Fundamentals of Christian Living: Scandal of the Cross

By Pastor Kelvin Mulembe

September 18, 2016

The words fundamentals or basics are often mistaken for something unsophisticated. The more sophisticated we become the more we tend to overlook our foundation. However, if we neglect the foundation, the fundamentals or basics of our faith, we will fail to live faithfully as Christians.

How many of us in here are Christians? I know that question sounds redundant, or perhaps even judgmental. Of course we are all Christians, we are in church, right? Only Christians go to church. Well, my Jewish friend comes here too. He’s not a Christian. And, there may be others who are not sure, and are still searching for the Truth. Being born in a Christian family doesn’t automatically make you a Christian. Just like not everything in a garage is a car. To be Christian entails receiving, believing, and practicing what is known as the Christian Truth. So what is the Christian truth?

Most of us who have grown up in predominantly Christian cultures assume we are Christians. In fact, in this nation we unconsciously link being American to being Christian. We talk about American values as Christian values and vice versa. To be Muslim or Buddhist or anything else is seen as anti-American, and therefore, anti-Christian. Even with efforts to try to separate church and state, we find some Christians who value the American flag more than they value the Bible. I have been to churches where the American flag has literally and symbolically replaced the cross of Jesus. Pulpits that are adorned in the American flag but having no Cross.

But, can we still be the church of Jesus Christ without the Cross? What is the significance of the Cross in our faith? You may say what does it have to do with anything in my life, with my job, my homelessness, my illness, my family? Why can’t we just love one another? Surprise, surprise, everything! The Christian faith rises and collapses on the question of the Cross. There is no message greater than the belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His death is absolutely necessary to understanding the Christian truth. Without the Cross of Jesus, there is no Christianity. A Christian must believe that Christ died for our sins and was raised from death so that we may have eternal life. Christianity is a truth claim that “Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life”

Unfortunately, Christianity is on the decline in America. In the last seven years, the number of Americans who identify as Christian dropped from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent. 56 million adults living in America today do not affiliate with any faith (“Pew Research Center,” 2015, p. 1). There is a cultural and spiritual shift. I am convinced that this shift has to do with our loss of focus on the fundamentals. Christianity has become an alternative ideology rather than the good news.

Paul was confronted with a similar shift. As the Greek culture (Hellenistic) began to influence Christian thought and practice, through philosophy and rhetorical debates, and popular regard for charisma and wisdom became trendy, the Corinthian Christians began to conform to the standards around them. Divisions arose within the church as a result of celebrity worship. Some said they were for Paul, others Cleo’s people, some Cephas’ and others were for Jesus. Much like we have celebrity preachers of our own. I am for T.D Jakes, or Joyce Meyer, or Joel Osteen, I am for Adam Hamilton or Tom Berlin.

Christianity began as movement within Judaism. Followers of Jesus were not called Christians, but as “people of the way.” The message they preached was about the way of the Kingdom of God. This way of God’s kingdom was the direct opposite of everything that humans thought was important and plausible. Many Jews and Greeks alike opposed the message as shallow and unsophisticated. As foolishness and a dangerous scandal to the religious institution.

This could explain why the Corinthian church was in trouble, just like our church today. We have lost the essence of being a movement and have become an institution. We resist everything that doesn’t fit it in, including what may be the working of the Holy Spirit. We have been consumed by a desire to conform to the standards of the world rather than to be a light for the world. Our worship services are now geared towards comfort and convenience, and are void of power to transform lives. But the church is not about an organization. Christianity is not about rules and regulations. It is about living by faith under the reign of God. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Rollo May the famous American psychologist once said, The opposite of courage is not cowardice, but conformity.” People acting like everyone else. We conform to what is popular around us. Just because the message of the cross is uncomfortable, does not mean the church needs to dilute it. Paul says the message of the cross appears foolishness to some, but to us who are being saved, who are experiencing transformation, it is the power of God. This gospel of Grace is the most powerful good news available to humanity. I personally know how it changed my life and the lives of many. Try it for yourself, and your life will never be the same again.

