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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

I Hate This Scripture

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, "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." Luke 14:25-26 

God, I hate this scripture. 

I know. I know all the interpretive gymnastics that surround it. I know how "scripture interprets scripture" and how I should balance this instance against Jesus' commandments to love. I know I should remember his care for Mary even when on the cross. I know Jesus tends to speak in hyperbole. I know "hatred" of life itself means being sick of societal emptiness. I know this is likely not Jesus himself speaking, but a theological argument by the early, Gentile-friendly Lukan church against exclusive, genealogical righteousness. I know that if scripture contained no contradictions, was easy or unequivocal, it wouldn't be scripture. I know all this. And not one word of it helps me like these verses.

If scripture tells me to hate my parents and children and life itself, I'd rather hate scripture. 

The part of me that wants to be God's Public Defender would argue that my client's words were taken out of context. He didn't really mean them to be taken literally and absolutely.

But what if he did?

That's why I hate this scripture.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Get Out of the Soil and Into the Boat

Get Out of the Soil and Into the Boat


Matthew 13

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Parable of the Sower

13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: "Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!"


The Parable of the Sower Explained

18 "Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."




When Jesus preached, he didn't give speeches as much as he told parables. Parables were like really short stories that kept people from falling asleep. Parables also could be interpreted more than one way. It might sound like Jesus was talking about a farmer sowing seeds, or a woman who lost a coin, but he wasn't. Parables were Jesus's way of making us see the mysteries of heaven in ordinary life. Jesus kept his sermons from getting boring and made them surprisingly deep by telling parables.


Another thing Jesus did when he preached is that he didn't stand behind a pulpit. A lot of times he just sat down where he was and started teaching. If he was standing in a garden of flowers, he'd say, "Consider the lilies of the field." If he was by the water, he'd stand on the shore, with the sand between his toes. And a couple of times, he got in a boat, and preached from there.


So, both in how Jesus preached and where Jesus preached, he kept it real, and he kept it moving.




Now, one day, Jesus is standing in a boat, keeping it real, and keeping it moving. One of the basic rules of small boating is you're not supposed to stand up, because it really does keep moving. You might lean into your big summary point, and suddenly find that you're literally all wet. Or over your head. Or washed up. Preaching from a boat puts it all on the line.


So, preaching from a boat, Jesus tells a story about seeds that a farmer has planted. Seeds don't move. Once a seed is planted, it stays put. People, Jesus explained, are like seeds. We stay put. Once we figure out what kind of person we are, we stay rooted. Once we decide what we're going to believe, once we decide how we're going to behave, once we choose our lifestyle and our friends, once we make our habits, we get set, we get set in our ways, and we put down roots that cling tight to the dirt beneath our feet. It might be dirty, but it's our dirt, it's where we're planted, it's familiar territory. In other words, don't rock the boat. Stay the way you are. Life's just easier that way.




Jesus tells this parable about people as different kinds of seeds, in different situations. One kind gets sown on the path. Another falls into rocky ground. Another ends up in the thorns. And another is lucky enough to be thrown onto good, rich soil.


The obvious question is, what kind of seed are you? Are you someone the word of God bounces off of because you're so set in your ways, like a hard-worn path? Are you an early-adopter who gets all excited about Jesus in the morning, but then gets easily distracted by something newer and shinier in the heat of the day? Would you like to live by the word of God, except that you're surrounded by all these pricky people who want to choke the life out of you? Or are you that good, fertile soil where the word of God takes root and yields exponential growth?


We're all our harshest judges, so I'm guessing most of us would not say we're the rich, dark soil of miraculous growth. It's also good to remember that rich, dark soil usually contains a lot of fertilizer. So if you think you're so rich and dark, you might want to not broadcast it all the time.


But there's something else going on in this scene of Jesus preaching that day. It's a bit of dramatic irony, and if you're studying dramatic irony in English class right now, sorry for bringing up the unpleasant memory. But it's kind of weird and easily overlooked. Did you catch it?


It's this. Here's Jesus, preaching while standing in a boat. He's standing in the most fluid, most moveable, most changing, most challenging place possible. And he's talking about people. People being rooted in their ground.


People stay put. Jesus moves. People get stuck in one place, for good for bad. People tend to stay there. People tend to get mad at the world moving around them. Jesus in the boat? Not so much. Jesus goes with the flow. Jesus rides the waves. Jesus adapts.


Once you get that Jesus is offshore, talking about people stuck in-shore, there's a less obvious, but deeper question than what kind of seed you are. The deeper question is, do you want to be pinned in one place, one way, one piece of dirt… or do you want to get in the boat with Jesus? Do you want to be a person who hears the word and sits there, or do you want to be the one helping people ride the waves, adjust their balance, and sail toward new horizons?


Jesus was not someone to stay stuck in the ground. Nor should you be that kind of person, either.


Jesus said to take up your cross and follow him. But he might have also said to stand up, shake off the dirt, and move into new territory. Take up your boat, and follow him. Move toward the people the waves of life are tossing overboard. Help them into your vessel. Don't worry so much about what kind of seed you are; just get in the boat with Jesus. And go.


Let anyone with ears listen.


And let anyone with a little courage cast off.