Sunday, October 31, 2010

SHOW ME THE MONEY!

A sermon based upon Luke 19: 1-10
Dr. Charles J. Tomlin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
October 31th, 2010; Proper 26

Cable News network CNBC, recently aired a few specials about American Greed and the most notorious financial scams and scandals of our times.  One of those documentaries focused upon the notorious Bernie Madoff, who not only “made off” with millions of investor dollars in an illegal Ponzi scheme, but who now resides in a North Carolina prison.   When I scanned through the story two major moments caught my attention:  One was the moment when Madoff was said to have finally apologized to his victims for the hurt he had caused them.  Up to that point he had seemed boastful, cold, and unscathed by his crime, but that image had changed.  

What next caught my attention was one of the victims response to Madoff’s apology, telling the cameras, “I don’t want an apology, I just want him to “show me the money.”  You could hear the desperation in her voice.   She was saying the same kind of thing Cuba Gooding’s character Bob Tidwell tells Jerry McGuire played by Tom Cruise, when the football Tidwell wants to know whether or not there is real “value” in staying with and working with Jerry as his agent.   Show me the money! Tidwell repeats over and over.  Like Tidwell, this woman says the only thing that would be real for Madoff’s would be if he would “show the money!” 
                                                                                           
In some ways you can compare the scandal surrounding Bernie Madoff to the scandals that surrounded “tax collectors” during Jesus’ day.  What makes Zacchaeus especially stand out is that Scripture calls him “a chief tax collector” and also affirms “he was rich  (19:1).   In Jesus’ day, most people were poor and hardly anyone got rich without some sort of deliberately shady, questionable, or oppressive activity.   What made “tax collectors” especially suspect was the fact that they were not collecting taxes for their own government, but for a foreign, invading or conquering one.   The other problem was that they were getting rich doing this, while most everyone else remained very poor.

Surprisingly, the New Testament has a mixed view of “tax collectors”.   Some passages show Jesus treating them with as much suspicious and contempt as any Jew would treat a Gentile (Matt. 18:17).  However, from the very beginning of his ministry, we also see how Jesus spent more time eating and associating with “sinners” and “tax collectors” than he does the religious elite (Luke 5.29).  In fact, Jesus shockingly told some religious leaders the “prostitutes and tax collectors will enter the kingdom ahead of you” (Mat. 21.31).   

VISIBLE DESIRE
What is so remarkable about Zacchaeus is that although he is someone with a reputation as bad as Bernie Madoff, in this case, Zacchaeus actually does literally “show us the money!”  After coming face to face with the person of Jesus and the claims of the gospel,  in Zacchaeus we see what happens on the inside of a person by observing what happened on the outside.   

In the moment right after the Pharisees complained that Jesus was eating with this sinner, Zacchaeus shows his “new” true colors when he says to the Lord: Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much"  (Luke 19:8).   There are two very important points to note about Zacchaeus’ new attitude.  When Zacchaeus claims that “if” he has defrauded anyone,” we should really translate this as “when” instead of “if” because the language means that Zacchaeus had indeed defrauded lots of people.  This is word is a confession, an admission of guilt and what we observe is someone honestly coming to grips with the person they had been before meeting Jesus, but who does not want to be that person any more.  That is the kind of electric and  transforming effect Jesus had upon him.  

Second, also notice that is only after this display of outward radical, transforming, and faith-in-action that Jesus says to Zacchaeus:"Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost." (Luk 19:8-10 NRS).  It is only through Zacchaeus desire to see Jesus and his willinginess to “show Jesus the money” that salvation begins to flow through him, into his home, into the community and out into the world around him.   In terms very familiar to us, we can say that only when Zacchaeus’ made Jesus his Lord (with his new action) does Jesus actually become his Savior. 

Here we get a first-hand look at how God’s salvation works: It is not that people believe in Jesus and get to choose whether or not they make him Lord, but it is only when we show Jesus the money (the worth and value of our faith)--- only to those who bow before his Lordship---does God give the “reward” of salvation.   Amazingly, when “sinners” come clean and “show Jesus the money”they tend to look better than if they hadn’t sinned in the first place. 

Through this sincere desire to surrender to Christ’s lordship, the “saving grace” that is now displayed in the life of Zacchaeus is what Jesus has been “up to” along.   This proves exactly why Jesus has intentionally chosen to associate with, befriend, and “eat with sinners” (Luke 7.34).   In Luke 5, Jesus told us: “It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  (Luke 5.31-32).  Now, through this conversion and salvation of a “chief tax collector”, Jesus shows unveils God’s full currency of grace, reminding us that “saving” sinners is God’s great redeeming purpose for the whole world.

Now that we can clearly see where all this began and where it is going, I want to especially remind us “where” this great story of grace began with Zacchaeus.  While salvation began in the heart of God, Zacchaeus’ own “desire” to see Jesus unlocked God’s grace for him.  In the smallest, simplest, and most sincere way, Zacchaeus had a great “desire” or curiosity to see Jesus for himself.   “He was trying (or seeking KJV) to see Jesus.” (vs. 3).   Here is where it all began.   We don’t get to who Zacchaeus became, until we uncover the “desire” in his heart.

Today, I want us to realize that this is “where” Christian living and Christian leadership begins.  Within the heart of every true follower and any would-be leader for Jesus, there is this sincere “desire” to see, to experience and to know Jesus’ Christ for oneself.   A follower of Jesus is never content to follow Jesus by heresay, or to live off the experience of the past, nor to allow the “crowd” to determine the level of  their devotion to Jesus.   Those who follow Jesus, and those who lead with Jesus, all start with this same unquenchable “desire” to know Jesus more than anything or anyone else in this world.   Often in my counseling with people, my first question is “what do you want to happen?”  This is the most important question for any of us.  It isn’t that we always get what we want, but the truth is we never achieve or accomplish anything, nor do we become anyone, unless we have the desire. 

