12/03/17 “The Hope of Heaven” – Associate Pastor Rick Tutt
11/26/17 “The Reason for the Season” – Pastor Nick Warner Ph.D.
11/19/17 “My Gratitude List” – Pastor Nick Warner Ph.D.
11/12/17 “I Am the Bread of Life” – Pastor Nick Warner Ph.D.
11/05/17 “God Goes Before You” – Associate Pastor Rick Tutt
10/29/17 “Death, Hope and Some Kinda Crazy Love” – Pastor Nick Warner Ph.D.
10/22/17 “What Does God Want From Us?” – Pastor Nick Warner Ph.D.
10/15/17 “No Doubts? I Doubt It.” – Pastor Nick Warner Ph.D.
10/08/17 “Masterpiece?” Part 2 – Associate Pastor Rick Tutt
10/08/17 “Masterpiece?” Part I – Associate Pastor Rick Tutt
10/01/17 “For Such a Time as This” Part 2 – Associate Pastor Rick Tutt
You’ve Saved the Best till Last
On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine." "Dear woman, why do you involve me?" Jesus replied, "My time has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet." They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now."
This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him. John 2: 1-11
The passage just above is one of my true favorites –it has some drama and some humor and it tells us something about Jesus early in his ministry – his compassion for the bride and groom and host of this wedding comes through loud and clear. Here’s the story in a nutshell: Jesus and his mom are invited to a wedding in Cana, not far from Nazareth where he grew up so we can extrapolate that the couple might have been related in some way, at least good friends. Jewish weddings at that time went on for several days, they were real life-events so a well-to-do family member would often host the wedding for younger couples. A good Jewish wedding was costly and put an expectation on the family to provide well. Typically, the host would serve wine to the guests through the duration of the party but, understandably, served the better quality wine at the start of the festivities. This story starts when the host has run out of wine – a point of great personal embarrassment for the family, really a faux pas in the community.
At that point, Jesus’ mother tells Jesus that “they have no more wine” evidently expecting him to respond. The Aramaic word written here as “woman” or “dear woman” does not translate easily into English – it really is an endearing term of personal respect. Jesus says his “time has not yet come,” probably meaning he is not ready to perform public miracles since he is still becoming known for his ministry and his teaching. Miracles can, in some way, complicate Jesus’ presence – teaching stimulates thought and consideration, miracles can produce faith but they can also create a desire for personal healing or personal gain – think about that for a minute.
There’s also an allusion to Jesus’ relationship to his mom in this passage: a lot of affection and trust but also just a hint of Jewish mom stuff, she has an inclination to tell people what to do and try to take charge, Jesus lovingly dispels her from her responsibility but she proceeds to direct the servants to do what Jesus tells them. Gotta love the Jewish moms, whether or not they’re Jewish!
Despite all of this, Jesus has real compassion on the host and on the bridegroom whose good names could be hurt by the shortfall in the wine. So he tells them to fill six stone water jars with water, each one holding 30 gallons. To get the picture, those Arrowhead water jugs on top of dispensers that you see all the time are five gallon containers – these jars carry six times more. And there are six of them so Jesus gets them to fill jars to the tune of 180 gallons, we have no idea how many people were at this wedding but Cana was a small town. A few of the servants take some of the wine to the host of the wedding who had no idea where it had come from and he tells the bridegroom, in his surprise, that this wine was great – at this point in a wedding when many of the guests are already sated, or drunk, most families serve cheap wine – they’ve saved the best till last.
This is a stunning, “personal” miracle, the first of Jesus’ recorded miracles. Probably most of the guests had no idea where the wine came from, we have no idea if the host ever knew. By “personal” I mean that Jesus did this out of love, affection for this groom and his family and the host. By this act, Jesus had saved their reputations in the town and in their families – a very big thing in first century Israel. As is always the case with Jesus’ miracles, there’s a reason for the deed, as we’ve seen – Jesus’ miracles are never random or capricious.
But there is a humorous undercurrent to this story: Jesus creates really great wine and saves the day but he also creates a lot of it, think how many bottles you could fill with 180 gallons of wine. Jesus generosity is immense, his affection for his people is boundless, his creative ability to change a circumstance that looks like it’s going south is unlimited.
John, the author, does not say so directly but slightly insinuates that he was one of the disciples who was at that wedding – I think he saw this first hand and was beginning to realize then that Jesus was the Messiah, the God-man who would change everything. This is a creation miracle, a miracle is something outside of possible normal experience. Water does not ever turn into wine. The same creative power that breathed life into our species also turned water into wine. At some point, the guests left that party happy and rejoicing. A stunning miracle had just taken place and some of them probably did not know it. It wasn’t Jesus wish to draw attention to himself, rather to avoid derision for the young couple and the host. In this we learn much about Jesus’ power but also his character. This was the beginning, the knowledge of his greatness would spread. It’s still spreading.