I remember being a part of congregation that split because the Associate Pastor was more charismatic than the senior pastor. To be honest, he was more gifted both as a preacher and as a pastor. The senior pastor was boring, and a very rigid intellectual. His sermons were elaborate discourses that showed his higher education. He always talked down on others and never really took time to know the people. You could not visit him without an appointment. The Associate pastor on the other hand was the exact opposite. He was easily accessible and more sociable. So, naturally people began to gravitate towards him. This put a strain on the relationship between him and the senior pastor and he stopped giving him opportunity to preach.

This went on for a long time, until things got worse. People stopped coming to church, but would attend the bible study at the associate pastor’s house. Eventually, the senior pastor ordered the bible study illegal. People boycotted and continued to meet. Things got out of hand that the leadership decided to let go of the associate pastor. When this announcement was made in church, half the congregation left and followed the associate pastor to start another church.

Paul warns us as he did the Corinthians that Christ cannot be divided. We cannot let our own selfish interests dictate how God should work among us. Only Jesus died for us, and only Jesus has the power to forgive our sins. We cannot engineer our own or other people’s salvation, nor can we find salvation by human wisdom. No matter how educated or sophisticated, we cannot think ourselves out of a sinful nature. Only Christ can forgive our sins and transform us.

In order to understand the fundamentals of Christian living, we need to revisit the significance of the message the cross, and clearly understand Christ, Salvation and the language of Sin.

In the next few weeks, we are going to look deeper at other aspects of Christian fundamentals.

What is sin? In our contemporary usage the word “sin” could be understood as a moral failing or immoral act. In theology sin is something that separates humanity from God (McGrath, 2012, p. 92).

What is salvation? Salvation is the breaking down of the barrier that separates humanity from God on account of Christ. It is not about having a Mercedes Benz car, or a fat bank account. It is about being reconciled with God and living an abundant life in Christ.

Who is Christ? Christ is the redeeming sacrifice, a demonstration of God’s unfailing love for humanity. He is the messiah, the savior or the world. The only hope for salvation.

As we start this week, God is calling us to come back to into relationship. Though we have moved away, and led lives that are in contradiction to Christian living, the grace that Christ demonstrated on the Cross is still available and sufficient to welcome you home. Come home to Jesus. The cross symbolizes forgiveness of our sin through Christ Jesus.The cross also symbolizes victory over sin and death – “the word of God was made flesh in order to destroy death and bring us to life….” The cross also symbolizes Christ’s self offering as a perfect sacrifice. Though it may appear as foolishness, or a scandal, to us who believe it is the power of God for our salvation. Amen!

 

References

America’s Changing Religious Landscape. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/

McGrath, A. E. (2012). Theology: The Basics (3rd ed.). West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

 

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The Life of a Prophet: Can These Dry Bones Live?

Scripture: Ezekiel 37:1-14

Not everyone is called to be a prophet.

Not all of us are called to that particular life of seeing the world through God’s eyes, of speaking truth to power, of unsettling people with words they would often rather not hear.  Not many of us have heard the voice of God so clearly as to claim to speak for God.  As Paul reminds us, God made some of God’s people apostles, and some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, all for the sake of doing God’s work together (Ephesians 4:11).

But I do believe that we can all live lives that are a little bit more prophetic.  I believe that wherever life takes us, whatever our particular ministry is, we can apply some lessons from the prophets: To be concerned for the orphan and the widow.  To speak up for righteousness and justice.  To boldly believe that God’s call is enough for us, unworthy though we may be.  To weep with God’s people who are hurting.  To cultivate an intimate connection with God’s Word.  These things, as I’ve preached throughout this series, are things all of us can do.

