HOPE TO SPEND TIME

June 28, 2009

1. When The Lord Permits, Spend With-Time
I’d like to reflect with you today on time—how we waste time, how we spend time, how we kill time, and, of course, how time flies when we’re having fun… And one of the first things that we notice about time is that it’s more easily quantified than it is qualified. Time is limited, and we know it. We know it in our bones and in our blood vessels. We know in our bunions and in our brain cells. But we also understand the conditional nature of time based upon the moments we spend with people.
A pastor spends the whole afternoon with a women suffering from dementia. His colleagues are hobnobbing at the club with bank presidents and CEO’s. He feels as if he’s wasting his time. The woman can’t respond coherently to anything he says. She smells like formaldehyde. But when evening falls, he knows time a little better.

There’s a woman who’s unable to have children. She tries all kinds of fertility treatments. It seems as if time is passing her by; the biological clock is ticking. But after many years she finds herself pushing a neighbor’s child on a tire-swing. Their families become close and begin to socialize; they adopt her as a proxy-grandmother and soon she knows time a little better.

Doctor Walker Percy comes down with a severe case of tuberculosis. At first he’s depressed; his lucrative practice suffers while he’s confined to the sanitarium. But, after many weeks and months, the illness gives him a new perspective. He picks up his pen and begins to write. And one of the most famous things he writes about are the men and women who don’t know what to do with themselves at 4 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon. He writes about them generously and simpathetically, and after twenty-five novels he and his readers know time a little better.

You see, my contention today is that the decisions that we make about time are often arbitrary and whimsical. But to the extent that we measure the minutes, hours and days with people—and especially with people who remind us of the love and mercy of God—nothing is wasted. Nothing at all.
“I do not want to see you now just in passing, for I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits” (v. 7).

When the apostle Paul scribbles or dictates these words aloud in the first century, I wonder if he has the faintest inkling that we would be reading them centuries and miles away from Corinth. My guess is—probably not. And what does that tell us about what we might write or do or say with our time?
Eileen is the name of the woman Douglass Rushkoff interviews for the fourth chapter of his book, Life Inc. It’s a work of non-fiction that details how our lives have been taken over and branded by the mega-corporations of the world. Eileen, for example, tells a group of clients that if you want something you should really, really want it. Want it like a child. Want it at night when you’re asleep. Post notes with pictures about what you want on your mirror. Write a check to yourself for $10 million and stick it on your refrigerator. Eileen advocates for the principles laid down in The Secret, a number one book on the New York Times Best-Seller List, with over two million DVD’s being viewed even as we speak. And it turns out that if you want to know what Eileen knows, you’ll have to read the book, watch the DVD and pay for the seminar. Never mind that you will then have to spend more time at more seminars! Don’t you want to want to want to want to know the secret of the universe?

2. Effective Work and Many Adversaries Are Not Mutually Exclusive
You see, the larger discussion that we can have about 1 Corinthians 16 has to do with what God wants versus what we want. Does God allow us the freedom to make our own decisions about what we want to do with our time? And the answer, as far as I can tell from Paul’s vocabulary, is yes. Little terms like “If” and intriguing expressions like “a wide door” do, in fact, convey a sense of personal freedom. You and I, like Paul, are free to walk through that wide door if we choose. But let’s be clear. What Paul means by “a wide door” has nothing to do with The Secret that Eileen is trying to sell. In fact, if Eileen had been alive and spouting off in the first century, she may have been among the many adversaries that Paul mentions in verse nine while he’s lingering at that wide door. “A wide door” is simply an image that he uses to describe the opportunity that he has for a spirited and Spirit-filled discussion about Jesus. By the grace of God, that’s the only thing that Paul wants. And the question this morning is—what is it that you want?
A great deal has been written about Maria Von Trappe, who is portrayed by Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. In the Hollywood version of the story, Maria returns to the Abbey to ask her Mother Superior what she should do. She thinks that she loves Captain Von Trappe, but she doesn’t want to betray her vows as a nun. And there is the complicating factor of the captain’s engagement to the Baroness from Vienna. It’s all very confusing and it’s hard for Maria to decide what to do. Musically speaking, the Reverend Mother advises her to follow her heart and to search for her dreams. In real life, Maria actually engages in a process of spiritual discernment, and through much anguished prayer it becomes reasonably clear that God has permitted her to marry the captain and take care of his children. That’s the way God wants her to share the gospel

Now, what’s curious about Sister Maria and the apostle Paul, of course, is that they both are faced with adversity. And simultaneously both are given the opportunity or the wide door for effective work. Isn’t that curious? You would think it would be quite the opposite. You would think that having adversaries would be the sign of a closed door, not an open one. But maybe we’ve got it all wrong. Maybe when there’s lots of confusion and lots of division, that’s the time when the door for God is opened the widest.

