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"you're packing a suitcase for a place that you've never been...a place that has to be believed to be seen"...'Walk On' by U2

WATERSHED: A voice in the wilderness. DARYL UNDERWOOD.

 

The concept of Centerpoint Christianity briefly stated is:

Christianity from the centerpoint outward.

Christianity from the climax forward.

This blog constitutes concepts for a new view of Christianity that begins with what is foundational and moves forward from that point. It is based on the assumption that we are being pulled towards something unseen and pushed from a place that once was.

What Centerpoint Christianity attempts to do is bypass some of the constraints imposed by metanarratives by using the life of Christ and particularly the climactic actions of Christ as beginning points.

It supports the conviction that God is essentially timeless. From this beginning point we endeavor to move outward from the definitive moment of the parousia (visitation) of Christ and forward to the future which functions as a type of magnet to "what can be--and is coming".

When we begin at the life of Christ and move outward as from the centerpoint of a web, rather than in a linear timeline of history, another wide picture emerges.


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Feb132008

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Reader Comments (3)

Introduction

“Try to see things my way
do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on”
—the Beatles

I am writing as a person in the kingdom the people of the kingdom. They come from the family of man. They may or may not know the story of Israel. Perhaps they haven't heard the story of Jesus. Maybe they have heard of Mohammad. Perhaps they light the Menorah. Maybe they hide eggs at Easter. They have one thing in common. They long for that which is good. In a world that is unjust, they long for justice. They know they're made for more than “dust for dust” and long for spirituality to be a part of their life. When relationships are seared it bothers them. When the creation is scarred it troubles them. And when the world is a mess they long for it to be at peace. For such is the kingdom of God.

I write as a person in the kingdom for the people of the kingdom. The kingdom that is yet to be seen, that longs for justice and righteousness in a way that doesn’t “insist in its own way but rejoices when the truth wins out”. If we could only agree on who that king should be…


Watershed

“There are two kinds of people in this world, Charlie.
The first group are the people that face the music;
the second group are those who run for cover.
Cover is better.”
--Lt. Col. Frank Slade in
“The Scent of a Woman”

It’s a great word. It has various applications. A drainage basin or river catchment, especially in North American usage, meaning the region of land whose water drains into a specified body of water. Watershed can refer to a drainage water divide, especially in Britain and other Commonwealth countries, meaning the ridge of land that separates two adjacent drainage basins. The two bodies are “divided” by the land. The land serves as a boundary so they never come together.

In electrical engineering watershed is the upper surface of a ribbed high voltage electrical insulator that deflects and drains ice and water away from the bottom portions and central body of the insulator. It keeps things at a distance. Insulates them.

It is also any moment or event separating two distinct periods of time. Watershed can refer to a moment when all that spills froth from that time on is somehow different. We speak of the word when we say things like “this was a watershed moment in history”.

In all of these applications the word is “useful.”

What I am proposing in this book is that we need to look at “the scriptures” of the Bible and see how we have used our western interpretations to create divides and provide insulation so that we can “pass by” things that ought to grab our attention.

And be attentive to things we ought to just pass by.

My thesis is that the modern church has become a watershed in all applications of its description.

We in our own ways “strain at a gnat and swallow a camel” we major on the minors to the point where we don’t know what is important anymore. I am hoping this book serves as a unifying aha! watershed moment to inspire creative thinking to all who read.

If you don’t want to think out of the box you may as well put this book down now.


Synonyms
• (catchment basin): catchment basin, drainage basin
• (boundary between two adjacent catchment basins):
• (time after which adult material may be broadcast): safe harbor (US)
• (critical point marking a change in course or development): turning point


The Old Testament Gospel: One with the New

“Life is very short and there’s no time,
for fussing and fighting, my friend”
—Paul McCartney

I know it is safer to take cover, to whistle and pretend all is well, to cross the road and walk on the other side when you see inevitable trouble ahead. I have a bit of Levite in me. It is professionally safer to take cover and protect yourself than risk getting caught in something that may put you in a “fix” or predicament answering questions that you never really envisioned asked by people who are really more clever than you. I suppose I could just preach the “gospel I was given” in the western world, I have for years. I have cool illustrations from movies, songs, stories all stored away. I could lean on systematic theology, the neatly wrapped version of the divine mystery. The chase for personal blessedness (the task of religion) rather than the quest for understanding the righting of the cosmos (what theology is essentially about). I think I could do that.

No. Sorry.

The truth is I can’t. Not any more. I know too much. I have been on the inside too long. There are too many holes in our arguments to withstand the impending storm. Our house is built on sand. I would rather face the music at this point in my life. I guess you could say I am coming out against the way we’ve done things for so long (in the empire Christianity and Biblical exposition) that I live in. In the back of my mind I think some of the ideas are so radical no one will take them too serious anyway. So here goes.

I recently had an eye opening talk with one of my close pastoral friends. We were discussing some of the new concepts I will be suggesting as we move along in the book. At one point he said this to me in all seriousness: “Israel was never called to go to the world, the world was supposed to come to Israel.” I thought, “Are you serious?”

He was. That is a problem.

One Thread
The gospel “good news” has always been about setting all people free. It is essentially about exile and restoration. This is why Paul can speak of scripture ‘preaching the gospel in advance’ to Abraham (Galatians 3.8). ‘The gospel’ which is thus ‘preached’ is, once more, not the summons to a new dimension of religious experience (that might make Christianity into simply another mystery religion); not the invitation to a private experience of salvation, either in the present or the future (that might simply create a new sense of shut-in privilege in place of that which Paul had renounced); but the message that all the nations would be blessed in Abraham (Galatians 3.8b).

The new announcement of “good news” is found in a really old concept of being blessed to be a blessing. We are not blessed so that we might cajole others into investing in us so that some old black magic might rub off of us and on them when they stand at our shoulders. Israel, true Israel, through Abraham is to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and Israel as God intends her for the sake of the world. This is her mission and vocation, it became Jesus’ as he enacted and fulfilled her story in his story and his narrative, and it is our vocation as we are found in him.

The gospel narrative, the story of Jesus the Messiah, is the story of how that promise has come true. It tells of how Israel’s own exile at the hands of the pagans (all those not in the Hebrew metanarrative), which might have seemed to block the promises for good, has been dealt with in the execution of the Messiah (Galatians 3.10-14).

It tells of how the single ‘seed’, the one family promised to Abraham, has been created, despite the division between Jew and Gentile which the Torah, if absolutized, would have maintained (Galatians 3.15-22, 28 29). In other words of how a new family has come into being, a family composed of Jews and Gentiles alongside one another.

I suspect that this conception of Paul’s ‘gospel’, which is of course considerably more holistic than some others, goes a lot further than competing analyses in explaining why this gospel provoked opposition, including violent opposition. Offering people a new religious mode of being, in a private sense, is not particularly threatening. It becomes so, and provokes violence, the minute it challenges the life and worldview of a community; this is so just as much in the modern ‘Christian’ western world as in first-century Asia Minor.

When empire feels at all threatened or upstaged she reacts, often violently.

The message of the cross was, as Paul ruefully noted, a scandal to Jews (1 Cor. 1.23; Gal. 5.11); the entire gospel was also a scandal to Gentiles, inviting them to abandon their long-held, and sometimes politically useful, allegiances and to give allegiance only to the still-very-Jewish, and therefore scandalous, Jesus. The idea that the early preaching of the gospel carried no particular political implications only shows, I think, how far we have gone in projecting the privatized nature of western Christianity back onto Paul.

It is hard to imagine the kind of disruption and exasperation the Jews felt about the inclusion of Gentiles into the Hebrew metanarrative through this Jewish, itinerate, self appointed (from their perspective) “Anointed One” named Jesus and the apostles who followed him. It was, dare I say, as scandalous as if we were to say Christianity ought to receive the Qur’an and the Islamic prophet Mohammad as a true and reliable spokesperson for Christianity. You need to read that again. It was as scandalous as if we were to say Christianity ought to receive the Koran and Islamic prophet Mohammed as a true in reliable spokesperson for Christianity This shift was as seismic as that. What is amazing is that the shift could draw any takers whatsoever. Mention of anything even hinting of including Islam into our Christian story will get you stoned in some quarters of the westernized version of Christianity I live in. No trial necessary. In all honesty I feel guilty even thinking such a thought, the faces of my friends pass before my eyes, and I see them turn and walk away one by one. The scorn and loneliness would be unbearable. I feel like taking cover.

But, I will face the music.

We can now why Peter needed the blanket lowered three times in his vision on the rooftop of Cornelius. Who could embrace what this new way, this gospel which was turning the Jewish ways on their head was implying? Level playing field for all. Preposterous. This is why the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 is such a watershed moment. The good news was actually extended to the ends of the earth. The door was flung wide open. Small wonder that Paul found himself caught between two worlds and the target of so much hate and vindictiveness. It makes the fact that the disciples were martyred for this belief entirely believable.

They faced the music when it would have been so much easier and convenient to compromise just a bit and take cover. Indeed when Peter did this at Galatia Paul calls him out as insincere because he wasn’t consistent with the gospel that included gentiles, that is everybody else. Paul was so annoying in this way.

And by the way, in defense of my pastoral friend, I believe he had this much right (although it wasn’t what he really had on his mind)…the call to come to the cross or Israel or God is more of a summons than an invitation. It is about what He has done for the cosmos more than it is about just me. I am a part of a big thing.

We all are.

Big thing
Recently U2 conducted their Vertigo tour. One stop was in the city of Chicago on Bono’s birthday. This is the concert they put on DVD for all time. In the midst of the concert Bono begins to point at his headband which has symbols of Christianity, Judaism and Islam on it. He begins to chant Abraham, Jesus, Mohammed all one-- again and again during the song, “ONE”. I was reading some reactions by people on various blogs (a significant waste of time if you don’t watch it). One contributor on a website called Rhythms of Redemption was really upset. She was at a concert on tour and she felt violated. “What happened to Bono, I thought we owned him,” she decried, “I thought Bono was a Christian, I was really disappointed” etc.

I think she missed the point.

I believe that what Bono is saying is that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam “all are monotheistic religions and all want to rise up against oppression, poverty, and inequity”. What should be a unifying thing has been put in the trunk of the car while religion fights about who is the favored son. I will speak more about this later. But for now let me say that we can do better. And for the sake of those who are on the lower end of the spectrum. The sooner the better.

He is simply saying let’s come together and get this right in our generation. Since all monotheistic religions have a desire to help the oppressed why can’t we ask them (us) to get it together without being seen as a traitor. We can cry out to the mother ship of religion particularly when we have an interest in justice and righteousness. It is obvious that this clarion call rings true for humankind.

I do not believe he is “giving up” on Christianity.

In the Willow Creek 2006 Conference interview with Bill Hybels Bono spoke eloquently about how Christianity presents an alternative to “karma” (according to karma, performing positive actions results in a good condition in one's experience, whereas a negative action results in a bad effect). This according to Bono is “how the world operates”, one of the systems of the age. He adds that if he had to depend on “karma” when this life ends he would be in big trouble. Instead he personally has chosen the grace that he sees in the Christian story climaxing in the act of Jesus on the cross. It’s just that what Jesus did seems so otherly. It’s hard to feel worthy of being named “Christian”. He takes this stuff serious. When we see the grace of Jesus, the shear sacrifice turns the world upside-down, and Bono along with it.

What I also believe he may be saying is that empire has the power to bring down, oppress, and take. But it also can elevate, set free, and give. In case you passed that by let’s state it again.

Empire has the power to bring down, oppress, and take. But it also can elevate, set free, and give.

I think he is on to something.

Can we accept that other metanarratives are not essentially evil because they are not ours? Can we see that many metanarratives since they deal with human beings will somehow have all of the ingredients of the Hebrew story? Greed, anger, revenge, murder, forgiveness, sacrifice, fear, hate, mercy, compassion, bravery etc, you name the act or emotion and it can be seen in all cultures and people groups.

For example, I once saw a captivation program entitled “Guns Germs, and Steel” based on the Pulitzer Prize winning book by Jared Diamond. In one section of the book Diamond describes the interpretation of what occurred during the time of the Spanish conquistadors from the perspective of the Spanish Eurasian heritage. The Conquistadors were in their rendering superior in courage, bravery, and strength to the savage, soon defeated Aztecs. Although severely outnumbered they “conquered” the Aztec Indians with ease because they were supposedly superior.

In reality, according to Diamond, when it all shakes down the Aztecs were at a severe disadvantage because: They did not have guns (you bring your fists, I’ll bring a Winchester and we’ll get it settled); They had not as a culture experienced or built immunity to Eurasian disease such as the black plague; they had little experience in warfare that had advanced through the discovery and use of steel in combat.
Most of the Aztec numbers were devastated through illnesses the “conquistadors” brought with them that had been through generations of resistance become innocreas in the Spaniards. They were however still carriers. In many ways the invaders just waited the natives out. This is of course a simplistic overview of the story but it will suffice for our purpose. The point of this is to describe how one culture “sees” their story or “metanarrative” in a way that deems them to be superior when in fact they are not. Of course, their rendering of the “truth” supports their prejudices.

And our rendering of the Christian story in the western world has supported our interests while minimizing others freedom for a long time now.

It is time to speak out rather than take cover. To face the music of our own prejudicial metanarrative in westernized Christianity. Perhaps we will find some insulation built into our old models which justify all the boundaries we carry.

It’s time for a change a “gospel that works”.

A New View of Scripture


“The Old Testament Scriptures
Sometimes known as the Hebrew Scriptures
is the Hebrew story
told from the Hebrew perspective.”
—Me

One of my contentions for this book is that we need to see the Old Testament Scripture as coming from the Hebrew perspective. It is the Hebrew metanarrative or story written through the eyes of people who permeated that culture. That doesn't mean that God wasn't involved in the story, but it does alter the way we see God involved in the story.

Consider the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy chapter 7 verses one through six. The scripture presents something really radical. Read the scripture and apply it to a literalist rendering of scripture.

Deut 7:1-6
When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you— 2 and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. [a] Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. 3 Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, 4 for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD's anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. 5 This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles [b] and burn their idols in the fire. 6 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.

Now the question must be presented: Is God behind all this? In other words, does God really want one people group to annihilate another people group? Are these “his” words? Is this the kind of God that we serve? If we have some type of literal understanding of Scripture, that is, the fundamentals simplistic notion that God said it, I believe it, and that settles it, how will any thinking person ever come to faith?

Why can't we allow the authors to have some license in their descriptions of what's going on instead of imposing some type of reading that disallows any of their storytelling ability. Can't we say that these stories are told from their perspective? Who has concocted these rules and renderings and are they sound?

If this passage were to be found in the Qur’an we Western Christians would point and say “see, how they are, violent, how vengeful their holy writings”, all the while shaking our heads and wagging our tongues justifying our fears or prejudices towards the Muslim people in general.

Think about this for just a moment. If you were to ask an Egyptian to describe the period of time where the Israelites speak of the Exodus you’ll get a completely different story from the Hebrew scripture. The fact is we tend to exaggerate our side of the story and minimize our enemies’ story. Many cultures when they describe their perspective need to build virtue into their story and demonize or villainize the enemy in order to feel right about who they are. The difference is found in which culture you align yourself with.

