Growth Amidst the Rubble – John 15:1-8

PastorSteveIt has been a lousy news week. Last weekend, one of the strongest earthquakes in the last century struck Nepal causing massive damage, a death toll expected to exceed 10,000 affecting more than 8 million. Nepal is a country woefully unprepared for such a disaster and has still not reached some of the more remote villages that have been leveled.

In Baltimore racial tensions, driven particularly by questions about the relationship between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve and the death of an African-American young man while in custody, boiled over into the streets.

The Gospel of John has a fascinating literary structure. With the number seven symbolically representing perfection, John’s gospel has seven signs – sometimes called miracles – indicating who Jesus is and seven metaphorical statements by Jesus about who he is. “I am the vine, you re the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.”

One common interpretation of this passage is that unless you bear fruit, you will get pruned; cut off from the vine and thrown into the fire. I think it is a horrible interpretation. For one thing, it makes “bearing fruit” a work; something you have to accomplish. For another, those who interpret it that way assume they know who should be cut off.

Here is a different take: this passage is not so much about judgment as it is about community. Pick a tomato while it is green and it will not ripen; cut a branch from the stem and it will not grow.

Pointing fingers at the police and shouting “fascists,” or pointing fingers at young black men and shouting “thugs” will not restore the community. There is a systemic problem. Community has broken down in ways that pointing out a culprit will not put together. Many in Baltimore understand that and are striving to find ways to reconnect the community. There may still be dark days ahead, but the sprouts of hope can be seen amidst the ruble.

In the midst of an overwhelming natural disaster, the Nepalese are being reminded that they are part of a world community. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is part of that community. This Sunday we will be taking a special offering for Lutheran Disaster Response. For more information on how to help in Nepal, go to: http://elca.org/News-and-Events/7739.

It has been a tough week in the news, but the Easter promise calls us to light of hope even in the midst of darkness. By staying connected, we grow to what we are intended to be and there are no more “those people,” just, “our people.”

 

Here is Psalm 42:9-11

I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?”

As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?”

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.

Answering the Call (Or Not) – Mark 1:14-20, Jonah 3:1-5,10

PastorSteveTwo very different responses to the call this week: Mark tells us about Jesus hanging by the Sea of Galilee and inviting brothers Simon and Andrew and then James and John to join him. Not sure if it is a commentary on their faith or how lousy a job fishing is, but the two sets of brothers “immediately” dropped everything and followed. They put no thought into it at all, made no preparations, just walked off the job.

Jonah’s answer may have been immediate, but it was not at all like the one in Mark. Called to go to Nineveh, located near present day Mosul in Iraq, Jonah booked passage to Tarshish (the precise location is not known and the word might only indicate “very far away” although one possible location is on the Iberian peninsula which indeed would be very far away.

The word that gets translated as “repent” literally means to change your mind. It is also used to describe a course change on a ship. Jonah went 180 degrees from where God wanted him, but the great fish provided him with another 180-degree course change. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire and a traditional enemy of Israel, but that was not the reason why Jonah didn’t want to go there.

Jonah didn’t want to go because he knew that God would change God’s mind and not destroy the city. Jonah understood the nature of God (“gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love”), he didn’t want to go because he knew God would let the Ninevites off the hook (fishing pun intended). Jonah wanted them to get the punishment they deserved. Funny thing is, trusting in your own righteousness is just as bad a transgression as those committed by the Ninevites.

I cannot miss the opportunity to give thanks for the life and work of Dr. Marcus Borg who died this week at the age of 72. Sometimes the source of controversy, Dr. Borg’s field of study was the historical Jesus and his work did a great deal to strengthen my own sense of call to ministry as well as my understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. In his last book he wrote, “Imagine that Christianity is about loving God. Imagine that it’s not about the self and its concerns, about ‘what’s in it for me,’ whether that be a blessed afterlife or prosperity in this life.”

 

Here is a quote from Dr. Borg’s book, “The God We Never Knew:Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a More Authentic Contemporary Faith”

 

“The point is not that Jesus was a good guy who accepted everybody, and thus we should do the same (though that would be good). Rather, his teachings and behavior reflect an alternative social vision. Jesus was not talking about how to be good and how to behave within the framework of a domination system. He was a critic of the domination system itself.”

 

1 2 3 4