who act unjustly.
The passage begins by setting the stage for the drama to unfold. Verses 1-3 share with the reader that there is a vineyard in Jezreel owned by Naboth and wanted by King Ahab. Two key words in this introduction are “inheritance” and “possession.” The images conjured up by the author, writing to a He-brew audience, have more implications than just the immediate tale being told. Such words shared in the Hebrew community point to the theology of the land as focused and explained in the tradition of Deuteronomy. Therefore, there may be more going on here than meets the eye.
We discover, then, that the message has a parallel meaning. This is a story that deals not only with how one should not treat one weaker than they, but also what happens to nations which fail to abide by the will and Word of God. This moral story was told for both the individual and the community.
The heart of the message for the preacher is one of listening and receiving God’s will and then allowing that will to find expression in the midst of life. The will of God is not to be taken for granted nor is it to be discarded for our own whims, wants, or desires. Such choices will only lead to divine retribution and punishment at the hand of the One who is seeking expression and revelation in human history.
This message is a timeless one. It speaks to today’s world as injustice and selfishness find such vivid expression in life. In a world where persons become consumers the question must be asked, what are we willing to do for what we want? The message of this story is lived out time and time again as we defy God’s will in favor of what we think we must have. When such decisions are made, many times the full implications of such deciding is overlooked.
To get that which we desire many times means sacrificing the welfare of our neighbors, our society, and oftentimes ourselves and our families. Decisions to overeat, smoke, drink in excess, overspend, overindulge, all become expressions of the same root problem. Such behavior becomes a powerful symptom of persons and cultures refusing to follow the will of God as He offers justice, morality, righteousness, and wholeness.
The image that comes to mind for preaching this text is found when Elijah responds to Ahab’s exclamation, “so you have found me, my enemy,” with “I have found you.” The image is one of becoming lost in our selves and our own desires to the exclusion of what is good, right, whole, and of God. The grace of it all is that God does indeed discover us! And while the initial word God pronounces to us is not easy to hear, it nevertheless sheds light on the wrongness and brokenness of our decisions.
We become uneasy sometimes with such stories as this because of the way God is depicted and the punishment He brings. Yet, it is the parent who loves the child, who helps to teach the child where the limits are and what happens when such limits are surpassed. Sometimes the hard word is so hard not because God is speaking it, but because of our response to it.
It is never easy to hear the word of judgment. However, sometimes it is only through such judgment that we learn and move to righteousness. Playing upon the image of lost and found, the preacher can help the listener to understand the connection between the injustice of our actions and the judgment of God. Thank God we are found and held accountable for such behavior. It is through such love and grace that God seeks to restore us and heal us. (TF)
July 12, 1992
Trusting the Mystery!
(2 Kings 2:1, 6-14)
In this most powerful message describing the inheritance by Elisha of the mantle of Elijah, we have entered into the mysterious world of the prophet. The time has come for the mantle of prophecy to pass from one generation to another. This process of inheriting the mantle of prophecy involves some symbolic acts of testing and trust. The story has a dramatic move to it which eventually culminates in the inheritance of Elijah’s portion by Elisha.
This story is all about what authenticates a person’s call to ministry. The story is clear at this point as that call is passed from one generation to another. This story also has to do with the authoritative Word of God which makes such a call possible. Elisha’s willingness in verse 6 to not leave Elijah, demonstrates his trust and loyalty to God’s leading through the prophet Elijah.
Elisha is willing to be open to following God’s call and movement in his life as it finds expression through Elijah. That willingness and openness, that trust and obedience, has been cultivated and nourished through Elijah. The insistence by Elijah that it is the Lord who is leading him makes it clear that there is meaning, purpose, direction, and reason to Elijah’s actions.
The transformation that takes place in the life of Elisha testifies to his growth in vision and understanding as to what God is doing in and through Elijah’s actions. It is a time of preparation, testing, readiness, and growth for Elisha as he follows and responds to Elijah.
Hearing this text demands an appreciation for how God works in and through others in such mystery. This text allows us to address the undeniable fact that God’s ways are not our ways. The beauty and power of the text lies in the dramatic tension between Elijah and Elisha as the prophet Elijah seeks to teach and to challenge Elisha. The mystery of the movement and actions of Elijah are never fully explained, which is part of the point being made. Suffice it to say that the Lord is leading.
Frederick Buechner, in his book Wishful Thinking, says, “we never solve the mystery, we live the mystery.” With such an understanding, explanations are not needed. The real climax of the story is reached when Elisha has allowed the mystery of God to lead him to the point that his eyes have been opened to receive the inheritance of prophethood.
