Monday, August 05, 2013

Coffee And Community's an appetizing title, isn't it?  I thought about naming this entry "The Demise of the Coffee Pot" but that just seems ominous and grouchy.  I also considered "Reflections on a Keurig" but that is too highbrow.  Besides, I want some corporate kickback if I am going to mention Keurig - (aw, did it again).

I remember Stout's Grocery.  It was the family run grocery and gas station on Highway 71 at the bottom of our hill in Brentwood, Arkansas.  If you went to Stout's at the right time of the morning, you could catch the "Brentwood City Council" meeting.  It wasn't official of course as Brentwood was unincorporated, but the folks from all around were gathered and drinking coffee and discussing all the news that mattered for our area.  The only excuse our unofficial community needed to gather for business was drinking coffee.  The only coffee available was whatever the Stout's had brewing.  Sugar and creamer was about all you could have to personalize it.

Last week we bought a Keurig for the office.  It was a community effort.  We were all opening the box like a new Christmas present.  Here is this device that can brew anyone his or her own flavor or brand of coffee - even tea - without wasting an entire pot of coffee.  No more negotiations on caf or decaf.  No more compromise on Folgers vs French Vanilla.  Everyone gets a cup of personal choice.  No longer is there the coffee pot from which we all drink - all of you from all of it.

I wonder what this means for community?  I wonder if Keurig will be like Coke and Xerox and lend its brand name to all single cup coffee brewing machines?  I wonder what the Brentwood City Council would think about all of this?

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Way of the Cross

Link to the page on West-Ark's website for the audio, partial text of the sermon and the images used for the sermon.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Sermon for Boxing Day

The humblest day of the year has to be Dec. 26.  At least Dec. 24 gets to be Christmas Eve.  All the other dates between Thanksgiving and Christmas are the “Holiday Season.”  There’s great anticipation and much preparation in those days. The spirit of Christmas is there; but Dec. 26 is different.

Some calendars will say it is Boxing Day.  Boxing Day is an excuse for Brits and Canadians to take time off.  In the United States, Dec. 26 is not an exciting day.  In fact, it can be a depressing day.  It is the beginning of the “Let-Down Season.”  The decorations go away and along with them go all the holiday cheer and good tidings.  Early on the morning after Christmas, sales become testimonies to greed and selfishness.  The advertisers have picked up on this post-holiday let down and have even tapped into the after-holiday cynicism.  (“Haven’t you had a little too much Christmas?”)  Get ready, because the fitness ads are right around the corner.

In the lectionary tradition, the year is not ending with Dec.26; rather it is just beginning.  All the preparation and anticipation is coming to fruition.  Let’s learn from this.  We have spent the last month or so talking about Christ: about his first coming into the world and his second coming into the world which is yet to come.  The question before us on Dec. 26 (or on any other day) is “What does Immanuel (God with us) mean today?”

John the Baptist had a Dec. 26 moment.  He was wondering if all the anticipation and preparation had come to an end.  John had dedicated himself to a hard life: An outdoor life of living in the desert eating grasshoppers and honey.  He was decked out in his camel hair shirt and his old leather belt.  He was a voice crying in the wilderness.  John was a prophet – like Elijah (he dressed like Elijah) and his message was point blank – “The Lord is coming, so get ready now!  Turn from wickedness sinners and repent!  Be baptized, washed clean!”  John’s message was tough, but he had a vision that after him would come the Day of the Lord.  The one who would come after him would be the Son of Man, which meant the judge of all the earth.  The one who would come after him would be the Messiah, which meant God’s chosen king. This was breaking news and John was the herald of this arrival.

On John’s Dec. 26, all those rough years spent out in the desert and his bold proclamation (He pointed fingers at kings and called them sinners) is coming to an end.  John is in prison and he thinks he will probably be executed.  Was it worth it?  Was all the preparation and preaching in vain or in faith?  Was Jesus the one?  John had to know.  Maybe he doubted.  Maybe he wanted to see the fireworks start.  That’s a Dec. 26 moment.  He’s looking back.  You might even call it a Dec. 31 moment, because he is looking back and asking, “What was it all about? What gives it meaning?  What puts the seal on my life and validates it?”

Two of John’s disciples approach Jesus and ask him “Are you the coming one, or do we wait for another one?”  That is John’s Dec. 26 question.  He wants to know if he can look back at his ministry and connect it with Jesus, or should he should pick up and start getting ready for the next Christmas. After all, Dec. 26th is also the day when we pack it up and start looking forward for the next Dec. 25th.  But John wants to know if that is what he has to do or if he can go to the executioner knowing that he had seen the one he was preaching about.

Jesus’ answer is to let John and his disciples judge for themselves.  What have they seen and heard? The blind receive their sight, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised and the poor have the good news brought to them.  Jesus asked them to weigh the miracles and all those signs of grace.  Is that Messiah work?  Jesus’ reply asks another question, “Well what did you expect?”  What sort of Messiah were you looking for?”

