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A Sacrificial View…

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgins name was Mary. And he came to her and said, Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you. But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. Mary said to the angel, How can this be, since I am a virgin? The angel said to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God. Then Mary said, Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. Then the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-35, NRSV)

One of the most under appreciated roles in our society are the roles of parents. Parenting is one of the most difficult, rewarding, confusing, enlightening, perplexing and stressful positions any human being can undertake. For many of us, parenting is a job that we didn’t sign up for (at least when we intended) and when it was thrust upon us, there was never any clear manual to of ‘dos and don’ts.’ Many more of us (those who planned and those who did not) felt, and feel totally ill-equipped for the position of parent. Having a life depend on your reasonable decision-making, responsible actions, and moral guidance 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for 18 or more years is a level of stress and microscopic supervision that can overwhelm.

The work of parenting on the whole is most fully realized in the office of mother. This is not to say that the father is somehow ‘less than’ mother in the life of a child. Fathers and father/mother figures make up a half of the parental unit that contributes to a stable and balance upbringing. Yet, the mother is so often the one who experiences the full brunt of parenting even before the child is born. It is the mother that first makes the sacrifices that are indicative of parenting, when she gives of her nutrients and gives her body over to the child growing in her body. The mother is first among parents to intuit her child’s feelings and pains. She is also the first to be present when that child is realized in the world. Sadly, mom is often the one who is there when tragedy strikes her child and feels the agony in her very being when her child suffers.

Sure, there are many parents and mothers who fall far short of this exercise of the best of the office. But it does not mean that those delinquent mothers are somehow less in the experiences of carrying another human being for 9 months and living with someone for 18+ years.

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At the heart of motherhood (and parenting) is sacrifice. Parents must give of themselves from the beginning, for the sake of their children. Biologically they give genetic material. Emotionally, the give their tears, joys and hope. Physically, they make space, room and provision. Financially, they give all they have to ensure stability and well-being. Psychologically, they give their fears and their psyche. These actions of giving are not just characterized by simple sharing, but sacrifice. As a parent, you give your ALL to your children, for the sake of your children. So many parents and mothers give up or defer their hopes and dreams for the sake of their children. So many parents and mothers give up ‘themselves’ so their children might be greater than they.

The lens of parental sacrifice is the frame through which I approach the above text. What was the life Mary gave up to be the mother of Jesus? She (and we) shall never know. We usually glorify Mary’s faithfulness to God and her ready willingness to serve. However, like all of us in the journey of faith, what we choose in God comes with unintended effects and consequences. Choosing God always results in many actions and events that were not foreseen when you made the initial decision (see Moses, Isaiah, Peter, etc.). So to, being a parent also comes with that same ‘hidden portfolio’. Debt, sadness, happiness, disappointment and gratitude are all parts of the portfolio that you never fully know as emotions until you become a parent. So then, imagine Mary making this choice for God, to be a parent. A child that has never been born before and never will be again. A special class of motherhood that comes with all the stresses of being a parent PLUS working with and by a mysterious and powerful God.

Mary gave up more than we will ever know to be the mother of Jesus. She gave up her life to see that child grow into the fullness of being that we know as God incarnate. She gave attention, time and energy as any parent would. She would give up all of her hopes and dreams for him so much so that she would suffer as he suffered at Calvary’s cross. Now celebrated as chief among mothers we cannot know the agony of the loss she experienced or the joy of reward she felt because of what her child is to the world.

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I simply offer the following vision of truth: We do not know what many of our mother’s have given up for the sake of (or in spite) of their children. We blame wayward mothers for the indiscretions of their choices. Challenge unwed mothers and unconventional motherhood as being ‘bad for the child’. We undermine the work mothers do by limiting time off of work and limiting places for motherly activity (breastfeeding, play and growth, etc.). We even somehow lessen the experience of a mother when she makes a decision that does not line up with our view of parenting.

The simple truth is we don’t know what was given for the sake of being a mother. Only a select few of our parents in our society understand the power of such a choice. Let us celebrate our mothers/parents for what they gave up and what we are. Not just because of what they did, but because of who they are.