Marianne Maye Thompson in her fine commentary of Colossians & Philemon says this about metanarrative:

“Metanarritives are, minimumly “master” narratives of the way things are. But, more specifically according to the definition often used today, a metanarrative is something that is used to legitimate a nation, society, or individual’s behavior or use of power and control. One example of a “successful” metanarrative is that which supports modern scientific endeavor. Merold Westphal argues that in order to legitimate itself modern science “needs a story of progress from opinion and superstition to scientific truth and onto universal peace and happiness. In other words science depends on a certain construction of reality and the construct that legitimizes it is the very notion of progress. The idea of progress serves science and scientists because it supposes that investigation and experimentation chart a steady path towards a better world. Such a view, of course, attracts funding and under girds continued research, but it also provides a construct within which people view the world, its destiny and their place in it. People accept the metanarrative. Somehow we are all a part of the progress of the world towards its perfection. While science and scientists have a vested interest, if not always acknowledged, interest in the survival of this metanarrative, its consequences are felt beyond the realm of scientific investigation. The “metanarrative of progress” has given birth to the tacit assumption that our lives are better—materially, but also morally and spiritually—than the lives of those who lived fifty, five hundred, or five thousand years before us. In other words, any metanarrative shapes how we view the world, our place in it, what we value, and how we assess the significance of persons, events, or things. Not only do we think of science as making progress, but we view the morals and behaviors or earlier people as “primitive” or worse—little recognizing that the very metanarrative of progress means that in ten, one hundred, or one thousand years our lives and practices will come under the same scrutiny.

Because metatnarratives are said to legitimate and individual, enterprise, society or nation and are thus understood to underwrite self-interest, they are labeled oppressive and triumphalist. A metanarrative gains useful acceptance not because it is true but because succeeds, through power or violence, in silencing all other metatnarratives…If the metanarrative of one nation or society is to succeed as a universal metanarrative, it must do so by suppressing the difference of the other, so that this narrative becomes everyone’s metanarrative”

So the Americans demonize Iraq, The Sunni villianize the capitalists Americans, the yanks hate the Brits, America creates the communist scare of the “reds”, the honkies say the niggers are lazy, the blacks blame the self serving Republican party, fundamentalist warn about the liberal Christians who “may not be Christian at all you know", and Yusaf Isalm is evil because he was once one of us, Cat Stevens—but now he is a turncoat and has gone over to the Muslim side of the fence, divide, boundaries, and its all right if it makes you feel better…you get the drift.

But if one believes all voices must be heard, that all stories must be told, and that all viewpoints are equally valid, then any metanarrative that proposes to subsume all others can do so only be suppressing those other stories. Finally metanarrative are said to be based on the premise that there is such a thing as “absolute truth” and that someone—presumably someone who claims an allegiance to a particular metanarrative related to that absolute truth—knows that truth. Some human beings are the guardians of the truth and hence have the right to act on it and perhaps even to impose it on others.” You might want to dial up just about any war here—crusades, World War, Vietnam, Civil—you chose--they all had the right to vindicate themselves based on their understanding of the truth and need to impose it on others.

Now place Israel on that list. It may make you feel uncomfortable, but it is true.

One metanarrative amongst many
To put it simply it (The Bible and especially The Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament) is a book about Jews written by Jews. I don't mean this in any sort of offensive way or bad way. This is not an anti-Semitic statement at all. I'm just stating that this is fact. Even the few books that are not in Hebrew are in Aramaic a slightly more street form of Hebrew. When someone writes from a culturally metanarrative perspective, they tend to describe their position or represent their way of doing things as being superior to other races other cultures, other nations. It is my contention that this is what the Old Testament Scriptures is filled with, the tendency for Israel to describe their story from their viewpoint. We call this description of a story a metanarrative.

For example, if you were to read a history book written from the perspective of the American viewpoint it would be far different from something that's written from the perspective of an Germanic person. If you were to read a description of the slave trade from the perspective of a black Negro in the Deep South he would read differently from someone who is writing from a white landowner in the same place at the same time. It's not because the facts are any different, but simply the perspective is different. These are illustrations of metanarratives and The Hebrew Scriptures are at their core one of these metanarratives.

Personal Narratives
Now within these stories, this group of larger stories called metanarratives; we find our own personal narratives. A personal narrative is a story that's told from the perspective of an individual who lives during that time, in a particular circumstance, in a particular culture. He or she simply describes her life and experience in that culture. Every individual has one. They fit like a mosaic in the greater metanarrative stories. The personal metanarratives are what makes the larger metanarratives interesting and intriguing, and human. They make the stories believable. These personal narratives help us to understand ourselves and our relationships with one another. These personal narratives fill the pages of the Old Testament helping Scripture come alive. They have lessons learned within them and are the color commentary of life. And all the stories are useful for instruction, correction, and edification. This in no way lessens the value of the Old Testament or Scripture. My belief is that this interpretation actually elevates Scripture and makes it understandable and useful to all people no matter what metanarrative they may find themselves in. It at the same time eliminates many of the questions that trouble so many thinking people in postmodern society about the narrowness of Scripture. We can easily value every other story while maintaining that this story is a particularly intriguing story. We need not disparage the stories of the global village for all space and time in order to elevate the story. The reality is the story eventually does this itself.

The truth is we can really trust the story.

It is able to do that which it was commissioned to do. In that way, the narrative is simply a document that is infallible. What this way of viewing Scripture does is set us free to embrace other stories, other cultures without having to conquer them. There are always good guys and bad guys in the metanarratives a man, there are things that work out and things that always falter; we always see tragedy and triumph in life no matter where it's happening or who is happening to.

These stories in scripture are inspired by creation and are useful to teach, rebuke, correct and train people in a way that commands could never do. This way of seeing Scripture sets us free to embrace the story of many peoples, at the same time letting the Hebrew story speak. Letting the Old Testament Scripture be their story told from their perspective opens wide the gate for imagination and truth. The Book of Hebrews tells us to pay attention to these stories that we might understand how we are to be. At the same time we do say that God interacts within their story to reveal his plan for the redemption of the cosmos through his call of Abraham from all peoples of the world.

Recently I watched a film entitled “Flags of our Fathers”. It is a troubling story that describes the raising of the American flag in Iwo Jima during World War II. The author makes the point in stories we all need to create heroes in order to validate the cost is sometimes takes to pay for something like freedom. All keepers of the “family story” do this to justify their actions and decisions in order to build a pride and sense of “rightness” as a legacy. The film tells us that the heroes that we created at this crucial time in America are really just people living their lives, found at a time when the complexities and difficulties of life assail them. Told from the perspective of three young men who raised that flag on that island during World War II, it is really more tragic than triumph. What we come to know is that these are simply young men, boys actually, trying to survive in the world that's gone wrong. Their story is a personal narrative set in a larger metanarrative, so that we might learn something about ourselves. I believe this is what the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures are as well. In my view this does not devalue scripture but elevates the scripture so that it begins to make sense and have congruence. The Hebrew story is set apart in one clear way.

It would just be like any other story except for this one thing;

Somehow the one true God enters their story. If we don't believe that in the Bible is nothing really special.

Grand metanarrative.
The Biblical claim is that the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament differ from all other stories because the one true God, Yahweh, has revealed himself in and through them. This is what makes the Hebrew story, a larger story than the other stories. I, and many others before me, have given this larger story, the over-arching story, and the name grand metanarrative. It is grand, because it is the overarching story which somehow defines us all and in the end, I believe is the story that we need to find ourselves in, so that we might continue to have life long after our days on this earth have been numbered. It is the one story amongst many where Judaism, one of the great monotheistic religions is told. Christianity enters the grand metanarrative in the conviction that Jesus is the climax/pinnacle/defining moment of the long story. What follows is a new story emerging in the New Testament through the new covenant Jesus speaks of in the upper room. What Paul and the other writers of the New Testament provide are ways of working out the implications of this watershed moment when “all things become new”. They are the color commentators and thinkers who help us live faithfully in “the story we find ourselves in”

This is a new perspective that breaks down boundaries and sets us free to new ideas. To say that the story is over arching is not to say that it is better than all other metanarratives. It isn’t necessarily better as we might employ the word in some type of trumping manner. In reality many other metanarratives contain very similar and just as fascinating stories when told on a stand alone basis. Indeed some are downright brilliant and awe inspiring. I like to read them, or view them or hear them. We need to lose some of the triumphant warring language we use in the application of the Hebrew Scriptures and the ensuing New Testament revelation. “Winning the world” to the sometimes imperialistic western interpretation of Christianity has done more harm in the least few centuries than we ever could imagine. “Holy war” in the name of Christ is a misnomer. Power and conquest are not of the first order but the last resort and as I will describe in chapters about the final act of Jesus almost entirely out of character for him. To resist reconciliation whether it is amongst races or nations is to say no to repentance. People are enemies for a reason and we have the same blood on our hands as the next ideology.

It is probable that this type of “ruling over gentiles” was the very thing he came to abolish. This way of thinking was and is the threat to destroy the very objects of creation he came to liberate and buy back when he died. Crusades, campaigns, and coercion are not kingdom traits in the benevolence of the prince of peace.


Gospel

“The kingdom of heaven is at hand”
—Jesus first sermon

The curtain opens and a lone figure emerges and begins his part. “The time has come; the kingdom of god is near. Repent and believe the good news.” This is the gospel as Jesus understands it. Something has come, is happening right now that will alter the course of the world. This is a watershed moment. To be a follower of Jesus means that you believe that something very real happened when he entered the world. So we begin here with a discussion about that announcement. What was the gospel or “good news? What he had in mind is radically different form the popular viewpoint in westernized Christianity. It is not just a little different it isn’t really that close.

Shift
We need to see things through another lens. Many of us have had the experience of going to the optometrist. We are familiar with his methods in the way that he tries to determine which set of glasses will help us to see most clearly. He spins through a variety of lenses until we come upon one or two that seem to be very close to the right ones for our eyes. Then they'll flip back and forth between these two until we settle on which one is clearest. It's always close between just a couple of similar choices. And then we are forced to choose which one is most clear. This book is not about that.

When I speak of another gospel I am talking about something that's not even really similar to the original gospel. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the gospel that we believed for so long may in fact not be the gospel in all. It frightens me to even say this. I thought about it for a long time. I've watched as the evangelical church has preached the gospel but lived in another story. It's not as though what I am proposing and what we currently have is just a little bit different and we need to pick out which one seems clearest. What I am talking about is a total shift from one way of thinking to another. Much of what I have to say has to do with how we view or see Scripture. It has to do with the lens that we put on our face to clearly understand what God's trying to do and say in our time. I do this with fear and trepidation. Much of my quest is fueled by questions more than answers.

At one point in the New Testament Paul is forced to defend “his gospel” and does so by speaking about something that happened between the Apostle Peter and himself in Galatia. While I can't get into the details in this book let it suffice to say that there was a skirmish in the Way about whether or not to accept gentiles (outsiders) into the emerging circle of Christianity. The whole ordeal at Galatia happened in front of the circumcision party, often called the Judaizers, and the story is told in the book of Galatians. In this letter Paul defends his gospel. In chapter 1 verse six he says

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel. Not that there is another gospel, but there are some will trouble you would want to pervert the gospel of Christ.”

In order to make this point, he uses the two adjectives heteros, (another in the sense of different) and allos (another in the sense of a second). The first adjective has to do with a different type as in a Macintosh or Delicious apple. They are a choice between two types of apples. The second has to do with a different type of fruit altogether. The emphasis is on another, not even similar to the first. “Heteros” would mean that they're turning to a different gospel one that is still legitimate with a different emphasis at certain points. “Allos” means that they're turning to another gospel, which isn't even of the same family. It is indeed another gospel that has no similarity to the first or original gospel.

He concludes that there's only one gospel.

I agree.

The Revised Standard Version brings it out. You are turning to a different gospel. Not that there is another gospel. There is not another, a second; there is only one. He goes on to say later on we are to judge them by this standard: we judge people who understand the gospel by the gospel; we do not judge the gospel by them. As Dr. Allan Cole expresses it, “the outward person of the messenger does not invalidate his message. Rather, the nature of the message validates the messenger.” I take these words very serious and pray my message is right and true. Paul goes on to say that if anyone is preaching a gospel contrary to that which he received let him be accursed. Serious words indeed, so I tread with a certain caution. These ideas have been stirring for quite some time as I have made my way home. May they bear the fruit of righteousness in the creating of One people in Christ.

One of the early commentaries that I read about the book of Galatians was written by John R.W. Stott. It is an outstanding commentary. In his concluding remarks about chapter 1 verses six through ten he writes this:

“The lesson which stands out from this paragraph is that there is only one gospel; the popular view is that there are many different ways to God, that the gospel changes with the changing years, and that we must condemn the gospel to the fossilization in the first century A.D.. But Paul would not endorse these notions. He insists here that there is only one gospel and that this gospel does not change. Any teaching that claims to be another gospel is not another.

The conclusion is there is One Gospel. So it only follows that this “gospel” and its definition should be a core concern from the outset. We must not compromise the message of the “good news” of Yahweh like the Judaizers, nor desert it like the Galatians, but live by it ourselves and seek to make it known to others. This, too, is my goal. May the new lens that we use to view Scripture be consistent with the message and meaning of the Gospel. I ask that we might know the gospel, and that the gospel might set us free, just as it frees others. I pray that we might understand the good news and the truth therein so that we might become the people that God always intended us to be in Christ.

The following is from a paper done by one of my friends Todd Hunter. Todd was the former, national director for the Association of Vineyard Churches USA and currently works with Alpha Ministries. For a period of time he traveled with Dallas Willard and they presented conferences on the Kingdom of God. Much of what he described here in this paper entitled “A Tale of Two Gospels” I learned when I sat and listened to him speak at one of these kingdom of God conferences held at our church Southside Vineyard. I am greatly indebted to Todd for his study and present this paper for your consideration. It describes where we may have jumped the track in respect to the word and meaning of “gospel”.

A Tale of Two Gospels

I know *exactly* what you mean. Let me tell you why you're here. You're here because you know something. What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but its there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I'm talking about?
—Morpheus in”The Matrix

Though I sincerely appreciate, and to the best of my ability, constantly make use of the work of scholars, I write and seek to contribute to our conversation as an evangelistic practitioner. As a working pastor, I see a large and important connection between getting the Gospel right and getting the Gospel out.

Thesis
My basic thesis is that something went drastically wrong when a reductionistic rendering of the Gospel got married to the American marketing machine.

This reductionistic bullet point version of the Gospel (for whatever it gained in ease of communication and giving alleged certainty) has lost the ability to be compelling or winsome in contemporary society. I also wonder if it was ever right or an adequate telling of what God was doing for humans in Christ.

Proposal
I propose the telling of a fully orbed story as a preferable way to improve the state of the evangelistic enterprise. I propose that this story be told early, during the evangelistic part of one’s conversion. My long experience with the church growth and seeker movements suggests to me that the crowd-to-core and evangelism-to-discipleship models can be improved upon. This can be done without a wholesale rejection of the good things those movements gave us.

It will require more than fine-tuning (because important theological issues are on the table), but less than throwing the whole radio away. Here is the important point: one’s soteriology and eschatology will naturally give rise to a way of doing evangelism and church. In thoughtful settings, form always follows function.

Thus, if we view the gospel to be, “say this prayer so that when you die, you can go to heaven,” it will naturally lead to one way of doing church. Cradle to grave programming to warehouse people until they die is usually what follows. This view makes discipleship optional, something serious Christians might do.

The effects of living in a wrong story are devastating to our churches. Countless thousands of well-intentioned pastors are left to try to disciple people who have no intention of ever seriously following Jesus or practicing their religion. The church is in serious trouble when discipleship (apprenticeship to Jesus) is viewed as extracurricular or optional.

