Posts tagged Christ

The Power to Overcome – 6/24/12

Jesus calms a storm

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Riverside United Methodist Church

Pastor Douglas Asbury

1 Samuel 17.1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49:  The shepherd, David, uses the tools of his trade and the power of the Lord to defeat the giant warrior, Goliath.  “The Lord does not save by sword and spear” (verse 47).

Psalm 9.11-20:  The psalm celebrates God’s defense of those who are afflicted by catching the offenders in the traps they have made.

2 Corinthians 6.1-13:  Tension abounds.  Paul argues that his suffering for the sake of the gospel provides all the credentials he needs for the Corinthians to listen to him.  The ball is in their court now.

Mark 4.35-41:  Jesus treats a storm the same way he treats demons.  He rebukes it, and tells it to shut up.  Then Jesus rebukes the disciples for their fear — not just of the storm, but of what Jesus did to end it.

David and Goliath: The Law of Tooth and Claw
The Israelis and Arabs realized that, if they continued fighting, they would someday end up destroying the whole world. So they decided to settle their dispute with an ancient practice: a duel of two, like David and Goliath. This “duel” would be a dog fight. The negotiators agreed each side would take five years to develop the best fighting dog they could. The dog that won the fight would earn its people the right to rule the disputed areas. The losing side would have to lay down its arms for good.

The Arabs found the biggest, meanest Dobermans and Rottweilers in the world. They bred them together and then crossed their offspring with the meanest Siberian wolves. They selected only the biggest, strongest puppy of each litter, fed it the best food and killed all the other puppies. They used steroids and trainers in their quest for the perfect killing machine. After the five years were up, they had a dog that needed steel prison bars on its cage. Only expert trainers could handle this incredibly nasty and ferocious beast.

When the day of the big dog-fight finally arrived, the Israelis showed up with a very strange-looking animal, a Dachshund that was ten feet long! Everyone at the dogfight arena felt sorry for the Israelis. No one there seriously thought this weird, odd-looking animal stood any chance against the growling beast over in the Arab camp. All the bookies took one look and predicted that the Arab dog would win in less than a minute.

As the cages were opened, the Dachshund slowly waddled toward the center of the ring. The Arab dog leaped from its cage and charged the giant wiener-dog. As he got to within an inch of the Israeli dog, the Dachshund opened its jaws and swallowed the Arab beast whole in one bite. There was nothing left but a small puff of fur from the Arab killer dog’s tail floating to the ground.

The stunned crowd of international observers, bookies and media personnel let out a collective gasp of disbelief and surprise.

The Arabs approached the Israelis, muttering and shaking their heads in disbelief. “We do not understand,” said their leader, “Our top scientists and breeders worked for five long years with the meanest, biggest Dobermans, Rottweilers and Siberian wolves and they developed an incredible killing machine of a dog!”

The Israelis replied. “Well, for five years, we have had a team of Jewish plastic surgeons from Boca Raton working to make an alligator look like a Dachshund.”

This story, along with the story of David and Goliath, the story of Jesus calming the raging storm, and the Apostle Paul justifying his ministry in the apparent face of criticism by some Corinthians due to his background and things that had happened to him on account of his ministry, speaks of two different ways of addressing a challenge. On the one hand are those who believe that a challenge is best avoided, especially if it is judged that there is no way to win; and on the other hand are those who believe that one must answer force with force; but in the case of these stories, the “force” used by those who employ the power of God looks differently from that used by their opponents. The wily Jews modify an animal that no dog, however ferocious and powerful, could likely overcome. Little David with his stones faces gigantic, armored Goliath. The very human Jesus faces the full force of the storm and of the disciples disbelief and fears. And Paul challenges the many who think him less a representative of the living God and Christ the Savior than many others with better credentials.

