Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Thought for Thursday 23 October 2014

“If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true.  There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know the witness which he witnesses of Me is true.  You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth.  Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved.”  John 5:31-34 NKJV

I think I am about to cause a lot of ‘wailing and gnashing of teeth’ with what I am about to share, but I think it has become necessary in order to appreciate the fullness of The Eternal One without trying to break The Lord into manageable pieces. 

There is nothing wrong with proclaiming Messiah, of course.  John [the Baptizer] did, and people came from all around to prepare themselves.  There is nothing wrong with embracing Messiah; Jesus Himself lamented that people ran away from Him to their own “desolation” rather than to come under the cover of His mercy (Matthew 23:37-38). 

The problem we seem to have today is similar to a problem which existed in the early Church prior to the 4th century Council of Nicaea whose sole purpose was to finally and completely define the nature of Messiah.  Whole movements had sprung after the apostolic period from varying and conflicting beliefs in an “Old Testament God” and a “New Testament God”, the merciful NT God being the One who could be defined by Messiah.  Yet there were still substantial efforts made to completely separate Jesus from the Almighty, the Father being “without form”.

Jesus, more than once, makes a clear distinction between Himself and The Father, and His efforts seem directed toward His sole mission to point people to the Father rather than to Himself.  Over time we have all but made Jesus a “god” in His own right, failing to defining Him within the doctrine of the Trinity, the fullness of The Lord in the Father AND the Son AND the Holy Spirit.  If we listen carefully today, Jesus has been made into a magician who can be “hired” or “summoned at will” – OR – He is our reason not to hope but to excuse ourselves from Torah, the statutes and ordinances of The Lord.  These are the things Jesus came to “fulfill” (that is, to perfect), not to do away with (Matthew 5:17-18).  Yet by His authority we remove ourselves from the challenges of discipleship, we distance ourselves from the fellowship of the Church, and we absolutely reject the authority of the Church – all in the name of Jesus!  “There is nothing new under the sun”, says the teacher (Ecclesiastes 1:9-11) We’ve been here before.

There can be no real discussion about Jesus if there is no full connection to The Father, and there can be no abiding appreciation for The Father if we cannot acknowledge His Presence in His Spirit.  Above all else, we must take great care that this popular notion that “the Christian God is named ‘Jesus’” be put away finally and completely because the theological truth is Jesus has no meaning apart from Torah.  He teaches from the Scriptures, the Holy Scriptures which testify to The Father alone.  He is “the Word which became flesh”.

There is nothing wrong with holding on to Jesus as long as we recognize He is not baby-sitting us; He is leading us. He is not our “co-pilot”; He is the Pilot who is taking us somewhere.  Maybe if we could dispense with the “bumper sticker theology” and rubber wrist bands, we might actually get somewhere!

We must not look for theological “sound bites”.  We must get the whole story, for only then will we know the whole story.  Then we will realize The Story is all about The Father – and all roads lead home.



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Thought for Wednesday 22 October 2014

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV

The first thought to cross my mind as I was reviewing this reading was what has been written by others: If you are finding Christianity to be ‘easy’, you’re not doing it right.  This is to say, Christianity is counter-cultural; it does not fit with how we have generally been conditioned and oriented toward the so-called “American Dream”.  Christianity does not fit into our social circles because, more often than not, our social circles do not involve discussions about religion and faith (we just don’t talk about Jesus, but we will likely talk about others who are not present!), AND our social circles are not generally open to persons we do not know – or like.  We go to church on Sunday, though, and if we have a little extra to give, we might toss a token into the collection plate.  Yet we do not deliberately make room for guests; and if an unknown guest does come, we might toss them a tepid smile but little else.  We do not practice tithing or sacrificial giving of time and talents because, frankly, there are other things much more important to us than the Church.

So, sure, in this we find Christianity very easy because it does not seem to ask or require anything of us.  While this may be true that the Church has stopped asking (don’t want to lose any members, you know, the church being ‘theirs’ and all), Christ has left us with His teachings; and if we dare to be honest with ourselves and remain true to what is actually written in the Scriptures instead of embracing fond sayings that have no real scriptural basis, we will discover faith and discipleship to be the most difficult things there can be because Jesus Himself does not let us off the hook – not if we want to claim His Name.  Oh, we can fool others into believing we are Christians, but Christ Himself is not so easily fooled.