In The Divine Conspiracy (pg. 58) Dallas Willard asks three questions that penetrate to the very heart of the matter: “Does the Gospel we teach and preach have a natural tendency to cause the people who hear it to become full-time disciples of Jesus? Would those who believe it become his apprentices as a natural next step? What can we reasonably expect would result from people actually believing the substance of our message?

The Power of Story
I need to say a few more things about the evangelistic power of story before we move forward. First, let me say a word to those who are suspicious of story as a postmodern Trojan horse designed to obliterate truth.

Everybody loves a good story and God's is the best. But more than that, story has a more powerful impact today in postmodern evangelism than mere propositions. I don't mean to say that facts, beliefs or data don't exist or that doctrinal propositions are totally out the window or unimportant. I am speaking in relative terms. The most important issue I have in mind with the use of story is to make sure that we are not giving reductionistic, context-less snippets about “how to get to heaven when you die" verses the Gospel according to Jesus (Mark 1; 14-15), the Gospel of the Kingdom. Jesus’ story is large and all encompassing. It holds the potential to become the organizing principle and force for someone’s life.

When I speak of story, I have in mind how one lives out the implications of the fact of the atonement/gospel, not so much one’s theory of the gospel/atonement. If my memory is correct, the church didn’t even have an agreed upon, clear theory until Anshelm, but many people managed to follow Jesus just fine. Again, in saying this I am not saying that beliefs are unimportant. One could not follow Jesus into the Gospel of the Kingdom if they had seriously polluted beliefs. It would be like trying to play football through the beliefs of soccer or rugby.

I, too, hold to the importance of substitution, but I acknowledge that there are other (not necessarily contrasting, but augmenting and legitimate) in-the-pale views, which could also (better?) lead to discipleship to Christ because they fill out the story. Thus, as my diagram points out, I see more going on at the cross than mere substitution (see page 9).

On the cross Jesus is Lamb, but also model and teacher for the servants of God. He is humanity (Adam and Eve), Israel and the church as God intended it. For all the last 400-500 years of trying to nail down a theory, we missed that Jesus himself—virgin birth, life, ministry, teachings, crucifixion, burial, resurrection, ascension and present day ministry at the right hand of the Father—the Christ event--is the atonement, not merely one thing he said or did. This is important because it gets to the root of our lack of imagination for walking in the Kingdom on the other side of conversion. Let me illustrate.

Think of a thermometer, negative numbers on the bottom; zero in the middle and positive numbers at the top. Contemporary Christians are pretty clear about how our negatives or de-merits are taken care of—justification through faith by the grace of God. But how does one move on from zeroed accounts in heaven to discipleship? Contemporary Christians are often paralyzed by fear of works, legalism or religiosity. I would assert that we move on the same way (unmerited grace) and through the same power—the Holy Spirit. We must be clear here: there is something for us to do; but it is simple cooperation. It is not meritorious.

Perhaps a rhetorical question would help clear our thinking: “Who do you suppose appropriates more grace in a God honoring way, someone who merely experiences forgiveness or someone like the apostle Paul (Cf. I Corinthians 15: 10; Philippians 3:4b-17)”? But we must have a vision to emulate Paul and this brings us back to story and the need to fill in, where necessary, our understanding of all the implications of the gospel/atonement.

This is the crucial point – people actually live from a sense of story, not from bullet-points to which they gave mental assent. We live from our imaginations, shaped by a story. Eugene Peterson perfectly captures my view and its practical, daily importance in his introduction to Matthew in The Message:

The story of Jesus doesn’t begin with Jesus. God had been at work for a long time. Salvation, which is the main business of Jesus, is an old business. Jesus is the coming together in final form of themes and energies and movements that had been set in motion before the foundation of the world.

Matthew opens the New Testament by setting the local story of Jesus in its world historical context. He makes sure that as we read his account of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we see the connections with everything that has gone before. Fulfilled is one of Matthew’s characteristic verbs: such and such happened “that it might be fulfilled.” Jesus is unique, but he is not odd.

Better yet, Matthew tells the story in such a way that not only is everything previous to us completed in Jesus, we are completed in Jesus. Every day we wake up in the middle of something that is already going on, that has been going on for a long time, genealogy and geology, history and culture, the cosmos – God. We are neither accidental nor incidental to the story. We get orientation, briefing, background, reassurance.

Matthew provides the comprehensive context by which we see all God’s creation and salvation completed in Jesus, and all the parts of our lives – work, family, friends, memories, dreams – also completed in Jesus. Lacking such a context, we are in danger of seeing Jesus as a mere diversion from the concerns announced in the newspapers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Postmodern people seem to intuit that if there is a God; faith in him must be dynamic, interactive, participatory and communal. This is especially true when contrasted with the gospel of “heaven when you die." Remembering Willard’s questions, one can see how the bullet point approach is often heard as nothing less than a standing invitation to omit Christ from our actual life.

Maybe a good way to get at this would be to ask, "How can we make our now-life eternal. I DO NOT mean this in a Pelagian way; I do not have in mind forgiveness of sins. I'm thinking that God and his rule, reign and realm are eternal. So, to the degree we enter his story now, by faith, through grace, we are entering the eternal and thus making our now-life eternal. I think this is a compelling way to talk about what it means to be a Christian. I believe this, when heard, would be far more compelling than the gospel according to Buddha, Dr. Phil, Oprah or Gandhi, etc.

Are Metanarratives Power Games?
Now let me say a word to the other side, those of you who have legitimate, heart-felt sensitivities to postmodern concerns over metanarratives as power games. My concept of story is not based on any desire whatsoever to dominate another. I am a firm believer in giving others freedom. I see it as a divine trait. For instance, in the parable of the tenant farmers (Matthew 21:33) God is depicted as going away on a journey. Thus, God gave Israel space to become the kind of people they chose to be. The same characteristic can be found in Jesus’ dialogs with people like the rich young ruler, the woman caught in sin and Nicodemus, etc. God does the same for everyone today.

Rather than trying to win something or control others, I am trying to inflame, inspire and empower others (if they have “ears to hear”) with the only story adequate to human need, potential and divine design. No other story addresses us in as comprehensive and for our good a way as the unfolding drama of God. I found a quote the other day that might help you grasp my intentions:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather the wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” --Antoine de Saint Exupery

Only a story, God’s comprehensive kingdom story, can produce such yearning in our churches.

Sorry for the long preliminaries, but I felt we needed to address these concerns. With the above in mind, let’s take a look at two different stories about the gospel; ask which one gets the gospel right and which one would most naturally lead to getting the gospel out.

The Story: The Gospel According to Jesus
Please look at Mark 1:14-15 – it says, “Come forward; say this prayer [giving loose, usually non-reflective, uncritical mental assent to a set of bullet points outlining one theory of the atonement] so that when you die you can go to heaven.”

It’s not what the text says, is it? Yet a Jay Leno “Man on the Street Interview” and most evangelical pulpits would lead us to believe that that is our Gospel – our story. Is it winsome? Compelling? Adequate? True?

Let’s try Jesus’ version: He said, "The good news of God is that… “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe this good news.” What is different about Jesus’ telling of the story?

The Gospel is not, of first importance, all about us. It is of God. It is about his ever-unfailing plan for man. It is not another consumer item to acquire, securing us a blissful happy-ever-after eternity. It is about the present reality, through the person of Christ (not simply something he said or did), of the Kingdom – the rule and reign – of God.

What did Jesus (The Door, The Gate, The Way into this remarkable new opportunity) want us to do as actors in His story?

First, repent; examine our whole way of doing life. He wants us to think again, have a second thought, review our sense of story, and determine if we are living in God’s Story. Second, he wants us to believe. This is not mere cognition or mental assent. Rather, it means to place our confidence in something; to act and live as if we actually trust it is true (cf. Matthew 7:24-27).

Jesus’ Gospel is an invitation into the Kingdom of God – the realm in which what God wants done is done. He is offering us a different kind of life. Eternal life is not spatial (out beyond the stars somewhere), nor is it chronological (out there waiting for us when we die). It is qualitative and it can begin now! When Jesus asks us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him, to lose our life in order to find it (Matthew 16:24-25), he is showing how to give up an inferior life outside the Kingdom for a superior life in it.

In contrast, in the first telling of the Christian story, our actual real life never comes into view. It is a story about death. Doing a little English exegesis on the sentence makes this clear: “......so that when you die.....” Should we then be surprised by the statistics Barna, Gallup and sociologists of religion give us, telling us that there is very little difference in the practices of Born-Again Christians and The World? In the reductionistic telling of the story, the church has no possible imagination for life in the Kingdom. On that telling of the story we are left to spend most of our time, money and energy trying to interest the uninterested that fill our chairs or pews.

Apprentices of Jesus in Missional Communities
The central theological tenant for a community of disciples/students/apprentices has to be the Gospel according the Jesus--the Gospel of the Kingdom. People in such communities joyfully accept Jesus’ offer to die to their old inferior life of the kingdom of the self and to receive and enter into the vastly superior life of the Kingdom of God. In Kingdom oriented communities, the kind produced by hearing and living in the kingdom story, members are self- consciously seeking to become the kind of persons who are able--naturally, easily and routinely--to announce, embody and demonstrate the reality of the Kingdom. If our churches are going to move in this direction, this is the story they need to hear/re-hear and be evangelized into.

These people, of course, do go to heaven when they die and not because of the work they are doing for God. They go there because of the unmerited favor of God in Christ who did for us, in our place, what we could not do for ourselves. But going to heaven is not the goal for a Christian, it is the destination. The goal is spiritual formation in Christ, continuing the non-unique/non-salvific aspects of Jesus’ work as the true representation of humanity, Israel and the church.

Perhaps our evangelistic question should change from, “if you were to die tonight, do you know here you would go?” to “If you were going to live tomorrow, whom would you follow? “What would you do?” What is the basic and fundamental story around which you are organizing the living of your life?”

To get the discussion started, let’s contemplate two implications (there of course are many) for each version of the Gospel story:

The Gospel of Going to Heaven When You Die
1. I believe something really bad happened when a reductionistic version of the Gospel was linked to the American marketing machine. Marketing requires branding, slogans and catch phrases. This process gave us the very famous bumper sticker Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven. Really? JUST forgiven? Nothing more? No wonder we have lost any compelling sense of participation in an on-going, unfolding story.

2. If our story is all about death and eternity (usually thought of in spacial or chronological terms), then certain forms of church naturally emerge: “Cradle to Grave” programs to interest the uninterested and keep them warehoused in the church until they die. Christ as Teacher for a new way of Kingdom life is lost; He begins to exist in our imagination as merely the Lamb. People fail to take Him seriously.

The Gospel According to Jesus: The Gospel of the Kingdom
1. We are caught up into a large, all encompassing story; the story Adam and Eve, Israel and the Church was always intended to live in. It is a huge privilege (cf. the pearl of great price and the treasure hidden in the field). And there are serious ramifications for choosing to live outside God’s story (see the attached diagram and the parable of the tenant farmers).

Choosing to say “yes” to God and his story of interacting with a people on earth, (“the cooperative friends of Jesus”) naturally involves our whole life. When we switch stories we, like Michael Jordan when he decided to play NBA basketball again, naturally decide to do whatever it takes to fit our life into the new story. We work out; eat right, practice, etc.

In the first story we’re suspicious of or fear any effort on our part. It seems religious, legalistic or, for us Protestants, it’s “Catholic.” In Jesus’ story it is natural and easy (“my yoke is easy; my commandments are not burdensome”); these works are not meritorious for going to heaven when you die; they are not used to be seen as righteous before God or man; they are works of wisdom. They are what the saints have always done to cooperate with God’s grace in order to live in His story (1 Corinthians 15:10).

2. Living in God’s story, we are naturally otherly, outward and missional. That is the nature of our Triune God. It was how Adam and Eve were designed to live (Genesis 1:28). Israel was chosen not unto privilege, but unto cooperative work with God (Genesis 12:1-3; Isaiah 42:5-7). The Church stands in the same story and prophetic tradition (Matthew 5:13-16; Luke 9:1-6; 10:1-24; Matthew 28:18-20; John 14:12; Acts 1:8; Revelation 22:5-6; etc).

________________________________________

Story

“Once upon a time”
—Grimm’s Fairy tales.

I trust story and suspect interpretation.

A story can stand on its own and pull its listeners along in a very natural way. Interpretations are rift with personal isogetical commentary that takes us where they want to go. In the end we are subject to their teachings and perceptions. At some level we need to understand and accept a measure of scholarship and authority that has been our heritage. I get it. But I contend that the story stands out from this other way of embracing scripture because the story is unalterable. And the story as I have described comes to a climax in Jesus and then continues on as we play our parts till the consummation. We can trust this story as the message that God gives.

I want to begin with this.

Stories teach in a way that penetrates to the heart.

Stories can have wide applications. If we wanted to teach a child the way of persistence we might introduced them to the story of the rabbit and the hare. In this classic Grimm's fairy tale we find that the tortoise, though he isn't very fast, can outlast the rabbit (who takes breaks often, and doesn't plan for the race) simply by staying on the task. When the hare finally realizes that he's far behind in the race due to his leisurely attitude it’s too late and he is unable to catch the tortoise. It's a simple story, but when it's applied across many different applications it can be very effective. The beauty of the story is that even the little child can receive it and be trained by it. They can conclude that it's a bad thing to be lazy and not prepare. And conclude at the same time that it's a good thing even though you may not have all of the talent in the world to continue to do the very best you can so that things may work out in the end. Because the child's behavior will be changed the story has shown to be affective and have authority in their life. The authority of the story shines through. When we talk about Scripture being infallible or authoritative, you would do well for us to remember that stories are the things that sometimes change us. Again stories teach the way that penetrates to the heart.

Consider the following story of David and the implications that can be drawn from his experience that can help us in leadership and in life. Then you can be the judge is the narrative something that has authority?


David

“Absalom, Absalom, my son, my son, my son,
caught in the tangles of your hair
fruit of my own sins to bear”
—Pierce Pettis in his song “Absalom, Absalom.

Deep and wide are the lessons learned form David. His story is a prime example of how story can speak to us and change us into kingdom people.

Poet Priest Prophet

“The eastern world it is exploding, violence flaring and bullets loading,
You’re old enough to kill, but not for voting,
you don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you toting,
and even the Jordan river has bodies floating,
but you tell me
over and over and over again,
you don’t believe
we’re on the eve of destruction”
—Barry McGuire

G. K Chesterton once said:

“I don’t deny that we need priests to tell us that one day we will die, I only say that we need another kind of priests called prophets to remind us that we are not dead yet.”

Prophets serve that type of function. They are the watchers of any society; the hearts cry of the beat up and bedraggled. They have a way with words that makes your ears sing or sting. Two Old Testament prophets serve as color commentators in respect to our responsibility in our own generation to “right that which has been wrong”. We are not to blame our fathers and are to cry out to our mothers. Metaphors or tales that guide us drawn from the well of the prophets who .speak them Remembering that the gospel is good news that the righteousness of the kingdom has come, has been revealed, has been made manifest will help us hear and see well. Our vocation is to implement the one time fixed work of Jesus as his people, as ambassadors reconciling people to God himself. We are to right this wrong: When God looks for justice—bloodshed, righteousness—a cry for help.

Sour grapes
The two prophets we will look at are Ezekiel and Hosea. The oracles are found in Ezekiel 18 and Hosea 2:1-5. They both deal with our tendencies to either place too much responsibility on past generations or not recognize that we have inherited certain dispositions as a result of our relationship with past generations.

