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Gifts #LukeActs2014

(I’m a week behind posting my reflections reading through Luke and Acts one chapter at a time. This should have gone up last week.)

Gifts. Everyone likes to receive gifts. Whether for a special day, like birthday or anniversary, or out of the blue becomes someone was thinking about you. Gifts are one of the ways we show and receive love.

Jesus talks to his disciples about gifts in Luke 11. Would you ignore a friend in need? As a parent would you give something dangerous to your child? Of course not! So why would you not expect God to give gifts?

Before we get carried away praying for Porches and yachts, however, Jesus names two specific gifts. First, when teaching the disciples to pray, he names one gift: daily bread. That’s a far cry from money, toys, or power. I like how the CEB puts it “Give us the bread we need for today” (Luke 11:3). It’s not even bread for the week, only daily bread.

Jesus names the second gift of the Holy Spirit after his image of parents giving good gifts to their children (Luke 11:13). Here again Jesus is not describing God as some sort of divine slot machine. The Holy Spirit empowers the church and leads her towards the kingdom.

When you pray, do you ask for gifts? Do they match what Jesus tells his disciples to pray for?

Luke 10 raises some interesting questions for a modern reader. Jesus sends out seventy-two followers to do ministry and they return reporting that “even the demons submit themselves to us in your name” (Luke 10:17).

Demons? Can we, as post-Enlightenment people full of scientific knowledge, accept the existence of demons?

I had conversation with a man this week who struggles with the supernatural aspects in Scripture. He doesn’t believe in demons and wondered how we would understand Jesus’ healing miracles if they occurred today today.

I think it is likely that at least some of what 1st century people called demons we would understand in much different terms today. But in trying to explain everything rationally, I think we lose the bigger picture.

Are there literal demons at work in the world? I’m not sure. But I do recognize the presence of evil in the world.

The insidious voice of depression and other mental illnesses that whispers in your ear, “You a less than a child of God. You are worthless.” The forces of poverty, racism, and sexism that not only trap people but also somehow find a way to survive and grow, enslaving future generations. The theft and subjugation of children that fuels the heinous industry of the international sex trade.

These are a few examples of the presence of evil in our world. Whether evil is a supernatural force or not matters less to me than our charge to combat it. Jesus sent out the Twelve in Luke 9. He sent out another 72 in Luke 10. As Christians we are sent out today to challenge and fight these forces of evil in the world.

Where do you see the presence of evil? How do you fight it?

Reading Luke 9 this week with Bishop Ken Carter for #LukeActs2014 has me thinking about hospitality. In the chapter, Jesus sends his disciples out into the world with clear instructions to accept the hospitality of those they visit, staying where they are invited and leaving if they are not welcome. Jesus puts this into practice when the disciples suggest calling down fire on a town that doesn’t welcome him and he scolds the disciples for the suggestion. Jesus expects the disciples to accept simple gifts and not take offense.

 

Jesus also expresses a deep hospitality of care for those around him. When the crowds find him after he has withdrawn with the disciples, Jesus doesn’t complain or send them away. He welcomes them, teaches and heals those in need. When it’s dinner time, the disciples tell Jesus to send the crowds home. “But he said to them, ‘you give them something to eat’” (9:13). When they cannot, he performs a miracle of multiplication. Finally, he hears the solitary voice of a man in the crowd to heal his son with a demon and Jesus obliges. Jesus cares for the needs of those around him.

Finally, Jesus shares what it looks like to offer a hospitable responses towards others. The greatest in the kingdom of God is one who welcomes a child. Being great means extending welcome to those who are overlooked or ignored. In an age of drawing lines in the sand and choosing sides, Jesus tells the disciples “whoever is not against you is for you” (9:48). Jesus cares for those who are small and think differently.

What is our hospitality like?

We often think of hospitality as simply when we have guests, which is important, but Jesus expands the requirements. Hospitality is also about accepting welcome and not being angry if you are not. Hospitality is noticing and caring for the needs of those around us. Hospitality is treating others, especially those weaker or “less important” with respect. Hospitality is a posture that informs and shapes our daily lives, not just an occasional act. Hospitality means seeing everyone around of us as someone who can share a gift and receive grace.

Who then is this (Luke 8:25)

Luke 8 features some of Jesus’ most powerful moments. He calms a storm, sends away a massive demon, and restores a dead girl to life. Even his clothes have the power to heal. After he calms the storm, Jesus’ disciples ask “Who then is this?” I imagine that question kept echoing among the disciples as the signs continued. And this question was probably in the minds of the crowds as well. Those who witnessed the demon’s release were “seized with great fear” (8:37), while the girl’s parents “were astounded” (8:56).

Who can do all this? Who is this Jesus?

It seems fitting that we’re asking this question as we prepare for Lent. Jesus’ transfiguration is the lectionary for this Sunday, when God announces again that Jesus is the beloved Son. Lent prepares the church for Easter, as we celebrate the wondrous miracle of his resurrection.

