Saturday, January 27, 2007

Blogging (and Living) Week in Review: No, I'm Not Picking My Nose...

in this edition of the Blogging Week in Review. The tip of my nose itched.

And why all the movement? I'm sitting on a blue exercise ball, which I often use as a seat while working at the computer. I tend to roll around on it while I talk. (Someday, I may come crashing down on me bum. But so far, that hasn't happened.)

The lighting is a bit better this week. My son is puzzled as to why YouTube seems to make the videos he uploads darker than they appear on his computer.

Finally, we're still not sure why stuff gets cut off at the end. So, let me tell you what I said when taped, "God bless!"

Friday, January 26, 2007

What If the Iraqis Were Asked to Vote on a Continued US Presence in Their Country?

What would they say? Those intriguing thoughts are raised by this post. The guy who wrote it has a particular axe to grind. I don't; I'm not advocating anything in the way of policy here.

But, given that Iraq has held several successful elections, it isn't entirely implausible to believe that they could hold a successful nationwide poll or referendum on a continuing US presence there.

If the Iraqis voted that we should stay, what impact would that have on US public opinion or US policy?

And what if they wanted us to go?

I obviously don't know how the Iraqi people feel or how we might respond to a vote on this matter. But as we weigh future US policy in Iraq, it would be interesting to know what the Iraqis think.

Amazing Ministry

Here is the story of a pastor from our county who's an Army chaplain in Iraq. Amazing!

Can Gingrich Win?

It's hard to see how except that he's so stinking smart.

Other Musicians to Check Out...

Mark Clarke, Cloudchase, Hoi, and the incredible Sam Phillips.

Whatever your thoughts on abortion...

and I would call myself pro-life, Amba's reflections on her own experience of abortion are worth reading.

For another perspective, see here.

Beautiful Music...

from Angela Josephine.

Robey Asks, "What am I Doing Wrong?"

Not a thing. You're doing just fine!

Ron Claussen Now Has Daily Devotions...

on his web site.

How God Guides

That's the topic of this series from the extraordinary Mark Roberts. Read each installment.

One Blogging Friend Takes Another Blogging Friend to Task

That would be Andrew Jackson and Hugh Hewitt. Hugh does seem to be engaging in a bit wishful spinning, frequently dissing John McCain while boosting his guy, Mitt Romney.

"Harriet is believeable as a Christian because she's flawed."

That's Jan of TheViewfromHer writing about Harriet Hayes, TV's sympathetically-drawn Christian character. Read the whole thing.

As the bumper sticker says, "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven."

Tapped Out, Done In, Depressed, At the End of Your Rope?

Good! (At least it can be good.)

Also see here.

John T. Brown Celebrates Australia Day

Here.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

As Ohio Goes, So Goes the Nation

I believe that the Ohio General Assembly should schedule our presidential primary for early January, 2008, even before the New Hampshire primary. I'll tell you why. But first, a little background.

Motivated partly by a desire to maximize their state's impact on the two party's nominating processes, California is moving to hold its presidential primary in February, 2008. Historically, the California primary has been held in June, often well after the nominees have been decided by other states' primaries and caucuses.

Nevada, another Western state, has already decided to caret its caucus between the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, the leadoff events in the Republican and Democratic Party's nominating processes since 1976, when an obscure former Georgia governor named Jimmy Carter won the Democratic contest in Iowa.

There have long been complaints that states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, another early participant in the nominating process, are less than representative of the country. In addition, various regions have complained that they have been underrepresented in the early phases of the campaigns, when momentum elevates some candidates and eliminates others long before their voters go to the polls.

But I wonder, is California any more representative of the country than New Hampshire?

California is, of course, the largest state in the country. It has 12% of the membership of the US House of Representatives. And 10.2% of the Electoral College membership comes from the state. It's true that many of the trends that eventually overtake the country originate there. All of these facts can be offered as indications that an early California primary makes sense.

However, if places like New Hampshire and Iowa put a premium on organization and personal pressing of the flesh by candidates, California gives advantages to the candidates with lots of money. You win contested primaries in California with lots of TV ads in the state's many major markets. Furthermore, California is probably far bluer than the rest of the country, even on the Republican side of the ledger.

California then, is no more representative of the rest the country than Iowa or New Hampshire, maybe less so, and it virtually eliminates candidates with less money from the race for their party's nomination.