One of the major points of these stories is something that Paul, in discussing God’s using the cross – an instrument of Roman oppression and reign of terror – as a means of salvation for all humanity, refers to as the “foolishness of God” that is “wiser than human wisdom” and the “weakness of God” that is “stronger than human strength” (1 Cor 1.25). Those who rely on human perceptions and power, we are told, will forever be at the mercy of their own limitations; but those who trust God both for the divine vision of how God desires things to be and for the wherewithal to bring that vision into reality will always succeed, even in the face of what some may believe to be overwhelming odds.

David, Jesus and Paul had figured out that their taking responsibility for doing their divinely ordained part in bringing God’s purposes to fruition was essential to the accomplishment of the task at hand. Had they reneged, the Philistines would have won, Jesus never would have been born, nor would Paul, and history would have taken a completely different course. None of us would even be here, let alone be Christian or worshiping in this place at this time, had these men not done what God was calling them to do.

What will people a hundred or a thousand years in the future be doing on account of how we respond – or don’t respond – to God’s call to us to be a light pointing the way to Christ in our community, to be salt that preserves what is good and enhances the goodness that life brings by adding its own goodness to what exists?

It is a good thing that we are taking care of neglected maintenance on and around the church, that people are making the church and grounds attractive, that we are doing what we can to fund the church’s ministries. At the same time, we need continually to ask ourselves: what challenges are we fearful of facing, because our minds are earthbound, and, like the disciples, we believe someone else must step in to rebuke the wind and waves, to slay the goliaths, to spread God’s word, because we are inadequate to do so? God has called us to be faithful Davids and Pauls and disciples of Jesus the Christ, to step out in faith to address those challenges without fear, trusting that God will provide the wherewithal to overcome them.

May we not be pre-Pentecost disciples who fearfully cling to the tossing boat but, through the Spirit of Christ given at Pentecost, command the wind and the waves to cease and accomplish God’s purpose in our midst.

Supporting our Muslim sisters and brothers

I just returned from a four-day session of the Northern Illinois Annual Conference, during which I wore a kufi cap, which is a prayer cap worn by Muslim men. Several people asked me why I was wearing it, and I decided to ask Bishop Jung for a few minutes of “personal privilege” so I could share my reasons with all the delegates who were present. The following is the text of what I said. I would welcome any comment you might have.

Thank you, Bishop Jung, for giving me the chance to share a witness.

I am Douglas Asbury, pastor of Riverside United Methodist Church.

A month ago tomorrow I was blessed, along with Bishop Jung and other of our fellow United Methodists, to attend the Seventh Interfaith Unity Banquet cosponsored by our Annual Conference and the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago that was held at the Islamic Foundation in Villa Park.

Our theme for the evening was “Freedom of Religion(s) in a Pluralistic Society: Religion and moral debate in the public square: Sharia, Church, and State.” Our excellent after-dinner speakers were Dr. Barry Bryant, Associate Professor of United Methodist and Wesleyan Studies at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, and Azam Nizamuddin, Esquire, Attorney and principal in The Law Office of Azam Nizamuddin, P.C., and an Adjunct Professor of Islamic Law at Loyola University in Chicago.

At the conclusion of the dinner and talks, I sought a way we United Methodist Christians could affirm our bonds with our Muslim sisters and brothers. After checking with some of those Muslims there, I concluded that one way would be to choose some select occasions on which to wear clothing associated in our culture with those who practice Islam – the hijab, the beautiful scarf-like head and shoulder covering many Muslim women wear – or the kufi or kufi cap, such as I am wearing, which are prayer caps worn by Muslim men. I was assured that no offense would be taken, were we to do such a thing.

Thus, by my wearing this kufi cap, I wanted to bear witness during these sessions to the support many United Methodists in our Northern Illinois Conference have shown our Muslim sisters and brothers over the years, and to encourage others to find occasions on which to do so in either this or other ways.