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Seeing the Mission with Fresh Eyes

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:16-20, NRSV)

After a four week hiatus from blogging to meditate and reflect (provide some creative restoration), I am resuming our weekly reflections with revisiting the work of the church and the mandate of Christ to his church. 

As Christians I often think that we have misunderstood the mandate of Christ that was given to the church. Much work has been done around the doctrines and beliefs that come about from the self-disclosure of Christ in the Gospels. Ideas about ministry, education, faith and belief are all shaped by the infinite number of teachings that elucidate on the ‘Great Commission’.

Depending on the millennia in which a Christian found themselves, those teachings on the church’s work of proclamation, education and expansion varied and shifted. In the early days of the church, it was “the blood of the martyrs that served as the seeds for the growth of the church”, said the 2nd century church father Tertullian. In the middle ages it was the sword that served as the way to expand, with teaching and proclamation being secondary concerns of the leadership of the church. Later, post reformation, this teaching was the motivation for Christian colonial ambitions and the work of the western (and purportedly Christian) nations to conquer the world.

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The thing that all of this interpretations have in common are the cultural underpinnings that guide any understanding of the commission. For better (and usually for worse), the church interpreted its mandate through the cultural mores of the time in which it existed (often meaning the validation of destructive practices and beliefs). So then, in the age of the martyrdom, it was martyrdom that Christ ‘meant’ when he spreading the church. When the age of sword was dominate, then Christ ‘spread’ the faith on the edge of the sword. When colonialism was the source of strength and power, Christ ‘used’ colonial powers to bring the Gospel to the “savages” in the New World.

But what if the above commission that Christ extends had little to do with verbal proclamation and actively “forcing” the expansion of the faith? It seems to me that the vague emphasis of method of expansion has little to do with a lack of concern of Jesus’ part. Instead, this commission occurs at the end of a Gospel where Jesus has spent all of his life, death and resurrection demonstrating the effects of the kingdom of God……IN HIS BEING!  What if the command of Christ was about BEING the church to the world? Instead of forcing the issue, what if expansion occurs through a witness of BEING the Christ to the world and therefore expanding the kingdom?

What if the church spent more time ‘being’ in the world? A church that is anti-abortion ‘proclaims’ the kingdom through stable loving homes for struggling mothers and “unwanted” children. A church that is pacifist, develops ways to engage adversaries around the things that divide, instead of being divisive itself. A church that provides this witness is not concerned about growth in an active sense, but instead is concerned about the ways the church can BE the church in the world, which achieves growth in the end. A church that lives out the commission in this way is not doctrinally focused, but mission driven. In this case, the mission is TO BE and NOT TO GROW. In the end, Christ is the one that grows the church, by virtue of the authority given to him in verse 18, (thus a COmmission and not just a mission).

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I recently spent a week in the island nation of Haiti. Much of what has gone in Haiti has been ignored by the International media despite a slow but steady attempt at readjusting and stabilizing the nation’s governance and infrastructure. (There will be a series of blog postings that will cover the lessons learned from Haiti.)

Much of the progress that has happened in Haiti has occurred through the work and witness of the Christian church. The church is the integral partner between the government and the work of restoration and healing that is taking place on the ground in Haiti. The church is rebuilding homes and communities and offering permanent housing for people. In being the church, the people of the church can teach and make disciples for Christ in the world.

In the end, the Commission teaches us the importance of being  a vision of truth for the “transformation of the world”!

 

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Vain Worship…

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.” 3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die. ’ 5 But you say that whoever tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,’ then that person need not honor the father. 6 So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said: 8 ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines. ’” (Matthew 15:1-9,NRSV)

The last two weeks for the nation’s new pastime have been the most horrific and tragic in quite a long time. The National Football League has suffered the violent loss of two of its players, the possible criminal indictment of a third and the tragic death of a girlfriend and mother of three. By now, sports enthusiasts and cultural watchers alike have been made aware of the case of Javon Belcher and his wife Kassandra Perkins. (Click here for more information on the case.) 

