Read Mark 10:2–16 (references to Genesis 18:12–15 and Psalm 2:4)

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Over the centuries, and especially over the last fifty years, most of the laughter in church has been unintentional.  My argument this morning, however, will be that God actually intends to cultivate a Spirit-filled sense of humor that will subvert the seriousness with which we take ourselves and our methods for moving forward in the spiritual life…

Baptismal fonts have been set up at the north and south ends of the sanctuary for this morning’s service.  Children will be baptized at both ends.   

Bertha Belch a missionary from Africa, will be speaking tonight at Calvary Methodist.  Come here Bertha Belch all the way from Africa. 

The peacemaking meeting scheduled for today has been cancelled due to a conflict. Remember in prayer the many that are sick of our community.  Smile at someone who is hard to love.  Say ‘hell’ to someone who doesn’t care much about you. 

Don’t let worry kill you off—let the Church help. 

Our youth basketball team is back in action Wednesday at 8 p.m. in the recreation hall.  Come and out and watch us kill Christ the King. 

The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind.  They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon. 

The Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 p.m.  Please use back door. 

For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs. 

Barbara remains in the hospital and needs blood donors for more transfusions.  She is also having trouble sleeping and requests tapes of Pastor Jack’s Sermons. 

The cost for attending the Fasting and Prayer conference includes meals. 

Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church.  So ends a friendship that began in their school days. 

Ladies, don’t forget the rummage sale.  It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house.  Don’t forget your husbands.  

We need to be very careful this morning as I recount the topics of conversation from Mark 10.   Among them are important issues like marriage and divorce, whether or not children should kept at a safe distance from Jesus or anything holy, how to inherit eternal life and maintain a healthy portfolio of stock options, the authority of the Bible and finally the method by which the disciples of Jesus may wish to become truly great.   I want to be clear; there is nothing innately comical about any of these concerns, not the least of which is divorce.   And yet, what is funny, in a theological kind of way, is again the method by which the Pharisees repeatedly try to trap, trick and otherwise embarrass Jesus.  

  

You see, the Pharisees are the religious experts in first century Judaism.   They have studied the scriptures and in the process mastered a variety of skills, techniques and systematic ways by which they may assert their own faithfulness.  For example, with regard to divorce, these scholars of the text avail themselves of every loophole known to the Jewish male.  The women, according to Deuteronomy 24, are simply out of luck.  If they do something “objectionable” like over-cooking breakfast, or putting too much starch in the husband’s tunic, the biblical precedent is to allow men to divorce their wives without fear or guilt or shame.  Now, if all of this sounds completely unfair, Jesus agrees.  But he agrees not because he thinks, in contemporary fashion, that women should have their rights too.  No, in verse five, he declares that Moses wrote this commandment and allowed for divorce “because of your hardness of heart.”  

That Greek word for “hardness of heart,” you see, is at the root of everything that Jesus deals with in Mark 10.   Sklerokardia refers, not simply to obstinacy and stubbornness, but to an over-serious attitude toward one’s self.  After agreeing to let the people of Israel go in Exodus 8 and 9, for example, Pharoah’s heart is hardened repeatedly, and each time the result comes in the form of an overly serious methodology or technique.   Pharoah’s plans are intended to restore his all-powerful and self-sufficient image.   But, in the context of God’s wonders on behalf of the freed Hebrew people, the seriousness of Pharoah’s heart is laughable. 

  

And so…  Latah Laughs at the serious business of the world, knowing that the best methods of human beings won’t make things perfect.   What if the hardness of the Pharisees or the seriousness of Pharoah asserts itself again in the methods we use to run a church, or in the techniques we employ to prove how spiritual, or how righteous, or how faithful we are?    Let me show this clip from Monty Python And The Holy Grail, and I think you’ll get the picture.  As you watch this scene, keep your focus on the religious methodology or the sacred technique, and ask yourself why this is so funny, or this is so offensive.