The message of this story for the modern reader or listener is that God is God. As such, life by its very nature is a mystery not to be understood, but explored. Elisha’s response to such a mystery as it has called him was to follow where it led him. Such trust in the midst of the mystery led Elisha to see that which God sought to reveal to him.
This is not an easy concept for people today. From childhood we are taught to solve problems. For many persons, life becomes a problem to be solved or a question to be answered. Such a structure becomes most frustrating, for life is neither.
This story provides the preacher the opportunity to share a very powerful truth about life; it is a mystery. The story opens the door for proclamation as to what our responses must be in light of such a mystery. That response, according to Elisha’s model, is one of trust and obedience to a life and a call that many times we simply do not understand. Elisha says to us today: trust the mystery! (TF)
July 19, 1992
Triangles that Last
(Luke 10:38-42)
It was Wolfman Jack who coined the classic phrase, “You got the curves, I got the angles.” It was R. Buckminster Fuller who basically reversed the aphorism; he could have said, “You get the angles, I’ll make the curves.”
It was Fuller, of course, who invented the geodesic dome, a spherical structure made up, generally, of triangles. I, for one, find them fun to look at — a host of “plane” triangles, hooked base to base and side to side, forming all or part of a ball! Until the geodesic dome, I never knew triangles could be so versatile!
One may see these structures, small to large, simple to elaborate, almost anywhere — there is a fruit stand near my house which does business under such a dome. A family in our community is currently building a new “dome home,” as it were. And who hasn’t seen at least pictures of Spaceship Earth at Walt Disney’s Epcot? On the surface of each, and therefore at each dome’s heart, are bunches of those little, unassuming, despised-by-beginning-geometry-students-everywhere, triangles.
R. Buckminster Fuller demonstrated in dramatic fashion what could be built with triangles. My sense is that what Fuller proved architecturally is also demonstrable relationally, and, even more to the point, spiritually.
There is abundant current literature dealing with the matter of “triangles” and “triangling” in family and systems theory. One noted author, the Jewish rabbi Edwin Friedman, has applied this systems theory to the congregation/synagogue.1
Positively, triangles serve to give us balance and support; just as a stool cannot sit on two legs alone but must have a third, so interpersonal relationships have to have the stablizing support of a third aspect. On the negative side, the triangle can defocus rather than support.
“Man-woman-marriage” is often a good triangle; husband-wife-remote control often isn’t. Other examples? Spouses need friends, but a marriage rarely survives the triangle of an affair. Two children can play together for a while, but they often need a third to play more. What happens? With three you get jealousy, too, and sometimes fights. And so it goes.
Like the house in my community, we build our emotional homes, our lives, with relational triangles of one sort or the other. We need healthy triangles for the domes we build to be strong ones.
Neither to psychologize nor “relationalize” this passage, one might still apply such thinking, especially in its spiritual and ecclesiological dimensions, to this text from Luke. For what you have here are at least three triangles, two of them unhealthy, one of them life-giving.
On the negative side first, there is Mary, Martha, and the work. The work has to be done — there is nothing sinful about work, and at one level Martha is to be commended for her diligence. Bible study always goes down better after a good Family Night Supper. But the work also is the occasion for her anger and frustration. She uses the work against her sister. Instead of using a task as an opportunity for cooperation, it becomes a “guilt gun.” This kind of triangle, though very common, is quite harmful in the church.
Similarly, there is Mary, Martha and Jesus. Jesus and Mary are doing fine, she at His feet, Him teaching her the word. Martha triangles herself in to disrupt the teaching and press her concerns indirectly. Such tattling as she does, such indirect scolding, even trying to enlist Jesus in her frustration — such is the kind of thing one sees in unhappy churches.
In unhappy churches people are often more concerned with what others are doing, or not doing, than with what Jesus is doing. “What about him?” “What about her?” And so is our spiritual barometer sensitive to the wrong kind of pressure. Our testimony should never be, “I am about as faithful as she is,” or even “more faithful than him.” Our goal ought always to be, “I am as faithful as Jesus wants me to be.”
So there is that third triangle, the life-giving one: Jesus, Mary, and the Word. Jesus defied convention by teaching Mary. Mary found the teaching more life-giving than a conventional meal. And in that triangle a sphere of faith was being built, one in which Mary — and we, if we follow her example — will be pleased to live. This is the triangle that lasts.