There is too much ignorance of Islam and there are too many unfounded fears of Muslims in our country to take lightly the ongoing efforts of some – including some of our fellow Christians – to stereotype and malign those in our nation who practice Islam. If we do not take responsibility to address the bearing of false witness against our Muslim neighbors, then we are no better than those who are actively seeking to erect barriers to their full and joyful inclusion in this grand social experiment called the United States of America. Not only that, but we are failing to bear witness to our Lord Jesus Christ, who says to us, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

One book I recommend to you to become knowledgeable about the history, beliefs and practices of Islam is “No god but God:  The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam” by Reza Aslan, which you can order through Cokesbury.

Thank you.

Learning by Example – 4/29/12

Jesus, the Good Shepherd

Sermon for Sunday, 29 April 2012

Riverside United Methodist Church

Pastor Douglas Asbury

Acts 4.5-12: The leaders who had Peter arrested for healing the lame man and proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus demand by what authority he acted. Peter boldly proclaimed it was by the power and name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, and that all salvation there is comes through him.

Psalm 23: A familiar psalm expressing complete confidence in the love and power of God in facing all the situations of life.

1 John 3.16-24: By the authority and power of the Risen Christ, we are led to love not in words only, but also in truth and in action.

John 10.11-18: The authority of the Risen Lord, the Good Shepherd over his flock, comes from knowing his sheep by name, caring for them, and laying down his own life to protect them. Jesus also notes his “flock” includes people not in “this fold,” and he extends the same mission and care to them.

As the Twig Is Bent – found on 28 Apr 2012
A father found his small son looking very unhappy.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
The son replied, “I can’t get along with your wife.”

Though the website on which I found this little story didn’t give it a name, I’ve titled it “As the Twig Is Bent.” In his 16th century text, “A Clarification of the French Language,” English linguist John Palsgrave wrote, “A man may bende a wande while it is grene and make it straight though it be neuer so croked.” In the 18th century English poet Alexander Pope wrote to one of his correspondents, “’Tis Education forms the common mind, Just as the Twig is bent, the Tree’s inclined.” And in Proverbs 22.6 we read, “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray.”

However true all these observations are, they seem to focus primarily on the cognitive process of learning – teaching children something that the children will remember and process and follow as a rule to guide them through the remainder of their lives. And though when we hear these things, we all know that children break rules – in fact, at some point in our lives we’ve probably all said, “Rules were made to be broken,” though some of us have an easier time breaking rules than others – and that the rules by which we choose to live can – and usually do – change over time, either because we change them, or they are changed for us. But essentially we all know the truth of the adage, because we’ve seen it at work in our own lives and in the lives of others around us – as the twig is bent, so grows the tree.

And while it is true that the rules learned early in life do serve to guide us and others throughout our lives, it is even truer that the examples we are given by others are actually more powerful influences on us than are the rules we learn. In a very real sense, the rules set by example have a greater hold on us than do the rules we learn by rote and repeat over and over again to ourselves and others.

The truth of this concept is a major part of the reason the frequency of divorce has increased over the decades of the 20th and 21st centuries and the reason fewer people have chosen to marry, even when a child or children result from the relationship. It’s a major element in the fact that we see wars and other conflicts continuously being waged in various parts of the world and so infrequently see a peaceful resolution of problems. That is, the people who have set the patterns of our common life have given us more examples of conflict and of addressing disagreements in a conflictual manner than they have of peaceableness and of coming to agreements that are satisfying to all parties.

Why is this the case? Part of it is because of the way we are “wired.” Psychologist Carl Jung noted from his studies of the human psyche and human behavior that, because as children we do not carefully distinguish ourselves from our environment but, instead, see it all of a piece with ourselves, that education by example is powerful in its formative effects on us, as we absorb it without questioning whether it is beneficial or harmful.

