Archive for August, 2017

The Surprise of Sin

August 14, 2017

I haven’t been following the events in Charlottesville too closely.  But it has been interesting to see the very emotional responses to the demonstrations there.  It has led me to wonder why so many people are so deeply affected by the demonstrations.  After all, white supremacy and the KKK – these are not new entities in American culture and politics.  They are, I trust, still minority movements.  Fringe elements – far more so than they were decades ago.  Yet their very existence has suddenly struck many folks as completely unacceptable.  Why is this?

Let me first pause to say that I condemn racism, I condemn points of view that posit God’s blessings exclusively to any particular people or race.  Such opinions run directly contrary to Biblical theology.  They may attempt to use the Bible to foster a nationalism that is racially based, but I think this is faulty at best.

More accurately, what it is, is sinful.  But sin is hardly anything new.

This is not to discount sin or the events in Charlottesville or anywhere else that sin breaks out.  My point is rather that we should hardly be surprised by sin.

But I think that there is a segment of our society that is surprised by sin.  Surprised and personally offended.  It isn’t just sinful, it’s a personal issue, a personal affront.  I think that segment are progressives and liberals.  The same folks who are personally offended that anyone might question the sanctity of the State as the supreme authority for caring for the poor and marginalized.  These folks are deeply shocked and offended that there are still white supremacists in America.  Why is this so?

I think it’s because the assumption is that nearly 50 years of progressive agendas and power in educational systems has presumably helped to weed out such negativity.  Big Bird and Elmo, Barney and the rest of the gang were supposed to have helped squelch primitive notions of racial superiority.  School curriculum was supposed to further eliminate mistaken and undesirable notions.

Yet here we are 50 years later, and sin in the form of prejudice and racism still exists.  How are we to account for this?  Aren’t we as a species moving forward?  Aren’t we progressing?  Isn’t our country a role model for egalitarian concepts and tolerance?  How could we possibly be confronted with the horrors of racial prejudice in public, unmasked, even?  Modern notions of education and birth control and abortion were supposed to be gradually eliminating these elements from our midst.

But they’ve failed.  Sin is far more pernicious and pervasive, far more invasive and insidious.  It can’t be eliminated with education or birth control or abortion.  It can’t be eliminated by updating our Facebook status’ or condemning it on Twitter.

Sin remains.  In myriad ways, but certainly in racism and prejudice.  And sin will continue to persist despite our best efforts to weed it out.  This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take sin seriously, but it’s a reminder that sin is not simply a matter of education or breeding.  It is deep within us, and bursts forth in unpredictable and unflattering ways.  Sometimes it takes us by surprise and other times we’re well familiar with the demons who lurk under the surface.

Please, go ahead and disapprove of those who espoused Nazi ideas this past week, or any other time.  Please, go ahead and condemn those who imagine some sort of divinely sanctioned Utopian society based on real estate and pigmentation.  But please, don’t be surprised.  Don’t take it personally.  You’re sinful as well.  Not in the same ways, hopefully.  But without a doubt in many equally devastating (if more socially acceptable) ways.  Don’t assume somehow that your sin is any more acceptable or less despicable and dangerous –  both to yourself and others.  And give thanks to the God who forgives us our daily trespasses, as we are called to forgive those who trespass against us.

 

 

Reading Ramblings – August 20, 2017

August 13, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 20, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8; Psalm 67; Romans 11:1-2a, 13-15, 28-32; Matthew 15:21-28

Context: The readings for today all focus on God’s eternal purpose of reaching all peoples with his saving love and grace, brought into the world through his Incarnate Son Jesus Christ as a descendant of the Hebrews, God’s chosen children of Abraham. This balance between the blessedness of being part of God’s family, and the blessedness that through being part of God’s family, God the Holy Spirit continues to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others can be difficult to maintain. It can be hindered by obsessive personal piety, or by congregational rigidity and inflexibility. It is hindered by seeing the world as an us vs. them arrangement. The blessings of God are intended for all of his creation, and we as his people should be the first to rejoice in this and in the part we have to play in sharing this good news with others.