In Ezekiel 18 we are told that: “the fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge”. It was a common phrase employed by the Israelites who were in captivity. In the vernacular, it means that the father’s sins are visited on the children. It was a way for generations to not take responsibility for their behaviors and shortcoming, a way to justify crossing the street as though you cannot see. To justify being monkeys that hear see and speak no evil but go merrily along the way victimized by our fathers and their fathers.

What they would say is our father did this or our fathers did that. And now we have to pick up the pieces. It was just another way to avoid taking responsibility for their behavior. And if the father did something, which somehow affected you, you could easily become the victim of what he'd done and never have to deal with what was going on in your own generation. It was classic avoidance. What Yahweh was indicating to the Israelites is that each man would be responsible for his own generation. The Israelites could no longer blame all of their issues on their fathers of the past. That's what the phrase sins of the fathers’ means.
Ezekiel 18
The Soul Who Sins Will Die
1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 "What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:
" 'The fathers eat sour grapes,
and the children's teeth are set on edge'?
3 "As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. 4 For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son—both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die.
5 "Suppose there is a righteous man
who does what is just and right.
6 He does not eat at the mountain shrines
or look to the idols of the house of Israel.
He does not defile his neighbor's wife
or lie with a woman during her period.
7 He does not oppress anyone,
but returns what he took in pledge for a loan.
He does not commit robbery
but gives his food to the hungry
and provides clothing for the naked.
8 He does not lend at usury
or take excessive interest. [a]
He withholds his hand from doing wrong
and judges fairly between man and man.
9 He follows my decrees
and faithfully keeps my laws.
That man is righteous;
he will surely live,
declares the Sovereign LORD.
10 "Suppose he has a violent son, who sheds blood or does any of these other things [b] 11 (though the father has done none of them):
"He eats at the mountain shrines.
He defiles his neighbor's wife.
12 He oppresses the poor and needy.
He commits robbery.
He does not return what he took in pledge.
He looks to the idols.
He does detestable things.
13 He lends at usury and takes excessive interest.
Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he will surely be put to death and his blood will be on his own head.
14 "But suppose this son has a son who sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does not do such things:
15 "He does not eat at the mountain shrines
or look to the idols of the house of Israel.
He does not defile his neighbor's wife.
16 He does not oppress anyone
or require a pledge for a loan.
He does not commit robbery
but gives his food to the hungry
and provides clothing for the naked.
17 He withholds his hand from sin [c]
and takes no usury or excessive interest.
He keeps my laws and follows my decrees.
He will not die for his father's sin; he will surely live. 18 But his father will die for his own sin, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people.
19 "Yet you ask, 'Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?' Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. 20 The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.
21 "But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. 22 None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live. 23 Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?
24 "But if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked man does, will he live? None of the righteous things he has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness he is guilty of and because of the sins he has committed, he will die.
25 "Yet you say, 'The way of the Lord is not just.' Hear, O house of Israel: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? 26 If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin, he will die for it; because of the sin he has committed he will die. 27 But if a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he will save his life. 28 Because he considers all the offenses he has committed and turns away from them, he will surely live; he will not die. 29 Yet the house of Israel says, 'The way of the Lord is not just.' Are my ways unjust, O house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust?
30 "Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Do a 180. Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. 31 Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!
Did you notice the redundancy of this phrase which describes how to be just and right?
He does not oppress anyone or
require a pledge for a loan.
He does not commit robbery
but gives his food to the hungry
and provides clothing for the naked.

Sounds like sheep and goats talk to me.
In many ways Jesus simply parroted the words of the old testament when he spoke about final judgment before God and the division of the sheep and the goats. I have this suspicion Jesus knew these stories and put them in a format that would make the same plea to his own generation, his own people. Prophet that he was.

When scripture is repeated in this way it is emphasizing something significant. Israel was called to be a people that were about justice and rightness but had missed the mark generation after generation. God is calling for the cycle to cease.

At the same time, in the same time period, another prophet was writing to the people of Israel, and particularly to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. His name was Hosea and he was as the man who took a wife who was an adulterous, and in fact, probably a prostitute. If she wasn't a prostitute prior to the marriage, she certainly behaves like one during their time together. Her name was Gomer. And Gomer is compared to Israel. She had a variety of affairs with all kinds of other men; spread her garment for any and all to come. She behaves like a whore.

At one point in Chapter 2 Hosea says,

2 "Rebuke your mother, rebuke her,
for she is not my wife,
and I am not her husband.
Let her remove the adulterous look from her face
and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts.
3 Otherwise I will strip her naked
and make her as bare as on the day she was born;
I will make her like a desert,
turn her into a parched land,
and slay her with thirst.
4 I will not show my love to her children,
because they are the children of adultery.
5 Their mother has been unfaithful
and has conceived them in disgrace.
She said, 'I will go after my lovers,
who give me my food and my water,
my wool and my linen, my oil and my drink.'
Notice the plea in verse 2 as the prophet tells the story in living color. Go to your mother who should provide you with covering and “Cry out against your mother, cry out, speak up against your mother”. This is shameful and the kids are being implored to say something about it. He was addressing the children of Gomer. God was pleading with the individuals who lived in Israel to do something. It doesn’t get much more desperate than that. To ask the kids to beg their mother to pay attention to her sins is a terribly difficult thing to have to do. God does it. He is in love with her.

Say something. Speak out. Let her know that it was either provided everything for her.

His plea represented the heart of God to a people who were being devastated by this behavior. What was clearly being said was the same message as Ezekiel 18. It is a redundant cycle that recurs in Scripture again and again. Just because the symbolic mother or father were not faithful and responsible doesn't excuse the children for being faithless and irresponsible. The father makes alliances with other nations and the mother acts like a whore. Still Scripture asked that the children rise above these inadequacies and challenges them to follow the one true God Yahweh. What God says in essence through both of these men and many other prophets is that you can rise above.

And we can.

What is clear in both of these scriptures is not only that we are responsible for own generations, but we are responsible to speak out against crimes that may have been committed in the past from our own family. This is the thing that Nathan does that Joab doesn't do. And this is what we must do in order that we might right injustice. This is the work of the kingdom that is come in Jesus, announced by Jesus and Mark 1:14. The gospel is that what are to “set to rights that which is gone wrong”. This is the gospel of the kingdom. This is the good news. This is why I am writing this book.

People may ask “why do you feel like stirring things up, why do you make people feel uncomfortable?” And this is the reason why: Theological choices and interpretations have insulated us from truth, have caused us to erect boundaries instead of bridges and it is time to bring back the gospel as God intends it through the people He is empowering.

My question is: Have we settled for a lesser gospel? Another gospel, that really isn't a gospel at all. Are we like the Pharisees and Sadducees of old; zealous for the word of God and at the same time, missing the point.

We cannot escape the responsibility we have for current conditions in our generation by blaming our ancestors. We can't deny that we are connected to their crimes in some way or another. It's just true. At the same time, we need to recognize that from time to time we have been dealt a hand that we really don't want to hold. To quote one of my favorite tunes by the fine musician Bruce Hornsby, “That's just the way it is”. No one can deny that this is true.

The question is what are we going to do about it?

“Up To”

“I am Aurelious Maximus...”
—The Gladiator.

He knew who he was and what he was about. I believe Jesus came as a prophet to his own people. He was like Hosea and Ezekiel as he called out for Israel to stop being unjust and unrighteous (righteous having to do with “setting things that are crooked straight). He knew what he was doing, he knew what he was saying and his steps in that final week were not incidental or accidental to who he was. We need to reconsider Jesus view of himself and his vocation or unique call. When we look at who he was it will have strong implications fro what the church, kingdom people, should be.

In the last chapter I discussed what Paul was up to as he presented his gospel. I actually presented a whole story from the very beginning in Adam through the call of Abraham on to the point of Jesus coming. That time of his visitation is the center point of human history. If there is a climax or a pinnacle or a defining moment this is it.

I believe when Paul uses the term “when the time it fully come” he is not speaking of the stars of the sky aligning, or everything seemed just right in time and space, perhaps because the Roman roads had been built, or the people were ready to receive now that Greek culture had somehow paved the way. It isn't because other indicators have arrived and aligned. I believe that the phrase “the time had fully come” in Galatians 4:4 has much more to do with the mission of God to deal with the stubbornness of Israel, who had refused to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth as God is always intended them to be. It is the time for the gospel to come to fruition one way or another. There comes a time in any relationship when one side or person has been forbearing, tolerant, and extremely patient and the other has seemingly taken advantage of this kindness and continues to abuse the relationship, when the one being abused simply says “that enough, I’ve had it”. We know this if we have lived for any time at all and in these times we usually give it one more try in a last ditch effort to save the relationship. Unfortunately it can not always be saved.

This is what Paul has in mind when he writes about the Jews as guilty before God in Romans chapter 2. Their guilt isn’t so much sin as we have come to define it as a refusal to be what God had called them to be in the Abrahamic covenant:

“Or do you despise the riches of this kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize the guts kindnesses meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard, and then impenetrate heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath.”

I believe it is the perspective of Paul that God has arrived, and made his entrance through the person of Jesus Christ to appeal to the Jew first and in that also with the Gentile. Listen to Romans chapter 1 verse 16 “for I am not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it, the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith.” Notice the sequence of these; to the Jew first and then the Gentile. Ironically it was the sequence of the judgment of Jesus at the time of his crucifixion. He came before the law court of the Jew first and then the Gentile. Maybe that's not an irony after all.

Jew First, and also the Greek
I want to focus on that phrase “to the Jew first and also to the Greek”. Most of are aware that in the Hebrew story all people are either Jewish or “the rest” of the world. Gentile is another way of saying everybody else. There are from the Jewish mind us and them. More than likely, it wasn't meant to be this way it just sort of happened. And if you are not one of the “elite” in this story you are simply the “others”. It's my understanding of Scripture that Jesus saw himself as a person who is coming to the Jew to confront the Jew, to see whether they were going to be the light of the world the salt of the earth, the people that God intended them to be or not. It ordered his steps and his words and helps make sense of stories that are sometimes confounding.

On the Way to Jerusalem
In order for us to get into the mind of Jesus we need to walk alongside him as he made his way towards Jerusalem for what I would call the final showdown. In the minds of many Jews the showdown was going to be with the Romans who were oppressing them, so that the righteousness of God, also known as vindication of the Jew, would be seen by the entire world. What they did not expect was that Jesus would so strongly confront them. Jesus had come as a last resort to deal with the sins of Israel. In fact in the end he was the last man standing, the final remnant. The major question that needed to be answered was, “Will Israel repent?” That is turn around from their current way of doing things to way that would be consistent with God's heart for the world through them as the oracles of God. This morning I want to deal with what is sometimes seen as a very odd or strange passage in Scripture. Many commentators are completely taken aback by Jesus response to a woman who comes to ask that Jesus would heal her demonized daughter. Let's turn now to the Scripture found in two places in the Bible, both Matthew Chapter 15 and Mark chapter 7.

Matthew 15:21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out,

"Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly."

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us." 24 He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." 25 The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said. 26 He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs." 27 "Yes it is, Lord," she said. "Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table."

When you first read the Scripture it is stunning. What is wrong with Jesus? We are shocked at the wait Jesus response to this woman who literally comes and throws herself at his feet and begged him to do something to help her daughter. The response of Jesus is indifferent silence.

In fact, it's absolute indifferent silence.

Its indifference that says I care nothing about what happens to you. This is what Jesus appeared to be communicating to this woman. Martin Luther said “now he is as silent as a stone” and the truth is, he was. Can any of us imagine treating someone who is pleading at our feet with this type of cold silence? Why is Jesus doing this? I studied several commentaries and none seem to have a satisfactory answer to this question. My belief is this is because they start at the wrong place in regards to what Jesus was up, that is, his vocation, and therefore have no place of understanding of who he was and what he was doing in this story. They forget that Jesus came as Paul would say, to the Jew first and then to the Gentile. Jesus was moving his face towards Jerusalem in order to have a confrontation and a showdown with the nation, through its leaders. A gunfight is on the horizon. It's a showdown and one will remain standing; one will die.

One commentary, Exploring the Gospels: Mark by Jerry Vines says this about Jesus strange behavior in chapter 7, verse 27.

“One of the amazing passages about Jesus in the entire Bible comes next. Look at what happens in verse 27, Jesus said unto her, let the children first be filled for it is not good to take the children's bread and cast it on to the dogs. That sounds brutal, doesn't it? It doesn't sound like Jesus and all. Matthew’s account of the same incident sounds still harsher. Matthew gives a fuller account of what was said here is what it says in Matthew chapter 15 verses 22 and 23. “Have mercy on me oh Lord, thou son of David, my daughter is vexed with the devil. But he answered her, not a single word. He wouldn't even answer her? It's not like Jesus. We know that no person coming to him is denied. Obviously they cannot be what it appears to be on the surface.”

What I am here to tell you this morning is that it is exactly what it sounds like it is.

If you know Jesus, and what his vocation was, this isn't that surprising. Jesus understands who he is and what He is for. He understands that he'd come to confront Israel about how she had consistently disqualified herself from her true vocation. He treats this woman who is a Gentile woman as a second-class citizen. If his actions aren’t convincing enough his words certainly are, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs." Knowing the compassion that is in Jesus’ heart should make these words stand out all the more as truly puzzling. What Jesus understands is that she is a Gentile woman outside of the covenant. She doesn't deserve to have the bread from the table. How confounding? How utterly enlightening.

Disciples Too
And what's even more surprising is she doesn't even question it nor do any of the disciples, in fact, they tell Jesus to send her away, to get rid of her, to treat her as an inconvenience to them. Unless we understand what they believed we will be forced to try to make sense of the situation that simply does not make sense. Are the disciples really that hard hearted, or do they find themselves in the Meta narrative that comes out of the Hebrew tradition and is told from a Hebrew perspective. The story doesn't make sense unless.

Unless we know what Jesus is “up to”? What I'm saying is: If we don't view this story from the perspective of the people that lived during the time of the story, we simply miss the meaning of the story. We then force unnatural senseless meanings onto the scripture. And then it takes the most clever and resourceful of us all to explain away the difficult passages like this one.

Now let's just say that Jesus is meaning exactly what he says. Let's let the story speak for itself. Let's not do anything to somehow whitewash what's being said or done, but instead let the story speak. What is it that Jesus is up to? Why does he say this? The answer is simple: Jesus understanding of his mission was to come and invite Israel to return to their vocation. And if they would not return to their vocation Jesus understood his vocation was to become Israel as God had intended Israel to be.

The reason Jesus gives for his behavior is simply this, his mission as He understands it, is to confront the house of Israel with their misuse of their vocation to be the light of the world, the salt of the earth, and the people that God intended them to be. Make no mistake about it. Jesus came to the house of Israel to deal with the house of Israel. There are other indicators on the journey to Golgotha.

So let’s continue to look at what Jesus is “up to”. We want to find out the things that drove his vocation the mysterious thing deep down inside it and it made him do the things he do and say the things he said. One way to make an appeal, as we have argued from the beginning) is through story or parable. Sometimes a narrative can cause one to stop and think about what they are doing or consider “right” and “wrong” and alter their path.

