Tuesday, May 27, 2008
The city of Shoalhaven in Australia, published an entire article on the risks of building on sand dunes especially those which are close to water. Here is their risk statement:
Due to the risks involved with building on sand dunes, it is strongly advised that should you wish to buy or build on a sand dune then you will be living in a high natural risk area which may be affected by wave or wind erosion resulting in the loss of property and/or buildings. It is strongly advised that you evaluate the possible loss or damage to any development before purchasing or building on sand dunes. http://www.shoalhaven.nsw.gov.au/council/pubdocs/devpolicies/Bldg_on_Sand_Dunes.pdf
Of course, the wisdom of building one’s home on solid ground and not on sand is not new. Here is how Jesus incorporated this conventional wisdom into the concluding lines of the sermon on the mount.
(Read the whole sermon on the mount found in Matthew 5-7 at http://www.devotions.net/bible/40matthew.htm
Jesus said. "Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?' Then I will declare to them, `I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.'
"Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell-- and great was its fall!"
Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.
What is the rock of which Jesus speaks and what is sand? For many people Jesus’ teachings about life are simply ideals that do not fit very well into our daily living. In fact for those who take Jesus seriously, his words may often seem like sand rather than rock.
Jesus' claim that building a community’s life on his word is like building a house on rock. Steven Levitt, in his book, Freakanomics, suggests that asking questions that have never been asked before is one way to eventually learning something worthwhile.
He wrote: “But if you can question something that people really care about and find an answer that may surprise them—that is if you can overturn the conventional wisdom—then you may have some luck. It was John Kenneth Galbraith, the hyperliterate economic sage, coined the phrase “conventional wisdom.” He did not consider it a compliment. ‘We associate truth with convenience,’ he wrote, ‘with what most closely accords with self-interest and personal well-being or promises to best avoid awkward effort or unwelcome dislocation of life. We also find highly acceptable what contributes most to self-esteem.’ Economic and social behavior, Galbraith continued, ‘are complex, and to comprehend their character is mentally tiring. Therefore we adhere, as though to a raft, to those ideas which represent our understanding.’ So the conventional wisdom in Galbraith’s view must be simple, convenient, comfortable, and comforting—though not necessarily true.”
I offer Levitt and Galbraith’s take on conventional wisdom as a way of suggesting that Jesus word questions the conventional wisdom about the economic and social behaviors of the human family.
By suggesting the poor are blessed, Jesus goes against the conventional wisdom that poverty is a curse and wealth a blessing.
If you read through all of Jesus’ words in the sermon on the mount and see each statement as a question to be explored, perhaps the conventional wisdom that judges his word as idealistic, unrealistic, contrary to human nature, and simply utopian might yield to a deeper truth about how we live in community with each other.
Is conventional wisdom really just sand that will not support our community home when the winds and water of adversity hit us?
Sunday, May 18, 2008
"No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.
Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing?
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you-- you of little faith?
Therefore do not worry, saying, `What will we eat?' or `What will we drink?' or `What will we wear?' For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
"So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today."
Have you ever been caught between two people, both of whom claimed authority over you? Maybe it was at home, at school, at work, or in personal conflicted relationships. I think Jesus was pretty clear about what people do in such situations. We tend to serve one of these bosses and not the other.
Jesus said we could not serve God and wealth at the same time. Is this the same as saying that we can not have money and serve God? What do you think it means to serve money? Money is not only a symbolic representation of wealth in our culture, it is the way we transact business. Why do you think money or wealth is presented as a choice we could and do make instead of God?
When I was a freshman in college I worked for a man whose God was money. He was a driven soul who was hypercritical; dictatorial; and seemingly without a sense of what was just or fair to others. He promised to teach my friend, Steve, and I how to be just like him. After spending a few days with this man, I realized that I really did not want to serve whatever god he served. At that time, I guessed it was money. In a sense, he was following the simple and cruel logic of his faith. Money could buy anything that was worth having.
Jesus offers us a different relationship of faith. As I said last Sunday, the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Those of us who claim to have chosen the God Jesus revealed in his life is not like the god of money.
The god of money demands that we accept scarcity as the basis for our relationship with others. Jesus’ God tells us to relax and simply receive the many gifts that come to us in life. Anxiety is part of money worship: anxiety over not having enough or anxiety over loosing what we have. Jesus said relax, look at the way God takes care of flowers, birds, and foxes.
Jesus is not telling us to kick back and wait for someone to bring us what we need. Rather he seems to be saying that if we take care of our relationships with each other and with God, we will have what we need. To serve God is to find and love God in one another.
Money is an inanimate object and like the stone idols of old, it does not give life or seek to bring us all together in a world of shalom where justice and mercy kiss. Since it is a human invention it serves the limited and exclusive purposes of those who have the power to claim it and use it. God is simply and perfectly a gift giver “in whose service is perfect freedom.” As you prepare for this Sunday, consider your relationship to money. Does it rule over you? Do you sometimes feel like a slave to the desire for more money and what it will bring to you?
If you would like to change, consider the lilies of the field and then exercise faith in the God who made us all.
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
If we could stand the Holy Spirit in front of a mirror what would we see as the image of the imageless Spirit? Come to church on Sunday to see for your self.
This Sunday we will baptize a baby named Daniel Charles Mayer. We really do not have any idea what sort of human being he will be, but we do know that his parents and grandparents and other family and friends love this little child. Jeanne and Rick are wonderful parents. They will do everything in their power to protect Daniel Charles as he grows up from danger, illness, or deprivation. Their love is focused on Daniel and on his sister.
In love they will bring him to the waters of baptism, the way that Moses’ mother brought him to the edge of the river. Moses, whose name means drawn from the water, was brought to the river and placed in a little basket made water proof and river worthy by Moses’ mother.
She put Moses into the river in the hope that this desperate action would save him from the wrath of the Egyptians who had felt threatened by the presence of Israel within their borders. Imagine thinking that the best plan to save your child was to launch them into the Pacific Ocean in a small craft.
What Moses’ mother did to try to save her son from death turned out to have a far wider and deeper impact on him, his people, and the whole world. There was a time when parents baptized their children because they believed that without baptism, the child was in jeopardy of going to hell if they died before being baptized.
Today, we baptize to welcome children and adults into the growing family of God as living signs and witnesses of God’s love for all creation. Baptism is not a guarantee against physical harm or spiritual abandonment by God in life and after death. Baptism is the beginning of a life in God that has only one mission: to seek and serve Christ in all people, loving our neighbors as ourselves.
God created Daniel Charles, as he created Moses and each of us for a purpose. Moses led his people towards a new vision of who God is. Jesus showed us who God is. The great promise and purpose of Pentecost is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the relentless, loving presence of God who is in search of Christ in all people. Just as Jesus looked for God in all people, Daniel and all of the rest of us are now given this mission and the power to carry it out.
If we love all people as if Christ were in each, we will fulfill our purpose and the promises we made at our own baptisms. Seek Christ. Love Christ. Be Christ in the world.