The problem with cut and paste

Jean II Restout : Pentecôte

Jean II Restout : Pentecôte

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
For Pentecost Sunday
Sunday, May 24, 2015

I love most things about the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL).  Following the annual church calendar is a wonderful spiritual rhythm that I’ve come to appreciate through fellowship in a mainline Congregational church as well as my Siberian sojourn and exposure to Eastern Orthodoxy.  As an evangelical I wish this was something more of my fellow believers could understand and appreciate. This is particularly true on special Sundays like this Pentecost Sunday.

At the same time, I have a pet peeve with the RCL editors.  Why do you so persistently cut and paste?  This week the verse citation is the give away.  ‘Psalm 104:24-34, 35b.’  Hmmm… so we are supposed to read everything except v. 35a.  What does that say?  ‘May sinners disappear from the earth, and the wicked vanish!”  Ouch.  What’s the harm in excluding it?

The harm is that we change the message.  We allow our present worldview to hold sway over the text rather than giving the text permission to challenge our worldview.  In this case v. 35a is crucial.  Without it we’re focused on the good of the Lord.  With it the focus shifts to the good of the Lord in a world gone bad.

Sin is real.  Wickedness is real.  The world is not what it should be.  Take where I live, for example, Milwaukee.  60% black unemployment, profound segregation, and profound family dysfunction (and not just in the ‘hood).  What causes this?  God?  No!  What then?  Sinners and wickedness.

God is praying (through his Spirit) and acting for the world to conform to his intention.  He is calling us to pray and act likewise.   So two suggestions.  First, when the RCL cuts and pastes refuse to go along.  Second, with respect to this passage, pray the unredacted prayer of the Psalmist: “May my thoughts be pleasing to him.  I will rejoice in the Lord.  May sinners disappear from the earth, and the wicked vanish.  Praise the Lord, O my soul.  Praise the Lord.

The mighty tempest of God’s intention

"Transfiguration" by Raphael, 1518 - 1520.  Vatican City, Direzione generale dei musei.

“Transfiguration” by Raphael, 1518 – 1520. Vatican City, Direzione generale dei musei.

For Sunday, February 15, 2015
Psalm 50:1-6

Sometimes under the cloud of injustice we sometimes experience in the world we ask reflexively, “Where is God?  If he’s there is he asleep at the switch?”  The writer of Psalm 50:1-6 responds, “Where is God?  Look no further than the sun which rises every morning.”  “The mighty one, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting” (v. 1).

Asaph, the author of this Psalm, gives us a powerful and ever-present metaphor of the presence and righteousness of God.  The blinding beauty of the sun shining the sky, he says, is like God shining forth out of Zion (Zion meaning Israel as all it is intended to become) as the perfection of beauty (v. 2).  The presence of God is a “consuming fire” and a “mighty tempest” (v. 3).  There is no injustice that the consuming fire of a mighty tempest cannot overcome, not even that of a Jordanian fighter pilot being burned alive in a cage.

Over the last two weeks my family has been enduring a painful trial that seems very unjust.  It’s made us angry.  It’s made us weep.  It’s brought our spirits down.  This reading has been a tremendous help in that I’ve realized no matter the specifics there is no injustice the righteousness of God can’t consume.  The sun rising in the morning is a constant reminder of this.  (Of course, in a Wisconsin winter, the sun may not appear for days, but this is where a little moral imagination can be helpful).

What God has called us to do in the face of injustice is raise it up and release it into the presence of his consuming righteousness.  He WILL be the defender of our cause.  “The heavens declare his righteousness, for God Himself is judge” (v. 6).  What a joy to know that we know the Chief Justice of the Heavenly Supreme Court personally and that our world is a mere dot in the universe of his courtroom.

On this Transfiguration Sunday, our readings also take us to the Transfiguration of Jesus (Mark 9:2-9).  In Jesus’ clothes becoming dazzling white we have another picture of the mighty tempest of God’s intention.  God is committed to setting everything right, no matter the cost, as demonstrated in the sacrifice and victory of his one and only Son.

Points to ponder

  • What is the greatest injustice you or your family have ever faced?
  • How did God show you his righteousness and generous love through that trial?
  • The next time someone encroaches unjustly into the lane of your life how could you respond better understanding now the mighty tempest of God’s intention?

a vision for redemptive family

godfrey coat of arms

What do I want to be about this coming year?  What do I want my family to be about?  What do I want my organization to be about?  These are good questions to ask on New Year’s Day.  For Christmas I made my two older boys Nate and Karch notecards with our family Coat of Arms.   My wife’s initial reaction was, “Ah… I don’t think they are going to like that.”  But to my surprise and delight my eldest son Nate really liked the cards.  This was a way for me to communicate to the family what I want to be about and what I want us to be about.

