fresh bread: basic math

“You cannot serve God and wealth.”

The Pharisees, who were money-lovers, heard all this and sneered at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves before other people, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued by people is deeply offensive to God…. God knows your hearts. What is highly valued by people is deeply offensive to God.” (Luke 16:13b-15 CEB)

In Jesus’s time there were quite a number of people who were exceedingly bad at math. Following are two examples of some of their most elementary calculations:

tragedy + any person = that person must have sinned and clearly God was displeased with them (cf. Luke 13:3-5; etc.)

prosperity + a Jew = that person must be obviously righteous and God is pleased with them to bless them so (Luke 16:10-15; etc.)

But then Jesus showed up, grading papers and teaching what appeared to them to be “new math.” His calculations look like this:

tragedy + any person = doesn’t make anyone more or less of a sinner nor does it indicate God’s approval or displeasure, it just is

prosperity + a Jew = is no indicator whatsoever of a person’s standing with God, but is a context of serious responsibility lined with much greater temptation

A multitude today still have not learned the “new” math. They continue to add up in their head that tragedy is equal to God’s judgment and financial prosperity is something of an indicator of salvation.

And we wonder why greed and despair are so common? Our “figuring of God” is fouled up.

God’s way of adding up things is not our natural way of calculating things and interpreting reality. But then again, he’s the only one with the right answers.

Heavenly Father, deliver us from evil and bring us to the place of right values. May your praise be the sum total of our life. Nothing more nor less. In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.

ct: slavery as salvation

(Reflecting upon Mark 1:14-20, 1 Corinthians 7:17-23,  and Psalm 130)

“Brothers and sisters” denotes the new reality constituted by the movement made possible by Jesus’s announcement that time is now fulfilled. The name of that new reality is “church.” Jesus called the disciples to be apostles so that they could call us to be participants in the new age. A people have been brought into existence across time and space so that the world may know through the work of the Holy Spirit what Jesus has done. The powers of domination have been defeated, having been exposed at the crucifixion as mere pretenders lacking substance. Christians, followers of Jesus, can remain in the conditions in which we find ourselves because we are a people constituted by a new way of life that saves us from those forms of life fueled by pretensions of status and power. …

Christians hunger and thirsts for righteousness and justice, but we are not utopians. Failing to achieve their ideals, utopians and idealists too easily become cynics who, in their frustration, are willing to kill in the name of a good cause. Christians are revolutionaries, but we believe the revolution has happened and we are it.

(Stanley Hauerwas, A Cross-Shattered Church: Reclaiming the Theological Heart of Preaching, pp.102-103)


fresh bread: make every effort

Jesus traveled through cities and villages teaching and making his way to Jerusalem. Someone said to him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?”

Jesus said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow gate. Many, I tell you, will try to enter and won’t be able to.” (Luke 13:22-24 CEB)

This is so like us. We’re curious, perhaps even sincere. We have questions; we just don’t realize they’re not good ones. We like to keep things impersonal. We’re interested in numbers, the bottom line, and, therefore, the odds. We want any mystery removed. When it’s all said and done what we’re interested in is the news and our comfort.

This is so like Jesus. He’s in the know and unquestionably candid. He has answers and he realizes the answers we need to hear are not the answers to the questions we ask. He is relentless in making things personal. Numbers are at best of secondary interest to him and the process is his focus, not the bottom line. He speaks not of possibilities, but only of certainties, and remarkably, this only adds to the mystery. Along the way it’s our attitude and exertion that has his abiding interest.

“Make every effort.”

We like our salvation served up simple, thank you. No blood. No sweat. No tears. To which Jesus replies:

“Make every effort.”

He’s not saying we earn it. He’s not saying we put up half and God puts up half. He’s not saying doing hard work guarantees we won’t do hard time.

He’s saying he knows we’re human, prone to distraction, and often fickle. He’s saying we can fill our life up with many good things and yet waste it by not filling it up with the one good thing that matters supremely. He’s saying God knows if he’s our greatest love in life or just a curiosity or mere matter of interest of ours.

“Make every effort.”

And so we should pray.

God my Father in heaven, in the name of your Son and my Savior Jesus, help me in the making of you to be my whole effort in life. Amen.

ct: the appeal of Judas

(Reflecting on John 12:1-8 and Philippians 3:4b-14)

… we cannot help but think, thief though he was, Judas was right – the costly perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor. If we are honest we cannot resist the conclusion: Judas is appealing. …

This means we are profoundly troubled if not offended by Jesus’s response to Judas: “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” We wish Jesus had not said that. …

Yet note: the one who said “You always have the poor with you” was poor himself. That Mary saw fit to bestow a lavish gift on a poor person, a poor person who was soon to die, is sure to be celebrated – particularly by the poor. One of their own receives a lavish gift. One of their own is celebrated. So, if you are poor, what Mary does is good.

It is of course true that Christians have used this text to teach the poor to accept their status by suggesting if they do so they will ultimately receive a greater reward than those well off. The church has also glossed over Jesus’s response to Judas by not asking, “What if we did more than care for the poor?” or, “What if we celebrated the poor?”

That such questions are not asked reflects a church that has forgotten that Christianity is determinatively the faith of the poor. That is why we, the moderately well off, are puzzled by the undeniable reality that the church across time and space has been constituted by the poor. We, the moderately well off, are tempted to think, in response to Mary’s gift, “What a waste.” Surely a more utilitarian gift would have been more appropriate. But the poor know this is Jesus, the one who shares their lot, so what could be more appropriate than this lavish gift, bestowed on this man to prepare his body for death? (Stanley Hauerwas, A Cross-Shattered Church: Reclaiming the Theological Heart of Preaching, p.95)

fresh bread: revisiting prayer 101

Today’s thought in the Fresh Bread devotional series is deceptively simple: memorize Luke’s version of what we know today as “The Lord’s Prayer” and memorize it as it appears in the Common English Bible. Meditate on its meaning and pray this prayer throughout today. Let it inform your prayers daily.

Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

Jesus told them, “When you pray, say:

‘Father, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom. Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation.’” (Luke 11:1-4 CEB)

ct: only fear can drive out fear

We do live in a fear driven country. After September 11, 2001, America is a country governed by fear. We are told we are the strongest and freest people in the world. Yet it seems that our strength only makes us vulnerable, requiring that we acquire more power in order to protect the power we have. Americans want to be safe. Americans want to be secure. But we live in a dangerous world. So Americans would have the rest of the world live in danger so that we may be a people who do not have to acknowledge, when all is said and done, that we will all be dead.

I recognize that what I have said about our fear of death may be exaggerated, but I suspect the very discomfort I feel saying what I have just said, as well as this discomfort I suspect you feel hearing what I have said, is an indication that there is some truth in what I have said. We would prefer not to acknowledge that our lives are shaped by fear, and, in particular, the fear of death. Moreover, even if such is the case it does little good to direct attention to the fears that shape our lives. You do not get over being afraid by trying not to be afraid. Indeed we usually find that attempts to will our way out of being afraid only make us all the more fearful.

Let us thank God, therefore, that God would have us fear him – and that by fearing him, as Psalm 111 tells us, we might begin to recognize as foolishness the fears that characterize the powers of this world. For only the fear of God can drive out the fears that enslave us.

Stanley Hauerwas, A Cross-Shattered Church: Reclaiming the Theological Heart of Preaching, pp.90-91