In the more lucid and self-aware moments of our later years we know this. How many of us have said at some point something like this: “That’s my mom (or dad) talking,” or “That’s the parent coming out in me,” or even “Oh, no! I’ve turned into my mother!”? It isn’t as though we have willingly become like one or the other of our parents – or grandparents or whoever it is who nurtured us; it is that they established the patterns in us by their example, and we unconsciously adopted them and are even unable to see, let alone to question, them until we have attained a certain level of maturity and autonomy that allows us to differentiate ourselves from our environment. Some people live their lives so enmeshed in their environments that they never question their behavior patterns and are therefore unable – and, most likely, unwilling – to change them, no matter how dysfunctional and sinful others might judge them to be.

In 1925 Carl Jung wrote, “In the last analysis, all education rests on this fundamental fact of psychic identity, and in all cases the deciding factor is this seemingly automatic contagion through example [my emphasis]. This is so important that even the best methods of conscious education can sometimes be completely nullified by bad example.”

And Jung and his sometime-teacher, Sigmund Freud, suggested that this process involves what they termed “identification,” that is, the psychological process whereby a person internalizes traits, attitudes, and behavioral patterns of another person whom the person consciously or unconsciously wishes to emulate.

So, if we want to emulate those who have successful marriages, for instance, we will not only ask them for the rules they followed in their relationship – though those can be helpful – but we will try to develop our relationship in ways that reflect the ways they relate, changing the rules we follow in order to achieve the quality of relationship we see.

If we as a nation want to resolve conflicts without waging war, we will emulate the practices – however rare they may be in history – through which other nations achieved that end.

Currently delegates of United Methodism from around the world are meeting in Tampa, Florida in our quadrennial General Conference, during which they review and establish a plan for the denomination for the next four years. Every four years since 1972, we have wrestled over the issue of the church’s view of same-sex relationships and the involvement of LGBT persons in the church. In our country, Lutherans and Presbyterians and Episcopalians and UCCs have lessened, if not eliminated, the conflict in their denominations over these issues, but we haven’t. The question for us is, is this the year in which we will follow their example, or will we continue to follow our rules that keep us conflicted? We’ll see what has happened when the Conference ends next Friday.

Part of the reason I have continued our observance of the weekly Eucharist – Holy Communion – is that, while I believe scripture reading and preaching are important and essential to our spiritual formation, I believe Christ is present to us in the sacrament of the Eucharist in ways that form us beyond the spoken word. As we receive these elements that we set apart as Christ’s body and his blood, as we see and touch and taste and smell those things that make Christ present to us in a more physical sense than simply reading and listening, let us also allow that presence to form us more fully into his image and likeness, so that, overcoming the effects of our having been mis-bent through the inadequate examples we were given in earlier years, we may be re-formed even more fully than before into Christ’s image and give him praise and glory through the ways in which we reveal him to all whom we encounter, or all to whom we reach out in acts of love and mercy.


When the Light Finally Comes On – 2/19/2012

Sermon for Sunday, 19 February 2012, Transfiguration Sunday
Riverside United Methodist Church
Pastor Douglas Asbury

2 Kings 2.1-12:  A story of discipleship and transition of leadership.  Elisha dutifully stays with and follows his master, Elijah, knowing that Elijah is about to die.  He seeks one final blessing from his master — a double portion of his spirit. A chariot of fire receives Elijah into the sky.

Psalm 50.1-6:  God calls the covenant people to assemble for a word of judgment and redemption.

2 Corinthians 4.3-6:  Paul reminds the Christians at Corinth that his message was never about eloquent delivery, but always about “Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.” Just as the “god of this world” blinds those who do not receive the gospel, the true God of all opens the eyes of those who do.

Mark 9.2-9:  Six days after explaining that he would be executed in Jerusalem, Jesus leads three of his disciples up a mountain where “he was transfigured before them.” These disciples saw Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah and did not know how to respond. A voice from the cloud instructed them to listen to Jesus.