Family has always been a very difficult emotional zone for me.  It has much to do with my Mom being mentally ill through my childhood.  I was embarrassed by my family.  I didn’t like my family.  I tried working around the problem by engaging elsewhere.  I became a very good jazz drummer as a result and ended up playing in one of Indiana University’s Jazz Ensembles my freshman year of college (1982).  I still have fond memories of Dominic Spera, our Director.  One of the other drummers, Sean Pelton, is now the drummer for Saturday Night Live.

The good thing about engaging elsewhere is that I was able to find real joy in those other things.  I love jazz to this day.  But the joy I experienced there is something I want to experience more of now in my own family.  I’m a visual person, so one of the ways I’m working this out is by seeing the good, the true, and the beautiful via our family Coat of Arms.

Experts in genealogy may poo poo this idea.  They’ll say, “Coats of Arms were given to individuals not to a family name.”  Or they’ll say, “Even if there was a Godfrey family Coat of Arms you don’t know whether you are those Godfreys.”  Points taken but the larger point is that every family, or every little platoon, needs an identity.  This is why military units develop their own insignias.  I view the Godfrey Coat of Arms as an insignia for my family.  Also, in God’s economy, names have meaning.  What is the redemptive story God wants to tell through the name of my family?  There is a good one here.

Our family name, ‘Godfrey’, means “God’s peace”.  The family’s motto is ‘Deus et Libertas’, or “God and Liberty”.  During the Crusades the first Christian King to rule over liberated Jerusalem was a character named Godfrey of Jerusalem.  In the era of ISIS it seems a little easier to appreciate the positive aspects of the Crusades than it would have been previously.  One book I’ve just started reading is Rodney Stark’s God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades.

The shield features a black background on which is a gold chevron between three gold pelicans.  According to the House of Names the black (or sable) shield symbolizes deep religious commitment as well as prudence and wisdom.  The chevron symbolizes protection (as in the roof of a house or for my Russian friends, a krisha) and was given to those who had accomplished a notable enterprise such as building a church or fortress (or liberating Jerusalem from Islamic militants).  Gold symbolizes excellence and achievement and someone who has demonstrated great valor.   The pelicans are pictured vulning themselves.  For a pelican to vuln means to use it’s beak to draw blood from it’s neck in order to feed it’s young.  “Pelicans vulning” became a symbol of the piety, self-sacrifice, and virtue associated with the love Christ displayed for his disciples as illustrated in the Last Supper.

The crest features a Saracen (or in contemporary terms a Moslem) holding a cross.  The Saracen was there as a trophy representing deeds of prowess during the Crusades.  We may have Godfrey of Jerusalem to thank for this particular element of the crest.  I’ve seen other versions of the crest in which the Saracen has been replaced by Jesus.   Maybe this was to avoid the perceived indelicacy of portraying a Saracen there as a trophy.

So the story this Coat of Arms tells is one of deep religious commitment, prudence and wisdom, protection for others, excellence and achievement, valor, piety, self-sacrifice, virtue, an prowess.  Wow, that’s a legacy I’d like to be part of and cultivate.

One special blessing for me in all of this is that in our extended Godfrey family my boys are the only males who will carry the family name forward.  I am so thankful to the Lord for Nate, Karcher, and Noah Godfrey.  Just as my Dad was a knight for me may I be a knight for them.

You probably have family pain to navigate too.  Maybe it’s a suicide (like my Mom’s dad), maybe divorce, maybe mental illness (like my Mom), maybe something else.  How would you like to see God redeem that pain?  He’s very good at this.  Look for redemptive threads in your own family’s story that you can weave into a vision for a redemptive future.

Let’s continue the conversation:

  • What is your family’s Coat of Arms and what redemptive threads have you found there?
  • Who are some notable figures in your family’s history and how can you draw on their legacy?
  • What pain has your family experienced that you would like to ask God to move to redeem?

2014 in review

WordPress offers bloggers an Annual Report.  Below is mine.  This blog was viewed 18,000 times in 2014 throughout 121 countries.  That’s exciting.

I remember a conversation with Stuart Briscoe, one of my mentors and former Senior Pastor of Elmbrook Church.  My friend Peter Mitskevitch, Dean of Moscow Theological Seminary, asked him, “What’s the secret to your success?”  Stuart responded, “I know a good book and share with people what I find there.”  My purpose with “Church in the World” is to help the church be the church in the world by sharing what I’m finding the good book to say on the topic.

I’m currently writing my 2015 goals and trying to discern what to do with this blog in 2015.  One thing that I’ve concluded is that I want to keep writing for it because I enjoy it.  I would also like to grow my readership to an average of 2000 per If this was your blog what would you do next so that it would serve others more effectively?