Listen to how the apostle Paul, one of the greatest and most literate Christian leader’s expressed his own desire only to “know” Christ as his greatest “heart’s desire": 
 7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.
 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.
 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death,
 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
 12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
 13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
 (Phi 3:7-14 NRS)

IMMOVABLE DETERMINATION 
While we “show the money” with by uncovering our “heart’s desire”, we also “show the money” by our determination to have our “desire” realized in our lives and in our leadership. 
 The most wonderful and most attractive part of Zacchaeus’ story is how the “wee little man” had this “great and large desire” which became an immovable determination he would not give up.  Zacchaeus was so determined to “see Jesus” that he did not let the pressing crowd determine his fate, but he, but as the text says, he “ran ahead” and climbed the sycamore tree because he was “determined” so he would not “take anything for granted” but would “take every opportunity” to make this happen.

You can see real, promising, and great potential for Christian living and Christian “leadership” in this one single phrase that describes how Zacchaeus “ran ahead” to “climb” the tree because Jesus would pass that way.   Here, we see another great quality of a Christian leader.  A Christian leader is not someone who does the impossible, nor who do the uncommon or most unusual, but Christian leadership is going “ahead” being determined to do the most obvious----doing what needs to be done, but few have the “determination” to do.  

Most of us know that “height” means a lot to a basketball player, but it still doesn’t mean everything.   Even in the NBA, height isn’t an absolute measure of a person’s potential. Remember Spud Webb?  Spud was only 5 feet, 6 inches tall when he once won the NBA’s slam dunk contest against much, much taller opponents.

Spud was a great high school star from Texas, but because of his height no college would take a chance on him, so he went to a small community college and made a name for himself. Then, in the early 1980’s coach Jim Valvano and North Carolina State University took a chance on him and he led them to the Sweet Sixteen.  Then Spud graduated and again no one drafted him. Finally the Atlanta Hawks gave him a shot. He played for them for four years, and under his leadership the Hawks made the playoffs each time. He got traded when the team wanted to make room for a new full‑sized college star but that team went years before making the playoffs again.

Spud said, “I used to pray that the Lord would make me taller when I was in junior high and high school, but every time I went to measure myself, or stand in front of a mirror, I’d always be the same size. And then one day I got the message, so I said to the Lord, ‘If you won’t make me bigger on the outside, will you make me bigger on the inside?’  And the Lord liked that prayer and that’s what helped me become successful.”  (From a sermon by King Duncan, entitled: “A Small Man Given A Big Heart” from Sermons.com).

We can see in Spud Webb’s own determination to be a “class athlete,” a visible “echo” of Paul’s word to the Corinthians: “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1Co 15:58 NRS).    This is the kind of “attitude” that takes action and determines results.   Great leadership and great living is not based upon how tall, big or talented we are on the outside, but it is marked by how determined we are on the inside, and most of all, how determined we are, “to pray the “right” prayer and how “determined” we are be part of the answer.” 

CREDIBLE DIFFERENCE
It was “desire” and “determination” that brought Zacchaeus to Jesus, but it is his discipleship that keeps him “with” Jesus.  The real currency of discipleship shows the money.   Just as there is no salvation in Jesus without a living under the Lordship of Jesus, there is no leadership with Jesus, without a discipleship that dares to do what the moment requires must be done. Zacchaeus must “show Jesus the money” or there will be no credible “difference” in at all. 
 
I believe that when God speaks to us, we must act upon the voice of the Spirit then and there.  If we don’t, then it will get harder the next time because we have begun to process of “hardening our heart” which occurs each time we refused the voice of the Spirit.   In this moment, Zacchaeus knew what the Spirit was telling him to do, and he also realized what he had to do for Jesus.   If he did not act in this very moment, Jesus would make no difference in him at all.

In one of the greatest Christian books, outside of the Bible, called “Mere Christianity”, the late British scholar C.S. Lewis says that when Jesus comes home with you, he likened it to the renovation of a house.  Christ comes to rebuild.  At first he goes about fixing the leaks and repairing all those things you already knew he would be fixing.   But then, Lewis says, “He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and doesn’t seem to make sense to us.   What on earth is Jesus up too? The explanation is that Jesus is building quite a different house from the one you planned.   You thought you were going to be made into a decent, nice little cottage, but Christ is building you into his palace.  He intends to come and live in it himself.  (From C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Collins, 1952, 170-171 as quoted by Brett Younger).

When Christ came home with Zacchaeus everything changed.  Everything about who he was and how he ordered his life changed.   In short, Zacchaeus feels that he must show Jesus the money!   He knows what he must do.  He knows he must “give” himself completely.  He knows that he can hold nothing back.  There is no coercion.  There is no admonishing.  There is no prompting.  There is no groaning or pain.  For Zacchaeus, giving everything to Jesus is sheer joy and great and wonderful fear, “Half of all I have I’ll give to the poor.  To those I’ve cheated I’ll give back 4 times as much.”  

In a play based on Zacchaeus’ story, called The Mirror”, the writer of the play puts these creative words into Jesus’ mouth after Zacchaeus is so willing to share his money.  Jesus asks, “Zacchaeus, what did you see that made you desire this peace?”
            Zacchaeus gives this answer.  Good Master, I saw mirrored in your eyes, the face of the Zacchaeus I was meant to be.”  In one final moment of the play, it isn’t long until someone else comes up to Zacchaeus and sees him near Jericho, still giving his money away to the poor, and the person asks, “Do you ever think how rich you could be if you kept all that money your giving away?   What don’t you give less and keep more?”
            Zacchaeus smiles, “Why would I want to go back to the Zacchaeus I used to be?”  (From Bret Younger’s sermon, “What Would Jesus Do?”, Vol. XXI, Num. 6, Lectionary Homiletics, Oct., Nov., 2010, p. 45).   

What kind of difference does Jesus make in our lives?   Have we seen in Jesus the reflection of the person we were meant to me?   Do we desire, are we determined to be the different person we were meant to be?    About a year ago I went to Appalachian State University to hear Greg Mortenson speak.  Mortenson has written two books about setting up schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, working to educate with books rather than relying upon “bombs” to change how people think.   What was most interesting is how Greg came to build the first school.  He had been attempting to climb a mountain in Pakistan but became sick, almost dying until he was brought into a small village called Korphe, where he recuperates and learns the customs of the region.  He sees the children trying to study without a school house and then decides to build them one.   He returns to the U.S., sells all that he can to raise money.   After raising the money, it took him three years to build the school, because once he was kidnapped and constant threats were being made against his life.  