[Show clip, Scene 22–“The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch”]

People were bringing little children to [Jesus] in order that he might touch them; the disciples spoke sternly to them…  

As [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 

I want to take those two scenes, the first from verse 13, and the second from verse 17, and based on them, suggest how the very people who aspire to follow Jesus seriously often take themselves too seriously.   That’s a problem, I believe, because of our utter dependence upon God’s grace.  That’s a problem because all the important and vital work that goes into our salvation and wholeness—all of it—has been instigated and perfected by God.

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Let me tell you a story.  When our now-sixteen-year-old son was younger, he would sometimes have trouble falling asleep.  One night, both Sheryl and I were exasperated, at our wits end.  Ian had been not simply crying, he was wailing, for over an hour and nothing would console him.  So, remembering that during our trips in the mini-van, he would routinely nod off, I strapped the four-year-old into his car-seat and off we drove.   Of course, we had no where to go in particular.  My purpose was simply to prove the method; when Ian’s in the car seat, he sleeps.  At home, in his own bed, he wails.  Anyway, on this specific night, it didn’t work.  In fact, nothing worked until I stopped the van on the side of the road, turned around and talked to Ian like this:  “Are you sad?”  His response came immediately, almost like he had been waiting for the right word.  He said, “I’m sad…  I’m sad…  I’m sad…” 

And then, at last, he slept.

You see, I’m relating that episode not to embarrass Ian, but to suggest that something like it happens whenever we try to make faith in Jesus a matter of following steps one, two and three in order to achieve results A, B or C.   “Truly, I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (v. 15).   That seems so counter-intuitive.  But it’s kind of like the dynamic of coming to worship on Sunday morning.  I’ve heard folks describe the purpose of church in terms of getting individuals saved and into heaven when they die.  I’ve also seen how the church’s message is reduced to a matter of training in morality.   The problem with both of these perceptions is that a little child wouldn’t understand them.  What a child understands is a trusting and nurturing relationship, a relationship in which he or she is totally dependent and vulnerable and finally given the language to express that dependence. 

  

In adulthood, of course, we learn.  But among the sordid things that we learn is how to manipulate and get our needs met through that manipulation.  This is what I contend to be happening in Mark 10:17 when the man flatters Jesus with this elaborate title:  “Good Teacher!”    Now, referring to someone like Jesus as “Good” may appear totally innocuous—except when it comes from the lips of a person who wants to know what he “must do” in order to “inherit eternal life.”   Coming from this kind of scheming person, it’s a ploy and that’s why Jesus comes back at him with, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God alone” (v. 18).  

In my previous congregation, we baptized infants as well as adults, and the way we did it was to sprinkle water on the person and say something like “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit… you’ve been marked as Christ’s own forever.”  That’s how we did it.  But we could have also gone out to some creek, some lake, some river or some lake and totally dunked the person.  

  

Well, imagine my chagrin when I learned that another congregation referred to our sprinkling as invalid.   This church said that individuals had to be baptized as adults only and that each person had to be totally immersed, going backwards beneath the surface of the water.  You had to do it this way, or else the baptism would not take.  

  

Now I find that laughable.  I don’t laugh at the people who believe it.  For them I am sad because they’ve been indoctrinated in the hard schemes of the Pharoah.   They’ve received their religious training at the feet of the Pharisees, and therefore they restrict God’s unpredictable and boundless mercy to something that they do and do in the right way.  But can you imagine when this mortal life fades and we’re standing in the luminous presence of God?  Can you imagine the immortal splendor?  And then, can you imagine an angel in that glorious realm, tapping the Sovereign Lord of the Universe on the shoulder and saying, “I’m sorry Lord, but in 1964 our records show that Charles Scott Pyle had only been sprinkled”?   Now, if that’s the way eternal life is going to play out, we’re screwed.  

 We might as well spend our remaining time, telling bad jokes like this one:  There’s this atheist who found himself in the midst of shark-infested waters, and just as the one Great White predator circled around, he decided to pray.  He prayed, Dear Lord, I know that I don’t really believe in you, but if you could help this shark believe in you, I’d be forever grateful.  Just in that moment, the shark froze and the atheist looked relieved.  The shark then bowed its head and said this prayer, “For the gifts I am about to receive, may the Lord make me truly grateful.  Amen.” 

