Slow and Steady and Right Now.

Slow and Steady and Right Now.

Photo by reza shayestehpour on Unsplash

In January I preached a sermon on patience and talked about a restaurant Alex and I go to on special occasions. It’s the kind of place where they bring you a palate cleanser between courses (so by “special occasions” I mean “when someone gives us a gift card”). It is not the sort of place you go when you’re in any kind of hurry. But what is most remarkable to me about it isn’t the food or the service (both of which are excellent). It’s that in the small set of hours I’ve spent in this place, I’ve never once seen someone on their phone.

Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe it’s a restaurant policy I’m unaware of. Maybe we’ve just dined in particularly detached company. But I am convinced this is an extraordinary dynamic, because I’ve never been asked as many questions after a sermon as I was that day:  that many people wanted to know the name of the restaurant.

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The Kingdom of Hell

The Kingdom of Hell

Photo by paul morris

If Jesus speaks of a kingdom of heaven, is there a kingdom of hell?

After telling a story about how the kingdom of heaven is like a farmer scattering seed, Jesus follows up with another agricultural parable:  again, a farmer sows. But this time an enemy comes in the middle of the night and plants weeds alongside the wheat. When the farmer’s servants ask if he wants them to pull the weeds up, he says to wait until the harvest so as to avoid uprooting the wheat as well. Then the wheat will be gathered and the weeds burned.

Again, the disciples ask what this means and again, Jesus obliges. Distinctions are drawn between the wheat and weeds as “children of the kingdom” and “children of the evil one”. And the harvest is akin to “the end of the age”, when “all causes of sin and all evildoers” will be collected out of the kingdom of heaven and thrown into a fiery furnace.

This sounds like what we tend to think of as hell. When you do a Google image search for hell, the overwhelming visual is fire (and someone who clearly hates Elmo). But when Jesus talks more specifically about hell, fire isn’t always as dominant a metaphor.

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Like Good Soil

Like Good Soil

What does Jesus say most often?

For a complete sentence the winner is, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” This speaks quite highly of us, that the thing Jesus says most often is essentially, “Listen!” This is Christ the frustrated school teacher, knowing we’re going to miss something important and doing his best anyway.

There’s an old saying about show me your bank account and your calendar and I’ll show you what you value. But as most people aren’t in the business of showing me either, I have to rely on what they say. Not the catchphrases or talking points, but what they talk about most often. What we really hear when we listen.

Right now my dessert chef wife values cakes, our soon-to-arrive baby, and whatever her project of the week is. Last week it was leading the music for Vacation Bible School, this week it’s the nursery, next week she’ll be conquering something else. I know this is what she values because I trust her mouth and my ears. She’ll tell you I value church, sports, and the baby in some order depending on what day it is.

What Jesus says most often is, “Listen!” What will we hear if we do?

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Suggested Revisions to Matthew 5

Suggested Revisions to Matthew 5

First of all, Jesus, no one knows what “beatitude” means. It’s unnecessarily confusing, and I’m just going to be honest, so is a lot of your material. Can you be less mysterious? You’ll sell more books that way.

Let’s just call them blessings, right? Everyone loves blessings! Blessings sell! People will definitely read a list of how to be blessed…which means we’ve just got to tweak the list itself. Just a little. Because the way it is, people will never believe it. Not really, you know. They’ll read it every once in a while and say they believe it, but they’ll have a hard time actually living it.

We have to make these a little more realistic. I’ve just made a couple of changes.

How about this?

Blessed are the poor rich in spirit, because if the kingdom of heaven belongs to anyone it should be us.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted by clichés and easy answers.

Blessed are the meeksounds too much like weak, let’s take it out.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are righteous, because if we believe we already are there’s no need to be hungry for it.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy…from God, maybe, but less so from us. I’m just being honest. Blessed are the honest!

Blessed are the pure in heart – but more importantly the pure in outward appearances and sound bites – for they will see God be sure everyone else knows it.

Blessed are the peacemakers peacekeepers, because making peace is too much to ask.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and let’s make sure we clarify our minor grievances and people being crucified for their faith are basically the same thing.

See? Much better.

Fake News & Absolute Truth

Fake News & Absolute Truth

When it comes to news, information, and, you know, the state of the world in general, who do you listen to? Who do you trust?

When I was in high school, I trusted Mr. Fugate. He taught 11th grade American history, and my class was the last to go through before he retired. The class was legendary for its 30+ page written assignment on the 1960’s, which both prepared you for college and opened 1990’s eyes to a more turbulent time.

A year after graduation I started leading a bible study in my parents’ basement, and when the conversation turned to guest teachers Mr. Fugate was the first one nominated. He agreed, and doubled our attendance that night. I still remember him leaning forward – everyone in their seats leaning right back in anticipation – and saying, “Boys and girls, I want to ask you a question:  are you a thermostat, or a thermometer?”

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It’s dangerous to go alone.

It’s dangerous to go alone.

If I asked you who your heroes were growing up, chances are the answers would include some percentage of who you dressed up as for Halloween. They have a way of being colorful and memorable, but they’re usually not the most important characters in our stories.

When I was six, we got a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas. My grandparents wrapped the games in aluminum foil instead of wrapping paper (an option I still consider every December), but one game literally caught your eye above all others:  The Legend of Zelda, in a shiny gold box.

Zelda was (and is), above all else, a challenge. Unlike the repetition of Pac-Man or the linear progression of Super Mario Bros., Zelda immediately placed you in an open world with no directions or guidance:

LEGENDOFZELDA-07

The game begins by giving you choices and not telling you which is the “right” one. You can go east, west, or north. Or you can enter that black cave, where an old man will advise you to take a sword.

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In Brightest Day

In Brightest Day

Wonder Woman cracked $100 million at the box office this weekend while boasting a 93% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, one of the strongest superhero films on a pleasantly crowded list. Four of the five highest grossing movies this decade come from the canons of Star Wars, Marvel, and DC. The Skywalker saga is the youngest of those, and it just turned 40. Someone who saw A New Hope in theaters as a teenager could be buying their grandchildren a Wookiee onesie.

Heroes transcend generations better than just about anything else. It’s never just kids today:  when I was growing up in the 1980’s, four of the five highest grossing movies were Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Batman. We surveyed our congregation to ask about their heroes both as a child and now, and some of our members from older generations responded with The Lone Ranger, Tarzan, the Professor from Gilligan’s Island, and Steve Austin (clarified, sadly, as the Six Million Dollar Man and not the WWE Champion). Heroes are profitable in any age.

Have this conversation long enough with children of any age and it’ll eventually turn to who’s the best, who’s the strongest?

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