I don’t know, of course, but Mary probably would have helped with the cleaning in the kitchen once she got through listening in the den. Maybe the problem was one of timing, of Mary and Martha’s sense of the same. (My wife and I have the same problem — “I’ll do it in a minute” doesn’t seem to mean the same thing to her as it does to me!)
What I do know is that after Jesus leaves there will need to be one more triangle — unformed in the text, but crucial for those sisters, and for all the rest of us. That is Mary, Martha, and the Word. They need each other, and together they need the Word. We need each other, and we need the Word. Call the dome built of those triangles a basilica, the Church. (TRS)
1. Edwin H. Friedman, Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue (New York: Guilford), 1985.
July 26, 1992
A Simple Solution
(2 Kings 5:1-15)
Willful ignorance is not identical to piety. Simple-mindedness is not the same thing as a simple faith. Anti-intellectualism cannot be equated with devotion. We are to love the Lord our God, according to the witness of both Old and New Testaments, with all our heart, soul, strength and mind.
And yet, sometimes the mind plays tricks on you. Sometimes people play tricks on your mind. Sometimes people are tediously attracted to the trivial, bull you with bull, manipulate you with minutia. Not surprisingly then, in reaction to such “mindful mindlessness,” it’s sometimes easier for us to favor the heart over the mind, to favor the soul and strength, too — if only because what comes out of some minds, what comes us-wise sometimes, sometimes is elusive, ethereal, too abstract to stand on. That, or just silly.
I remember very well a night in Louisville, after my seminary days when I was still in graduate school. I was teaching a night class in Christian Doctrine at a nearby Bible School. The topic up for grabs was “early heresies,” and I was lecturing on gnosticism in general, and Valentinian Gnosticism in particular.
As I spoke of archons, aeons, and pleromas, flesh/spirit contradistinctions, redeemers, “laughing Christs” and the like — heaping gnostic intellectualisms one upon the other, in other words — one of my students, a very bright, but formally uneducated man, said, “It would have been simpler if they’d just believed in Jesus.”
Good point.
Namaan, it seems to me, is not a little like some of those gnostics of long ago — and not a little like some religious folk of our own day. The Jewish slave girl was more like my student, not simplistic by any means but simple in her affirmation.
To begin with, Namaan believed the young woman’s simple word of faith in the prophet, and, after some diplomatic niceties, went to its source — Elisha. But by the time his chariot had pulled up in Elisha’s driveway, Namaan had taken the yeast of that simple affirmation and let it rise into quite a dough of expectation.
Surely his leprosy would require a complex cure! Surely the answer to his difficult situation would be a difficult regimen. Who knew what strange concoction of ingredients the prophet would mix together for Namaan’s healing poultice?
And how offended he was at Elisha’s prescription! Wash in the river? Seven times in the Jordan river? Why, if a good bath was all he needed, he could have taken it back in Damascus!
All in a huff, and just about to leave, Namaan was approached by his servants — theirs was an act of incredible bravery — who said, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it?” So why not do the simple thing, in other words.
So he did the simple thing, took seven simple baths in that great river, and he was simply healed.
What if we did the same thing, did the same simple thing? What if we simply did the simple things Jesus said? What if we, each one and together, loved the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength, all our mind? What if we washed in that river, as it were, washed there seven times? Or seventy times seven? My sense is that whatever spiritual leprosies any of us have, we would be cured of them.
What if we threw our minds in with that unnamed Jewish slave girl? What if we parted company with the gnostics and the “unbathed Namaan,” and so quit looking for the complex, the ethereal, the spooky, the artificially erudite — quit either expecting or enjoying that stuff so as to settle for the simpler, more powerfully healing faith: “Now I know there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.” I wonder what would happen.
Willful ignorance is not identical to piety, but there is a piety beyond knowledge, and truth beyond facts. Simplemindedness is not the same thing as a simple faith, but a simple faith can bear the weight of complex times. Anti-intellectualism is not pleasing to God (neither, of course, prideful intellectualism, or fake intellectualism, either); but devotion, whether schooled or unschooled, is the heart of the Kingdom.
Instead of all the stuff that sometimes passes for faith, instead of the complexity we sometimes bathe in and demand of our “prophets” — instead of all that, wouldn’t it be simpler if we’d just believe in Jesus? (TRS)
Sermons in this issue are provided by: David Mosser, Pastor, First United Methodist Church, Georgetown, TX; Stanley Reedy, Pastor, Liberty Baptist Church, Goshen, KY; Travis Franklin, Pastor United Methodist Church, Azle, Texas; and Thomas E. Steagald, Pastor, Highlands United Methodist Church, Highlands, NC.

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