Jesus, on the other hand, is painfully aware of how difficult it is to walk by faith rather than by sight; He knows better than any.  This is why He offers this respite in the midst of the struggles we face in our daily living – AND – in our spiritual journey (assuming we are ‘doing it right’).  He knows.  He has watched us chase the “American Dream” which has pretty much remained a nightmare for so many, and He has seen us ‘chase our tails’ and never quite reach it.  It’s cute when we watch puppies do this, but we would probably not think ourselves so cute if we could actually see how we struggle to make material prosperity and faith align.

Still, there is a catch to this passage.  Jesus is not offering to magically make the broken pieces of our lives come together.  He is not offering a winning lottery ticket, and He will not smite Publisher’s Clearinghouse if they don’t show up at our door.  He is also not offering to leave us to wallow in the so-called “life” we’ve carved out for ourselves.  “Come to Me”, the Savior says.  This means we finally realize how we’ve struggled against the wind, how we’ve finally realized that without living for something greater than self, the only thing we have to look forward to is our own funeral.  OR if we have been ‘doing Christianity right’, how the world has cursed us and mocked us and laughed at us and called us ‘fools’.  What Jesus is offering is to teach us; that is, prove to us that nothing done in His Name is ever done in vain.  Yet claiming His Name but offering Him nothing in return is indeed using His Name for vain purposes.

“Come to Me”, the Shepherd says … on My terms, in My way, and according to My truth.  Then – and only then – will we find true “rest for your souls”.



Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Thought for Tuesday 21 October 2014

“[The rich young ruler] came and said to Jesus, ‘Good teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?’  Jesus replied, ‘Why do you call Me good?  No one is good but One; that is, God.  But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments … [and] if you want to be perfect, go and sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come and follow Me.”  Matthew 19:16-17, 21-22 NKJV

‘If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments …”  Wait, what??  But St. Paul said …

And here we go.  Too often Christians look for any biblical excuse to be found to just be “saved” or “justified”; that is, forgiven without regard to any other.  Divine mercy is a mystery no one will ever be able to put into human words, but Jesus is not speaking exclusively about that one thing, that one event, nor is He offering an easy way out of social responsibility.  And notice this: Jesus is rejecting the notion that “family comes first” in the most definitive terms because if we get rid of all we have, there is nothing left for us or for our families!

Rather than focus strictly on what Jesus may be rejecting (or trying to use St. Paul as a way out!), we should look more closely at what Jesus is offering – yes – in the ‘law’; that dreaded, cursed ‘law’ St. Paul declares we are no longer under.  “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”  But, the young man asks, “Which ones?”  Which commandments?  Jesus lists some of the “Ten”, but then He wraps it up with “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The fullness of the love of God is expressed in our obedience to Him even if we do not fully understand why.  We cannot use St. Paul as an excuse not to be diligent about The Lord’s statutes and ordinances (especially because Paul does not offer excuses!).  Our failure is not strictly defined by a rejection of The Lord’s instruction itself; rather our failure is defined by our refusal to understand that “entering into life” is not about “me” – it is about our “neighbor”, and that defined by Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.  What we often fail to understand is that the ‘law’ (our word) is not about how well “me” can obey; it is entirely about how deeply we can love The Lord – and this is expressed by how faithfully we attend to one another, including the “stranger”, the “foreigner”.

One final thought.  Jesus told the man, “if you want to be perfect …”   In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commands that “you shall be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).  So we are to look more carefully and closely at what perfection means, what it really looks like, to be in love with The Lord.  We cannot claim to love Jesus if we treat our ‘neighbor’ with disdain lest we be exposed as “liars” (1 John 2:4).

Jesus is clear: don’t worry about “getting saved”.  Worry more about your ‘neighbor’, and see to their comfort.  Give them all you have to give, “and you will have treasure in Heaven.”



Monday, October 20, 2014

A Thought for Monday 20 October 2014

“Jesus said [to Joseph and Mary], ‘Why did you seek Me?  Did you not know I must be about My Father’s business?’  But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.”  Luke 2:49-50

Recall that the Holy Family had gone to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover.  On this particular occasion it is believed Jesus was about 12 years old.  We can only imagine the panic which surely gripped Mary and Joseph when they finally realized Jesus was not with them as they were headed back to Nazareth.  When they found Him in the Temple, He was interacting with the religion teachers and “astounding” them with His questions and answers.

