Bible Study 11.7.11, 11.10.11, 11.13.11 For Worship 11.20.11
Ezra 3:10-13, Nehemiah 2:11-18, 3:1-4, 4:6
Ezra 3:10 And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD, according to the directions of David king of Israel;
11 and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures for
ever toward Israel.” And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.
12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy;
13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard afar.
Nehemiah 2:11 So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days.
12 Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me; and I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. There was no beast with me but the beast on which I rode.
13 I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Jackal’s Well and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which had been destroyed by fire.
14 Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool; but there was no place for the beast that was under me to pass.
15 Then I went up in the night by the valley and inspected the wall; and I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned.
16 And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing; and I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest that were to do the work.
17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer disgrace.”
18 And I told them of the hand of my God which had been upon me for good, and also of the words which the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work.
Nehemiah 3:1 Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests and they built the Sheep Gate. They consecrated it and set its doors; they consecrated it as far as the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Tower of Hananel.
2 And next to him the men of Jericho built. And next to them Zaccur the son of Imri built.
3 And the sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate; they laid its beams and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars.
4 And next to them Meremoth the son of Uriah, son of Hakkoz repaired. And next to them Meshullam the son of Berechiah, son of Meshezabel repaired. And next to them Zadok the son of Baana repaired.
Nehemiah 4:6 So we built the wall; and all the wall was joined together to half its height. For the people had a mind to work.
During the 60 years (597 BCE – 537 BCE) the Hebrews spent as exiles in Babylon they kept alive the hope of returning to Jerusalem. Psalm 137:1-6 captures the lament of the exiles and their determination to remember and return to Zion:
137:1 By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows there we hung up our lyres.
3 For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
6 Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!
When the Babylonians were conquered by the Persians, Cyrus the Great, instituted a relatively enlightened Imperial Policy. Conquered peoples were allowed to return to their homelands, engage in limited self-rule, practice their religions, as long as they paid a reasonable tribute to the Empire. Many Jews returned to Jerusalem, but what they found upon their arrival was ruins. They had grown up with stories of the beauty and magnificence of Jerusalem and they came home to ruins — what a letdown.
Life was hard. The surrounding fields had not been cultivated. The terraces that supported agriculture in this area of hills and valleys had not been cared for. The cisterns had filled in with debris. Just finding enough to eat was a major challenge. And there were unfriendly neighbors. The Samaritans, the Amalekites, the Moabites were not happy about a colony of Jews trying to re-occupy the site of Jerusalem. The Jews wanted to rebuild the temple, but they also needed a wall for protection.
It is hard to establish a chronology for Nehemiah and Ezra. Some scholars believe Ezra may have returned to Jerusalem as early as 480 BCE. He was not among the very earliest of returnees to Jerusalem. Ezra tried to inspire the Jews in and around Jerusalem to keep the law and rebuild the temple. Most scholars believe Nehemiah was an official in the Persian Court and he was sent to Jerusalem by the Emperor to be the governor of the province about 450 BCE. Probably Nehemiah and Ezra did not overlap. Nehemiah inspired the people to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem to provide protection and to re-establish the City’s identity. In a place and time when all great Cities had defensive walls, to be without a wall was to not be a City. We need to note that the rebuilding of the Wall of Jerusalem was almost ninety years after the Jews had been allowed to start returning from Babylon. And this leads to an interesting historical footnote. The Jews did not all pick up and leave Babylon to return to Jerusalem. They filtered back. Bargil Pixner believes the family who ultimately occupied Nazareth, the family from which Jesus sprang did not come back to Palestine until about 120 BCE. They had stayed in the Tigris and Euphrates River Valley for almost 400 years before returning to Israel. Even after the Maccabees established a Jewish Kingdom in Israel, many, many Jews remained behind in the land between the two rivers. They were successful farmers, physicians, scholars in the Persian Court. Indeed, after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Babylon became the undisputed center of Jewish scholarship. The Babylonian Talmud was considered to be far superior to the Jerusalem Talmud.
The importance of our scripture from Ezra and Nehemiah is to emphasize how difficult rebuilding and repairing can be in our lives. We should note in the passage from Ezra that they were not celebrating the completion of the new temple, rather they were only celebrating the laying of the foundation of the new temple. The completion would be many, many years in the future. The few people who could still remember the original temple, were weeping with joy and sorrow, because they knew they would not survive to see the completion of the project.
Rebuilding our lives after disaster is a long, painful and effortful process. Six months after the tornado people are still trying to put their material lives back together. Spiritual recovery from that disaster for many will require years of work. When someone dies, or a relationship breaks up, divorce, can require years of spiritual work in recovery. Faith communities only rebuild slowly after disaster. When congregations suffer conflict, they often require years of rebuilding in order to recover. When spiritual communities fail to resolve their difficulties and do not revision their future they often remain crippled as organizations.
Nehemiah helps us to see what is required for re-building. Everyone has to do their part. Each person is given a section of the wall to rebuild. And they succeeded because as Nehemiah says: “So we built the wall; and all the wall was joined together to half its height. For the people had a mind to work.” If people have a mind to work, there is very little they cannot accomplish. In order to have a mind to work people have to be on the same page. They have to have a similar vision of the needs of the community, and their mission in the world. It takes a visioning process to bring a community of people to the point they have a mind to work. Nehemiah’s rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem was not unlike bringing a community of people through a capital campaign. First, the whole community has to be willing to embrace the project, and then each person has to understand his or her part in making it happen. The people have to have a mind to build.
Now in case any of us think Nehemiah had an easy task, if we read a little bit further we find out that those Samaritans, Amalekites and Moabites, were waiting for the opportunity when no one was looking to attack the Jews before the wall was completed. So the work was slowed as half the builders picked up swords, shields and spears to ward off any would be attackers, while the rest of the workers continued building. Whenever we are trying to do something significant there will be distractions. Other people will attack us even try to tear down the little bit of work we have accomplished. We need to anticipate opposition and plan ahead to protect the work from distractions.
LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT
1. What instruments did the Levites us in the dedication ceremony of the foundation of the new temple?
2. The musical Levites were known as the sons of who?
3. What did the Levites sing?
4. What were the reasons people wept?
5. What time of day did Nehemiah choose for his inspection of the wall?
6. How many different gates did Nehemiah inspect?
7. How did Nehemiah share with the people the project to rebuild the wall?
8. What system did the people settle upon for the rebuilding of the wall?
LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US
1. Have you ever attended a church dedication? What was the feeling on that occasion?
2. Have you ever been involved in a church fight?
3. What is the most devastating disaster you have experienced in your life?
4. How did you rebuild after your personal disaster?
5. How do you think communities of people develop a common vision?
6. In your experience what are the chief obstacles to a community of people owning a common vision?
7. What was the most difficult community task you have ever led?
8. When you encounter conflict or opposition in community, what is your initial reaction?
9. What role do you think prayer may play in bringing a community together?
“You say I am a king,” responded Jesus, ironically.
What does it mean to call Jesus of all people a king – maybe even an anti-king. Jesus wanted to free people from the oppression of Kings. That is why the early church adopted the slogan Jesus is Lord, in opposition to the Roman Empire that proclaimed that Caesar was Lord. So what does it mean to call Jesus, the peasant Messiah, the liberator of the poor and the meek, King of kings and Lord of lords?
One of our difficulties in trying to answer our question is there are probably as many different images of Jesus as we have people in this sanctuary? Often we treat the gospels like a blank slate and read into the character of Jesus what we want to see, rather than what Jesus said and did. We want Jesus to look like us. We want the comforting Jesus to bless us just as we are, rather than challenging us to grow and change, and follow him. We don’t want the Jesus who warns the rich and well fed, they have to take of the poor before they can enter the Kingdom of God. We don’t want the Jesus who tells the conventionally nice people that the lowlifes, the prostitutes and the druggies will enter the Kingdom before them. We don’t like that Jesus. And some folks are uncomfortable with the Jesus who hangs out with the Occupy Wall Street crowd – Occupy the Temple – Occupy the Forum — King of kings and Lord of lords?
The followers of Jesus began as a counter cultural movement following God’s Messiah to oppose the oppression, the brutality, the enforced impoverishment of the masses of the Roman Empire. But as the Jesus movement morphed into the Church, the figure of Christ was re-interpreted to be made more compatible with the needs and goals of the Empire.
Rather than a revolutionary social movement seeking justice for the poor and downtrodden, the Church focused upon the saving power of Christ for the afterlife. Jesus died for our sins as the heavenly lamb of God so we might go to heaven. Never mind changing things on earth, just keep your eye on the pie in the sky and you will be rewarded in the sweet by and by. By the time of Constantine the Church had become a tame toothless Tiger, performing tricks for its Imperial master. The Bishops had become a paid hierarchy leading the cheering section for the Emperor.
To be fair the church performed some important acts of charity and eventually ended the gladiatorial contests, and made some efforts to civilize the Empire and introduce compassion as a virtue. But for the most part the Church performed charity but never challenged the social structures of oppression that made their charity necessary. And then with the Middle Ages and the Crusades and the Inquisition the Church itself became the aggressor, the oppressor, and the persecutor – King of kings and Lord of lords?
I want to affirm the healing power of Jesus. The gospels are absolutely clear in addition to preaching the Kingdom of God Jesus healed people. He also commissioned his followers to heal people. There is healing power in prayer, and I believe Christine Kamback’s course in Reiki affirms the healing power in the laying on of hands. I am sad that in the “modern church” we have lost so much of the healing power of faith. I support modern medicine. I keep my doctor’s appointments. I try to follow my physician’s advice, and I take my medicine. And I believe the healing power of Jesus is still present in the community faith, when we pray with and for each other.
I also believe faith can empower people in the face of death. We all have to die, but how we die, whether in hope or despair is an important testimony to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. How we choose to die can have tremendous healing for our own lives, the lives of our loved ones and the community of faith that gathers as a witness to the meaning of the legacy of our lives in Christ. Remember two weeks ago we talked about our legacy of faith? That is part of how we die. And faith in the love of Jesus can give meaning and power to our deaths. We will talk about that some next week on Remembrance Sunday.
But what do we mean, when we give Jesus of all people the titles King of kings and Lord of lords. This coming Thursday evening Melvin Kilgore will begin leading a study of Robin Meyers book Saving Jesus from the Church. Meyers a United Church of Christ pastor in Oklahoma City, claims that the Church has tried to use those titles to tame Jesus – to make Jesus the otherworldly King of Heaven, rather than the rabble rousing rabbi leading the poor and dispossessed to challenge the social and economic structures that were impoverishing them.
Clearly Jesus was leading a non-violent movement – if the Roman soldier strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Although, turning the other cheek was also an act of defiance. If the Roman solider was striking you on the right cheek, and he was using his right hand, he was back handing you, the gesture of disdain from a social superior to a social inferior. If you offer the Roman soldier your left cheek, he has to strike you with the palm of his hand, the gesture of challenge between social equals.
If we examine Jesus’ teaching closely he was inspiring non-violent resistance to injustice. If the Roman soldier commands you to carry his pack one mile, your legal obligation under Roman law, then prove to him that you are free by carrying his pack two miles. He was also teaching his oppressed fellow peasants that if they would share with one another, and care for one another and love one another, there would be enough. The miracle of the feeding of the multitude was about the miracle of sharing. If everyone takes enough for their need, rather than trying to satisfy their greed, there will be enough. If we will just live simply so that others may live, we can enter the Kingdom of God here and now.
Jesus was trying to open the eyes of his people to see that they did not have to wait for a military messiah to throw the Romans out of their country. That would be nice, but if they would share and care for each other now, they could create a new social order. Also, he kept trying to tell his people, they needed to stop creating little hierarchies of holiness. I’m better than you, because I keep the law, and you are just a social outcaste, an unclean scum bag. Jesus was telling his people, if we will stop separating one another by race, class, belief, religious practice, if we will stop trying to build ourselves up, so we can look down upon others, we can transcend our circumstances and enter the Kingdom of God now! We can create a community of faith, so the Kingdom of God will be in the midst of us. The Kingdom of God is about transforming the world through love. We don’t have to wait for heaven. We just need to start loving now. Transform our world through love.