Who is this Jesus? He is the Son who conquers death through the power of God. However, before we rush all the way to the end of the story, Luke 8 offers more to see.

Jesus is the healer who seeks to release you from bondage. He restores a man cut off from community and exiled from home. He lifts up the woman clinging to one last shred of hope. Jesus does not only offer new life at some distant point in the future; he offers new life now.

“The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.” (Luke 6:5)

We don’t talk about Sabbath nearly as much as we should in the modern church. Sabbath keeps showing up in the Old Testament, from the story of creation to the Ten Commandments to the prophets.  A day of rest is important. It’s a health issue, a justice issue (for those who work for you), and it matters for your relationship to God and creation.

But we seem to have let our focus on the Sabbath wane, as though it no longer matters in modern society. We work more and play less, spending more time being “productive” and less time simply being. I have caught myself becoming less comfortable with “unproductive” time, doing my best to fill empty space with activity, sound, or video.

Into the ever-increasing swirl of our noise and busyness, Jesus names himself the lord of Sabbath. While we often focus on his showdown with the religious authorities as a way to address following the letter of the law rather than its spirit, we miss that both stories involve life: eating and healing. The Sabbath is for life. Our lives are renewed by rest and time with God. Our relationship with others is restored when we cease to see people only as workers. We need Sabbath, perhaps today more than ever.  And if Jesus is lord of the Sabbath and lord of our lives, then we need to take seriously how we celebrate Sabbath in our lives.

How do you practice Sabbath rest? What tips help you keep the practice?

Or if you don’t, why not? What stops you? And what could you do to embrace the practice?

 

In Luke 5 Jesus calls some of his first followers: fishermen and a tax collector. Their lives change dramatically, as Luke writes that they “left everything and followed him” (5:11, 28). We talk a lot about how an encounter with Jesus means your life will never be the same.

And yet, for all the change, some things do stay the same for these followers. Jesus tells the fishermen that they will “fish for people” (5:10). The tax collector throws a banquet for Jesus and invites all of his friends and colleagues. They leave their jobs but don’t set aside their gifts or personalities.

Following Jesus often gets equated with going to church or, if you’re really “holy,” becoming a preacher or missionary. But here Jesus seems less interested in our jobs and more interested in our skills.  I admit, it’s easy for me to think that I’m doing everything I can to follow Jesus because I preach. But Luke 5 reminds me there’s more to it than that. Jesus wants me, not just my job.

Jesus calls you to follow him. What is the something that makes you who you are that he wants you to share in your walk?

I watched last night’s debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham on whether creationism is a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era. Now I’m not a scientist but as a layperson I found Bill Nye’s comments much more compelling. Bill Nye shared different tests and observations from the scientific community. Ken Ham tried to poke holes in them and mentioned several colleagues who agree with him but I never heard a scientific argument for his creationism model. But like I said, I’m not a scientist so this isn’t a science post. 

Instead there were a couple of statements about Christianity and faith that I found interesting. During the Q&A session, Ken Ham was asked if he takes everything in the Bible literally. As I best I could tell, he made an argument for genres in the Bible, that different sections are meant to be read in different ways. For example, you wouldn’t read a historical account the same way you read poetry. I agree with Ken Ham on this point. I think the Bible contains several different genres of writing and we enrich our reading of Scripture when we engage them. Where we disagree is on the genre of Genesis. Ken Ham clearly reads Genesis as an historical account, while I read it more as poetry. I read Genesis not to answer the “How” or “When” questions of the world, but the “Who” and “Why” questions. These are the questions that Genesis answers for me. Who am I? A beloved child of God. Why am I here? To know God, to love God and my neighbor, and to care for God’s creation. (I really wanted someone to ask a follow-up question to Ken Ham about how he decided to place Genesis in the historical genre. However, as Bill Nye rightly admitted that he is not a theologian several times, I wouldn’t expect him to raise that kind of question.)

A few times in the debate Bill Nye referenced the many people of faith around the world who accept evolution and their faith together. I applauded him for that. While Bill Nye is not a person of faith, he did not say I had to pick science over faith. He accepted opinions outside of his own worldview. Ken Ham, on the other hand, made it clear that people of faith who disagree with his reading of Scripture are wrong on matters of their faith. Stepping away from the questions of evolution and creationism, Ken Ham also believes his reading is the only one that can be right and therefore any other theology is wrong. That stunned me. An agnostic (as Bill Nye defines himself) is more accepting of my faith than another Christian.

Ken Ham’s assertion reflects my biggest concern in this debate. In science, and in life, we are presented with questions and ideas that we decide to accept or reject. Scientists questioned the prevailing truths of the day to discover the earth is round and the sun is at the center of our solar system. However, Ken Ham’s worldview doesn’t allow for questions. There’s only one right way and that’s his way. I don’t see how that can be healthy for the spheres of science or theology.

Did you watch the debate? What did you think?

(The United Methodist Church responds to the question of the intersection of faith and technology here)

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