The Murder-Suicide at the Kansas City Chief’s practice facility rocked the world with the violence and senselessness of the acts. There have been many op-eds and pundits examining the angles of this tragedy. Two of the more controversial perspectives came from NBC News Sportscaster Bob Costas and centered on the role of guns in the tragedy. Costas borrowed from a column of Fox News Journalists Jason Whitlock and centered on the US culture of big business sports, the role of guns and domestic violence in the tragedy. 

Unfortunately, while we were still grappling with the horror of the events of December 1st, Dallas Cowboys Defensive Tackle Josh Brent and practice squad player Jerry Brown got into a car in which an intoxicated Brent decided to drive on December 7th. Brown was killed in the car accident and Josh Brent has been charged with a form of intoxicated manslaughter. In the wake of these tragedies, pundits have been quietly reflective on and muted in their responses out of respect for the evolving criminal nature of this tragedy.

In both of these horrific events, no one seems to be asking a more poignant question. While pundits and columnists have spent a great deal of time analyzing the players, our culture, and the proliferation of guns, it seems to me that now would be a good time to look in the mirror and examine what these tragedies and our responses to them say about our society.

Jovan Belcher

Our text grapples with an interesting redefining of communal accountability. In this confrontation with the Pharisees in Matthew, Jesus and his disciples are caught violating rules of religious purity. In a swift retort, Jesus challenges their definitions of righteousness and piety. In the face of strict ritualistic obedience and adherence to tradition, Jesus confronts false piety and warped superstitions to free those who might be bound by these systems.

Adherence to the status quo for the sake of tradition and making up the rules as you go along are designed to keep people captive. Trapped and hopefully compliant, the Pharisees represent all that is wrong with many of our religious and institutional structures. They can be so dependent on people remaining in the system without hope of escape. Conformity, non thinking and non questioning participants keep the system going while at the same time remaining deeply entrenched in warped thinking.

Much of our allegiance to the gridiron sport of Sundays in the Fall and Winter is rooted now in deeply held traditions and beliefs about our teams, our athletes, and our culture of competition. Last year’s NFL labor dispute centered on the distribution of nearly 9 billion dollars in revenue between 33 teams. The Sports Entertainment Complex is an institution of our culture and like the religious institutions of Jesus’ day, self righteousness, adherence to honor and tradition, and false piety are all used to protect its interests.

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Instead of focusing on the loss of two innocents, Kassandra Perkins and her three month old daughter, the Chiefs opt to compete a day after this awful tragedy. The Dallas Cowboys take to the field in competition while one of their own sits in a jail cell (he was released on bail Sunday night); many of their own players took the field with tears in their eyes. Instead of pausing and calling for moments of reflection and focus, NFL carries on under the banner of “getting back to a sense of normalcy.”

Our ‘get-over-it’, ‘suck-it-up’ culture is rooted in part in the way we play our sports. Players getting concussions week upon week and still going to play. Families and teams being torn asunder by pain and violence and the League moves on without disturbance or disruption. AND EACH WEEK WE TUNE IN TO KEEP THE INSTITUTION ALIVE…..

The Jesus of Matthew 15 is the Jesus that calls us to be liberated from blind obedience to our traditions. It isn’t our guns or our gladiator obsessed spectating that is causing this callous nature. Its simply us. More than anything, lets pause long enough to see the vision of truth that liberates the chains of spectating and blind allegiance to the field. I pray that we may be different so that Kassandra Perkins will not have died in vain….

Selah……….

 

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Unity of Mind, Heart and Hand…

“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.(Matthew 7:21-23, NRSV)

I read on Facebook that there is a movement called the RAOK Nation. RAOK stands for Random Acts of Kindness. Likewise there are churches who have started this ‘fad’ entitled ‘Radical Hospitality’. In the former example, the Facebook based movement appears to be designed to promote good deeds (are you ready) without the desire for recognition. Go figure. In the latter example, the practice of Radical Hospitality is the attempt of some churches to ‘aggressively’ reach out to visitors, guests and random persons to make them feel a part of the community. Another way to attract people to their worshipping community.