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 – For those who might see inclusiveness as a new thing with the ministry of Jesus the Christ, Isaiah is a good reminder that God has always intended his blessings to extend to everyone in creation, not just his chosen people. It is not genetics or genealogy that determines our place in God’s family, but rather love and obedience to his way of salvation through his Son Jesus. As God’s people it is paramount that we keep this perspective in mind. We are led in nearly every other aspect of our lives to see different groups of people as the enemy or as threats or as competitors. But we are called in Christ to see them as brothers and sisters (potential or realized) in Christ, and this identity should never be lost regardless of the political or social or economic issues that seek to separate and divide us. Rather, by keeping our eyes fixed on Christ’s love for us, we should be better able to extend his love to others – even those we radically disagree with or who actively struggle against us. Our prayer is that regardless of whatever divides us now, we will be united for eternity in common worship and praise of our common heavenly Father.

Psalm 67 – The notation of selah appears 71 times in the psalms, but we are uncertain as to its exact meaning and purpose. The assumption is that it is some sort of liturgical or musical direction or notation, perhaps indicating a musical interlude, or calling for a pause in the reading to allow for reflection. This psalm utilizes the notation twice, and as a whole is a call to both praise God and to pray for all peoples to be brought together in praise to God. This is on the basis of the righteousness and equality which God alone is capable and willing to give to his peoples. Through these aspects of God creation is continually renewed and continues to provide sustenance to all peoples, evidence of the Lord’s blessing.

Romans 11:1-2a, 13-15, 28-32 – In Chapters 9-11 Paul deals with the issue of the Jewish people – namely, why is it that those who should have been first to recognize and acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah did not, and are in fact active persecutors of Christians (as Paul himself once was). The assigned readings for the past few weeks have danced around this theme in order to highlight the broader theme of God’s intentions towards all peoples. But here we finally address the central topic. While the grace of God is extended to all peoples, we should be careful not to think of ourselves too highly in this respect. The grace extended to us has come by means of God’s chosen people, through whom the Messiah was brought into creation. God’s intention is that his chosen people will indeed, in the fullness of time and by his grace, be brought into the same grace in which the non-Jews in Christ now stand. God is at work even in this detail of his plan of salvation.

Matthew 15:21-28 – Jesus has limited time in his mission to God’s chosen people and his own race, the Jews. He has directed his disciples to focus their efforts on God’s people (Matthew 10:5-6), as they should be prepared to recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah the Old Testament prophets pointed them towards. But as Jesus has consistently responded with compassion towards the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 9:36, 14:14), He now responds with compassion towards a foreigner. However not immediately so.

Jesus has left areas of Jewish influence and withdrawn to pagan, non-Jewish areas on the upper coast of the Mediterranean Sea. He has sought time and space to be alone with his disciples since word of John the Baptist’s death came to him (14:12-13). Now He encounters a woman who has heard of his healings and miracle workings. She acknowledges him as the Son of David, at least indicating an awareness of his possible identity as the Messiah. How she should know this we are not told. But in her desperation, she acts on this knowledge of Jewish Scripture and Jesus’ reputation to plead for her daughter. Her refusal to be put off by Jesus’ silence leads his disciples to ask that He send her away, just as they did with the crowds who sought him earlier (14:15). Once again, Jesus has a point to make to his disciples.

As He responded to the Jewish crowds in Galilee, Jesus now responds to this Canaanite woman. First He reminds her the scope of his work and mission. He is not sent to all the earth, but rather to the people of God in Israel. She persists. He once again asserts that He is not sent to do signs and wonders among the Gentiles. But the woman is persistent as well. Surely the Lord is bountiful in his mercy and grace! Surely there is enough power and grace in Jesus to spare a bit for someone beyond the boundaries of Israel. Surely Jesus will not deny her plea, now that she is there in front of him!

And He does not. Her pleas are answered. Does she acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God? Not within the scope of the text. Yet the Son of God still answers the prayer that she raises to him. God’s grace is truly abundant, and we should direct all people towards prayer and supplication to him in time of need. It may be that He will answer their prayer as a means of leading them towards faith in him through Jesus Christ. It is also fitting that we his people should lift prayers to him on behalf of those outside the faith, trusting in his grace and mercy and his desire to change lives both now and eternally.

Another Google Response

August 9, 2017

In the continuing saga of Google controversy over gender – or more specifically, over hiring and promotion practices aimed at promoting diversity – here is the latest salvo.

It tugs on the heart strings in all the right ways, but it fundamentally misses the point of the original memo.  The original memo was not questioning whether some women were just as capable as men in terms of performance in technology related fields as well as in ascending into the upper echelons of management.  The memo did indicate that overall, men and women seek out these sorts of jobs at different rates, and therefore that trying to force diversity and equal percentages of each gender might be fundamentally flawed.

