Category Archive: Latest from the MethoBlogoSphere

Sep 30 2014

Mustard Seeds: Jacob’s Story: Broken People Make Great Starts (Sunday’s Sermon Today)

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The sun is just starting to come up over the hills in the distance, and he can see the figure of the angel walking away into the mist of the early morning dew. Lying battered and bloody, Jacob lays beside the river, exhausted. He’s wrestled an angel of God all night, and survived, but what’s the cost? What does it mean for his future? How did he get here?

To understand the story of Jacob’s wrestling with the angel, we must look at Jacob’s story before.

We know that while they were still in the womb, that Jacob and his brother, Esau, struggled against each other, causing unpleasantness for their mother Rebekah (Gen. 25:22) to the point that she prayed to God and asked, “Why would God make this so hard for me?” And God’s response is that the younger would be stronger than his brother, and the elder would serve the younger.

We know that in the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, something must’ve happened to upset the apple cart, the natural order of how birthright and favor look: why else would a second son be the one included? [Abraham was his father's first son; Isaac was Abraham's first... legitimate... son.] Apparently, God knew from before they were born– working against the natural order, the expectations of what was valuable, both in what God would choose and in knowing it in advance!

We know that Jacob was… a mama’s boy. While Esau was out doing the necessary things that a tribe needed, hunting, fishing, gathering, etc., Jacob stayed at home where he gained his mother’s favor. Now, we’ll get to real favoritism next week with Joseph, but note this: Isaac picks Esau and Rebekah chooses Jacob as her favorite– this is bound to cause problems, is it not?

So we arrive at our first crucial point for Jacob and Esau, when they’re teenagers. We know that Esau came in hunting, that he has the animals he’s killed but that they’re not ready to eat (Gen. 25:27-34). In a flash, he trades over a bowl of Jacob’s bean soup for his birthright, for whatever it would be that Esau would receive from Isaac as the firstborn. Esau wants the immediate, what feels good, the payoff– Jacob is already looking at the big picture.

Fastforward to Isaac’s old age, when Isaac calls Esau in, tells him to prepare a well-hunted meal, and that he will give him his blessing (Gen. 27:1-29). A blessing to Isaac’s family that was part-will and testament, part-prophetic. To them, the words of Isaac would be more than well-wishing or a toast at a banquet; these were the words that the people of Isaac’s family would believe were life-giving, determining the success of his children.

But Rebekah, remember, she who chooses Jacob first, whether it’s because of the time she has spent with him or because of the word she received from God or both- she interferes and steers Jacob into a plot that involves disguises and deceit. Jacob steals his brother’s birthright, deceives his father, and moves from deal broker/swindler into liar/cheat territory. Sure, it’s a slippery slope, but it’s one that Jacob slides down pushed by his own mother! Norman Bates he’s not, but this is the same type of critical family dysfunction that’s been going on since Adam blamed Eve and Cain killed Abel over some butter beans.

Of course, the fall out is almost immediate. Jacob is blessed; Esau gets the scraps. Rebekah has won; Isaac is dying anyway. But Jacob must run because Esau promises to kill him once they are done mourning his father. Again, Rebekah intervenes, sending Jacob away to her brother’s home “until Esau’s anger cools and he forgets what you have done to him” (Gen 27:41-45). Seriously? Not only does Rebekah naively (?) think that this will somehow be swept under the carpet but she practices that wonderful super power of manipulators everywhere: she pretends like she isn’t the one to cause all of this!

Off goes Jacob to ‘visit’ with his uncle. He heads back toward where Abraham would’ve come from, back where everyone from Abraham’s family stayed except for Abraham and Sarah who had been called out by God. It says that he arrived at a holy place and lay down to sleep, resting his head on a stone (Gen. 28:10-18). It’s the dream of the stairway to heaven made so famous by Led Zeppelin (I joke, I joke). But too often, I’ve skipped to the dream or vision and missed the setting.

Jacob puts his head on a stone. It doesn’t even say that he takes a stone as a pillow. Either way, it can’t have been comfortable- and it certainly wasn’t the kind of trip that you could find on Travelocity. No, it seems that Jacob was sent away in such haste that he didn’t pack, that he didn’t have the normal tent and bedroll that his people would’ve taken to travel, and when he arrives at this holy place, he collapses against the altar there.