In both of the above examples, you get the emphasis on good practice, with horrible motives. They show Christian behavior without a Christian motive. The basic conundrum is that these movements take what is principally Christian normative behavior, something we are to be, and make it to a goal or motive toward an end. Hospitality is a fundamental sign of Christian belief, Christians are to be hospitable to all they come across. To turn that state of being into mere behavior for the purposes of growing your church is to violate the message that hospitality is communicating. To take a random act of kindness and make it a movement of recognition is just…….stupid. It ceases to be both random and a genuine act of kindness when you target someone for an act in order to receive credit.

These movement, (and others like them) exemplify the failure of effective teaching and shepherding of the 21st century church. Misunderstandings abound about everything from Halloween to “turn-the-other-cheek.” Church ministries, pastors and Christian communities have failed to do their part in educating and challenging societal and theological misconceptions about the work, word and worth of Christian living. What results are disciples who spend more time focusing on the minutia of litmus tests around doctrine, behavior and political ideology instead of reading the Bible, questioning our traditions, and challenging the status quo.

Apparently this is not the first time that disciples have focused on the wrong thing. Nor is this the first time the teacher has been concerned about the student going astray. The above passage from Matthew 7 comes from a long passage of instruction by Jesus after the initial statement of the Beatitudes. In this corpus of instruction to the disciples and the gathered throng, Jesus spends time teaching on prayer, forgiveness, the Law and a whole host of other topics. Towards the end of this teaching, Jesus makes a qualifying statement about all who has already stated. In verse 21 he makes a dire warning to those with false motives saying, “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.” Essentially, there has to be some purity of motives and unity of behavior for the one who seeks entry into heaven.

Of greater significance to me in the passage is Jesus’ statement of the self-deception that many persons (including the disciples) will engage in, “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?’” This is a profound statement about our motives and the intention of our actions. We spend so much time looking for a particular behavior and/or response from believers and Christ is saying behavior is not enough. Likewise, confession is not enough (Lord, Lord). Jesus statement should force us all to constantly check our motives and actions.

 

Jesus is asking each one of us to examine why we do a thing. We are not called to be duplicitous or manipulative in our behavior. This includes performing a RAoK just to be seen doing good, or performing hospitable acts in order to be remembered for them. Jesus calls ones that perform such behavior “evildoers”. Our churches should be about more than merely good behavior. Our church members should be known for more than trying to grow the church. Our faith is about being Christ in the world today. Christians should be known for being what they want in the world, instead manipulating the world for their own ends. Manipulation, even for the kingdom, is still manipulation and the motives are not genuine.

We follow Christ because of who Christ is and not just because of what he does. Every miracle, every teaching, every pronouncement of Jesus was predicated or precipitated by a belief in his work as the Christ, the son of God. If we in the 21st century have become so focused on feigning acts and measuring belief, then we have ceased to believe in the work and being of the Christ. Remembering that Christ was/is in order that he be all God intended is fundamental to being a Christian, period. Being the Christ as he was in the world is the only way this world can get a vision of truth in a crazy, mixed up world.

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Expect More of the Mediocre

12So although I wrote to you, it was not on account of the one who did the wrong, nor on account of the one who was wronged, but in order that your zeal for us might be made known to you before God. 13In this we find comfort. In addition to our own consolation, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his mind has been set at rest by all of you. 14For if I have been somewhat boastful about you to him, I was not disgraced; but just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting to Titus has proved true as well. 15And his heart goes out all the more to you, as he remembers the obedience of all of you, and how you welcomed him with fear and trembling. 16I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you. (2 Cor. 7:9-16, NRSV)

I am a relatively young man but in my time on this earth, I have been able to witness many changes in the way in which we interact and live in this world. I am not talking about the changes of the seasons or the changes that occur from one generation to the next, (like music preferences or television shows) but rather the kinds of changes that can reorder and re-structure a society. They can alter world-views and redefine morals and can lead to positive developments in society. They can foster environments in which self esteem and courage can be embraced for people who once were enslaved and encourage equality in employment practices for women. They can be positive forces of moving toward hope and love.

