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Falling Into Our Own Pit

My friends over at Crackers & Grape Juice are providing daily Advent Devotionals. Last week I offered some reflections on Isaiah 5:13-25. Even though we are half way through the Season, it is not too late to get in on some very good writing based on the title of Fleming Rutledge’s newest book, Advent: The Once & Future Coming of Jesus Christ. Her Introduction is worth the price of the book. But, you will want to her Advent sermons that span several decades.

He plotted. 

Legislation offered.

Legislation signed. Check.

Gallows built. Check.

Expecting to be celebrated, Haman illustrated the wisdom of the Proverbs, 

Dig a pit and you’ll fall in it.” 

Haman’s fall was not broken by the bottom of a pit.

They hanged Haman on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai.

Esther is not about Karma. Facing annihilation, God snatched victory for his people from the jaws of the Enemy. Surrounded by powers bent to destroy, God emerged the Victor, his people the beneficiaries. Despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, the consequences of which came at their own agency, God’s faithfulness stood in for their lack.

The scenario replays Judah’s confrontation with Assyrian King Sennacherib. Jerusalem was surrounded. King Hezekiah’s put his confidence in the LORD and resists the threats. He instructed the idols in the high places be torn down. As the figure head of all Israel, King Hezekiah led Israel to trust in YHWH. During the night an angel of the Lord struck down the enemy. Judah could not claim victory by its own agency. Only the faithfulness of YHWH could make up for Judah’s unfaithfulness. 

And just when it looked like Israel might move ever closer to discovering grace and reveling in it, they illustrate how God described the inclinations of the human heart,

I will never again curse the ground because of human beings, even though the inclinations of the human heart is evil from youth onward.

Fleming Rutledge wrote of Advent,

“ . . . it [Advent] is not for the faint of heart. To grasp the depth of the human predicament, one has to be willing to enter into the very worst. This is not the same thing as going to horror films, which are essentially entertainment.”

Yemen.

The U.N. will request $4 billion in relief aid for Yemen. From March of 2015 through to July 19, 2018,  it is estimated 6,500 civilians have been killed. Children make up 1625 of that number. Famine and disease have left Yemen devastated. Meanwhile, Iran and Saudi Arabia engage in a proxy war on Yemeni soil keeping their respective lands unsoiled by the blood of these innocents.

Humanitarian efforts are tricky. Blockades and battle zones make it hard to provide relief. Countries funding material aid to civilians also provide military support for the battle. For example, the United States provides support for Saudi Arabia’s interest. How is it that a Country will spend money on both sides of the conflict? This is not a new practice. And, the United States is not the lone culprit. 

In our sins we have been a long time . . . 

We set the agenda. Tout a high standard. We want to challenge the murderers responsible for the death of Jamal Khashoggi. At the same time we must admit we approved aid to the sovereign country that sought his death. We support the agenda in Yemen that results in civilian deaths. We express outrage and threaten to withhold support, not at the death of innocent children whose names do not make the evening news. We wait until a man with a name and a high profile is killed in a foreign country.

We. Us. The prophet Isaiah did not stand outside of the practices that brought God’s judgment. He included himself. Woes figure prominently in the lyrics of the Song in Isaiah 5. Isaiah pronounces the woe on himself in the next chapter. We cannot escape responsibility for what is done by our proxies, by our common community.

No self-justifying argument may be made for unjust scales.

Lyrically the prophet calls attention to the treachery of the people of God. Direct confrontation would result in defensiveness. Israel’s prophets have a history of this practice.

There were two men in a certain city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very large flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing except one small ewe lamb that he had bought . . . Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man could not bring himself to take one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for his guest.

David demands justice for the man whose sheep was taken. He hears the prophet say, “You are the man!”

Jesus tells the story about a vineyard owner who having built the vineyard and the watchtower leased it all to tenant farmers. Once he concludes the story with the death of the owner’s son he asks, “When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers?” As we would expect the answer came, like David’s, rooted in the demand for justice. Just as the prophet informed David he was the man, the chief priests and the Pharisees knew Jesus was talking about them.