3. Count the IF Moments A Blessing and Make Your Own Opportunities
Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book, called Outliers; the Story of Success, and in that book, the author chronicles how many of the most brightest stars have taken advantage of their opportunities. First up, for example, is Bill Joy. Bill was there, at the Michigan Computer Center, in 1971. He was there for over 10,000 hours when the university had invested in one of the largest computer systems in the known universe. So it should come as no surprise, that after graduating from Michigan and then from Berkley, Bill Joy wrote the digital code for the ATT, UNIX and Macintosh Computers. So, that’s Bill Joy, getting ahead in the game of life, but here’s the apostle Paul: “I will stay in Ephesus.”
Next up in the Gladwell book are the Beatles, arguably the best rock band ever. They were there in Hamburg, Germany, in 1960. They were there, with the original Pete Best on drums; and in Hamburg on that first trip they performed 106 nights for five or more hours a night. On their second trip, they racked up 92 performances. On their third trip, 48. And on their final two gigs in 1962, prior to coming to the United States, the Beatles were on-stage for approximately 90 hours altogether. So, according to Gladwell, it’s no surprise that they became great. With those kinds of opportunities to improve and perfect their songs, it’s no wonder whatsoever. So, that’s John, Paul, George and Ringo, becoming a legend on the Ed Sullivan Show. But do you know who didn’t become a legend even though he put in the same amount of time? Pete Best, the drummer that Ringo Starr replaced…

And, you see, when I peruse the data like this, it makes total sense. People become great at what they do, based upon the opportunities they are given and the time they invest. There’s no doubt about it. But then, you and I have to account for Pete Best. Then we have to account for the Marlin Brando character in On The Waterfront. “I could have been somebody.”

Could h’… Perhaps, should h’… If Only… These wiggly words cannot be accounted for in any theory about time management or any strategy to get ahead. And the reason I think they confound us is the same reason says things like, “I hope to spend time with you, if the Lord permits.”

No matter how hard we work the time to achieve our goals, God may have other plans, and those plans aren’t just for our solo-act. According to Paul in 1 Corinthians 16, they involve Timothy and Apollos. They involve… And, let me ask you (whether I’ve mentioned your name or not), wouldn’t we want to know if God had other plans for you, plans that intimately connected with these others? Wouldn’t we want to know if that’s what Latah Valley truly is? Amen.

WHO’S YOUR DADDY?

June 22, 2009

1. To Offer Or To Receive Admonition Is No Shame
To admonish or not to admonish. That is not the question for Hamlet, but for every father who is worth his razor stubble. To admonish or not to admonish. That’s even the question for people who resemble our paternal parentage. For example, at the end of a long trip in the station wagon, it’s only your Dad who can let slip a phrase like this, “Don’t make me come back there.” He can say it and on most occasions he will not have to stop the car and come back there. That’s true for fathers, and even more apropos for various father-figures in the faith that God sends in our direction. A father-figure in the faith is more than a mentor and more than a friend. A father-figure happens to be a mature person of faith in Jesus Christ to whom we have ceded special authority and who will speak the truth to us in love. The question for the father-figure is whether to admonish or not. And the question for those of us in a relationship with the father-figure is whether or not we should receive such admonition. And the best thing I can say this morning, based upon 1 Corinthians 4, is that to offer or to receive admonition is no shame.

Eugene Peterson tells the story of growing up in a small town in Montana, and one time he hopped over a fence and walked in the tall grass of his neighbor’s farm. In the distance, atop a green John Deer tractor, sat Leonard Storm, and when old man Storm spotted Little Pete in his field, he stood up on the seat of the tractor and waved his arms. Little Pete, as he was known in those days, felt ashamed—he felt as if he had crossed a boundary and that old man Storm was reprimanding him for doing something wrong. So, the child skulked away. But later, you see, Leonard Storm approached Little Pete at worship. He said, “Little Pete, why didn’t you come to me when I called you the other day?” Peterson said, “When did you call me?” He said, “I called you from my tractor like this…” (and he waved his big hands). “How do you call people if you want them to come?” And Little Pete responded by curling his index finger. “That’s piddly. On the farm we do things big,” said the father-figure.
Now, I know the caricature of church. I understand that in North America and much of the western world, church is categorized under the rubric of a voluntary activity, or as a charitable donation, or as pious pastime. But I wonder if you will believe me if I tell you that at church big things are happening. At church we either learn about the grace of God—about God’s invitation for us to join him in plowing the field—or we feel ashamed by what we perceive to be a reprimand and we run off.
“I am not writing this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you might have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers. Indeed, in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.”

