the tentmaker

daily thoughts on the common lectionary

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Location: Sharpsburg, Georgia, United States

"...because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together — by trade they were tentmakers." Acts 18:3. Tentmaker is a title taken by bi-vocational pastors. As such, I am both a pastor and a project manager. I am a pastor of a local congregation of moderate, accepting and affirming people who worship in the Baptist tradition. We call our church "Hope Memorial Baptist" and we are about 40 in number. I am also a project manager of major construction projects for the State of Georgia. My home and church is in rural Coweta County, between Peachtree City and Newnan, with a mailing address of Sharpsburg, Georgia.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Sunday 03/26/06 Year B - Lent 4

Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21


Man's Problem, God's Solution


Have you ever wondered where the concept of God came from? I mean, God is not visible to us. God does not engage us in commerce or war or even in the cure for our physical and mental illnesses. God is not readily available to study, probe and consult. There are signs of God everywhere but to properly read the signs a person must already be in tune with God's spirit.

It has been said that we know about God instinctively. And, of course, the idea of God could have been handed down from father to son and from mother to daughter ever since Adam and Eve. Yet, I think one of the reasons the concept of God came about is because this life stinks. Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to bad people. Life and justice are inexplicable. I have here the lyrics of a modern day song. It is irreverent and crude, as much of modern life is, but it speaks of the hardships and the suffering of life:

Life's a Bitch
By Thom Schuyler & Fred Knobloch

Fresh out of college, carrying a Ph.D.
I thought with all that knowledge
The world couldn't wait for me
But then my eyes was opened
Just as wide as they could be
Now I'm busy coping with this harsh reality

Took some time to learn
what the world already knew
And now I wake up everyday
with the proper attitude

Life's a bitch and then you die
You don't know when and you don't know why
You love a little and you say goodbye
Fate comes in and throws the switch
Life's a bitch and then you die

I went to see the preacher, such a righteous man
A healer and a teacher, I was sure he would understand
Well he prayed and meditated while I told him about my life
I told him how I hated all this daily stress and strife
He took off his collar, he looked me in the eye
He closed the good book lying there and much to my surprise

He said life's a bitch and then you die
You don't know when and you don't know why
You love a little and you say goodbye
Fate comes in and throws the switch
Life's a bitch and then you die

I went to see the doctor, finally, to cure me of my ills
He reached into his locker and he handed me a bunch of pills
He said, "Boy, by your description, I can tell you're near the end
So take this here prescription, you'll be on your feet again
Follow these directions and in a week give me a call
And if these ain't effective, boy, well you might as well take 'em all"

Because life's a bitch and then you die
You don't know when and you don't know why
You love a little and you say goodbye
Fate comes in and throws the switch
Life's a bitch and then you die
Life's a bitch and then you die.

This is the Problem of Life here on earth.

You may dislike the attitude of these lyrics, and I don't blame you because they reflect a very cynical and hopeless outlook on life as a whole. But when you cut to the chase, and take away all of the rationalizations and excuses we make about our own troubles, it does pretty much sum up the reality of life as we know it.

In mankind's need to make sense of all of this pain and suffering came the assertion of Faith. Faith that there is a being higher than us who is in control of this world. That Faith, as told in the Old Testament, (The Old Testament is really a bad name for the Hebrew Scriptures. There is nothing old or out-dated at all about it. I like the term given by some -- The First Testament. For that is truly what it is. The First Testament/Covenant between God and Man.) The First Testament tells of a time when life was not filled with pain and suffering. A time when man and woman walked with God in the cool of the evening in their Garden of Eden. This was an idyllic time in the life of mankind. A time that was not to last. Man and Woman are never satisfied, even with paradise. And now all life lived East of Eden is filled with hard labor, pain and suffering.

We now interject into our discussion the concept of Salvation. Salvation is not a uniquely Christian word. It can be found all through the First Testament.

But what exactly do we mean by Salvation? What are we being saved from? Are we being saved from Hell? The Bible speaks of Hell in many different ways, as a lake of fire, as eternal darkness, as life lived without the true light. Or, are we being saved from the Problem of Life? Will this salvation suddenly make the hard labor, the pain and the suffering go away? In other words, Is Salvation Real or Abstract? Are we talking about salvation in our lifetime or are we talking about the "Pie in the Sky, Bye and Bye?" Is Salvation Meaningful within the Problem of Life? Is there something about this idea of Salvation that gives hope, peace and happiness in the midst of the fact that "Life's a bitch, and then you die?" Or perhaps salvation is the freedom from the slavery to that kind of cynicism.

