God's Call To Intimacy_Wrap Up
2009-08-22 by Jack Vanderplate

Saturday "Hot Tub"

 August 22, 2009 

 

Saturday.  The liturgy is ready and the sermon has been put to bed, more or less.  Since the advent of word processors, I have developed what my wife tells me is a very bad habit.  I finagle, horse with, tweak, and otherwise spend time obsessing about the details of Sunday morning's message.  Sometimes I even make wholesale changes to it.  Usually that's a bad decision. 

I am open to the Spirit's leading as I am delivering the message, but it has become more important for me to trust that the Spirit has indeed guided me through the month-long process of study and reflection.  And to go with it!  And relax.  Trusting. 

My Abba, we have walked together through this blog and all the study, questions, discussions, thinking, reflecting, worrying and soul-searching that was a part of that process.  Thank you for making a path through the undergrowth of my narrow thoughts, my prejudices and ignorance.  You have opened me to loving you more than ever, without reservations.  More.  Not yet where we hope that love can go, but more.  Thank you, Abba.  For everything. 

Tomorrow, we're going to try to help our friends at Bethel grow a bit in that same direction.  Be present with us as we worship you.  Bring us your peace.  Make your inviting graces palpable to those who are hesitant.  Make your healing graces fresh to those who are hurting.  Make your love so obvious that we'll find it hard not to dance with joy. 

Speak Abba, please.  By liturgy, music and the broken bread, ease our resistances and help us to come closer to you.  Help us to experience a fresh taste of your eternal agape in the company of our brothers and sisters.  Praise to you Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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God's Call To Inimacy_7
2009-08-21 by Jack Vanderplate

Friday "Hot Tub"

August 21, 2009  

Fridays are my Sabbath.  I take the day off to rest, refresh, relax, spend extra time with God and my family and my friends.  Occasionally though, I'll still read my emails – and in fact I just finished doing that.  One of my friends at Bethel has been reading this week's blogs and commented: 

"How much do we open up to those we love?  Do we really ever open up or love all the way?"  He added that he would always have the nagging fear that someone might look down on him for some past offense. 

I think he's spot-on.  I think that's why we resist allowing God to draw us completely to himself.  He knows.  He knows it all—every miserable secret we're harboring, and all those little transgressions we didn't even notice.  Knowing that he still loves us?  On one level we might believe it, but we can't relate.  That's not how we love each other. 

When a friend withholds part of herself from me, or worse yet distances herself because she remembers some past hurt, I will not freely give myself to her, at least not fully.  Even in marriage, where we have the freedom and time and mutual commitment to develop trust over the long haul, we don't manage that complete self-giving.  We may come close, even very close.  But we don't understand ourselves completely; how can we give ourselves completely to another?   

How can God do that?  In love that is eternally committed, fierce, relentless, almost embarrassing in its consuming passion, God will not stop making every effort to bring his wounded and broken people to himself – to wholeness.  That's what the most famous verse in all the New Testament affirms.  And we long to believe it.  But we have our resistances. 

After all, Jesus is demanding.  Every one of us throws up some kind of barrier against his demands at some point.  Love an enemy?  I'll try.  Turn the other cheek?  Maybe once more, but then that will be the end of it.  Give without expecting a return?  Hello, we're in a recession!  Lose your life for my sake?  I'm not sure how I can do that and survive.  Eat my body, drink my blood (even metaphorically)?  I'm not sure I want that much of you right now. 

My friend, Marc, pointed out an interesting feature in the gospel lesson.  (I'm no believer in the daVinci Code, but 6:66 draws my attention!)  NIV: "From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him."  ASV: "Upon this many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him."  RSV: "After this many of his disciples drew back, and no longer went about with him."  

The thing that jumps out is "his disciples."  They stopped following, stopped walking with him, drew back..."  But St. John still calls them "his disciples." 

John is on to something that ought to correct the way a lot of evangelism is practiced these days (when it's practiced at all).  "We" are on the inside with Jesus, and will help "you" on the outside get in by teaching you some doctrine, or praying a prayer, or some other move designed to make "them" one of "us." 