It is the answer Jesus gave to His parents, however, that is at the heart of the story and speaks to us today in the midst of our busy-ness and subsequent spiritual thirst.  We cry out to The Lord and expect Him to come running as we seek His comfort and care in the midst of our self-pity.  Hardly ever do we consider what His answer would be when we finally found Him: “Did you not know I must be about My Father’s business?”

It is so easy and comforting to take a few bits and pieces of the Gospel stories to justify our reasonable expectation that Jesus will come when He is summoned, but it is much more difficult to comprehend the certain reality that searching for Jesus is going to take us to places we might rather not be as Jesus goes “about My Father’s business”!
Where will we find Him?  Exactly where He expects to be found: in the pain and suffering of those who mourn, in the growling of young bellies in perpetual hunger, in the hearts of young parents with a cancer-stricken child, in the loneliness of the shut-in.  We will not often find Jesus in the comfortable and “cool” places on Sunday morning (though this is where we will find one another AND the Holy Spirit).  Rather we will find Him going “about the Father’s business”, showing us where He expects us to be found, where He wants us to find Him: in the midst of pain and suffering and loneliness and hunger and doubt and fear.  He wants us to find Him there because He wants us to be there with Him, with His beloved who need Him – and who need us. 

The religion of our Christian faith hinges on this perpetual search; finding The Lord in what we would consider the most unlikely places – AND – understanding there is a reason why He wants to be found among the “least”, the “last”, and the “lost” … because this is where He needs US to be found, “going about the Father’s business”.



Sunday, October 19, 2014

What's left for us?

Romans 13:1-7
Matthew 22:15-22

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." 

Moses commended this "great" commandment to Israel before they were to cross into the Promised Land.  As much as they were about to be given, it would come at great risk.  They could (and did!) get too full of themselves and forget Who made their entry into "the land of milk and honey" possible.  They would be taking possession of "large and beautiful cities you did not build, houses full of all good things you did not fill, wells you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees you did not plant - when you have eaten and are full - then beware, lest you forget The Lord who brought you out of the Land of Egypt, from the house of bondage" (Deuteronomy 6:10-12).

Jesus affirmed this commandment as the "first and great" commandment (Mt 22:38), the commandment upon which all else in the Covenant is established - "You shall have no other gods before Me".  This commandment, however, is meaningless without a full understanding of and deep appreciation for the depth and breadth of the love which is called for in this commandment.  We may also do well to think more deeply about what constitutes "gods" in our lives, what or whom we really pay homage to.

Thinking through Jesus' admonition to render appropriately what belongs to "Caesar" and to The Lord, it is hard not to think specifically about money - especially since Jesus is referring to a coin with the emperor's image.  On the surface, money is the issue because it is what we use to pay taxes.  However, we are compelled to think more broadly than simply paying taxes to the "empire".

By the text itself, we may be led to believe all currency with any image belongs strictly to that image - meaning that even though we earn it, someone or something else can legitimately claim it.  Actually, it seems strictly by Jesus' words, the currency is never really ours since it bears an image ("You shall not make a carved image") - and government has the authority to tax per its need to provide for the "common defense" and good order.

Human words can be deceiving, however.  There is a much broader context - AND - the reality of the "Word made flesh" offering something that cannot be found in a literal reading of the words on the page.  In fact, there is no interpretation and no depth in reading literally.  The words are the words, and there is no more to see than what is on the surface.

"My ways ... and My thoughts", The Lord says, demand that we move beyond the human interpretation that is the English translation from the original Greek text that was rewritten in Latin and then back to Greek and then finally to English (in its many forms!).  The Holy Scriptures require that we get over our own "awesomeness" in claiming "common sense" (which is actually human tradition from generations past) when it comes to understanding the depth of Jesus' many lessons and the greater context from which these lessons come.

Money in our economy and culture is our primary currency.  We trade the money we earn for the goods and services we need, and to pay our taxes.  Money is also the tithe we offer in our worship of The Lord, the gift we bring in thanksgiving.  The "empire" cannot have it all.

Yet Jesus commends to us an abiding respect for the "empire" and its authority.  St. Paul (and St. Peter) both write of respect for the legitimate authority of the "empire", the state.  St. Paul goes so far as to give credit to The Lord as having "ordained" and "appointed" this authority.  In our system of representative government, however, we appoint our own authorities and make our own laws through our chosen representatives.  So if something is wrong, we have no one to blame but ourselves.  We cannot call out "tyranny" without exposing ourselves as the "tyrants".  Sometimes, however, we question the usefulness and meaning of what is written when we remember Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin, and so many others who abused their authority and utterly failed in their "divinely appointed" mission.