The journey has been exhausting, the euphoria of the blessing has worn off. Jacob is alone, frightened, probably ashamed, and frankly, wondering why a game of dress up has ended with his running from the scene of the crime. And yet, while he sleeps, God speaks.

The LORD of Abraham and Isaac speaks and says, “I will give to you and your descendants this land on which you are lying. They will be as numerous as the specks of dust on the earth. They will extend their territory in all directions, and through you and your descendants I will bless ALL nations” (emphasis mine).

This isn’t too tricky, right? Other than skipping the firstborn, God is saying the same thing he told Abraham.

But the LORD continues, “Remember, I will be with you and protect you wherever you go, and i will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done everything I promised you” (Gen. 28:15).

Now, that’s terrifying to Jacob. Not that he’d have a vision. Not that the LORD would speak. But that the LORD would speak here when he and his people believed that so much of what they knew about the gods of their day was locational. And the LORD shows up … here. Wherever here is. After all that Jacob has done. Like the LORD was really with him.

So, when Jacob wakes up, he makes a vow: “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”

Still, the deal broker, isn’t he? Still working the system to wind up in his favor. He makes his obedience and his worship conditional, like so many of us do, ‘if God, you will do this, then I will do that.’ He’s still trying to give a dollar and get back ten, still trying to figure out how to make the best of the situation like he’s the one calling the shots. But apparently, he’s been paying enough attention to the family story, to the way he’s been raised, to know he should give God a tenth of what he has. It’s ingrained, learned behavior, but that doesn’t mean he actually gets it yet.

Short version of the next fourteen years: Jacob gets to his uncle’s house, works for seven years to marry the pretty daughter and gets the ugly one instead, works another seven years to marry the one he actually loves, outsmarts his uncle to take a bigger portion of the cattle herd than he would’ve gotten, and slips away in the middle of the night, knowing that his uncle wouldn’t have let him leave.

But for the first time in his life, we see Jacob initiate prayer with the LORD (Genesis 32:1-21). Now, he does devise a plan for how to make things more palatable for Esau, to try to grease the wheels of forgiveness, but he also puts it all before the LORD: “God of my grandfather Abraham and God of my father Isaac, hear me! You told me, LORD, to go back to my land… and you would make everything go well for me. I am not worth all the kindness and faithfulness that you have shown me, your servant… Save me, I pray, from my brother Esau. I am afraid–afraid that he is coming to attack and destroy us all… Remember that you promised to make everything go well for me and to give me more descendants than anyone could count, as many as the grains of sand along the seashore” (Gen. 32:9-12).

In response, the LORD appears… or at least sends an angel in the form of a man to Jacob. And they wrestle (Gen. 32:24-32). Now, of course, every time I’ve thought about this story, I’ve thought of something principled, something… somewhat gentle. Like my boys wrestling, or even something like Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling. Something with rules.

But the longer I look at this story, and the longer I consider what it looks like in my own life, the more I think this is more like MMA (Mixed Martial Arts). The more I think it is devoid of nice, or mercy, or … rules. I think that Jacob and this man did everything they could from the setting of the sun to the rising of the sun the next morning to defeat, beat down, control, manipulate their adversary. I think this was the microcosm of what Jacob’s whole life had been about- trying to figure out who he was in the world by whatever means necessary, whether it was fair or not.

In the end, it says that the man could not beat Jacob, so he cheated. Or at least, it seems like he cheated. But if there are no rules…? The man did what he needed to do to give himself an advantage, and caused Jacob’s hip to be thrown out of joint (Gen. 32:25).

And Jacob still will not let him go. Jacob, exhausted, beaten, bloodied, sore, alone, and terrified will still not give up.

Whenever I preach on Jacob, I’m teased about how my name is synonymous with a cheater and a deceiver and a coward. But somehow, Israel, he who has wrestled with God and men and not been overcome, that sounds pretty good! Because Jacob was relentless in his pursuit of the blessing, single-minded in his desire to be made right with the LORD. He took everything that his family, his personality, his enemies, his situation, and the LORD threw at him, and shouted into the abyss:


So, Jacob, born second and meant for a life of leftovers, rose to the top spot, became a friend of God, became the third notary in the trinity of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and … walked with a limp for the rest of his life.