Maybe Jesus had Isaiah 5 in mind. Rather than a song he told a parable. The net effect is the same. Israel could not be guilty of such crimes. Could they? Would they recognize their error? Not until in exile.

Israel had become Haman. 

Digging their pit they had fallen into it.

Therefore my people will go into exile because they lack knowledge; her dignitaries are starving, and her masses are parched with thirst.

Listening to the prophetic songs and startling stories we discover . . . so have we.

The Witness Accuses and Rectifies

Pastoral Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that these peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. And all God’s people say . . . Amen.

Text: John 18:33-38

Today is Christ the King Sunday. It is the day in the Christian Calendar that reminds us that Jesus, Christ the King, is the witness that accuses the world as it is and through whom God will set all things right.

In January of this year, Michael Rich published, Truth Decay: An Initial Exploration of the Diminishing Role of Facts and Analysis in American Public Life. In 2000 Doug Groothuis’s book, Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism, was published. Five years earlier, in 1995, Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton had their book published, Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age.

Sometime around 30 AD, Pilate asked the question, “What is truth?
Maybe 800 to 1000 years before that the editor that completed the work of the

Preacher in Ecclesiastes, summed up the Teacher’s work,

The Teacher sought to find delightful sayings and write words of truth accurately.

The recorded history of Israel includes this,

Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden.?’

Human beings have a long sordid history with the truth. We have always battled over what truth we prefer. The one thing we cannot escape is the world is no better after all these years of making up our own truth. In fact, there are some stories that expose what we often paper over.

She asked to talk with me.

“Do you know of any assistance?” It was not unlike the question in the form of a statement that came Wednesday morning as we awaited for the Regional Food Bank delivery, “We were told that you were helping with Thanksgiving Dinners.” The same question is sometimes posed, “Can you help with some gas so I can see my mother in the hospital?” When you drill down to ask questions about other sources of income you learn that this Dad is doing all he can to keep two households going while having faced cancer and helping a daughter addicted to drugs.

“Do you know of any assistance?” Many a grandparent has responded to the call to help raise his or her grandchild. Whatever the circumstances that create that need are magnified when also taking the responsibility for a grandchild with special needs. While the unemployment rate is down, some businesses are still struggling for work. This family owns their own business and what is normally a busy time has been very slow. This mother and grandmother is also a daughter – a near full-time caregiver. Cooking meals three times a day nearly every day of the week and cleaning house for her parents leaves little time to pick up a second job.

“Do you know of any assistance?”

When we hear the word assistance in this context we often think of government assistance. Are there programs to help in the face of these arbitrary circumstances? We criticize those who look to the State, the government, to help in these instances. But, we do not see the how little difference there is between the State offering help to a family in crisis and, say, an industry that is helped to get off the ground with subsidies and tax breaks, a business given incentives to move to this city or that, and how little you and I pay attention that corporate accounts often help offset our individual expenses. We decry socialism and yet see it at work in special considerations where advantages help the bottom line, help a company survive.

The witness of the woman asking for assistance accuses the world of a double standard. Rather than apply your taxes and mine neutrally, we are selective with our outrage and criticism. Businesses from which we might benefit are privileged over normal families that could not possibly be guilty for a special needs grandchild or the debilitating health of parents, much less the economic effects of low unemployment and low wages.

“Do you know of any assistance?”

Pilate became an accomplice to the plot to kill Jesus. Try as he might to maintain neutrality, he actually could only think of Jesus as a counter to a certain form of political power. He completely missed that Jesus was a King of a different sort. Sometimes we make the same mistake. Content to think that Jesus is king over some unseen spiritual realm, we fail to take account that Jesus bears witness to the State, of government, we created that at once simply carries out the preferences of the powerful. So long as we receive from the powerful we are content to share in the chorus of personal responsibility and hard work. When we find ourselves on the wrong end of those preferential positions, we discover that the State, government, is not neutral, but supports the powerful.