While many people seem to read it as an attack on women, I didn’t see or hear that at all.  Nor did lots of other people undoubtedly smarter than I am.  However it was a stinging criticism of implicit bias’ towards certain ideological assumptions  and the corresponding discrimination against differing points of view which results in people being afraid to speak if they don’t hold with the dominant ideology.  It was a request for more study and data, and not simply a treatise about how women should stay home and not become programmers or CEOs.

But that’s how many people – including this woman – seem to have interpreted it.

I’ve known oodles of women who are way smarter than I am in math and science.  But that’s not what the original memo was trying to address, and it was not the question that this woman’s daughter asked her.  I don’t know how old her daughter is, but her question is a complex one that, when she’s old enough to understand the complexity, deserves a complex answer.

There are always prejudices and stereotypes that can be dangerous and damaging.  That doesn’t mean all stereotypes are, nor does it mean that some stereotypes may not have actual data behind them.  And it’s very unfortunate that this woman has had her abilities and commitment questioned simply because she’s a woman.  It’s unfortunate if she’s been excluded from industry events because of her gender (though, at the risk of beating a dead horse, y’all remember it’s now socially acceptable to discriminate against guys, right?).  Given her status, it’s obvious that she surmounted these challenges, or is continuing to surmount them.  That’s fantastic and a wonderful model to her daughter and other young women.  And young men, I hope.

I didn’t hear the original e-mail trying to discourage women from pursuing computer programming or upper management positions in technology companies. What it was doing was questioning attempts to force companies to have an even distribution of genders when there was credible research and evidence to show that such a goal might not actually be reasonable or sustainable.  What is the “negative stereotype” that Susan Wojicicki accuses James Damore of perpetuating, and who wins when both claim to have data and statistics to back up their perspectives?

In this case, Google and those who agree with Ms. Wojicicki win.  Which is the very environment Mr. Damore was attempting to describe.

I have a daughter as well.  My hopes for her are not specific to the tech industry or science.  Or music or art or literature.  I want her to figure out what makes her happy, what she enjoys doing and is good at.  I want her imagination to fire in directions of her own choosing (by and large).  My hopes and aspirations for her are that she will be happy and fulfilled in whatever vocation she chooses to pursue.  That she won’t be held back from a chosen career path because of the sexism of men around her if she chooses to  enter the workplace, and that she won’t be the object of sexist scorn by feminists is she chooses to commit her life to raising a family and running a household.

Perhaps if we focused a lot more on helping our kids figure out what they’d like to do and how to do it, we’d all be happier, instead of trying to use our children to vindicate our own experiences as adults.   This may require specialized programs and training in companies to ensure that people have equal opportunities.  But that’s a far cry from demanding absolute numerical parity between men and women across all levels and positions.  Maybe we need to quit quantifying equality in that way, and spend more time making sure that if a woman (or a man) wants to enter a particular vocation, they have the ability to do so and be successful at it.

How would I answer my daughter if she asked me the question Ms. Wojicicki’s daughter posed her?  I’d begin by asking her why she wanted to know.  Is she afraid?  Is she worried maybe she shouldn’t consider a future in technology because she’s not as good at it as a boy?  I’d encourage her to explore that for herself.  Not to worry about broad brush-stroke studies of men and women, but simply to see what she likes to do and what she’s good at.  If she’s good at and interested in science and technology or management, then I will encourage her to pursue those things, and find ways to put her skills to good work.  I’ll be honest that there may be people who try to stop her for any number of reasons.  Those will be her battles to fight – I can’t fight them for her. But I can prepare her to face them bravely and competently.

What I don’t want to do is tell her to pursue something in order to make a point, or just because Mom or I have done it (or haven’t done it).  And if necessary, I’ll acknowledge honestly that perhaps her question doesn’t have a simple answer and that it’s misleading to pretend that it does.  That we need to talk about a whole lot of things beyond whether she’s good at math or not.  It’s OK for the situation to be complex.  Maybe if we continued to honestly acknowledge this with one another as adults, we’d move further along in figuring out how to make workplaces safer and opportune places for both men and women.

Drink Carefully

August 9, 2017

Moscow Mules have become a major thing in the three years or so since I first encountered one in a little bar in San Francisco.  Now you can buy copper mugs at the grocery store, to say nothing of places like Cost Plus World Market.