John still includes those who walked away as "his disciples" in all three of the translations I quoted.  Jesus can be terribly demanding, and all of us walk at least a little ways away at some point in our Christian life.  Does that slow Jesus down?  Does that temper his love for us?  Not on your life!  We're still "his disciples." 

Wouldn't our evangelism improve if we reckoned the people around us as part of "us?"  How would my neighbor react if I treated him as a fellow traveler trying to follow the Lord?  What if I allowed that when he cares enough to call me on one of my crazinesses, he has a word from the Lord I need to hear?  What if we could learn to love a bit more deeply and consistently by risking knowing each other instead of knowing each other's theology or lack of it? 

There came a time when "his disciples" began to get it, and started following Jesus again.  On the road to Emmaus, for example, "his disciples" walked with Jesus but had no idea – until they knew him in the breaking of bread. 

When someone is willing to give body and blood for the sake of love, we know.  And then there's no holding back.  In fact, that's how the church began to multiply after Jesus' resurrection:   

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:46-47).

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God's Call To Intimacy_6
2009-08-20 by Jack Vanderplate

Thursday "Hot Tub"

August 20, 2009 

Today, let me relate a fascinating experience that illuminates how very personal the experience of loving God can be – and how God's love received overflows to those around us – and how such a love can indeed change the world! 

My friends Marc, Hannah, Dianne and I went to a special luncheon hosted by Bethany Christian services.  The big draw was their speaker – William Paul Young, the author of the number one best-seller, "The Shack."  Our church's book club had read this powerful book, and we thought it would be even better to hear from the author himself. 

Mr. Young was not at all what I expected.  He told the story of how his book came to be.  (I had assumed that this man had a theological background—seminary maybe—and a lot of writing experience leading to a best-selling novel).  What this toilet-cleaning, sprinkler-repairer told us was far different. 

His story begins with his wife saying something to him like, "Bill, you think so outside the box, it's hard to know what you really think.  Maybe you could write it down for us?"  He liked the idea and began to write about the big thing in his life – dealing with all the hurt and damage of living in a boarding school where he was sexually and emotionally abused while his missionary parents were doing God's work. 

His book relates his journey of healing.  Many Christians criticize "The Shack," but most of that criticism misses the whole point of Young's journey.  He came to experience God, especially Father God as the forgiving, nurturing, healing and encouraging God he had not known as the abused child of absentee parents who were doing the Lord's work. 

He was aiming at having the book ready for Christmas, when he would give it to his wife and children as a gift.  He brought the file to Kinko's and had 15 copies of the book produced and bound.  And then he gave these gifts to his wife and children.  (Interestingly, his wife's reaction was, "Oh, I meant 4 or 5 pages."  And one of his sons remarked, "This is way beyond you, Dad!") 

It wasn't long before others were reading the few copies, and people were urging him to publish the book.  He submitted the manuscript to 26 publishers (13 religious and 13 secular), all of whom turned the book down.  It was too edgy for the religious publishers and the secular publishers had no "niche" for the book. 

So Mr. Young and some friends put up the money to have a company print 10,000 copies.  That's when the email started coming in.  People opened up the pain and hurt of their lives and shared their journeys as they paralleled Bill's journey in "The Shack."  More books were needed.  It was now a ministry and a labor of love.  Further runs were printed until finally they could no longer personally handle the logistics of distributing the book from their garage.  They hired the third largest publisher in the world to print, promote and distribute the book. 

Now here's what I found most fascinating about the experience Mr. Young related to us at that luncheon.  Had he been after a success, had he wanted to generate an audience, had he wanted to become a published author, or any of the other "had he wanted's"...  he could have made it less edgy, or reworked it for the "niche" audience specified by the publishers.  He could have, but he didn't. 

His aim was to give a gift of love to his family that shared his journey of coming to be loved by God, and coming to accept, forgive, and love those who had so deeply harmed him.  And look what happened from there! 

If we could only give up working so hard for the things we settle for, maybe we'll have the time, the energy, the honesty and perseverance to listen for God's voice – to follow the wind of his Spirit - to feel his love – to respond with all our fear and trembling – to accept his love - to take a step of faith – to live life as fully as any mortal is able. 

