Q & A: Week Eight — The Book of Love

We have arrived at the end of the journey, this exploratory willingness to sit in the middle of the hard questions and LIVE them a little. You’ll notice that I’ve picked up the surfing image once again, ever grateful for all that I learn about God and faith when I watch them do their thing! I thank each of you for coming along with me down this road, for your contributions to the rich conversational threads spun by each week’s topic. You can find links to each of my reflections in this post. Each individual post listed there holds the links for your contributions to that week’s conversation. And if anyone wants to add further to the conversation, please do so by linking your post in the comments section of whichever weekly question you want to reflect on.

I have one further resource of my own, one that applies specifically to this final question, which is, What do I do with all the hard/weird stuff in the Bible? Seven years ago, I was invited to be a writer for a denominational resource paper on how we read scripture. I offer it here, if you’d like to read it, as a more detailed and somewhat more academic approach to the whole topic of our relationship with the Word of God. I also commend to you these fine posts, written within the last week or two, by Morgan Guyton and Ed Cyzewski. Both men did stellar work on these biblically related themes: Here’s the link to Morgan’s and here’s the one to Ed’s post at Micha Boyett’s beautiful blog. Lastly, I cannot recommend too highly Eugene Peterson’s beautiful tome called, “Eat This Book: a conversation in the art of spiritual reading.” He says everything I would say and he says it so.much.better. 

DSC01029It was stormy last week. Much-needed rain fell by the bucketful, and we were thoroughly and delightfully doused. From my perch on the bluffs, I could just barely make out a couple of surfers, trying valiantly to take advantage of the buffed-up waves. They were heading into rough water, with swells extending well above their heads.DSC01032

Depending upon where they were located in relation to the development of the wave, these surfers only had a couple of options. They could quickly turn their boards around, climb on top and try like crazy to stay upright. Or, they could duck their heads and dive underneath the wave as it broke heavily above them.

On this stormy Sunday morning, I saw a whole lotta ducking!

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Sometimes, that’s what we have to do, too. Maybe this is particularly true in regard to this week’s — or any week’s — question about the Bible. I do not pretend to have all the answers about this book of ours, about its origins, its contextual issues, its multiplicity of genres. I do have some answers and I’ve enjoyed all the learning I’ve done over this life of mine to get to those answers. But there are times when I truly do not know what to do with some of the strange or difficult things I find in scripture.

That’s when it’s time to duck myself beneath the wave and swim through. Because if there’s one thing I know about our holy book, it is this: we are meant to place ourselves under its authority. 

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This does not mean blind obedience, nor does it mean adhering to a strictly literal interpretation of what we find there. It does mean that the Bible is primarily designed to be a book of revelation and of transformation. It is not a book of information, not a list of facts to be digested mentally. It is not a science book, nor is it a history book in the sense that we currently define the subject of ‘history.’

It is, I believe, a love story. A love story that is meant to be ‘eaten,’ thoroughly ingested and lived into. And it is a story told in words. Genesis 1 and John 1 each tell us that the WORD of God breathes out all that is, calls it, and us, into being. And the words that fall off the pages of scripture are words that are designed to be taken in, not simply read and filed. They are words meant to change us, from the inside out.

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I was raised by a mathematician father and a word-gifted mother in a home where arguments over inerrancy were simply not important. The Bible, I was taught, is the word of God, the ‘only infallible rule for faith, doctrine and conduct.’ It is God-breathed, in partnership with human authors, and tells us all we need to know about who God is, who we are and how we are made whole. Although I’ve had to wade through, and eventually discard, some pretty lousy theology in my life, my early understandings about what the Bible is, what the Bible does and how the Bible does it have remained steady. 

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In my faith community, we look to the word of God to show us Jesus, to guide us into truth and to tell us how to live. We love the Bible and we offer multiple opportunities to study it and learn from it.

We also offer twice yearly day-long prayer retreats, monthly Taize services, weekly prayer gatherings — all because we believe that the Bible, under the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, is meant to change us, not just teach us. There is a difference there, you see. A big one. Yes, there is a wealth of fun and challenging information to be gleaned from our holy book. The stories of beginnings in the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis. The patriarchs and matriarchs, the exodus, the monarchy, the prophets, the exile, the wonderful, story-laden gospels, the letters to young churches. It is wonderful, rich and true and we love to learn it all!

