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Archive for May, 2017

The summer after I graduated from high school, a friend of mine told me about a trail off Highway one that led to an awesome beach and some of the best surfing around. He asked if I was interested in seeing it. Of course, I said. When we got to Highway 1 along the coast just north of Santa Cruz, he began slowing down then pulling off the side of the road, but never stopping. After a half hour of this I finally asked him, “Do you know where you’re going?”

“Well, sort of,” he said, “Rachel said it was next to a big rock.”  Just for the record, along the northern California coast there are lots of big rocks.

“What else did she say?” I asked.

“She said there was a big sign before the rock that said, “Danninger’s Rest.”

“How big?” I asked. He shrugged. “Where on the highway is it? I mean this Highway goes the entire length of the coast.” He looked at me, smiled and shrugged again.  He had no idea where sign, the rock or the trail was. “Now, what?” I asked him. He shrugged.

He had directions in his hands, but he didn’t know what do to do them or how to use them.

Similarly, Saul, also, had what he had been given in his hands, but he did not know what to do with them or how to use them. He just thought he did. Standing on the sidelines watching the enraged crowd throwing stones at Stephen, Saul thought he knew what he was doing was right. He is firm in knowing exactly who he is and knowing what he believes and trusts and he was just as firm in defending his faith. Saul tells anyone who will listen, “I was circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee.”  Saul is an Israelite who traces his ancestry back to the tribe of Benjamin, one of the twelve tribes of Israel. His parents were honorable and observant members of the house Israel circumcising him on the right day and socializing him in the customs of his family, clan, and people. He was firmly educated in the strict tradition of Pharisaic study of the law, both written and oral as well as the tradition of rabbinic interpretation of Scripture. He will also tell you he is blameless under the law. That his loyalty is to God and he strictly adheres to his duties to God. Saul is so supremely confident in what he is doing that he doesn’t question or express any concern that what the enraged mob is doing by stoning Stephen might be wrong. He watches the mob pick up their stones and rocks in their hands, seeing in their rocks and stones the marker showing him what do with what has in his hands.

The disciples aren’t so sure. They have question upon question. Jesus tells them he is going to a place where they cannot go, but it is a place they know and they know the way to the place where Jesus is going. Thomas asks his question first, “We don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?

Thomas asks the question, but he is expressing all the disciples’ confusion and bewilderment that Thursday evening when they ate the Passover meal. Jesus was speaking of leaving them. They wanted directions. They needed answers. Some specific ones. Jesus spoke about where he was going. And that they would know the way. However, all the disciples knew were their questions. They simply don’t understand what Jesus is talking about. Yes, he spent three years teaching them through sermons and parables, even stopping to explain the meaning of the parables in clear and concise language, and he taught them by his actions, so they might put two and two together and come up with the answer. But, they didn’t understand. He even told them exactly why they were going to Jerusalem and what was going to happen to him. But they when they look at what as in their hands they simply didn’t understand what to do with it.

In seminary, we often jokingly referred to the disciples, “as the twelve guys who just don’t get it.” Yet, we are just like them. We, too, look at what we have in or hands, what we have been given and we want directions about how to use all we have received. Perhaps, a map laid out in black and white or better yet, in living color. A map, which can be read and studied and understood. Thomas’ question is a good one not just for the disciples, but for us, too. We are in the same boat they are in. The stormy sea of questions threatening to swamp them is the same stormy sea threatening to swamp us. Our questions cause us to worry about what we are supposed to be doing. This is the reason there is so much spiritual emptiness in the world today and why so many people seek answers anywhere they can get them.

However, too often we fail to ask the most significant and simplest question of all, “What is in your hand?”

For the mob of people enraged at Stephen and afraid of what Stephen has said, they have rocks in their hands to use as weapons of intolerance. Now, if you asked them why they were doing what they were doing they could give an answer, the answer that would reveal their worldview. The same could be said of Saul. Every answer he would give would define his worldview. Even Stephen and the rest of Christ’s followers’ answers would define their worldview because everybody has a worldview. “Everybody,” to quote Rick Warren,” is betting on something.” And, he is right. Everybody is betting on something. You and I, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, liberals, conservatives, supply side economists, Keynesian economists, free market economists or mercantile economists, doctors. Lawyers, accountants, adherents of non-violence and those who think violence is answer to every problem, white-supremacists, democrats, republicans, Neo-Paganists, and neo-Nazis are all betting our lives on something. That something is our world view which influences all our decisions, our relationships, our behaviors, our level of confidence and everything that becomes our life that we reveal in telling the stories of our life. And, the real test of whether our worldview gives us peace is not how we act in the good times, but how we act at the funeral because you can’t fake it at the end of your life.

This is the reason the critical question I think we ought to ask ourselves is, “what do we have in our hands?” The reason this is, I believe, the critical question is because it is God’s question as Rick Warren, pastor at Saddleback Church mentioned during a 2009 talk. Going back to the Exodus story and Moses’ conversation with God at the burning bush, God asks Moses what he has in his hands. Moses says, “A staff.” God tells Moses to throw his staff down, so Moses does that and the staff becomes a snake, then God tells Moses to pick up the snake and Moses does and the snake becomes his staff again. This staff will be the vehicle for every one of miracles or plagues to happen in Egypt. What is important about the staff is that it contains Moses’ identity. Moses is a shepherd and the staff is a symbol of his identity. The staff is also a symbol of his wealth, which are the flock of sheep he and his family depends upon for food and clothing. Finally, the staff is a symbol of his influence because he uses to move the sheep either by pulling or poking. So, what Moses has in his hands- his identity, his wealth and his influence-God will use what Moses has in his hands to benefit the Hebrews by sending Moses and his staff to Egypt to liberate the Hebrews from slavery and genocide.

That is what God intends for us to do and that message becomes clear in reading Psalm 72, a prayer of Solomon, who asks for wealth, wisdom, power, prestige, for nations to bow down to him, which sounds pretty self-involved, but Solomon asks for these gifts to be given to him so he can care for the widow, the orphan, the poor, the migrant or immigrant, the prisoner because none of these folks have the wealth, the prestige or influence or power to speak up or care for themselves and make the community a better place for everyone. They need the king to stand up and speak for them because no one else will listen if Solomon doesn’t.  They need Solomon to provide justice and well-being for them because they cannot do it for themselves. This is what leadership is by the way.

Leadership is about serving others and the stewardship of resources to be used for the benefit of the well-being of the entire community, not to benefit a few folks at the top at the expense of everyone else. Leaders, like Solomon, are to act as God’s representatives by treating people the way God treats people with loving kindness, restorative and equal justice, persuasion, patience so the community will be whole. Leaders, like Solomon, are to look at what they have been given into their hands-their identity, background, family, income, abilities, influence, network, creativity, opportunities, education, intelligence, then they need to decide how they will use them? Will they use them like rocks to destroy life? Will they use them to watch passively as life is destroyed? Will they use them to make the world a better place?

But, it’s not just leaders who need to answer that question because we all are holding what we have been given in our hands, so we might be use all of them to make the world a better place either as an engineer, a doctor, lawyer, accountant, teacher or whatever we have been created to be. We just need to look at what we have in our hands, then decide to use what we have been given to make the community and world a better place for everyone. I pray, we choose well according to God’s way.

(Rick Warren’s talk in 2009 provided some direction for this post and I think his suggestions about what we have received and how we use those gifts is important as is an understanding that followers of Christ are to be both good stewards as well as servant leaders whose aim is the well being of the entire creation.)

 

 

 

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