Why Aren’t We Listening? Psalm 81:1,10-16

Top 10 Things I Don’t Want To Hear God Say When I Get To Heaven

10. We’re out of slaw.
9. You can’t have the Netflix password
8. The diet soda is over there
7.  You’re supposed to replace the toner
6. Don’t touch the thermostat
5.  We have macaroni and cheese every night
4. Meet your new roommate, Steve Irwin
3. Elvis has only just arrived
2. There’ll be an Administrative Board meeting at 3 pm
1. I gave you over to the stubbornness of your heart, to follow your devices.

The last one has got to be one of the most emotional and stressful expressions God utters in the Old Testament. It’s an intimate revelation of God’s frustration and love. The Psalmist records God saying, “I let you do your own thing, follow your plans, despite stubbornness, and what I knew to be wrong; I let you go.” I sent you off despite everything to the contrary because that’s what you claimed you wanted and you wouldn’t listen.  God sounds like the parent of a teenager. Idea number one: sometimes, God’s people get it wrong. Believing themselves right in the face of obvious wrongness, they, as the Psalm says, “simply weren’t agreeable toward God.”

There are expressions you hear in some circles, “God’s ways are unknowable and mysterious.” God is beyond us. I also think we use phrases like that when we want to let ourselves off the hook and keep doing our own thing. How could we know what God, so far beyond us, want us to do? Such reasoning is an excuse. In Psalm 81, nothing is beyond us; God couldn’t be clearer. God’s call for dialogue is in black and white, and we feign ignorance.

Idea number two: God asks in verse 11, “How I wish my people Israel would listen to me!” There’s no mystery there. Why aren’t we listening? Is it easier to pretend we’re still wandering in a wilderness of our design? Yes. When we walk without a purpose, we fight among ourselves. As we stop and listen to God, we realize our God-given potential to be the church. The authentic and honest voice of God seems challenging to hear, but it is not hard for those who are listening.

Richard Lowell Bryant

Tangible Things Jesus Does (Luke 13:10-17)

We don’t have to invent or infer Jesus’ actions.  There’s no need to guess or ask, “What would Jesus do?”  We know.  Read the gospels.  The New Testament offers specific examples of Jesus’ behavior, beliefs, and deeds.  For example, there is little mystery as to Jesus’ attitudes toward the poor, elderly, or the sick.  If one wants to follow Jesus, read and contextualize his words for our day and time.

In this week’s gospel passage we see several different areas that are regularly emphasized in Jesus’ life and ministry.

  1.  Jesus teaches in the synagogue.  Contextually, this means he’s in the church or a worship experience.  Jesus goes to synagogue, participates, leads, and is active in worship.  Presence is important.  Sharing in Psalms, scripture, and community matter.  Jesus is modeling best practice.  He doesn’t find God on the Sea of Galilee. He goes to a worship space.  We can learn something from Jesus.  He’s our role model.
  2. The woman he heals is also in the common worship space.  We’re not told (as we are in other instances) that she’s there to be healed.  She’s simply present (despite her pain and infirmity) in the worshiping community.   It’s important to draw near to God.  The healing is an outgrowth of the worship.
  3. All time is holy.  Jesus is attacked for healing the woman on the sabbath.  Humanity’s concept of linear time is opposed to the divine idea of circular time (kairos vs. chronos time).  We forget that God works in the moment.  All time is Gods.  Jesus reminds the synagogue staff: human need (i.e. people in pain) outweighs any rules we think we are trying to enforce on God’s behalf.

Richard Lowell Bryant

Luke 12:49-56 A First Look At A Tough Read

Luke 12:49-56 is a challenging passage to read, let alone preach. Anything that begins with Jesus talking about “casting fire” on the Earth is enough to make me slow down. Honestly, it’s different, and instead of keeping it arms-length and moving on, let’s go in for a closer look.