Greg tells his story in his book entitled “Three Cups of Tea” and the title of that book is based upon words Haji Ali, the Chief leader of the Korphe village:  “Here in Pakistan we drink three cups of tea to do business. With the first cup of tea you are a stranger.  With the second we have become friends. With the third you become family, and for our family we are prepared to do anything---even die.”   (From the back cover of “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson, Viking, 2006)

Is there any doubt that Zachaeus wanted drink all “three cups” with Jesus?  He wanted to be more than a stranger, he wanted his faith to be more doing business with friend.  No, Zacchaeus desperately wants to be “family” with Jesus.   Are you ready for your “third” cup of tea?   Amen.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS

A sermon based upon Luke 18: 9-14
Dr. Charles J. Tomlin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
October 24th, 2010, Proper 25C

This story of Jesus aims to undo the lie of this Pharisee when he prayed: “God, I thank you that I’m not like other people; thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector”  (18:11). 

Notice especially how this fellow can only offer his over-inflated prayer, when he is “standing by himself” (vs. 11) all alone.   You can’t pray this in front of somebody because they will call your “hand” on it.  This prayer is short-sighted and short-circuits because this guy thinks people can be easily divided into groups of “us” against “them, when the potential both for evil and for good run right through the middle of each and every one of us.  

In his book “Evil and the Justice of God,” Tom Wright says we humans normally tend to ignore the truth about evil “except when it hits us square in the face” (IVP Books, 2006, p. 24).  That is what exactly what happened when after the 9/11 terrorist attack, we listened to President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair frame the whole attack as an a terrible “evil”; and it was.   The same kind of language surfaced shortly after the Economic crash of 2008 and people began to talk about the “evil” greed on Wall Street; and it still is.  Now, again, images of evil might pop into our minds as we observe just how “down and dirty” American politics are becoming.   It can seem very easy and tidy to try to divide this world up into distinct, precise categories of “us versus them”; “good versus evil”; or “right versus wrong.”   Even when we come into God’s house, just as this Pharisee did, we can become “misguided” into thinking we have God’s blessing because of who we think we are and who other people are not.

But is this really the way things are?  Does God simply and neatly divide up the world into good versus bad, right versus wrong or us versus them?   Of course there is good and bad or right and wrong in the world, but what this Pharisee didn’t understand and what this publican came to realize is something else entirely.  Jesus wants us to know is that both of them are “dead ducks” in their standing before God.  This Pharisee thinks he is good, but he’s not.   This “publican” Tax Collector knows he’s a bad guy and he really is.  He would not have made any of our “good ole boy” lists.  He’s like a crooked IRS agent who gets rich finding errors in our tax forms.  The point Jesus is making is the point the Bible has made all along: “For all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” (Roms. 3.23).  No matter how bad people become and no matter how good we think we are, we must not let the most obvious become oblivious.   God’s perspective of how things really are is that “there is none righteous, no not one.”     
                 
Another thing Jesus wants us to understand is that there is a form of evil which is worse than any other.   While humans have lists and laws about what we consider good or evil, those lists can be subject to change.  When we listen to the evening news our own ears will practically ignore some kinds of evil,  mostly because we have gotten so used to it, while there are still some forms of evils which still might cause our ears to perk up, our hair to raise, or can send a chill down our spine.  This week when I heard that the government thinks Osama Bin Laden is hiding in private homes  of northwest Pakistan and that he is not hiding in caves, that kind of news got me unnerved.   

Have you ever thought about what kind of evil brings “chills” down God’s back?   Jesus wants us to know something which the great 18th century evangelist George Whitfield recognized as the kind of sin that God finds most “offensive?”  Some have named this most offensive evil hypocrisy, pride, selfishness, or self-righteousness, and those are all right up there among the worst.  But what I think Jesus names as the most offensive to God, is the evil we cannot see in ourselves which makes us believe we don’t need God’s grace. 

What we must not miss in the parable is that this Pharisee was not a bad person, but a very good person.   The problem was that this Pharisee thought he “good enough” and that he was immune to the very “disease” that was invading his heart that very second.  He did not realize he was a “dead duck” in the water.  He did not think he needed God’s grace any longer.  He thought he had made it.  Even at the very moment he is worshiping God and right in the very moment he thinks he is most secure, most saved and most spared from the wrath that is to come, it is right here in the middle of his own sense of elitism, superiority, and snobbery, that he cannot see himself as God sees him. 
This fellow is all dressed up in his religion and his piety, but he isn’t going anywhere.  He isn’t going anywhere because he has only compared himself people who are worse than him.   He’s looking at everything from the wrong perspective.   John Jewell thinks there should be a warning along beside of this guy which says: “Warning! Your relationship with God has nothing to do with how terrible other people are!”        

So, if both these guys are “dirty rotten scoundrels”, and the Pharisee is even worse because he thinks he’s better than others, but he’s not.   How does this story get to have any redemptive ending at all?   How can we call it gospel “good news” when it seems so bad? 

 I might have told you once about the youth in my Bible study who was being introduced to the idea of sin for the first time.   When he first heard the concept of all humans being “sinners” he had to raise his hand to ask a question, which, I can only imagine, was the first question he ever asked a preacher.  For all I know, it might have been his last.   But this intelligent, sincere, curious young man listened to what I was teaching and wondered out loud: “Why does God call us sinners, when we are the only people God has?”  What I think he was asking was this: If God created us as his children, why does still need to call us sinners or have us call our ourselves sinners?   We are just who we are, aren’t we?

Such a question might sound silly to those who grew up in church, but to someone growing up under communism without the gospel, calling someone sinner sounded harsh, and it must have sounded like God was out to get us all.   To those of us who know the gospel for what it is really worth, we know that the reason the Bible tells us we are sinners is not to merely to judge nor to condemn.  In fact, for the most part, when most of us encountered the gospel, it was because we felt judged or condemned already.   No, the reason the Bible names us sinners is so that we can come to know God’s grace as our only hope.

