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!) 


God's Call To Intimacy 2
2009-08-17 by Jack Vanderplate

Towards Aug 23, 2009; 12th Sunday in Pentecost - Proper 16


Monday "Hot Tub" August 17, 2009  

In "Preaching The Lesson," Mary Hudson says "Many of us would rather be handed a set of rules to be followed in order to be healthy, wealthy, and wise.  Give us ten bullet points on a screen rather than force us to look into the face of our neighbor.  A life-long journey together with the source of life itself seems so uncertain and ambiguous, so open-ended."  

The cornerstone of our faith sounds wonderful and is easy to remember: "Love God, love your neighbor."  But learning how to love a transcendent and powerful God is a fearful thing, and growing to love the needy neighbor who expects everything and is grateful for little can be an overwhelming challenge.  No wonder so many people cut their search for God short and settle for the ten bullet points on a screen – or ten commands on a tablet – or ten easy ways to improve one's self.  The journey of love is without a roadmap. 

I marvel at the devices in our cars that recognize where we're going and tell us when we're off-track.  "Make a legal U-turn and return to route 20...make a right onto route 20...continue straight ahead for 7.3 miles..."  Wouldn't it be something to have a divine voice telling us just when to turn in life, or when to go straight, when to turn off the engine?  

I have friends who read the Bible that way.  They're convinced there is a biblical "answer" to every challenge life brings our way.  I sometimes envy them their well-mapped and marked journey of life, but my experience with hard questions requires wrestling with God, struggling with gray areas, growing in the power to discern what is good.  I just do not find the Christian walk clear and obvious.  And honestly, I'm actually happy about that.  

I don't want a religion.  I want to love God.  At least most of the time.  I want to love my neighbor.  At least sometimes.  I recognize that desire as something God-given, and very precious.  I try to respond with heart, soul, mind and strength.  But there are those unmarked, poorly-lit places on the journey where I'm very fearful.  Is grace really sufficient for the need?  

Years ago Christian Counselor Larry Crabb did a series of devotions at a conference I attended.  Larry gave us a fascinating look at the issues Adam and Eve faced after eating the forbidden fruit.  I hope Larry will forgive me, I can't remember all the wonderful details of his presentation after these many years, but here's the gist of what he said (or what I remember!)...  

Adam had the experience of being alone.  How long he lived by himself is an open question.  But he knew loneliness.  He was God's unblemished child, and they walked together in the cool of the garden, but somehow he was restless - it was not enough.  God saw his incompleteness and created Eve.  Adam could hardly restrain himself!  Immediately he began speaking poetic love language: "This is my own flesh and blood – bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh."  He likely sang the words, and danced.  

But then, Crabb pointed out, Adam's love faced a horrible dilemma.  His lovely bride took some of the forbidden fruit and ate it.  Everything changed.  Adam now faced a fearful question: should he not eat the forbidden fruit and remain in the treasured relationship to God he had always known?  Or should he cast his lot with Eve whom he now loved intensely?  

Adam knew God's goodness.  His question was whether or not God, who was good, who provided for their every need, who had given him the wife he loved so deeply...  whether or not God was good enough.  He wasn't sure.  He didn't know.  So he ate.  

Loving God is not easy.  But we have come to know and believe, in the continuous outpouring of love and concern for his people, that loving God is what we were made for.

"Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life."



God's Call To Intimacy
2009-08-16 by Jack Vanderplate

Introduction – Bio 

I'm Jack VanderPlate, pastor of Bethel Church in Zeeland MI.  I love being a Christian and a grandparent.  I play piano, organ, violin and trumpet – mostly classical and jazz.  I'm an avid tennis player, runner and stock market investor.  I also enjoy golf and fishing. 

I'm from the Reformed tradition (Calvinist), but very much appreciate the way other traditions enlarge and illuminate the themes of the faith.  These are too big to live under any one roof!  Maybe that's why I enjoy the "Festival of Homiletics" so much.  So I was excited when GoodPreacher.com invited me to do this week's "Hot Tub" blog.  I really do love hot tubs - but even more, the cross-pollination of ideas through collegial interaction around the lectionary texts.  I hope you enjoy this week's exchange too! 