2. Being Responsible Like A Father Is A Painful Privilege
Now, if you’ve been with us for a few months, you’ve heard me admit that the church as an institution has a lot for which to be sorry….

But let me be clear. The solution to this abuse of power is not the renunciation of relational authority. On the contrary, the power that’s given to us by God is huge. And, while being responsible like a father is a painful privilege, it is a privilege that we must embrace over and over again.

In the film, Places In The Heart, where the father has died, there is even this sad moment when the surviving parent, played by Sally Field, asks her son, “What would your father do in a situation like this?” And the child responds that if his father were there, he would admonish: “For this, Pa would be pretty mad. So I reckon he’d give me four good whacks.” And, you see, if you and I are under the impression that only God has the authority to admonish and that the church has nothing to say, I’d like you to reconsider. Painfully and prayerfully the church must foster relationships that resemble a father’s connection to his child.
“What would you prefer?” says Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:21. I’ll leave it up to you. “Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?” You see, that’s a painful question to have to pose to a church community. But we need not be ashamed of it. William Willimon writes,
As a college chaplain, I vividly remember a student, a young man of about 20 years, complaining to me about my generation’s inability to be parents. “Your generation didn’t tell us anything!” he complained. “I guess it’s because you didn’t want to be told anything by your parents, but you didn’t tell us what we needed to know.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“When I was home last summer, I asked my father, ‘I’m getting ready to grow up. Tell me what I need to do to have a happy life.’ He responded to me with a bunch of gibberish, nonsense about how he was miserable in his job, about how he maybe made a mistake in marrying my mother, about how nobody had ever really understood him. It was pitiful.”
I have this vivid memory of my nephew, around 17 years old, and he strolls into worship with his girlfriend, Laura. They are beaming together, and I can tell right off the bat that she has led him to the foot of the cross. She is the one who is mentoring him in faith. Anyway, a few weeks after they came to our church, Michael and Laura stayed up all night at the prom, and early in the morning Michael’s driving to a restaurant for breakfast and falls asleep. He falls asleep, the car drifts into on-coming traffic and there’s a huge collision. After the collision my nephew, who’s injured, watches as his girlfriend and guide takes her last breath. I tell you; there are not many experiences in life that are worse. But these events set the stage for Michael’s grief. His parents don’t quite know how to handle it. And one night, as he’s going out the door, Michael’s Dad, asks him where he’s going. Michael says, “Out.” The Dad then says, “What time are you going to be home?” And this brokenhearted, now eighteen year old kid, says this: “What time do you want me to be home?”

In other words, give me some structure. Help me to understand and appreciate the parameters. And I think the community of faith, even Latah Valley, needs to exercise its fatherly authority in the same way that Michael asked his father.
“I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me…”
3. The Face To Face Encounter Reveals The Power of the Kingdom
And if you ask me why this statement of the apostle Paul isn’t considered an arrogant statement, I will say it has something to do with what he says next:
“For this reason I sent you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ Jesus, as I teach them everywhere in every church.”

Paul isn’t being arrogant here. What he’s doing is telling the people what time to be home. He’s offering them the boundary of the face to face encounter. And, you see, with all due respect to e-mail communications, to blogging, to twittering and to calling people and leaving long, monologue messages on the phone, I’d like to emphasize the face to face encounter. The face to face encounter reveals the power of the kingdom that Paul mentions in verses 19 and 20. He says,
“But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power.”

“Does she know me,” says an escaped psychiatric patient in Walker Percy’s novel, The Second Coming. “Should I know her?” she says to herself, while preparing to sit down on a park bench. Allison has just stowed away on truck transporting linens to and from the facility. She’s trying to act as normal as possible, but because of the electric shock therapy which she’s endured, she can’t be sure if she knows the prim and proper evangelist who has just crossed her path. With a reassuring smile, the person hands Allison a pamphlet and declares, “We’re having a meeting tonight at the church. A person like you might get a lot out of it.” “A person like me,” thinks the psych patient. “Does she know me?” Should I know her?”

