A quick note – this replaces an earlier announcement.
I am at Grace United Methodist Church in Slate Hill, NY this Sunday, September 7, 2014. The Scriptures for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A) are Exodus 12: 1 – 14, Romans 13: 8 – 14, and Matthew 18: 15 – 20. The service is at 10 am and you are invited to attend.
A quick reminder – don’t forget the pre-Advent Bible Study that we are having at our house on the four Sundays in October; see “Understanding Advent In The 21st Century” or the invitation on Facebook for further information.
I had a thought in place when I began this piece that lead me to entitle it “Taking Time”. But as I looked at things, the title expanded to “Taking Time To Do It Right”, in part because that was more to the point I wish to make. And if you are going to take the time to do things right, one ought to do things right, right?
As one who consciously follows the lectionary reading, it is correct and proper to follow the readings from Genesis with readings from Exodus. But, in one sense, it isn’t logical to include a passage describing the preparation for Passover in readings for September.
With the calendar that was used at the time of the writing of Exodus, the first month of the new year was in April, which explains why it is celebrated then. So why read about the preparation for Passover in September?
Under the present Jewish calendar, the first month of the New Year is September, which is why Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, occurs during this time (this year it will begin on 26 September this year).
So even though Passover is some six months away, we can still look at the preparations needed for that occasion. But note that while the Passover meal is set for the fourteenth day of the month the actual preparations for the meal begin some two weeks prior to the actual meal. There are also instructions for how Passover is to be celebrated after the Israelites ultimately reach the Promised Land.
In His instructions, God places a sense of urgency on the meal, “Eat the meal but also be ready to leave”.
Now, I have been a follower of the legendary UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, for almost as long as I have been a follower of John Wesley. In preparing his basketball players and students for life, John Wooden created what has become known as his “Pyramid for Success.” On paper, it is more of a triangle but it consists of a number of thoughts and maxims that encapsulate John Wooden’s concept of success.
One of those maxims which I feel applies in this case is “failing to prepare is preparing to fail” and I think that it applies in this case. And in thinking about Coach Wooden and his UCLA basketball program, I couldn’t help but remember something Richard “Digger” Phelps did prior to the UCLA – Notre Dame game where the Irish defeated the Bruins and ended the UCLA 88-game winning streak on January 19, 1974. During one of the practices prior to that game, Coach Phelps, in having the team anticipate victory, had the players practice cutting down the nets so that they would know how to do it right. And when that victory did occur, the team was ready for the celebration. (And as a quick aside to the matter, Coach Phelps is a local boy from Beacon.)
Another maxim that came to mind was “be quick but don’t hurry.” If one observed a UCLA basketball practice run by John Wooden, one observed practices run at speeds matching and exceeding game conditions. If mistakes were going to be made, they were going to be made in practice when they could be corrected and not during the game. And more than one player noted that it made the game seem easier.
The instructions that the Israelites were given regarding the eating of the meal were not given for their comfort but, rather, to prepare them for God’s quick and miraculous delivery. The Israelites had to be quick but not hurry when the time for the Passover came to be.
Now, I am not today nor have I ever advocated any sort of “End Times” theology. It has always amazed me that many of those who do espouse the idea that 1) they are going to Heaven and you are not and 2) there is nothing that anyone can do about it.
And while I am not crazy about that first point, especially others have said it to me, it is that second point that bothers me more than anything else.
If there is nothing that we can do about the world around us, if the violence and destruction that seem so prevalent today are the way that it is going to be, then what was the point of Jesus coming to earth the first time? Let’s not worry about His Second Coming, why did He come the first time?
Let me pause here for some thirty seconds while we think about this; you will understand why in a moment or two.
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Let us contemplate the words that Paul wrote for today and what it meant then and what it means now. Paul was writing with a sense of urgency, that Christ was coming and we had to be prepared for His arrival. But he also was warning everyone not to get so focused on that task that they forget their regular tasks.
It appears from the historical record that many individuals, convinced that Christ was about to return, had given up paying bills, sold all their possessions, and sat around partying and having a good time. Paul pointed out that they still needed to focus on their daily lives but lead those daily lives in such a way as to let everyone know that they were Christian.
But how do we do that? Do we simply say every now and then “I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior” and then go about our business as if nothing happened? Or do we make it a point to let everyone know that we are a Christian and do so in such a way that really just irritates them? Or do we live our lives as an embodiment of Christ, treating everyone, no matter who they may be or what they may believe, in the same manner that Christ taught us?
For me, the words of Genesis and Romans speak of preparation, not for a time we cannot predict but rather to live a life today that will work against the powers of evil, death, and destruction.
I will admit that this is not an easy task, especially in today’s society. There are those today who see the world in black and white, devoid of any color or shading. Some of these individuals would create a faith-based society, guided by their own views of the world and law, but it would be a rather limited moralistic society. Others are just the opposite, placing their values and thoughts in a world in which they claim faith has no place; yet, by their very words and actions, they would create an almost identical faith-based, quasi-moralistic society.
