Friday, September 18, 2009

Hope For the Poor

I think that Jesus is intentionally referencing Isaiah 61 in the opening lines of the Sermon on the Mount. Isaiah 61 talks about the promised restoration of those who have been loyal to God despite their nation's disloyalty. They are the oppressed and neglected poor of Israel, but God promises them justice and says he will make them special bearers of his image, turning them into the leaders of his restored Kingdom on Earth. Jesus in the sermon on the mount picks up very similar themes- he is essentially declaring that in his kingdom the "hope to the poor/oppressed" will be found!

Behind both of these messages is a recognition that part of what it means to be loyal to God is to recognize that every person in some sense carries the "image of God." Unlike many pagan societies who saw their political and religious leaders as the only ones who represented God, the only ones with the divinely inspired ability to express God's will to the rest of the world, the God of the Bible has bestowed on all mankind his image (remember, the Hebrew word "Adam" is not just the name of the first man, it means "mankind"). Though people are predominantly idolatrous, giving up their place as the representative of God to serve false gods, there is still a sense in which we all represent God and his character. So there is a common dignity that we are obligated to give to everyone, especially those that the rest of society has forgotten or neglected. We as those who follow God loyally are called to be the ones who care for the homeless, fight for justice, work to feed the hungry. Certainly we need to care about and be involved in those sorts of things. But on an even more immediate level, we are to be the ones who make an effort to reach out to and care for the people we see everyday that everyone else seems to forget about or push around. The guy who gets his lunch tray knocked over or his books strewn across the hall. The little freshman that the captain of the varsity squad wants to push around. If we truly believe that all people carry the image of God then we are going to stand up for and reach out to these people.

I'm not claiming this is necessarily an easy thing to do. Neither did Jesus or Isaiah. But if we say we believe one thing and do another we are creating in ourselves a contradiction. As Jesus goes on to say in his sermon, its as if we are a "light" that doesn't "give light."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

"Out of Egypt have I called my son."

So I heard someone make a joke once that pastors always have three lessons at a given service- the one they planned to give, the one they actually give, and the one that afterwards they realize they should have given.

I started out last night in my lesson by reading the above phrase from Hosea 11:1 and saying "this is going to be very important, remember this." When I got home I realized I never really tied that in at the end… So here is what should have been the ending of this lesson:

This phrase from Hosea is used by Matthew to talk about Jesus. When Jesus was born the "acting" king of the Jews (a rather rotten fellow named Herod) heard about him and was extremely worried Jesus would grow up and try to take his throne. So Herod orders all the children about Jesus age killed. But Jesus' family gets word of that and flees to Egypt for safety. When Matthew tells us that they came back, he quotes Hosea (who was talking about Israel coming out of slavery in Egypt, not Jesus fleeing Herod). But the quote brings out something very significant. Jesus is called by God, just as God called to Adam when he was hiding from him in the garden, and called Abraham to be blessing to all mankind, and as Hosea said called Israel out of Egypt to be his people, his representatives to the world. So this makes it all the more significant that this "calling" doesn't stop with Jesus. Jesus calls twelve disciples, and then tells them to go out and call more disciples until the whole world has heard the call to return to mankind's original intention and be God's representatives on earth, his "image-bearers." And that is what our task is, to continue the "calling" of God's people.

Monday, September 7, 2009

What Does It Mean to be Human?

Brief review of what I talked about last week with the youth:

Genesis puts a lot of emphasis on saying that man was made in the image of God. What that means is that man was meant to do the sorts of things God would do, particularly to rule the earth the way God would rule it. However, Adam does not complete this mission. He instead puts his loyalty in other things (and take special note that these things are not necessarily bad in and of themselves) besides God. And this idolatry leads to all kinds of evil spreading throughout the world. For the most part, men have followed in Adam's footsteps. However, Jesus Christ is said to be a second Adam, one who keeps his loyalty where it belongs and makes a way for us to follow him and be the kinds of people we were meant to be.

A unique aspect of our culture from a historical standpoint is the emphasis we put on individuals. Most cultures throughout history have been interested in how their entire society is doing in any given way (economically, politically, spiritually, etc). In modern American society, we seem intently focused on how each individual person is doing and most of the time forget that we are all part of a bigger thing than ourselves. So while this issue is certainly something worth addressing on an individual basis, I want to start by asking a bigger question. In what ways does our society seem to be following in the footsteps of Adam? What are the idols of our society? What are we more loyal to than God?

Then, the more personal question (which I'm not going to make you answer publically unless you really want to), are you personally any different from the rest of our society? Do the idols of our society hold your loyalty as well?

New Chapter For This Blog

I have just recently begun a position as the Youth Director of Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Dora, Alabama. We have a great group of youth and I am really excited about leading and teaching them. I have also decided that I am going to begin using this blog to extend my teaching by posting more thoughts and reflections on what I am teaching and hopefully stirring up some discussion or conversation amongst the youth… assuming they will look at what I post here...

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