Perhaps you have heard the story of the man who came to the gates of heaven to be greeted by St. Peter.  Peter asks the man if he can give a brief history of his life with an emphasis on the good deeds he had done in order to gain entrance into the kingdom of heaven. "You will need 1000 points to be admitted," Peter tells the man.
                "This will be a cinch," the man thinks to himself, "I've been involved in church from the days of my youth."  Then he begins to list his activities for Peter. He was an officer in his youth group, served in every possible position he could as a youngster.  He was on the Church Council and every committee the church had to offer. His list was extensive.
                "That’s very impressive," Peter smiles. An angel standing with them also smiled and nodded as he tallied the points and then whispered in Peter's ear.  Peter tells the man, "This is quite striking -- we seldom see men of your very good works.   You will be pleased to know that you have 327 points!  Is there anything else you can think of?"
                The poor soul breaks into a cold sweat and begins to reach deep for every single act of kindness he could think of.  He listed them as the angel scratched furiously on his angelic clip board and nodded his head in admiration.  Peter looks at the clip board and says, "This is quite exceptional!  You now have a total of 402 points.  Can you think of anything else?"
                The distressed guy strives to recall good deeds -- like the time he helped a little old lady across the street.  He finally arrives at a grand total of 431 points and cries out...   "I am sunk!  There is no hope for me!  What more could I have done?   O Lord, all I can do is beg for your mercy!"
                "THAT," exclaims Peter, "Is a thousand points!"

  “Even while we were sinners, Christ died for us!”  This whole text from Paul is worth repeating here.  In Romans 5: 7, the apostle Paul writes: Rarely will anyone die for a righteous person-- though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.  (Rom 5:7-8 NRS).  

However Jesus’ story speaks to your heart, don’t miss that the only “advantage” the publican has is because he realizes he is a sinner, just like everyone else.  We will never become who we can be if we don’t start with who we really are.   God’s grace makes only one absolute demand of us.  We must never try justify ourselves by comparing ourselves to others.  Only God can justify.   Only in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, do any of us ever have a prayer.  Amen.     

Sunday, October 17, 2010

LIVING IN THE SPIRIT OF SELF-CONTROL

More than a Sunday Drive
Luke 18: 1-8
Dr. Charles J. Tomlin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
October 17, 2010,  Proper 24C

A couple of years ago, a woman was driving her Nissan Altima down Interstate 96 in Michigan.  Reaching for a pack of gum in her pocket, she took her eyes from the road for a couple of seconds.  All of a sudden, a voice, speaking with urgency, said, "Not, Not, Not." Yanking her attention back to the road, the woman realized that her car had started to drift across the solid white line to the right.  She quickly corrected and went safely on her way.

That woman was grateful for the warning, but there was nobody in the car to thank. The alert had been generated by a device she was field-testing. The gadget was designed to warn drivers about road departures and lane shifting.  Right now, the Lane Departure Warning System called AutoVue, may soon become a standard safety feature on cars, just as the seat beat or the air bag.  Not only can your car warn you about drifting, but it can also warn you about entering curves that are too fast, or about following too close.       

Developing more sophisticated warning systems is good, but it is also likely that some drivers will ignore or disconnect these cautionary sounds just like many did with the first “seat-belt” warning systems.  One MIT technology director commented, "We tend to be optimistic about the technology, but we know so little about the human element."   (As quoted by Stan Purdam’s from the article by Al Karr, "Savvy Safety Systems Are Developed for Cars," The Wall Street Journal, March 2, 2004, D8.) 

In this final “Fruit of the Spirit” called “Self-Control” (KJV “Temperance), we consider the most “human element” of our “earth-bound” spiritual lives.   God has given us “the road” or “the way” to “steer” our lives to safety (or salvation). Through Jesus Christ God has engineered our spiritual lives, by giving us the initial fruit of love, joy, and peace in the forgiveness of our sins.    Now, with Jesus as our example, we can follow him on this “new road” by staying the course that enables us to continue bearing the fruit of patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and humility.  But now, as we come to the end of this discussion the question arises:  How do we “stay on this very fruitful road”? 

Thinking in terms of a driving analogy; traveling on any “road” means that we must keep from being distracted, keep from losing focus, and from losing control of the “wheel” of this new “car” (or life) we’ve been a licensed to drive.  We can’t just keep crying out “Jesus to take the wheel” when God has just put the “steering wheel” into our own hands.  We must learn to “drive” our own lives with God’s help and guidance.  Biblically speaking, we must “work our own salvation in fear and trembling” so that we watch for the warnings signals and keep our eyes on the road with our hands firmly on the wheel.     Today’s text from Luke 18, gives us a powerful example of a woman, who put her life in “drive”, stayed focused and arrived at her destination, even though the odds were definitely against her.  This powerless widow gained the ability to shape her own future through her own persistence, through her continued focus and through her ability to stay the course until she reached her destination.   She wasn’t driving a car, but you can’t miss the “drive” in her story that makes the main point: “If we keep stay on the “right” course, if we maintain control, our mere persistence will affect the final outcome.”

YOU MUST PUT YOUR LIFE IN “DRIVE”
Before we look at how this widow achieved her “outcome”, let’s consider her “impossible” situation as Jesus described it.  Someone was mistreating her.  We don’t know who or what, but what we do know t to know, is that this woman’s “situation” was out of her control.  Her only recourse was to go to a judge, and here she found an even greater obstacle: the judge didn’t care about God, justice or anybody.  Her situation appeared hopeless.

So many things in life are out of our control too.  There is so much injustice, unfairness and negative energy in our world right now that growing any worthwhile spiritual fruit can seem hopeless.  And not only do we have to face difficulties along the way of life, but we can become our own worst enemy.   I heard Tony Dungy make this comment about one of the football games last weekend.   He said, “Any NFL football team can win, if they don’t put themselves out of the game.”   

Much life is about simply staying in the game and staying the course.   To use our “driving” analogy, it’s not the curves in the road or our ability to navigate them that prevent us from reaching the destination, but the greatest cause of accidents will always be “the human element.”   This “human element” in safe driving is determined by how well we keep ourselves focused and undistracted and keep our eyes on the road.  In other words, the fault of most “accidents” is not road, but is the driver.  What Jesus liked about this woman is that she does not let the situation determine her, but she is “driven” to determine the outcome of her situation.   She stays focused, and she never stops moving ahead on the right road, driving the in the right direction.   If we want to arrive alive; so should must we. 
  