This is an illustration of the Powers of Sin and Death.

Bound up in the human experience is an accusation against the world as it is. We form our opinions rooted in what benefits us, or so we think. And then we learn that there are people who would rather live in tents in a man-made-no-man’s-land rather than, in

their words, “be killed in our beds.” Only privileged people get to criticize the plight of those we don’t know. When we do it is an accusation against whatever truth we have preferred.

Pilate was not the first. We will not be the last.

Into this world.

I was born for this.

Whatever you and I make of Jesus, whatever anyone makes of Jesus, when we read his words,

I was born for this,

sets up the clash that resulted in the death of Jesus. What you say? Human beings have manipulated the law long before we came up with the now slogan-like mantra, Rule of Law. Our lived experience is that the law rules us. Pilate operated under the rule of the State. His concern with Jesus centered upon a certain geo-political sense. Pilate’s question, Are you the King of the Jews?, has in mind the sphere of power we would associate with a President, the leader of any Nation-State. His concern was not for those whose lives had been restored, where the arbitrary pains of life had been rectified with healing and hope. There was no stream of the blind, the lame, the possessed or the once-dead to bear witness to Jesus and the power of love. Care for people was not Pilate’s concern. Over what geographic area would Jesus’ kingdom take in? That was the concern.

When Jesus describes a kingdom not of this world, this did not make sense to Pilate whose concern was much more narrow.

My kingdom is not of this world

Into this world but not of this world.

Jesus’ reply to Pilate’s question reveals a better question. It is not, Are you the king of the Jews, instead the better question is, What kind of king are you? Jesus’ answer to Pilate reveals the limitation of the imagination when bound to such a narrow grid.

That Jesus did not refer to his disciples as subjects, soldiers, and that he outright rejected the form of power that would result in war, sets Jesus apart and requires an imagination not bound to the world as it is. So, when the question comes,

Do you know of any assistance?

We are not bound to a closed set of options. There are other possibilities. Confusing as it was to Pilate, it seems equally troubling today. Our imagination has so been captured

by the Powers of Sin and Death that we can only see the future world as it could be through capturing the Whitehouse for our team, the Congress for our side, even the Judiciary for our way. But Jesus told Pilate what he would tell us,

My kingdom is not of this world

The clue to a new imagination, what some have described as a sanctified imagination, is less a clue and more a person. Jesus responded to Pilate’s insistence that Jesus be pressed into the order of the day, the world as it is with,

You say that I am a king, I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.

If Jesus, his life and ministry, accuse the world as it is, know that his life, death and resurrection rectify the world, setting all things right.

Here are some distinctions . . .

  1. The world as it is may only maintain the order as it is, there is no means to rectify all that is wrong.
  2. Jesus, Christ the King showed a glimpse of the world set right every time he did what the world as it is could not do.
  3. Jesus, Christ the King, is more than an ethical model. Were it about living with a new ethic, it would merely be giving ourselves to a new law. Remember, the law only accuses. It cannot rectify what is wrong.
  4. Jesus, Christ the KIng, at once accuses, points out what is not right with the world as it. is, and through his life, death, and resurrection, sets the world to rights.

We await his return not for our escape from the world, but that the world will be finally made right through Him.

Tomorrow we, us, will help the woman with what she needs. Our hope is that we bear witness to the truth. We do not want to give testimony that they world as it is will one day make right the arbitrary events of life. We do not want to indicate that our participation in what helps her get by during this difficult time is all for which she has to hope.

We want to bear witness that in Christ, his Church, his people are not special but that we are present to the world testifying to the better place in the world which is in Christ.

*I often have a manuscript available but do not always read it. It is part of my preparation. There may have been slight additions/differences to the preached version. No audio is availalbe for this sermon.

He Threw Off His Coat – Seeing with His


Mark 10:46-52 (Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Hebrews 7:23-28)

Pastoral Prayer: Lord God, help us to see. Give us ears to hear what our eyes cannot see. As we see, by your Spirit, may your, “Go”, be met with our, “Follow.” And all God’s people say . . . Amen.