Grace and peace.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 18,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

making straight paths for Messiah

ca-058_wb_exit_142_03

For Sunday, December 7, 2014
2nd Sunday of Advent

In introducing his gospel and the coming of Messiah the Apostle Mark says, “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight” (v.3).  I’ve read this many times but never appreciated the full significance of the straight paths until now.  Subconsciously I’ve thought, “Well, yeah, I guess a straight path is better than a crooked path.  Jesus must like orderly paths.”  You too?  Thought so … This totally misses the point!  Mark is quoting Isaiah 40:3.  Look at this quotation in Isaiah’s original context:

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
    every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
    the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Isaiah isn’t just talking about building a straight path. He’s talking about building a highway.  The Romans did just what we did.  They built the highway straight: mountains were leveled, valleys were filled, and obstacles removed.  The commitment and power contained in such a project is a metaphor for the commitment and power God has to accomplish his redemptive purpose.

This is very good news for us, for we, like the early church, find ourselves in exile.  We’ve lost cultural pre-eminence.  We’re increasingly outsiders.  Yet we can be assured that God has neither lost us nor this world.  He is going to accomplish his purpose.  What this means for us is that we can prosecute our daily callings with confidence and joy because we’re walking on the highway of God’s greater purpose.

Points to ponder:

  • How have you experienced being a member of a people in exile?
  • Where do you see God at work building the highway that Isaiah and Mark are so excited about?
  • How is God calling you to prosecute your calling with confidence this week?

The First Thanksgiving

My friend Fred Beuttler has a wonderful tribute to Thanksgiving here.  President Washington said in his original proclamation:

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to “recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Hard to stop there.  Read Fred’s post (link above) for the full text of President Washington’s proclamation.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Does our performance match our profession?

The parable of the talents, as depicted in a 1712 woodcut. The lazy servant searches for his buried talent, while the two other servants present their earnings to their master.

The parable of the talents, as depicted in a 1712 woodcut. The lazy servant searches for his buried talent, while the two other servants present their earnings to their master (1).

Matthew 25:14-30
For Sunday, Nov. 16, 2014
23rd Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 28)

For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away (Matt. 25:29).”  

The parable of the talents is well known.  A contemporary outline might go like this.  There were three employees at an investment firm.  The owner is about to go on a summer hiatus.  He gives the first employee, an “A player”, $500,000; the second, a “B” player, $200,000, and the third, a “C” player, $100,00.  He asks them to steward these funds responsibly.  When the owner returns in the fall, he calls the three employees into his office to report on their work.  The “A” player reports back with $1 million, a 100% return on investment.  The owner is very pleased.  The “B” player reports back with $600,000, also a 100% return on investment.  The owner is very pleased again.  The third employee reports back with the same $100,000 he was given.  The owner is not at all pleased.  This third employee has done nothing – not even depositing the money in a savings account to earn minimal interest.  The owner takes the $100,000 from this third employee, who is fired on the spot, and gives it to his “A” player.

So what’s the point of the story.  I love how R.T. France puts it:

What ultimately condemned this disciple, and made him unready to meet his Lord at the parousia, was the fact that he had proved to be “useless” for the kingdom of heaven. Like the man ejected from the wedding feast in 22:13, his performance had not matched his profession (emphasis mine), and it is only those who “do the will of my Father who is in heaven” (12:50) who ultimately belong to his kingdom (2).

Does my performance match my profession?  I profess to be an ambassador of the kingdom of heaven, carrying the best news that anyone could ever here, that there is a God who created them, understands them, and offers them forgiveness and a new life.  He commissioned me to advance this message before he ascended to heaven.  He’s coming back and he’s going to ask me what I did with my commission.  Will I be one who acts with “entrepreneurial boldness” (R.T. France again) or one who buries what I have in the ground?

My performance does not match my profession to the extent that it should.  I waste way too much time watching television.  I commit to things that I shouldn’t and fail to follow through on things that I should.  My performance in private and with my family needs improvement.  The good news is that I have already made some good investments privately and publicly and I’m empowered by the Holy Spirit to continue in these.  I’m going to enjoy making some course adjustments today and pursuing the fantastic calling given to me.

How about you?  When you look at your own performance, where are you doing well?  Where do you need to do better?  Please share your comments below.

Points to ponder:

  • What have I done this week to fulfill the mandates of my calling?
  • Do I even know what my calling is?
  • If not, what commitment will I make to discern it?

Suggested resources:

(1)  "Parable of talents" by Unknown - A Woodcut from Historiae celebriores Veteris Testamenti Iconibus representatae, taken from http://www.textweek.com/art/parables.htm. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Parable_of_talents.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Parable_of_talents.jpg

(2)  France, R.T. (2007-07-27). The Gospel of Matthew (New International Commentary on the New Testament) (pp. 956-957). Eerdmans Publishing Co - A. Kindle Edition.