All of us can imagine people who have lost focus in life and crash.   I don’t have to think long about some very visible examples, and the very gifted movie young star Lindsey Lohan comes to mind.   She is a young woman has so much “star power” and “potential,” but now seems powerless to crash into her own addictions and vices.   I could also think of Heath Ledger whose own wrong choices put his own very young, strong, body in such a weakened state that he could not even take cold medicine without it killing him.   My mind immediately goes to the current scandal surrounding football legend, Brett Farve.   Farve is the only “grandfather” playing football, but, if reports are true, he still struggles not to be a “child” of his own passions. 

What we can see in these celebrities, in very visible ways, is the risk for any or all of us.   In other words, you can’t just keep blaming your “outcome” in life on the way things are, on the business, on the territory, nor on the “moment” you’ve been placed in, but life finally comes down “taking control of yourself” even in the “uncontrollable” situations you must face.  We all need to learn to keep our eyes on the road.   We can’t run our lives in “neutral”, but we have to know how to put our lives in “drive” and to keep our focus.


YOU CAN’T ARRIVE WHERE YOU DON’T DRIVE
How do we describe this woman’s persistence and “drive” to “take” control when life was so out of control around her?   How did she “make” this unjust judge hear her case? 

I love how one Bible translation, (the McDonald Idiomatic translation) expresses this woman’s “persistence” and her “continual coming” and “worrying” this judge as “driving him up the wall”.     When you “drive” someone up a wall, you are so focused, so unrelenting, so intent on not giving up, that you do the driving and you don’t let anyone or anything else drive you.  In fact, the Greek word used for “continual” is she knew exactly where she was going---the word used here is telos, or Greek for reaching for the goal.   The point is this:  When you know where you want “arrive” in life, then you can put your life into “drive”, stay focused, and not stop until you get there.   It might sound silly to say, but you definitely can’t arrive where you are not driving.   How many people lose their way because they don’t really know where they are suppose to going in their lives?   Instead of “driving” they start “drifting” and this is where the trouble starts. 

Don’t miss this connection between “driving” and “knowing where you are going”.  To have “self-control” is deciding in your heart, even before you take the road, where you need to go.   You don’t decide in the moment, but you decide before you take the wheel that you will not take your focus off the road until arrive at your destination.   Even if you “dogged-stubborn” persistence drives others crazy, like this woman did, you keep driving and you don’t drift and you don’t stop.  You may not always get everywhere you want to go, but one thing for sure, you’ll never get anywhere until you know exactly where it is you should go. 

Take this example from Captain “Chesley” Sullenberger who successfully landed that jet in the Hudson River.   Pilot Sullenberger did not decide at the last moment how to correctly land that airplane on the water.  He tells, in his recollection of the event, that when he realized what he had to do, he didn’t think about anything else other that what he was “trained” to do.   When he was going through those procedures he had practiced over and over, he knew exactly where he was going and what he was doing as if it was “second nature”.    You certainly don’t land a jetliner like he was flying by happenstance, by chance or by accident.  You have to be well-trained and you have to know what you are going to do, even before you do it.   When he made the commitment to land on the water, he knew there was no wavering, no turning back and there was no other option other than doing what he needed to do to land.   He had to “drive” where his training told him he needed to “arrive.”  He followed  “steps” or “road” he was trained to take long before that fateful moment  (Based upon NT Wright’s retelling in After You Believe, Why Character Matters. 2010).
         
Self-control is a virtue every great society has valued long before today.  You can find the subject of self-control in the Hebrew Bible, where the writings of Proverbs says: “The person who can’t rule his own spirit (who lacks self-control) is like a city where the walls are broken down” (Prov. 25.28).  This Old Testament image of a “walled city” is a powerful one, as ancient cities could only protect themselves by building up strong walls to keep the enemy out.   When the walls broke, the enemy eventually won, no matter how strong your own army.  Only the person who had built up “strong walls” within themselves long before the enemy invaded could protect themselves from all the threats.   

The same kind of understanding can be found in the ancient Greek culture surrounding Plato’s writings, where the Greeks elevated the virtue of self-control as the way to personal victory and success.  Both the Olympic athlete, and the average person, needed to gain mastery over their own desires before they could protect themselves from the all that would threaten their victory.  Even before Paul was inspired to speak of Self-Control as the final fruit of the Spirit, Plato expressed that Love is the only spiritual passion strong enough to give us the ability of to master all other passions in our lives.
       
While the need for self-control has been around since humans could understand almost anything, the Christian understanding of self-control makes a most unique contribution.  We can see it here in the woman’s own “planned” persistence.   She keeps going to this judge, not simply for herself, nor only for her own cause, but she keeps pestering this judge with what is she knows is “right” and what “he ought to do” for her.   The path she takes is not just “her own path”, but it is the well worn path everyone already knows to be right.   This is the whole point of Jesus’ story is made clear at the very beginning when Luke says, “Jesus spoke a parable, so that people OUGHT always to pray, and never give up” (Luke 18:1).  The word “ought” stands behind everything this woman does.   It is the main reason for this woman’s “persistence” and it was the “main reason” this judge should hear her.  She does not just make her point to drive this judge up the wall, but she is driving him up a wall because she is demanding what is “right” and what he “ought” to be doing in the first place and it is worrying him nearly to death.  

Here we find the heart of self-control as Christian spirituality understands it.  The Christian faith says we can only gain control of ourselves by “denying ourselves” “crucifying ourselves with Christ”, as  we also “crucify our desires.”   Self control is not what we do for our own sake alone, but we have a “goal” that is bigger than ourselves.   This woman’s persistence worked for her because she was pushing for the “right thing” and this judge could not help but feel it, even in his “unjust” bones.  In the same way, we “drive” our own lives best, when we know where we need to arrive.   Too many people start drifting and lose control of their lives, because they are not really “driving” and they have no real clue where they are supposed to be going, or where they are going is not at all the right direction.   It doesn’t take long going down the road in the wrong direction to become the cause of the worse accident you’ve ever seen in your life.  To know where you’re supposed to be going and keeping your hands firmly on the wheel are probably the greatest skills in keeping control of your car and your life.