Saint Augustine wrote, 

The wretched helplessness of fallen humanity is seen symbolically in the blindness of Bartimaeus. (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scriptures)

Seems a harsh evaluation of a story that is limited to seven verses. Even more, what would Augustine have in mind that would lead him to such a conclusion in an account with little more background than a name that follows an ancient naming pattern. Bartimaeus is the combination of bar, which means son, and Timaeus. The blind man is identified by the name of his father and presented to us by virtue of his condition. He is blind. Some, even me, have playfully referred to the man as, Blind Bart. His condition is anything but playful.

Our situation is not playful. 

It seems apparent that our world, more specifically the situation in our Country, is such that we cannot see the connection between words spoken and the bad news we hear. Code words used among those that foster hatred toward others becomes fuel for those willing to act on that hate. Even more astounding is that we pass off the rantings of fringe groups as inconsequential until a person takes up an AR-15 and handguns and sets out to kill a specifically identifiable group of people. For what? Because they supported and practiced helping others in need.

Our situation seems helpless.

Worse we fail to see.

Our Scripture readings for this week were selected years ago. Only those with eyes to see and ears to hear might consider that God’s Spirit just might be saying what we are not willing to see. Our lack of sight may be willful. We see events like that in Pittsburg and we immediately look to the deep well of conspiracy theories that will no doubt abound. Our lack of seeing may be ignorance. We really don’t care much what happens that is not in our backyard so we ignore. Whatever the reason for our failed eyesight, the Spirit of God continues to speak . . . Who will listen?

Maybe Augustine too lived in a day where it seemed that those with eyes to see failed to listen. Could he have seen it in Isaiah’s words?

Go, Say to these people:
Keep listening but do not understand;
Keep looking, but do not perceive.
Make the minds of these people dull;
Deafen their ears and blind their eyes;
Otherwise they might see with their eyes
And hear with their ears,
Understand with thier minds,
Turn back and be healed.

Keep in mind that Isaiah 6 begins with the prophet re-telling something he saw,

I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne . . . 

The one who sees is given the task of telling the people to keep doing as they are – not hearing, not seeing and not understanding. How long?, the prophet asks. The reply comes, until everything is ruined.

Can you see any parallels? In the name of greatness, our attempts at greatness, we fail to see and hear until everything is ruined. It may actually be worse. Writing about the community on the way, a technical way to talk about discipleship, Ched Myers writes, 

The community cannot be resisting the powers’ exercise of domination while re-producing their patterns in its own midst.

In other words, the Church cannot resist the world’s way if it is simply reproducing the world’s way in its own exercise of power. Challenging the way of Jesus like Peter did, or arguing about greatness the way the Twelve did, or asking for the seats of greatness as the Sons of Thunder did, is not the same as,

He emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant,
taking on the likeness of humanity.
And when he had become a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death -
even death on a cross.

Who knows what happened to Timaeus. We know not what caused his son’s blindness. We do know that for whatever reason, the blind son was left to beg. Reduced to panhandling, scorned by those who passed by, his family either did not have the means to care for him or they did not care for him. Where was the family, the community, that would hear his cries and help? He surely was helpless.

Whatever the reason for his lack of help, Augustine finds the absence of help from family or community an apt description for humanity that always seems to see itself better than it is. If you happen to be on Facebook or Instagram, I know, same thing, you more often than not find people’s own stories full of the better part of their lives. Vacation destinations. No unkept living areas. Photos of when the children are playing sports. No shots of when they are exasperating their parents. Anniversary photos. No pictures of that last big argument. 

We want people to think better of us. We want to think better of ourselves. The problem is no amount of positive self-talk undoes those moments after you realize you may have yelled too much about that messy room, those ungrateful children, that frustrating spouse. Regret and guilt are difficult taskmasters. Shame is a tyrant. Oh, our children may forgive us, as may our spouse. But, we are much harder on ourselves. We expect better. We desire to be better.

