Run the Race

I have learned to look for the encouragement and exhortation of Christ Jesus to live the Way of Truth that is Life in any and all circumstances I encounter.

Examples of going eye to eye with what others deem a losing proposition; an exercise in futility; an irrational refusal to face facts; a behavior that will be an affront to those we seek to enlist; and an embarrassing display of supposed lone rangerism, nourish my soul and remind me that the impossible is possible and the truth will prevail in the in the long run in the face of cowardly behavior and selling one’s soul for the sake of approval which will wither and perish in the heat of true wisdom.

These people remind me that the right path may be the path that only one will take and in doing so incur the wrath of those who have sold out to business as usual for the sake of pretending to be something that they are not. I am inspired by those who have a fire in the belly that drives them to paddle against the Tsunami and live in harmony with their deepest convictions. In the face of such courageous displays of allegiance to the truth regardless of the cost I must repent to my own unwillingness to do the same within the realm of my struggles.

“…never give in, never give in, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” Winston Churchill

Bravo to the courageous few (or the one) who hold fast and take a stand for the truth and the way of truth in any and all facets of life.

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The Prudent Steward

Today’s gospel reading in the Revised Common Lectionary (Luke 16.1-13) is one of what I would call, the hard sayings of Jesus. When I say hard sayings I do not mean hard in the sense of challenging to live out. Rather, I mean hard to understand. Hard to come away with anything but a confused and bewildered look on our faces.

Jesus seems to be commending dishonesty. Surely not… And, in fact, you would be right. Jesus is not encouraging us to cheat.

So, what way of relating to the circumstances of everyday life is Jesus encouraging us to adopt? Rather than attempt to articulate it myself, let me commend the reflection that can be found here.

I do, however, want to point out what I believe to be another underlying theme of Jesus’ teachings that this parable reiterates.

I cannot count the number of times I have had conversations with believers about their reading of Matthew 6.25-34 in which Jesus commends us to entrust the future to Him and His faithful provision. People end up struggling with that passage. Why? I am convinced it is because they (me too) tend to treat the meaning of so many passages as if they are “either/or” statements. Many of the things Jesus taught are misunderstood using this kind of approach exclusively. (Parenthetically, let me assure you that I realize there are statements that MUST be understood as “either/or”.) There is an appropriate “both/and” way of embracing what Jesus was saying on a number of occasions. What Jesus was teaching does not disallow a certain kind of subtlety that challenges our way of approaching the navigation of everyday circumstances. It invites us to respond as a result of looking “into” rather than “at” things.

So, we might say Jesus us is not challenging us to look at things differently but to let go of looking at them in any way and looking into them instead. Hmmm…

The kind of subtlety I am referring to can be found in many of the strange sayings in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. The gospel for today is a good example. It is VERY subtle. It can be harvested with patience and more of the “both/and” approach we find in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. Proverbial wisdom and the prudent behavior that results from it are not antithetical to the gospel. They are one aspect of the mysterious depth and applicability of it to our everyday life, filled with circumstances that require a subtle approach rather than a “it is what it is” approach.

Perhaps it boils down to the difference between living life as one propositional and principled test after another and living life (morality and merit); and living life as a network of relationships with persons of infinite value who mysteriously reflect to varying degrees the image and likeness of God, and in whose lives, God is salvifically at work, an in which wok He invites us to participate (relationally and life-engendering).  I am just saying. It could be …

The Call of Matthew

Matthew 9.9-13call of matthew
[9] As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
[10] And as he sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples.
[11] And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
[12] But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.
[13] Go and learn what this means, `I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

What I love about this passage is the complete representation of what has occurred in the life of Matthew. What has happened is not just spiritual but also physical. It portrays the union of spirit and matter, of commitment to the Lord Jesus accompanied by a corresponding commitment to a changed way of living.

Jesus knocks at the door of Matthew’s heart. Matthew opens his heart and invites the Lord into it. In turn Jesus invites Matthew into his Way of Life and Matthew enters in.

Likewise, Matthew invites Jesus to a banquet at his home (his life). He is not afraid of “going public” about his commitment. The Lord is willing and enters in. Notice that the passage then seems to take a mysterious turn. Let me point to it by asking, “Whose is the host of the banquet at Matthew’s home?” Jesus sits at table with Matthew – Matthew is Jesus’ host. But notice that in the same verse it says, “…many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus…” The implication seems to be that the banquet starts out being Matthew’s and ends up being Jesus’. The union of the heart of God and the heart of men and women corresponds to the union of the common life of God and the common life of men and women.

The heart into which the Lord is invited ceases to be the disciple’s heart. It becomes the temple/palace of the master into which He invites and entertains “all sorts and conditions of men.” Likewise, the life into which a person invites the Lord ceases to be his or her life (see 1 Co. 6.19-20). It becomes the physical temple/palace of the Master where not only the person’s life is changed but those who are invited into it are saved.