That's why we don't leave, even when our Lord scandalizes us.  No one else speaks to the deepest currents of our mixed-up, whacked-out lives.  We recognize them.  These are "words" of eternal life. 

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God's Call to Intimacy_Liturgy
2009-08-19 by Jack Vanderplate

Opening sentences

(based on 1 Kings 8 and Psalm 84:) 

At our Lord's invitation, we have come. 

We join hearts and hands together as sisters and brothers in this sanctuary to meet with God. 

There is no God like our God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who seek him. 

The highest heavens cannot contain you, O Lord.  You fill this house and this fellowship with love to spare. 

May we, like the sparrow at home and the swallow nested near your altar, forever praise you. 

How good is even one day with you, O Lord God!  You are the sun that warms us, and the shade that protects us.  How blessed we are as we trust in you!  

Commission based on Ephesians 6: 

Stand firm in the Lord, and in the power of his might. 

Repay the evil of the enemy with good from the kingdom. 

Welcome the one who stands outside into the household. 

Speak truth in love and strive to live at peace. 

Live life to the full by the faith that hopes all things and believes that all things are possible with God. 

Pray for each other, and hold each other up in care and love. 

Benediction

(based on the gospel message:) 

   Go, fed and nourished by the body and blood that is meat and drink indeed;

   Love deeply, as God has loved you;

   Walk in grace, following the footsteps of our brother Jesus;

   Live fully in each moment, as the life-giving Spirit of our Lord leads and guides you.

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. 

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God's Call To Intimacy_5
2009-08-19 by Jack Vanderplate

Wednesday "Hot Tub"

August 19, 2009  

"Does this offend you?" Jesus asked.  Of course it offends.  There is something way too far out and visceral about eating flesh and drinking blood even metaphorically.  We don't want to go there.  It would be okay to make this about the Eucharist, and then we could sidestep the real issue by discussing how Christ is present in the bread and wine.  Christians have proven to be awfully good about that over the years.  But we know, don't we, that Jesus is asking something different of his disciples. 

Jesus came into the world ready and willing to give it all up—his body, his blood—for his friends.  He offered himself as the decisive victim of evil's cannibalistic brutality.  That was his purpose.  That was the depth of his love.  And he asks us for a commitment of the same kind.   

We hedge our bets.  Simon was willing to say, "Look, we don't know where else to go.  You're talking about eternal life" (and that interests everybody!).  What Simon doesn't say in answer to Jesus' question in John 6 is, "Yes Lord, you know all things.  You know that I love you!" 

Adam and Eve, deposed from the garden knew all about eating and drinking.  It was supposed to make them truly know and live forever.  But with eyes wide open, they also knew for the first time about hiding.  Perhaps the same dynamic that led Adam and Eve to hid from God and each other is at work in John 6 when "many of his disciples turned away."  We want to be close, but we don't want to be too close.  We have things hidden away that even we have almost forgotten about. 

Love requires everything, and we're only willing to give some.  In our deepest loves we give more, maybe we even give a lot.  But how exceedingly rare it is that we invest another with everything we are and everything we have and everything we will ever be no holes barred.  It frightens us that Jesus offers himself to us that way, and then asks us with our fig leaves, our hedged bets, our fears about what he might do with us...  asks us to love him back with that same fierce love.  Eat my flesh, drink my blood, share my life to the full. 

It's no wonder we find substitutes for the gift in us that needs to be loved and to love.  Sex can feel like love.  Spending money to bring pleasure to another can feel like love.  Not saying or doing the ugly things we sometimes feel like saying or doing can feel like love.  All these are ingredients of loving, but not love itself.  Margaret Atwood said, "Nobody dies from lack of sex.  It's lack of love we die from." 

Jesus has the words of eternal life.  Isn't that why people go to church?  Sometimes we act as if that's the deal on Sunday morning.  But Kurt Vonnegut was closer to the truth we need to live and proclaim: "People don't come to church for preachments, of course, but to daydream about God."

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