I have had little time to reflect during these last days here at Austin Seminary. My time has been occupied with finding a place to land on June 1. My days have been spent filling out graduate school applications, scholarship forms, grant proposals, resumes, and job applications.
I managed to eek out a few papers in between the above actions. I have sought to write the occasional article for this blog. I have scheduled time to hang out with friends. I have worried about the responsibilities of being a husband.
It is the last one that I spend most of my time with. All of the other actions spring forth from my desire to love Mere and provide with her a life that does not include a cardboard box or sleeping bags.
I enter this week with fear and trepidation. Looking to the biblical witness for comfort and peace. I read today’s lectionary gospel Matthew 12:22-32.
“Then they brought to him a demoniac who was blind and mute; and he cured him, so that the one who had been mute could speak and see. All the crowds were amazed and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons, that this fellow casts out the demons.” He knew what they were thinking and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property, without first tying up the strong man? Then indeed the house can be plundered. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
I entered seminary Fall 2005 after a year in Kenya as a volunteer [YAV] at Church World Service. I entered service with all the hope I could muster. I was that bright eyed yokel, jaw dropped backwater, trying hard not to stand out amongst the crowd.
This was hard to do. The first week there I was staying in the home of Wangaru family. They were going to a football match between Kenya and Malawi. The winner moved on further in the qualifying tournament for the World Cup to be held in 2006. Kenya’s team was littered with off the field distractions. There was a recent scandal and a firing of the national coach.
I sat there unable to hear the political climate. I had no idea what was really going on. There I was trying to pretend I spoke the language. I wanted to not stand out. I wanted to erase my white skin. I was bull shiting my way trough this event.
Kenya went up 3 to nil at half. Then Malawi scored two goals. It was 3 to 2. A rather intimidating man with ganja hanging from his lips leans over to me and says, “Kenya must win this match! It would be a shame muzungu if they lost. Go Kenya!” I smile and yell, “Go Kenya!”
I had no idea how to act. What to say. I sat there praying that Kenya would win…Kenya won. I was able to quickly leave the stadium unaccosted by the “Banga Boys.” I had a moment on the way out. I saw another white face among the sea of black faces. I was pissed he was there. This is my moment in the sun. These are my African sisters and brothers!
I could not hear. I was mute. I could not see. I could not know. My time in Kenya was filled with moments like this. Moments of clarity. Moments of deafening silence and utter mystery.
I arrived at the seminary doorstep. I was greener than I would like to admit and dumber than I looked. I swaggered around this place trying really hard to be Fonzie. I wanted to prove I am cool still. Even as I answered the call on my life I was no longer a D&D playing boom sucka. Most of all I was a man of the world now. I arrived three weeks back from Africa on the Austin Seminary campus.
I was unique. I was different. I was a rebel doing rebellious things. I drank, cussed, and swaggered like a sailor and I F#$cking loved me some Jesus in the process.
I did not recognize that I was deaf. I was unable to speak. I was unable to see. I was in need of a major Holy Spirit inspired, Jesus lead ass whooping.
Today we hear, “Then they brought to him a demoniac who was blind and mute; and he cured him, so that the one who had been mute could speak and see. All the crowds were amazed…” Jesus and the disciples have just feed their hunger and healed mad amounts of folks on the Sabbath prior to this story in Matthew. After this story the naysayers call Jesus out and demand a sign. They are saying, “I am calling Bull shit, bull shit Jesus. You got to give us something. All these things you keep doing just do not make sense. Something has got to give!?!”
The crowd or the Pharisees bring Jesus this person. Jesus is brought a marginalized and broken person. A person that is not whole, not complete. A person that is lacking the normal faculties of everyone else of the day. This person stands outside the standards of normalcy. This cat cannot talk. Cannot see. They were utterly dependent upon those around them.
Jesus takes this person and mends the gap between normal and abnormal. Jesus reveals the world to this person. This person becomes witness to the world of the cure available in Jesus. This is some crazy stuff.
Imagine you are hanging out at the beach and this guy is out there preaching to people and people you know are over there getting healed. The guy that is begging for change by the burrito shack is now dancing around, tripping because he can now dance around and be crazy. The dude that could not see is now telling you that your back is sunburned.
This challenges the social and political norms. Jesus does this on purpose. This is not candy coated, basket weaving, hippie Jesus down by the shore singing with Judas and the hippie children about joy, trust. Jesus does this for a reason. Jesus incites the crowds.
Jesus incites a discussion on the ability of a house fighting amongst itself. “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.” WTF? First Jesus heals all the folks. Then Jesus incites the Pharisees to question the motives and then calls the cats out. It is like Jesus is saying, “poor little lambs. You are walking yourselves to slaughter. When will you stop fighting each other and cease the division?”
I see the current situation we are in with the political and ecclesial “issues” of the Presbyterian Church (USA) as parallel with this portion of the text. Here is a warning to us all. As crystal clear as can be. Are we divided? Are we being laid to waste? Hear the words, “a house divided against itself will not stand.”
I bet we can get varying opinions and responses to the questions, “Are we divided? Are we being laid to waste?” With support on either side of the argument or discussion.
The one thing we can see is that we are not unified as a denomination. We are not sitting pretty with each other. We got Johnny taking his money and going home. We got Jane with her money behind her back not wanting to support the opinion of Johnny or any of his friends. We have a split decision on so many “issues” we are becoming increasingly ineffective as a sanctuary of reconciliation, hope, and exploration of faith and witness of the gospel.
We are mute. We are blind. We are in serious need of a cure. That cure is in Jesus alone. Neither side has the figure four leg lock on grace, forgiveness, or salvific standards. This is not a matter of Hulk Hogan battling the dangerous “unpatriotic [read unchristian] Iron Sheik.
The world stands by unimpressed with the antics of the Presbyterian Church (USA). We are frozen in traditions that may or may not be producing fruit. It seems as if we are in a holding pattern waiting for Jesus to arrive with his bag of tricks and magic huggy arms, absent the action fighting kung fu hand of table slapping, table turning power.
W.T.F.W.J.D.? It is simple. It is clear. In this instance Jesus would heal those in need. Jesus would feed the hungry. Jesus would call our bull shit, bull shit. Jesus would scoff at our antics and point out our foolish ways. As we seek to be a divided house of prayer. A divided house of reconciliation. A divided house of “issues.” We remain divided
We have wrestled with power in the past. These “issues” are not new to us or the church.
The church will always be here. As the church is formed of broken, beaten, bound, meager, sinful, marginalized, and hoping people. A people that are far from perfection and are in dire need of a savior. Dire need of love, grace, and forgiveness.
Jesus gives a damn. Jesus reconciles. Jesus amazes crowds and stirs the hearts and minds of witnesses to these events. Jesus makes the blind praise his name. Jesus makes it possible for the mute to praise his name.
My favorite hymn is Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.
Come Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of God’s unchanging love.
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let that grace now like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
We must ask ourselves, how we have wandered from the fold of God. We must seek to be healed of our inability to see Gods ways. We must desire reconciliation from that which we speak of and that which we are mute. Sisters and Brothers, We are prone to leave the God we love. We are in need of rescuing from danger. A danger of living in a house divided. We are being robbed as we are fettered by worldly goods. Let us be free in Christ Jesus. Can we shun the bull shit of today? Jesus is calling us out folks. What are we going to do now?!?