Today we hear again from Ezekiel, our prophet of trippy visions and fantastic sign-acts.  Where we left off last week, Ezekiel was in Babylon, at a precarious time for the Kingdom of Judah.  The Babylonian army had already carted off the first wave of exiles from Jerusalem, the government officials and religious elites, of whom the priest Ezekiel was one.  Ezekiel was commissioned as a prophet by the River Chebar and instructed by God to eat a scroll with God’s Word written on it, words “of mourning and lamentation and woe.”  Those words would let God’s people back in Judah know that the worst was not yet over, that in a few short years Jerusalem would be utterly destroyed.

As we pick back up with Ezekiel today, much later in the book, that thing which was both unthinkable and inevitable has happened.  Jerusalem, God’s own city, has fallen.  The Temple, the place where God’s glory resided, lies in ruins. God’s people are scattered across the empire.  And they who once thought they were indestructible under God’s protection are asking, why has God forsaken us?  It’s a situation the biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann compares to America in the aftermath of 9/11, with its sense of “emotional, political, and theological free fall.”[1]   That’s a feeling that we surely remember especially clearly today.

Ezekiel had prophesied judgment on God’s people for their unfaithfulness, but now that that judgment has come to pass, things are different.  Given the new political and theological landscape, Ezekiel’s message changes.  It is no longer a message of doom, but of what comes after doom.  And what comes after doom?  Hope.

You may have heard it said that God afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted.  This is also a good summary of what God’s prophets do.  There is a time for judgment, to jar people out of their complacency, but there is also a time to deliver a much-needed message of hope to God’s afflicted people.

And so, in the wake of all of this, God gives Ezekiel another vision.

In this vision Ezekiel is transported from Babylon and set down in the middle of a certain valley.  It is a parched, rocky, desolate place.  He looks around him and all he can see for miles are human bones and as he tells us, “they were very dry.”

Somehow the first picture this conjured up for me was of the Elephant Graveyard from the Lion King: this creepy, forbidden, fog-covered wasteland littered with skeletons, the place where the hyenas live.  We might also think of an abandoned battlefield, or maybe one of those pictures of a mass grave from Rwanda in the mid-nineties.  Ezekiel walks all around, slowly taking it all in.

God asks Ezekiel, “Mortal”— (God always calls Ezekiel “mortal”)—“can these bones live?”

It’s an odd question for God to ask of a mere mortal.  The answer would certainly seem to be no; the bones of dead people don’t just put themselves back together and come alive.  But Ezekiel answers in the way I imagine I might, too: “You’re the only one who can answer that, God!”

God just says in response, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.”

Well, surely bones can’t hear the word of the Lord, but this is a vision, so we’ll go along with it, like Ezekiel does, and God continues: “I will cause breath to enter you, and you will live.  I will put sinews on you, and I will cover you with flesh, and wrap you in skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

And as Ezekiel repeats these words to this pile of human rubble, suddenly the bones begin to rattle.  Can you imagine the rattling as all the bones piled up in this valley begin to move?  And the bones begin to come together, and suddenly there are sinews growing on them, and flesh and skin covering them, and then God tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath, or the wind or the spirit, telling it to fill these lifeless bodies with breath, and the bodies begin to come alive.

It’s really quite a vision.

But as God tells Ezekiel next, it’s not really about the bones.  It’s about the people of Israel, the exiles, people who have seen true horror, who have been cut off from their home and their people and seemingly forsaken by God.  People who, the way they themselves see it, might as well be as dead and dry as those bones.

God tells Ezekiel to tell those people, “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act.”

What comes after doom?  Hope.

We may not all be called to be prophets but we all know what it is like, from time to time, to feel like those are our bones in that valley—to feel that we are exiles in our own lives, that we are lifeless and forsaken, cut off from everything that matters to us, that there is little hope of anything ever being different or better again.  We know it in personal ways, and we also know it in collective ways, in the wake of events like 9/11.