But beyond learning, beyond memorizing, beyond making and keeping lists or rules, the Bible is a powerful force for inside-out transformation in the human soul. Reading it reverently, intentionally and slowly can change our DNA, if we let it. We must read scripture with ALL of who we are, not just our brains. And that task? Well, it pretty much takes a lifetime.

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By Tuesday morning of this week, the sun had returned and the water had calmed. There were no surfers this day, only walkers and lookers, soaking in the sea air and enjoying the blue of the sky. But as the previous weekend had taught us, not every day is a sunny one. 

We don’t get to decide if the day is going to be sunny or stormy, do we? Maybe that’s because WE are not the center of the universe and not nearly as powerful as we sometimes believe ourselves to be. And some of our experiences with scripture feel more closely akin to sunny days than others, don’t they? Sometimes our reading brings us glimpses of God, glimpses of ourselves, glimpses of grace. But then, of course, there are those other experiences, the ones that descend when we come up against a difficult passage. Some days, it feels like the storm clouds have moved in on us, bigtime. 

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And there is not one thing wrong with butting heads with the word, with arm-wrestling God about how hard it is, with asking questions. This entire series is based upon the necessary goodness of questions, of living them well and heartily as we limp our way down the road called faith. But there is one very important truth that we need to hang onto in the middle of all of our questioning: our experience is not all the truth there is to be found. It’s important to explore our feelings, responses, reactions and to try to sift out what’s going on inside of us. 

But we are not the final arbiters of much, truth be told. And sometimes we have to remind ourselves that our personal experience-of-the-moment is not at the top of the pile when we’re searching for truth. What we’re wrestling with needs to be placed, as Eugene Peterson puts it, “under the authority of the Bible and not over it. . . the Bible, all of it, is livable; it is the text for living our lives.” 

We are invited INTO the word.

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And we are invited to let the Word into us. There are always going to be mysterious and strange pieces of story in our book. There just are. Happily, there aren’t all that many! Most of what we have, when we take the time and care to understand nuances of language, culture, changing societal norms, the development of the canon of scripture, and the variety of literary genres included in this collection of ours — most of it is readily accessible to us. There are so.many.resources available to help us work through the tough spots, the weird stuff, the question marks. And if there are specific texts that are troubling you, I encourage you to look at the commentaries, to speak with  your pastors and teachers, and to see if you can find answers that satisfy.

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But here’s the thing: please don’t lose God in  your efforts to understand the things that trouble you in the Bible. Some of the things I read on the internet make me wonder if the writer has ever encountered God in the pages of scripture. Have tears been shed, jaws dropped, realizations appeared like a bolt of lightning? Because sometimes excursions into questions can quickly become intellectual exercises — a parsing of verbs, a splitting of hairs, and way too much proof-texting. 

DSC01087BUT . . .when our honest, heartfelt questions help to open our souls and widen our spirits, they are very good things, indeed. They can lead us deeper into God and deeper into ourselves by leading us deeper into the word.

And it is the Word of God that centers us, anchors us, transforms us:

“Without this text, firmly established as the authoritative center of our communal and personal lives, we will founder. We will sink into a swamp of well-meaning but ineffectual men and women who are mired unmercifully in our needs and wants and feelings.” – Eat This Book, page 35

“But the words of Scripture are not primarily words, however impressive, that label or define or prove, but words that mean, that reveal, that shape the soul, that generate saved lives, that form believing and obedient lives . . . Having and defending and celebrating the Bible instead of receiving, submitting to, and praying the Bible, masks an enormous amount of nonreading.”  – Eat This Book, page 140

 

Just in case you missed seeing this on Facebook when Ann Voskamp posted it, this is a lovely small video clip of some Chinese Christians receiving Bibles for the very first time:


An Advent Journey, 2013: Looking for the Light – Day Eleven

 

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The words of Jesus:

“If you grow a healthy tree, you’ll pick healthy fruit. If you grow a diseased tree, you’ll pick worm-eaten fruit. The fruit tells you about the tree.