If either of those solutions is to be the answer, then I would suggest we prepare for a rather abrupt ending to life. Because that is what we will get. And it is not the life that I feel that we are asked to live or the way we are to believe.
What is the life that we have been asked to live? How, in a world of increasing sectarian and secular strife can we ever find true peace? How can we make the world that Paul envisioned in his letters to the Galatians and the Colossians be the world of today?
Hear those words again, though perhaps in a slightly different matter. Dr. Clarence Jordan held a degree in agriculture from the University of Georgia in 1933. While in school, he became convinced that the roots of poverty were spiritual as well as economic. As a result, he went to seminary and earned a Ph. D. in New Testament Greek. He then took this background and 1) created the Koinonia Farm in Georgia in 1942 and 2) translated most of the New Testament from the original Greek into what is known as The Cotton Patch Gospels.
The development of the Koinonia Farm, which is still in operation, was an effort to show that a life built upon Christian principles could work and that segregation and inequality had no place in ordinary life. That it survived the 50s and 60s is a testament to the correctness, if you will, of the approach.
The Cotton Patch Gospels are written with references to Southern geography and Southern tradition but they are still true to the words and thoughts of the original writers.
Paul’s Letter to the Galatians became the “Letter to the Churches of the Georgia Convention” and Galatians 3: 28 became
No more is one a white man and another a Negro; no more is one a slave and the other a free man; no longer is one a male and the other a female. For you all are as one in Christ Jesus…noble heirs of a spiritual heritage.
Paul’s Letter to the Colossians became the “Letter to the Christians in Columbus” and Colossians 3: 11 became
The pattern for the new man is same for a Negro and a white man, a church member and non-church-member, foreigner, Mexican, employee, employer,…Christ is everything in everybody.
Wear the clothes, then, that will identify you as a people whom God has selected and dedicated and loved. Your outfit should include a tender heart, kindness, genuine humility, loyalty, persistence. Put up with one another, and freely forgive each other if one has a grip against somebody. You all forgive as freely as the Lord forgave you. Overall all these things wear love, which is the robe of maturity. And let Christ’s peace, into which you were called as one fellowship, order your lives.
And just as Paul called the Romans, the Colossians, and the Galatians to seek a different and newer world, so too are we called to do the same. It may be that we need to reevaluate our thinking process.
When I was working on my doctorate, I was introduced to the concept or notion of “wait time”. This was the time that the teacher or instructor had to wait after introducing something new before proceeding. Research showed that a minimum of thirty seconds was needed for an idea to be established in a listener’s mind. And thirty seconds can be an extremely long time; as you undoubtedly found out a few moments ago.
And in today’s world, we don’t like to wait, even for thirty seconds; we want to respond now and in kind. We have, I believe, taken the thinking of the Bible concerning violence and anger and turned it around. We have become too quick to anger and too slow to think, to reverse the words of James. In James 1: 19, we read,
Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage.
Clarence Jordan, in his Cotton Patch Gospels, translated this as,
“Listen here, my dear brothers. Let every man of you be quick with his ears, slow with his tongue, and hard to get riled up, because a man’s temper contributes nothing to God’s cause.”
In a world where we are too often quick to anger, we read in Ecclesiastes 7: 9,
Don’t be quick to fly off the handle.
Anger boomerangs. You can spot a fool by the lumps on his head.
But you will say to me that there is a point in time where we have done everything we can possibly do and we are now entitled to treat another person as a pariah for ever after. How can we respond to the world in a manner that will allow us to find peace?
Let us take a second look at the passage from Matthew that is the Gospel reading for today. Matthew’s Gospel was written to a persecuted, predominantly Jewish church, trying to find a way after the destruction of the Temple. They were also trying to find a way to include Gentiles in their new community. So conflict was a part of their beginning and it was probably a life-threatening issue.
But Matthew reminds the readers that Jesus is speaking about reconciliation and He does not allow for a quick dismissal of those who have hurt us or threaten to hurt us. Even His final words, spoken about those for which reconciliation has failed, are a call to seek and include in our love those with whom we are in conflict. It is a story that invites us into an adventure of constant, unfailing reaching out, seeking understanding, and loving sacrificially.
It is a story that tells us that once we make the decision to follow Christ, we are never off the hook of forgiving and seeking reconciliation. We are called to be those who learn to speak, even in our moments of greatest threat and greatest conflict, words of peace, not retaliation, words of compassion, not rejection. (adapted from http://sacredise.com/blog/?p=1473)
At some point in time, we will have to realize that our walk with Christ will not be an easy one but it will be the right way to go. But we knew that it would not be easy and we knew that it would require an effort on our part to take the time to do it right.
There was only one way that the Israelites would get out of bondage in Egypt. The Romans, enduring persecution for their belief, knew that only one way to lead them to freedom. The early church, followers of Christ, understood that there was only one way to go, and that it would take time to do it the right way.
Shall we rush to the first thing that comes to mind or shall we take the time to do it right? Shall we prepare now or just wait?