And so for all of us, Ezekiel’s vision is a reminder that even when all seems lost, God has other plans.  We could call it a foreshadowing of God’s greatest “other plans” yet—the resurrection of Jesus.  Ezekiel reminds us that God has always been a God of resurrection, even in the Old Testament, always bringing life out of death and hope out of despair.  That wasn’t just a one-time thing, and it’s not something that only happens when we are literally dead: when all seems lost, God gives God’s people new life.

But this vision of Ezekiel’s isn’t just an Easter-y message of God’s ultimate power over death and despair—though it is that.  It’s also about the prophet, and his job to speak a powerful word of life into a landscape of death.  The power comes from God, of course: but those bones don’t start rattling until Ezekiel tells them that by God, they shall live.

And how can he do that?  How can he look at those piles of bones and tell them with a straight face to get up?  How can look his fellow exiles in the eye and tell them it will be OK, they’ll go home and know God is with them again?

He can do it because he sees things differently than they do: he sees things the way God sees them.

I like the way one writer put it: “Can these bones live?  Of course not.  But look at them through God’s eyes, and watch bones rushing to their appropriate partners.  Watch as ligaments bind them together, flesh blankets them, and skin seals them tightly.  Watch as God’s Spirit, which heals hopelessness, infuses them, so that they rise up—a great army testifying to the power of Yahweh.  Can corpses be brought forth from graves and become living beings again?  Absurd!  But look through God’s eyes, and watch them come up, receive God’s spirit, and return home.  When we raise our vision to look beyond what our mundane eyes can see, we watch the impossible happen through God’s eyes.”[2]

Looking at this world through God’s eyes means sometimes that we speak a word of protest in the midst of complacency; but it also means speaking a word of hope in the midst of despair.  This, I believe, is a big part of living more prophetically.

Here’s what that doesn’t mean, though: it doesn’t mean offering people platitudes in a shallow response to their suffering.  It doesn’t mean telling people that everything happens for a reason and it’s all part of God’s plan, which sometimes say theologically questionable things about God.  It doesn’t even necessarily mean telling people that it will all be OK.  Maybe it won’t be, in the ways we think of or hope for—but still there can be new life in the dryness and death.

I read that after their land was taken by white settlers and the buffalo killed or driven away, the chief of the Native American Crow Nation found his people in a state probably very much like God’s people newly in exile.  “History ended,” he said.  “The hearts of my people fell to the ground and they could not lift them up again.  There was little singing anywhere.”  But this chief had a dream, maybe not unlike Ezekiel’s vision, and in the dream this is what he learned, and passed on to his people:

-That their traditional way of life was coming to an end.

-That they had to “open [their] imaginations up to a radically different set of future possibilities.”

-That there was hope for a “dignified passage across this abyss, because God is good.”

-And that “we shall get the good back, though at the moment we have no more than a glimmer of what that might mean.”[3]

God’s trusted goodness, of course, does not excuse the damage wrought by the white settlers in the first place (that seems especially important to remember in a week where the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have been in the news protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline) and yet these are powerful words from a prophet to his afflicted people.  What comes after doom?  Hope.

Sometimes speaking that word of hope might not even involve speaking at all: instead, it might mean showing people a glimpse of the life that God promises.  It might mean helping them to see that vision of God’s, of resurrection and newness, of things that can still be different.

There was an essay a few weeks ago in the New York Times titled “Why I Go to Aleppo.”  Aleppo, which has been in the news a lot lately, is the biggest city in Syria and one of the centers of the fighting there, with food and supplies largely cut off.  Its population is now less than tenth of the over two million inhabitants it had before the war began.  This essay was written by a doctor, an American of Syrian origin.  He spends a few weeks a year working there in Aleppo, in a hospital in the basement of a bombed-out building.  There he helps exhausted Syrian doctors and nurses as they treat people coming in from the latest airstrikes and chemical attacks.

This doctor, Samer Attar, was there the day the Twin Towers were attacked fifteen years ago.  He was a medical student at the time, and crammed into an ambulance with nurses and medics to go to the World Trade Center and help.