“You have minds like a snake pit! How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded? It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words. A good person produces good deeds and words season after season. An evil person is a blight on the orchard. Let me tell you something: Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation.”

Matthew 12:33-37, The Message

Can you sense the rage in these words? The warning?

“Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” has left the building in this passage. And if you read a few of the verses before these in the 12th chapter of Matthew’s gospel,  you get some idea why he’s feeling a mite bit testy.

They accused him of ‘black magic’ after he healed a demon-possessed man who was blind and deaf. And at their slanderous words, Jesus unloads one of the sharpest speeches recorded in any of the gospels.

And that speech is all about WORDS.

Such powerful things, these small sounds we make, these feeble scratches we write. According to Jesus, words = fruit. What comes out of our mouths, or out of the ends of our fingers, are words that are either rich, ripe and nourishing OR worm-ridden, malodorous and sickening.

Jesus makes it crystal clear that this is a heart matter, the center of who we are is the source of every word that spills out of us. And every single syllable is potentially explosive, hurtful, maybe even dangerous. As followers of this one who comes to us at Christmas, this one who knew the pain and confusion of accusations and lies — can we be especially prayerful and alert, aware of the power we’ve been given?

It was The Word, John says that formed the universe and all that is in it. Are my words creative, careful, directed toward building up rather than tearing down?

It is The Word who indwells and enlivens us as we inhabit this place that is our home. Are we listening, asking for wisdom-filled-words that invite and encourage rather than reject and discourage?

Are we ‘working out our own salvation’ with what we speak and preach and teach and write?

Are we inviting others to a place of warmth and welcome as we walk our way toward Christmas Day? Or are we too frazzled, over-scheduled, sleep-deprived, out-of-sorts to make the extra effort?

Strong and insightful Lord Jesus, we need a nudge or two right now, as we approach the halfway point on our journey. We want to leave enough space in the day for you, Jesus. Enough space in us. That’s the only way I know how to watch my words, you see: I need to watch you. And to do that, I’ve got to step aside for just a few minutes – in the car or in the laundry room or standing at the sink or checking my email – I need to just take those minutes wherever I can grab them and watch you again. And listen, too. Remind me, okay? Call me back to center so that the fruit of my lips will reflect a quiet heart. Thank you.

31 Days of Giving Permission . . . TO TELL THE TRUTH

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We’re almost at the end of this giving permission cycle,
 this recognition that sometimes,
we need someone else to say,
“Yes! That’s a grand idea!
Go for it!” 

And today’s topic is a tricky one, isn’t it?
Because sometimes when you want to tell the truth,
you can feel as lonely as this lighthouse,
out there all by itself,
trying to keep the ship off the rocks,
all by its lonesome. 

Because the truth about the truth is this:
There are always more layers than we know.

Life is complicated,
and understanding what has happened,
why it has happened,
and who made it happen
can sometimes take a while to suss out.

This is most especially true when it comes to truth-telling
about anybody else — we cannot know all the pieces,
all the layers of their story, can we?

Maybe that’s why I want to emphasize personal truth-telling
in this post: telling the truth about yourself,
as well as you possibly can,
with care and caution and concern. 

There are a lot ‘catch-words’ about this truth-telling stuff
making the rounds these days.
Words like ‘authenticity,’ ‘vulnerability,’ ‘telling-it-like-it-is.’
And those are fine words, good words, important words.
But sometimes, in our efforts to tell the truth,
we can find ourselves standing out there, all by our lonesome,
a bright red tree against a sea of green,
calling attention to ourselves,
and not always in the way we intended, either. 

So, I want to give you permission to tell the truth,
to tell your truth.

But I want to give it with  a caution.
Tell it first to a small group of like-minded people,
people who know you, who love you, who want the best for you.
Then you won’t feel like so much of a stand-out —
you’ll be one among several.
Sometimes we need to practice truth-telling
in a safe environment,
with people who know us,
before we make any declarations to the universe
about who we are and what we’re dealing with. 

Then, when the time comes
to tell the truth in a bigger pond,
a pond where you really might be the stand-out attraction,
you’ll have that experience to help you tell it.
You’ll shine, and you’ll begin to reflect
the Truth with a capital “T” to all who listen.
And that’s the kind of truth-telling that changes things.