I want to pause right here in the middle of this interaction—and I want to repeat what I’ve often said: Church Is Dialogue. It’s a dialogue between God and the weary people whom God is calling to himself. And, you see, it helps the dialogue for us to have a father-figure.
It helps to have someone say to the evangelist who brushes by Allison, “Slow down. Face people. Demonstrate the power of the kingdom that is revealed when you face people. Face this person that you have assumed to know and really know her.” It also helps, I think, to have a father-figure give this advice to Allison, or to whoever’s out there: “I’m sorry that you have felt unknown and a stranger in the world; we would like to know you and to be known by you in Christ.”

Amen.

1. A Life Is Only Worth The Change To Which We Have Been Called
I can’t remember a time when I’ve really begged for anything. Like most of you, I have been raised in the United States, where we earn our way and where we usually will get what we pay for. And yet, there is something for which the apostle Paul begs and something for which you and I must beg this morning at Latah Valley. What could it be?

“Listen to me,” says Jean Valjean. In the Broadway musical, Les Miserables, a mysterious man has gone from stealing bread, escaping from prison and then rising to the rank of mayor in a small French village. Eventually, however, the law catches up to Jean Valjean. Lieutenant Javert tracks him down, saying that “a man such as you can never change.” But in response, Jean Valjean offers this compromise. He will go with Javert peacefully, but he needs three days, three days to intercede for a young girl, named Cosette, whose mother has recently died. “Listen to me,” says the fugitive, masquerading as an upstanding citizen. “Listen to me. (I beg you.) There is something I must do.”

Listen to me. There is something I must do. Listen to me. I beg you. Please tell me, there is something I must do. And, you see, if you ask me today about my experience in begging for food, for money or for mercy, I will have nothing to say. But if you ask me about my experience of begging God for purpose, for guidance and direction—well, where we start?
“I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

And the first thing we need to know about this remark is that Paul, like Jean Valjean, has been incarcerated. Being in jail, I think, helps. Or, at least being restricted or being limited by certain circumstances helps us when it comes to begging for divine intervention. And it also helps us in our God-directed relationships with other people. “I beg you,” says the apostle. I can’t mandate that you lead a worthy life. I can’t pay you for it. And so, I beg you.
In the 1984 film, Tender Mercies, Mac Sledge and Rosa Lee’s ten year old child, Sonny, are baptized. It happens fairly quickly in a modest church in Texas. And on the way home, in the pick-up truck, Sonny blurts out his question: “Mac, do you feel different?” The former country singer, who lost everything to his abuse of alcohol, looks around nervously until he answers, “Not yet.” But then, all three of them, Mac, Sonny and Rosa Lee, break out in laughter. Something has happened, but they’re not sure how it’s changed them. Not yet. And what they’ve done—and what you and I are called to do—is invest in the possibility and the hope of that change.

According to Ephesians 4, a life is only worth the change to which we have been called in and through Jesus Christ. And so, if we read the Bible and sing the songs and if we say to one another that we believe in this stuff, what good is it if we are not changed by those practices. In the story of Tender Mercies, for example, Mac gets back on his feet again and begins to play music; he plays, not to make money or to impress the crowds like before his baptism, but to get closer to Sonny and Rosa Lee. And when he’s invited back into the limelight, when he has a chance to make it big in Nashville all over again, when he might as well get involved in the kind of shenanigans that made him abuse alcohol, he chooses the change to which he’s been called. In other words, he leads. He chooses to sacrifice financial gain and stardom and to replace those desires with the integrity of loving a child and his mother faithfully. He leads a life worthy.

2. The Unity of the Spirit Requires Our Exhaustive Effort
Listen up, Latah Valley. I beg you. Make “every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Does that sound like fun? Does that sound like a dazzling life? Does that sound like something sacred that might be worth your while? I think it is. In fact, after a careful consideration of the options, I believe that “the unity of the Spirit” is THE supreme goal to which each one of us has been called upon to devote everything that’s been given to us.
We were building a Habitat for Humanity house in North Carolina. All week we had worked extremely hard with limited abilities and limited resources, and on this final afternoon, a group of us stood on a wobbly platform that had been precariously placed atop two rickety wooden horses. So, we lifted this final piece of drywall in the air and pushed it over our heads while the one skilled laborer in our ranks screwed it in. It would be the last thing we would do to the glory of God, and our part in the construction of that home would be complete. Anyway, as the last screw was going in, the wooden horses beneath the platform collapsed and all of us—as one clumsy body—fell to the floor. And we fell hard. We fell in such a way that one young woman had to be taken to the emergency room. And in the aftermath of that crunch of exhausted bodies, during the little worship service we hosted in a humid chapel, I waited. I waited for the complaints and for the controversy about safe working environments. But this is all I heard: “We are one in the Spirit. We are one in the Lord. And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.”