But the question of what rightly belongs to the "empire" commands our attention since Jesus gives legitimacy to this claim.  The bigger question, however, is what belongs to The Lord.  This is a big question, too, because the "empire" - as per Jesus and Paul and Peter - can take as much as it claims to need!  The implication by Jesus that the whole of the currency belongs to "Caesar" - because of the image it bears - suggests there is something much more substantial and enduring which belongs to The Lord.

Going back to Moses' "great" commandment, remember Moses was speaking to a whole new generation, the old generation which lived Torah, created "The Story", having died in the wilderness.  The old generation suffered the trials and tribulations of making the difficult transition from "slave" of the "empire" to "servants" of The Lord - AND - one another!  What they were about to enter into and take possession of was never "theirs".  They didn't earn it.  They didn't build the cities, and they did not plant the vineyards.  Yet they were about to pick the fruit with The Lord's blessing and permission.

We are to discern between what is "given" by Divine decree and what is "acquired" by human means.  In this discernment as well, we still have that tension between what belongs to "Caesar" and what belongs to The Lord - and THEN try to decide what is left for us!  Where, when, and how do we get ours??

That's the rub, though, isn't it?  In the 21st century, we are very aware of what is "mine".  While many are generous with what they have, there is still an undeniable cut-off point at which we draw the line.  We will not jeopardize our financial well-being for anyone.  We will not give beyond our capacity - and willingness - to give.  And while we may loathe the proliferation of the misleading so-called "prosperity gospel" in our modern culture, we cannot deny a remnant of that false teaching in our own lives.

When Jesus encounters the "rich, young ruler" (Matthew 19:16-22), we are often shocked at what Jesus requires of those who express a desire to follow Him.  To sell "all" we have and give it to the poor makes no sense to us because our culture - which is undeniably dominant in our lives - calls this "foolish".  The "prosperity gospel" suggests it is also unnecessary.  It is also undeniable that we are exposed by the "ruler" who, when told by Jesus that he must "keep the commandments" in order to enter into eternal life, still tries to negotiate with The Lord; "Which [commandments must I keep]?"

Thus we miss the point of what it means to "love" The Lord with all we have and with all we are.  The "empire" can and will take what it thinks it needs, but we must remember that which can be taken from us was never ours in the first place.  This includes our very lives ("Fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell", Mt 10:28b). 

Once we are finally and completely freed from the tyranny of stuff and money, we will be able to realize and appreciate that what we thought were "blessings" were only chains and shackles keeping us from "perfection", from true holiness.  This is what is left for us; and it is more than we will ever need in this life or in the Life to come.  Amen.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Thought for Monday 13 October 2014

“The Lord spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan, across from Jericho, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel and say to them, When you have crossed the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, destroy all their engraved stones, destroy all their molded images, and demolish all their high places … but if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land where you dwell.  Moreover it shall be that I will do to you as I thought to do to them’.”  Numbers 33:50-52, 55-56 NKJV

Often even the most devoted Christian can have difficulties with certain stories in Torah, particularly those stories in which Israel is commanded to destroy everything – and everyone.  We cannot begin to imagine the blood baths that may have actually taken place and how each warrior may have felt in faithfully executing his duties.  It is even more problematic when each account is taken literally, when we are then prevented from getting anything useful from such passages as applicable to ourselves and our lives now.  I get that some Christian traditions dismiss the First Testament altogether as irrelevant (even as they are often quick to quote “eye for an eye”), but our United Methodist tradition does not allow us to walk away so easily – especially from such difficult passages.

These passages are made even more difficult when we consider that what is unfolding in the Middle East by the hands of the Islamic State comes eerily close to matching what we read; like locusts, they are devouring everything and everyone in their path.  It does not matter whether they are right or wrong in what they do; it is the reality the world currently faces and must contend with.  Consider this, however; the Koran also contains some equally problematic passages often cited by outsiders who try to disprove the idea that Islam is a “peaceful religion”.  The brutality of the Islamic State – and the hatefulness of Westboro Baptist Church – are what happens when we read the words in the Scriptures but fail to engage the Spirit in reading.