But these changes can also lead to negative forces that alter the society so that in fosters hate for an unknown and unexplored religion or foster fear of people who come to this country merely to seek a better life whether they get here legally or not. These types of changes help to redefine many generations and can either develop relationships or destroy relationships; they can create love or cement loathing; they can foster hope or foment hate.

Before our very eyes, it has taken root in our society and even in our own lives and it has altered our sense of purpose and being. This type of change has created a new norm in our collective psyche and has infiltrated every aspect of our being, changing us literally from the inside out. It is more insidious than AIDS, more tenacious than Cancer, more oppressive than poverty and more appealing than money. This change has taken root in our morals and found growth in our minds to cause us to change how we behave. I am talking about an acceptance of the mediocre.

 

The mediocre is that thing that is characterless, common, commonplace, conventional, humdrum, indifferent, inferior, insignificant, mainstream, moderate, ordinary, possible, run-of-the-mill, second-rate, so-so, standard, starch, tolerable, undistinguished, unexceptional, uninspired, average. We as a society have shifted from being a nation, culture and people embracing purpose, excellence and hope, to a people that have settled for…..average. We have given up on the lofty goals of egalitarian democracy and instead have embraced factionalism and partisan politics because…that is the conventional wisdom of the day. We don’t challenge our leadership and our neighborhoods because of violence, drug abuse and poverty instead the ordinary thing to do is just move and never bother to help those who live there. Our children look to pass their classes and not to ‘Ace’ their classes and so they get excited over a ‘C’ because it means you’re just average. We maintain relationships of convenience, comfort and commonality because we want to be affirmed where we are and not be challenged into who we ought to be. We are a mediocre people with few extraordinary attributes.

Christ’s church has always been a place of affirmation, healing and hope for the oppressed of the world. No matter where you are and what you were going through, the church was a place where you could find love and assurance despite the world telling me you that you are less than ordinary. But in our present day society, the church has become insecure in preaching a message of hope. It has become cowardice in proclaiming a message of healing, and it has become divided in fostering affirmation for the poor and the oppressed. The church has instead added politics, censorship and a ‘Jesus-less’ message for the sake of survival and conformity in a world of mediocrity. And worst of all, it has remained silent and indifferent on the issues that Christ calls us to speak on. And so, in the 21st the church, is mediocre.

In the second letter to the church at Corinth, Paul is writing to convey his excitement and joy at the hearing of the effective ministry of the church. Paul is the founding pastor of this church and is seeking to give guidance through his letters, occasional visits and his “co-Pastor” Titus. The church at Corinth is a difficult pastorate, (as preachers say). The people have come to the faith very naively and have no real conception of what it means to live for Christ. The old practices of their lives take up new residence in the church and force them to deviate from the purpose of God as communicated through their pastor… Paul. The church at Corinth becomes a hotbed of all sorts of callous, misguided and misdirected activity that mirrors the pagan rites and rituals of the common society. The church is in chaos and worse yet, when Paul attempts to assert his pastoral authority, the church denies him his rightful role as leader.  Paul writes a letter of rebuke to the church chastising them for their immaturity and disrespect.

In this 7th Chapter of the text, Paul is celebrating the church’s repentant nature after they received the letter of rebuke. He congratulates them for hearing him and correcting the errors of their ways and helps them to know that he still loves them and still cares for them. Interestingly, in this text we see the Corinthian church as they have been wrestling with becoming mature in Christ. They have struggled with their identity and purpose as Paul has laid it out and up until now, have been nothing more than an average group of common Corinthians. Their ministry is mediocre at best and their fellowship is something a little less than that.

Despite these shortcomings, Paul says just before this particular passage in verse 4, I often boast about you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with consolation; I am overjoyed in all our affliction. There is something about this church that encourages Paul and gives him a reason to hope and to boast.  He writes with excitement and joy to a church that is still coming out of its own immaturity. The Corinthian church has given Paul nothing but problems and heartache and yet he can still say that he has pride and confidence in them. This church that has displayed nothing more than mediocre behavior and, at best, commonplace practices, gives their pastor a reason to boast and source of pride.

