Thursday, September 23, 2010

Musings on Weird Biblical Passages

Just for Andy Woodworth
"Where it gets confusing is that testis also meant testicle in Latin. The English word testicle comes from Latin testiculus, a diminutive of testis, and first appeared in the fifteenth century. If testis meaning 'witness' and testis meaning 'testicle' are indeed the same word, then the etymology could be that the testicles are 'witness' or evidence of virility."

This really makes some Biblical passages easier to understand. Really.

To wit:
In the book of Genesis there are several passages in which a man who is taking an oath puts his hand "under the thigh" of the man to whom he is swearing: "And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house...Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh: And I will make thee swear by the Lord...." The Hebrew word in this passage is yarek, which means 'thigh' throughout the Old Testament. My Biblical expert says that this ritual seems to come from the idea that the thigh is the locus of power, probably because it's near the genitals. He also notes that some modern interpreters of the Bible envision it as a swearing on the genitals, with "under the thigh" being a euphemism which goes all the way back to the Hebrew.

Ah, Biblical Scholarship is so exciting!

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Sermon for September 5, 2010

In today’s text, Jesus talks about the true cost of discipleship.

Luke 14:25-33

25Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Most of us don’t consider the “real costs” of anything.
Jesus uses the examples of building a tower and waging a war:
How about the real costs of owning a home?
  • One time expenses:
  • Recurring costs:
  • Maintenance costs.
  • House goods; lawn mowers; ladders; tools; you can go on and on.
  • Personal example: I didn’t realize all the costs of keeping our home in Loganville and setting up house in Monroe. I easily spent twice what I thought it would cost.
If you google “hidden costs,” you get 100 million hits (or more) around everything from home owning and having a job to commuting and health care, pet ownership, fossil fuels, car rental, War.

I think it might be human nature to not consider those “hidden costs” because the thing that we desire we feel is worth it "whatever the costs."

Nothing comes free – or as they say “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”

Relationships for instance aren’t free; a good relationship costs you something. You give up your independence for something greater than you could ever have alone.

Even our relationship with Jesus costs something: According to the book of Luke, it’s going to costs you your family, your life and your possessions. Are you ready for that kind of cost?

The first in this passage that Jesus tells us, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters-yes, even his own life-he cannot be my disciple."

Hate! Hate is a strong word. Does he really really mean HATE?

Now if you look at the Greek, you notice a couple of things. First, you will notice that the Greek word “Hate” is not exactly what we mean by hate – it’s a comparative word meaning more like “love much less than.” Eugene Peterson in “The Message” translates it much more like this: "Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one's own self!—can't be my disciple.”
That’s a little easier to understand.

Jesus is telling us that we can’t get our identity from our family; used to be everyone got a certain amount of their identity from who their family was.

"Are you one of the Devereux-Jones? Or the Claiborne-Jones?"

We must give up that identity and take on the identity of "Christian."

"Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."

Now, this is before Jesus’ very public execution on a cross. What on earth would this have meant to the original hearers? It certainly would not be what they wanted to hear – most wanted freedom from Rome, freedom from oppression – not words like this:

Anyone who won't shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can't be my disciple.

It sounds like he wants US to bend under the weight of a heavy burden to follow him; to bear the instrument of our own persecution and death. And yes, that is what he is asking. It means boldness and no shrinking before a hard task. Does he mean extraordinary things? I don’t think so; I think he means the little hard things of everyday life. It’s not hard major spiritual sufferings here – it’s a lot more everyday than that.

As Alan Culpepper, "Luke", in The New Interpreter's Bible phrases it: "The language of cross bearing has been corrupted by overuse. Bearing a cross has nothing to do with chronic illness, painful physical conditions, or trying family relationships. It is instead what we do voluntarily as a consequence of our commitment to Jesus Christ." (p. 236)

We are to have our life as “Christian” (our new identity) to be shaped by our willingness to do these hard tasks. And it may put us “cross-wise” to this world, for the world does not understand the cross. We are all becoming more like Christ (little Christs = Christian), transformed in his image:
(Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2)

We do this anywhere, anytime doing whatever it is that we do. For instance: if you are a plumber, do it for the glory of God, accepting his will, accepting whatever daily sufferings you encounter – that quarrelsome customer, that irritating customer service person, that arrogant driver in the other land – and do it all for the Glory of God.

If you are an insurance salesperson, an electrician, a programmer, a postal worker, a lab technician – whatever it is that you do for a living, do it for the Glory of God. Live out your vocation a little cross-ways to this world, doing the will of your Father in heaven.

Let the people you encounter know that you dedicate your work to God – what a powerful message on this Labor Day weekend! For your average Joe to hear a representative of God – a little Christ – a Christian – say that what he or she does at home and work, while volunteering or being a good friend – matters to God and makes a difference in the world.... How different this world could be!

First, we take on a new family – Christian. Second, we give up our life in service to Christ and live cross-ways to this world, doing all things for the Glory of Go.

What is the third things we need to give up? Our Stuff.

Yes, he says it: So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

You have to give up all your stuff. Sez so here in the Bible.

Clear as day, eh? Clear as MUD!
  • First: remember he’s already talking to people that are already poor. This is just as much a liberating thing than a limiting thing.
  • Second: people used to see money and possessions as a “proof” of God’s blessing.
If we compare it to Jesus other teachings maybe we can bring it into focus:
We know that the “rich young ruler” story was more about greed than about the actual money. We know that it is the LOVE of money that is evil, not money itself.

Let’s look again at “The Message” -- "Simply put, if you're not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can't be my disciple.”

Put THAT way, Jesus, I think I would rather give up my stuff – how about you?

What a demand is this! As Detrich Bonhoffer said, the cost of following Jesus is not “cheap” because it cost Jesus His life. Jesus doesn’t call us into a comfortable easy faith that is so common among American Christians. He tells us to “count the cost”, “take up our cross”, “give up our possessions” and that we (like Him) may “have no place to lay our head.”

What a cost!

The passage states: "Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." Seriously, Jesus?

Yes, seriously. Because following Jesus is serious business.

And here is the grace y'all -- you don't do it alone. You get to ask for help. And if you don't do so well one day, you can try again tomorrow. We are not left here to do this all alone.
‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ Matthew 11:28,29

He is here to help us.

Can we go by a new family name – Christian? Can we live crossways to the world? Can we let go of all we hold dear? With Jesus' help -- we can.

Let us pray.
Dearest and most Gracious God, help us live every day as Christians -- little Christs, bearing our crosses with you and loving you more than just our possessions. Help us to participate in your work in the world. Help us choose each day be your people -- always remind us of who and whose we are. Amen.