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

Sunday, July 31, 2016


2016-07-31 Luke 9:51-62

Who likes jigsaw puzzles?
I also think jigsaw puzzles are great… when they're finished.
I like pretty pictures.
I'm amazed that people have the patience to work jigsaw puzzles.
Personally, I regard jigsaw puzzles as slightly less painful than waterboarding.

You puzzle people: have you ever gotten a puzzle that didn't come with all the pieces?
There also might be some of you non-puzzlers – and I sure hope not – who think it would be funny to drive a puzzle person crazy by taking a piece from one puzzle box and exchanging it with a piece from a similar puzzle.
Fruit bowl – salad bowl.
You people are sick.

To some of us, the Bible is like a giant jigsaw puzzle.
Sure it was written at different times by different people, but it was all guided by God.
So, logic says, if you work hard enough, if you know enough to spread out all the different pieces in front of you, then they SHOULD fit together into one glorious whole.
Does that make sense?

What's more, the pieces of the Bible ought to fit together one way, and one way only.
If you work it right, Paul shouldn't be contradicting Moses, and Moses shouldn't be contradicting Jesus, and Jesus sure shouldn't be contradicting himself.

The Bible ought to make sense in an assembled jigsaw picture sort of way, provided no cruel devil has snuck in and messed it up.
And if we're only smart enough, we ought to be able to figure it out.

And if it works that way for God's creation, the Bible, then it ought to work that way for God's creation – creation.
Sure, we look different from people far, far away.
Sure, we sound different from people in New Joisey.
But if God is the Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer of ALL humankind, then it would make sense that humans could be kind to one another, and as Rodney King said, "All just get along."

But no.
Two political party conventions in two weeks have made this plain.
Shootings and protests and Twitter have made this plain.
Maybe we could get along if we all just understood each other a little more.
Democrats and Republicans, Christians and Muslims, the Big Orange and the Crimson Tide – maybe if we could join together and learn where we're each coming from, maybe then the puzzle pieces would fit.
But no.
It always seems that as soon as two groups start to get together to form a picture of unity, some wise guy swaps out a puzzle piece, and the whole thing goes crazy again.


Today's scripture gives pieces that don't fit together.
It's a hard scripture.
It points out how Jews and Samaritans can't stand one another, even though they both worship the God of Abraham.
It points out how disciples of Jesus want to set fire to people who aren't as nice as they are.
It points out that the God of family values pulls people away from the families they value.

This is indeed a puzzle.
What do we do when our scripture butts up against scripture – when maybe even our own faith butts up against faith – and we can't figure out how to make it all fit together?
What do we say to people we ought to be able to get along with, but for some reason just can't?
Do we not have all the pieces?
Or are we just not smart enough to make it work?

Sometimes God teaches us by how miraculously things work out all picture-perfect smoothly.
But God can also teach us by putting scripture together, and by putting people together, where there are gaps between the jagged edges.
And in those God-gaps, it takes God to make it work.


On one hand…

On the one hand, we have a story about the disciples wanting to call down fire upon the people who rejected Jesus.
Jesus has "set his face to go to Jerusalem." 
Along the way, he enters a Samaritan village.
These are not Good Samaritans.
These are bad Samaritans.
Actually, they're not really bad, they're just Samaritans.
And you know how they are.
Oh, maybe not.
But you DO know some theys, you know some thems, and you know how them theys are. 
Those people.
Those people.
Those [you fill in the blank].
What a sorry bunch of whiners.

The likely truth is that you or I couldn't tell an Jew from a Samaritan without a Bible dictionary and DNA testing.
Truth is, the disciples probably couldn't articulate the difference either.
They just knew those people were bad.

Here's where the puzzle pieces start not to fit.
Because, you know, once a Samaritan, always a Samaritan.
If God doesn't like them in First Kings, Second Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos and Micah, why would God not want to fry them in Luke?
But no.
God, Jesus, turns and rebukes his disciples, the good guys.
No explosions.
No flaming Samaritans.
What's up with that?