And while I’m normally a fan of authenticity, be careful if you’re planning on drinking a lot of Moscow Mules from those mugs.  Unless they’re lined with another metal on the inside, copper could be leaching into your drink.   I suspect you’re OK if you don’t drink a ton of these, and if you don’t let your drink sit around for hours at a time before consuming it.

Wet Bar Wednesday – Kyoto Dream

August 9, 2017

There is a comfort in settling in with a set of drinks that you know you and those around you like and enjoy.  It takes a certain amount of pressure off.  But there is always a joy and thrill (at least for me!) in learning something new.

I was blessed by Ruth in the gift of a bottle of Genzou Haguro Honjyozo sake, a gift to her late father from some university students grateful he didn’t want to press charges or file insurance claims after they accidentally backed into his car.  It’s a beautiful corked crockery bottle with a matching sake cup on top.  I haven’t done much with sake, so this was an opportunity for experimentation!   I knew that I wanted to serve it chilled rather than warm, so I went to the Internet for inspiration.  I found it in a beautifully illustrated but woefully inadequate (ration and quantity-wise) recipe for a drink I am now claiming as my own and dubbing (thanks to my wife) the Kyoto Dream.

Kyoto Dream

  • 1-inch piece of chopped lemon grass
  • 1/2 inch piece of fresh, chopped ginger
  • 1.5 Tbsp raw sugar
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 oz chilled sake
  • Club soda to top

Muddle the first four ingredients together (mash them up together – you can do this in a glass with a spoon, some folks use a food processor, I prefer a mortar & pestle). Pour into a glass.  Add the chilled sake and stir briefly to make sure all the sugar has dissolved.  Add ice, and then top off the drink with club soda.  Stir again to thoroughly mix and combine the liquids.

This is an amazingly bright and light drink.  Get a good quality sake that is not too overbearing in taste (overly rice-y, to use a technical term).  This one was very clean and crisp tasting on its own and blended very well with the other ingredients.  Lemon grass is an incredibly pungent grass, but also very coarse.  While you could blend the lemon grass, ginger and lemon in a food processor, I still think the result will leave unpleasant chunks of fiber in the mouth and teeth.  By just chopping and then muddling, people can either leave these on the bottom of the glass or munch on them as they like.

This is a great summer drink that requires a little extra work but provides a huge payoff with that first sip.  Since you’ll likely want to make several of these at a go (you should be able to get 8-9 drinks out of a single bottle of sake), prepare the lemon grass and ginger in advance, mixing them together in a bowl and then using about a tablespoon and a half for each drink.  Enjoy!

Facts & Feelings

August 8, 2017

On the continuing saga of the fired Google exec who dared challenge prevailing opinions about gender and workplace policy and culture (which I mentioned already here and here), here is input from four apparently well-qualified academics.  Their conclusion is that the author of the memo lined up pretty well with actual research into the differences between men and women.

Unfortunately, that research and his conclusions from it are not very popular these days.

He’s already out of a job, so being right is of questionable consolation in this day and age when truth is determined too often by who screams the loudest and uses the most pejorative language.  His situation perfectly proves the very point he was trying to make.   Google couldn’t have proved and endorsed his critique any better than by firing him.

We struggle as a culture to come up with a framework for male/female interactions (as well as gender, sexuality, etc.).  Whatever is proposed inevitably ends up being offensive to someone and therefore is untenable.  But whether something is offensive or not is separate from whether it is true.  In the drive for equality, feminism and now pop culture at large has settled on the idea that in order to be equal, men and women have to be the same.  Physically, emotionally, intellectually – you name it.  Practically interchangeable.

The only problem with this is that it’s not true.  We know it anecdotally in our relationships, and those informal observations are backed up by an impressive amount of research.  Worse still, it is patently offensive to both men and women to insist that they are virtually identical except for some hormonal and physiological differences – both of which modern medicine and psychiatry are happy to tweak with until you think you’re happy.

I find it interesting that it is common to describe human beings as animals, emphasizing our similarity at a genetic level to the animal kingdom, we are far less interested in seeking comparisons on social issues.  It isn’t helpful to note, for instance, that in many animal species there are very clear roles for each gender, and that those roles differ, but both are important and necessary.  Perhaps such comparisons aren’t often drawn because it is an inconvenient truth, a truth we like to think we have moved beyond.