Barring a move to a national primary, it seems to me that it would be best if the earliest primary contests happened in states more representative of the country, swing states that have a proven track record of going with the winners in presidential general elections, states whose demographic make-up is close to that of the country as a whole.

Ohio fits those specifications. Consider:
  • There have been 51 presidential elections since 1804. Ohio has voted with the winner 43 times, an unmatched predictor of electoral success, an 84.3% success rate. Since 1960, that rate goes to 92% and since 1972, when the parties began instituting their post-Watergate reforms, the number is 100%! The well-worn cliche is, "As Ohio goes, so goes the nation." That's why in the late-1800s, so many successful major party nominees were from Ohio. (Not all were very successful Presidents, however.) It's why even today, candidates spend so much time, money, and effort here.
  • Ohio is far more urbanized than the rest of the country, with 277.3 people per square mile, compared with 79.6 people for the country as a whole. But in other categories, Ohio well matches the rest of the country. Just look at the most recent numbers from the US Census Bureau. Ohio is far more representative of the country and is thus far likelier to produce candidates that will elicit enthusiasm from the country than any other state. Industry, service companies, education and research, and agriculture are all well-represented in the state. Columbus, the state's capital and largest city, has long been considered an ideal place to test market products and services because it's so reflective of the country as a whole.
Because it's geographically compact, candidates can cover and organize the state more readily than they can in California. Because it's so urbanized, it also requires substantial media investments. In a way, Ohio is like New Hampshire and California, like Iowa and New Jersey. In other words, it's like America.

For more than two-hundred years, Ohio has been a bellwether for the rest of the country. Giving it the first primary or one of the earliest primaries of the season makes sense if we want to get candidates to which the whole country can warm, candidates who will win in the fall. It's still true that as Ohio goes, so goes the nation.

[UPDATE: Icepick asks if Columbus is larger than Cleveland and Cincinnati. Yes.]

Third Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Luke 4:21-30

[The first pass, along with an explanation of what this is about, is here. The second pass is here.]

Verse-by-Verse Comments (continued):
25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.
(1) Here, Jesus explains why the people of Nazareth aren't seeing the signs for which the hometown hero was so celebrated in Capernaum and in other parts of Galilee. He says that it's in line with the history of God's people to reject God's Messiah, just as in Old Testament days, God's people rejected God's prophets.

More than that, Jesus points out that God only makes Himself known to those with faith in Him, that includes those who may be deemed to be outsiders. To Jesus' fellow Jews, Jesus was saying that even Gentiles--those who were not ethnically Jewish--could have a relationship with God and discern the signs of Jesus. This offended their sense of historic entitlement and the notion that they had exclusive claim on God and on righteousness.

This latter notion is one that God had tried to erase from His people's mindset. Among the points of the Old Testament books of Jonah and Ruth, for example, is that God cares about all people and that all who believe in the God we meet in Jesus Christ can be saved.

The incidents from the lives of two Old Testament prophets cited by Jesus here make the same point. This offends the citizens of Nazareth who want a hometown hero, a Messiah, and a God who will do their bidding and count them righteous while damning everybody else, faith in God or not.

(2) The first incident cited by Jesus is that of Elijah and the widow at Zarephath in Sidon. Sidon was considered a particularly evil place by Jesus' fellow Jews and not without good reason. But it was in Sidon that God found a woman with faith in God, willing to give the last thing she had to one of God's prophets. "There were lots of widows in Israel," Jesus is saying. "But it was in a foreign widow that faith enough to depend on God for everything was found." You can find the narrative of Elijah and the widow at Zarephath in First Kings, chapters 17 and 18.

(3) For the Nazareth worshipers, it was probably as infuriating to have Jesus use God's Word--the Bible--against them as it was for Jesus to say that foreigners had access to the grace of God.

27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
(1) This second incident cited by Jesus, one of my favorite Bible stories, is found in Second Kings 5:1-14. Naaman, a commander of a foreign army, suffers from leprosy. (Actually, in Biblical times, the term for leprosy was used for more than Hansen's Disease, the disease we refer today when we speak of lepropsy. So, it's not precisely certain what skin affliction Naaman had.)

In the story, this foreigner wrestled with doubts about whether to do what Elisha told him to do--dunk himself in the Jordan seven times. After all, there were mightier rivers than the Jordan, which in most places is little more than a creek. But Naaman trusted. Here's another instance of a foreigner trusting in the Word of God, mediated through a prophet.