How many of you have ever broken a bone? Have arthritis or tendonitis?

There are not many, if any, moments where you can forget that. You might have times where you feel better, but the ache doesn’t ever really go away. Kind of like a hip joint that has been put out of place, may be put back into place… but it will still ache.

I know that when it rains, the leg that I broke playing soccer aches. I know that when I am stressed, my jaw grinds at night, and locks in the morning. And I remember.

But what does Jacob remember? Jacob remembers that he was in a dogfight for his life, physically and spiritually, and that he was rewarded because he did not give up. He was ultimately blessed by the LORD because he held on.

Jacob didn’t build an ark. He didn’t name all of the animals in the garden. He didn’t move his family from his ancestral homeland out of honor for God.

Jacob didn’t give up. He held on. He believed in the promise.

Jacob was broken in spirit by life’s tricks and turns, but he held on.

Jacob was broken physically by wrestling with God, but he held on.

Jacob could have given up, tapped out, cursed God, abandoned his faith, fled in the opposite direction, but he held on.

Jacob was broken but he let God put him back together. Jacob let God form him as he’d promised first to Rachel, and later to Jacob. But the breaking had to happen first, the melting down of the pride of the deal maker and the cheater and the deceiver. Jacob’s personality wasn’t lost but the place he put his trust had to change.

When I think of that reshaping, that refining fire of God on and in us, I think of the parable of the potter’s house that God tells Jeremiah (Jer. 18:1-4). The LORD tells Jeremiah to go to a potter’s house, where clay is made and formed. Jeremiah sees the potter working at the wheel, but the pot becomes misshapen, and he has to reheat it and reshape it. And the result is good.

This image of clay gets revisited by Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:7-11: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.”

We are fragile, made up of flesh and soul, and we break. Sometimes we are misshapen by our sins, and our choice; sometimes we are misshapen by the sins of Adam and Eve played out through our bodies and the world, of original sin; sometimes, we receive the bloodied lips and bruises from the free will misused by others. We have the scars from our wrestling matches with others, with ourselves, with God.

But if we will just hold on, if we will not give up, if we will remember that the LORD who promised to be forever with Abraham and Jacob, who promised us much through the death and resurrection of Jesus, then we will overcome. We will receive the inheritance of God’s promise, whether in this life or the next.

We are the reminder to those who are broken, to those who have not yet been broken, that the world is not the way it will forever be. That we believe in a world with no suffering and no pain and no war and no sickness and no evil. We believe in a world where the power of the risen Christ is the only light we will need.

Sometimes, some days, when I struggle to see that in my petty problems, I remember:

-the people who sit through hours of chemotherapy and believe that God sits with them.

-the people who have been divorced or lost a spouse who believes that God hasn’t written the end of their story yet.

-the people who have taken the abuse they’ve received, the pain they’ve endured at the hands of others, the tears they’ve shed, and turned them into ministries and caring for those who would suffer the same fate.

-the times when God showed up in the midst of my darkness and said, “just hold on, I’ve got this, you are not alone.”

This is not trite or simple or easy. This hurts sometimes. But it is the truth of our reality, the here and the not yet colliding, that we believe, and we hope, and we pray for that day when God will make all things new.

We may walk with a limp, we may need the help of others to help us get up, but we will celebrate with the body of the risen Christ, once broken and left bloodied itself, that we have been adopted by the great God of the universe, and we can shout into the abyss of our doubts, our fears, our frustrations, our enemies, our anxieties, our inner demons, with the assurance of God:


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Sep 30 2014

John Meunier: When God told the priests to kill

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After the Golden Calf episode, Moses received a word from God for the Levites.

Then he said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’” The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.” (Exodus 32:27-29, NIV)

Here is where I run into problems with some contemporary ways of reading the Bible.

I have a problem with the “three buckets” approach that reads of the Levites slaughtering 3,000 Israelites under the command of God and declares that this is not in keeping with the character of Jesus and must therefore be deemed not reflective of God’s character or will.