You see, whether we realize it in the moment or not, the unity of the Spirit requires our exhaustive effort. In Ephesians 4:3, we don’t read about dabbling. We don’t hear the apostle Paul encouraging us to volunteer what time and what money we have left over. He says, “make every effort…” Every effort.

3. When There Appear To Be Too Many Choices, Seek The Oneness
A little bit later we are going to baptize Mikel Jonelle Allen. She will be baptized in the creek, and we’re going to do it by getting her all wet, entirely saturated, uttered soaked. Now, just to keep everyone well-informed, we don’t have to do it this way. In fact, when it comes to the method of baptism, there appear to be many, too many, choices. Presbyterians, for example, have traditionally sprinkled people with a little bit of water on the top of the head. Other denominations settle decisively on full immersion but then worry about whether a person ought to be dunked facing forward or facing backward.
Choices. Choices. Choices. What are we going to do with all of these major life decisions?

Mikel, in the interest of full disclosure, I need to inform you that as of next week, Latah Creek may run red. That’s right. According to a staff report printed in yesterday’s Spokesman Review, the Washington State Department of Ecology plans to use florescent dye to learn how quickly the water moves through the creek. So, we’re just getting you in before the water runs red. Is this the right choice? Do you still want to do this?

Before you answer, I’d like to point out that one of the first people to do this in the Jordan River ended up being crucified to death. Is this the right choice? Of course, I have also heard from reliable sources that when Jesus was raised out of the water, he saw something like a dove, fluttering around his shoulder, and he heard a voice, echoing from the clouds above. And the voice said, You are loved. I am pleased with you.

mikel baptism

So, maybe in spite of the risks, this is the right choice. Maybe, a long time ago, God made the decision. And now, when there appear to be too many choices, all we have to do is seek the oneness. I beg you. I can’t make you. I can’t force you. I can cajole you. And so, I beg you. Live out this sentence:
“There is one body, and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

THE HOUSE IS READY

June 9, 2009

1.  Where Is the Dividing Wall Today?

The house is ready.   I wonder if you will believe me this morning if I tell you that the house of ready.   No, I’m not talking about this tangible building, what we’re calling The Pine House.  This literal place of worship is not entirely complete.  Not yet.   We still need interior paneling.   It would be nice to have more windows.   We still need light fixtures and a heating system, which will be installed later in the week.   We still need a paved road with lined parking spaces.   We still need.   We’re always going to need…  But the fact of the matter is that in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, something new has been created.   Something new, something very similar to a house, has been created, and we can live into and out of this sacred structure by the power of the Spirit.   The house is ready.

I know this, and I hope that you believe this because of what we’ve read in Ephesians 2:11—22.   During the month of May we described what the effects of the Holy Spirit look like in the world—and most notably last week we described what the Spirit does as launching a massive and mysterious conversation.   But, you see, after a while, that conversation demands infrastructure.   There are patterns of speech that are considered reliable.   There are habitual behaviors that are considered sturdy enough to stand the test of time.  And those patterns and behaviors resemble the raw materials out of which this household of God has been constructed.  And the house is ready.

I don’t know whether we always realize this, but when we say and hear something like “The Peace of Christ Be With You Always,” that’s like taking shelter beneath a very hefty beam of wood.   And when we take a fragment of bread and dip it into the cup, in that moment, we are completely safe and secure.  No storm in the world can touch us.   And when we begin to take on the responsibilities of a servant—when we give of ourselves sacrificially—you and I are leaning against the walls that Jesus himself has crafted.

Still, I have a question.   And the question goes like this:   if it’s true that God has transformed Jews and Non-Jews into one household, or “one new humanity,” why does it appear as if so many divisions remain?

My friend, Red-hawk, told me last week that he spent the day tearing down a brick wall around his backyard and that his dogs were so used to the boundary that even when the wall had been totally demolished they still walked around the perimeter and entered the yard through the gate.   That is, these domesticated animals acted as if the wall were still there.