Israel had been enslaved 400 years and they had only come together as a nation, as an army, as a people, during the latter part of their 40-year journey to the Promised Land.  It would not do for them to be confronted with Canaanite cultural and religious practices lest they be tempted away from the God of Israel and His Torah.  So every speck of their religion and their practices had to be put away and destroyed.  Otherwise there would always be that “irritant”, that remnant of what must be driven out.  Failing to destroy everything and drive out everyone would be the risk of subjecting Israel to even the slightest temptation we know all too well: that which is once tolerated will soon be embraced.

There are some things – and persons – we cannot literally destroy or drive out, but there are many things – and persons - we must consider to be legitimate threats to our faith and the well-being of our families and our churches, our communities of faith.  Some may seem harmless; but the point of putting these things away from our presence and our thoughts is not about how strong we may be.  We must always consider what may be a “stumbling block” for others.  If we do not protect them from these temptations, who will? 

So it is not entirely about literally destroying everything we deem offensive; it may be more about what we must do to protect the “little ones” of the faith so they are not drawn away from the One True God.  This takes prayer, fasting, and serious consideration of everything we encounter and then measuring it according to what is written in the Scriptures.  Once we determine for ourselves it is not so bad, however, we leave that door open to others who may not share the strength of our convictions, our devotion to prayer and fasting, and our spiritual capacity to walk away.

We must not act impulsively according to our social sensibilities, however.  Jesus warns that there are some things so powerful that can only be confronted with prayer and fasting.  These must therefore become our own spiritual practices before we consider any sort of social “crusade” in the name of The Lord.  In our faithfulness and by His Word, we will be given what we need.  So we take heart that while we are defenders of the Gospel itself by our baptism, much more is expected of us than to simply curse or attempt to destroy those things and persons we do not like.  It is not our impulse or instinct being called forth; it is our faithfulness in obedience and our care for others.  This is who we really are in Christ.



Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Witness of Self

Exodus 32:1-14
Matthew 22:1-14
"Letter from the Birmingham Jail"

"Those who see beyond the shadows and lies of their culture will never be understood, let alone believed, by the masses."  Plato

In other words, if one refuses to go along with the crowd and the dominant culture, one is considered a "weirdo" and will not be taken seriously.  They are "non-conformists".  But as MLK observed, "But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body [of Christ] through ... fear of being non-conformists."

One of the most significant works of Martin Luther King was his "Letter from the Birmingham Jail".   The letter was written in response to concerns publicly expressed by eight white Alabama religious leaders, Gentile and Jewish, who had referred to the protests in Birmingham as "unwise and untimely", concerned as they were for social stability. 

They probably meant well in expressing a concern that while Dr. King's efforts were well intended, it was perhaps not quite the right time or the right method.  At the very least, the concern was that such a drastic change in local culture would be better attended to gradually and through the legal system rather than immediately and so radically by public protest.  Yet it was noted by Dr. King in this 1963 letter that the "change" through the legal system had come in 1954 by the USSC in Brown v Board of Education which outlawed segregation.

Dr. King began by writing, "I would like to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms ... since you have been influenced by the argument of 'outsiders coming in'."

These "criticisms" seemed to center around the fact that Dr. King was from Atlanta, so his coming to Birmingham to meddle in local affairs was inappropriate because it was none of his business.  In Dr. King's absence, they seemed to believe, all would be well.  The irony of the complaint, however, was that even though these eight clergy seemed to acknowledge a legitimate problem, they did not seem to appreciate that they were being forced to see things as they really were rather than as they perhaps wished they were.

It is like walking through the same door at the same place time and again.  At first something out of place is noticed but eventually put out of mind through repetition and lack of concern.  Soon that which is out of place (chipped and/or faded paint, carpet stains, rust, broken things, etc) is hardly noticed.  We get used to what it is; we "conform" to the present reality. 

"Status quo" does not mesh with the very essence of life because life itself is not static.  Life is dynamic and vibrant and should always be thriving and progressing.  But when we begin to notice - or are forced to acknowledge - that life is not so dynamic or vibrant for some, that something is wrong, we are compelled by Christ Himself to confront rather than conform to the ugly reality that while our own individual lives may be perfectly fine, things are not so fine for others.  It is easy to delegate individual responsibility, but it is much harder to look at the world through the lenses imposed on us by "outsiders" who force us to see things - and people - in a whole different light.  The Bible does precisely this.