DON’T DRIVE ALONE AT NIGHT
If this widow teaches us we must “drive” with focus, (there are curves you must navigate and dangers to avoid) and secondly, if she also teaches us that we must know where we ought to arrive, even before we start to drive (we’ve got to be going in the right direction, not just any direction we choose); then, following this same analogy, there is a final part to this story and the lesson we learn here, may be the most important driving lesson of all.  

The most important message comes, not from the widow, but through this surprising “voice” of the “unjust judge”.   Jesus tells his disciples to “Listen” and to pay special attention to what the unfair judge is saying, as he responds to the woman’s persistent drive for justice:  “I will give her justice, (he says) because she wears me out with her continual coming to trouble me” (vs. 5).   Then, Jesus explains: “If this ‘unjust’ judge finally hears her, think how much more God will do what is right for his own people who cry out to him day and night?” (Luke 18: 6).

The final word about gaining “self-control” in your own life situation is about prayer.   Jesus wants us to know that the most important way to stay on course, and know where you should go in life, and to arrive at the right destination, is to believe that God hears and answers prayer.  Following our analogy, if you don’t believe prayer has anything to do with driving, you haven’t driven on the autobahn or in rush hour traffic in a large city.   And if you don’t believe prayer has anything to do with having control over your own life, then you need to visit an half-way house or an treatment center for people with uncontrollable addictions that have ruined their lives.   Right in the middle of every single viable and successful treatment option available in the world today is some form of positive, persistent self-talk or some form of religious prayer. 

Recently I heard someone say they stopped trusting God because they prayed and God did not answer.   When I heard that complaint, my first reaction was to wonder how that person defined prayer.  Was their approach to prayer to believe God is like a Santa Clause who is there to always give us what we want?   If you study Jesus teaching about prayer as asking, seeking, and knocking (Luke 11.9), Jesus clarifies that God “gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask” (Luke 11.13).  Prayer is not a technique to get what we want (magic), but true prayer is gaining the Holy Spirit, having “guidance” and living our lives in God’s presence.   Having the “self-control” or “discipline” we need to deal with the challenges, distractions, addictions and the unpredictable situations of our lives has more to do with “who” you are traveling with, than “what” you have to face on the road.                   


The other morning, while watching the news, a new advertisement came up, trying to lure teens and young adults into the party life.  I guess you could say, in this commercial they following the rock star, Mick Jaggar’s philosophy: “It’s O.K. to let yourself go, as long as you can get yourself back.”  That’s like recommending that your teenager can drive on the wrong side of the road, as long as nothing’s coming and they don’t get caught.  Anyway, in this commercial, they were showing how some “imaginative” computer software might send a picture of what you were doing at any moment and make it safe for your mom to see.   The point was, if someone sent a text to show others who you were with or what you were doing, which might not be what your mom would like to see, this software could automatically change the picture into something safe and suitable for your mom.   For example, if you were in that city where everything is suppose to stay there, the software could put a picture of a large teddy bear beside of you, or a some kind of clown or something and then, they suggest, you’d be safe.
  
While we know the point they were trying to make, but the point they really making and didn’t at all realize, is that if your “mom” knew where you were and what you were doing, you probably wouldn’t be doing it in the first place.   That is the powerful difference a positive “presence” can make in your life---in how you “control yourself” and in what you do and what you don’t do.  Isn’t this the main point the story of the persistent widow?  Knowing God is with us, beside us, and for us, who answers our greatest needs, is greatest resource and “strength” we have to face all the “situations” that confront us.  On this dangerous and curvy road we call life, we can keep our lives “in control” because God’s abiding presence keeps us focused, guides us to the right destinations, and gives us inner strength for the journey.   There is nothing that shapes our choices more than to know that we are never, ever, traveling through this life alone.
   
Plato and Paul are in perfect agreement on this one thing:  It’s completely amazing what levels of performance a person can reach, what a person can accomplish, what a person will never dream of doing or fall into, when they stay focused, know where they should be going, and most of all, when they know they are loved and are not alone.  Knowing perfect love is the very “root” of the fruit of the spirit we call self-control.   


This is exactly what Paul young Timothy about taking control of his own life and his destiny, when he wrote: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind….(Keep) that good thing committed to  you, by the Holy Spirit that dwells in you (2Tim. 1:7,14 KJV).  


However, we decide to drive through our lives, the most obvious truth that will eventually surface is that living “your life is not a Sunday drive”.  Living in this world of rapid lane changes and high cruising speeds is something between driving at Talladega or at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.   If you take your eyes off the road or your hand off the wheel, only one second, and if you don’t know where you’re going in the first place, and if you don’t have a head set, a crew-chief and pit crew supporting you, well, if you'll excuse my direct, football coach like language, if you don't have all this going for you, "it would be better if you had never come out of the garage."  In a world so fast paced, and so often out of control, God’s guiding Spirit is only hope we  have to arrive alive. Amen.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

LIVING IN THE SPIRIT OF GENTLENESS

WHEN I AM MEEK, I AM STRONG
Luke 17: 11-19
Dr. Charles J. Tomlin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
October 12, 2010  Proper 23C

For much of our culture, “meekness” or “gentleness” is something to be avoided like leprosy.  How in the world can you get ahead, in this world, if you are gentle, meek, and mild?  No, the person who is most perceived to be a hero, who is most admired, or who gets press or news time, is the person who asserts themselves, who is overbearing, or is the person who screams the loudest.   We live in a day, where the dominate watch-word of the world has become “the survival of fittest” or the presentation of “the strongest and the loudest.”  It is laughable, in today’s overly-politizied,“dog eat dog” world, to even entertain for one single moment the words of Jesus who once said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth!”   Most would say, “Jesus was a nice guy and all, but nice guys finish last.”  Look what happened to him!  Meek is just, well, too weak!

When my wife and I were learning to drive in Europe,  I had made a comment to someone about having passed a “fender bender” along the road, and how I noticed two drivers waving their arms at each other, often yelling, or even being very emotional.  I could imagine this in Italy, but this was Germany.  I wondered to a German friend, “What’s going on?”  They gave me this advice:  “If you are in an accident, and even if the accident wasn’t your fault, speak up for yourself and speak loud and clear, because if don’t speak up for yourself, the authorities will assume that you are the guilty party.”  