Of course loving difficult people is hard. But that is food for a different sermon. It will be enough this morning, if we can say yes to the call to follow Jesus to start loving now. It will be enough this morning if we can say yes to sharing with others and caring for others. It will be enough this morning if we can give up our little hierarchies of holiness in order to stop separating ourselves by race, class, sex, sexual orientation, belief. It will be enough this morning, if we will say yes to Jesus to start transforming our world through love.
The Thursday Night
Group is beginning a study of Robin Meyers’ new book entitled: Saving Jesus from the Church. The Study Guide below was sent to us by the
author himself. We begin our discussion
on Thursday evening November 3rd beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Jesus from the Church
Reading – Discussion Questions
Preacher’s Nightmare: Am I a Christian
1. Is Meyers’ description of a preacher’s Sunday something that you have ever given much thought about?
2. In what ways doyou identify with Meyers’ stereotype of TV evangelists?
3. Have you ever asked the question: If this is Christianity and these are Christians, I must not be one?
4. What are your thoughts/feelings about clergy celebrities who parade their wealth in public?
5. What questions about right belief (creedal faith) have plagued you during your lifetime?
6. Do you agree thatorganized (mainline) religion is dysfunctional?
7. What are your thoughts on the idea that the church has gotten it all wrong by focusing on right belief and right worship rather than service?
Chapter One: Jesus the Teacher, Not the Savior
1. Do you agree, or not, with Meyers that many folk have left the church because it lacks intellectual and historical honesty?
2. Do you agree, or not, that Christianity is not about what we believe but what we do?
3. Do you consider Biblical illiteracy to be a problem in the church? In society?
4. Do you feel “faith has become essentially an individual transaction, and the image of God is that of a personal trainer?”
5. Were you aware that scholars have found and identified twenty Gospels?
6. Is the history of Constantine’s mixing of Christ Worshipers with Sun Worshipers and how it changed Christianity new to you?
7. What are your thoughts on Crossan’s remarks about Celsus, and about Celsus’ remarks? (p. 32)
8. How would you answer Meyers’ query: What shall we offer to those who are not believers and yet wish to be followers?
Chapter Two: Faith is Being, Not Belief
1. What are your thoughts on the statement: Jesus of Nazareth was not the first Christian, for did he come bearing a list of theological propositions?
2. Do you agree or disagree that faithfulness is based on belief?
3. What are your
views of faith as Correct Worship and Right Belief?
4. Have you ever considered the other meanings of the word faith? (2nd par.-
5. Do you think of Jesus as a Jewish Carpenter or a Christian King?
6. Do you think of Jesus as a disciple of John the Baptist, and that John’s imprisonment and execution radicalized Jesus?
7. What is your understanding of the concept of the Incarnation?
8. Do your agree that we are in a time of growing biblical ignorance among many professing Christians?
9. Do you consider Jesus’ wisdom to be counter to many commonly held religious ideas.
10. Is the idea that there is no final judgment and that morality isn’t tied to rewards and punishment troublesome to you?
Chapter Three: The Cross as Futility, Not Forgiveness
1. How has your understanding of the crucifixion changed over the years?
2. Do you think Jesus’ actions during the last week of his life were political protest or theological prophecy fulfilled?
3. Do you view Mark’s gospel as history remembered or prophecy historicized?
4. How does the comment: There are now more known differences among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament; impact your thinking?
5. Does the idea of Mark’s gospel as liturgy or divine drama rather than history challenge your theology?
6. What is your interpretation of: A more modern approach is to see the cross as the death of an old way of being in the world, so that we can be raised to a new way of being?
7. Do you believe in the doctrines of The Fall, Original Sin, Blood Atonement?
8. Do you view Jesus as a subversive protesting injustice or as a sacrifice for our personal salvation?
9. Are you a humanist or a Docetist in your understanding of Jesus?
Chapter Four: Easter as Presence, Not Proof
1. At what point did you cease to be an “airport” Christian, focused only on Jesus Birth and Resurrection?
2. Were you surprised to learn that resurrection was considered a common occurrence in the ancient world but only something that happened to royalty?
3. Does the concept of the bodily resurrection being a later theological development in the early church surprise you?
4. How have you reconciled the contradictions in the Easter story between Matthew, Luke and John?
5. How have your thoughts on the Doubting Thomas story changed over the years?
6. Is the idea of the post-resurrection appearances as political instead of
historical, both in terms of Rome and power struggles among the early church leaders, new and surprising to you?
7. Your thoughts on Meyers’: But if the New Testament can be seen for what it is— the unfolding, metaphorical witness of a community unalterably changed by the life, death, and abiding presence of Jesus, then it all represents an act of supreme devotion.
8. Is the idea that the doctrine of bodily resurrection (enforced by Tertullian) as a method of establishing orthodoxy and eliminating other ideas one you had conidered before?
9. Your thoughts on the concept that the Resurrection story of the early church was a political rallying cry to continue the revolt started by Jesus against Rome.
10. Do you agree with Meyers that the word Christian has become synonymous with hypocrisy, mean-spiritedness, and conspicuous consumption?
Chapter 5: Original Blessing, not Original Sin
1. Do you accept the mythology of Original Sin (why/why not)?
2. What impact did Augustine and the Manicheans have on Christian Theology?
3. What are your thoughts on the three options discussed in the last paragraph on page 100?
4. Do you agree that the clergy have failed the laity in teaching about the Bible?
5. What meaning do you take from the Genesis stories?
6. Are simplistic literalism and dualism a necessary evil of
maintaining a civil society?
7. What are the dangers of terminal false dichotomies or its opposite
radical relativism for our world? (Is life a battle to win or lose or a
journey toward wisdom?)
8. Do you agree that most Christians see faith as believing stuff in order toget stuff?
9. Your thoughts on Salvation is about transformation in this life, not a
change of destination in the next and original sin is a theology of entrapment, not liberation?
10. Your thoughts on the ideas expressed on page 115 of: the language of war in the language of salvation; ours is a theology of entitlement; and culture of irresponsibility; etc?
11. What are the implications of a new reformation grounded in a doctrine of faith as praxis (following Jesus not worshiping Christ)?