28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.
(1) The implications of Jesus' statements are clear. The people of Nazareth and the Jewish people generally, didn't have exclusive claims on Him or God. A relationship with God and the blessings of such a relationship come to those with faith in God, irrespective of ethnicity. And those in the lineage of Abraham, the Jewish people, couldn't claim to have such a relationship, Jesus was saying.

As with Abraham himself, a relationship with God is solely a matter of faith in God, not about our ethnic heritage or our good works:
And he [Abraham] believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)
(2) This is a theme which, in the incidents he recounts, the evangelist Luke will hammer home constantly in his two New Testament books, Luke and Acts. Luke, for example, Luke quotes John the Baptizer:
"...Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham." (Luke 3:8)
After Jesus' death and resurrection, Luke says that in the early years of the Church, the apostle Peter was called by God to go to the home of Cornelius, a Roman, a Gentile. There, Peter called Cornelius, his family and his friends, to turn from sin (repent) and believe in Jesus Christ. In earlier years, it would have been scandalous and unthinkable for Peter to even enter the home of a Gentile, let alone welcome him and other Gentiles into the family of God. But here, he says:
...“I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all." (Acts 10:34-36)
The most famous of Jesus' parables, told only in Luke, gets at this theme as well. The parable of the Good Samaritan, condemns the religion of the Jewish priest and levite, intent on fulfilling religious duties while ignoring the call to love God and love neighbor, while the foreign Samaritan subjects himself to danger to bring healing to the man dying on the road.

But nowhere do we see this theme more clearly in Luke and Acts than in Jesus second most famous parable, that of the prodigal son. The original hearers of this story would have cast the younger son as a Gentile and the older son as a fellow Jew. When the younger son returns to the father--representing God, the older son refuses to enter the celebration, in spite of the father begging him to do so.

The kingdom is open to all. All we need to do is believe in God's Son. This offends those for whom religion is more a matter of heritage or form or ritual. But it's new life for all who believe in Jesus Christ!

29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.
(1) Jesus' words hit the psyches and religious sensibilities of the people of Nazareth with the force of an IED. Their anger is volcanic.

(2) What the intention of the Nazareth synagogue crowd might have been is seen differently by different interpreters. Some cite Old Testament passages to buttress their notion that the Nazarenes were out to kill Jesus. Others cite still other passages to support the idea that they were casting Jesus out (excommunicating Him) from the religious life of the Jews. I guess that it isn't important to know what they wanted to do--it may be difficult to discern a single intention when dealing with a riled mob anyway. What is clear is their rage at Jesus.

30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
(1) Commentators differ on this as well. Some say that Jesus miraculously disappeared. Others say that such an interpretation of the passage isn't necessary and I'm inclined to agree. Of more importance is the fact that Jesus left them, in control of His own destiny, intent on fulfilling the mission He enunciated in last weekend's lesson. He would decide when He died for the sins of the world.

But in this simple incident at Nazareth, we see foreshadowed the response of all the world--Jewish and Gentile--to the revelation of the Messiah. We see too, the call to faith in Him that Christ issues to all people.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Second Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Luke 4:21-30

[An explanation of what this is about can be found in the first pass, here.]

Verse-by-Verse Comments
21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
(1) The initial reaction to Jesus' statement is favorable from the Nazareth townspeople.

(2) The question, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” at this point, is not asked disparagingly. It's rather a point of pride, a "hometown hero" comment.

(3) amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth: Literally, they were amazed at the grace of His words. Grace, of course, is God's undeserved favor. Unfortunately, people of religious faith often think that God's favor is deserved and only by them. Jesus, as we'll see, perceives these very attitudes in the people of Nazareth.

23He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” 24And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.
(1) Jesus refuses to "leave well enough alone," obviously because the positive, if exclusionary, reaction of the synagogue crowd is far from "well enough." Here, as in other places throughout Luke's gospel, Jesus goes out of His way to pick a fight with people who think that God is their own private kewpie doll who only cares for their kind, that is the Jewish people.

(2) In Luke's telling of Jesus' ministry, by chapter 4, Jesus has already done a lot of ministry, including teaching and miraculous signs. Remember that in last weekend's lesson, we were told that before His return to Nazareth, Jesus was being celebrated throughout the region of Galilee, where both Nazareth and Capernaum were located.