Every picture tells a story and every story paints a picture
Matthew 21-23-32
In this story, the chief priests and the elders come and ask Jesus, By what authority he was doing the things that he was doing particularly the clearing of the temple in Jerusalem. What Jesus does is ask questions to see if they're really serious He inquires of their position regarding John the Baptist. The response they give is typical for the political system that they were a part of; they simply say in true political overtones, “we don’t know” which really means we don’t want to commit to any answer because of pressures from outside forces. Jesus answers the question by telling the story we know as the parable of two sons. The father came to them and asked them if they would go work in the vineyard. The first said no but later, went and worked. What he did was repent. The second son said that he would go and work in the field but never did. This correlates with Jesus understanding of Israel saying “yes, we will be the light of the world, the salt of the earth, Israel as God intends us to be”, but they actually never were and never really intended to. “These people say with their lips but their hearts are far from me”. When Jesus asked them clearly, which of the two sons did the will of the father they replied, “The first one”? To this Jesus says; the tax collectors and the prostitutes (that is, the Mafia and the porn industry), the worst people that were in the nation of Israel, were coming to a place where they would repent and turn away from their sin. The underbelly of the culture was turning around. The astounding thing, to Jesus who rejoiced at this change, was that these elders and chief priests could watch this happening and simply fold their arms and do nothing. They could view the nation turning around and repenting and they would not “rejoice” as one was in heaven. They would not rejoice because they were like “the elder son”, who believed that they were justified in their behavior so their was no joy over the lost sheep now found, the lost coin now found, the lost son now found. So Jesus says, even when you see the nation turning and repenting you will not repent of your position and believe me.

Jesus then tells another story or parable. It is the kingpin of the final parables of Jesus. To me this is the most eloquent parable that Jesus told. He speaks so clearly that no one could miss his intent.


The Parable of the Tenants Matthew 21:33-43

33 "Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. 35 "The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them.

'They will respect my son,' he said.

38 "But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, 'This is the heir. Come, let's kill him and take his inheritance.' 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 "Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?"
41 "He will bring those wretches to a wretched end," they replied, "and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time."

42 Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures:
'The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes'?

43 "Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.

The landowner is God and He rents, leases, gives charge over, leaves management and stewardship of his Vineyard to landowners. When he comes to see how the people are doing with the land that he gave them to manage He is faced with a severe problem. The tenets, representing the Jewish nation seize the servants; one they kill, one and a stone, another they murder. God responds by sending more servants to them. Same response.

Then comes the clincher, the prophetic Jesus, where last of all, he sends his son to them;

“Surely they will respect my son,” he said.

And of course, Jesus is saying that the father has sent him and he is that Son. When Israel sees the son they say to one another “This is the heir, let's kill him, and we will take the inheritance for ourselves”. In other words, what God has loaned out to us, given us to manage, we will steal from him. So they took the son and they threw him out of the city. And they killed him.

Jesus then asks the question when the owner the vineyard comes how is he going to feel about those tenets; those managers. They respond will who bring those wretched to her wretched and in a given they need to of their people, who gave him a share of the harvest at harvest time. To this Jesus replies. “Therefore I'm going to tell you the kingdom of God will be taken from you. And given to people who produces fruit”

This, of course, is the story that Jesus believes is coming true in his life and death. He will be taken out of the city. He will be executed on a hill, the place of the “skull”, where the outcasts are put to death as a warning to other criminals that dishonor and shame their own people. Dishonor awaits you if you do not conform to the message as we understand it. This exile will be his fate and he will go alone, as the last man standing, the final remnant of Israel, and the one true seed that will give birth to a new creation. Exiled from his own Jesus is reenacting the story of Israel's exile and will enact the surprising restoration when he rises from the ash as well on the third day.

That languages sound very familiar to us because is the same language to John the Baptist used when he first came to baptize people in the River Jordan. Matthew 3 tells us how John the Baptist prepared the way for the Christ by saying repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. When the Pharisees and the Sadducees come out of where he is baptizing. He tells them that they are to produce fruit in keeping with repentance and do not say to yourselves. “We have Abraham is our father, because I tell you out of the stones got to raise up children of Abraham the ax is already laid to the root of the trees and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” Clearly Jesus is just repeating the message of John in the wilderness. This is a consistent message.

Arrogance that blinds
The tragic thing is Israel's leaders can not receive this message. One of the reasons they can't receive the messages because they are blinded by their anger and hatred. Their ears are smothered by their smug notion that they know what the answers are, that they know what God wants them to be that they understand how to be the light of the world the salt of the earth, Israel as God intended them to be, but if they had understood they had a funny way of showing it.

They were so intent in putting Jesus on the spot and somehow pinning him down. That they could not even hear what he had to say. They were so positive in their convictions. So angry at this one that brought another way, a different way from what they expect a Messiah to bring. There is no way this could be the Christ in their mind.

So the extortionists and the whores respond to the message of repentance. But Israel’s religious leaders simply would not. Jesus saw they were angry, he knew they would reject them, but he loved them so much he kept telling stories so they could “come to themselves” and change. But they did not. So we see Jesus courageously walking into the fire, setting his face to the cross, the eye of the hurricane.

Missing the mark
And I want to suggest something that you just consider for a while. Don't respond to quickly. Try not to be defensive or closed off. Just consider the impact of what this might be supposed the evangelical message that has been preached in so many of our churches for a long time now has missed the mark. Suppose the “good news” is more than what we have settled for? What if we have been living in the wrong story? Would we be able to change our minds when confronted?

Another story
Let's look at another story. On the way to the cross we see Jesus in the temple at the Gentiles court where the money changers are seated.

Matthew 21: 12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 "It is written," he said to them,” 'My house will be called a house of prayer,' [e] but you are making it 'a den of robbers.' [f]"

When we look at that Scripture and we see that Jesus clears the temple, that his righteous anger came out against the money changers, we are inclined to believe that it's all about the economics of ripping people off by selling pigeons and doves and sacrificial animals at inflated prices. And indeed it was about that, but it was about much more. We can see that by the context of the passage and the questions that the Pharisees and Sadducees had for Jesus about authority that follows. They clearly understood that his action in the temple was meant as a judgment towards them. So they asked by what authority you do these things that you've been doing. So it is an issue of authority.

What Jesus was saying as he clears the temple is “your house is being judged, and it is a final judgment that has come from a God who has been patient and forbearing for a long, long time. And you no longer have the authority of God to be in this place, to be the people that are given the task and the responsibility to bring the gospel to the entire world, that is, the Gentiles. Your license has been revoked.” It was truly an act of judgment upon Israel when he enters the temple and clears the court. It escalates the need for the showdown. And one is just around the bend; the cross is now in sight. Jesus presses into the eye of the hurricane, the impending storm. He seems to be unable to let up.

Final straw
When Jesus was accused of blasphemy in Mark 14:58 (Today's New International Version) the accusers said,

"We heard him say, 'I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.”

What is interesting is Jesus stands silent. We always wonder why he doesn’t straighten them out. Perhaps it is because they were correct. He simply kept quiet. He never denied making the claim. The fact is according to the gospel of John He did say and believe just that. (John 2:19) To Jesus his body is the temple, the new place where God’s people will tabernacle, where heaven and earth in the words of theologian NT Wright “interlock and overlap”.
It is intriguing that those who mocked him while he was on the cross mocked him with these words. Matthew 27:40 (Today's New International Version) saying,
"You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!"
And of course we know that he did. He came to life. And the temple that had been rent in two (again a clear sign of judgment) would be raised. He didn't stay on the cross, but ascended to heaven.
The truth is Jesus saw himself as the new temple of God, as the cornerstone for new people of God, as the new covenant of God. He was to be the foundation of a new humanity, who by the Spirit of God would bring good news of the righteousness of God to the entire world. This is now the vocation of the new community of God, which has replaced the nation of Israel, whose ministry, or work, or vocation was "weighed and found wanting”. You who are “in Christ” are now that building.

Let us not fail in that vocation
Many of us are familiar with the personal narrative of Esther that spoken about in the Bible. We often in an effort to inspire one another quote the familiar passage where Mordecai comes to speak to Esther about her particular call, in this particular place, at this particular time. “Who knows? Perhaps you've come to royal dignity for just such a time as this” Often though, we forget what Mordecai had to say just before that. As Esther was contemplating whether or not to get herself personally involved in stopping this horrendous plan to annihilate the Jewish people Mordecai gave her some sound advice. According to Paul in Romans chapter 11, we need to heed the advice as well. Here is what Mordecai said:
“Do not think that in the king's palace, you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father's family will perish.”
In this last showdown between Jesus and Israel, one had come from the place of Israel in order to rescue Israel, a Jew into the Jews. His name is Jesus, and they killed him and in that last remaining remnant, that final one, Israel died, too. That was their judgment. They were no longer “given the keys to the kingdom” for the sake of the world. They failed in their vocation (call).
Let us not fail in our vocation as they did.

Gods view

“One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do”
—Three Dog Night

I think we “get it” from our perspective but I'm not sure we understand the perspective of God. I am speaking about the cross. It was a terrible weight to bear. The weight of the world under a curse. The weight of a promise spoken; a vow made. It must have been a terrible burden for Yahweh, for all those years to realize that he has enacted a covenant that he could not keep through his people Israel. The failed enterprise of the people that were not the salt of the earth, the light of the world, Israel has God had intended them to be would prove to be fatal.

To someone.

I wonder if those years of silence, the 430 years separating the writings of the Old Testament and New Testament are similar to the kind of thing that we might do to put off something that's very difficult for us to face. Just one more day and surely the tide might shift. I wonder if the Father in heaven held on to his Son so tightly and each morning rose to the new possibility of giving him away until it became very clear that he had to send him forth. What a bitter release. How difficult it is to send a child to a place where you know he will die. Parents of war are familiar. You know how you might feel if it were your child. And when the time had fully come, He sent forth his Son fully aware that he may return in pine box compliments of a fallen world and a stubborn people.

And the Son came to Israel to plead the case. When Israel would not respond as a people, He became Israel as a man, the last man standing. And in a fascinating twist of irony the words spoken of the high priest Caiphus the year of the crucifixion ring true, “It is better that one man should die than an entire nation”. Oddly enough God probably inspired the words of the prosecuting attorney and then acquiesced to the prophecy that as given. Now as Israel, the last man standing, the final gunslinger, the final breath of the old covenant, the last remnant of God, to his own He came. And his own would not have Him. They said to themselves, “This is the heir” and they seized him and they put him to death. And now at last, the parable of the wicked tenants had come to pass. It was strangely accurate, that they should come and take Jesus, the one and only son, and put him away in the same way that Jesus had said they would when he spoke the parable just a few days earlier.

Still a promise spoken was a promise worth keeping.

And so Jesus becomes Israel as God had intended them to be. He becomes to Israel, what we are to be for the sake of the world. It must have been a strange release for God to finally free himself of the captive chains of that promise when Jesus breathed his last breath. This is the thing that's happening on the cross. This is the time when God is released from the old covenant of the Old Testament. At this very moment where Jesus breathes his last breath, we must understand, realize that God now has been set free from an old promise that wasn't kept through Israel. That as Abraham sleeps between the carcass cut in two, God himself makes the visitation to make good on the promise of a covenant that they have with one another. And now the rest of Israel sleeps and God acts. To me this is the significance of the sleeping disciples in the garden of Gethsemane. They too, though they are not the vicious Pharisees and Sadducees, have fallen asleep. There is no one on the watchtower anymore. Jesus is truly alone. This sheep have been scattered and the Shepherd will now be sacrificed. With this release of responsibility he (God) has now been put in the position to enact a new covenant. And this is what Jesus is doing at the Last Supper.

I recently listened to the song that was the theme song for the Amazing Grace movie. Chris Tomlin who performs the song has written these words

“My chains are gone; I’ve been set free; My God, my God has ransomed me”.

At the time I was listening to the song I was also looking at the “Tribute to Kings” an amazing artistic rendition of the “Stations of the Cross” that was created by Kevin Rolly, an artist from Southern California. When I came upon the slide (station 11) where Jesus was laying with his face to the side of the ground, with the cross bearing over his shoulder and a faraway hollow look in his eye, it struck me that the words of the song really fit what Jesus was going through at that moment.

God was being set free.

We always see the cross is the time when we were “set free from our sin”. We always see it as something that is set against a background of our perspective. We are so conditioned by that mindset that it's difficult for us to see it any other way.

It is always about me.

For the first time that I could remember, I saw the cross as something that really sets God free; from a weight, the weight of a promise made, a vow spoken. Finally, after years of turmoil the old covenant and the heavy weight of law had been fulfilled and the burden of that cross could now be lifted.

That is what Jesus means by “I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it”. He is doing the “work of the Father” and He and the Father are of One mind in this task. When Jesus carries the cross to the edge of the city, actually outside the city of Jerusalem in exile from his own, (with significant help from Simon) and is planted as a criminal between two thieves we see it as the substitutionary atonement for us. This is truly self-centered and so American. We don't even consider what it was for God. What I am suggesting is that it's time we look at it from his perspective and realize that it was the fulfillment of the law and the fulfillment of the weight of the covenant. It was a promise that God was now making good. And now he could be released from that obligation to do something new.

And this is what he does, he creates a new people.

He enacts a new covenant (New Testament in my blood) with Jesus at the Last Supper. When the old covenant's fulfilled then all bets are off, all things become new, even you (who are in Christ) are new creations in a new age, and the new has come invading this world with its sacrificial love. In reality, this is what the Bible is; a story divided into two covenants, the old covenant and the new covenant.

When Jesus cries, “It is finished” on the cross He is referring to the end of the long drawn out pilgrimage of two parties to an agreement that could not be reconciled without the shedding of blood. Sometimes when one is boxed in a corner there is no other way. The question is whose blood. The answer is the enactor of the agreement. In one of the most ironic twists of all time Israel will die when they take the gun from the hand of Jesus and turn it on Him. Israel gets what they want but it is not what they really need. It is their demise. This is the end of Israel as the people of God.

Again, when Jesus dies Israel dies.

Now obviously God is not done with Israel in a literal fashion just as God was never really done with the entire world in a literal fashion. Yet this moment has to be seen as the climactic moment in the history of the Hebrew people. They no longer have the privilege that others don't enjoy. At the same time, they're not cursed over and above any other peoples of the earth.

And in his resurrection the true Israel is brought out in a new day in a new and living way through the breath of God. Indeed you cannot put this new wine in the old wineskins, it WILL tear and the wine pours out. Jesus was tore, the wine of His blood spilled and new wineskins were brought in. The new wineskins, of course, are the new people of the Kingdom as God had envisioned them to be. As King Arthur dreamed of pure Camelot God dreams of a kingdom that is coming to pass and is being enacted “in Christ”. Isn't this really the gospel according to Paul and according to Jesus, and according to Scripture? Do we really find out much about the substitutionary atonement in scripture or do we find a lot about the covenant and the keeping of promises in the keeping of vows. I am lobbying for the second because I believe it is a better rendering of what Scripture really is.

It is time to see things from the perspective of God.

I am not the center of the world. But I do count…

Known to Unknown

“Light of the world shine on me love is the answer,
shine on us all sinners we, love is the answer”
—Seals and Crofts

Discovering what I didn’t get based on what I have already gathered.