Authenticity is a very good thing;
just make sure you know your truth very well indeed
before you share it with the wider world. 

31 Days of Giving Permission . . . TO GET ANGRY

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There are days when it’s good to be the bright, angry flower in the midst of those without much color. Not every day, not even very many days. But more days than most of us are comfortable admitting.

You know what I mean? Sometimes, you gotta speak up. Take a stand. Tell it true, and clean, and hard. Because sometimes, life demands it. The injustices, the inequities, the ugliness — sometimes the best response is this one:

ANGER. 

I’m not talking about reactivity, or defensiveness, or pique. I’m talking about good ole righteous indignation, the sense that someone done someone else wrong, and the only thing for it is truth-telling. Now.

Where did we ever get the idea that to be Jesus-followers, we had to be a milquetoast group of people? And why did the word ‘nice’ become for too many people, both inside and outside the church, the word that epitomizes Christianity?

Jesus certainly wasn’t ‘nice’ a lot of the time. He was kind, generous, interesting, intelligent,
empathetic, powerful, but nice? It doesn’t quite fit, somehow.  How did we lose sight of the prophetic voice of Jesus, the straight-talking, cut-to-the-chase, tell-it-like-it-is Jesus? Or the Jesus who saw people suffer and die and responded with ‘indignation,’ literally with a tightening in his guts, the kind of tightening that we’re all familiar with, if we’re honest.

Because here’s the truth — anger, in and of itself, is a neutral thing. It’s an honest emotion, triggered by a wide variety of circumstances and situations. It’s what we do with the anger that adds moral valence, right?

We have all seen anger misused, exaggerated, overplayed and misplaced. Those are times when the emotion of anger gets all tangled up with pride or fear or jealousy. But pure anger, honest indignation when things are not right, are not just? That kind of anger is a powerful thing, a force that can change the world, when it’s submitted to God, focussed on justice and used to motivate people to change for the better.

If you’d like to read a post that takes that powerful emotion and channels it directly through the Holy Spirit to challenge the hearts and minds of others, hop on over to Sarah Styles Bessey’s post and see what I mean.

 

 

Giving Permission . . . to LEARN

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These words speak to me today,

“Come to me, all you that are weary . . .
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. . .” 

I consider myself a ‘life-long learner.’
I enjoy learning new things, re-learning old things,
challenging myself with new ideas and difficult concepts.

But some things . . .
well, some things, I never seem to learn deeply enough.

And these lovely words from Jesus tell me that
THIS is one of those things:

resting in Jesus.

Oh, my. I say I love to learn,
that I’m eager to try new things.
But this one?
This kind of learning?

I am a slow student in this school,
plodding through life on my own strength,
adding responsibilities, 
accumulating too much stuff,
making too many commitments.

There is a drivenness in me that
pushes me to jump on that merry-go-round,
the one that spins on my insecurities
and overweening ego,
the one that makes me dizzy and tired.

So today, I am going back to school.
I want to learn from Jesus about gentleness,
about humility,
about rest.

What about you?
Is it time to rest from the spinning,
to let a plate or two drop,
to admit that you aren’t a super-powered human being?

Because the good news is that Jesus wants us to be life-long learners.
As long as this lesson is on the top of the to-do stack: 

“. . .take my yoke upon you, and learn from  me . . .”

iPhone Journaling: Just Write

 

For years I kept prayer journals, the only kind of journaling I’ve ever really done. I have never enjoyed handwriting, and now increasing joint pain makes it difficult. All the writing how-to books say you have to write longhand to get to the heart of things, however. Clearly, that is not working for me. So, I’ve adapted to technology just a little bit and have occasionally used the microphone system on my iPhone to get my musings written down. This is the most recent of those musings. Joining this with Heather’s JustWrite linky for the first time in months.

I watch them, has they wield their strollers past my car. Young, strong, beautiful. One stroller with two babes inside, maybe nine months separating them in age. Another with a single ten-month old.

They’re smiling at each other, laughing as they push their beautiful burdens up the hill. It’s funny how I don’t remember laughing very much as a mother to very young children. I’m sure I did. My children were delightful, smart, and funny. And much of that time in my life was, indeed, joyful.