 

I say Paul can boast and be prideful because he expected more from the mediocre. Paul from the beginning had a vision for what the Corinthians would be and could be and despite their desire to be average and adequate, Paul expected something more out of them. He says in the text that he is not sorry for the letter of rebuke (v. 8) because it conveyed a different type of grief and pain; the kind of pain that motivates you to change your behaviors and your practices. It is this type of motivation that gives confidence and makes the mediocre rise to the potentiality of excellence.

 Whenever we live mediocre, average and commonplace lives our purpose becomes blurred. In fact, the very danger of living a life that is commonplace and average is that it conforms to the status quo. Getting average grades means that you are just like everybody else. Following the trends of convention and popularity means that your purpose is defined by them and not by God. You look for certain jobs, focus in certain career fields, get a specific type of education because the masses, your friends and even your family have told you to do it and not because God has revealed it to you-this is the real danger of mediocrity. We buy clothes, go to work, walk, talk, eat and even vote in ways that keep us from being extraordinary. Human beings as social creatures tend to hide in the masses and move with the masses and anything that competes with that is not acceptable for human fellowship. You may even argue that all we are doing is simply being human.

Whenever you say to the commonplace that I expect more from you, you are looking to be in an extraordinary place. When you begin to live with a higher expectation of the average, your average begins to go up. Now this doesn’t mean that you can make people or things change in your life. That ain’t the meaning of Paul’s expectation. He says that it is God who consoles and comforts and it is God who brings those to repentance. And so it is with God that the changes will take place. The vision of truth here is found in the power of God to bring about change; and our power to expect more of the life in which we live.

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The Problems with Going Back Home…

54 He came to his home town and began to teach the people* in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? 55Is not this the carpenters son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this? 57And they took offence at him. But Jesus said to them, Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house. 58And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief (Matt 13:54-58)

The concept of home in this day and age is one of the few lasting ideals still left untouched. The ideal Home is that place where are feelings and emotions are at ease, and comfort is truly available when it is needed. For good, or for bad, home is the place where our identity and character are first shaped and is usually the one place where we can find ourselves when we have been tossed about by life’s whims and fancies. When all else is in doubt, I have an assurance that home awaits and there a peace and assurance that can restore even the most weary traveler back to themselves.

Home is that place which we have given our hearts and minds over to, for protection and care and when I can’t find a friend or “family” in the midst of my travels, I can come back home, and find my heart and sense of mind so I can continue my journey. And thus, the adage first coined centuries ago by the Roman playwright Pliny still holds true, “home IS where the heart is”.

So strong is this ideal, that even those areas to which we were not raised and have no familial ties to, yet still find as a source of shaping and connection, we still call….home. If our primary home is not available, then we can always come to this place and it will serve as a ….second home…..providing those same functions and same support mechanisms that we could find AT HOME.

As I stand here today, however, I have come to the realization that the key reason why we can call a place or house a home (as ‘Big Luther’ would say), is that comfort-ability. The homes in our lives are tagged as such because we find peace and stability there. They are homes because safety and protection and affirmation can all be found there, and there are assurances that they will always be places of refuge for us. For, who would call a place a home, that does not afford these mental and emotional safe places? If I can’t find rest, or my heart, or my mind or even get back to who I think I am, than it is not a place worthy of the title home……..

If all those things be true- If home is all these things of comfort and stability, of peace and assurance, of affirmation and celebration- then our text for today should be truly disturbing. If home is the comfort zone and the sure fire place of recognition and stability that we say it is, then our text forces us to come with a tragically different reality about home and the pitfalls of returning there. This text highlights for us that while home and the places and people that remind us of it, are central to our being…..they also pose problems if you are not careful. Home can be all those things we want it to be, but if we examine our text closely, there are some inherent problems that come with going back home.