So, Jesus is saying, "You probably want me to do all the great things I did in Capernaum." But that isn't going to happen in Nazareth, Jesus is saying. The hometown folks want Jesus to prove Himself. But signs never come to those demanding proof from God; they're only seen by those with faith in God. In his account of Jesus' visit to Nazareth, Mark underscores this theme with this observation:
And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. (Mark 6:5-6a)
(3) Nazareth found it difficult to accept Jesus as the Messiah because He was from their community. The signs didn't convince them, any more than they would the rest of His homeland, except for a handful of people. John talks about this reaction in the prologue to his gospel:
He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:11-13)
(4) “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown." Jesus introduces the next element of His confrontation with the people at Nazareth. "This is the way it has always been," He asserts. "God sends prophets with His Word and the hometown folks are the first to spurn them."

[Tomorrow, I hope to do the final pass at this lesson.]

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

"Four whole seconds into the State of the Union and I am reduced to tears of joy by President George W. Bush."

So writes Erin Kovecki Vest over at Huffington Post. She goes on:
I've followed the politics, the history, the races, the implications...but it really didn't hit me until Bush just said it:

Madame Speaker.

With my daughter by my side, tears began to flow and all of the nonsense of this past election and of the one around the corner took a backseat.

Madame Speaker.

This moment just transcended beyond catchphrases like "feminist" and "glass ceiling."

Madame Speaker.
What a great moment for our country, irrespective of your party!

Read the whole thing.

Monday, January 22, 2007

This Looks Like a Great Movie!

Amazing Grace is a big-time motion picture that tells the story of William Wilberforce, the British pol whose faith in Christ led him to combat slavery in his country.

Thirty years before America's bloody Civil War, triggered by those who violently sought to dissolve the United States rather than accept the end of slavery, the sale of human beings was ended peacefully in the British Empire. Wilberforce was the main human instrument of that event.

His efforts were endorsed by a one-time slave ship captain-turned-preacher named John Newton. Newton was the composer of the most well-known hymn in the English language, Amazing Grace. The song literally expresses amazement at the grace of God, extended to humanity through Jesus Christ. Through that grace, those once blind to both sin and God's goodness see their need of forgiveness and God's willingness to grant it to us. God's grace belongs to those who turn from sin and entrust their lives to Christ. They're made right with God through Jesus' cross and they're guaranteed life forever with God because in His resurrection, Jesus destroys death and grants life to all who follow Him.

The story of William Wilberforce demonstrates how Jesus Christ empowers believers certain of eternity to stand up to the demons of this world and extend God's blessings to others. Christianity is more than an otherworldly religion. It's a vital relationship with a living God Who gives us the power to love God and love neighbor in the most practical of ways!

The movie about Wilberforce (and Newton) features an all-star cast. I'm looking forward to seeing it!

Here are study guides for the film.
Here is Wikipedia's profile of Wilberforce.
Here is Wikipedia's profile of John Newton.
Here is information on slavery as it exists in the world today and on what you and I can do about it.

First Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Luke 4:21-30

[Most weeks, I present as many updates on my reflections and study of the Biblical texts on which our weekend worship celebrations will be built as I can. The purpose is to help the people of the congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church of Amelia, Ohio, get ready for worship. Hopefully, it's helpful to others as well, since our Bible lesson is usually one from the weekly lectionary, variations of which are used in most of the churches of the world.]

Luke 4:21-30
21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” 24And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

General Comments
1. Because the incident narrated by Luke in this weekend's lesson continues the incident from last weekend, you may want to read the three passes and the message from last week. You'll find them here, here, here, and here.

2. In this weekend's lesson, the plot thickens. It begins with Jesus' announcement that today, the Old Testament prophecy about the mission and activities of the Messiah were being fulfilled in Jesus. The words today and now are important in Luke's Gospel. Its use signals the immediacy of God's Kingdom, that in Christ the reign of grace has invaded the world.

3. Luke's use of those words--today and now--has what the theologians call an eschatological meaning, not referring to the particular days on which the words were said, but to the end times which Jesus' ministry ushered in. Eschatology, to use a dictionary definition, is the branch of theology that deals with such "last..or final...matters...as death, the Judgment, the future state, etc." The word eschatology is a transliteration of a Greek compound, literally meaning word about the end.