But mostly what I remember now is the fatigue. And the doubt.  And all the questions about whether or not I was enough. I don’t remember having very many friends who had babes in strollers at the same time I did. I remember feeling alone, very alone.

We’d been gone for two years, So most of our college friends had moved on, going in other directions. I had one neighbor with young children, but she worked. I remember joining the food co-op, getting a weekly delivery of fruits and vegetables. And out of that group, a babysitting co-op grew, and there I did connect with others who were at the same stage of life.

Maybe that’s why I have a hard time relating to so many of the young moms who write in the blog-o-sphere, those who connect at a heart level with other mothers of children the same ages as their own. That kind of connection was very difficult for me to find, and if found, for a long list of reasons, very hard for me to continue.

What is it about me that resists friendship.? I have a lot of “friends” but how many know my heart? Thankfully, there are some. And at this juncture in my life story, I am finding it easier to connect via the internet than in real life. Why is that?

I’m sitting at the ocean, trying to sort through the mass of mixed feelings going on inside me right now. I carry my mom around with me most of the time. I carry my children, and my grandchildren. I’m looking at some fairly minimal, but still invasive health issues, and I always find that wearying and worrying. I need a Spiritual Director, and I’ve been looking for over a year. Pursued several different avenues, none of which have worked out thus far. Lord, whom shall I see? Who would you have me work with?

Today as I stare at the sea, this is what I see:

The ocean is relentless. It keeps coming. The waves roll, whether small or large, but they roll. The surface today is relatively calm, and the kelp beds are not moving much. Very few waterfowl today, either. I keep looking for pelicans, so far I see none.

I wonder if the dolphins will peek through the water with the tips of their fins; they always bring a sense of hope and a spirit of playfulness to my day. I think I could use a good dose of both right now.

Another day, another doctor’s visit. This one for my mother, she has a nasty bruise on her lower right calf and now, a low-grade fever. So we’ll go back to the doctor – we were just there five days ago, And two days before that. And in between her medical visits, I have my own. It’s funny how these medical events seem to come in seasons.

Make that ‘funny peculiar,’ not ‘funny ha-ha.’ There’s not a lot of ha-ha-ing going on just now. All of it together creates a sort of low-level sense of anxiety, sometimes for days in a row, and I always find that wearing.

I’m grateful for this parking space, and the sound of the waves. Now I see three pelicans, the holy trio winging their way further out to sea. No dolphins yet, but I remain hopeful.

The undulating water somehow centers my spirit, and calms my heart. I can feel my breathing slow down, and my muscles relax. This morning, everything is thick with fog, something I usually dislike intensely. But today, it suits my mood.

There’s something womblike about it, soothing, calming, Like a balm to my wounded self. Henri Nouwen talks a lot about wounded healers, and I believe him. I just don’t much enjoy the wounding part. I wait, with some sense of restlessness, for the emerging part of this process.

To emerge from the woundedness is a good and important thing. On the other side of this season of sadness, I look forward to offering words of hope and healing to others who find themselves where I am now. In the meantime, I will continue to drive down our hill, turn my car around in the middle-of-the-road, and park on the edge of the bluffs. I will roll my window down, push my seat back, and stare out at the sea.

And I will wait. I will wait for the movement of the Spirit, I will wait for the stirrings of hope. I will wait for what comes next.

 

 

Midweek Service: What Are You Afraid Of?

Continuing a summer series of sermons, posting them on Wednesdays to honor
a tradition of midweek services, long since gone.

This one was preached in the summertime about six years ago
and it is one of my favorites. Every sermon I’ve ever preached
has been preached to me first — and this one hit me where I live.
I am so grateful for a strong, healthy, loving Savior,
who is bigger than my fears and refuses to be categorized as ‘nice.’

What Are You Afraid Of?
Luke 8:26-39
by Diana R.G. Trautwein
A sermon preached at Montecito Covenant Church
June 24, 2007

Things that go bump in the night.  Scary stories or movies.  Invaders who do harm to hearth and home.  Kidnappers, car-jackers, rapists or mercenaries.  Cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis.  The list of things that frighten us sometimes seems endless, don’t you think?  There is something to be frightened about on the news or in the papers every single minute of every single day; there are hard and horrible things happening in our neighborhoods, around the corner, across the street.  Scary stuff happens to our friends, our families, even to us.