What I'm dealing with has to do with the need for us to understand the importance of moving from the known to the unknown. Many times when I say to the congregation that I serve “I need you to be here on a regular basis” they interpret that as saying I want you to be here, because we need to have numbers to fill the sanctuary or because it's Sunday morning and God deserves worship because He is worthy of our praise; both of which are probably true. But this is never the main reason why I say that you need to be here on a regular basis on Sunday morning. From my perspective, what I'm trying to do is similar to what Paul and Apollo's was doing in the New Testament. Particularly when Paul talks about how he lays the foundation and Apollo's waters. What he speaking about is moving from the things that are basic or known into the things that are unknown. It's a typical way of learning and understanding that's foundational to education. The foundations laid and we need to move onto things that help us to understand or build on that foundation is what Paul would have us do. It’s what I would have us to do. So I ask people to be here on a Sunday morning. It's not as though I'm saying I need it for my ego or we need it because we need to see one another from time to time, although those things are probably important, what I'm really trying to get at, the heart of what I'm trying to say at that time is this; “I'm trying to build something in to you so you have a working understanding of what theology is and what the Bible is all about.” So it's important that we don't just go over the same foundation again and again and again, but move from that which is known that is the foundation, to that which is unknown, building on that foundation. It is so we have a greater understanding of the kingdom of God as Jesus intended it in our lives. An understanding of why this is important helps us to know why we should not fall into some seeker sensitive type model of doing church.

The typical seeker sensitive model goes over the same salvation message again and again and asks us to receive that message that Jesus came to die for our sins so that one day we might go to heaven. It is extremely popular in our culture that demands instant answers for deep problems. It is of course, church light, and delivers on the promise to create “light Christians”. The next step for that kind of church is to say now that she's got the message you go out and you find people that need to hear this one time message so that they might say a prayer and go to heaven when they die. It's what some of called the gospel of death rather than the gospel of life cause let's face it, what it's really about is can you get into heaven when you die not about how you live your life today as you walk the earth. So it's been titled the gospel of death by people who are proposing a new way of understanding What Jesus is “up to”. What follows simply makes sense. In this model, we come to understand our job is bringing people into the sanctuary to hear a foundational message so that they might receive Jesus and go to heaven when they die. The obvious result is we never really grow up. This is precisely why we have some of the issues that we do in the church today. We've gone over the same ground again and again, and we justify that behavior by saying it's “the gospel” and we need to get “the gospel” out to other people and the way to do that is to have somebody who understands how to speak a message in a way that's palatable to a person so they might receive Jesus. The congregation feeds the audience and the audience in turn brings in new “potential customers”. It is the Amway of religion. And the result is a lot of shallow and anemic Christianity. And then we wonder why is it that our churches and the people of God really don't seem that different from the culture. The answer should be clear. We've not built an understanding of theology of what God is “up to” into their lives so that they might somehow come into contact with culture and have answers that make sense and are well thought out.

They have but one answer. “Accept Jesus into your heart and it'll all be good.”

The problem is that's not the gospel and it isn’t true. Once we have been in the system for awhile we know that. It isn't an adequate rendering at all of the Scriptures.

What we would like to do in this book is to move on to a point where we have a more adequate understanding of what God is up to in the world. And what Jesus was up to when he came to the world. So when I ask people to be a part of church what I'm asking them to do is to become Christians who are mature in Jesus. I want them to think like Paul and the early disciples who let the “good news” alter their lives.

It can happen.

Change

How bad how good does it need to get?
How many losses how much regret?
What chain reaction
What cause and effect
Makes you turn around
Makes you try to explain
Makes you forgive and forget
Makes you change
—“Change” by Tracy Chapman

What is Jesus “up to?”
Today in keeping with that model of trying to go from that which is known to the unknown I want to speak of what I believe Jesus was up to particularly as he came into Jerusalem and is drawing nearer and nearer to the cross. We have plenty of material to choose from on this matter. One thing is clear and that is that there is an impending storm on the horizon as Jesus moves “his face” towards Jerusalem at Passover. I really love that phrase “his face towards Jerusalem” because it indicates that there is this toughness, there is this determination, and there is this resolve to get to this place at this time for this final confrontation. You get that feeling that it's going to be high noon. Those gunslingers are going to meet in the street that this town (Jerusalem) is not big enough for Jesus and Israel or perhaps Jesus and Rome. Most of Israel is under the impression that Jesus is going to come out for Israel and “the righteousness of God” will come in the form of an attack upon Rome. But Jesus doesn't do that, instead Jesus makes his target the people to whom God intended to be the “light of the world and the salt of the earth” (a common phrase I will be using for us to understand who we are to be in Christ) and he comes to confront whether they are performing in the vocation that they've been given. Much of his discussions are targeted directly at the Pharisees and Sadducees. This is no new news to any of us. When Jesus comes in the city on Palm's Sunday the response of the common person is stunning. The reaction of the Israelites as they greet him, the rabble as they're known, is to bring him in as a king, “Hosanna son of David who's comes in the name the Lord, but what’s truly alarming is the condition that Jesus comes into the city. He's troubled, he’s agitated, and he’s angry; he's frustrated, he is on edge, because he's fully aware of what is coming. And he walks directly into the eye of the hurricane and confronts it in a way that is simply confounding. Jesus walks into the storm walks right up to the gunslinger battle and approaches his adversary. What he does next stirs the entire city. He in effect, simply hands the gun to the enemy. What, in essence, Jesus is saying is this: “I'm not going to kill you, I've come to save you, do with me which you will, and the ball is in your court. He looks death right in the eye and he says.

“Do what you do.”

In other words Jesus who has the power to bring down a dozen legions of angels doesn't do that. He could do that and in fact, when he comes to the garden at Gethsemane, and begins to speak to his Father about what is unfolding, He asks, is there any other way that this cup can pass for me. Another way to say this is he's wondering is there any other way this is going to go down. It's plausible that he has this in his mind that the God of all power and all might be able to somehow come down in rescue him in this circumstance in an issue of strength and power. But God will not. He says no son, I have a loaded gun and I'm putting in your hand. But I want you to set it in the hand of the adversary and see what he does with it. You go see if there's any chance that Israel were repent of their ways and receive their call to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth.

This type of thing becomes clear that this is this is in the mind of Jesus his mission. Recall the conversation that he had with the gentile woman who came to him and asked that he might heal her daughter. She said even the dogs can receive from the masters tables. Even the dogs can have the crumbs, can I just have the crumbs from your table, the table of Yahweh. Jesus answer is somewhat astounding to us in our generation. His response is: I have not come for the Gentiles I have not come for those that are considered the outside. I have not come for them on message and this time is for the children of Israel. And we go Jesus, what is wrong with you. How can you be so cold to this woman? The answer lies in the reality that Jesus saw clearly that his call was to those who are of the house of Israel because they had been given a vocation of God. And their metanarrative, their story, was the story that God was going to interact with in order to set to rights all those things that had gone wrong as a result of the fall, and the resulting “lower story”. God was going to correct that which went wrong. So that the lower story was created in Jesus ascended we see God is raising those that walk in the lower story in the lower parts into a place where they might understand and experience heaven. The reality visitor spends so much time that's passed between the ascension of Jesus and the ascension of the church has to do with God finishing his work. It has to do with God’s desire that that kingdom should come so that he might pour his benevolent love into them. This long, stretch of time where the church is confronted with the type of suffering that Jesus had as he went to that gunslinger in laid down his weapon is now to be that fuel, that blood, that sacrifice, that now builds the very kingdom of God on this foundation of forgiveness.

But by no means is the foundation of forgiveness the end of the story.

Fix You

“Lights will guide you home,
And ignite your bones
And I will try—to fix you”
—Coldplay“


That song is so powerful to me. It begins with a single voice and seems to gather power as it unfolds. You get the feeling that it is headed somewhere that a climax is on the horizon. And it ends ever so softly with this:

“Lights will guide you home; and ignite your bones, and I will “fix you”.

How things change?
I live in Michigan. I’m sitting on the deck grilling in sunny weather on Sunday and freezing by Wednesday afternoon. The buds are interrupted by snow falling on my hedge. It happens in one week, actually three days. But nothing changed as quickly as the Passion Week of the Christ. The change was suddenly but it had been a long time coming.

Sometimes as we observe the events and their unfolding during Passion Week we are stunned by how quickly the tide of opinion can turn on Jesus. One day he’s riding into the city amongst cries of “hosanna” and by the end of the week the shouts have turned to the bloodcurdling burst of “crucify”. While I recognize that this was much like a snowball gaining momentum as it flies down a slope I want to suggest this storm, that culminated in the cross and crucifixion, had been brewing for a “long, long time”. And now Jesus comes at last as the final attempt to reconcile God with Israel. The way that Jesus was attempting to do this was by telling stories and doing stuff that would raise reaction. Many times the stories he told and things he did served to exasperate the situation during this final Passover week

He did his part to exasperate the already untenable situation. He’d tell stories and do stuff. Recall the story again of the wicked tenants in Matthew 21.

The Parable of the Tenants

33 "Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.
35 "The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. 'They will respect my son,' he said.
38 "But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, 'This is the heir. Come, let's kill him and take his inheritance.' 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
40 "Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?"
41 "He will bring those wretches to a wretched end," they replied, "and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time."
42 Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures:
" 'The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes' [h]?
43 "Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.

When any Jewish leader would hear this parable they would almost without hesitation recall Isaiah 5. It was a scathing indictment from the poet/prophet Isaiah at the time of the exile towards the Israelites. A prophet functions as a type of messenger to the people much like songwriters and films today. Bob Dylan, Tracy Chapman, Bruce Springsteen, Coldplay and U2 are illustrations of these poet/prophets in our time. G. K. Chesterton once said this about their role in society,

“I don’t deny that we need priests to tell us that one day we will die, I only say that we need another kind of priests called prophets to remind us that we are not dead yet.”

These poet/priest/prophets come to metanarratives to call them towards justice and righteousness, to remind people they can live in truly human ways, they serve many times as “light to the world” that has forgot its way. Isaiah came in this vocation. So does Jesus. That this parable includes such terms as vineyard, watchtower, winepress, and is unique to Matthew who further illustrates that which people of Jesus day might assume. When this metaphorical language is used by Isaiah and later Jesus it was referring to one people—Israel. Jesus was coming in a long line with a redundant complaint. When he looks for justice—bloodshed—when he longs for righteousness (that is for the field to be leveled for all) he hears the cries of oppression. The blood of Abel still cries from the earth.
Isaiah 5
The Song of the Vineyard
1 I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.
2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit.
3 "Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more could have been done for my vineyard
than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
why did it yield only bad?
5 Now I will tell you
what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
and it will be trampled.
6 I will make it a wasteland,
neither pruned nor cultivated,
and briers and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds
not to rain on it."
7 The vineyard of the LORD Almighty
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are the vines he delighted in.
and he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
In that 7th verse we see the issue—for the “Vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel and the people of Judah when God looked …He expected justice, but saw bloodshed, righteousness, but heard a cry”.

This is an old issue brought up again. It is an issue between God and his beloved Israel. How are they doing as the “house and people” of God? Jesus would continue to beat on the door with story after story.

And a man was on the road towards Jericho and he came upon thieves and robbers and they beat him and left him half dead, a priest came by and he saw his predicament but passed on the other side as if he didn’t see, a Levite came by and he did the same he saw the man passed to the other side and carried on as though he didn’t see it, was supposedly unaware. My grandfather had a curious little stature on his mantle. When I was a little boy I would twirl around their stuffed chairs that would spin so fast and be told to “stop it”. So I would (being a hyperactive yet compliant child), and then I’d sit. As a bored child I would pick up this clay image of three monkeys and study it. The first monkey from left to right had his ears covered he could “hear no evil”, the second one had his eyes covered by his hands and he was known as “see no evil” and the final monkey puts his hand over his mouth, he was “speak no evil”. I often wondered why Grandpa had this, but as time has gone on I have understood. So many people can escape guilt and responsibility by not seeing, hearing, or speaking anything at all. The world if full of “monkeys” who cross the road as though they were oblivious to the plight of others in the human race.

Then, Jesus continues in his story, a Samaritan, (i.e. half breed compromiser from the Northern tribe of Israel who had the audacity to say they were the true Jews of God and the temple was located in the northern tribe settlement of Samaria rather than the OBVIOUS place where God dwelled Jerusalem) came to the man half dead on the road to Jericho. He stopped and had pity and showed mercy…exhibited justice and righteousness to this person. He treated his fully human and was the light of the world to this person. “Who is neighbor?” asks Jesus. “I am looking for folks like that, a new community and I will be the foundation, the rock for that type of people” who are building the true kingdom of God (no matter where they might sacrifice on this mountain or the next, i.e. see John 4). And it doesn’t mean a hill of beans if you have the ancestry right and are born as a son or daughter of Abraham, in fact, God can raise these sons and daughters from these rocks, from stones the true Israel can come forth into a spiritual house and Jesus will be the foundation, cornerstone of that community. He will show the way on the cross.

So Jesus sets his face like a flint towards the eye of the hurricane and in the resilient lyrics of lyricist Tom Petty he “won’t back down, going to stand my ground, you can stand me up at the gates of hell, but I won’t back down”. And he doesn’t. He tells more stories. Unprepared virgins, irresponsible sons, poor stewards. Scathing stories of indictment. Israel is being “weighed and found wanting”, a familiar phrase that is fine if it applies to Babylonians, Persians, or Romans but not so exciting if it is put on Israel…and their license to be the people of God, was being revoked, and they were agitated…enraged. How dare you?

And he did stuff too. On Monday Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem and the first thing he does is visit the temple. He walks in and turns their tables upside down. Sometimes we see this as a protest to the selling of pigeons, doves and sacrificial items at inflated prices. It was much more than that. It was more of a judgment that said people in this place are “evicted, no longer stewards of the place where heaven and earth meet, where God tabernacles with man”, Israel no longer has tenancy but has been removed; “And he won’t back down”.

High noon is just around the bend. It’s time for a gunfight at the OK corral. This town, Jerusalem, is not big enough for Israel “as it is” and Jesus, Israel as “God intended her to be”. That is who Jesus saw himself as. This was his vocation. When Jesus enters the city he comes as “the last man standing, the final remnant, the One and only Son,” who has come to deal with injustice.

The religious establishment reacts predictably. When he “tells stories and does stuff” the religious leaders of the nation of Jews say, “I’ll fix you!” Interesting phrase isn’t it; found in a pop song by Coldplay. We use it when we really want to get someone. We lie in wait, nursing our wound, caressing our hate until the time is right.

And then, “I’ll fix you.
You come to judge us…
No, no, no we are the powers that rule here.”

The Loaded Gun.
And Jesus hands them a loaded gun and says, “Do what you do”, and they do. “They fix him”. And in that they unwittingly fix themselves, because Jesus is the last Son from the Father and when he dies Israel dies…and the kingdom “will be taken from them and given to another”, just as Jesus said. They, a new Israel will be the salt of the earth, the light of the world, Israel as God had intended them to be.

Gentiles too
Of course they are not the only power players in this drama. In the metanarrative of a Hebrew you are either Jewish or anything else. Anything else was gentile. Rome, representing all the kingdoms before and all the empires ever after has something to say to anyone that dares stand in their presence will deal with Jesus as well. They represent the predominant empire of the day. Empire is a good word because it speaks of any power structure that exists. Not only nations but power structures and systems. Like Donald Trump who takes great delight in saying, “you’re fired” every week on prime time television. He, too, represents a power structure that can be formidable and intimidating if you don’t “kiss up”.

You cross us and we’ll “fix you”. And Jesus seems like that naïve little boy spinning round in grandpa’s stuffed chair not really knowing what the three monkeys are about. He is walking right into the trap. The thing is. He does know. He gets it. This is how the gentiles “rule it over one another”. The great historian Tacit us once said, “They (Rome) have created a wasteland and called it peace”, at what cost this peace. Crosses strewn across the land. Bloody peace, no peace at all. “Step out of line the man comes to take you away, you better stop, hey, what’s that sound, everybody look what’s going down”. Just another upstart self appointed Messiah being handled by Rome for all to see.

