Monday, October 28, 2013

We Want to be Just Like Everyone Else! -I Samuel 8

Sometimes we get what we want.  Other times, we don’t.  There are times and situations when we get what we want, but the consequences for getting what we want is nothing like what we expected.  We have a tendency to be rather shortsighted when it comes to our desires.  Most of the time, we believe that getting what we want will bring us happiness, fulfillment, and contentment.  That is, to a certain extent anyway, the nature of a desire, to fulfill a perceived need.  “Perceived” being the operative word here.

Israel, as we move through the Story of God’s good creation, has a perceived need.  Israel thinks she needs a king.  To this point in the story, from Abraham to the taking of the Promised Land, God has been Israel’s true King.  Or, at least, that has been the plan.  God has created for himself a people, a royal priesthood and a holy nation, through which God planned to bless the whole world, bringing about peace, reconciliation, and wholeness.  For her part, Israel has not lived up to the expectations.  Several times already, God has almost destroyed Israel so that God could begin again with a new set of characters. 

Israel’s continual testimony about God, though, is that God is steadfastly loyal and loving.  God is faithful even to the unfaithful.  God will not start new with another people, even when Israel rejects God.  No, God is faithful. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

And There Was No King In Israel... -Judges

The Book of Judges is just weird.  There is lots of violence, deceit, and idolatry.  And that’s just from the main characters and heroes in the story!  But, we cannot deny that the story that Judges tells is a part of our Story, the Story we’ve been looking at for the last few weeks. 

We last left Israel, God’s chosen people, his “holy nation” and “royal priesthood,” as they departed Mt. Sinai.  The people who had seen God’s mighty hand working to free them from Pharaoh in Egypt begins to forget who their God is and what God can do.  The story between Judges and Mt. Sinai is not an uneventful one.  Israel indeed reaches the Promised Land, only to refuse to enter because the inhabitants were big.  For their lack of trust, Israel ends up wandering in the desert for 40 years.  All of the individuals who experienced God’s mighty salvation in the Exodus are now dead, even Moses.  They will not get to enter the Promised Land.

One of the commands that God gave to Israel, as they were about to enter into the Promised Land, was to completely destroy the inhabitants of the land.  They were not to leave any of them or else those native people might become a snare to Israel, enticing them to worship gods who were not the God who had brought them up out of Egypt.  We don’t get one chapter into the book before we are told that this is not what Israel does.  We hear a line like this several times, “Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of….” Israel utterly fails to drive out the inhabitants of the land but made use of them as slave labor. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

After Exodus -The Law

Moses and Israel are safe on the other side of the Red Sea.  Pharaoh and his hoard of chariots have
been swallowed up by the sea and are no more.  As the story reads, Moses offers a song to God.  Songs, such as the one that Moses offers in chapter 15, are the most appropriate response to mighty saving acts such as Israel has just witnessed.  It is a song of praise.  At the same time, it is a song that retells the story of God’s mighty acts and a song that offers up a confession of who this God who has just acted really is.  The confession that Moses makes is that it is out of God’s steadfast love that he brought Israel up out of Egypt.  This phrase, “steadfast love” (ḥesed in Hebrew), will constantly be on the lips of Israel as Israel confesses what they believe about this God who has just acted so mightily.  God made a promise to Abraham and his descendants, and God intends to keep that promise.  The promise isn’t made in a vacuum.  It is made in the context of a loving and faithful relationship.  It is made in the context of this Story we have been telling.  God is now bound to Israel in covenant love.  God will continue to show this kind of steadfast and faithful love even in the face of outright unfaithfulness.

After the spectacle of the Red Sea crossing, Moses and the people of God set out to begin their long journey to their new home.  This journey will not be an easy one.  Israel, for their part, has a short memory.  They are quickly confronted with hardships and begin to question the goodness of God’s plan and provision.  In the face of hunger and thirst, Israel declares that it would be much preferable to be in Egypt where at least they wouldn’t have starved to death.  In God’s steadfast love, God provides water from a rock, bread from the sky, and meat in the desert. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Freedom! But Not for Freedom's Sake... -The Exodus

This seems to be one of those stories that almost all of us are aware of, the story of The Exodus.  It’s a popular story because it deals with themes that are near and dear to our hearts.  Themes like freedom from oppression and the vanquishing of ruthless enemies.  Even Hollywood has taken up this story, proclaiming the mighty acts of God from the big screen.  Indeed, it’s a story that resonates with us.  It resonates with us because, in some ways, it makes us aware that in our daily lives and world we are not as free and as in control as we would hope to be. 