Dr. King posed a question I find unsettling because it speaks all too clearly to our current social climate: "Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?"  "If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century."

Welcome to the 21st-century church and the reality of Dr. King's greatest fear: the very Body of Christ being "dismissed [by the masses] as an irrelevant social club with no meaning", a body which has "lost its authenticity and has forfeited the loyalty of [quite literally] millions".  There is harsh truth to all Dr. King wrote in this "Letter"; philosophical, social, and biblical Truth that was summarily dismissed in his time as not only having been written by a black man but by an "outside agitator".

I thought about this "Letter" as I was reading the Exodus account of the 'golden calf' which, more than anything, challenges us to come closer to understanding how lost the "millions" may be - not strictly because they made bad choices but because the contemporary Church is lost itself.  We have become comfortable with "fitting in" to the popular culture rather than challenging it, quite likely because we have allowed ourselves over time to be so oriented. 

We like to believe we are independent thinkers, free men and women who are masters of our own universe, captains of our own charted courses, doing and believing because we think we have drawn our own conclusions independent of "outside" influence.  However, the text of the 'golden calf' reveals much more than an impatient and faithless people so easily enticed by shiny baubles.  We get a glimpse into the reality of the human psyche that is much more "conditioned" than it is "informed".  

By this I mean this was a people who had endured 400 years of slavery.  They had been overpowered and tricked into slavery ("Let us deal shrewdly with them", Exodus 1:10), they were fed and cared for as slaves.  Soon they were treated as slaves until they began to breed as slaves.  The culture which had held them captive for generations worshipped lifeless idols of all sorts, including cast animal images; so for 400 years this was the life which had become normal to them.  It was what they knew even if they did not participate.  It was what they had witnessed for so long that they could not know anything else.  They had been sufficiently "conditioned" to the point that nothing less than a Divine Miracle and an "outside agitator" would lead them to freedom.

For a time they were willing and surely excited to follow Moses out of their familiarity, but any interruption in the new routine would confuse them.  We must be mindful that in their 400 years of "social conditioning", they had severely limited social capacity.  So when Moses disappeared for so long, the people reverted back to what they had long been used to, the only "way" they really knew; and Aaron had no problem with it because he had long been one of them.  For all they knew, the "outside agitator" was dead.

In their state of confusion and anxiety they returned to the safety of familiarity, the misleading premise and false promise of "the good ol' days". 

What they could not know at the time was that turning back (even metaphorically) was a return to "status quo" and, ultimately, death.  Their former lives in Egypt held no promise but death.  Yet they were afraid of "change" and lacked the capacity to see beyond "the shadow and lies of their [known and familiar] culture".  It was not that they did not want a new life; it was that they were unable to envision anything else.

When Jesus shares His "parable of the wedding feast", we must realize we are the ones who are so enmeshed in the culture we've become accustomed to, the Americanized way of life we are familiar with, than even such a Divine Invitation that calls us OUT of that culture and into something glorious may not be as welcome as it will be a serious disruption and threat to the only life we really know. 

As it is now, we can very comfortably compartmentalize our "church" life apart from our "real" life and find no difficulty in doing so because we can tune in and tune out as the situation may warrant; our "real" life demands our fullest attention because that's where the money is - the bills and paychecks and pensions.  And the "SELF" which has been called out by Christ from the "bondage of myths and half-truths" has been lost to the "unbiblical distinction between ... the secular and the sacred" - as Dr. King had observed. 

Some have suggested religion is little more than a social "brain washing" designed to control the masses.  What we must see, however, is that the TRUE SELF was created in the Divine Image, distorted through social and cultural conformity, and reoriented to the TRUE SELF with the Advent of Messiah and the radical nature of the Gospel.  It is the INVITATION extended to us when we are challenged to self and social evaluation - and - critical analysis not to determine if we are "popular" with our neighbors but whether we are faithful to our Redeemer.

We must not ignore the reality of what Messiah is teaching: that "many are called, but few are chosen" (Mt 22:14).  This is not a human abstract; it is the mind and foreknowledge of The Lord.  It will be the "faithful" who are "chosen", but the "popular" (the "many") will not even recognize the Call.

We are not called to social "conformity"; we are called to Divine Glory.  It is long past time to awaken and answer that Call.  Amen.