He wrote, “We wrote our names on the back of our scrubs with black markers in case our bodies needed to be identified. I was scared, but I was surrounded by good people doing the right thing.  I had never felt that way again until I went to Aleppo in August 2013.”

He says one time he treated a boy who got caught in an airstrike during a charity event at his school.  The boy’s father asked why he was speaking in a different language, and the nurse told him that he was an American.  The boy’s father said he had never met an American, and never thought he would.  He couldn’t believe an American doctor would come to Aleppo in this time of war.

“That,” said Dr. Attar, “gave my work a new dimension of meaning: a palpable connection to alleviate the suffering of a people long abandoned.  It lets them know they’re not alone.  It’s … why I go back.”[4]

Maybe it’s too soon to see that there can be life again in Aleppo, life as it is meant to be lived.  Maybe it’s not till the horror is over that we can really start seeing signs of resurrection.  On the other hand, maybe simply being there, risking something, caring, can help people see a little beyond the death and despair.

Just like we’re not all prophets, we’re not all doctors.  But whoever we are, we can all speak a word of life with what we have.  Where there is despair, we can all help show God’s people how things can be hopeful again—even if it is simply to say that they are not alone.  In that, we all can live prophetically.

So when someone asks you, “Can these dry bones live?” You can say, “Yes—by the power of God.”

[1] Walter Brueggemann, Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks, p. 90

[2] Katheryn Pfisterer Darr, “The Book of Ezekiel: Introduction, Commentary and Reflections,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VI, p. 1503.

[3] Jonathan Lear, Radical Hope, paraphrased in Brueggemann, Reality, Grief, Hope, p. 120-121

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/28/opinion/sunday/why-i-go-to-aleppo.html

The Life of a Prophet: The Prophet Who Ate a Scroll

Scripture: Ezekiel 2:1-3:3

Our Scripture lesson today came from chapter 2 of Ezekiel, but I want to back up a bit for a minute, back to chapter 1, when our prophet first becomes a prophet.  Ezekiel, a priest from Jerusalem who has been exiled to Babylon, is hanging out on the banks of the River Chebar when suddenly he sees the heavens begin to open.  I want you to hear his description of what he sees, and while you listen, I want you to close your eyes and try to picture what he describes.

As I looked, a stormy wind came out of the north: a great cloud with brightness around it and fire flashing forth continually, and in the middle of the fire, something like gleaming amber. In the middle of it was something like four living creatures. This was their appearance: they were of human form. Each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot; and they sparkled like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: their wings touched one another; each of them moved straight ahead, without turning as they moved. As for the appearance of their faces: the four had the face of a human being, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle; such were their faces. Their wings were spread out above; each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies. Each moved straight ahead; wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went. In the middle of the living creatures there was something that looked like burning coals of fire, like torches moving to and fro among the living creatures; the fire was bright, and lightning issued from the fire. The living creatures darted to and fro, like a flash of lightning.

Do you have a picture in your head?

He keeps going from here, though I’ll stop there.  From here he sees four wheels, one by each of the living creatures (if you know the Gospel song Ezekiel Saw the Wheel, well, now you know) and the wheels move along with the creatures, and when the creatures flap their wings it sounds like thunder, or an approaching army.  Over the head of the creatures there is a dome, and over the dome there is a throne, and on the throne, someone almost human-like, but with fire coming from his loins.  “This,” writes Ezekiel, “was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.”

Once, in a college class I took on the prophets, we had to draw a picture of what we saw when we heard this.  I sat at my desk paying really close attention, trying to make sure I got all the details right.  But I think I missed the point, which is that you’re not supposed to be able to get all the details right.  This vision is supposed to leave something to the imagination, and even beyond the imagination, because this is a vision of God’s glory that we are talking about, and how can you put something like that in words?

Visions like this are why I like to call Ezekiel the trippiest prophet.