The Way of Foolishness and the Way of Wisdom — Another Intersection on the Way

Extreme Humility iconJesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” (John 18.36)

I remember a course that was taught at the seminary I attended entitled, “The Bible and The New York Times.” The intention of the course was to provide an opportunity to struggle with the intersection of real life and the believer’s commitment to live out the Gospel in this world. Tough… Easier to occupy one world or the other. But, to occupy two worlds at the same time?! Thorny (allusion to the crown of thorns is intended).

The ways of the Kingdom of God seem like and are considered foolishness, naïveté, a waste of time and energy, and of no useful effective, and, in fact, are seen and labeled as counterproductive to all who live according to the standards of this world. And vice versa.

The two kingdoms are not compatible. The Scriptures are clear on this point.

All would be well if that were the end of it. One kingdom would just demolish the other one. But, wait. Not so fast.

But, the very same Scriptures commend us to live fully in this world and yet not of it.  What?! That cannot be right.

How could the very same Word of God proclaim both. Surely it has to be one or the other. Surely… Otherwise, it is impossible. Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10.27 see also Luke 1.37)

Jesus is not entering the Holy City on a white charger. He is not defending himself. He is not calling down legions of angels to destroy this world. He is dying on the cross. He seems to be alluding to some kind of redemption or recreation of it by embracing it with love.

Well, there He goes again, messing up my plans for a nice “doable thing.”

I cannot avoid it. No way around it. The eye of the needle. The fact of the matter is, from where I stand at this point on the pilgrim’s way, the desire to be “of” the Kingdom of God and yet live fully “in” this world is one that presents me with the ongoing challenge to do exactly what Indiana Jones is compelled to do in “The Last Crusade” when he faces the three challenges:

The Breath of God; only the penitent man will pass. The penitent man will pass. (He repeats this over and over again.) The penitent man is humble before God. Penitent man is humble… kneels before God. Kneel!…

The Word of God. Only in the footsteps of God will he proceed. The Word of God. The Word…. Proceed in the footsteps of the Word. The name of God…. Jehovah….

The Path of God. Only in the leap from the lion’s head will he prove his worth. Impossible… nobody can jump this. It’s a leap of faith. Oh geez….”

To do the impossible by the grace of God – to live in this world and yet of the Kingdom of God.

Another way to speak of this is to portray it as living “at the edge.” The edge is the place where the two worlds intersect. It is a moving edge because it is the location of the Kingdom’s recreation/redemption/saving of the world. It is the place where hope meets despair and hope becomes real hope. It is the place where faith meets faithlessness and faith becomes real. It is the place where love meets fear and shines as real love. This is Calvary and the empty tomb — the moving edge that we must always be moving with. It is the place where the famous words of the Order for Burial are always applicable:

Thou only art immortal, the creator and maker of mankind;
and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and unto earth shall
we return.  For so thou didst ordain when thou createdst me,
saying, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”  All
we go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make
our song:  Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

But that impossible possibility brings another challenge. It is the definite possibility, (dare I say certainty?) of being ostracized by those in both “kingdoms” who opt for their “kingdom” to the exclusion of the other as the life-giving way to live.

The latest eruptions in the Middle East – Egypt and Syria – force me to ask what “the Way of impossible possibility” looks like. Not an easy question. Not an easy answer. But, nonetheless, one that has a clear approach from the perspective of the Body of Christ. To paraphrase Pope Francis, the only way forward is with prayer and fasting. The eye of the needle. The challenge to hold (to hug with love) both, The New York Times (or The Wall Street Journal if you prefer) and the Bible at the same time and, in so doing, to stay relational — to stay in the impossible possibility. It seems to be a giant opportunity to walk the way of the cross and resurrection both as the way we must walk if we seek revelation of way the way forward looks while, at the same time, being reminded that the way forward will look, somehow, like a cross and a resurrection. At least that is what it seems to involve from the perspective of one who sees through a glass darkly and in need of God’s mercy…

Here are some passages and a reflection from Thomas a Kempis that might assist you in your reflection on this “thorny” path (pun intended).

———————–

Psalms 34
[1] I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
[2] My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
let the afflicted hear and be glad.
[3] O magnify the LORD with me,
and let us exalt his name together!
[4] I sought the LORD, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears.
[5] Look to him, and be radiant;
so your faces shall never be ashamed.
[6] This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him,
and saved him out of all his troubles.
[7] The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
[8] O taste and see that the LORD is good!
Happy is the man who takes refuge in him!
[9] O fear the LORD, you his saints,
for those who fear him have no want!
[10] The young lions suffer want and hunger;
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
[11] Come, O sons, listen to me,
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
[12] What man is there who desires life,
and covets many days, that he may enjoy good?
[13] Keep your tongue from evil,
and your lips from speaking deceit.
[14] Depart from evil, and do good;
seek peace, and pursue it.
[15] The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous,
and his ears toward their cry.
[16] The face of the LORD is against evildoers,
to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
[17] When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears,
and delivers them out of all their troubles.
[18] The LORD is near to the brokenhearted,
and saves the crushed in spirit.
[19] Many are the afflictions of the righteous;
but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
[20] He keeps all his bones;
not one of them is broken.
[21] Evil shall slay the wicked;
and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
[22] The LORD redeems the life of his servants;
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