Honestly, it is a wonder that we ever leave our homes at all – except for all the scary things in that place!  Spiders in the corner, bathtubs to drown in, showers to slip in, steps to fall down, windows to be broken into, doors to be jimmied….there are days when it feels like they’re (whoever ‘they’ may be) out to get us!  Days when the onslaught of dangerous forces from without makes us want to curl into a fetal position and stay under the blankets all day long.

You think I’m exaggerating – and perhaps I am.  But here’s something I know to be true and not an exaggeration at all.  If you think the stuff that’s outside of us is really, truly scary: just wait ‘til you take a good, long look at the stuff that’s inside of us – that stuff can shiver your timbers, and send you scuttling back to bed for good.

That is, if we’re brave enough to take more than a peek at what’s in there.  Most of the time, it’s easier, and much, much safer, to look to the outside of us . . . and then get to work and build up those walls of resistance, dream up those plans for escape, invest in those security systems, add that extra alarm to our car, buy more insurance for our possessions. The inside of us is much harder to manage, much more difficult to protect, much more terrifying to examine.

There is a series of stories that have come down to us from the 13th century about a fabled wise fool named Nasrudin.  One of my favorites is this one, and I found it in this great little book titled, The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery, written by Dr. David Benner :

 “Nasrudin – the protagonist of many Middle Eastern, Greek and Russian folktales – was approaching the door of his house one night when he suddenly realized he had lost his key.  He tried to look around for it, but the night was so dark he could hardly see the ground.  So he got down on his hands and knees and examined the ground where he was standing.  But it was still too dark to see anything. Moving back toward a street-lamp, he again got down and began a meticulous examination of the area.

        “A friend came by and, noticing him, asked what he was doing.  Nasrudin replied, “I       lost my key and am looking for it.”  So the friend too got down on his hands and knees and began to search.

       “’After a while, the friend asked,  ‘Do you remember where you might have lost the key?’   “’Certainly,” answered Nasrudin.  ‘I lost it in my house.’   ‘’They why are you looking for it out here?’ Because,” answered Nasrudin, “the light is so much better here.””

It’s so much easier to look outside for things, and then try to arm ourselves against all the scary, hard stuff in life that comes at us from ‘out there,’ than it is to look inside, to examine the tough, scary truth about ourselves, as we really are, and by God’s grace and through his powerful word of authority, become who we can be.  It’s that internal look, that interior examination, that wrestling with the demons within that can make the difference between a life that’s lived in fear and denial and a life that’s lived in power and hope.

Our gospel story for today outlines this powerful truth in some interesting and thought-provoking ways.  Will you hear the word of the Lord as it is recorded for us in the gospel of Luke, chapter 8, verses 26-39:

They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.

       Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

    “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

    A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

    When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

    The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

Oh my, what a story.  It comes second in a series of four stories in Luke’s gospel, four stories which tell us about the authority and power which Jesus had in several different realms of human existence.  It directlyfollowsthe story of Jesus calming the stormy sea, simply by the power of his word.  It comes justbeforetwo interwoven miracle stories – one illustrating Jesus’ power to heal chronic illness and one illustrating Jesus’ power over death itself.

In this story, Jesus has just calmed the chaos of the storm, thereby taming the beasts in the natural, created world, and now he proceeds to calm the chaos in this strange, wild, frightening beast of a man who wanders the tombs.

The presence of the swine in this story tells us that Jesus and his band of followers have entered Gentile territory; they’ve crossed the Sea of Galilee and entered a new and different place, only to be immediately accosted by a man described as demon-possessed.

We can’t even begin to understand all the layers of meaning implicit in the use of the word ‘demons’ in this story about Jesus and his word of authority.  21st century westerners are uncomfortable with the idea of evil forces inhabiting human persons.  Many, if not most, people walking the streets of Santa Barbara this morning would deny their existence outright.  Yet missionaries who carry the gospel to less sophisticated cultures than our own, tell stories that sound a whole lot like this one.  Perhaps what one commentator said is true, “Satan has less need to manifest himself openly in a culture that denies his existence.”