When Ezekiel sees all this, he falls on his face, into a trancelike state, and he hears a voice, and the voice has a job for him.  “I am sending you to the people of Israel,” the voice says, “a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me.”  Ezekiel likes the word “rebel.”  “You shall speak my words to them,” the voice continues, “whether they hear or refuse to hear.”

At this point we might expect the voice, which comes from God, to tell Ezekiel what those words are.  This is what God usually does with the prophets.  But instead, God does something different.  God tells Ezekiel to open his mouth—not to speak, but to eat.

And God hands Ezekiel a scroll, with words written on both sides, “words of lamentation and mourning and woe.”  And God says to Ezekiel, “Eat this scroll.”

At this point we may all be wondering: What’s going on?

Well, Ezekiel, as we heard earlier, is already in exile.  But the worst has not yet come for the people of Judah.  In 597 BCE, the King of Judah had revolted against Babylonian rule and in response got himself sent into exile along with all of Jerusalem’s ruling, elite class—like the priest Ezekiel.  This was the “first wave” of the Babylonian exile.  The second wave will come about ten years later, when the new puppet king propped up by the Babylonians in Judah also revolts, and this time they tear down the Temple and send everyone else they can get their hands on into exile too.  Ezekiel, for the moment, is writing in between these two waves, speaking to both his fellow exiles and everyone left back in Judah, telling them there is more trouble yet to come, and furthermore, that they have brought it on themselves by their failure to be holy people, faithful to God’s covenant.  As always, this is not an easy message.  But Ezekiel is clearly not any old priest.

Eating a scroll, by the way, is not the only weird thing our friend the prophet Ezekiel does.  In chapter 4 Ezekiel is commanded to draw the city of Jerusalem on an unbaked brick, then press a baking griddle against it as a sign of what is to come.  Then he lies on his left side for 390 days, symbolizing the time that Israel is to be punished. Then he switches to his right side for 40 days, for Judah.  Then God commands him to bake a cake over burning human excrement, because the people of Israel will be forced to eat unclean food; though Ezekiel does protest and get it switched to cow dung at the last minute.  He shaves his head and does different things with his hair, in thirds: burning part of it, cutting part of it to pieces, and scattering part of it to the wind—the different things that will happen to the people of Judah.  Ezekiel is a fan of what we call “sign-acts”: not just speaking the Word of God, but also acting it out.  Other prophets do this kind of thing too, but Ezekiel is the king of sign-acts.

Since I’ve been talking a lot in this series about how we can “live more prophetically,” maybe I should specify that I am not necessarily talking about Ezekiel.  Don’t be like Ezekiel.  He is fascinating, but very weird and a little scary.

Except for this one thing, the part about eating the scroll.  There we should be like Ezekiel.

You see, for Ezekiel, the Word of God isn’t just something that he hears and passes on, like he is passing a note from God to God’s people, or playing a divine game of Telephone.  For Ezekiel, the Word of God has to be something he actually puts inside of himself, chews on, digests, perhaps that he is strengthened and nourished by—before he can deliver it to others.

For a prophet, the Word of God has to fundamentally become part of who he or she is—and I believe that is true not just for those biblical figures who are formally commissioned as prophets, but for all of us who hope to live a little more prophetically.

Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are, once got a card from a little boy names Jim.  Jim had drawn a picture in the card, and Sendak thought it was charming, so he sent a card back with a hand-drawn picture of a Wild Thing in it.  He wrote: “Dear Jim, I loved your card.”  Later Maurice Sendak got a letter back from Jim’s mother, who wrote, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.”  Sendak said, “That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received.  He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything.  He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”[1]

Do you love the Word of God like that?