Lingering has a reputation, and it’s not a very good one.  Miss Manners will tell you that to linger long after all the guests have left the party is bad form.   To linger after dusk in Central Park, you’re just begging to be mugged.  Malingering, a close associate of lingering, has often been observed casing the scene of the crime.   Gated neighborhoods frequently post signs which prohibit soliciting.  Convenience stores discourage loitering.   And lingering, I’m convinced, is not far behind.   No one enjoys the lingering scent of the spoiled chicken casserole.  And last but not least, I will never forget the bedside moment, a few weeks before my father’s death, when he instructed me in this way:  “Don’t let me linger.”    

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The reputation of lingering, you see, is not very edifying or uplifting.  But if it’s going to be part of the Latah Valley Mission Statement (and I believe that it must be), we’re going to have to overlook that initial impression.   For example, in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus has been known to linger. 

  • Jesus lingers amid the crowd when it’s clear that there’s not enough for everyone to eat. 
  • Jesus lingers on the mountain when it’s clear that the disciples are ready to set sail. 
  • Jesus lingers on the open water, when the weather forecast looks bleak. 
  • Jesus lingers on the other side of the sea. 
  • Jesus lingers when people want to make him king by force. 
  • And Jesus lingers when people have been utterly offended by his remarks about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. 

Jesus clearly practices the art of lingering.  The only question relates to the criteria which determines where and when he allows himself to linger.   Latah Lingers at the places where and in the moments when people need to hear about the love of Jesus Christ…  That sounds wonderful.   But how exactly does Jesus himself discern the difference between lingering that’s spiritually healthy versus lingering that’s potentially hazardous.  One, it seems, is marked by a sense of openness and abundance.  The other is marked by a combination of denial and despair.     

In his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning tells the story of a twelve-step group where one of the alcoholics lingered in a state of denial.   Max had claimed in group sessions that he had been a model parent to his children, and with the exception of what happened with his daughter last Christmas Eve, he felt proud of his family relationships and the way he had conducted himself. The therapist interrupted with a question about what had happened on Christmas Eve and Max said that he didn’t remember. So, after rigging a conference call with his wife, the entire group listened to a soft voice tell the story:

“Our daughter Debbie wanted a pair of earth shoes for her Christmas present. On the afternoon of December 24, my husband drove her downtown, gave her sixty dollars and told her to buy the best pair of shoes in the store. That is exactly what she did. When she climbed back into the pick-up truck her father was driving, she kissed him on the cheek and told him he was the best daddy in the whole world. Max was preening himself like a peacock and decided to celebrate on the way home. He stopped at the Cork’ n Bottle… and told Debbie he’d be right out. It was a clear and extremely cold day, about twelve degrees above zero, so Max left the motor running and locked both doors from outside so no one could get in. It was a little after three in the afternoon and… [Silence…] My husband met some old army buddies in the tavern. Swept up in euphoria over the reunion, he lost track of time and lingered… he came out of the Cork ‘n Bottle at midnight. He was drunk. The motor had stopped running and the car windows were frozen shut. Debbie was badly frostbitten on both ears and her fingers. When we got her to the hospital the doctors had to operate. They amputated the thumb and the forefinger on her right hand. She will be deaf for the rest of her life” (p. 128, 129).

Jesus, you see, has to rehabilitate and re-direct that kind of behavior.  There’s nothing innately wrong with bars or with talking to your army buddies.  Jesus had a reputation for lingering with the most deluded and dubious people.  “Look, a glutton and a drunkard,” the Pharisees say of him in Matthew 11:19. But is it possible that Jesus associated with “tax collectors and sinners” for reasons that have nothing to do with the taste of wine or the pleasure of their company?   Please tell me that it’s possible.   And if it’s possible, it’s also probable that God calls you and me into the same dynamic. 