"Today, now, in Me," Jesus was saying, "the ancient prophecies about God closing the book on sin and ushering in righteousness through faith in the Anointed One have been fulfilled. All these signs You've heard about me doing point to the fulfillment of God's intentions for His creation."

4. It's interesting that this incident, according to Luke, occurs near the beginning of Jesus' ministry. In last weekend's lesson, we saw that Jesus used the words of Isaiah to demonstrate that He was the promised Messiah and to describe His activities in that role. The progression of reactions exhibited by His fellow townspeople anticipates the reaction that will await Him as He takes His ministry beyond Nazareth. At first, the Nazarenes "speak well of Him" and marvel at the gracious words coming from His mouth. They even take joy from His being the hometown boy. But soon, they turn on Jesus, intent on killing Him.

The same progression will be seen at the end of Jesus' earthly ministry: On Palm Sunday, He will be welcomed by the crowds in Jerusalem. But in a matter of days, these crowds will cry for His blood.

5. Why the villagers in Nazareth--and the Jerusalem crowds--turn against Jesus will be explored in our verse-by-verse comments.

More tomorrow, I hope.

[UPDATE: One of the books I'm reading right now is a collection of essays on eschatology. In the opening essay, written by theologian Wolfhard Pannenberg, there's this:
...these are the traditional themes of Christian eschatology: resurrection of the dead, the kingdom of God, final judgment, and the second coming of Jesus Christ...
I thought that might be a good summation of what's meant by eschatology. A constant theme of Luke is that in Jesus Christ and in His people is that Kingdom of God is here and now, an invasion of this time- and sin-bound world by the eternal and sinless Son of God. This is seen in all four of the Gospels in one form or another, but is an obsession with Luke, along with prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit.]

Sunday, January 21, 2007

A Bonus Video



Thanks to Phil for being my videographer!

The Blogging Week in Review, 2

More film noir. We'll try to get the lighting right next week.

The Blogger "At Work"


My son, Phil, took this pic of me back in October, 2005. He just shared it with me.

Accents (and Hillary)

After I read this, I took the test and found this. Then my colleague, Pastor Jeff took the test and said:
I do tend to pick up accents from the people I'm around. Is there a name for that?
A commenter told him:
Chameleonitis. Oprahitis [she does the same thing].

In sales, it's a technique called mirroring. [Not just words, but also body language.]

In theology, it's probably closer to "verbal empathy" and indicates a "sympathetic ear."

I think it's kinda' nice.
Probably.

But it sometimes can indicate a weak self-image, I think.

Or, it can be calculating.

And, fair or not, the latter possibility made me think of Hillary Clinton. Clinton was born and raised in Illinois, then went to college and law school in the Northeast. In other words, all her formative years were spent in the North. She lived there into her thirties.

But when she was First Lady of Arkansas and even during the 1992 campaign, she spoke with an accent that suggested she was from the South.

Suddenly however, when Inauguration Day, 1993, came, Clinton spoke like a Northerner again.

In fairness to Mrs. Clinton, when I travel to some places, I find myself unconsciously mimicking the natives. I exhibit chameleonitis.

For example, people in the part of rural northwestern Ohio where I lived for six years have an interesting accent and use words and phrases in ways different from what I experienced growing up in central Ohio. "We'll see once," they might say. Because the people there are so dear to me, I find myself picking up on their phrasings and cadences whenever I speak with them.

The accent in the northwestern lower peninsula of Michigan, where we lived for a year, shares some things in common with the accents heard in Canada and Minnesota. In addition, some of the lilts you hear in conversation there echo the Norwegian language spoken by many of the area population's ancestors. When I'm with people from that area, I mimick them a bit.

On the other hand, whenever I travel in the South, I speak more Northern, enunciating more clearly, without my usual sloppy elisions. I work harder at being understood and I listen more carefully. This may be because of two incidents from my travels in the South.

The first happened in a Subway sandwich shop in rural Tennessee about ten years ago. A friendly young woman had already taken the orders of my wife and two kids. For them, everything went without a hitch. But to my embarrassment, I found it hard to understand the woman. I kept having to ask her to repeat her questions of me. I asked her three times what she meant when she asked, "White or wheat bread?" I could have sworn that she'd asked, "Shall we pray?" (When I told my family about that later, they exploded with laughter and they've ridden me about it ever since!)