Step out of line…and Israel will fix you, Rome will handle you, and you will become strange fruit hanging on the tree.

Strange Fruit
Rome says in the voice of the spirit of threat, control and oppression, “What’d you say boy?” and you’d better kowtow or there will be some “strange fruit” hanging on the tree. If you were a Negro in the Deep South during the lynching years that kind of remark would send a rush of adrenalin down your spine. A phrase borrowed from a Jewish songwriter Abel Meeropol. He’d see the trees in the Deep South and young black men hanging and swaying. It is “strange fruit” for a nation under God, a Christian nation.
Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday
Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves
Blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
The scent of magnolia sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
for the rain to gather
for the wind to suck
for the sun to rot
for the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop
There is a “Strange Fruit” outside the city walls of Jerusalem on Good Friday. Any hint or rumor of insurrection and Rome says, “I’ll fix you”. And Jesus hands them a gun and says “Do what you have to do”

And in a curious twist the world is one. And as one--Jews and Gentiles alike-- turn the gun on Jesus. And they fix him and handle him with deftly and quickly. God looks down for justice, and sees bloodshed, for righteousness—and hears cries. The cries of the women at the cross.

In that moment when Jesus cries out “it is finished” the covenant is kept, the law is fulfilled, sin is defeated, and God, at long last, is “off the hook” and can begin again. He is set free to begin again.

The Third Player
One more party is playing a part in this passion play. One more will, fix Jesus. As the sky grows dark, a huge tear falls from the face of God, splashing on the barren earth. In Mel Gibson’s moving scene depicting the actual crucifixion called “The Passion of the Christ” I can see it as I sit here, it is etched in my minds eye, a tear splashes on the hard earth. I can imagine the father God as he reaches down and scoops up his son, his One and only son, and he whispers, in a voice that splits rocks and opens graves, “Light will guide you home, and ignite your bones and I will fix you”

And on Sunday, the first day of the week, he breathes on Jesus and everything changes, “all things become new”. After an appropriate 7th day rests the universe cracks open and out of the egg of the tomb comes “new life” on the “first day of the week” John 20:1,19. It is new life for a new time for a new people and a New Jerusalem.

And the kingdom is being made before our eyes as people from all over the world come, lay down their guns, and say at this very cross where it all happened, “fix me”. Breathe on me, give me life, and make me like you.

And as we come to this new covenant that God establishes through Christ, we come as a new people to this table, created on Maundy Thursday, the cup of the blood covenant as a people endowed with the responsibility to be “in Christ, Israel as God had intended her to be”. We come without power, without pride, with no loaded guns, with humble hearts and we say “Fix me; make me like you”.

This table represents a new beginning for a new community and we are invited to come as a people,

Creation:
John 20:1 and 19
First Day of the Week. The seventh day is a rest, a time for God to rest, Sabbath. The first day of a “new” week is the time for the “new” creation to be breathed into life. We know this as resurrection. Something new begins behold “the old has passed away and all things become new”

Initiation and Consummation: This Day and That Day:
You have often heard me say that “when Jesus breathed his last and said “it is finished” Israel died”. God’s covenant Old Testament obligation had been fulfilled, and he was set free to a “new” covenant which is the New Testament. Good Friday you heard me describe the Father’s loving response to his only son’s unjust martyrdom. On Sunday, the first day of the week God---He “breathed” life into him. Just like the first creation with a “clean slate”. When Jesus was raised from the dead “Israel, Spiritual Israel” was brought to life “in Christ”.

“What God does for Jesus’ body in microcosm, he will do to the entire cosmos in macrocosm.” When the end of the end of the very end comes creation and those recreated “in Christ” are renewed into the image of the creator…the image we were created in the garden to be. We are recreated in the image of God just as we were originally created as image bearers of God. Genesis 1:27. We are going back to the safe garden.

When Paul say “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” this is what he is referring to: We have our inheritance-- in the guarantee of the resurrection, -- but long for the final Parousia of the King to “set things that are wrong to rights” because it is not all that safe in this age.

The Philippians of that time were living amongst a (Paul’s language not mine), “warped and crooked generation” in other words a society where things are not straight, are not safe, are warped or crooked—opposite of straight or right you see. All things are not “set to rights” not been set in righteousness and justice. Isaiah 11.

We long for the time when “the wolf lies down with the lamb, the infants can play by the hole of the cobra” (Is. 11 & Is. 65). This is the dream of God we saddle up to, come alongside of, and long for. This as all metaphorical language so bereft with imaginative meaning.

EXCERSIZE: Close your eyes and imagine that as a parent, we seldom realize how we live under threat and terror, so we work out our salvation in this sometimes unsafe and threatening place in this present evil age with fear and trembling…but on “that Day” no, no. No fear. That is where we are going!

Commission: John 20:19-23
As we long for “that Day” what are we to be “up to?”
As we live in that time where the new covenant is initiated but not yet consummated longing for “that new Day” we have work to do. Paul says our labor is “not in vain”…a suggestion that we might want to reconsider our treatment of the created things of God knowing that they may not be disposed of out of hand at Aarmagedden. The understanding We live as kingdom people in the now of our lives

Corinthian Correspondence:
1 Corinthians 3:10-14

1) We build on the foundation.
The foundation is unique and unrepeatable. The story of our faith where Jesus is the climax of God’s intentions is unalterable. The Grand metanarrative cannot be changed to our liking. We can have interpretations of scripture that are conflictive (which in my mind makes them and their way of interpreting scripture suspect)…but THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME.

The narrative view of scripture elevates and protects scripture whereas the exegetical treatment of scripture can twist and maim it to our liking. The foundation (Story, mystery has been revealed, unveiled, uncovered, made known) We are part of God’s Dream


Our two fold task:
2 Corinthians 5:11-21.

As image bearers our vocation is to be truly human and respect others as truly human. Dignity and understanding. We “use” people and love things…we need to be a people that love people and use things.
Jesus in John 8 with the woman caught in adultery exhibits this ne kingdom perspective over the old covenant of law. She had been objectified “as a prostitute”. He saw her another way. And lifted her up. Clean slate.

ILLUSTRATION: Phil and Amy. Business transaction. Story.

ILLUSTRATION: Here’s what it means. It’s what we do here right here right now. Being One. The question is “how do we do this everyday?”

As ambassadors of the story we function as “The Light of the World” retelling the story in a way that all cultures, nations, and metanarratives can grasp embracing their dignity as “image bearers as well.”

In short now that we have come alive we are called to be truly human, “the light of the world, salt of the earth, Israel as God has intended”.

This is the way of the Christ.


Followers

How bad how good does it need to get?
How many losses how much regret?
What chain reaction
What cause and effect
Makes you turn around
Makes you try to explain
Makes you forgive and forget
Makes you change
-”Change” by Tracy Chapman

Paul did a 180.

Paul’s gospel explains what has happened. It is really more of a summons than an invitation. John wants us to know it too. He wants us to be aware that the new creation begins on the first day of the week John 20:1, 19. What happened to these guys?

Paul was thunderstruck. It changed him midstream. What Paul is saying? We need to turn as well. 180 degrees. What I'm calling people to do is to consider repentance for the part that we currently play. You might say to yourself, what good will that do. Suppose two men have had a long time feud for one reason or another, they haven't spoken to each other for many years. The bitterness grows within them. And with each occasion for derision or each story open for nuance they spread their poisonous venom of hate. In time, the cancer has included a great many people. The chasm seems too wide to ever heal. Now suppose that one of them is confronted with the truth of the gospel of grace. He realizes he can no longer hold this hate and anger towards his fellow man, and upon introspection he realizes that his greatest enemy is the one that he needs to speak with. If that man were to come to the one he'd hated for all these years and say with sincerity in his heart, “I am sorry for the part that I have played to create this divide between us. I’m sorry.” Is it possible that this could lead to reconciliation?

The gospel of Jesus believes this is possible. The apostle Paul did too.

The Gospel at Work
I have a letter before me. It was written by the apostle Paul's own hand, I want you to read the letter and then I will tell you what his dream is as he pens this document. It is a dream that lives on today for relationships with one another. I believe this letter speaks.

Letter to Philemon

I want you to know this letter speaks. It speaks first of all about community. We need to know, first of all, that Paul is writing to a man--but not a man who stands alone. He writes to a man who was found in a community. Paul writes this letter as a man in relationship with others who also walk alongside him. He begins the letter “to those that are there” and ends the letter “with these that are with me as I write today”. Paul believes in community and its ability to transform and be transformed.

I want you to know this letter speaks; this letter speaks of honor. Philemon is a follower of Yeshiva a Messiah. He is the leader of a house group that meets right in his home. It's not a small thing in these treacherous times and Paul “gets it” because he is imprisoned not for what he has done so much is what he has said. Ideas can be dangerous to the empire and Paul is seen as a threat to Rome. He knows it takes courage to stand up for Yeshiva in these times of Roman rule. Paul honors Philemon for that and he wants the assembly here to know that. The words written in the beginning of this letter are not just salutations and greetings, prayers and promises, the kind of stuff you do for the sake of etiquette, yada yada yada. It is not simple fodder before the main thing. These words are not appetizers prior to the entrée, but are important to Paul. Anyone who stands for the good news in these days as a leader in this movement has courage and certainly deserves honor. Paul gives him his due respect.

I want to know this letter speaks. It speaks of customs and culture, the first thing we notice is that Paul does the right thing by sending Onesimus, who was a slave, to Philemon, who was his master. Some have questioned why Paul doesn't aggressively lash out against slavery. I believe he does but it is not an overt attack. The way that Paul handles this is to speak of the light of the gospel, rather than the darkness of the presiding culture of which Philemon and Onesimus are a part of. In verse 14 Paul says,” I didn't want to do anything without your consent”. David H. Stern in this Jewish New Testament commentary says,

“This self limitation is consistent with Jewish ethical standards defined as desirable behavior of a man toward his fellows in keeping with national practice and accepted social and moral standards, including the rules of etiquette and polite behavior.”

In other words Paul is respecting the culture that Philemon as a part of and that means sending Onesimus back. Paul does the right thing by the culture. He honors standards and mores in the presiding culture while at the same time appealing for the new community of God to live in a new way within that very culture. A contemporary illustration of this is provided by my postmodern missionary friends Jeff and Becky Waalkes. They have a deep respect for the Islam culture to which they are reaching out. When asked whether they gather on Sunday morning as the norm here in America, they simply replied, “No”. They went on to explain that Friday is the religious day and Kirkastann. So in keeping with the culture they meet on Friday. Now at some point the concept of Sunday as a part of the grand meta narrative can be introduced, but for now in order to win some for Christ they become Jews to the Jews Romans to the Romans and the Kirges to the Kirges people they are trying to reach so as not to create issues which would exasperate cultural norms and undermine what they're trying to do. At the same time they can appeal to those who of come into the community to behave in a way that respect, say, the treatment of women. One of the illustrations they use is that in their marriage they want to model a certain behavior between husband and wife so that women are cherished and loved and protected rather than seen as second class servants, things to be used or objectified. The culture treats women as second class citizens. Jeff and Becky model something altogether different in their relationship. They are modeling something that they want their followers to emulate.

And in this letter to Philemon Paul is doing the same. On one hand he is respecting the cultural norms and doing the culturally correct thing by sending the slave back to his master. But that isn't the only, or the primary, engine that drives this train of action on Paul's path. He is at the same time watering and fertilizing a new “way to be human”, wherein there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free. So while Paul wants to respect culture, he has other things on his mind as he sends Onesimus back to Collassae. He, like Jeff and Becky, has bigger fish to fry. One fish has to do with the exercise of power and rights in the community of the beloved. Philemon has the right to punish discipline and even kill Onesimus under the culturally accepted mores and norms, but Paul will ask that he consider laying aside his right to power and consider living in a new and living way. This new and living way is the way of the Christ. By accepting him back not as a slave but as a brother Philemon lives within that culture but as a part of the transformation of the culture.

At this point we might hear the story of the prodigal son and the elder brother. You might recall the story told in Luke chapter 15. The younger son demands that he be given is inherited as early, which basically means he curses his father as dead so that he might go out and live his own life outside of his father's home. After living the high life for a period of time he runs out of money he loses his friends and finds and self-employed in a pigsty. Not the place for a good Jewish boy to work and live. When he comes to himself he decides that he's going to go home to his father and rehearses the speech that he is going to deliver when he sees his father. It goes something like this.

“I am no longer worthy to be called your son just let me become a slave in your fields.”

While he is yet far off, his father sees him He begins rehearsing the speech he intends to give;

“I am no longer worthy to be called your son just let me become a slave in your fields.”

But while he's a long ways off, his father sees and runs to him throwing his arms around him he says, Kill the fatted calf, and put the Signet ring on his finger, and a robe on the shoulders, for my son was lost but now he is found, he was dead, but now he is alive. A great party follows. But one of the people invited to attend the party cannot be found. He is out in the fields. He is upset distressed and pouting. His father goes out to the field and entreats him to come in. He is to accept him back not as a slave but as brother. He could of course command his son to do this. But he chooses not to. Instead of a command and appeal is made for the elder brother to do the right thing. The same appeal is given to Israel over and over again. It is also a way to beat truly human and truly alive.

This letter speaks. It speaks of power. Paul knows that he is a certain weight of authority which he carries which would allow him to command Philemon and the entire community for that matter to accept this slave back. But somewhere the echo of a voice says “we are not to rule as the Gentiles do” by force or intimidation or command.

That we are not to Lord it over them as the Gentiles do.

Like the poet/ lyricist Gordon Lightfoot writes in his intriguing song “Sit Down Young Stranger” we instinctively know that “war is not the answer that power does not rule”. One of my favorite lines in the outstanding movie “The Patriot” is when Benjamin Martin (played by Mel Gibson) says that he does not support the revolution because why “trade one tyrant 3,000 miles away for 3,000 one mile away.”

He’s got a point.

People who are in the world tend to think in terms of power. But not Paul. Not anymore. No, right here right now, the gospel, good news, must be allowed to do its work. So instead of commanding, Paul appeals to the heart, the transformed heart, to do what is right in the eyes of God and the kingdom. He believes and is banking on the gospel. If Philemon truly is God's, then the heart of stone that once beat inside his breast has been softened to a heart of flesh. So Paul is going to let the good news do its work. And he will not rob the gospel of its power and its authority to change us.

The letter speaks. It speaks of our condition. So Paul sends a letter in the hands of the slave. This slave will take the letter to his master personally. If the good news is only a theory, or a dance of ideas that are interesting but not transforming, then it is a failed gospel. And this is the opportunity for all. This is the test case. This is the moment that we have all been waiting for. This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. This is when you see if this vessel floats or sinks like a stone.

Now is the moment when one man, a slave walks up to another man, a master with nothing to protect him or shield him but a piece of paper and the hope of the power of the transforming gospel of Christ. And this is shaky ground. It is a crucible for Philemon as well. Does the gospel work or not is about to be answered. Is it enough? Paul believes it is and he wants Onesimus to know it, he wants Philemon to know it, he wants the entire house church that meets there to know it. Paul wants his friends and fellow prisoners to know it, he wants us to know it, he wants all who see this new community in action to be amazed and confounded by it. He wants everyone to know that the love of Jesus is something that changes us, transforms us, and makes us into a new community. So Paul closes the letter with confidence. Confident in the people, the gospel, and in the power of community. “Refresh my heart” in Christ is the postscript. And he can begin to see the gospel at work while he remains in that prison cell. And in his minds eye the ship does float and behold on the bow of the ship stands two men in warm embrace as the sun settles behind them and Paul smiles with delight for such is the kingdom of God.