Mississippi Student Absentees
These are real notes written from parents in a Mississippi school district. (Spellings have been left intact.)
My son is under a doctor’s care and should not take P.E. today. Please execute him.
Please excuse Lisa for being absent. She was sick and I had her shot.
Dear School: Please ekscuse John Henry being absent on Jan. 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, and also 33
Please excuse Roland from P.E. for a few days. Yesterday he fell out of a tree and misplaced his hip.
John has been absent because he had two teeth taken out of his face.
Please excuse Jimmy for being. It was his father’s fault.
Please excuse Jennifer for missing school yesterday. We forgot to get the Sunday paper off the porch, and when we found it Monday, we thought it was Sunday.
Sally won’t be in school a weak from Friday. We have to attend her funeral.

Each of these excuses is a serious attempt on the part of a parent to let the school know a valid reason for their child to be excused from school or from taking part in some aspect of the school program or not to be penalized for being late. They are funny to us because, though we either know or can figure out what the parents meant, the way they phrased it sets up a somewhat different picture of reality; and it is the difference between the picture conveyed by the words and the reality they sought to convey that makes the statements humorous.

When we first hear the statement, we think, “They can’t mean that!” Then, when our minds try to make sense of the odd statement, and we realize the context of the message and add or change a word or two, and we come up with what was meant, we laugh. The light comes on, and all is clear. We realize that Jimmy’s mother isn’t asking for Jimmy to be excused for “being” – but for “being late.” She’s not blaming Jimmy’s father for siring him; she’s blaming him for making him late to school.

In the process of figuring this out, we say we are “in the dark” at first about what is meant, and then “the light comes on,” and we understand the reality in a way that at first we didn’t because the phraseology didn’t make sense – or it made sense, but it was unbelievable. We needed the “aha! moment” in order to come to a knowledge of the truth of the matter. Without that “aha! moment,” we would have remained clueless.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “aha! experience” as “a moment of sudden insight or discovery; the sudden finding of a solution to a problem; also, aha moment, reaction, etc.”

Oprah Winfrey, who has talked about such “aha moments” with many of her guests, defines them as “flashes of understanding.” More extensively, she has described them as “unforgettable, connect-the-dots moments, when everything suddenly, somehow changed.”

As we heard the gospel story this morning about the experience of the disciples on the mountain when Jesus was transfigured in their presence, and they saw Elijah and Moses with him, we heard that, at first, they didn’t know what to make of it all. Peter piped up and proposed that he and the others set up tents, so the three great men in front of them could have places to stay. But then, a cloud came over them, and a voice emerged from the cloud telling them to listen to what Jesus had to say. After the cloud lifted, Jesus looked again as he had before the transfiguration, and Elijah and Moses were gone. At that point Jesus told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until after “the Son of Man” – by which Jesus was referring to himself – had been raised from the dead – an event that was still quite far in the future and not yet anticipated nor comprehended by the disciples.

The time of viewing the transfiguration of Jesus wasn’t an “aha! moment” for the disciples; but it was an essential element of the aha! moment the disciples were to have following the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  The changes in Jesus witnessed by Peter, James and John on that mountain, including his encounters with Elijah and Moses, made little sense to the three disciples when they occurred; but they made all the sense in the world to them after they had also become witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. It was after that event that they could tell what had happened on that mountain and would then have a basis upon which to interpret it rightly. They could tell the other disciples, as well as all who would listen to them and might become disciples, that Jesus was a lawgiver comparable to Moses for the Jewish people, and that he was the prophet of God who signified the return of Elijah that heralded the time when God would make everything right in the world for God’s people. What resulted from these two moments in the disciples’ lives – the transfiguration and the resurrection of Jesus – was what we know as Pentecost – the day on which the disciples were filled with God’s Spirit and began bringing good news to the world of God’s salvation from sin and want through the power that had been revealed in Jesus the Christ and that was now present in them and available to all who would come to put their faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Now, not all “aha! moments” have the import that this dual experience of the disciples. Most, in fact, have much less impact; and yet they are not necessarily to be dismissed as unimportant or lacking in value. Take a look at the insert, on which I’ve printed ten aha! moments of an Australian woman named Mia. Some of them have specifically religious content (6, 8); the others don’t, though the last one is a quote from Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California.