From Pain to Promise – From Humiliation to HealingOne Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?" But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him away. Then he asked them, "If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?" And they had nothing to say.
When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: "When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this man your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." Luke 14:1-14
In this passage, the man with “dropsy” appears to be the vessel Jesus uses to continue to redefine the meaning of the Sabbath and much more. The passage tells us that the Jewish leaders were watching him “carefully” to see whether he would violate any of their rules. Now bear in mind that rules are most dangerous when the keeper of the rules is convinced that they are directly from God. The Pharisees and lawyers were committed Jews, they believed they were doing God’s will by strictly interpreting the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy – they took that to mean NO work at all. Jesus challenged them. By asking whether it’s lawful to heal on the Sabbath, he forced them to question whether healing was considered work and whether it was acceptable work on the Sabbath. They could not answer so they stayed silent.
But Jesus went ahead and healed the man. Dropsy generally refers to any condition characterized by edema, holding of water in the tissues. We’ve all had some tissue swelling but serious edema is usually a sign of heart or kidney failure and it’s often fatal – and painful. But just as bad for the sufferer, it’s quite disfiguring and embarrassing. In those suspicious and sometimes superstitious times, some would consider “dropsy” to be a sign of God’s disfavor therefore bringing shame to the person. And there was no treatment for it in the ancient world. Jesus simply healed him.
Again, we have a totally transformed life and a stunned man. Probably the Pharisee and everybody there were also stunned, enough so that it gave Jesus the opening to do some hard-core teaching about the meaning of intimacy with God.
The first teaching was bottom-line practical. Rhetorically, he asks them if they would pull their son, even their ox, out of a well if they fell in on the Sabbath. No more commentary, of course they would. Jesus is jabbing them right in the core of their legalism.
But he goes on, now having the forum, so to speak. Now he’s beginning to teach them about the heart of God. The heart of God, he tells them and us, is about a genuine humility, a willingness to defer to the next person. It isn’t about scrapping to get the best location, to be the guest of honor. God looks at all the scrappers but notices the ones whose faith in Him is sincere, who know that He will take care of them. The New Testament is full of this teaching, the first shall be last and the last shall be first. The one who humbles him or herself will be exalted by God. Don’t think God doesn’t notice.
There’s something about Jesus that we don’t always want to look at and that’s the matter that Jesus’ teaching pretty often brings more tension before it brings relief. This passage is an example of that. Jesus sets us off to learn God’s will and in learning it and doing it, we face the internal resistance of our own egos and our selfishness. That tension is the Holy Spirit at work, busting us open to be available vessels of God’s love. God stretches us and it doesn’t always feel good at first but the blessing it brings is amazing.
Then the teaching gets tougher, we all have to work this out. Jesus tells us to reach out to the needy, the broken, the hopeless, the disabled and disfigured. This is just not what we tend to want to do. But God will bless us. Still, here’s the ringer, we can’t do it just to manipulate a blessing from God – it has to be sincere. Tough stuff. But as we do it, we build a mind and spirit that’s innately close to God.
Again, there’s nothing here about enforcing the rules or showing how holy or righteous you are, or look. It’s so much more basic, coming to the place where we desire to do God’s will as though it’s imprinted on our DNA. Ponder this in the hard places, it’ll break down your prejudices and it might break your heart. Above all, it will break down your spiritual defenses and open you to insights and blessings you never imagined.
I’m glad we’re in this together.
This is Really Golden “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
This delightful passage, quoting part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, continues to call the people to a personal, intimate relationship with God. This is not novel to us but in Jesus’ time, the people of Israel thought of Yahweh God primarily as the God of the nation – not just the only God but the God who had spoken to and for Israel. The idea of a personal relationship with God was, simply, not easy to imagine.Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus redefines that radically. Speaking mostly to Jews, Jesus reveals God as One who welcomes us, cherishes our contact, desires to receive from and give to individuals. This is not “religion” the way it had become in Israel: stodgy, tradition-bound, dogmatic and legalistic religion, as Judaism had become, was now countered by Jesus with a message that was intimate, dynamic and alive, preferring real encounter between God and people to theological or traditional orthodoxy. As we study the gospels, we see that this is part of what got Jesus into so much trouble.