Another time, we were at Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. We were near the stables and slave quarters, when a woman standing next to me asked a question. "I'm sorry, ma'am, what did you say?" She repeated the question. I still didn't understand and asked her to pose it one more time. She did. I was baffled. And embarrassed. Finally, another tourist came up to us and told the woman, "Yes, that's a well." Question answered, the first woman walked away. The one who came to my rescue could see that I was mortified and afraid that I might have hurt the first woman and so explained to me, "I'm from Saint Louis and I've lived in Virginia for thirty years. But there are times when even I can't understand."

At any rate, those incidents have incited me to try to speak with absolute clarity when I travel South.

Pastor Jeff claims not to have any accent. That brought to memory a comment made by Jimmy Carter during the 1976 campaign. Speaking at a rally in the South, Carter asked the crowd, "Won't it be nice to have a President who doesn't have an accent?"

Nobody thinks that the way they talk has anything unique about it. Probably because we're surrounded by people who speak just like us, especially in our young years.

Winston Churchill once famously quipped that the United States and England were two peoples divided by a common language. That same division is evident in the varied accents that exist in America, in spite of the homogenization of mass media.

That's actually a neat thing. I love the diversity of accents you can hear in America, even the variations that exist between different communities.

You know what they say.

[THANKS TO AMBA for linking to this post.]

There All Along

[This message was prepared for sharing with worship celebrations at Friendship Lutheran Church on January 20 and 21, 2007. It was shared yesterday. But a snowfall caused worship to be canceled this morning.]

Luke 4:14-21
A young resident doctor of psychiatry was convinced that if he rationally explained things to delusional patients at the mental hospital where he worked, the patients would be cured. One patient in particular, a guy named Ken, seemed especially promising. Ken, like others, was delusional. But he could conduct almost normal conversation.

“Hello, Ken,” the resident said one day. “How are you?” “Oh, hello, doctor. I’m dead.” “Now, Ken,” said the resident, seeing a chance to put his theories into practice. “You’re not dead. Here you are talking with me and I’m alive. You must be alive, too.” But Ken would have none of it. No matter how many logical proofs the doctor presented, Ken insisted that he was, in fact, dead.

Finally, the doctor hit upon a plan. He asked Ken, “Would you agree that dead men don’t bleed? That only people who are alive bleed?” Ken thought about that and said, “Yes. Dead people don’t bleed.” At that, the resident triumphantly pulled out a straight pin and jabbed one of Ken’s index fingers. Ken looked at the blood on his finger. “There, you see?” the doctor asked. “I sure do,” Ken said excitedly. “Dead people do bleed!”

Sometimes people, even people who aren’t delusional, find it difficult to see facts. Often, we have to see something many times before we even notice it.

This Epiphany season is a time when we remember the many signs that demonstrate that in Jesus Christ, we meet more than just a human being. He’s also God and the long-promised Savior-King.

God has gone out of His way to show us repeatedly Who Jesus and our need of Him. Two weeks ago, we looked at Jesus’ baptism and at how God the Father had set Jesus apart from all the others baptized by His cousin, John, that day. Last week, we remembered how Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding.

But the sign in today’s Bible lesson is very different from those miraculous, otherworldly events. It comes in the form of a visit home, the reading of a Bible lesson in worship, and a simple, yet forceful statement of fact about Jesus' ministry.

After being baptized and then propelled by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted, Jesus apparently had done some teaching and healing. Already all of Galilee, the region of Judea in which He lived, was abuzz with word about Him. When word reached Nazareth that Jesus was on His way, the hometown folks were understandably excited. Luke tells us:
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor." And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
The words that Jesus read in worship that day were from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. You can read them today, in chapters 58 and 61 of that book. Jesus is telling His fellow Jews at Nazareth--and all of us--that He is the anointed king (that’s what the word Messiah means, basically, Anointed One) sent by the Spirit to usher in the reign of God.

And to prove it, Jesus asks the Nazarenes--and us--to consider the signs He does:
  • He proclaims good news to poor people;
  • He sets captives free;
  • He lets the blind see; and
  • He springs the oppressed from whatever is imprisoning them.
In what must have been a moment of high, yet silent, drama, Jesus sat down and then told His townspeople--and us--"Today, right at this moment, in your hearing, this has all taken place.”