I remember hearing what a parent once told his child before riding the school bus:  “If somebody starts picking on you, or bullying you, take up for yourself.  If they push you, turn around and punch them in the nose and they won’t ever hit you again.  Whatever you do, don’t just stand there and take it.”  None of us want our child to be a victim of bullying.   Most of us do not blame that Father in the news who stormed on the school bus to verbally attack the kids who were bullying his daughter who had Celebral Palsy.   We all know there is a need to stand up for the weak or to stand up against the evil.   Jesus too, had to take a stand against the bullying religious establishment of his day.   But the question of “how” is what this Fruit of the Spirit called either, gentleness, meekness, or humility is about.  Is there any place for “gentleness” in our understanding of what it means to take a stand as a Christian?  Or is it true, that for most of us, especially in this day and time our “in your face” culture , is this understand of a “meek and mild” Jesus just too weak?

IS MEEK REALLY THAT WEAK?
In our text today we see Jesus, as Jesus always is in the gospels, at the intersection of much that is still troubling in this world.   This healing of the ten lepers comes in the midst of the irritating rubs of religion, race, and illness.   Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem (the religious capital) and he is going near Samaria (considered the residence of those of lesser race) and he encounters 10 lepers (one of the worse physical conditions in the ancient world).    Jesus is not afraid of taking on any of these “evils”.  He has his face “set” on Jerusalem and is headed there at his own peril.   Jesus also that he needs to go “through” or “near” Samaria” when his disciples had wanted him to go around and avoid contact with the half-breeds.   And finally, Jesus is not afraid to touch or reach out to the leper, even though it was against the law to do so.   Whatever you want to say about Jesus, you can’t say that he was weak.   Jesus had great inner strength to take on the most difficult and deadly issues of his day.  In our text today, he is still walking straight into all of them.

As we look straight into this text, at least, as Jesus appears in all the gospels, he was a person of incredible inner strength and determination.  This Jesus who invited the masses to “come unto me all who are weary bearing heavy loads” so they will find rest in him, ….because, as he said, “I am gentle  and humble of heart.”   This very gentleness, this meekness and this humility, whatever it was and whatever it meant was anything but weak. 

Interestingly, the greatest hymn of early church, attested that Jesus’ meekness and humility was the very key to his power, his greatness and his strength.  When Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, he  quoted that hymn which declared Jesus’ strength was indeed his humility, when Paul wrote:   5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,
 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
 (Phi 2:5-11 NRS).  

The main point of this hymn cannot be missed:   It was Jesus own humility, both his gentleness and his meekness which gave him the incredible strength to “be obedient to the point of death---even death on the cross.”   Because Jesus was meek, gentle and humble in this way, now, Paul says, God has exalted him “above every name” and now “every tongue should confess that Jesus is Lord”.  It was not because Jesus paraded his greatness and strength, but because he displayed gentleness, meekness and humility that God elevated him to power.   Because of this, Paul reminds the church at Philippi, that they want to be strong and have God’s blessing, they should have “this same mind that was in Christ Jesus.”   This was the challenging message of Jesus’ that it is through his “humility” he counters the “power-plays” and “political ploys” of the world.   Our world still says, as that world did: “If you take the way of selfish power, arrogance, and pride, you will succeed.   Paul says the truth of Jesus points us in the opposite direction.   The power ploys of this world will ultimately fail.  Only the way of the cross, of humility, of meekness and gentleness, will count you among the “blessed” who “inherit the earth.”  (Matt. 5.5).

IS THIS A “WAY” WE CAN REALLY GO?
This is certainly what the Bible teaches about humility as being the way to God and the way to claiming the future, but will it work?   While there should be little doubt that this is the way that Jesus went and is the way God’s people are told they should be, is this really a way that we can realistically “be” in our own world?  Who wants to be like these weak, sick, and humble lepers going around crying out, “Jesus, master, have mercy on us!”   Most of us would agree, with that old Mac Davis song which expresses our reservations about humility and meekness: 
“O Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way. 
I can’t wait to look in the mirror, cause I get better looking each day. 
To know me is to love me, I must be a (heck) of a man. 
O Lord, it’s hard to be humble, but I’m doing the best that I can….”

How can we dare to eat “humble pie” in this “dog-eat-dog” world?  I mean, again, look at where it took Jesus as he ended up “dead” on the cross?   Maybe there is a place for meekness when life finally does humble us, and that all this talk about “meekness” is something we can at least think about as we prepare for the “weakness” that is to come,   but what does it have to do  with the “strength” we need to live and survive today in our world?   How could anybody, in their right mind or body, dare agree with Jesus that the “meek inherit the earth”, or as dare believe, as Paul believed, when he said, “when I am weak, then I am strong”? 

Maybe it makes sense for a hurting leper be humbled and to cry out to God for help, but what good is it to humble ourselves while we believe we are strong and need to be strong to stand up to this crazy, evil, and increasingly “stupid” and “sick” world?   Again, who can blame that Father for getting on the school bus to confront his daughter’s bullies?   Who can blame the outrage of that Florida preacher, who might have been unpolished, but at least he stood up out of nowhere, against the evils of extreme Islam and the terrorism that threatens us all as he dared to burn the Koran?   Who can blame the American voters for forming a Tea Party with the intent to stand up and be bold enough to vote everyone who is currently in office out of office, because of the economic situation today?  

For most of us, when times get tough, the tough need to get going, if they want to survive.   For those of us who feel like we are “in charge”, or that all has been “perfect”  in our lives up to now, or when we, like Mac Davis, feel like, at least in the past, we have been a “heck” of a people, what sense does humility make?  Certainly we can understand why these lepers have to be humble--as the way of gentleness might be necessary for the sick and dying--- and of course, we’d all like our doctor to be “gentle” with  us----there can be a place for gentleness and meekness, but it just seems too soft, too passive, and too dangerous for the living and the thriving, who don’t want to end up being numbered among the sick or dying?   What good can “humility” possibility bring to those who know the advantage of being well and strong?  

