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. 


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. 


(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. 


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."


God's Call To Intimacy_4
2009-08-18 by Jack Vanderplate

Tuesday "Hot Tub"

August 18, 2009 

The lectionary has spent four weeks already with John 6, this week being the fifth and final installment.  The chapter speaks volumes about who Jesus is.  He feeds thousands of people with next to no resources, but then withdraws from them before they make him their king.  He not only miraculously comes to his storm ravaged disciples sailing across the lake, he calms their fears.   

Jesus then begins to speak about bread:  bread that spoils, bread that endures to eternal life, bread which the Son of Man will give you, bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world ("I am the bread of life"), bread more nourishing than manna in the wilderness ("I am the living bread").  We follow this pretty easily, but then... 

"This bread is my flesh," "whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life," "my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink," "whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me," "the one who feeds on me will live because of me."   

Scott Hoezee (Center for Excellence in Preaching, Calvin Theological Seminary) comments about this metaphorical-to-literal move: 

Well, we think, obviously he was speaking metaphorically, but even metaphors need to translate into something you can understand. If a poet writes, "My beloved is a tender flower in springtime," we have a pretty easy time figuring out what he means. But what if a poet wrote, "My beloved is a loin of pork served with sour cherry chutney"? OK, that's a metaphor, too, but it's such a weird one, you'd find it simply unintelligible. So also in John 6.  

Lots of people found this more than unintelligible.  They could not accept it.  "From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him."  Why did Jesus strengthen and stretch the metaphor past what most people were willing to accept?  Why such a strong metaphor? 

My friend Marc and I were talking about these images when something else occurred to us.  Parents fool around with their kids, nuzzling them in the neck, tickling them, making those funny noises that happen when you blow air on their skin.  As part of the play you say goofy things like, "I could just eat you up!"  Lovers embrace to be close to each other, but even that isn't enough.  You can't get enough of each other.  Sometimes you imagine you can just merge together into one body, one mind, one spirit. 

Jesus is inviting us to do far more than simply receive the provision he offers for our needs, or even the calm he brings to our fears.  He wants us to share his life in the deepest possible way.  He wants us to be one with him as he and the Father are one.  He shares our flesh; and wants us to share his.  He does not merely want to improve our lives, he wants to be our life.  He wants to love us, and us to love him so exclusively, so deeply - to be so consumed with each other that it would be no metaphor to say, "the life I live is not my own, but Christ living in me." 

When at the Table of Remembrance we hear, "This is my body, given for you," something in us rejoices as Adam did when he exalted, "This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh."  It is the language of love spoken by those the Father has joined together.


God's Call To Intimacy_3
2009-08-18 by Jack Vanderplate

Towards Aug 23, 2009;

12th Sunday in Pentecost - Proper 16

Tuesday "Hot Tub" August 18, 2009 

Tuesday morning, and by this time my scattered thoughts about the liturgy are beginning to multiply.  I have found that one way to focus these scattered possibilities is putting together a list of songs and hymns.  I am blessed with a Worship Committee that gives me great suggestions – but I didn't ask them to help me with my project this week.  My mistake. 

Here's a list of songs and hymns that flesh out the theme of love and intimacy.  I'm more interested in love for God than love of neighbor because of the focus of the way I am treating the text from St. John.  And I'm more interested in intimate love than...  (this is a hard one to explain)...  than devotional or reverent love or love from a distance.  But not syrupy, quasi-romantic love – (e.g. "Jesus, Lover of My Soul," instead of "I'm In Love, So Deeply In Love With the Lover of My Soul"). 

Jesus Loves Me This I Know

Precious Lord, Take My Hand

Jesus, Lover of My Soul

How Deep the Father's Love For Us

As The Deer Panteth For the Water

Father ( Jesus, Spirit) We Love You

O How He Loves You and Me

O How I Love Jesus

How Deep the Father's Love

Behold What Manner of Love

I Love You, Lord

More Precious Than Silver

Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

O Love That Will Not Let Me Go

The King of Love My Shepherd Is

When I Survey The Wondrous Cross

O Love of God, How Strong and True

O Sacred Head (last stanza!) 


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