Some will focus on the birth of the Messiah on Dec. 25.  That picture of the Messiah is of a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.  But the Dec. 26 Messiah must be one that can respond to prisoners and doubters and faithful.  It must be a Messiah who can give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, cleansing to the sick and life to the dying!

What kind of Messiah were you looking for?  The good news of Jesus is that the kingdom of God is about judgment, but it is also about graciousness.  The reign of God is here and is being established; all we wait for now is the victory party.

We prepare for the second coming (as John did for the first coming) but we do not have to wait for the Second Coming for these things to happen. We do not have to pack up our expectations and wait for another Christmas.  We don’t have to wait for another Savior to come.  The good news for Dec. 26 is that we can start living in the kingdom of Christ now, being joyful, being healed, being forgiven, being patient, being free, and traveling safe along the Holy Way.  We are not ending a season, but we are invited to begin enjoying the journey and the time and nurture it takes, enjoying the rule of God and the fellowship of the people around us.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Galatians 6:1 - Same or Also?

Warning!  The following article contains intense nerdish language.  Those who find this sort of discussion annoying would do well to follow the advice of C.S. Lewis: "If this [article] means nothing to you, if it seems to be trying to answer question you never asked, drop it at once.  Do not bother about it at all."

This week in my study of Galatians 6:1-10, I was reading the New Living Translation and found myself quite disappointed with their translation of the last part of 6:1.  My disappointment stems from the fact that I am actually quite fond of the NLT.  It is an excellent translation for public and private reading as it preserves the "big picture" of each book's message without the more colorful exuberance of a paraphrase such as The Message by Eugene Petersen (which I also appreciate by the way).  This article is certainly not a criticism of the NLT and definitely not a boycott against it.  That would be ludicrous.  Rather, I hope this comes across as a friendly disagreement with the translators from a respectful admirer of their work.  Additionally, I offer an alternate translation that I believe is important to understanding the whole teaching of Galatians 6:1-10.

The NLT translates the last part of 6:1 as follows: "And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself."  My criticism is the addition of the word same.  The use of the word "same" introduces the notion that when we seek to restore a fellow believer who has been overcome by sin (see Gal. 6:1a), then we are somehow potentially vulnerable to that sin as if it is a spiritual virus.  For instance, if one seeks to encourage Brother Rupert because he has been struggling with an addiction to gambling, one should be careful lest he or she start following Rupert to the casinos.  If one if not careful, then one is afflicted with the same temptation.  Such a scenario is possible, but this is not the true nature of the warning in 6:1b.  Additionally, reading the warning as a warning of the "same temptation" might hinder us from having the prescribed spirit of gentleness and love that allows us to courageously and humbly confront sin.  Fear of a viral nature of sin may cause otherwise useful believers to back away from the one in need.  Such a misinformed concern for the "purity" of one's religious walk is the very attitude that Paul is condemning throughout Galatians.  

So what does one do with the word "same?"  My question is where did the NLT translators get the word?  A better translation would not include the word "same" as it is not found in the original text.  The original text reads as follows in the Greek:  σκοπῶν σεαυτόν, μὴ καὶ σὺ πειρασθῇς.  The first word, σκοπῶν, is a participle.  I would translate it as "being careful" or something similar.  It adds to the imperative command to restore the one overcome by sin.  So, Paul is saying restore the brother but do so with care.  Of what?  Let's continue. . . .

σεαυτόν is a pronoun that is easily translated as "yourself." Later in the phrase the pronoun σὺ is used.  This is the second person pronoun "you."  The warning is that those involved in the restoring need to be watchful of their own selves in the process.  Of what?  Let's continue . . .

πειρασθῇς is a passive subjunctive verb.  The meaning of the root verb is to tempt.  The subjunctive mood means that the possibility of temptation is potential.  The passive voice indicates that the "you" in the phrase is not tempting, but rather might be tempted.  Thus, the warning to the restorer is to be careful so as not to be tempted.  (The small word μὴ is the negative that makes πειρασθῇς read "might not be tempted).

This leaves one word in our phrase that we haven't discussed yet - καὶ.  This is the word that the NLT may have chosen the translate as "same."  καὶ is a conjunction and is rarely translated as "same."  Most often, its English equivalent is "and."  The second most likely translation of καὶ is "also."  I suggest that "also" makes more sense.  Thus, the warning is not that the restorer "might be tempted with the same temptation," rather that the restorer "might also be tempted."  Perhaps with the same temptation, but the warning includes other temptations.  For instance, the temptation to be prideful, self-righteous, and condemning against a brother or sister overcome by a sin involving more public shame.  The context of Galatians 6 supports this with the additional warning in 6:3 that reads: "If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important."  (For the record, that is the NLT's translation of 6:3 and though NLT did not translate the verse literally, the translators have captured the meaning of the phrase expertly.)

I offer the following translation of 6:1b and accept critique but also the hope that others may find it useful in the context of chapter 6 . . . 

". . . paying attention that you yourselves should not also be tempted."