Yet despite our own culture’s struggle with the idea of Satan or the devil or his demons, no one living in the here and now can deny the existence of evil in our world and in ourselves.  A great old southern preacher named Fred Craddock says, “All names of the enemies have been changed but the battle still rages.” And while we may not know too much about the kind of demon possession that is pictured here, we certainly know about our own personal demons.  Those things that cripple us and trip us up, big-time.  Those addictions and behaviors and thought processes and reactions that hold us captive, that keep us wandering in the tombs, lonely and frightened and disconnected from our best selves, disconnected from God.

A look at just a few recent news headlines reminds us of this truth:

Last week, police around the world arrested hundreds of people involved in the internet trafficking of child pornography.  31 children – so far – have been released from captivity, some of them involved in horrific, sexual abuse, shown world wide through live video streaming.

Over 6 million Americans aged 12 and over have used crack cocaine at least once in their lives.

5 percent of high school students have used crystal meth.

A US Dept of Health and Human Services bulletin from January of last year, showed that 11% of 8th graders, 22% of 10th graders and 29% of high school seniors had done intense, heavy, binge drinking within the two weeks prior to the survey being taken.  Now, consuming large amounts of alcohol at any age is dangerous, but it is especially calamitous for adolescent brains, causing permanent damage and leading to a lifetime of risky, dangerous behavior patterns.

Every one of these terrifying statistics has at its base the reality of demons within. Because we live in the computer age, we can cover up the mess in there a tad better than the Gerasene man was able to do.  The pedophilia ring that was broken up last week named it’s website “Kids: the Light of Our Lives,” for heaven’s sake.

No, most of our ‘demons’ don’t cause us to wander the cemeteries without our clothes on, yelling at the top of our lungs.

Yet the truth is that every one of us in this room deals with now, or has dealt with at some point in the past, our own particular and unique set of demons.  We each have our shadow side, those areas of pain and difficulty that need to be named and then opened to the healing power of Jesus so that we, too, might become those who are, ‘clothed and in our right minds, sitting at the feet of the Lord.’

Please hear this wonderful truth, however: whatever it is that you’re dealing with inside, it is not outside the reach of Jesus’ authority to resolve.

Look at what happens in our story.  Jesus sails into foreign territory, and makes it his own.  He remains completely calm and unflappable throughout his confrontation with the demon-possessed man, never raising his voice, never saying or doing violence of any kind.  He immediately takes charge of this chaotic and chronic situation, commanding the evil forces to leave the man alone.  Those forces recognize the authority of Jesus, calling him “Son of the Most High God,” and begging for mercy. Jesus calls the demon by name and exercises complete authority over it.  In an almost humorous turn of events, Jesus agrees with the demons to send them into the nearby herd of pigs (one unclean thing into another, I guess!), clearly not allowing them to dictate their ultimate destination.  They end up in the abyss, despite their pleas to the contrary.

Jesus is in charge, from beginning to end, and his authority over the evil that dwells inside of us human creatures is complete and sure.

The man himself is able to witness the resolution of his long-term suffering and imprisonment – he can see those pigs running right off the cliff into the water, and he knows that his healing from the inside out has been accomplished.  He literally becomes a new man.  Discovered by the frightened townspeople to be – not a raving madman, haunting the lonely, desolate places outside of town – but a disciple – (the language of ‘sitting at Jesus’ feet’ is a dead giveaway to his new status) – now they find a learner, a quiet, calm, clear-headed, fully clothed, fully released, God-possessed human being.

Wow!  Time to bring out the fatted calf, right?  The people in the town must have wanted to have a big, old party, don’t you think?

Well . . . not exactly.

Apparently, the evil they knew was far less frightening to them than the power they didn’t know.  So their primary response to this strange Jewish man from the other side of the lake is one of fear, perhaps, even of terror.  Because the authority of Jesus is a very scary thing.  When Jesus comes on the scene, he shakes things up.  He rattles the cage, he upsets the status quo, he does startling things, he can’t be tamed, or put in a box, or sent to the tombs to wander around alone.