I have a problem with the historical-critical method that declares that this passage is really just a literary justification for the Levitical priesthood foisted on the people by religious elites in a time of social crisis or upheaval.

I even have a problem with the spiritual approach that teaches me to read in this text a call to cut out from my life everything at odds with worship of God.

I have a problem with all of these because they look at this text and flinch. They don’t start with the affirmation that God could and might and did do such a thing as order the killing of his rebellious and idolatrous people. I’m not sure what the motivation is that causes us to turn away from these parts of the Bible. And let’s be clear, there are lots stories like this one. I don’t know why we flinch, other than fear.

The God of Exodus 32 is dangerous. He is no butler waiting for our permission to enter the room and living only to serve our needs. The God of Exodus 32 is a dealer of life and death. Standing too close to that God is like walking on the edge of a high rooftop on a windy day or standing near the jaws of a wood chipper as it tears apart tree limbs. You can sense the danger in the pit of your stomach just by being there.

The biblical response to this fear is worship. Our response — so often — is to pretend Exodus 32 does not exist.

I understand the impulse to do that, but I don’t understand how we turn to the Bible once we’ve decided it is lying to us about who God is and what God does.

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Sep 30 2014

Mustard Seeds: Gotham 1.2: What’s A Family? (TV Review)

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In the second episode, “Selina Kyle,” we watched the episode’s titular character (Camren Bicondova) end up on a busload of kidnapped street children aimed at a brutal, edible ending. But between our cat burglar’s skills and James Gordon’s (Ben McKenzie) detective skills, we figure this one isn’t bound to end badly (not even counting those of us who have a grasp on who becomes who). [It does however highlight the impressive skills and startling eyes of Bicondova.] Instead, it moves us toward who some of the notables will be, like Gordon, Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz), and, somewhat surprisingly, Detective Bullock (Denal Logue).

The overarching storyline involves the Dollmaker’s henchmen (Lili Taylor, Frank Whaley) stealing kids that no one, except for Gordon and the headline-grabbing mayor (Richard Kind) care about. It’s okay, not great. But there’s the side story of Oswald Cobblepot’s (Robin Lord Taylor) murdering a spoiled rich kid and kidnapping another, while Detectives Montoya and Allen (Victoria Cartagena and Andrew Stewart-Jones) track down Cobblepot’s mother (Carol Kane); and the other, where Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee) pulls Gordon in as a mentor/counselor to the still-grieving little Wayne.

Whatever the opening episode did, the second one tried to build on… but it wasn’t great. Sure, we know that Gordon and Wayne are PTSD-riddled souls; we know that Gordon is struggling with the ‘assassination’ of Cobblepot and how he’s perceived by Bullock, Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith), and his own tortured impression of himself. But the string tying them together is a question of family: Who cares about orphaned street kids, an orphaned rich kid with anger issues, and a singular ‘good guy’ cop in the midst of corruption? The answer appears to be “each other.”

Gotham’s secondary episode wouldn’t have been enough to hook me, but the deepening darkness (gouged eyes, cannibalism, a brutal beating and a brutal broken-beer-bottle-artery-severing) mean that this might have more Christopher Nolan to it than the Tim Burton-themed premiere implied. That in itself is enough to make me tune in next week, to see where the new family dynamic of Gordon, Bullock, Wayne… and Kyle, will take us, and what it will show us about the shadows in the city and in the souls of those who live there.

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Sep 30 2014

Red Chair Music: More action.

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This is where our keys sit.

In this gigantic coffee mug my wife picked up a few years ago.  I tried to use it – but the coffee would be cold by the time I would get half way through it…

Those words:

Actions.  Speak.  Louder. 

Those words are the last things I usually see as I leave the house.  I’m reminded each and every day how we need more action, and perhaps a little less talk.

The book of James discusses a faith full of works, of action.  Micah 6:8 sums of that action rather succinctly for us all.

So let us in our daily walk have more action, and less talk.

Let’s try to be the hands and feet of God; to do justice, embrace a faithful love, and walk humbly with God.