Repressing the notion that we suck only increases our odds of un-health. 

Consider Job. Stuck in a cycle of seeing his life one way while battling friends who saw it another left him stuck between the temptations of self-righteousness and righteous indignation. Then, he heard from God. Once God responded to his pleas, his eyes were opened to things he did not understand.

You asked, "Who is this who conceals my counsel with ignorance?
Surely I spoke about things I did not understand,
things too wondrous for me to know . . . 
I had heard reports about you,
but now I have seen you.

Job’s confession is not a revelation that his suffering came as a result of his sin. But, he was aware of his own attempt to understand the arbitrary experiences of life. Was God merely the puppet master who toyed with his life? Job learned that God was the one with him, all around him, and that about the time he wondered if he had been abandoned to the arbitrariness of life, God speaks. Job heard what he could not see.

God revealed Godself to Job by inviting Job into the expanse of the created world and the life that teams within it.

I had heard reports about you,
but now I have seen you.?

Could it be that God shows up in Jesus to a people, a world, that teams with the arbitrariness of human weakness, human helplessness? Oppressed by earthly powers and subject to unseen powers, human beings everywhere were want to make sense of their arbitrary experiences and the flood of emotions that accompany the pursuit of answers. Left helpless under the weight, we find ourselves panhandling and scorned. Helpless.

The Rich Man ran up to Jesus looking for affirmation of his greatness. Bartimaeus, helpless to run, could only shout. Too many find themselves subject to forces beyond their control. Unsure where to run, we find ourselves shouting at the darkness. In desperation we may take up this way or that. Reading about the blind man gives us hope that along the way we realize Jesus has traveled to us.

Isn’t that what happens in our text. The man whom Augustine says symbolically illustrates our helplessness hears that Jesus has come to him?

Mark teaches the church what it means to follow Jesus and his way. He begins in Mark 8,

They came to Bethsaida. They brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him.

Spitting on his eyes and laying hands on him the man at first only saw people like trees walking. Then Jesus put his hands on his eyes and the man saw everything clearly. The series of events after that indicate that the disciples saw dimly what Jesus was up to. Over and again they tried to work Jesus’ teaching into the ways they had already learned. Time and again, Jesus undermined what they had learned by talking about the kingdom of God. Finally, here in Mark 10, just before Jesus will go into Jerusalem, Mark concludes the section with the healing of Bartimaeus.

It is as if to say the disciples, who have traveled with Jesus on his way, have not been listening and so have not seen. Here the blind man hears Jesus’ voice and will see.

Paul writes,

So faith comes by what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message of Christ.

No help had come to Bartimaeus. But look at what unfolds when he hears.

First, he heard Jesus was coming. It was not uncommon for people to travel from Jericho to Jerusalem. In fact, with Passover approaching, it would not have been odd a crowd traveled together. Filtering through the crowd, word spread that it was Jesus. Bartimaeus could not see him but he heard the word that Jesus was coming.

Second, he heard the warnings to keep quiet. Upon hearing that Jesus was traveling the same road, the man began to shout, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” Stoked by the prohibition, the man shouted louder. Rather than be hushed, even shouted down, the man who knew from where his help would come, cried out more.

Third, he heard Jesus through the words of the people, Cheer up! This is the only time these words are spoken by anyone other than Jesus. Recall Paul’s words, 

So faith comes by what is heard.

The same way Bartimaeus heard Jesus was coming is the same means he heard Jesus’ words – people. Now more than ever, when the feelings of helplessness abound, the words of Jesus, Cheer up! are needed. He’s calling for you. What? No one else had called for him. Would he hear?

When he heard, what did he do?

First, he shouted, cried out, to Jesus. His response to Jesus was an indication that he had heard if anyone could help him it would be Jesus.

Second, he obeyed the word he heard. Hearing the words from Jesus evoked faith. It was not that somehow the man possessed faith. Instead, upon hearing Jesus’ words, he threw off his coat. Or, put another way, when he had seen with his ears, he threw off his coat and came to Jesus. The Rich Man ran because he saw Jesus on the way. Bartimaeus had to follow the voice.