Towards Aug 23, 2009; 12th Sunday in Pentecost / Proper 16
"Hot Tub" August 16, 2009 The Revised Common Lectionary lists these texts for the coming Lord's Day:          

OT – 1 Kings 8:(1,6,10-11),22-30, 41-43         

Psalm 84         

NT  -  Ephesians 6:10-20         

Gospel – John 6:56-69 

I have grown to love preaching from the lectionary.  One of the benefits is having the same texts to bat back and forth with ministry colleagues.  Marc Nelesen, one of my very good friends, shared several wonderful ideas with me as we walked together through these texts.  I will try to remember who thought of what as the week rolls on so I can give proper credit. 

Another benefit of preaching from the lectionary is discovering the themes that tie the readings together.  Very often—possibly because the editors of the lectionary intended it—all the texts conspire together to illuminate one or more themes of our faith.  As I read through this week's texts for the first time, it almost literally jumped out at me in each of the texts:  "God's Patient Call To Intimacy."  No doubt there are lots of other themes, and lots of other ways to mine these texts.  But for me – God calling us to intimate relationship with himself is a compelling and, I believe, a timely invitation from these lections.  As we probe this call to intimacy, we'll see that it's not only not easy, it's downright scary, and we usually avoid it. 

Here's the broad outlines of that theme in the readings as I see them.  I am sharing these right up front so we can begin thinking, imagining and plotting together.  The theme runs through each of the readings, but I will be looking most closely and consistently at the gospel reading from St. John.   

It may be that you are not impressed by the theme I see in the texts.  Fair warning:  that's where we're headed this week! 

In 1 Kings 8, King Solomon has completed the temple his father, David, had wanted to build for Yahweh.  He has gathered the priests and the people together for a magnificent festival of dedication.  The lectionary suggests vv22-30, 41-43 which is a large part of Solomon's prayer of dedication.   

His prayer is rich – but one element of his prayer is, "But will God really dwell on earth?  The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you.  How much less this temple I have built!" (:27 NIV).  Solomon worships a transcendent God.  After thanking Yahweh for keeping the promises he had given to David, he goes on to ask for a constant divine listening ear for himself and, remarkably, for foreigners who travel to the temple because they have heard of Yahweh's reputation (41-43). 

There are other noteworthy elements of the prayer.  Solomon is bold in his request, but not with the intimate kind of boldness with which New Testament believers come to their Abba.  He tries not to brag too much about the magnificent house he has built.  But there's an undertone of "Look, I've really done something great for you.  Now how about making sure this house gets the fame and attention due."  Solomon is inclusive, but only to a point.  The family of nations will not find unity in Yahweh under the aegis of the temple - Solomon tells Yahweh what he should do for his people in time of war.   

Grace shines.  Even before Solomon began praying, the shekinah glory of Yahweh filled the temple – signaling that yes indeed, God would come near.  He would hear.  He would be present with his people. 

Psalm 84 is a beautiful celebration of the beauty and hominess of Yahweh's sanctuary.  In v2, the song isn't quite clear whether the longing is for "the courts of the Lord," or for Yahweh himself – likely they are meant to be synonymous parallelism.  While sparrows and swallows feel right at home - free to build nests in every nook and cranny, the Psalm actually expresses a more timid hope.  Maybe, perhaps for just one day I might be a doorkeeper.  Yahweh gives favor and honor, he withholds no good thing.  But there is something missing here too.  There is awe and worship, but not intimacy with the God who created the worlds and has yet bent down to meet his people in the sanctuary. 

The gospel lesson from John 6 is packed to the brim.  But how poignant – the flagging state of Jesus security among his friends as many of his disciples are offended, get up and go.  They leave him, and it hurts.  He asks his disciples "You don't want to leave too, do you?"  There is thick pathos in that question.  And behind that is our Lord's desire that "they may be one as we are one."  We'll be concentrating our thoughts on this text this week. 

The lesson from Ephesians is perhaps the toughest "fit" into the theme I see in all these readings.  St. Paul is urging his friends to stand firm because they are doing spiritual battle with powers and principalities.  The "armor of God" brings to mind images of war and crusades – something Christians need to be very careful with.  But while the armor is well-known (that of the Roman soldier), the panoply is described in terms of Christian virtues that are meant to turn enemies into friends!  "Flesh and blood" is not the enemy!  The "foreigner" Solomon prayed about is destined to be welcomed with Christian love.  Truth spoken in love – the good news bringing peace – faith hoping and believing all things – life lived to the full – and prayer that holding each other up in care and love...  this armor speaks of intimate friendship among those who stand together, firm in the Lord. 

A lot of words...  way too many words, I'm afraid.  But there's the outline of this week's journey through the texts:  "God's patient call to intimacy." 

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