Chapter 6: Christianity as Compassion, Not Condemnation
1. In what ways do you see worship as performance and a substitute for action?
2. What are your thoughts on there being no theology in Jesus’ instructions to his
3. Do you agree that the church has converted the subversive wisdom of Jesus into
the neutral energy of Christ, just blessing what we do?
4. Your thoughts on: The peddling of fear in any form as incentive to faith remains the most egregious sin that can be committed in the name of Jesus.
5. Your thoughts on: Worshiping Christ keeps us locked into theological battles over who is right and who is wrong.
6. Your thoughts on faith as compassion rather than perfection or mercy? (P. 126)
7. Do you agree/disagree that the criteria for judgment is ethical rather than theological? Or that judgment really isn’t involved in our faith at all?
8. Your thoughts on being born again meaning to escape the prison of theself rather than getting into heaven.
9. What are your thoughts/feelings about the value and purpose of communion considering it was a full meal in its original form?
10. What are your positive and negative perspectives on mixing religion and politics? With speaking truth to power?
Chapter 7: Discipleship as Obedience, not Observance
1. In what ways has our congregation succumbed to marketing a popular faith to serve the customer instead of challenging people to serve God?
2. In your experience do most folk experience Jesus as a radically disturbing presence or a cosmic comforter?
3. What are you willing to give up to follow Jesus?
4. How do we raise up the idea of obeying God and break down the desire to require belief or to enshrine Jesus?
5. What are your thoughts on: the gospel is a stunningly political document buried under centuries of sentimental interpretations?
6. What is your answer to the question: How, then, are we to be followers of Jesus today, when Christ is reclining at the banquet of the Pax Americana?
7. Your thoughts on: Today, the church itself is occupied by the gospel of the marketplace, and sacred space is increasingly indistinguishable from secular space.
8. Do you agree that the church is plagued with a virulent strain of
9. Have you ever considered the Lord’s Prayer as being about politics, imperial power and communal economics rather than theology, heaven and individual salvation?
10. Do you agree that to be a follower of Jesus means to be aliens in a foreign land; a community that should not feel at home in the world
Chapter 8: Justice as Covenant, Not Control
1. In your life’s experience how has religion changed from being generally a cohesive to a divisive social force?
2. Do you consider radical politics, social & technological change or outdated theology to be the major cause of declining church membership?
3. Do your consider wisdom theology or salvation theology to be more
important; more marketable; more a reflection of Jesus ministry?
4. Does our society currently have a unifying vision or are we beginning to atrophy in a self-absorbed soup of gamesmanship and greed?
5. Is the idea of a general social covenant possible in our modern diverse culture?
6. Do you ever give thought to the Lord’s Prayer as a political and economic statement rather than a theological one?
7. Do you agree that our theology of salvation caters to the individual at the expense of community?
8. Has America lost sight of the concept of the common good?
9. What are your thoughts on the idea that the religious right wishes to establish a theocracy?
10. Do you agree that a great deal of religious doctrine is born of a desire to control those around us?
11. What are the complications of teaching faith as a belief system characterized by certainty?
12. Do you agree that there can be no peace as long as there are Fundamentalisms?
Chapter 9: Prosperity as Dangerous, Not Divine
1. What are your thoughts on the Gospel of Greed preached in many churches and on TV?
2. How do we (as a church) deal with the idea that abundant life is the
same as material wealth?
3. What are the complications of following the early church’s model of sharing everything for Christians in our modern society?
4. In what ways can the church model an alternative to the accumulation of wealth and stuff?
5. What are your thoughts on the idea that God will reward your giving to the church with greater personal wealth?
6. Is our modern capitalist economy by its very nature anti-Christian?
7. In what ways should the church be challenging our energy intensive lifestyles?
8. Should we be moving toward Bonhoffer’s religionless Christianity?
9. What are the church’s roles and options dealing with poverty and hunger?
10. What kinds of political action/advocacy should the church be involved in dealing with the ethical issues of our day?
11. What are our options if we chose to be a sustainable congregation?
Chapter 10: Religion as Relationship, Not Righteousness
1. If the church is as it relates, where do our relationships break down in our Congregation?
2. What is your reaction to the Bible was not written for you or me?
3. Do you view Jesus/Christ as totally human, half human-half divine, or totally divine?
4. From your perspective do most Christians encounter God as I-Thou or as I-It?
5. Considering Buber’s Hebrew-Humanism do you think we should promote a Christian-Humanism?
6. In what ways has our society/culture turned God into a tribal Deity? The bible into a Deity?
7. Have the moderate/mainline congregations lost their prophetic voice?
8. Do you agree/disagree that we must move beyond the Bible? Beyond historic theologies?
9. What are your reflections on: The old way of being Christian in the world cannot stand; and a new way cannot be avoided if the faith is to endure and the human race to survive.
Epilogue: A Preachers Dream: Faith is Following Jesus
1. What books and/or authors influenced your early faith journey?
2. What are some of the legacies of following Jesus in our congregation?
3. Are we a congregation more focused on worshiping Christ or following Jesus?
4. What do you think the church should look like? Be about? How do we make it happen?
Bible Study 10.31.11, 11.3.11, 11.6.11 For Worship 11.13.11
II Chronicles 20:14-30
II Chronicles 20:14 And the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly.
15 And he said, “Hearken, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the LORD to you, ‘Fear not, and be not dismayed at this great multitude; for the battle is not yours but God’s.
16 Tomorrow go down against them; behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz; you will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel.
17 You will not need to fight in this battle; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Fear not, and be not dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the LORD will be with you.”
18 Then Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the LORD, worshiping the LORD.
19 And the Levites, of the Kohathites and the Korahites, stood up to praise the LORD, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice.
20 And they rose early in the morning and went out into the wilderness of Tekoa; and as they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the LORD your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.”
21 And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the LORD and praise him in holy array, as they went before the army, and say, “Give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
22 And when they began to sing and praise, the LORD set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed.
23 For the men of Ammon and Moab rose against the inhabitants of Mount Seir, destroying them utterly, and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they all helped to destroy one another.