On the other side of the insert I’ve given space for you to put your own name and to list ten aha! moments of your own. I want to encourage you to look back over your life and to jot down messages that have come to you in times of challenge or struggle or confusion or darkness that have resulted in something like a light coming on in your life, so that you knew what your next step needed to be; or so that a concern was relieved; or so that an answer was given to a question that had perplexed you. You may be able to think of fewer than ten, or you may have many more. Use the sheet however you find it appropriate for you.

What I want to claim today is that God is always speaking to us; but there are times when we are more open to listening to God, and those are often the more difficult times in our lives. When things are going in ways with which we are comfortable, or at times when we feel in control, though God may be speaking to us, we often are not in a mood to listen. It is often only at times when things have gotten out of control, or we’re thrown into a situation with which we don’t know how to deal, that we become open to that voice of God that conveys some necessary wisdom to us that we otherwise would have missed.

We might still miss the wisdom of God. We might just turn back to some other prejudice or take a route we remember seeing someone else take in a similar situation and apply it to our own, and in the process ignore the light of divine wisdom God is making available to us. But if, like the disciples, we understand that God is continually revealing divine wisdom to us to be applied at the right time in our lives to enable us to do what God has placed us on earth to accomplish, then the likelihood that we fulfill our divine purpose with the aid of God’s aha! moments is increased; and we can trust that God is with us always as guide and friend.

Next week we begin our Lenten soup lunch and book study. The little books by Bishop Rueben Job that we will be using for the study are collections of Bishop Job’s aha! moments in terms of how to live the Christian life with faithfulness and joy. I hope you’ll join us as a part of your Lenten discipline and thereby open yourself to the possibility that you’ll increase your own aha! moments to the glory of God and your own growth in the experience of the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.


1. I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. – Maya Angelou
2. Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I’ll try again tomorrow.” – Mary Anne Radmacher
3. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. – Nelson Mandela
4. The most influential person who will talk to you all day, is you. So, you should be very careful what you say to you. – Zig Ziglar
5. Wisdom is knowing what to do next; skill is knowing how to do it; and virtue is doing it. – David Starr Jordan
6. Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be snapped. Change is inevitable; don’t get too rigid. Flow with what God is doing today. – Christine Caine
7. It is wise to direct your anger towards problems, not people; to focus your energies on solutions, not excuses. – William A. Ward
8. Hope is not when you compare your suffering to someone who suffers worse than you. Hope is when you compare your suffering to the infinite, immeasurable love and grace of God. – Nick Vujicic
9. In character building, you will not find justice and fairness being upheld for your own convenience. If you focus on gaining them for yourself, you’ll be frustrated in your pursuit. On the other hand, if you strive to do the right thing with the right attitude, you’ll find yourself grow amidst the injustice. – KP
10. When you die, you won’t regret your unfulfilled dreams, just your unattempted ones. The first is reality; the second is tragedy. – Rick Warren

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To Be Always under Instruction – 3/11/2012

Sermon for Sunday, 11 March 2012
Riverside United Methodist Church

Pastor Douglas Asbury

Exodus 20.1-17: God speaks the “Ten Words” (as they are known in Judaism), beginning with an important identity statement: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

Psalm 19: A psalm declaring Creation’s praise of God and our praise of God’s instruction (“Torah”).

1 Corinthians 1.18-25: Paul notes what must have been obvious — proclaiming a crucified man as Messiah and Savior can be a stretch for all people, Jewish or Gentile. But for those who “get it,” it is a powerful, life-changing message that opens up a new understanding of God and the world.