We are convinced that now that we understand (or think we understand) genetics and DNA and natural selection we have somehow surpassed these things and are in the position of redefining reality and truth to suit our purposes.  We are convinced that our alleged knowledge has made us masters of the things we think we know.  However if DNA and genetics and natural selection are the things we think they are, it seems rather unlikely to me that we have somehow gotten the drop on hundreds of thousands of years of natural selection.  As though we have reached a place where our genes no longer dictate to us, but rather we are free to dictate to our genes through genetic modification.

For now, and for all of time leading up to this moment, men and women have been different, and this has been the source – unfortunately – of inequality.  I have no idea how things will be going forward, now that we are editing and tinkering with DNA and our own genetic code, making changes that can be propagated to future generations.  C.S. Lewis warned about this stage of things in his very prescient book The Abolition of Man.  Unsatisfied with merely being able to rewrite history, we are now permanently rewriting our future as a species.  While some are optimistic about this, I am not.  Our rewriting of history has so often been disastrous that I can’t imagine our success in rewriting the future.

Perhaps it will be a future where the Google engineer is wrong and his detractors are right.  But that’s not the case here and now, and it would seem wise and desirable by all sides to recognize this and take this into account rather than simply pretending it isn’t true.

 

Tolerance for the Win!

August 7, 2017

After an internal memo generated controversy within Google and then was leaked online to further stir up emotions, Google has fired the person responsible for writing a challenge to alleged bias’ and harmful ideological leanings within Google.  Google fired James Damore for “perpetuating gender stereotypes”.  Damore has filed complaint over wrongful dismissal and is mulling possible legal action against Google.  I dare say that if a woman had written an internal memo critical of Google policies and prejudices towards men, the last thing she could expect would be termination.

Not that it’s any of my business, of course.

In other tolerance-related news, a movie chain that sponsored women-only screenings of the box office smash Wonder Woman says it is stunned to learn that such practices may have been discriminatory and illegal.  Really?  You mean the idea of a men-only screening of a movie would have sounded just as equal-opportunity?  Would the theater – and our culture at large – have so easily dismissed complaints by women against a male-only screening?  Would a mayor have written a “tongue-in-cheek” defense of an illegal practice if it had been an all-male screening?  And would women have been satisfied with a free DVD of the movie as compensation for their complaints?

Kinda hard to imagine these days, isn’t it?   Good thing we’ve traded that outdated notion of loving our neighbor for the modern idea of tolerance.

Home

August 6, 2017

I had to ask the last of our happy hour attendees to leave about an hour ago.  One (the one who doesn’t drink!) was falling asleep on the couch with the dogs .  But the wife and kids are getting up early in the morning for a birthday boat ride to and a day of hiking on Santa Cruz Island, so I needed to empty the house and get them to bed.  People started arriving around 6pm this evening.  This isn’t everyone who was there, but it gives you an idea:

Our daughter tells us there were 21 people here tonight (including our five family members).  We didn’t know most of them.  Six are weekly regulars.  Of the rest, one or two have visited once or twice over the past year and a half.  The others were first time visitors.

There were actresses and actors fresh from small indie performances in town and trying to figure out how to position themselves for a Big Break.  Missionary kids from Eritrea the Ukraine.  Aspiring doctors, a sailing captain, a future lawyer, two Swiss exchange students, several talented musicians previewing songs from an upcoming debut album, a future professor and a few undecideds.  All in their early 20’s, all a long way from family.  A cross spectrum of ideologies and personalities, but our friends knew that they would be welcomed and honored in our home, greeted by our kids and our dogs, handed some AMAZING cocktails (thank you to Ruth for the sake!!!), and welcomed to just be.  I probably didn’t converse with a third of them more than to get their drink order.  Talking with everyone every Sunday isn’t always feasible.  But I conversed with one guy on the difference between Lutheran and Reformed theology.   I planned with another couple I’ll have the privilege of marrying in two weeks.  I received updates on short-term work and travel plans from another person.  I watched my kids help keep the food supplied and deliver drinks.  I heard my oldest son joking and telling stories.  I washed a lot of dishes.  Some of them twice.

I may have misgivings and feel inadequate in describing what happens on Sunday evenings to other people.  I may be exhausted at the end of an 18 hour day.  But it’s a beautiful place to be.  A bit chaotic at times, but that’s sort of the nature of Christ’s love.  We always know what we’re getting with Christ’s love, but we never quite know where that will lead us or how it will change us or who it will connect us with, whether for an evening or a lifetime or, by His grace, an eternity.