The apostle Paul once sent a young man named Onesimus back to his slave owner with nothing but the gospel and a letter in his hand. Paul believed that was enough. He tested the gospel. He tested the good news. It was a real risk. In those days, under Roman law, a slave owner had the right to put to death any slave that had run away and wronged him in the process. Philemon had the right to do away with Onesimus. Paul tested Philemon and the family found with him in Colossi. The letter he sent was a private letter that was read in a public setting, with a man who delivered the letter probably shaking in his boots standing in the midst of the community. Paul had the ultimate confidence that this letter and this gospel was enough to convince the people who heard it that reconciliation was possible, and in fact, a wonderful opportunity.

We must do the same.


Favored Son

“Some folks are born silver spoon in hand”
—Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Favored. Best. Privileged. My family is a book of threes…Divisions based on the favored one. Book of threes family.

Wrong turns

“We walk one way to set us free
and find we’ve gone the wrong direction”
—“Vincent” by Don Maclean

If we take a wrong turn we will end up in the wrong place. Sometimes we decide to settle there anyway and no one remembers that we took that wrong turn and we build towns and settle. The results are quite predictable. We have systemic indicators of severe breakdowns in society. It can be reversed.

Gospel in action
By continually letting our prejudices remain while we turn away and ignore their validity is not in keeping with the good news of Jesus. We would do well to follow Paul's example and put the good news to the test. When one man comes with nothing but a letter in his hand and the grace of Jesus in his life, can that make a difference. If we believe in the gospel that is not another gospel, but the good news of Jesus then we have to trust and believe in this Paul was no fool. He knew that the gospel doesn't do its work now then it never will.

Our fellowship once invited a man to come and speak at our deeper meetings. We asked them to come and talk about creativity and worship Rick Beerhorst is an artist who has been a part of my life the last 20 years. He is one of the more entertaining storyteller's, but I've ever heard. He proceeded to tell the class of his exploits in Brooklyn, the last two years Rick had moved there to be a part of the of a riot he of ethnic cultures painted the landscape of Brooklyn. As he began to speak and talked about is longing for the tapestry of culture. I began to understand for the first time how this is connected with the creativity of God. He is the word sterile to describe how we have settled for the homogenous suburban culture in which so many of us find our homes. The landscape is of course dotted with all kinds of franchise type restaurants, stores and gas stations. We sometimes tire of the corporate greed, which drives these different businesses, and at the same time has put our mom-and-pop entrepreneur shops out of business. We lament that our lives are bored at the same times trading at the post of corporate greed and bland, lifeless, unimaginative, sterile environment of the suburbs. As Rick began to paint the picture. I begin to understand that this is an opportunity that we have to live life in a colorful way that God intended it. Although at its very foundation I believe justices somehow been ripped off by the things we've done in the past. At the deepest level, I feel like we've been ripped off, because we have not enjoyed the many colors of Christ, and instead have settled for the white and black on the road of escape.

The Supreme Court of America is our judicial system employed by all of us collectively. One of the landmark decisions of the Supreme Court occurred on May 17, 1954. On that date the Supreme Court voted nine to zero to eliminate the practice of separate but equal, and desegregate our schools. It was an incredible day when our civil government somehow understood and enacted the plan so that there is neither Jew nor Greek male nor female slave or free. The response of much of America was to simply flip off the system, build expressways to circle our cities, and little pink houses to house are people. I know because I lived in one of those houses. As a young boy who lived in the suburbs of Detroit. And I remember clearly the race riots of the middle to late 60s. I can recall pausing from our ballgame in front of my house, standing on Ackley Street and wondering, really expecting the knickers to come down the street at any moment and burn our houses and loot our belongings. I was afraid and the news media, capitalized on all our fears to divide us. It wasn’t their intention; it simple played out that way. Start a snowball down a hill…

In many ways, that was my father and mother's generation's contribution to what we would become later on. Perhaps they were responsible for what they did, but now I'm responsible for what I do. As a Christian I am now called to rise above the many prejudices of the past and become like the people of Collassae. It was one thing for our civil leaders to sacrifice our cities and the people that live there.

It was another thing altogether for the Christians.



One

“All at once the chalice of peace will be raised high…
—Yusuf Islam.

I played the album (dating myself) over and over again. He was like a soul mate. And I wasn’t alone. Everybody had Cat Stevens “Tea for the Tillerman”. Then he fell off the face of the earth. He became a Muslim and gave up music…for 25 years. He came back into my life two weeks ago. The internet can open 1,000 different portals and while there are some we should never “look in” both for our soul and our heart some will enlighten and engage us along the road.

On YouTube I found his concert clips from the Noble Peace Prize celebration of 2006. Funny, he didn’t seem like a bad guy at all. Probably never really was but the propaganda, well, you know how it goes. So I repented of my prejudices and we’re back together again so to speak. We are on “the road to find out” what we can do as ONE to “set things that are wrong to rights”. And he doesn’t even know me. The internet will do that. His name is Yusuf Islam now.

Working together through a ceasefire and peace. Yusaf Islam. Rich Mullins. Bono.

Together
"If you want to build a ship,
don't drum up the men to gather wood,
divide the work, and give orders.
Instead, teach them to yearn
for the vast and endless sea."
–Antoine de Saint-Exupery:

Why Settle

“Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that cripple them, is a spiritually moribund religion in need of new blood.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.

The Gospel Implications
Isaac Munji is a Kenyan pastor whom I met through my friendship with Jason Anderson. I’ve learned a thing or two from watching and listening to his story. The first time we had a conversation in our little cluster of pastors about racial divide and the problems involved therein one of our group said, “Well we have two persons of color in our midst, let’s ask them what they think’. Isaac was noticeably disturbed and I assumed it was because we were singling him out because he was different from us racially. When I spoke to him following I was surprised that he was upset not because I am white and he is black and he was uncomfortable in this mostly white bread suburban group but because he was tossed into the “American Black Culture” stereotype. I was soon to learn that he like many of his African brothers was resentful towards this indiscretion. He is a remarkable man of vision who desires to see families from his native land equipped to walk in dignity as a people. His life is lived toward that end.

At one point I sat down to hear more of his story. His recollection of the missionary culture from his side of the experience as a young boy was remarkable. He would speak of how missionaries would come, erect a chapel and proceed to disburse the gospel in a westernized way. They installed a huge bell and “rang the bell” for services and worship on Sunday. They seldom were noticeably disturbed by the conditions of poverty in the village—and that caused Isaac pause. It seemed the gospel they preached should ignite a more comprehensive way of caring than simply “ringing the bell”. As a young man he saw the disconnect in “the way” of Christianity. At some point he determined he would do it differently. Ironically, it is the same disconnect we see in our American cities form the eastern seaboard to the western shore. We instinctively “feel” (as all people in a culturalized meta narrative would) an uneasiness when we drive into our inner cities. There has been a disconnect and we know it.

Off the Yellow Brick Road and Onto the Blandness of Highway
Many of us remember the classic tale the Wizard of Oz. Most of us as children watched the story unfold year in and year out in the living rooms of our American homes. I want to call your attention to a particular scene where Dorothy, the tin man and the scarecrow are walking through a deep forest and they began to chant. You remember the chant it goes like this “Lions, Tigers and Bears, Oh my, Lions Tigers and Bears Oh my”!

It doesn't take long for their worst nightmare to face them in the forest a lion; the most feared animal in all of the earth, the king of the jungle confronts them. What they don't know is that this lion is fronting. He's been told that lions roar, he's told that lions are dangerous; he’s told to be lion like, but deep inside he is as fearful as Dorothy and her friends are. What he really needs is the courage to face that reality and embrace it. Fronting won’t do. No one likes to front—we are put in that position by default. What I am saying is that we all still need courage to face the lions we imagine are out there and realize that we can do something about all the fronting from fear that intimidates and influences us all.

May 17, 2004 marks the anniversary of a tremendous decision in our nation. On that date in 1954 the Supreme Court voted nine to zero to eliminate separate but equal in our school system so as to erase and eradicate segregation for all time. On this day at a prestigious Washington gala event to mark the 50 the anniversary of that decision the NAACP invited the best and brightest the black community had to offer to a black tie event. Bill Cosby, an animated, adored, black comedian, highly esteemed in the culture was the keynote speaker for this 50 year celebration of the landmark decision known as Brown vs. Board. What followed was anything but funny. In his scathing address a solemn and serious Cosby began to speak about what had happened since the landmark decision made in 1954 by the Supreme Court, the judicial people of our time; the ones who decide what to deem righteous and fair in our land. The people concerned by their very existence with “justice”. This speech caught many off guard. Most of these prominent black leaders had gathered to celebrate a great day in their history. And Cosby rocked their world with his honest address.

In the address Cosby spoke of the new Lions, Tigers and Bears, oh my, that are in the concrete jungle of the urban populations in the cities of America today. He confronted them. The new “lions, tigers and bears” he explained were “niggers, bitches, and hoes” feared by the Dorothy’s’ of the suburbs and glamorized in many of our urban centers across America. Nobody in that room said a word. In that talk Cosby addressed the tendency of many black Americans to sweep aside their responsibility for what's happening to black society in America. He reminded these people of the true courageous and inspiring history of the black culture who somehow defeated the vilest slavery ever to infect the earth, segregation and prejudice throughout our nation particularly in the deep South in the 20th century, a strong and courageous people who had risen out of these ashes to the landmark decision the civil rights movements that followed in America. He suggested that black America should go back to the strength which carried them through these difficult times. To return to the type of inspiring strong proud past of days gone by he was calling them out and confronting the people with the need for them to become responsible and cease to live in a way that says we’re the victims of the “white man”. To loose those shackles still tying them to a mindset that says “we need whitey to lift us up.” Nonsense. Bill Cosby was asking the black community to own up to the part that they play by the segregation and divisions and victimization mentality which remain in our society to this day. The true Lions of courage are not the violent ones but the ones who lived to strength through spiritual weakness to the point of convincing the powers to be they were “in the wrong”

This morning though I don't have any of the status of Bill Cosby, though I don't have many people listening to what I have to say, though I am not a significant voice to anyone much, I want to ask white America how we are to respond responsibly for what we've done. I am not a politician, I'm not a historian, I don't have all the answers for all the evils in our society, but I know that our God is concerned when injustice continues and would have our pastors and religious leaders bring their head out of the sand and help America to see how we responded to the call for justice in 1954 and do something to “own up”. You are probably wondering what we have done. We hardly realize the offense of preaching one gospel and settling for another in u rations. We are so like the missionaries in Isaac’s little village. We are clueless to what we are doing.

As I was spinning through the TV channels one evening at my home I was intrigued by a PBS special that was being telecast that evening entitled The Supreme Court. I confess my ignorance on many matters in regards to our nation's history perhaps I wasn't paying attention but simply doing what I needed to pass my classes and make the grade and get my diploma. I plead guilty to the accusation that I went through my college years and became an evangelical who would convert people's minds to the truth of Jesus without confronting their actions in regard to the justice and righteousness and peace that he comes to bring through the Spirit of God today. What I'm talking about is the term righteousness and the term gospel and our understanding of what God is up to in these days. According to my training, my investigation, in my study the gospel is good news. In particular of the gospel or good news was news from Isaiah 61 as quoted by Jesus in his first address in the synagogue of Nazareth spoken about in Luke Chapter 4. Listen to what it says. Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and to report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where you been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of the sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

Jesus then continued with these words, today the Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. Today is the day of the Lord's favor. Today is the day says the apostle Paul when we celebrate the reality is that we are all called to share one table, one spirit, one baptism, and two cultures. No my Bible says one culture of grace and forgiveness and mercy, that kind of stuff which motivated the apostle Paul to lay down his sword in regards to persecuting those who are no longer Jewish but had turned to Christ. Paul jumped ship on prejudice, the clarion call went out through his influence that there is no longer Jew or Greek male or female slave or free. Now we are one in Christ. But somehow we are not.

As I watched this PBS special on TV about the Supreme Court and their decision that separate but equal will no longer be tolerated I marveled that these courageous Supreme Court justices would have the courage to stand up and declare this truth, unpopular as it was, because it was simply the right thing to do. And the response of the white community to this landmark decision the people that I come from was simply this. We flipped them off. We built expressways and we built strip malls and we took our money and we took our influence and we took all that we had, erecting a barrier that shouted “No!” to the notion of One, that two are brothers and sisters in Christ. I would like to say that the churches that I’m a part of were not a part of white flight.

But sadly nothing is further from the truth.

In essence we in the church followed the culture of rebellion that simply said screw you to the law of our land. As I drive in my city, as I drive in the suburbs, as I look around the church is built on endings stretching far and wide while our cities crumble I wonder what part I play, and if Bill Cosby is to calling the black community out, when is someone to call the white community who walked away and said in essence “we don't want anything to do with you” out.

I understand that the solution is going to be much more complicated than I could ever really ever imagine. Brighter people insignificant roles in the cities will need to act. It will be the task of many people with many gifts and talents and abilities on both sides of the fence to tear that fence down which divides us. It will be a difficult and hard road.

Why Settle
Bill Cosby said that we should continue down that road that was begun with the blood of the martyrs of the great and proud history of Black America. “Why should we sell out,” says Cosby “for some type of cultural life that will make it nearly impossible for our on educated youth to flourish and succeed and show forth the pride of the black man.” And what I'm saying is: ‘Why do we in white America settle for corporate greed and mile after mile of sterile franchise, bland landscape, when we could enjoy the rich diversity that is our inheritance in Christ? Fear, arrogance, and prejudice. The Lions, Tigers and Bears on the news every night. We want to lock that away, get it out of our lives, and build insulation, boundaries and walls to keep us safe.

How can we even “ring our bells” on Sunday and participate in that type of nonsense without someone saying, the emperor has no clothes and the “gospel” we preach is no gospel at all! What I'm really calling for is not just repentance, although repentance is necessary and important, but the embracing of the many colors of Christ here on earth as it is in heaven. My thesis is that we have settled for a lesser gospel by our misapplication of scripture in the evangelical agenda. In essence that has led us down a road that allowed us to settle for a lessor gospel than God has intended. Why else would we choose to settle for less than the Promised Land as we continue to walk this road “in Christ”?

Does anyone own a black and white TV any more?

February 13, 2008 | Registered CommenterDaryl Underwood

This was one of the foundational premises that led me down my journey, along with the whole concept of being saved by something as transitory and fickle as a belief. That plus there was the whole coming to terms with the TG thing. I am enjoying your musings; it gives insight into what you have been going thru these past few years. I am glad that you now have the freedom to explore ask and write.
Eric


"But if one believes all voices must be heard, that all stories must be told, and that all viewpoints are equally valid, then any metanarrative that proposes to subsume all others can do so only be suppressing those other stories. Finally metanarrative are said to be based on the premise that there is such a thing as “absolute truth” and that someone—presumably someone who claims an allegiance to a particular metanarrative related to that absolute truth—knows that truth. Some human beings are the guardians of the truth and hence have the right to act on it and perhaps even to impose it on others.” You might want to dial up just about any war here—crusades, World War, Vietnam, Civil—you chose--they all had the right to vindicate themselves based on their understanding of the truth and need to impose it on others."

March 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterEric Mack

Maintain your hair with pride and consistency. Depending on the length and style, have it trimmed appropriately. If you wear your hair short, have the style refreshed every 3-4 weeks. If you are growing your hair longer, have it trimmed every 6-8 weeks to remove split ends.

July 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAna

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