24 When Judah came to the watchtower of the wilderness, they looked toward the multitude; and behold, they were dead bodies lying on the ground; none had escaped.
25 When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take the spoil from them, they found cattle in great numbers, goods, clothing, and precious things, which they took for themselves until they could carry no more. They were three days in taking the spoil, it was so much.
26 On the fourth day they assembled in the Valley of Beracah, for there they blessed the LORD; therefore the name of that place has been called the Valley of Beracah to this day.
27 Then they returned, every man of Judah and Jerusalem, and Jehoshaphat at their head, returning to Jerusalem with joy, for the LORD had made them rejoice over their enemies.
28 They came to Jerusalem, with harps and lyres and trumpets, to the house of the LORD.
29 And the fear of God came on all the kingdoms of the countries when they heard that the LORD had fought against the enemies of Israel.
30 So the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet, for his God gave him rest round about.
Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat! We’ve all heard his name at least as a kind of expletive. Who was he? Why remember him? Jehoshaphat was a King of Judah who reigned for twenty-five years from 873 – 849 BC. Jehoshaphat spent the first years of his reign fortifying his kingdom against Israel (2 Chronicles 17:1-2). The Bible lauds the king for overcoming sexual corruption (1 Kings 22:47), and for destroying the cult images or “idols” of Baal in the land. In the third year of his reign Jehoshaphat sent out priests and Levites over the land to instruct the people in the Law (2 Chronicles 17:7-9), and this is why he is remembered as a good King. The author of 2 Chronicles generally praises his reign, stating that the kingdom enjoyed a great measure of peace and prosperity, the blessing of God resting on the people “in their basket and their store.”
Jehoshaphat also pursued alliances with his contemporaries ruling the northern kingdom, the first being with Ahab, which was based on marriage: Jehoshaphat married his son Jehoram to Athaliah, daughter of Ahab (2 Kings 8:18). This alliance led to much disgrace, and brought disaster on his kingdom (1 Kings 22:1-33) with the Battle of Ramoth-Gilead. While Jehoshaphat safely returned from this battle, he was confronted by the prophet Jehu, son of Hanani, (2 Chronicles 19:1-3) about this alliance. We are told that Jehoshaphat repented, and returned to his former course of opposition to all idolatry, and promoting the worship of God and in the government of his people (2 Chronicles 19:4-11).
He subsequently joined Jehoram, king of Israel, in a war against the Moabites, who were under tribute to Israel. This war was successful. The Moabites were subdued, but seeing Mesha‘s act of offering his own son in a human sacrifice on the walls of Kir-haresheth filled Jehoshaphat with horror, and he withdrew and returned to his own land. We need to remember that human sacrifice was practiced even in Judah down to the time of Josiah. During the reign of Josiah is probably when the story of the sacrifice of Isaac became inserted into the Genesis narrative.
The last notable event of his reign occurred when the Moabites formed a great and powerful confederacy with the surrounding nations, and marched against Jehoshaphat (2 Chr. 20). The allied forces were encamped at Ein Gedi. The king and his people were filled with alarm, and betook themselves to God in prayer. The king prayed in the court of the temple, “O our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do; but our eyes are upon you.” Amid the silence that followed, the voice of Jahaziel the Levite was heard announcing that the next day all this great host would be overthrown. So it was, for they quarreled among themselves, and slew one another, leaving to the people of Judah only to gather the rich spoils of the slain. This was recognized as a great deliverance wrought for them by God.
The story of Jehoshaphat tells the story of a good King who tried to promote faithfulness to Yahweh in Judah, at the same time Ahab and his house were promoting Baal worship in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. We should note that Jehoshaphat would have been contemporary with the Prophet Elijah. Judah, however, was smaller, less affluent and had less military power than its wealthier neighbor to the North. It should be noted that despite Judah’s aid to the Israelites in the defeat of the Moabites, when push came to shove, and the Moabites were threatening to invade Judah, the Israelites were nowhere to be seen. Our story, however, is a tale of hope. We do need to take precautions when there are enemies around, but sometimes the folks who threaten us most will be their own undoing in the end. So often, when enemies confront us, we get all ginned up and over-react or rush into the conflict half prepared, or half –informed, when God is trying to whisper in our ear: “You will not need to fight in this battle; take your position, standstill, and see the victory of the LORD on your behalf.”
Sort of like Psalm 37:1 A Psalm of David. Fret not yourself because of the wicked, be not envious of wrongdoers!
2 For they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.
3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will dwell in the land, and enjoy security.
4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.
6 He will bring forth your vindication as the light, and your right as the noonday.
7 Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over him who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!
8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
9 For the wicked shall be cut off; but those who wait for the LORD shall possess the land.
10 Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look well at his place, he will not be there.
11 But the meek shall possess the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.
LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT
1. Who was inspired to prophecy in our story?
2. From what tribe did he come?
3. With whom was Jehoshaphat preparing for battle?
4. Where were the Moabites encamped?
5. What pass did the prophet predict the Moabites would use to approach Jerusalem.
6. What advice for battle did the prophet give to Jehoshaphat.
7. In the Moabite alliance, who ended up fighting whom?
8. What did Jehoshaphat and his army collect on the battle field?
9. What was the consequence of Jehoshaphat’s faithfulness?
LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US
1. How did the spirit choose someone to speak through?
2. Have you ever prepared for a big confrontation, and then there was no conflict after all?
3. What challenges in your life are you the most anxious about?
4. What is your most persistent spiritual struggle?
5. If you had been Jehoshaphat and a large army was approaching, what would you do?
6. Can you think of anything Jesus said or did, that reminds you of the story of Jehoshaphat?
7. If your enemies do themselves in, have you loved your enemy.
8. Do you ever find yourself fretting over the actions of people who don’t like you?
9. According to Jesus do you think it is always a good thing to avoid a conflict?
How do you relate the example of Jesus to the Story of Jehos
Josiah was only eight years old, when he inherited the throne. His education and training then was given over to several priests and prophets. He grew up revering the temple and the God of Israel Yahweh. When he was 18, Josiah ordered a refurbishment of the Temple. Sort of like United Church they had a leaky roof, and the floor needed repair in places. One of the workmen found a loose stone in the floor, and when he lifted it up in order to put down mortar to hold it in place, he found a scroll under the floor.