 

 

Authentic Community?

August 6, 2017

I’ve shared a bit about how I’ve struggled, internally, with the concept of Christian community.  More accurately, I’ve struggled with how other people might want to define Christian community.  What makes it valid, legitimate, authentic?  There are no shortage of answers to those questions.  I’m sure that some folks would define Christian community as centered in worship, but then that begs the question of how is worship defined?  Is worship always and only defined as the Divine Service of Sunday mornings?  Is worship only where the Word or Sacraments are explicitly presented, or can these form the backdrop, the living context in which human beings are gathered?  Does Christian community only exist when acts of service are performed?  But how do we define acts of service?  Is it only reaching out to the socially or economically marginalized?  Or does it involve nursing and nurturing people through heartbreak, through disappointment, into joy?

Perhaps the confusion isn’t the nature of community so much as the nature of ministry.  If a congregation supports an outreach, a ministry to a group of people, what does this mean?  Are there explicit or implicit assumptions and expectations?  Is that outreach only valid when a certain set of criteria are met?  Or is just loving people and being together enough?

It seems that in most church-sponsored ministry, something gets done.  What if there are no tangible outcomes?  No quilts made?  No bags for the homeless stuffed?  No meals prepared?  No funds raised?  Not that any of these things are bad, of course!  It’s wonderful that God’s people are motivated to show love in so many ways!  But is such a tangible outcome the only criteria for a ministry?

As pastor I feel an obligation – a reasonable one – to be a good steward of my community’s resources.  Certainly those resources that are allocated to my work in various ministries.  Perhaps that’s what makes me most uncomfortable, the worry that some might view a ministry as pointless or irrelevant – ultimately as a bad investment for not meeting certain expectations.  On the other hand, I also feel it’s important to model what I believe the life of faith looks like.  Imperfectly, to be sure.  But intentionally as much as I can.

There are various ministries described in the Bible, but the command is ultimately to love our neighbor and to love our God.  That means I need to be comfortable – and encourage others to be comfortable – simply in loving one another.  When opportunity and interest present themselves to be of tangible service in some way, wonderful!  But love is often intangible, expressed in word and presence rather than in product.  Much like our Lord comes to us in worship – in Word and Sacrament, promising us that the Holy Spirit within us has drawn us into community.  His community.  Not based on what we do but who we are in faith.

So I have to trust that it’s enough to just gather, with gathering being the main point.  Joy in one another and the peculiar vibe created around family and friends, food and drink.  The simple enjoyment of the Lord’s good gifts on so many levels.  It isn’t always easy.  It’s definitely work (at least being the hosts and preparing for the gathering each week!).  But it’s work I enjoy and look forward to, never knowing quite what is going to happen, who is going to be there, and how we will be blessed through and in it.  But never doubting that we have been blessed in it, that we are, and that we will continue to be.

Reading Ramblings – August 13, 2017

August 6, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 13, 2017

Texts: Job 38:1-18; Psalm 18:1-16; Romans 10:5-17; Matthew 14:22-33

Context: The life of faith is one of obedience, of trust in God rather than in ourselves. But this is hard, isn’t it? Trust is much more difficult than knowing. Obedience is much less glamorous that determining our own fate. Faithfulness in our vocations doesn’t necessarily deliver us from boredom or the envy of others who seem to live more exciting lives. The passages for this Sunday deal with the challenge of being faithful where and as we are called, rather than on the terms we would prefer to set for ourselves.

Job 38:1-18 – I’m adding the first three verses of this chapter to the reading, because they provide good context for what follows. We’ve been commiserating with Job for a long time. We’ve heard his well-intentioned friends advising him on how to placate God so that his wrath is removed. We’ve heard his wife suggest that he should just curse God and die. Job has remained steadfast and resolute. He is convinced that personal sin/guilt is not the root cause for his suffering. He insists that God alone is responsible – as nothing can happen apart from his will or permission. And now God finally arrives and we settle back for a comforting ending, an explanation that will satisfy Job – and us. Instead, we get God in his anger and indignation. God is not about to explain or defend himself to Job – or to you and I. Job – like you and I – is not in a position to demand such an accounting. Job is a creation. Creations obey. Creations trust. Creations worship and praise. Creations do not stamp their feet and demand explanations from the almighty. While uncomfortable, these verses and those that follow remind us that we are not God, and if we expect to be, or expect God to accommodate our personal whims and preferences, our God is not likely the God of Scripture, but rather ourselves.