In this passage, Jesus invited us to approach this God who is eager to hear our questions, to know about God, to come to the very courts of God with our spirits and souls open to know Him. Jesus then proceeds to promise that those petitions will be answered, the seeker will find God, the door will be open. This stunning message of inclusivity had to rock the Jews of Jesus’ time. In his day, the only Jew who could approach God was the high priest and he would do so with fear and trembling. For the 1st century Jews, God was real but distant, unfathomable, not a close friend, rather an omniscient power whose characteristics and traits most could not begin to fathom. A quick note here: there are passages in the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament, that refer to God more intimately. These occur in the Psalms and in a few of the Prophets. But Jewish religion had indoctrinated the people with the unimaginable grandeur of God, utterly unknowable by common men and women, so that the priests and scribes could maintain their power hold on the people. That is part of the reason that Jesus so pointedly lambasted those power-brokers, the self-proclaimed righteous men who, in fact, separated normal people from God.Instead, Jesus proceeds to describe God as a father figure, eager to know and bless his sons and daughters with “good gifts” from His bounty. In essence, Jesus is telling the Jews to ask God for what they want, God will hear and will not play games, will not trick them. God is a steady-handed, rewarding God. Now another note: in Jesus’ time, the father in the family was a revered position, honored in the larger family and in the community. A boy was raised to become a man who would be a proud member of the family and nurture children who loved God. So throughout scripture, when Jesus speaks of our Father, the imagery to the Jew was one of real goodness, real and caring strength, and total decency. For a Jewish father to stray from that role would often result in his exclusion from the community and from the temple.
So yes, Jesus tells us that God wants to receive our calls, wants to “inhabit our praises,” and wants to give back freely. But, as he so often did, Jesus turns the tables to force us to look at ourselves again. If God loves us and gives freely, we must be decent receivers and also decent givers. Jesus tells us to do just that, treat others the way you want to be treated. That’s really not so difficult. You want to be respected, to be dealt with honestly, to be spoken about correctly – do the same. How often have you been dissed, cheated, gossiped about? If you don’t want it, don’t do it. Instead do the opposite. Remember that Jesus genuinely distilled down all the rules and laws of religion into this:
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind' and 'Love your neighbor as yourself." Luke 10:27
Pretty soon all of this is gonna make sense
For if there are prophecies they will be fulfilled and done with, if there are “tongues” the need for them will disappear, if there is knowledge it will be swallowed up in truth. For our knowledge is always incomplete and our prophecy is always incomplete, and when the complete comes, that is the end of the incomplete.
When I was a little child I talked and felt and thought like a little child. Now that I am a man my childish speech and feeling and thought have no further significance for me.
At present we are men looking at puzzling reflections in a mirror. The time will come when we shall see reality whole and face to face! At present all I know is a little fraction of the truth, but the time will come when I shall know it as fully as God now knows me!
In this life we have three great lasting qualities—faith, hope and love. But the greatest of them is love.
1 Corinthians 13:8-13 Phillips Version
There’s an old line that says something like this: “the more I learn, the more I know I don’t know.” Boy is that true. As a Christian, I have some understanding of God’s plans but I sure don’t always get why things are the way they are. They tell us we just have to trust and I guess I do but still have more and more questions. Now this whole thing can fall into two categories: one is wondering and curiosity, the other is doubt. I think both are okay, especially if they cause us to explore, to dig for answers to our questions. Please never let uncertainty or doubt or skepticism close your mind, you will continue to be amazed at what you can find by searching scripture, by reading other books about God or by talking to others. The hardest people to deal with, at least for me, are those who are full of self-righteous conviction that they really know what they’re talking about. They don’t. I sure don’t know everything, in fact I don’t know much. But my mind is open to God’s input and my spirit longs for it.
Check this out. The latter half of 1 Corinthians 13, the stunning and very famous “love chapter,” is a glimpse into the future, just a look but one that provides a promise and so much hope. Paul wrote this to the church at Corinth and, thank the Lord, it came all the way to us fully intact. Paul is looking ahead past the end of this era, past the time we’re all alive on earth, a time which is incomplete, he tells us, because here we can only be aware of what we see, hear, touch and, maybe, taste. Okay, add to that intuition and the movement of the Holy Spirit and you get a lot but still not complete, not even close. Paul seems to say that we know a lot more than we did as children and the way we thought as kids isn’t relevant for us anymore. We’ve been called to move on, on into a fuller life – more aware of ourselves and of our surroundings.