Too much modern Christianity forgets this truth.  We’ve tried pretty hard to make Jesus a really nice guy, with a nice smile and great hair. He loves little kids (and indeed, he does), he hunts for little lost lambs (and indeed, he does), he tells quaint stories, he helps people out a lot, he’s just a really great guy, you know?

Look again.  This is one gutsy guy, not intimidated by the crazy man wandering around naked in the graveyard.  This is a guy who talks right back to the demons, who clearly is in charge here, who is willing to do a daring and economically threatening thing like destroy an entire herd of pigs to salvage one human life.  This is a demanding guy, who tells the newly re-born Gerasene that, no, he cannot leave his home and follow him.  Rather, this new disciple must stay put and be a witness in his own hometown. He must tell the story of what God has done for him – he must go back to the town from which he had been ejected and isolated, back to the people who were even more frightened by the dramatic change in his demeanor and behavior than they were by his previous lunacy, back to the very ones who wanted him kept at a safe distance, outside the city gates.  And he must tell them of freedom and of healing and of God’s power.

These are not the responses, these are not the actions, these are not the words of a “really nice guy,” a really “great guy.”  Maybe this air-brushing we do so easily and so frequently is one of the ways in which we, too, ask Jesus to leave, to get away from us, because we cannot understand his power, we cannot accept his authority.  We domesticate him right out of the picture.  Dorothy Sayers, British writer and theologian from the early 20th century, put it this way:

“The people who hanged Christ…never accused him of being a bore. On the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up the shadowing personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the lion of Judea, certified him ‘meek and mild,’ and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.”

May God forgive us for trying to smooth off the brave, outrageous edges of our magnificent Savior!

If we are to face our own demons, we need Someone who is strong and unflappable, One who is centered and authoritative, a Friend to stand with us, to go before us, to show us the truth about ourselves, to name that demon within and to tell it, in no uncertain terms, exactly where it can go!

Jesus is that Friend.  Thanks be to God.

 

Let us pray:

Holy God, Brave Savior, Powerful Holy Spirit,

Oh, how we thank you for this story.  For the clear evidence of your deep desire for our wholeness, for the word of authority that only you can speak to the demons within.  They have lots of names, Lord, and sometimes we’re too frightened or too proud to acknowledge their presence.  Deep and dark sexual fantasies, addictions to alcohol, or pornography, or drugs, or food, or shopping, or gambling.  An untamed tongue that too often flares in anger, or cuts in criticism, a spirit of despair that feels increasingly familiar and comfortable, an unwillingness to extend ourselves in your name to people we find scary or odd, a spirit of lethargy or apathy that keeps us at a distance from people or projects that would bring us good and build your kingdom, a debilitating shyness that inhibits our ability to offer that cup of cold water, a refusal to think of those from other cultures or other races as creatures also made in your image.

You know us better than we know ourselves, Lord.  Show us what we need to name.  By your grace, enable us to release authority over our demons to you, embolden us to ask for help, if we need it – medical or psychological or recovery help – all of them instruments of your healing power – then continue to heal us from the lingering aftereffects not only of our own demons, but also of the denial, of the wrong behavior, of the wrong choices that such demons produce in us. Then we will gladly bear witness to all that you have done for us, O Lord, because of Jesus, in whose name we pray, Amen.

 

 

The Heart of It All: Word Candy

This is a quote (and a picture) that says so much to me!
Because I believe this is the primary call of God to each and every one of us:
to grow up into the persons we’re meant to be —
loving, faithful, whole people who look a lot like Jesus.

HAPPY FEBRUARY, EVERYONE!!

Word Candy. . . Some Sweetness and Light

There’s a wonderful new app out there that allows you to pick from a wide variety of fabulous, short quotes and then set that quote against either a photo (all of which are way cool) or a colored background. You can do amazing things with these Word Candies:

     …post them on your wall at Facebook
     …send them in an email to a friend or two. . . or three
     …tweet them to a friend (or several)
     …put them up on your blog
     …use them as a springboard for a poem or a post
     …cheer yourself up on a blue day. 

This one pretty much summarizes why I blog at all — no one else can tell my stories. And no one else can tell yours, either — only YOU.



You can get there by clicking on this line. You sign in using Facebook or Twitter and then – let the fun begin!

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