All too often, I suppose, we miss the point of the story altogether.  We make it about freedom for freedom’s sake.  We do this in America, because freedom is the dominant storyline.  Freedom is king.  But, we must remember that this story of liberation and freedom takes place within the context of a larger Story.  In that Story, freedom is not king.  It is the Story that began with creation, where a stage was set, a script written, and characters formed.  Adam and Eve, these first characters went off script, forever changing the storyline and the stage upon which we play. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

We're Not Dead Yet... -Genesis 12

The promise is God’s power and will to create a new future sharply discontinuous with the past and the present. The promise is God’s resolve to form a new community wrought only by miracle and reliant only on God’s faithfulness. Faith as response is the capacity to embrace that announced future with such passion that the present can be relinquished for the sake of that future.
-Walter Brueggemann

After Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden, the Story turns bleak.  We aren’t long out of the Garden before there is murder.  Brother kills brother.  We’ve said that when we reject God’s Story and attempt to write our own that terrible things happen.  The eating of the fruit, brother killing brother, these are but the beginning.  Generations pass, and no one is listening to God the Director.  The evil that happens from seeking to live in a world of our own making instead of a world of God’s making multiplies and piles up.  As the Characters in our Story multiply and divide, so does their wickedness.  Finally, God has enough.  The Director, who is ever trying to get his Actors and Actresses to follow His script, decides that He is going to fire everyone except this Noah.  And by fire, I mean let go in a very permanent way.  So, God floods the world, intending to purge it of its evilness.  Only, after the whole thing is done, God realizes that the problem that his Actors and Actresses have with going off script isn’t one that can be fixed through destruction.  It’s a heart problem, and heart problems must be dealt with in very different ways. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

It All Falls Apart... -Genesis 3

 “Anxiety comes from doubting God’s providence, from rejecting his care and seeking to secure our own well-being.  Failure to trust God with our lives is death.  To trust God with our lives is to turn from the autonomous ‘I’ to the covenanting ‘Thou,’ from our invented well-being to God’s overriding purposes and gifts.  This shrewd narrative does not believe there are many alternatives.” –Walter Brueggemann

“And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.”  There’s vulnerability in being naked.  We’re only ever naked, without the garments that protect us in so many ways, when we feel safe and secure, when we are with people who we know will not take advantage of our nakedness.  As adults, we’ve mainly lost those feelings of safety and security.  But, if you’ve ever spent much time around small children, or if you have small children of your own, then you will know that nakedness for them is no problem.  For innocent children, giggles and laughter often accompany the freedom of being without clothing.  Oftentimes my children, when they are without clothing – say after a bath – will run through the house laughing and yelling, daring us to catch them, daring us to once again encumber them with clothes.  They are free.  They are safe.  They are protected by their parents who have created an environment that allows them to be so. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

And So it Begins... -Genesis 2

 “The destiny of the human creatures is to live in God’s world, not a world of his/her own making.”
–Walter Brueggemann

There is no story to catch up on, only blackness, darkness, nothingness, formlessness, and chaos.  There is nothing, no order, no stuff only God.  God is the only character.  Really, if we are honest, God is the only character that matters, the only character that has ever mattered.  So, in God’s goodness, in God’s nature of love and relationship, in the Holy Trinity, God decides to bring life out of nothingness.

Everything that follows in this story of God and creation is an account of our development and sometimes our undoing as characters in the story that begins now.  Even though it is our natural inclination to focus our attention on our own development as characters in the Story of God, we must not begin to think that we are the center of the story or that we are the main character.  No, we are the supporting cast, and we are quite insignificant.  We are taking our cues from the guy playing the lead, from Jesus Christ, and from God the Father who has formed the plot, written the script, and now directs the play – ever mindful of the improvisation that takes place on stage by his actors and actresses.  God the Father, through the guiding and correcting presence of the Holy Spirit, works our miscues, our attempts to hijack the story, and weaves a new story line, but always the ending remains the same.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Meet My New Non-Sexual Man Crush...