Third, when given the choice to go his way, he followed Jesus on his way. Jesus did not tell him to follow with him to Jerusalem. He told him he was free to go. Blindness no longer held him captive. Rather than Go his own way, he began to follow Jesus.

What have you heard today, in the retelling of this story, the message of Jesus, that you now see?

*I often have a manuscript available but do not always read it. It is part of my preparation. There may have been slight additions/differences to the preached version.

Audio

Voices of Hope

Some of us grew up acquainted with choirs. Recently I saw the Voices of Hope Choir on American’s Got Talent. I could not help but think there was a metaphor that would help explicate something Paul was aiming for in what I think is his four-part harmony at work.

Voices of Hope

Ephesians 4:1-16

Pastoral Prayer – Lord God, in a world of competing voices, may your church be a choir of grace full of voices of hope. So this morning – may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing in your sight. And all God’s people say. Amen.

Beware, I am thinking of embracing heresy. Rather than urge you to join me with cunning and deceit, I am simply going to offer an open invitation to follow me. I will be direct. Before you stop listening and consider leaving this morning, know that I am talking about a musical heresy. Are you ready for it? Here it is, “Choirs sound better than solo artists.

Now you know. 

Simon Cowell, who created the Got Talent franchise, remarked to the founder of the Angel City Choir, “No choir has every won America’s Got Talent.” The show debuted in 2006. Asked why she thought no choir had ever won, founder Sue Fink replied, “They weren’t us.” After they were passed through with four, “Yes,” votes, Cowell commented,

“I just felt there was something magical about hearing you all sing together. When a song works and the vocals work, it just washes all over you and you feel amazing. That’s what great choirs can do and you’ve got a fantastic combined energy. This is a great audition. I’m gonna remember this for a long time. I’m thrilled.”

Cowell has said they are the best choir they have ever had audition for the show. However, the final decision will be difficult because there is not just one great choir, there are two. More than half the size of the 160-member Angel City Choir, the Voices of Hope Choir is made up of children ages 5-17. Founded as a tuition-free choir to make music accessible to all children, the Choir won the coveted Golden Buzzer in the second round of auditions. Let’s see what you think.

Take a look.

https://

Sarah Grandpre’s story may well have inspired my new heresy. In an interview for the show she shared,

“If you had told me when I was 21 that my biggest passion project was going to be directing a children’s choir, I would have been so surprised. I graduated from college, and I was going to pursue a solo singing career.”

After facing rejection in her own singing career, she felt lost until presented with the opportunity to start Voices of Hope. 

“My calling found me in the form of this children’s choir,” Grandpre said.

Cowell admits that this season will be as difficult for any choir to win as there are many good individual talents. But, for me, I am determined to choose the winner from the two choirs no matter what the judges say. If you are going to be a musical heretic, you might as well go all in. They have my Golden Buzzer. 

Maybe it all started with that 1970’s rock-n-roll band, Foreigner, that was joined by the New Jersey Mass Choir in their 1984 hit, “I Want to Know What Love Is,” that planted the seed deep all those years ago. Goosebumps when the lone voice in the setting of an abandoned music hall is joined with the harmonies offered by multiple voices.

Likely it was growing up singing in children’s choirs, youth choirs, and adult choirs. In those settings the sense of accomplishment is shared. It undermines the temptation to think, “I sure make that choir sound good!” The shift to individual talents is expressive of our cultural soup. The rather thin type that leaves you always wanting more. For churches and Christians, it is the subtle undermining of the “we” of Church. 

Then again maybe the current influence is working through how Paul’s calling found him. Making a name for himself he received the loud no. Here he reminds his readers in Philippi of his solo career.

If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; 6 regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless.

He then let’s them know that his solo career got swept up in the calling that found him.

But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ.