HUMILTY AS SURE STRENGTH AND HEALING
Turn to the ending of this story.  While all ten of them received the healing of their leprosy, only one of them was “humble” enough to return and say ‘thank you’.  Just as interesting, and perhaps even more  important, is that it is only the one who returned in “humble” gratitude, who hears Jesus say “Go your way, your faith has made you well.”  

Let’s think about this in the most practical terms.  Humility for this one leper was that he did not take anything for granted.  He continued to be just as “humble” when he is healed, as he was when was ill.   Only this “continued” state of humility gave him full and lasting wellness.   This is the clear teaching of this story, but what does this have to do with us, in our own self-absorbed, self-focused, and power crazed culture?   We all want our own country to return to economic and political “wellness”, but do we really have a clue how “lasting wellness” might be connected to our own “humility?”    
  
Many of us are blessed by living within a very good marriage.  And when you live within a good marriage, over time, you can begin to take the goodness of your marriage for granted.  Your wife or your husband does all these nice little things for you, over and over again and are always appreciative?  No. You become used to these things.  You start to expect these favors, gifts or blessings from your spouse.  There is no longer the fresh and genuine appreciation and it can all become routine, a habit, an  expectation which is taken for granted.   The same kind of thing happens with children who live in a good home with a loving mom and/or dad.  The kids can easily begin to take the blessings and pleasures of their family life for granted.  It becomes no big deal that their parents do all of these wonderful things for them.  It is expected.  It is part of life. 


It can be the same way in our national life.   We can start expecting liberty, security, and wealth, when it is really as much a gift as it is also part of the result of how we have decided to live together, with both diversity of backgrounds, but also with a unity of spirit and need.  We can start taking our liberty and our unity for granted, thinking that no matter what we believe, what we do, how we spend our money or live our lives, and no matter how we treat each other, this great nation will always be here.    So also, within the household of faith, we can become used to God’s blessing and care for us through our fellowship with each other.  We begin to take God for granted.  We begin to expect his blessings as our God-given rights—not as gifts, blessings or expressions of unmerited grace .  Whereas someone who hasn’t been part of the Faith for long, may be deeply grateful to God for the smallest of blessings, when we become USE to them, we can start to take everything for granted.   This is what we can do with each other, with God, with our health, or with our spiritual life.   This is what the 9 lepers did.   They were so “proud” of their new condition of health and healing that they forgot to who they were, who gave them strength, and they failed to return in humility to give thanks. 

You would think, that in life, the people who have the most to be thankful for, would be the humblest, gentlest, and meekest people of the earth?   Unfortunately, it seldom turns out this way.   Most often it is the people with the least who are not only the most humbled in their appreciation for what they have, and who also seem to find the strength to survive the worst and almost impossible situations of life.  At least this is how it was for Pastor Martin Rinkhart, who was pastor of  a church in Eilenberg, Prussia from 1619 to 1649, during the Thirty Years War in Europe.  The Thirty-Years war was a war when Christians (Catholics and Protestants) tried to kill each other---to prove which church was in the right, which was the strongest and which was the true church of God.   There was no humility in that struggle to destroy each other, and it almost succeeded.   The lack of “humility” in their struggle is one of the main reasons almost no Europeans go to church today.
  
From the year the war began until the year the war ended,  Pastor Rinkhart was the pastor in the same walled city, which was also his hometown.  His was a walled town, so all the refugees from the thirty years war flocked into his city to find safety inside the city walls as the battles raged around them.  His town was overrun with poverty, the plague, and all the perils of war.  It was awful.  It was hell on earth.  By the end of the thirty years war, he was the only pastor left in town alive; all the other pastors had died, so he alone was to bury the plagued villagers and refugees from war. Somewhere in the middle of all of that suffering, he wrote a hymn, which is perhaps the second greatest hymn of the Reformation, and perhaps of all time:“Now,thank we all our God; with hearts and hands and voices; who wondrous things hath done; in whom this world rejoices.  Who from our mother’s arms, has blessed us on our way, with countless gifts of love and still is ours today.”  When the “dust” and “dirt” of that awful, prideful” war cleared, the only virtue left that could heal the arrogance, ingratitude, and false sense of pride, that brought all the terrors down upon Europe, was humility.  Only the heart that remembers the source its true strength, can survive what can happen in this world.  Only the “humble heart” inherits the hope of the world. 

Speaking of humility, hope and gaining the healing of heart our own “dog-eat-dog” needs, let close with another story of leprosy and humility that is closer to home.   In his new devotional book, “Out Live Your Life” Max Lucado (p. 143ff., Thomas Nelson, 2010)  writes about Molokai, the beautiful pearl among the Hawaiian Islands with its “gentle breezes.”  But in 1840, Father Damien went to that Island for a different reason---to help people die.   The leprous people who lived there, were taken there to die, and they would die, but they would not die alone.  Father Damien wanted them to know that God loved them, and after working with them for 10 years, he wrote in his diary the most humbling message; “I want to sacrifice myself for the poor lepers.”

Father Damien went against even the “pride” of his own life.  He stepped down of his own place and position and immersed himself in the humble world of dressing sores, hugging children, and burying the dead.  His choir members sang through rags, and his congregation took communion, with stumped hands.   But because Father Damien felt these people mattered to God, they would matter to him, even though it seemed they didn’t matter to anyone else.   Father Damien put himself in the lowest place, with them.  In the end, through his own, humble, compassionate touch upon the lepers in that Hawaiian colony, he literally became one of them, contracted their disease, and on April 15, 1889, four days shy of Good Friday, he too, died of leprosy.

What Father Damien did goes against everything we would do.   You didn’t hear Father Damien explaining why they got way, nor did you hear him telling those lepers how bad they were, nor did keep his own hands from getting dirty or his heart from being touched.  What you see in Father Damien, is what you always see, when you look into a humble, self-sacrificing, meek and gentle heart.  You see Father Damien loving people, not labeling people.  You see the kind of person who holds the world together by dying to themselves.    This was and is the most telling truth of “meekness”, but it is no way a weakness.  This kind of gentle, meek and selfless humility, which was also the humility of Jesus, must be the humility that brings us back to Jesus and back to each other,  if we want to see real healing, lasting wellness, and lasting strength come in this world.    Amen.


© 2010 All rights reserved Dr. Charles J. "Joey" TomlinB.A., M.Div. D.Min.