Meet my new non-sexual man crush: Cyril of Alexandria.  As I have been preparing to teach and preach from the Gospel of John, Cyril has been extremely helpful.  Take for instance this passage from his commentary on John 13:31-35:
…He [Jesus] is about to ascend into heaven, lays down the law of love as a foundation and corner-stone of all that is good, meaning by love not that which was in accordance with, but that which transcended, the Mosaic Law. Therefore He says: A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another. “But tell me now,” some one may say, “why He has called this commandment new, when He had said to former generations by the voice of Moses: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy mind, (Luke 10:27) and thy neighbor as thyself. (Deut. 6:5)

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Rice Cakes: A Post Lent Confession

The Season of Lent is one of my favorite times of the year.  To be sure, the Season of Lent is about sacrifice and repentance and the movement toward the death of Christ, so it may strike you as odd that this would be my favorite time of the year.  The truth of the matter is that it has been during the Season of Lent that I have most consistently seen growth in my own spiritual life.  This year was a little different. 

On the night of Good Friday, during our Tenebrae service, I sat in our church, listening and watching the candles flicker and dance before I snuffed them out.   I began to long for the service to be a great emotionally charged spiritual experience.  The longer the service went on, as we journeyed through John’s account of Jesus’ betrayal, his trial, and execution, it became evident to me that I was not going to have the kind of experience for which I was hoping. 
I have a love-hate relationship with emotionally charged spiritual experiences.  For the most part, I usually poopoo these types of experiences because they can be too easily manufactured.  I have sat through more services than I care to recount where a preacher, song evangelist, or worship leader has used music, or carefully placed words, stories, and phrases to manipulate his or her audience into making a commitment or to raising one’s hands or to donating money to the building fund. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Hope is the Last Word: An Easter Sermon on John 20:1-18

On Wednesday of last week, my wife gave birth to a new life.  Joshua Paul Buckwalter was born on March 20th at 12:16 p.m. weighing 8lbs 2oz.  He is a healthy, happy little boy.  We're calling him Josh.  The birth of a child can bring some amazing perspective to things.  This is his first Sunday at church, and I'm already going to use him as an illustration.  Poor kid has no hope for not being embarrassed by his father in front of people.  Such is the life of a preacher’s kid.

I figure at this point he doesn't mind.  He's not aware of much, and all he does is eat, sleep, and poo.  But I guess that's all he is supposed to do.

I'm not sure if it's the birth of a baby itself that lends all kind of perspective to things or if it’s the journey that the parents take together that leads to that point.  There's a lot of expectation, a lot of waiting, a lot of hoping that goes into the process.  A lot of hope. 

For new couples, the question is if they can actually have kids.  Are they sterile?  The hope is that they aren't.  The hope is that all of the things that are supposed to work, biologically speaking, will work.  The anticipation and expectation are great when a couple first sets about to have a baby.  That first month, they wait, and they hope, and they wait until the results come in.  Will we have a baby or not? 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

2012 Reading List

Last year it seemed good to present a list of books that I’ve read.  So, this year I have done the same.  I’m a little late, seeing as it’s almost April…better late than never, I guess!  I’ve commented on some, but not all.  Here they are…

1. A Generous Orthodoxy By Brian D. McLaren

I picked this book up at a discount book store in Branson, MO (I think I paid $4).  A Generous Orthodoxy was an interesting read, and I can understand why some would like to pick on McLaren.   

2. The God-Hungry Imagination: The Art of Storytelling for Postmodern Youth Ministry By Sara Arthur

I usually remember who recommends a book to me or where I purchased it.  For this book, I can remember neither where I purchased it nor who might have suggested it to me.  I am, however, very glad that The God-Hungry Imagination showed up on my shelf!  As the title suggests, Arthur talks a lot about the importance of story for the passing on of faith, especially as it concerns liturgy.  She says:

"If we as a church are truly concerned about 'pervasive teen inarticulacy' when it comes to the biblical and theological content of faith, then we need to look no further than what happens in worship on Sunday morning…  Reclaiming the story means reclaiming the form as our basic structure, whether this follows the classic liturgy of the ancient church or a very intentional yet faithful recrafting flavored by the context we find ourselves in." (p. 121)

3. The Art of Fielding: A Novel By Chad Harbach

At the end of last year’s post about which books I’ve read, I asked what you all were reading and for suggestions.  The only person who responded posted that they were reading The Art of Fielding.  I summarily dismissed the recommendation.  A few months later, another friend walked up to me, handed me The Art of Fielding and said, “Here, read this.”  So I did.  It’s a book about baseball, life and love (of all different kinds).  I enjoyed it and am thankful for the recommendation!    
4. The Doctrine of the Word of God: Church Dogmatics, Vol. 1.2  By Karl Barth

I am 2/13 of the way through Church Dogmatics.  At the rate of 1 volume per year, I’ll be done in the year 2023 at the age of 41.  And I’m ok with that.  Barth stretches me in ways that few authors do.