The Chief priest gave the scroll to the King’s scribe Shaphan, who read it to Josiah. The scroll contained most of the content of our present book of Deuteronomy, and upon hearing the word of Moses Josiah was struck to the heart, and ordered a religious reform throughout the entire Kingdom. He banished the cult prostitutes from the temple. He removed all of the idols from Jerusalem, and proceeded to the cult center of Bethel, where he removed the golden calves that had been set up by King Jeroboam. Idolatrous priests who refused to worship Yahweh only were executed and their bones burned upon their altars in order to desecrate them. Josiah proclaimed that sacrifices could only be offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, an order designed to extend his control over the area formerly occupied by the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He removed the altars in the Hinnom Valley south of Jerusalem, where people had sacrificed infants as burnt offerings to the God Molech.
Josiah also ordered that Passover should be celebrated as provided for in the scroll of Deuteronomy. Under the reforms of Josiah the faith of the Hebrews began to look like a recognizable form of monotheism. When we read about the number of people, who were executed during Josiah’s reform, we might be tempted to believe that Josiah was narrow intolerant. But as we will discuss in the sermon, without the intolerance of Josiah, monotheism might never have been established among the Jews.
So in the history of Israel Josiah was considered to be a great King. But at the end of his reign Josiah did something really dumb. Judah had extended its borders from Beersheva in the South to Megiddo and the Jezreal Valley in the North. Now remember Judah was a very small country caught between two Empires. Egypt was South and West of Judah. Babylon was North and East in the Tigris and Euphrates River Valley. Egypt believed that the best defense was a good offense, so Pharaoh Necco raised an army and proceeded to march toward Babylon. He sent a nice note asking Josiah for permission to pass through the Jezreel Valley since that was really the only reasonable way to get from Egypt to Babylon. Josiah refused, and he raised an army and marched to Megiddo with the intention of cutting off the Egyptians.
Judah was much much smaller than Egypt. Josiah’s army was miniscule in comparison to Pharaoh Necco. Why? Josiah could have stayed safely behind his walls in Megiddo, but he marched his army out onto the flat plain of the Jezreel Valley to challenge the Egyptians. The Egyptian archers sent a rain of arrows toward Josiah’s chariot and he was mortally wounded and died. Thus ended the career of Josiah, the King the Hebrew chroniclers credited as one of the best monarchs most faithful to Yahweh in Israel’s history.
I believe the story of Josiah can offer us two important insights. First, and this may be a challenge for our tradition of tolerance at United Church, if Josiah had not been a little bit intolerant, monotheism, the belief in one God and one God only may never have taken root in Judaism.
We need to remember that idolatry had been ubiquitous throughout the history of Israel. When Josiah set about to end the worship of false gods in his realm, he undertook a major challenge. There were fertility cults, where the gods were worshipped by visiting cult prostitutes both male and female. Given human appetites for sexual diversity this was a really popular form of worship. Then there was Baal the god of wealth and prosperity – always a popular god even today. Many of the false gods worshipped by the Israelites are still around today.
There are the gods and goddesses of sex appeal so omnipresent in our advertising. Just look at the slinky model draped over the hood of a car and tell me sex doesn’t sell. Or in an era, when newspapers and news magazines are disappearing, the slick glamor magazine is still in publishing. And the gossip rags that appeal to prurient interests are still out there.
Then there is the god of prosperity and wealth that has even invaded parts of the church – prosperity religion. Just pray, attend worship, give your tithes and offerings and God will make you rich. Name it and claim it and wealth can be yours.
Then there are the gods of military superiority that entice us to spend billions on weapons and venture off into questionable foreign wars. Peace is our profession. Mike Stroud is always so faithful in reminding us of the enticements and spiritual dangers of idolatry.
So as we consider Josiah’s “intolerance” maybe we can ask ourselves whether or not we should be more concerned about idolatry in our culture today. Now let me be clear. I don’t think we should execute other people because they might believe differently from us. With the diversity of beliefs in this congregation we might take out over half the congregation. I don’t believe we should engage in street protests or picket the prosperity religion churches. What would that accomplish? We can refuse to purchase products that use exploitive advertising. We can identify racism, sexism, and militarism as forms of idolatry. We can raise consciousness about the spiritual dangers of the unquestioned idolatry in our culture. So let’s be conscious of the idolatry without becoming violently intolerant.
The second lesson I want to draw from the story of Josiah is to try to understand what drove him to challenge Pharaoh Necco in the Jezreel Valley. At least in hindsight this was so obviously stupid, what compelled him to adopt such a foolish course of action? I think the key to understanding the down fall of Josiah was intolerance. His “intolerance” may have helped to secure for us the heritage of monotheism, but his fanaticism contributed to his destruction. You see over time intolerance breeds arrogance, or perhaps intolerance arises out of arrogance. God is on my side, I must be right, those who oppose me must be wrong, and they must be punished.
Mixing pride and faith can lead us down the slippery slope of assuming God is on our side. Whenever we start to make the assumption that we know God is taking sides we need to remember the humility of Abraham Lincoln. When approached by a pious minister who said to Lincoln he “hoped the Lord is on our side,” the president responded, “I am not at all concerned about that…. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.” And in Lincoln’s second inaugural address we can see his understanding of God working in history was nuanced:
Both [North and South] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.
Pride and Piety remind me of a story Rabbi Miller shared with me. It was the day before Yom Kippur the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, and getting ready for the important day the Rabbi was standing before the Ark of the Covenant bowing and repeating, “God I am nothing, I am nothing.”
Inspired by his example, Cantor who was walking through the sanctuary walked up next to the Rabbi and began bowing and praying, “Oh Lord, I am nothing, I am nothing.”
In walks the custodian and when he sees the Rabbi and the Cantor praying, he too begins to bow and say, “Oh God, I am nothing, I am nothing.”
When the Cantor heard the custodian, he lifted an eyebrow, nudged the Rabbi and said, “look who thinks he’s nothing.”
Humility can keep us from a multitude of sins. Piety can be a good thing, but when it becomes mixed with arrogance, it becomes the worst kind of self-righteousness. Remember Jesus’ story about the Pharisee and the Tax Collector?