I wonder what it would be like to eat the Bible, the Word of God?  What would it be like to eat the Ten Commandments?  The Beatitudes?  Jesus’ parables?  I imagine each of them might taste a little different, and have their own unique texture.  The Ten Commandments would be brown rice, a dietary staple, but nutritious, too.  The Beatitudes would go down sweet and smooth with their words of blessing.  But then we might find they have a little kick to them, the kind that sneaks up on you.  The parables would be sure to be nice and chewy.  Maybe you can come up with some more!  Then again, we can’t make too many assumptions, because the words Ezekiel ate were words of mourning and lamentation and woe and he said they tasted sweet like honey—maybe because they were the truth, that the people needed to hear, even if it was hard.

If that’s a strange thing to think about—what would the Bible taste like—remember, Ezekiel is a pretty weird prophet.

But here’s a less weird idea: instead of literally eating the pages out of our Bibles, maybe we just spend some more time with them.  Maybe we read the words slowly, two or three times or more, instead of rushing through a familiar story and thinking we know what it means.  Maybe we try some different translations and see how they illuminate those original Hebrew or Greek words from different angles.  Maybe we sit back and close our eyes and allow ourselves to imagine being part of the story, or maybe we draw what comes to mind, like my professor had us do in college.  And maybe we pray and listen for what God has to say to us through the words we are reading, and we read some background and we discuss it with others, and then instead of just moving on with our lives we let it roll around in our hearts and our minds for the next few days as we go about our lives, because maybe it will speak to us again when we least expect it.

Maybe we begin to live more prophetically by making the Word of God part of us that way.

My Methodist theology professor in seminary told us that John Wesley saw the whole world through Scripture-colored lenses.  He spent so much time in it that he brought it to everything he encountered in life: This reminds me of when Jesus does this.  This is what I think God might have to say about this.  I believe it was this perspective that allowed him to speak up against the evils he saw in the world around him, from drunkenness to slavery to riches; and what allowed him to speak prophetically to the church, asking why faith seemed to have done so little to change the lives of so many Christians.  Since my professor put it that way, I have always thought that that was the way I wanted to be.  I want God’s Word to be such a part of me that it becomes part of my living, part of my day-to-day, part of my speech, something that I can’t help but share in word and action.

I think I still have a long way to go, but I also find that as time goes by God’s Word is more and more on the tip of my tongue and in the front of my mind; and if I don’t always act on that, well, that’s on me.

I wonder how often, though, we’re content to pass on God’s Word without really digesting it.  We can quote Scripture and assume we know what it means without really taking the time to sit with it and pray about it and study it.  We may fancy ourselves prophetic because we can quote a chapter or verse, sometimes out of context, to support or to condemn—but how much have we let that chapter and verse become a part of us?

Or maybe the opposite is true—that, because God’s Word hasn’t become a part of us, we’re afraid to speak it.  It doesn’t come naturally to the tip of our tongues.  And we’re not really sure we know what any of it means.  We haven’t tasted the richness of it all.  I think back to how God told Ezekiel not to be afraid of the rebellious people he spoke to, not to be afraid of their words or their looks, not to be afraid “though briars and thorns surround you and you live among scorpions,” and I can’t help but wonder if that was possible only because he ate that scroll, because God’s Word became part of him so that he couldn’t help but live and speak it out, no matter what people would say.

Even though we don’t eat Bibles around here, we do eat bread.  And we do drink grape juice.  And that’s actually not altogether different.  I believe God speaks to us through those elements, too.  I believe that when we eat and drink the body and blood of Christ, we are empowered to become, as we say, “for the world, the body of Christ redeemed by his blood.”  Take and eat, God says.  It’s a way that little by little, who I am can become part of who you are. 

I’ll close with a story I read once a long time ago about a guy who was talking to a group of youth at a camping event, and at one point he held up a Bible, and they all expected him to say the kind of normal pious things that you might hear about a Bible at church camp.  But instead he tossed it onto the wet, muddy ground and said, “This book is useless!”

Then, picking it up again, “unless you take what is inside this book and put it inside you.”

[1] http://mentalfloss.com/article/12975/highest-compliment-maurice-sendak-ever-received