There’s a scene in one of my favorite films, called The Big Kahuna, in which two businessmen linger late at night in a hotel suite.  Both of them have been friends for years as well as colleagues in the field of industrial lubricants.  Their reason for being in Wichita, however, is that they desperately need to land this one prized account, and they need to land this one prized account because that’s what some people do to make money.  And they desperately need to make money in order to buy food and they need to buy food in order to eat the food and they need to do that because they want to live and they want to live because…  [Show clip.] Now, if you think that conversations like that one are far removed from the conversations and the stories in the Bible, I’d like you to think again. 

In John 6:9, for example, we read about “a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish.”   Andrew refers to this anonymous child in the midst of 5,000 men (not to mention the women and the other children) who apparently have nothing to eat.  Moreover, even if Jesus and the disciples had arranged for shuttles to transport the people back to the village, “six months wages” would not be enough to buy even a little box lunch for each one.  So, it’s clear that Jesus has a logistics problem.  Plus, all this commotion took place during the celebration of Passover, and if you know anything about holiday shopping, you know that the local economy depends upon these 5,000 men getting back to business.   Can they truly afford to linger there in the wilderness any longer?    

Well, it turns out, that they can.  They can linger because Jesus himself chooses to perform one of his more notorious miracles.  Think carefully about the scenario in terms of your own time and your own resources.  With the resources provided by only one who had been prepared to linger with Jesus—that little boy in John 6:9—every holiday shopper and every businessman reclined on the grass.  No one got to buy a lot and no one was forced to buy a little.  Everyone ate and was satisfied.  And here’s what I’m thinking about that little boy and Latah Valley.  We can be like him.   We can come prepared to linger, to stay in a place, in a moment until all are fed. 

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I’ll never forget one morning, standing at the counter of Burger King.  In front of me was a man who had just ordered the hash browns, the sausage and the large cup of coffee.  I heard him place the order and observed him from behind as he reached into his wallet for the cash.  Just then, on the collar of his pressed, extremely starched shirt, however, I spied the price tag from Macys.   Apparently he had just purchased the clothes and was in so much of a hurry to get to work that he forgot to clip them off.   So, very discretely, I tried to tell him about it.  I told him and guess what?  He apologized!   

That apology made a big impression on me—as if this man actually owed to me and to the public at large the completely meticulous and utterly polished look of the Macys catalog.  I’m sorry.  Why did he say that?  Was a slip of the tongue?  Or did he really feel as if he had to hurry to Macys and hurry to Burger King and maybe even hurry to church?   I’ll tell you what I’m sorry about.  I’m sorry that, in that very moment, I didn’t pay for that man’s breakfast.  I’m sorry that I didn’t tell him to sit down on the grass in his nice outfit from Macys and we could talk about life and death and God.   We could linger in the same way that I hope that Latah Valley will linger in the places where and in the moments when people need to hear about the love of Jesus Christ.  “Do not work for the food that perishes,” Jesus says, “but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” 

Amen. 

Listening is a bizarre phenomenon.  It’s more than merely hearing a person’s voice and picking up a vibration in the air.  Listening, according to Deuteronomy 6:4, is at the center of a particular community’s life:

“Hear, O Israel:  The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.”

The first word of that phrase in Hebrew is pronounced Shema and Jesus himself would have been well-schooled in the art of that command.   Rather than being impressed with the smoke and mirrors of the Egyptian gods and goddesses, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had been called upon to listen.  Yes, there had been words chiseled into stone tablets and scratched onto pressed sheep skin.   There would eventually be manuscripts made of papyrus and a temple made of cedar.   But before anything visual or anything that would be dazzling to the eye, God forms and continues to form an authentic community by listening. 

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Mother Teresa consented to an interview with CBS anchor Dan Rather.  Rather used to make his money by reporting the news, but when he asked Mother Teresa about her prayer life, she said something that left him speechless.  “When you pray,” asked Dan, “what do you say to God?” “I don’t say anything,” she replied. “I listen.” Dan tried another tack. “Well, okay…when God speaks to you, then, what does He say?” “He doesn’t say anything. He listens.” Dan looked bewildered. For an instant, he didn’t know what to say. “And if you don’t understand that,” Mother Teresa added, “I can’t explain it to you.”  