But Paul’s looking ahead into a world we can’t fathom, we can only see it dimly, as if we’re looking through a darkened glass. But it’s not going to stay that way, there is a time coming, sooner or later for each of us, when we’ll know reality fully, when we will see God face to face, when it will all make perfect sense. There is coming a time when all the mysteries will be solved, all the question lovingly answered. That time is coming for each of us.
The only ringer is that to get to the complete, to know fully, we have to die. We have to pass from this life into the next and that is the greatest uncertainty because we cannot fathom life outside the world we know and without these bodies. Frankly, it scares us, at least many of us, to ponder death. After all, nobody has died and come back to talk to us about it with, of course, one exception. The man who died and came back, defying death, gave us a glimpse of the glorious reality that awaits us. Jesus lived as one of us and died, was resurrected and in that, paved the way for all of us who follow him to follow him. As the kids say these days: “I’m in!”
In this passage from 1 Corinthians 13, Paul is telling us, in staccato language, that where we’re going is the consummation of love. God’s love will take us there, God’s love will create in us the completeness we long for and, in so doing, will finish the master design. Remember this: this life here and now is not the end of everything, it is not the fullness of everything, it’s just preliminary training ground for the consummation of God’s intention for each of us. We spend 30, 40, 50, 60 or more years getting ready for the eternity we’ll have with God in which all time will be like the best time we’ve ever had or imagined except that it will never end. Death is inevitable – it is the Master’s Royal Route to Eternity.
Rich or Poor, Arrogant or Humble
Sing to God, sing in praise of his name, prepare a way for him who rides through the deserts; rejoice before him—his name is the Lord. A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a desolate land.
As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
Many of you have heard sermons about “the widow’s mite” as it came to be called. This passage in Mark 12 and Matthew 24 seems to be Jesus’ tribute to the widow for her sacrificial offering, literally almost everything she had, to the Temple. As a result, it’s been great material for sermons on giving on Stewardship Drives. Well, Jesus certainly acknowledges her but this is not a command, not even a recommendation, that we give sacrificially to the point of poverty, certainly not to the point of despair.
The impact and power of this passage is in Jesus’ startling contrast between the religious leaders and the humble widow. In Jesus’ time Israel was locally ruled by men who were both the religious and political leaders because Israel was, in a sense, a theocracy. Note that Rome, the occupying power ruling over Israel, was not a theocracy but in Jesus’ time the Romans chose to let the locals take care of local affairs that did not affect Rome. So Jesus was directly addressing religious and political and social systems of his day.
Jesus’ message is not about wealth versus poverty, it is about the character and intentions of some members of these vastly different classes and the attitudes they bore with that position. Jesus truly despised the scribes and lawyers and Pharisees not as individuals but as a caste of leaders whose self-aggrandizing, pompous demeanor alienated regular people from the truth of God’s message. But almost nobody could speak up to them because of their position, status and wealth. Jesus did. And they did not like it, the story of the crucifixion sure points that out. This crowd did not like alternate points of view. Or criticism.
In the first portion of the passage, Jesus pointed toward the self-centered behavior of those scribes and noted that “they devour widows’ houses” (verse 40). This oblique statement, not otherwise mentioned in scripture or in history, undoubtedly refers to some practice in which the leaders took the houses and property of the helpless widows. Widows were among the most vulnerable in the world of Jesus’ time, few or no defenders, no legal rights, no claim to property and, often, little or no money.
The passage about the widow is punctuated by a defense of widows (along with children, prisoners and the destitute) that permeates scripture – take a look at the citation from Psalm 68, above. This widow came bearing two tiny coins, probably worth just a few cents in today’s money. Jesus and the disciples observed this and, while acknowledging the widow, he laments the inequity and inequality of a society that creates this scene. It’s impossible to know whether her motives were fully good and right or whether she might have felt compelled to give. But she did give.
So here’s the point of this passage. God directs us to give back: the Old Testament talks about a tithe (1/10) but the New Testament does not mention this. It needs to be a love offering within the means of the giver, it is not to be a legalistic formula. God does not ask us to give beyond our means and God is not looking to enforce a payment schedule like some divine IRS agent. God knows our hearts and God is extremely unimpressed with the people in this world, religious or not, who are extremely impressed with themselves. And God is equally unimpressed with those in this world who seek to make impressions to draw attention to themselves.
God wants us to know our hearts, our resources and our motives. There is a lot to be said for true humility – truly to think of ourselves accurately, not too high and not too low. But we are a corruptible species: keep your minds and eyes open!
Thinking Again about Being Born Again
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him." Jesus replied, "Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again." "How can someone be born when they are old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother's womb to be born!"