The cross upon which Jesus hung, suspended between Heaven and earth, is symbolic of the salvation that is offered because he hung there. And because the tomb and the power of death could not hold him.

To use spatial terminology, we may characterize the dominant biblical view of salvation as "horizontal," for while God acts from above, God acts in and through the sequence of history. From the time of creation God has guided the world with its population relentlessly forward to a climax, a climax that is often seen in terms of divine intervention in the course of history. So Salvation lies either in history or as a climax to history.

The Jews view their salvation through history because they are children of the promise. The promise given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that they were God's chosen people. This salvation is punctuated by several climactic events in their history: The covenant with Noah, the covenant with Abraham, the Exodus and the covenant events at Sinai. They see their salvation in tangible forms such as possession of the land given by God to their ancestors or deliverance from their enemies. Christians would add the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, with the ultimate climax of history being the crucifixion of Christ on the cross and his triumphant victory over death by his resurrection.

Counter to this is a "vertical" view that sees two worlds coexistent, one heavenly, one earthly; and the earthly world is but a shadow of the heavenly—not primarily a world to come but a world above that already exists. Earthly existence, and history only prolongs the meaninglessness of life. Salvation is made possible through escape to the heavenly world, and this can occur only when someone or something comes down from the heavenly world to set people free from the earthly existence.

The View from John's Gospel is that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." The culmination of Jesus' career is when he is lifted up toward heaven in death and resurrection to draw all to himself. Jesus brings the life of the "other world" "eternal life" to the people of this world, and death has no power over this life. Jesus' gifts are real gifts, that is, heavenly gifts: the real "living" water of life with which we will never be thirsty; the real bread of life with which we will never be hungry; and he is the true light that has come into the world.

The Gospel writers and perhaps even the early Jesus people were quick to find parallels in the Hebrew Scriptures to what happened on the Cross. They found a poignant parallel in the Prophet Isaiah, the section on the Suffering Servant which begins at chapter 52. Here is a passage from Chapter 53.

Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
We see his suffering depicted in the descriptions of the crucifixion. We see his agony in Gethsemane. We feel the humiliation and the physical pain he must have suffered. We empathize with his loved ones at the foot of the cross who stood by powerless to save him from saving them. Jesus truly was a servant who suffered greatly.

But we must not forget the Servanthood of the Suffering Servant. Remember how he declared his mission to the people in the synagogue in Nazareth. He stood up to read and asked for the scroll of Isaiah. He read from the 61st Chapter, verses 1 and 2

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;
The act of God in Jesus on the cross is the source of our salvation. But, like God, Jesus is not physically with us. So, where do we get this salvation? If this salvation is real, if it is meaningful within the problem of life then it is a valuable commodity. How does God distribute it to the masses of people who live the hard work, pain and suffering of life?

The apostle Paul tells us in Second Corinthians chapter 5 verses 18 to 20

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us;
It is the Church that is the instrument of salvation in the world today. Not the building, not the services that go on in the building, but the souls, saved by the grace of God that make up the Body of Christ. This is the instrument of salvation in the world today. You and me.

Jesus himself charges us to... Go and make disciples of all nations, baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always."

It is vested with us to offer the meaningful solution to the Problem of Life to others. Like Jesus, our LORD has anointed us; he has sent us to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;

That is the vision I have of salvation that keeps us from saying "Life's a bitch, and then you die." Because we have the love of God in Christ expressed in our love for each other and for everyone that crosses our path. Life is hard. There is pain and suffering to endure every day. But Jesus says to us, "I will be with you always..., I will never leave you or forsake you."

Thanks be to God.

3 Comments:

Blogger Addie said...

great sermon without the "preaching" that usually comes with it...

3/27/2006 10:59 AM  
Blogger HeyJules said...

I'm with Addie! I thought it was a very unique and thought provoking post. I NEVER considered where God originally came from!

3/29/2006 3:40 PM  
Blogger Bad Alice said...

This is really well-done--lot's to chew on.

3/30/2006 10:08 AM  

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