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Sep 30 2014

Jason C. Stanley: Scandal 3.9: YOLO

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“I’ve Committed a Sin” This episode was not for the those with a weak stomach. Huck has laid out the tools of his old trade: torture. Huck has Quinn duck taped on the floor, and begins to talk... Read More

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Sep 30 2014

UMR: US Cardinal Raymond Burke mounts defense on Catholic teaching on divorce

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c. 2014 Religion News Service

(RNS) Public disagreements over whether the Roman Catholic Church can change its teachings on Communion for remarried Catholics are growing sharper on the eve of a major Vatican summit, with conservatives led by U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke making another push against loosening the rules.

In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday (Sept. 30), Burke, who currently heads the Vatican’s high court, singled out the leading proponent of reforms, German Cardinal Walter Kasper, and his claims that critics of his proposals are really attacking Pope Francis.

Kasper has said that the pope supports his efforts to find ways to fully reintegrate divorced and remarried Catholics into church life. The proposals have become a prime focus of the upcoming Vatican meeting, called a synod, which will convene on Sunday for two weeks to consider changes in family life in the modern world.

“I find it amazing that the cardinal claims to speak for the pope,” said Burke, the former archbishop of St. Louis, speaking from Rome. “The pope doesn’t have laryngitis. The pope is not mute. He can speak for himself. If this is what he wants, he will say so.”

“But for me as a cardinal to say that what I am saying are the words of Pope Francis? That to me is outrageous,” said Burke, who is reportedly set to be sidelined by Francis to a largely ceremonial post as patron of the Knights of Malta, a global church society based in Rome.

Burke also said whatever Francis thinks about a more lenient approach on Communion for remarried Catholics, the pope can’t change current church teaching because he and all bishops “are held to obedience to the truth” about marriage, and that cannot change.

Burke’s comments were echoed by others on the call and represent the latest effort by church conservatives to try to head off any possibility that the bishops and cardinals meeting at the Oct. 5-19 synod would open the door to changing any Catholic teaching, especially on marriage.

Under current church law, divorced Catholics who remarry without first obtaining a church annulment — a complicated and sometimes expensive venture — are barred from Communion because they are considered to be living in sin. Critics say the practice alienates otherwise faithful Catholics and perpetuates the stigma around divorce.

The high-level summit will cover a range of other hot-button issues, such as same-sex partners and the rise of cohabiting couples. The discussions will set out a road map for discussions at a larger, follow-up synod in 2015 where bishops could decide to make changes in church policies, or leave things as is.

The focus of the debate as the process gets underway has come down to whether the church can change its doctrines or practices at all — and that argument has come down to whether Rome could allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion.

Kasper, with the encouragement of Francis, last February opened the debate with a lengthy lecture to the world’s cardinals in which he said the church could and should adopt a more merciful approach to Catholics living in unorthodox relationships.

A test case for such adaptations, Kasper said, is on Communion for the divorced and remarried. Kasper said that would not require changing church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage but only on the “discipline” related to receiving Communion.

Opponents, including Burke, say that you can’t separate the discipline from the doctrine without undermining Christianity’s moral truths. They’ve become increasingly vocal and organized in lobbying against the reformers.

* Earlier this week some 48 mainly conservative Catholic clergy and intellectuals — as well as prominent evangelical leaders such as Rick Warren – published an open letter to Francis and the synod delegates urging them not to dilute church teaching on marriage but to fight secularizing trends that they say have weakened marital standards.
* This month, Burke and several other influential cardinals in the Roman Curia, including Cardinal Gerhard Mueller and Cardinal George Pell, collaborated on a book designed to counter Kasper’s ideas.
* All told, as many as 10 cardinals aligned with the hierarchy’s conservative wing have written in opposition to Kasper.

In an interview this week, Kasper expressed confidence that bishops at the back-to-back synods would ultimately back some change, and he hit back at critics like Burke, saying they are engaged in political maneuverings. He said they are afraid that any changes would lead to a “domino effect.”

“This is all linked to ideology, an ideological understanding of the gospel that the gospel is like a penal code,” Kasper, who is retired from a curial job but lives in Rome, told America magazine.

Critics of change in church policies are displaying “a theological fundamentalism which is not Catholic.”

“If fear is at work,” he said, “fear is always a bad counselor. The church should not act out of fear. The church should be the people of hope.”

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