Why does Jesus seem so abrupt in Luke 12? I’m not sure he’s abrupt as much as he’s frustrated. Jesus knows his time on Earth is short, and from just reading the text, Jesus says he is under stress. He’s getting closer to Jerusalem, Passover, and the inevitable clash between what he represents and the religious authorities. There is so much on his mind. At this stage in his ministry, I believe Jesus is hoping for a broader sense of engagement with his teachings. He wants the crowds (Luke indicates at the beginning of the chapter that thousands are following Jesus) and the disciples to understand his message. Every preacher wants the people to plug in and “get it”.  From Jesus’ perspective, it doesn’t appear that those in the crowd have fully understood the confrontational aspects and possibly divisive nature of his ministry. By the time we get to verse 49, Jesus comes right out and says what he means. There are no parables or stories. If we follow Jesus, the implications could lead to division in our families or households. These verses do not mean Jesus is coming to divide families from each other.  Nor is Jesus’ goal to foster war. The Prince of Peace is the Prince of Peace. Humanity will know peace because Christ knew violence on the cross. Everything in this passage is ultimately pointing us to the Cross. Do we understand what’s about to happen to Jesus or not? Can we read the signs? Do we get what’s about to occur?  Have we considered the implications of what Christ’s death and resurrection will mean for humanity?

Jesus reinforces what we’ve known since we joined the church. Following Jesus calls each of us to make a choice, sometimes hard choices. It is never easy to be a full-time disciple of Jesus Christ. Walking in Jesus’ footsteps is demanding. Jesus’ lifestyle and teachings conflict with the dominant values of our society. It’s easier to go along, get along, and accept the world as we’ve inherited it. Jesus says, “as is” isn’t good enough, even in our families. Our belief in the triune God sets us apart and reveals differences between ourselves and those we are closest too. In those moments, we trust the love of God to heal the brokenness between us and bring us back together.

Richard Lowell Bryant

What Wile E. Coyote Teaches Me About Evangelism

I do love “Looney Tunes”. After watching a few episodes the other night, I realized there were some religious lessons to be learned in the ongoing battle between the Coyote and Roadrunner.

1.      Wile E. Coyote knew his community. The Coyote understood his neighborhood and surroundings intimately. From the desert valleys, mountain tops, train tracks, highways, and every possible spot to place birdseed; the Coyote understand the demographics, people, and animals in his desert.  This kind of awareness is crucial for evangelism. Where are the people, as a church, do we want to meet and invite to our community?

2.     The Coyote did the research. Before the Coyote made a new attempt to catch the Roadrunner, he tried to find the most effective means of doing so. He ordered books, plans, and developed ideas to adapt to his new situation. While not always successful, the Coyote always prepared, learned, studied, and equipped himself before trying to meet the Roadrunner. Evangelism is a ministry for which we develop. (Unlike the Coyote, we’re not out to “capture” anyone.)  We do want to know the gospel, the community, and how best to share the message of the Good News. Our plan: order something from ACME and start learning today.

3.     The Coyote never gave up. The Coyote’s failures are numerous. Despite his best efforts, he never gave up. The Coyote keep working, reading, and going back out into the community. The Coyote, if he’s anything, is a model of perseverance. To quote John Newton, “through many dangers, toils, and snares,” you’d think he’s describing the Coyote’s encounters with the Roadrunner.   The Coyote is, despite our pro-Roadrunner cultural blinders, a recipient of God’s grace, just like the rest of us. He’s been beaten up and beat down. Thanks be to God, he’s never out. I think there’s something we can all learn from the Coyote as we share God’s Good News.

Richard Lowell Bryant

Staying Behind Jesus in An Era of Outrage

Yes, we should be walking in the dust of our rabbi. How do we do this when its easy to be distracted by our era of outrage?

1. Pray up. Extraordinary circumstances require more prayer. Pray for your friends, enemies, neighbors, courage, hope, and those who are living with or in fear.

2. Look for opportunities to be a calming presence. Where has God placed to you, what are the moments where you’ve been called to talk, listen, and service those around you? Where are you called to diffuse situations like Jesus in John 7:52-8:11? (The woman caught in adultery)

3. Check in with the church community. In times like this we need our worshiping family, people who pray with us, corporate study of the scriptures, and praise.

4. Read Jesus’ words, particularly the Sermon on the Mount. When so many are overtaken by outrage, it’s good to remind ourselves that we are called to see the world through Jesus’ eyes.

5. Invite or ask people, people whom you have the opportunity to “simmer down”, to join you in church. (Again, this could be a family or friend. It doesn’t have to be a stranger. Who have you interacted with?) A key part of our faith is following up on our beliefs. Think of it in medical terms: someone goes to the doctor, then to the hospital, and the to an outpatient rehab. Coming to church should make people less angry.

6. Live less outraged. Make a choice to be happier. You have control over your own emotions. Unplug and moderate from those things in our culture that thrive on anger, negativity, and outrage.

7. Check you friends. Are you hanging out with people who bring out your best or only recycled negativity?

Richard Bryant