And then, on the other hand…

On the other hand, we have people who want to follow the Son of God.
Butting up against the scripture where Jesus just blows off the rudeness of a rude race of people, is this other collection of verses.
Here, good people want to be better people.
People want to give their hearts to Christ.
And they want to have good manners about it, too.
One would like to bury his father.
Seems like a pretty good reason to me.
Another wants to say goodbye to his family, so they don't think he just went out for a smoke and never came home.
These good people who want to be better people want to obey the scriptures of God that say, "Honor your father and your mother," among others, and they want to follow Jesus, too.

"Let the dead bury the dead," Jesus says to one.
"No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God," he says to another.
Why is it that Jesus can say that not a jot or an iota will be removed from the law of God, and then turn around and call down shame upon the people who want to obey the law?
And how is it that Jesus can shrug off the rudeness of rude people while not giving good people a chance to do good?


Nothing in this scripture fits together very well – with itself or with other pieces of the Bible.
What does that tell us – we people who don't like those people?
Weird, rude, obnoxious kinds of people.
What does it say to us who would like to be better if only we can find the time?
What does it mean that scripture is sometimes just as jumbled as we are?
On one hand this, and on the other hand that – what do we do?

What's on your hands?

If I raise my hands to the side, palms up, with my shoulders scrunched up, press my lips together, and open my eyes wide, how would you translate that body language?
Beats the heck out of me.
But if I were to change my posture just a little, if I relaxed my shoulders and face, what would my body language say?
You see, the first is the universal sign for frustration.
The second is a posture of prayer.

When we have this on one hand and that on the other, when our hands won't go together, when not even scripture goes together, when WE can't get it together this stance is where we're left.
And the difference between frustration and prayer is very, very small.
When our body is tense, we get frustration; when it's just a little relaxed, we get prayer.

Maybe the pieces of your life-puzzle don't fit perfectly together.
You can get out a hammer and make them fit.
You can try to copy something from somebody else, maybe even steal it, or borrow it.
Or you can sit back and consider the shape of the space in between.
We all have spaces between what we know and how we'd like things to be.
And while those differences can bug the devil out of us, they're often exactly the places we find God.
Scripture like today's tells us those uneven gaps are precisely the places where Jesus tends to show up.


These days, the gap between the world we thought we knew growing up and the world we live in now keeps expanding.
We really are a melting pot – or a boiling pot – as races, religions and streams of thought butt up against each other.
Nothing seems to fit.
What do we do?
Do we throw up our hands in frustration and call down flames of punishment?
Some people do.
There are a lot of good, Christian people who would like to see their enemies simply wiped out.
But when some good, Christian disciples suggested that same idea, Jesus just said, "No."


Ironically, Jesus was a lot harder on his disciples than on the people who didn't like him.
He had no patience for those who wanted to stay in the safety of recited commandments.
Not that the commandments didn't apply or were outdated.
But Jesus was living in a world where all the pieces didn't fit together into one glorious picture.
Kinda like we are.
Jesus lived – and is living – in OUR world of jagged edges and troubles boiling over.


Scripture says that Jesus "set his face toward Jerusalem."
What does that mean?
It means he aimed toward an end greater than himself and he would not let himself be distracted, neither by rudeness, nor by righteousness.
Where the disciples – or you and I – throw up our hands in frustration, Jesus lifts up his hands in single-minded prayer.
Jesus' journey to Jerusalem is a single-minded act of prayer that the disciples – and backsliding you and I – and even the rude "those people" of the world will receive salvation.

We are following Jesus.
Up ahead.
It's Jesus.
He's raising his hands in hope for you, or maybe he's throwing up his hands over you.
What do you think?
When you're following someone from a distance, it's hard to tell the difference between frustration and hope.
There's kind of a gap in our perception.

No, things don't always fit together into one glorious picture.
And a good portion of that is our own fault.
We slice and divide ourselves so there's no possible way we can get along.
But another good portion of the problem is that this is a broken world.
We're part of a puzzle that IS missing some of the pieces.
Whether we throw up our hands in frustration or in prayer is our choice.
You can look at the shape of the God-gaps and see failure.
Or you can look for the shape of God.