For Jesus, who has spent days and nights teaching and healing the many crowds that have come to see him, has finally come back home. He has returned to the place of his rearing and of his shaping, the place where everyone has known him and his family. And when he gets to the town, the bible says he begins to teach in the synagogue. It is not recorded exactly what he taught, but whatever it was, it ‘sho nuff‘ amazed and astounded the people. For they recognized this Jesus; but they didn’t know that he had such wisdom or such power. He was still Mary and Joseph’s son, and his brothers were still James and Simon and Joseph and Judas, but who knew that Jesus or the family of meager means and little influence had a son with such gifts and abilities. Where had he been that he got all this power and education? How could he teach like that? They got so confused, that they even asked, “Where did this man get all this from?”

As Jesus continues to teach in the midst of these questions, verse 57 reports that the people “took offense”. Jesus, undeterred by their desires to question his credentials, continues to teach and in doing so, offends the people in his hometown. The second problem that you will have is that people in you comfortable places will “TAKE OFFENSE”.

Now, what you need to realize is that this phase “take offense” is a matter of choice. There is a difference between taking offense and being offended. When you are offended, that means an act of aggression or assault is taken against you, but when you take offense……YOU choose to believe that an action is designed to harm you in some sort of way. The people in Jesus’ hometown, the Bible reports, “take offense”. They choose to believe, that his teaching, his wisdom and his power are all designed for some deception…..and truth be told, you may go back to those places and spaces that you have since left and try to do good and better your home and all you find is that folk get upset when try to help them. They get frustrated and believe that you are trying to mess them up….. they take offense with your actions and your attempts at change.

They take offense at your education and your speech. They take offense at your character and your boldness. They take offense at your tenacity and confidence. They take offense because it is easier to choose this, than to listen to what is being done (or to participate in it). Jesus, who is the master of the winds and waves. Jesus, who heals the sick and raises the dead. Jesus, who feeds the hungry and finds the lost is teaching in front of them and rather than listen…..they question and “take offense”. These are problems you yourself may find if you go back home but there is a solution to your problems.

This solution is found in the midst of the problems at home. For you see, you can’t face your problems at home until you go there. The only way to know that there are problems is to show up. Fear is what often keeps us from challenging the comforts and peace of our safety nets. So instead of facing the issues there, we simply avoid them. It is not that you give up on ever going back home, and like some in the world, decide to reject their past and build a new future. But instead, look to our text and see that even Jesus, faces the problems in his home and addresses their questions, their offense and their blindness with a simple statement:

Prophets are not without honor.except in their own country and in their own house

 

Jesus first remains who he always has been. He was a prophet before he stepped foot in Capernaum, and he still declares himself to be one….in the face of this questioning and offense. And just like Jesus, you must learn to know who you are in the face of the questions and the darts and the arrows….even when they come from your homeboys. Like Jesus, you may have to teach in the places where everybody thought they knew you and you may have to let them know. In so doing, you bring a vision of truth back to the people who remain…..at home.

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A New Vow for Parenting…

Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah; and there was his daughter coming out to meet him with timbrels and with dancing. She was his only child; he had no son or daughter except her. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low; you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow.” (Judges 11:34-35, NRSV)

My daughter has a book entitled, “Naughty Parents”, it is a wonderful children’s book that flips the roles of children and parents. So in the book, parents are running and chasing after everything and dirtying their clothes. It is the parents who are eating ice cream and whining for more, more, MORE! The children are the responsible and respectable ones who are cleaning up the mischievous behavior of their parents. It is cute in that the text plays with our roles and behavior as parents and children. In reflecting on a deeper meaning (you know me the consummate thinker), I think about how we parent and how are children actually receive what we provide for them as parents. Said in another way, our children become, as adults, the products of our handiwork as parents. Obvious on the surface, but still very scary when you really meditate on it

 

 The work of parenting is one of the few things in life that training should be absolutely mandatory! Unfortunately it is not necessary. Learning the ways of parenting, all of its responsibilities, and its challenges and pitfalls would make for great reading and for a great resource text. In fact, many authors have tried to write texts that provide that very kind of instruction. Whether they are medical doctors, psychologists or just ordinary parents with unique experiences, these authors attempt to convey expertise about a subject in which the diversity of style, nature of children and experience of life play such a pivotal role. However, this is not as easy as it sounds.