Paul frequently includes snippets of early Christian hymns in his letters. Here in Ephesians 4:8 he calls back to the Hebrew Song Book , Psalms,

When he ascended on high

he took the captives captive

he gave gifts to people (Ps. 68:18)

Maybe he is teaching the Gentile Christians some of the oldies. Something like hearing, To God Be the Glory among the more current songs we sing. Don’t proof text this verse as a way of pressing that we should only sing old songs. Paul included a Jesus song in Philippians 2. Those would have been centuries apart. 

Remember, if we want Cohen to learn Amazing Grace then it might be good to go ahead and give in to Reckless Love. If we want Emerson to belt out, To God Be the Glory, we may need to learn Sound of Adoration. And if you are inspired by Great Is Thy Faithfulness, you may need to join Max with lifted hands as he belts out Bigger Than.

Paul’s plea for unity in the church is not a call for uniformity. It is not the call to always sing in 4:4 time. We need to mix it up with a little 6:8 from time to time. It is not a call to be exactly alike but to know that it is exactly the same grace you receive as the person sitting next to you. Together our understanding of grace is what issues our calling.

Paul is not begging for unity in the church by listing a series of new laws to keep. Instead, he points out that our grasp of grace calls attention to the life of Jesus. From there we find the calling that finds us. The natural response to grace is grace. It, grace, is something we find hard to give for we wrestle with thoughts of what we do not deserve

Amazing Grace how sweet the sound, that save a wretch like me, I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.

Enemies would attempt to divide a people. They would come for a people with cunning and deceit. Their attempts would be to divide and conquer. Paul lays out that the life to which we have been called is the very life of Jesus. If we stay with an emphasis on choirs as a means to draw out the

unity of the Spirit through the blond of peace – one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above and through all and in all, 

we may liken the formation of our unity as learning four part harmony.

Paul’s Four part harmony is found in the stacked nouns of verse 2. We think of sopranos, altos, tenors and basses. Paul stacks these nouns as representative of the four part harmony lived by the church as it expresses God’s wisdom to the world. The four parts of Paul’s harmony are:

Humility

Gentleness

Patience

Bearing

The enthronement song, the song of victory referenced in Psalm 68 in verse 7, came through the very exercise of this four part harmony in Jesus’ own life. Rather than archive victory by means of brute force, in Jesus Christ God claims victory through the weakness of death, even death on a Cross. This shameful experience became the victory for us. If we think through the life of Jesus, these four ways describe the life of Jesus, and Paul’s own pattern of living that left him comfortable that as a prisoner *in* the Lord.

Humility – lowliness – Not my will but yours. He humbled himself to death, death on a Cross. The natural tendency then and today is not to view humility as a virtue. It is rather a weakness. No one gets ahead unless they grab what the want, even take it. But for those grasped by grace, the gift of Christ is the unity brought by humility.

Gentleness – meekness – Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon your for my yoke is gentle. Here we witness the discipline and control of God’s love for all.

Patience – He who is without sin cast the first stone. But while we were yet sinners Christ died for the ungodly. Grace and mercy present themselves in love that is slow to avenge wrong, slow to retaliate. The word is often used to describe God’s disposition toward people.

Bearing – Bearing with one another is not ceasing to love one’s neighbors because of their faults. Peter who challenged. Thomas who doubted. James and John who wanted first place.

These are gifts given to all in Christ. Practicing the life of Jesus in our own prompts Paul to write,

Rather by speaking the truth in love we shall grow in every way toward him who is the head, the Messiah. He is at work fitting and joining the whole body together. He provides sustenance to it through every contact according to the needs of each single part. He enables the body to make its own growth so that it builds itself up in love. (Markus Barth translation)

The Church by the Gospel presents a godly harmony through lives of hope for the love of the world. You are God’s Choir of Hope, of Peace. In Christ, the Golden Buzzer has passed you through to declare the Gospel of Peace.

Let’s Sing!

*I often have a manuscript available but do not always read it. It is part of my preparation. There may have been slight additions/differences to the preached version.

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