Robert Frost once wrote a poem in which a gruff old man makes this statement:   “good fences make good neighbors.”    He says it, of course, as he’s trying desperately to re-construct the property line which has been marked out with stone.   Good fences make good neighbors.   But the only problem with that philosophy, according to Frost, is that “something there is that does not love a wall.”   And based upon our reading of Ephesians 2:14 and based upon where we are today, I’m wondering if that something isn’t really someone.   Namely, Jesus of Nazareth.    “In his flesh,” the text says, he has “broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”

So, if you to ask me today why so many dividing walls still seem to be in place around the world, I have to wonder if we’re not a little bit like Red-hawk’s dogs or the staunch neighbor of Robert Frost.    And maybe, just maybe, the Spirit of Christ is doing something that God has a tendency to do.   According to Jeremiah 30:18, “Thus says the Lord, I am going to restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob, and have compassion on his dwellings; the city shall be rebuilt upon its mound, and the citadel set on its rightful site.”   You see, God recycles.   All the old debris doesn’t go to waste.   All the bits and pieces of the harsh past are thrown into the dumpster.   And so, what we may be seeing, when we see division, is the way God recycles and re-uses our hurt for healing.

2.  We Will Go From Strangers and Aliens To Citizens with the Saints and Members of the Household of God

I want to share with you a clip from one of my favorite movies, called, My Life As A House. It’s the story of an architect who’s been divorced, diagnosed with terminal cancer and his son is in a lot of trouble.   On the surface, everything about this character’s life seems bleak.   And yet, what he has going for him is the raw material of reconciliation.   With the time that he has left, he sets his heart and mind on renovating an old, dilapidated house that he and his ex-wife once owned on the beach.   Anyway, this dying man and his distraught, despairing son fix up this old place and in the process they make amends with another family who they had harmed in a drunk-driving accident.   Here’s the clip, and at the end of it, I’d like to draw out what the apostle Paul means when he writes,

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God” (v. 19).


The point here is that church can be like this.   Church can be that place where we will go from strangers and aliens to citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.   We will go from being anxious and afraid that we don’t belong to the sensation that we’ve been built into something that’s larger than our own individual lives.

I remember the moment when I went to India, when I felt this sensation.   After getting over the jet lag from the 18 hour flight, and after driving to Rajasthan, we arrived at this house that had been converted into the Bethany Bible Institute.   We were there for three days and at the end of those three days I had gone from being a stranger to being a citizen with the saints.   I was a part of group of former Muslims and Hindus and Jews—many of them alienated from their families—and we were all there, living and learning under one roof  “with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”

3.  The House Has Structure and Grows Into A Holy Temple

None of this works, you see, without our mutual submission to Christ Jesus himself. And I’d like to pause here to distinguish between our beliefs and our opinions about Christ Jesus and Christ Jesus himself. Christ Jesus himself is that person who knows us utterly, but who can never be fully comprehended by us.   When Simon Weil had migraine headaches, she read a George Herbert poem over and over again, and then she says that Christ Jesus himself come into those repeated words and took possession of her soul.   That’s the difference.   Our beliefs and opinions about Christ Jesus are just that—ideas that we think of as reliable and true.   But there is something or someone who is even more reliable and true and that’s Christ Jesus himself.

William Willimon tells two stories from his ministry that I’ve never forgotten.   One of them involves a mentor, named Joe, in the church’s confirmation program.   Although Joe agreed to pray with and be there for his confirmation student, it all came crashing down when the student showed up at Joe’s apartment.  Joe’s girlfriend answered the door and it was clear from her attire that she had spent the night.   When pressed on whether he should be involved in this way with this woman, Joe said it was none of the kid’s business.   He said there’s a division between what he does at home and what he believes at church.   And yet…

“In him (in Christ Jesus himself) the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple.”

The house in which we live has structure and that structure does not have anything to do with our private code of conduct.  It’s a structure that is lived out as we talk and interact with one another.   The second Willimon story makes this clear.   It’s about a deacon in the church who had been scheduled to serve communion on Sunday morning.  The only problem was that on Saturday night, this deacon had been taken into custody by police.  Apparently, he made bail and by 11 am there was Bill, standing with a bunch of abrasions and band-aids on his sad face.   “Bill, what are you doing here?” said the pastor.  “Where else should I be,” whispered the deacon.   Where else, but the household of God.  #