Hear, O Israel… That’s the command in Deuteronomy and elsewhere, but it follows this divine statement in Exodus 3:7, “I have heard…”God hears and commands hearing, but unfortunately, Exodus 20:19 describes an experience of listening to God’s voice that wasn’t too pleasant.  So frightening in fact was the direct assault of God’s voice that the people ask for Moses to intercede for them.  “You speak and we will listen…”   This is a significant scene because it’s from this moment on that people of faith learn how to listen to specially chosen leaders and eventually how we listen for God’s voice through one another. 

On two different occasions in Luke and in Matthew, for example, Jesus hears a voice from heaven which says something very similar to this: You are my Son, the Beloved.  He hears this when he’s baptized in the Jordan valley and when he’s transfigured on the mountain.   Moreover, in Luke 9:35, three followers of Jesus hear something more:  “Listen to him!”   

Now, you may be wondering at this point, how listening to God, or listening to Moses or listening to Jesus happens today.   You may be wondering and perhaps a little bit skeptical about how Latah Valley proposes that Christians practice the spiritual discipline of listening today.   Our mission statement says,

Latah Listens To The Stories of People Near and Far and Especially To God’s Story Through Them…   

But how exactly does that work?   Is every story that comes out of every person something that God can use to communicate truth?   Are some stories better suited for that purpose than others?   And what happens if we’re absent or not alive on the day when the very best stories are being told and we’re not there to listen?

Well, believe it or not, Luke 10 will offer some clues to answering these questions.   First, in the way that Jesus sends out seventy others in pairs to every town and village where he himself intended to go.   Jesus sends them with these instructions (in verse five):  “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’  And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person…”   Second, in verse 16, Jesus declares, “Whoever listens to you listens to me…”   And third, in Luke 10:39, we find this curious moment when a person, named Martha is busy serving Jesus food and drink, while her sister, Mary, sits at his feet and listens to him teach.   We’re going to unpack all three of these references, but before taking that on, I need to acknowledge some obvious impediments to listening in general. 

The first impediment is physical.  Some people are born deaf or suffer hearing loss, and that condition would seem to exclude them.  Late in her life as a teacher, Helen Keller wrote that deafness is more isolating than blindness because deafness cuts one off from people.  And yet, even without being about to hear or to see, this amazing woman remembered the touching relationship with her teacher, Anne Sullivan, that helped her to listen: 

“We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honey-suckle with which it was covered. Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten, a thrill of returning thought, and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me.” 

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If Helen Keller represents the human capacity to overcome hearing loss and truly listen to the story of people and of God—the second impediment that needs to be overcome involves differences in language.   Ed Brodow is a business consultant who ran into some trouble while listening:  

I was having lunch at a bistro in St. Paul de Vence, a picturesque hill town in the south of France. In my fractured French, I tried to order a bottle of beer.

“Je voudrais une bouteille de biere, sil vous plait.” I would like a bottle of beer, I told the waitress.“In a can,” she replied. “Non,” said I, “En bouteille!” In a bottle. With her hands on her hips and a sneer on her face, she repeated, “In a can!”Now I was really getting mad. “Not in a can,” I insisted. “In a bottle. En bouteille. EN BOUTEILLE!”She threw her hands up in despair. “Monsieur, IN A CAN!”

“All right,” I said. “Have it your way. Give it to me in a can. Anything. Just give me a beer!”

She stormed off and returned with a bottle of Heineken. Heineken, when you say it in French, loses the “H” and sounds like, “In a can.” I practically fell off my chair, I was laughing so hard.  

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You see, language barriers may be something that we have to deal with more and more in the years to come.  But as far as the Bible is concerned languages have simply given us the opportunity to hear the God’s Story differently.   Part of the miracle of Pentecost in Acts 2:11 is that “in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” This is an awesome event, but it raises what may be the most obvious and the most tenacious obstacle to really listening to one another. 

The third impediment to listening is political spin and the resulting cynicism, and I can illustrate how this can impede listening by pointing to verse 13, in which people in the crowd “sneer” at this miracle.