Psalm 18:1-16 – I’m using the longer reading for this psalm. It’s a beautiful picture of the wrath of God directed against anyone and anything that threatens and antagonizes his beloved creation. This is the God of judgment who will vindicate and redeem his people and his creation from the evil power and deceit of Satan and his followers. This is righteousness driving evil from all of creation, restoring the freedom and peace of Eden once again to creation. This is God sending his Son to conquer sin and death and Satan not with bolts of lightning but with obedience, faithfulness, trust, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return. This is where my hope lies. I am going to die. I may well suffer in some respect or another beforehand. But I know that my redeemer lives and therefore my suffering and death will not be the final word in my life. My tombstone epitaph is not the last word in my life, but rather Jesus’ final word is, and that word is LIVE!

Romans 10:5-17 – Paul’s earnest desire that the Jews would come to see the truth of Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah promised in their own Scriptures is real and true. And he recognizes that this is not a truth that we can come to of our own reason or devices (though at times it may seem that way!). Rather, it is a faith that we must receive, and to receive it, it must be brought to us, and that requires people to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to those who have not yet heard it – either literally or actually. The importance of evangelism is that all might hear, and in hearing, trust. Righteousness is not fulfillment of the Law; it consists in believing God when He makes a promise. – Martin Luther –

Matthew 14:22-33 – You know this passage. And you probably have heard one or two sermons on it to the effect of – What amazing faith Peter had! Too bad he didn’t have enough faith! Be bold like Peter, and keep your faith rather than doubting! I guarantee that if I preach on this passage Sunday, this isn’t going to be my sermon!

What the heck is Peter thinking? Why does he ask to walk across the water to Jesus? On what basis does he think this is a reasonable thing to do? How is his walking on the water a test of Jesus’ identity? Everything in this passage screams against Peter and what he is doing, not for him. Why is it that we idolize Peter in this passage, then?

I think such idolatry is common in our age where recognition, celebrity and fame seem to be the goal of so many, and where technology makes such hopes actually achievable – at least for short periods of time. How many people harbor the secret (or not-so-secret) desire to go viral and become Internet famous? It’s easy to make Peter into a role model for the extravagant, wild life of faith. The super-hero kind of faith. Not the ordinary, boring kind of faith. Not the faithfulness to wife and children kind of faith. Not the go-to-church-every-Sunday-and-find-ways-to-serve-each-week kind of faithfulness. Not the faithfulness of nose to the grindstone even when it isn’t exciting or even particularly enjoyable. Not the faithfulness of plodding along day after day. No, we want super hero faith. We want walking on water, we want miracle healings, we want to be admired for our faithfulness.

Jesus calls Peter to him, but why? Is it to show Peter all the amazing things he can do if he puts his faith into action? Is it to show him the weakness of his faith? Is it to embolden and strengthen Peter’s faith for greater miracles in the future? If Peter’s faith was weak, was it his faith in himself? Or was it his faith that Jesus could save him from his own folly?

Peter had no business on the water. Jesus knew this, and so did Peter, I think. Jesus indulged his bizarre request in order not that Peter might be the focus of the story, but that Jesus might. It was Jesus who walked across the water, who had calmed the winds that were battering the ship earlier in the night. It is not Peter’s place to be the miracle worker. Not yet! And even when that time comes, it won’t be for Peter’s glory! Hardly! It will be the source of problems and arrests and persecutions (Acts 3-4). The life of faith is not ordinarily one of glamour and prestige. It is following the calling of our Lord – not telling our Lord how to call us (perhaps Job sounds a bit familiar here?). It is obedience even to death, even death in the most ignoble and shameful manner, so long as it is faithfulness to our Lord that brings us to that point.

Peter did not have to cry out to Jesus to save him. That was why Jesus had come! To save Peter. And to save you and I. Not from boredom or ennui, but rather from our very real enemies of Satan, sin, and death. For this it is Jesus that receives the glory, not us. It is Jesus who walks on water as the Son of God and author of creation, not you and I as mere creatures. This is not our place, and it’s best if we learn it, come to peace with it, and ultimately take joy and satisfaction in it!