Proverbs 8
[1] Does not wisdom call,
does not understanding raise her voice?
[2] On the heights beside the way,
in the paths she takes her stand;
[3] beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud:
[4] “To you, O men, I call,
and my cry is to the sons of men.
[5] O simple ones, learn prudence;
O foolish men, pay attention.
[6] Hear, for I will speak noble things,
and from my lips will come what is right;
[7] for my mouth will utter truth;
wickedness is an abomination to my lips.
[8] All the words of my mouth are righteous;
there is nothing twisted or crooked in them.
[9] They are all straight to him who understands
and right to those who find knowledge.
[10] Take my instruction instead of silver,
and knowledge rather than choice gold;
[11] for wisdom is better than jewels,
and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.
[12] I, wisdom, dwell in prudence,
and I find knowledge and discretion.
[13] The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
and perverted speech I hate.
[14] I have counsel and sound wisdom,
I have insight, I have strength.
[15] By me kings reign,
and rulers decree what is just;
[16] by me princes rule,
and nobles govern the earth.
[17] I love those who love me,
and those who seek me diligently find me.
[18] Riches and honor are with me,
enduring wealth and prosperity.
[19] My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold,
and my yield than choice silver.
[20] I walk in the way of righteousness,
in the paths of justice,
[21] endowing with wealth those who love me,
and filling their treasuries.
[22] The LORD created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of old.
[23] Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
[24] When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
[25] Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth;
[26] before he had made the earth with its fields,
or the first of the dust of the world.
[27] When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
[28] when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
[29] when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
[30] then I was beside him, like a master workman;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
[31] rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the sons of men.
[32] And now, my sons, listen to me:
happy are those who keep my ways.
[33] Hear instruction and be wise,
and do not neglect it.
[34] Happy is the man who listens to me,
watching daily at my gates,
waiting beside my doors.
[35] For he who finds me finds life
and obtains favor from the LORD;
[36] but he who misses me injures himself;
all who hate me love death.”

1 Corinthians 13.13—14.1
[13] So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
[1] Make love your aim…” (1 Corinthians 13.13—14.1)

III. “How all the Words of God are to be heard with Humility, and how many consider them not.”

“MY Son, hear My words, for My words are most sweet, surpassing all the knowledge of the philosophers and wise men of this world. My words are spirit, and they are life, 1 and are not to be weighed by man’s understanding. They are not to be drawn forth for vain approbation, but to be heard in silence, and to be received with all humility and with deep love.”

2. And I said, “Blessed is the man whom Thou teachest, O Lord, and instructest him in Thy law, that Thou mayest give him rest in time of adversity, 2 and that he be not desolate in the earth.”

3. “I,” saith the Lord, “taught the prophets from the beginning, and even now cease I not to speak unto all; but many are deaf and hardened against My voice; many love to listen to the world rather than to God, they follow after the desires of the flesh more readily than after the good pleasure of God. The world promiseth things that are temporal and small, and it is served with great eagerness. I promise things that are great and eternal, and the hearts of mortals are slow to stir. Who serveth and obeyeth Me in all things, with such carefulness as he serveth the world and its rulers?

Be thou ashamed, O Sidon, saith the sea;
And if thou reason seekest, hear thou me.

For a little reward men make a long journey; for eternal life many will scarce lift a foot once from the ground. Mean reward is sought after; for a single piece of money sometimes there is shameful striving; for a thing which is vain and for a trifling promise, men shrink not from toiling day and night.”

4. “But, O shame! for an unchangeable good, for an inestimable reward, for the highest honour and for a glory that fadeth not away, it is irksome to them to toil even a little. Be thou ashamed therefore, slothful and discontented servant, for they are found readier unto perdition than thou unto life. They rejoice more heartily in vanity than thou in the truth. Sometimes, indeed, they are disappointed of their hope, but my promise faileth no man, nor sendeth away empty him who trusteth in Me. What I have promised I will give; what I have said I will fulfil; if only a man remain faithful in My love unto the end. Therefore am I the rewarder of all good men, and a strong approver of all who are godly.

5. “Write My words in thy heart and consider them diligently, for they shall be very needful to thee in time of temptation. What thou understandest not when thou readest, thou shalt know in the time of thy visitation. I am wont to visit Mine elect in twofold manner, even by temptation and by comfort, and I teach them two lessons day by day, the one in chiding their faults, the other in exhorting them to grow in grace. He who hath My words and rejecteth them, hath one who shall judge him at the last day.” The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis, Book 3.3)