I remember my sophomore year at Penn State; Dr. Poulakis was my Speech Communications professor and as  our major assignment we had to join together with other students and to create and to present a plan for a utopian city.  I remember the class because one day I had a bad hangover and couldn’t pay attention very well.  Dr. Poulakis had been going on his usual rant about existentialist philosophy and when he saw me nodding off, he got very close to my face and said, “What do you think?”   I stuttered and stumbled, and a few weeks later, I told him about my faith in God and how his philosophy didn’t make sense to me.  He smiled as if he were talking to a three year old and said,  “You are a person of religious conviction, No?” 

“Yes,” I replied. 

“I have one thing to say to you… You are the master of your own destiny.   And we have really nothing to say to one another.”   Just think about that remark on the lips of someone who is supposed to be teaching me about speech communication.  It’s as if he were saying that we can talk and we can listen, and we keep talking and keep listening, but there’s really nothing that important going on.  There’s really no story to be told or to be heard.  There’s just a hodge-podge of needs and fears being expressed in terms of self-interest and national interest… 

Anyway, with the acknowledgement of these impediments, we’re ready to unpack Luke 10.   Leaving aside the problems that we have with our ears, or with translations in language or with political spin, Jesus sends out pairs of disciples with the simple instruction of staying in someone’s home and saying “Peace.”   Something tells me that saying Peace doesn’t just mean mouthing the word, Shalom or Eirenei.   It means more than talking.  It also means listening in a mindful, non-coercive and non-manipulative way.  Jesus says that if a household receives this kind of attentive presentation—the persons of this household are also ready to receive him.  And that leads us to the household of Martha and Mary in verses 38—42.  Mary, you recall, listens at Jesus’ feet.   And, by contrast, Martha prepares, serves, cleans and generally makes herself busy.   She does, however, take one little break and with that brief respite she manages to issue this memo to Jesus.  “Tell her to help me.”   

“Martha, Martha,” answers the house guest, and it’s almost like Jesus is talking to two different Martha’s.  It’s almost as if Martha is torn by two different life stories.   One story keeps her busy in the kitchen.  The other story makes her envious in the living room.  But, you see, there is one version of events that can give Martha peace of mind and lead her into reconciliation with Mary and with others.  “Mary has chosen the better part”—listening to the stories of people near and far—“and that will not be taken away from her.”   Amen.  

What does it mean to live?  You may not think of that as a very practical question, but let me assure you that everything we practice as individuals and in connection with others begins here.  Live.   Life.  Live from Moran Prairie Elementary School.   

  • Life:  “The property or quality distinguishing living organisms from dead organisms… The interval of time between birth and death… The physical, mental and emotional experiences that constitute a person’s existence…”  So says Webster’s University Dictionary.

  • “Come on.  Live a little,” says a college roommate.   And, of course, what he means be living a little is taking a break from the books and drinking a case of Molson. 

  • “That’s not living,” observes a woman in the hospital waiting room.  She had just been informed by the doctors that, following a car accident, her mother would never wake up from a comatose state. 

  • “Life must go on,” says the vicar, trying to comfort C.S. Lewis.  “I don’t know that it must,” replies Lewis.  “But it certainly does.”

  • “Life’s just a box of chocolates,” declares the mother of Forrest Gump.  “You never know what you’re going to get.”

  • “Life’s just one damned thing after another,” writes Earnest Hemingway on his suicide note.

  So many definitions of life and living—it’s hard to know where to begin.   And yet, just for the sake of argument, I’d like to launch our discussion from the biblical point of view, and the Bible doesn’t so much define life as provide it with a story.  “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…” reads Genesis 1:1.   That’s a story, and we have to decide whether or not it matches our experience.   “Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…” (Genesis 1:26).   And there too we have the continuation of a story.  What matters, according to the text, isn’t so much the scientific explanation, but the story which grounds every thought, every feeling and every decision in the relational, eternal and perfect life of God.   So, I propose that we begin there. Latah Lives the fullest life of community that God intends us to live according to the witness of Holy Scripture. 