Two men went into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a Tax Collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed like this to himself. “God I thank you that I am not like other people drug dealers, punks, whores, loan sharks, or even like this tax collector over here. I fast twice a week, pray every day, why I even give tithes of all that I get.
But the tax collector would not even lift his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast praying: “Lord be merciful to me a sinner.” I tell you, continued Jesus, it was the tax collector who went home at peace with God rather than the Pharisee, because the one who is confident of his righteousness will not be forgiven, but the one who humbles himself will find forgiveness.
Piety can lead to spiritual growth. Prayer, Bible Study, worship, in a couple of weeks we will talk about the role of praise in our spiritual lives, all of these things can lead to solid spiritual formation. But piety, that is overly concerned with the right belief, or correct practice, or being very observant about the minutia and details of the rules, can lead us into arrogance. I do it right, and any other way is wrong.
My guess is when Josiah went forth to challenge Pharaoh Necco in the Jezreel Valley he was tumbling down the slippery slope of assuming that God was on his side. Surely God was going to give him victory, because after all Josiah had been so faithful in following Yahweh and in opposing the idolaters in his Kingdom. Piety is not a substitute for using good sense. Never take a knife to a gun fight. If the other guy has a bigger army, sit down and count the cost, before assuming God will intervene on your behalf.
We must never assume we know what God is up to. Be faithful. Pray. Worship. Perform acts of kindness and charity expecting nothing in return. For God makes the sun to rise on the righteous and the unrighteous and his rain to fall on the bad as well as the good. And above all let your prayers be informed by good sense and a discerning mind.
Bible Study 10.24.11, 10.27.11, 10.30.11 For Worship 11.6.11
150:1 Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament!
2 Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his exceeding greatness!
3 Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp!
4 Praise him with timbrel and dance; praise him with strings and pipe!
5 Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
6 Let everything that breathes praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!
Psalm 150 is the closing selection in the Book of Psalms. It is a doxology chosen to end the book of liturgy of the Hebrew Scriptures. In other apocryphal collections of Psalms there are as many as 155 Psalms. Psalm 150 is part of the Morning Prayer ritual in Judaism. Every verse mentions praise at least twice. There are six different musical instruments mentioned in this Psalm (sorry Church of Christ.) Let’s take a moment and look at those instruments, since some of them may be different from what we use today. The ancient trumpet did not have valves, so several different horns of different lengths and shapes may have been employed to form a horn section. We also do not know if the Psalm refers to cast metal horns or the horns of animals, especially sheep as in the shofar is still blown in Jewish worship to commence the New Year. The lute looked something like a primitive guitar, a stringed instrument that could be plucked or strummed. The ancient harp was a hand held device with fewer strings than today’s concert harp. The harp was different from the lute, because it had no sound board. Timbrel was a percussive instrument like the tambourine. Drums are not mentioned, but the cymbals provided some percussion and accent to music. The pipe was probably a flute like instrument, thus providing a wood wind sound. Psalm 150 also mentions sacred dance or movement as part of the ritual of worship and praise.
The Psalm seems simple and repetitious like much modern praise music. But perhaps some of us who see ourselves as more “sophisticated than that,” need to take a hint from the inclusion of this Psalm in the Ritual of Morning Prayer in Judaism. Praise is important, because praise changes us. Praise is a reminder that God is God and we are not. Later in the year I will talk about how praise is the key to developing humility. For this week, because we are approaching Thanksgiving I want to lift up the truth that praise is the foundation for thanksgiving and gratitude. So often in our modern culture we consider everything to be a gimme, food on the table, a roof over our head, heating and air conditioning, a car that works, good health, appropriate clothing – all things we have come to expect. As a result we seldom stop to say, “thank you,” and that breeds arrogance, tight-fistedness, and a spirit of entitlement. These negative attitudes that grow out of our lack of praise leads to pessimism, grief, depression, selfishness, and miserliness.
Especially since this Psalm is the scripture for Remembrance Sunday I want to lift up the importance of praise even in grief. Of course, when we are grieving, we experience, anger, sadness, and loss. We do not want to deny these very real and appropriate feelings in the midst of our loss. Even as we pause to remember loved ones gone, we can embrace praise as the way back to life, love and God. I am thinking of some of my favorite hymns for funerals:
For All the Saints
For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
In the Bulb There Is a Flower
In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
These are songs about grief and loss, but they are also songs of praise, praise that can lift our spirits and point to God who is the source of all our healing. In all things we offer thanks and praise.
LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT
1. Who or what is praised in Psalm 150?
2. Who all in the Psalm is directed to offer praise?
3. Where does the Psalm direct that praise should be offered?
4. How many times does the Psalm use the word “praise?”
5. How many different musical instruments does the Psalm mention?
6. According to the Psalm what other art forms besides musical instruments should be used to praise God?
LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF US
1. What are your rituals of praise?
2. Do you have a daily ritual of praise?
3. For what are you most thankful to God?
4. What is your favorite hymn?
5. How many different kinds of instruments have you ever heard in the context of worship?
6. Have you ever encountered movement in worship?
7. What is your favorite song or hymn in a grief context?
8. Are there any liturgies or other devotional practices that you find helpful that are repetitive?
9. Are there any worship practices that help you keep your ego in check?
Hezekiah is given credit for having been a good King of Judah. Many scholars believe that Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 9:6 “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. . .’” was the prophetic word Isaiah gave to King Asa, before Hezekiah’s birth.
Hezekiah listened to Isaiah and the other prophets of his court. He strengthened the Broad Wall of Jerusalem, a portion of it still visible in the Jewish Quarter today, and ordered the construction of a tunnel to bring the water of the Gihon Spring into the City, that allowed Jerusalem to withstand the siege of the Assyrian Army.
If you visit Jerusalem today, you can still walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel knee deep in water, from the entrance of the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam. Hezekiah is also credited for cleaning up the temple, banishing the worship of the Canaanite fertility gods, removing idols from the temple, and instituting the observance of the Passover. Because he listened to the prophets, he didn’t always do what they advised, but he at least listened, Hezekiah was credited as a good King.