John 2.13-22: Jesus makes Temple worship impossible at the busiest time of the year — the Passover sacrifice. He confronts those who had turned the Temple courtyard into a marketplace, and they ask him what sign of authority he has for doing this. He tells them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

Phases of Teachability
An alumnus from a certain school tells this story: When I first started college, the Dean came in and said “Good Morning” to all of us. When we echoed the words back to him, he responded “Ah, you’re Freshmen.”
He explained. “When you walk in and say good morning, and they say good morning back, it’s Freshmen. When they put their newspapers down and open their books, it’s Sophomores. When they look up so they can see the instructor over the tops of the newspapers, it’s Juniors. When they put their feet up on the desks and keep reading, it’s Seniors.”

“When you walk in and say ‘good morning,’ and they write it down, it’s graduate students.”


Obviously this story has some truth to it, and it is also a gross generalization. Not all college students start out being obediently respectful of authority figures and move through various stages of realism and cynicism to the point of flauting authority, let alone becoming automatons when they seek a graduate degree. Some students actually like the educational process and involve themselves in it fully; and others never do, so they would continue reading their newspapers, even as freshmen.
But let’s look beyond the story, because some people these days go to graduate school in an attempt to get a better job or to prepare for a more specialized career than would be available to them with only a bachelor’s degree. Some of those even go on to get a Ph.D., M.D., D.D.S., or other professional degree in order to become knowledgeable in an even more limited field.

But among all these students of whatever level of study or achievement, only a relative handful fall in love with their field and study for love’s sake rather than for the sake of the expertise or the achievement or the prestige or the influence or whatever else they decide they want to “do with” the things they’re learning.

As any good teacher knows – and many others who aren’t teachers but who have had many – the teacher who is in love with her or his subject can be both a frustrating and an inspiring person under whom to study. A teacher who has fallen in love with the subject wants, obviously, to have students learn about the subject in great detail. And yet, the teacher who loves the subject wants more than that; such a teacher wants the students, too, to fall in love with the subject, just as the teacher has.

Of course, that doesn’t always happen. In fact, it might be said that most of any subject-loving teacher’s students fail to fall in love with that teacher’s subject. I suppose this is to be expected. There have to be some sympathetic vibrations between student and subject for love to emerge in the studying, and not every student will be on the wavelength of every subject studied.

But the second thing a good teacher wants for the students is that he or she knows as much about the object of the teacher’s love as possible so as to live responsibly in the world in relation to that subject. And beyond that, the teacher wants each student to know that it is possible to fall in love with learning, and particularly, learning about something that touches one’s heart and calls forth the best efforts one can muster.

This comes across in the scriptures for today. Though Moses gave the Ten Commandments as a set of directives, the psalmist celebrated the commandments of God as things that “revived the soul,” that “make wise the simple,” that “rejoice the heart,” and that “enlighten the eyes.” Can you hear in such images the love the psalmist had for what many learned simply as a set of teachings or rules that some followed but to which many gave only lip service – like the juniors and seniors in the opening story?
The Apostle Paul goes beyond the psalmist, even, by directing his hearers’ attention not to a set of teachings but to an act of sacrifice – to the cross of Christ. This reality, he noted, was a stumbling block to those who wanted signs of power and foolishness to those who sought sensible wisdom. And yet, Paul writes, “to those who are called, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

How, then, are we to understand a crucified God as power and wisdom? This is the challenge before us. The Church through the centuries has had conversations and conflicts over this very thing that have tossed it about and split it from time to time; and no one can truly be said to have the one right answer as to how a crucified human at one point in history can be all the divine power and wisdom people need, whoever and wherever they are.

But those who fall in love with seeking the answer to this question are those who have the greatest chance of coming to live in the way we were meant to live. Those who allow this act of Jesus giving himself over to death for the sake of the sins of the world to challenge them and to draw them into a love relationship with the God whom Jesus presented and presents to us will find that the power and wisdom of God are not the things after which we must quest through study, but they are the gifts of God to those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose.

As we receive Holy Communion today and continue to do so in the coming weeks, I invite you to consider that it is a feast celebrating God’s love for us and inviting us more deeply into that love relationship offered in Jesus Christ.

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