There’s a film clip that I’m going to use this morning that calls to mind everything that we ordinarily associate with the good life.  Truman has grown up in the spotlight.  Literally.  The Truman Show stars Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank, who as a fertilized embryo has appeared on national television twenty four hours a day for thirty years.  For the pleasure of the viewing audience we get to watch him wish and wonder and worry.  But it’s all a façade.  Truman has adopted by the corporation that makes money off his life.  He’s been given a place to live, parents, friends, schoolmates, work associates and a spouse—but all of them have been hired as actors.   Everything is going smoothly for Truman.   But is that life?  Is it life to be in relationship with people who are all just pretending?  [Show clip.]

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Truman does not live the fullest life of community that God intends him to live, according to the witness of Holy Scripture.   He only lives what the writers and producers have allowed him to live.   He lives in the biological sense, in the economic sense, in the emotional and psychological sense.   But there is one person who truly cares for him, a woman who infiltrates the contrived world and tells him the truth about the television show.  She says, “Come and find me.” “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  Then he began to speak, and taught them saying, Blessed…” 

Come and find me.  You see, it’s fascinating to note that in the original Greek of this passage from Matthew 5, there is no verb.  Jesus simply lays out the word, BLESSED, alongside of people whom we wouldn’t ordinarily think of as fortunate or favored in the least. 

 Everyone whose been broken by the pretend-game that we play.  Everyone whose banged their heads and hearts against the hard and sharp corners of the world.  Everyone who has finally gives up on the good life as it’s been scripted for us and who goes on a search for a community that’s truly, truly, truly alive.   Blessed. Imagine a divorced mother of three children, weeping and wondering how she’s going to make it through the night.   Blessed, says Jesus.Imagine a mentally retarded eleven year old girl telling her teacher that war is not right.  That’s blessed, says Jesus.  Imagine a man whose been fired from his job who decides to give his time and energy in building houses for Habitat for Humanity.  Blessed.   Imagine the Hispanic family who welcome into their small home a group of illegal immigrants from Guatemala.   Blessed.  

I once preached a sermon at an old, dilapidated church building in one of the economically depressed areas of downtown Philadelphia.  There were only a handful of people who came to worship that afternoon, and many of those drove down from the suburbs.  Anyway, the part-time minister in that dwindling fellowship had a tradition.  At the end of every service, he would “open the doors of the church,” and by that he meant, spiritually, he would invite whoever felt moved to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.  I didn’t know this at the time, and when he whispered for me to “open the doors of the church,” that’s exactly what I did.  I left the pulpit area and marched up the aisle to these big, heavy, wooden doors.  I opened them and a cold breeze blew into the sanctuary.   The minister laughed and told everyone how I had misunderstood him, but as I stood there in the doorway, I saw drug addicts on the street corner.  I saw graffiti on the walls and garbage piled up on the curbs. 

 And what I felt compelled to say and to sing within the walls of that church I wanted to say outside, to those in that run-down neighborhood:  “Blessed…” 

Now you and I don’t live in that specific place.   But if we look around this week, my guess is that we will discover the fragments of life to which Jesus would like to offer his own life story.  That’s what I believe he means by the word, Blessed.  He means to give us his own life story—a story which turns even the most distraught neighborhoods into little glimpses of his coming kingdom.  

Of course, there is a lot more that we might say about fullest life of community that God intends.  In the rest of Matthew 5, Jesus reminds his Jewish listeners about the commandments and the customs that have made them who they are.   And yet, in verses 22, 28, 34, 39 and 44 he offers interpretations of those things.  With regard to murder, to adultery, to gossip and to having enemies, Jesus has this weird way of not allowing people any excuses.   The point of the commandments is the fullest life of community that God intends us to live…   according to the witness of Holy Scripture. 

Now I don’t know whether you’ve noticed a component of Latah Valley’s worship service includes a time for questions.   In December it was in the bulletin as Q & A, but we’ve switched it to Questions  & Conversations  for this reason.  The Holy Scripture is designed to invite us into discussion.   You may be interested in finding the answer and then filing that answer away.  You may want to have the right interpretation of the Bible at your disposal so that you can beat up on your family and friends.   But what if the point of living by the Holy Scripture is life?   And what if life at its essence is community?    Amen.