Next week’s lesson will explore the reactions of the Nazarenes to Jesus’ claim. But today, I want to talk about what we see in the signs Jesus talks about. This is important because, Jesus later made the stunning claim that in His Name, His Church will do the works that He does and, He said, even greater works. And in the list of signs Jesus provides, there are...
no miracles of loaves and fishes,
no thunderstrikes from heaven,
just the tough love of God meeting real people in their everyday lives.

These are signs of His love and of His kingdom that God wants to perform through you and me.

When we do them, the world will see Christ in us, others will come to follow Christ, and you and I will find our faith deepened.

So, what can we do?

First of all, we can set the captives free. The word that Jesus uses for free here, aphesis, is the same word He uses for forgiveness. It literally means release.

We Christ-followers are meant to show others that Christ can release them from their bondage to sin, to fear.

We often can do that in simple acts of kindness and consideration. “Carl Coleman was driving to work one morning when he bumped fenders with another motorist. Both cars stopped, and the woman driving the other car got out to survey the damage. She was distraught. It was her fault, she admitted, and hers was a new car, less than two days from the showroom. She dreaded facing her husband. Coleman was sympathetic, but he had to pursue the exchange of license and registration data. She reached into her glove compartment to retrieve the documents which were in an envelope. On the first paper to tumble out, written in her husband's distinctive hand, were these words: 'In case of accident, remember, Honey, it's you I love, not the car.'” Imagine the sense of release that woman felt. Imagine the freedom we all could give one another if we extended kindness and forbearance to those we love.

In coming weeks, our Outreach chairperson, Carol, is going to announce not only kindness outreaches in which you can be involved with others in the congregation, but also small outreaches that you or your family and friends can do yourselves.

Kindness rendered in the Name of Jesus Christ frees people of their fears of God, of their misapprehensions that God doesn’t care for them, of their beliefs that they’re not good enough for God.

Kindness sets people free to turn to Jesus for new life. You and I can give that kindness away! The Bible teaches that it’s the kindness of God is meant to cause people to repent--that is, to turn from their sin--and follow Christ. We’re to be instruments of Christ’s kindness!

We can also make the poor a priority. The poor were certainly a priority for Jesus and they are for God. When Jesus was born, He wasn’t entrusted to wealthy people. He was born into poverty. His mother saw this as being especially fitting. Remember how, in the words she spoke to her relative, Elizabeth, Mary said, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

Jesus’ people, grateful for the free gifts of forgiveness and everlasting life, are called to lives of service in Jesus’ Name. Service of poor is part of that.

Next Sunday night, we will hold a potluck here at Friendship. It starts at 5:00. I hope that every member will be here. The purpose is to meet the Higgins family, for whom and with whom Friendship and others in our area will be building a home in New Richmond. For the Higginses, the building of a new home for them, constructed in Jesus’ Name, will be very good news, a sign of the goodness and the love of the God we know through Jesus Christ. Even if, like me, you suffer from two left hands, you can be a part of this Habitat for Humanity build. You can share good news with the poor!

We can declare the year of the Lord’s favor. What does that mean? The Old Testament book of Leviticus said that every fifty years in Israel, all debts were to be forgiven, all land restored to its original owners or their heirs, all slaves were to be set free. It was called the Jubilee year.

Jesus is saying that He’s come to forgive all debts and all sins. The phrase, “the Lord’s favor” means exactly what I tell you folks all the time, “God is for us.”

I find that this is a message of which the world never tires. This past week, as some of you may know, I met with a professional man in our community on church business. I’ve known this guy for years and as we were wrapping up, I put my arm on his shoulder and told him, “You know, the welcome mat is always out for you at Friendship.” He smiled and said, “I like your style.”

Well, I don’t know if I have any style. But I do know that what I wanted to convey to that man and to all people is God’s favor, that God is for them, and that God wants to deepen His relationship with them through the fellowship of a caring church family. Whatever your style, you can convey the same message to the people in your life.

When Jesus went to worship with the people of His hometown, He told them that they could know He was their Messiah because...
  • He set people free through His love,
  • He made the poor His priority, and
  • He showed them that God was for them.
In His Name, you and I can do the same things today, showing people who might feel distant from God and isolated from others that their loving God was there all along.

[THANKS TO: Bruce Armstrong of Ordinary Everyday Christian for linking to this post. And thank you, Bruce, for the kind words.]