Writing a manual on parenting is like writing a guide to eating food. You can do it, but depending on my tastes, likes, experiences and values, I may agree or disagree with your conclusions. The fundamental truth about parenting is that we all parent from the place of our childhood experience. Whether good or bad, our skills are learned and shaped as parents in reaction to what we lived through (and with) as children. Experiencing violence as children may mean inflicting violence as parents. It could also lead to vows of non-violence when parenting because of a disturbing childhood. Children that have no boundaries may continue in a likewise fashion when they are adults, or they could choose to enforce greater structure because of what they think they lacked as children.

In many respects, our individualized parenting manual is written for each of us through the experiences of being a child in our parent’s household. How we were raised contributes to and builds modes for parenting that we rely on when we have children of our own. So then, to stop the abdication of parental responsibility; or the  malicious behavior of aggressive beating of children; or brining children to tanning salons; or raising children in our own image, we must begin in the present.

We must begin with the present generation of children and parents and seek to provide new experiences in their parenting manual. Children are not our extensions of ourselves; they are not ours, to do with as we please. Educator/philosopher/poet Kahlil Gibran once said that “our children come through us and not to us”, and he is correct. Our responsibility is to Who sent them through us and to the gifts they will be in life. Parenting from this perspective makes for good stewards in the present and for stewards for the future.

The text above from the corpus of work from Judges stands as a permanent signpost to all parents; specifically the pitfalls of parenting from experience. The story of Jephthah’s daughter is more a story about Jephthah’s failing as a father. To get the whole picture I encourage you to read all chapter 11, but essentially, Jephthah was an illegitimate child of a prominent tribal patriarch and a prostitute. His father denies him the access to the ‘legitimate’ role of a child in a father’s home and essentially Jephthah is raised by the streets. The text reports that “Outlaws collected around Jephthah and went raiding with him”, to show his rough and trouble childhood created an adult who was the envy of any mercenary. Jephthah is an aggressive and forthright man whose mal-experience of love and family has created a person who knows commitment through the lens of violence and the ethic of the street. Many of us know people like this, and recognize the importance of their experience in shaping their life.

 

 The text reports that Jephthah is approached by the elders of the community to fight against the oppressive Ammonites and lead an army against them. Jephthah is already indifferent to plights of the system that condemned him so long ago, but he fights anyway. The peculiar thing is that in his prayer to God for victory, he makes an interesting (if not ridiculous) vow of sacrifice: to sacrifice the first thing that comes out greet him at home at the end of the battle. This is when we learn that Jephthah has one child: a daughter.

 

His rash promise means that in a cruel twist of irony, it is his daughter that comes out to greet him, when the battle is won. He must sacrifice his daughter….

 

His experience as a isolated and undisciplined child evolved into a aggressive-living, no-holds-barred adult. That freewheeling and open adult used his experiences to parent. His experiences of bravado and the ‘man-of-his-word’ ideology ended up sending his daughter to a sacrificial altar.

In recent weeks, parenting of all sorts has been on display. In one instance it was the parent who takes her child in the tanning bed with her.  In many examples, it was the parent that so often ignores their child’s destructive behavior to the detriment of society that has to apologize for the destruction they have caused. Even the pastor’s got in the act, with a prominent pastor of a mega church allegedly assaulting his daughter. Many of us didn’t grow up with experiences like Jephthah or the effects of harsh living as Jephthah had. And sure, many of us as parents don’t see that we would ever vow to burn our children alive for the sake of God as in the realm of possibility. However, many of us make plans about our children, their futures and their experiences that mean they are sacrificed on the altars of our dreams. Our children struggle to be all we as parents put on them to be in life. Instead, maybe we should struggle as parents to be all that they need us to be in order to be parents we want them to be in the future.

Let’s all take Jephthah’s warning as the impetus to be better as parents and guardians for our children. Mindful of our experiences as children and adults, we can do our best to parent to the uniqueness of our child and steer them into God’s future for their lives. Parents that authentically parent with the future in mind are parents with a vision for the future……and a vision of truth.

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