Tuesday, November 15, 2016

人之初, 性本善

Their Stories = Our Stories = My Stories

Years ago at the University of Chicago campus, one of my classmates asked me some origin of the oriental culture/tradition.  I quoted him the following brief statement in Chinese:

人之初, 性本善. 性相近; 習相遠.

The following week he gave me his insightful translation:

In the beginning, sex was good.
Sex kept people together; practice set people apart.

It is very hard for us to understand the words of God through the original Hebrew, Greek, Latin and/or some popular modern languages such as English, Chinese or German. 

The good news is that the Bible is full of stories that we can relate to.  In order to better understand the stories of there and then, we would have to take their stories as our stories, or rather my stories of here and now.

Text I:

 1Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
2Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
3Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
6Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:1-7 NIV)

If I were Abraham, or Issac for that matter, what would I do?
Would we think twice before we sign the covenant with God?

Text 2:
18This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about : His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 
 19Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:18-21 NIV)

Again, if I were Joseph, or Mary for that matter, what would I do?  Forget about the marriage, maybe?

Just like our faith and lives, challenges of the stories of the Bible go on and on...  

In the beginning God… At end God will still be.

For the meantime, let’s transform their stories into ours, into mine.

And open our hearts and eyes to see what we are actually becoming.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Preaching the Stories, the Justice and the Good News

1.    The Stories

The bible is full of the stories which were told thousands years ago and thousand and thousand of miles away from either our home land Taiwan or our current residence in the United States. They remain as stories until we view them as our stories. Those stories are our stories. Then the light shines through our hearts and minds and the impact is within us, right here and now.

When the prophet Nathan went to see King David and told him a story of a very rich man who took a poor man’s one and only loving lamb, roasted and served to his guest, David was furious over the rich guy (2 Samuel 12: 1-5).  It was, to David, just a story, one of their stories.  Until David was aware that it was exactly his own story, it did not do a thing to him. 

And then Jesus told a parable (story) that there were two men went to the Temple to pray.  One was a proud Pharisee and the other was a corrupt tax collector (Luke 18: 10-14). When both left, one was more blessed than the other.
Guess who he was. and then guess who we are.

Then that famous story begins with “A man had two sons…” (Luke 15; 11-32) One could easily identify himself as either good old home bound brother; the lost/dead and came back to life bad boy…or even as the waiting father/mother.

The identities and the possibilities of the stories are unlimited.

Just like the grace of the Lord, unlimited!

2.    The Justice

Confession 1 -- I ask more questions than providing answers.
Confession 2 -- Since I completed my formal theological training in the late 70’s I do not recall that I ever preach a sermon about the justice of God. 

The justice is there yet I could not comprehend enough to put it into my sermons.  It is still hurting when I preach the love of God to His people (us) who more often turn our back to Him.  Yet it is more than I could handle when I try to touch upon the subject of the justice of the Lord.

Take the following scriptures for example –

At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his officials and all the Egyptians; and there was a loud cry in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead. (Exodus 12: 29-30 NRSV)

Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’ ” (1 Samuel 15: 1-3 NRSV)

     Why would the first born, the women, child and infant
     (Egyptians, Amalekites or whoever) be included 
     during the “war of revenge”? 
     Was it a divine justice or the human justice?   

3.    The Good News
Last winter I got a bad cold from a red-eye flight over the US continent and lost just about all my voice a few days before my scheduled sermon at a church.  While visiting my doctor, she advised me that I should not preach that coming Sunday, “Once you open your mouth, there will be no good news but germs…”
She said seriously. I opened my mouth and closed immediately without making a single comment.

As a preacher of the Presbyterian Church I used to utilize the role of the “teaching elder” more than proclaim the good news in my sermons.  Then I remembered the TV commercial called “where is the beef?” and I remembered that the congregations tend to looking for the good news over the theological/biblical interpretation knowledge.

In the parable of weeds among the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30) Jesus used the power of the mercy over the punishment and allow weeds like us to be in His grace and survived surprisingly.   

Take a look of the entire biblical characters, do we see any pure good wheat at all?  From Adam/Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David…all is as weed-looking as we are.  Yet God used them just like He would use us if we let Him.

The good news is in the weeds as well as in the wheat. 

We cannot exclude those who are not like us. 

And vice versa.

     “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.” (Isaiah 40:1)

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