At the end of the story of Hezekiah, however, there was a very curious incident. The King fell ill, so sick, he feared for his life. He prayed to God, and by a miracle he was healed. When the King of Babylon heard of Hezekiah’s illness he sent emissaries with a gift and best wishes for a speedy recovery. Hezekiah welcomed the emissaries and like a dummy showed them his whole treasure room and all of his storehouses. And when the prophet Isaiah heard of this he went to the King and said the Babylonians will come someday to take away all that you have shown them. They will destroy Jerusalem and many of your descendants will be hauled away to Babylon as slaves. But this won’t happen until after you die.
Then said Hezekiah to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD which you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?” What is curious is Hezekiah’s shortsightedness. Oh, well, so what if the nation will be destroyed at least it won’t happen in my time.
I lift this scripture up because I think many people in our culture share Hezekiah’s shortsighted attitude. Oh, well it doesn’t really matter, because it won’t happen in my time. Oh, well, I’ve got mine, let everyone else, including future generations, fend for themselves.
As I look at Hezekiah’s statement I am reminded of the English Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, when he returned from the Munich Conference in 1938, where he sold out Czechoslovakia to Hitler. When he landed in London and got off the plane from Munich he famously said, “Peace in our time.” Of course we know there was no peace. Chamberlain’s sell out of the Czechs only propelled Hitler to invade Poland the next year starting World War II – peace in our time.
Human beings have a tendency to be short sighted. We look to our own selfish enjoyment and comfort in the present, and we don’t consider the consequences of our actions upon future generations. Go ahead and run up the deficit, someone else will pay for it. Fossil fuels? They’ll last until I’m dead and gone. Effects of climate change? I’ll be gone before the Ice Caps melt completely, and Florida is underwater. There are people who are unemployed, without medical care, hungry, homeless? Well, I’ve got mine, let them take care of themselves.
Selfish shortsightedness is irresponsible and unethical. Jesus taught us that we have a responsibility to others as well as ourselves. We also have responsibilities to future generations. As Christians we need to be concerned about our legacy, what will we leave behind for others? Will we leave a mess? Will we leave a polluted environment with all of its natural resources depleted? Will we leave behind an inheritance of injustice, discrimination, and an impoverished middle class? What kind of world will we leave for those who come after us?
I think we also need to consider our legacy as a faith community. Are we going to leave behind a bold and courageous understanding of the faith that reaches out to the needs of people in our community and the world? Are we going to stand as a people of God who welcome everyone? As a faith community will we embrace our better angels sacrificially giving to the needs of others who represent the least and the lost? As the people of God will we share our faith with the unchurched in an increasingly secular world? Will we overcome our natural shyness to actually tell someone else about the difference God has made in our lives? Are we willing to change in order to be able to connect with a younger generation, who are open to Jesus, but don’t like the church?
On a practical level, will we leave behind a leaking roof, dingy classrooms, rotting siding, and crippled heating and cooling units? All of these questions are part of our legacy as a faith community. Will we roll up our sleeves, pitch in, make some sacrifices and claim the high calling of our faith, or will we like Hezekiah say, “Not to worry, it will all be O.K. as long as I’m around. Let someone else worry about the leaking roof. Let someone else be concerned about reaching out and welcoming the unchurched. If the air-conditioning units fail, I’ll just skip a few Sundays in the summer. Don’t call me, I’ll call you.” Will that be our legacy as a faith community?
As long as we’re on the subject of fixing roofs, I am reminded of a story from a small country church, that had one wealthy member. At a congregational meeting called to discuss the need for fixing the roof, the wealthy member stood up and said that while the ceiling looked cracked he saw no need to commence immediate repairs. At that very moment, as luck would have it, a small piece of plaster feel from the ceiling and struck the wealthy member on the shoulder. The man looked up, then looked at the congregation and said, “I will pledge $1,000 to help repair the roof.” As the man sat down, another larger piece of plaster fell and hit him on the head. The man looked up at the ceiling stood up turned around to look at the congregation and said, “I will raise my pledge to $10,000 for the repair of the roof.” At that point an elderly widow was heard to mumble, “hit him again Lord, hit him again.”
It’s all about legacy. What will you leave behind? And remember the story about John D. Rockefeller’s accountant. When Rockefeller died, he was the richest man who had ever lived – 1.5 billion dollars. And if you adjust his estate for inflation, he is still the richest man who has ever lived. His fortune as a percentage of the GDP of the entire nation makes Gates and Buffet’s money look like chump change. When he died, the reporters asked his accountant how much the old man had left behind. And the accountant smiled and replied, “all of it. All of it.” Believe me, my friends the same answer will apply to all of us.
The question then is legacy. What will we leave behind, when we shuffle off this mortal coil. And our most important legacy is not what we put in our wills or our trust, it’s not primarily about money, but the moral, ethical and faith inheritance we leave behind for others. Each of us will have a personal legacy of acts of kindness, charity, generosity, good will, that others will observe and from which they will learn. Remember a very important legacy to establish is an inheritance of tolerance and forgiveness. Do other people experience us accepting others and forgiving others? “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Especially in this time of acrimony and division, practicing tolerant forgiving behavior is an important legacy to give to our families and our communities. In this time of uncertainty and anxiety and fear, to practice charity and generosity is another important inheritance to give to our families and our community.
Perhaps most important will be the legacy of faith we offer to others as we live our lives in community. In a world where it seems everyone is becoming spiritual but not religious, keeping alive the faith stories of our tradition is an important cultural contribution. Walking with one another in a common faith journey, praying with and for each other as a community is another important spiritual contribution to the future. This week on the United Church Bible Study page there was a conversation about what you all did last Sunday. And in a discussion about religious language one person wrote: I am looking for a similar path that you describe, as far as understanding religious language. I want to learn and understand. I’m at a stage where I am “figuratively” grabbing the dictionary to look up the meaning of the words so that I can think about them, absorb them, decide what they mean to me. . . I am glad to be on this journey with all of you and I try to picture what the end of the path will be like for me.
“I am glad to be on this journey with all of you. . .” that is church at its best. Let us walk with each other in the way of Jesus and create a legacy of faith for others.