Jesus answered, "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
John 3:1-8, 16-18
John 3 is a passage that’s gotten weakened by familiarity, the passage in which the Pharisee, Nicodemus, comes to check Jesus out. While we can’t know his real motives, Nicodemus might have been interested in Jesus because he was showing spiritual vitality and Nic’s tried and true religion was wearing thin under the weight of formality and ritual and legalism. So Nicodemus comments that Jesus must have come from God as a teacher as witnessed by his supernatural acts.
Jesus says “amen, amen, lego sou” which is well-translated as “this is very important, pay attention!” Jesus’ next statement seems to confuse Nicodemus. Jesus says that, to know the Kingdom of God, you have to be born again. This is another of Jesus’ statements meant to bust up the rigid, calcified way of thinking that the Jews, and others, had gotten locked into. The Jews saw the relationship with God as a series of formulaic behaviors that set them right with God and set them apart from others. Not the formula Jesus would allow.
But here’s the irony – a lot of the Christian church is right back into that formulaic pattern: believing just right, speaking just the right language, believing in steps to salvation. Even the tradition-busting term “born again” has turned into a regimented pattern for complacency, certainly in some circles. The very term Jesus used with Nicodemus to blow open his mindset has been used to lock into a new rigid mindset. Go figure.
To my reading, Jesus despised religion that was culturally and socially locked into patterns that kept outsiders out. Jesus blew open the doors to God to everyone and mocked those who appeared righteous but were full of deceit and full of themselves. The Pharisees were the worst of the lot but my feeling about Nicodemus is that he was probably a decent guy, looking for something better. Jesus goes on to make a word play on the “wind,” which is the same word as “spirit” (pneuma), that it is not locked down or fixed, you hear it but you don’t know where it’s going and you sure as heck don’t box it: “so it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” We don’t represent God or Jesus well when we have all the answers and try to fit folks into our patterns, we do real well when we listen to them tell us where they’ve come from and where they want to go – in time many of them will ask what it is we stand for and we’ll be there to give a good representation of our faith.
This interesting dialog between Jesus and Nicodemus culminates in John 3:16 & 17 with Jesus stating the “whosoever,” whoever believes in him will not die and will have eternal life with him. This is a whole new pattern of getting it right with God – simply anyone who believes gets a life sentence: life eternal in relationship with God. Another one of Jesus’ shake-ups and we’re the benefactors of the love formula.
Are you a whosoever?
I and Thou
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:1-7
The title of today’s message is taken from the book by Martin Buber published in German in 1923 as “Ich und Du.” The wide thesis of his book is that human life finds its meaning in relationships. We have relationships, he says, with lots of things and people, many of which are just the acknowledgement of their existence: he calls those an “I and It” relationship. I see a tree, I meet a person, I am aware of a distant relative but most of those are acknowledgements.
But if I know you, really meet you and get to know you, you and I enter into an “I and Thou” relationship predicated on the idea that I am getting to know the real you, not my imagination of who you are but who you really are. Early stages of a relationship are pretty often “I and It” meaning that we meet each other and present our mask, our public self, the image we want to portray and we try to live up to each others’ expectations. This may be courtship or idealization or infatuation. We’ve all been there; the issue for a relationship is how we deal with each other as the other person becomes “real,” not our fantasy person but who they and we really are.
Every relationship is initiated by one of the parties, or at least continued by the one who pursues it. At first that relationship is, as said above, in some senses a fantasy. Soon enough it starts to get real and either founders or deepens. In that deepening, we meet the real other but also come to know ourselves better.
What’s this all about? Well, Buber says that relationships are highlighted by the relationship with God whom he calls the “eternal Thou.” In a nutshell, we’re called to be in a relationship with God, being our real selves and getting to know the real God, not one we’ve made up or imagined, the God who is there, who is, at least in part, knowable.
Now I see this as a hard problem because getting to know God is difficult: God is not directly accessible to any of our senses and any attempt we make to know God will always come up short. Remember that this God is the infinite Creator of the expanses of the universe and of the microscopic world of the atoms and neutrons.
So, in reality, we can only know God to the extent that God allows us to know Him. And that’s the story of revelation history: God has chosen to reveal to us some of who God is – not everything, we couldn’t begin to grasp that – but enough for us to enter into an “I and Thou” relationship. Remember, we are made in God’s image, we are very intelligent creatures, we are able to learn and know a great deal. But it’s still a problem because God is a spirit, invisible, everywhere, hard to know. That said, it is God who initiates any real relationship: we love because He first loved us.
If God has revealed characteristics of Himself, starting at the beginning of Jewish history, it has been difficult for God because it appears that God wants a relationship with us based not on force or coercion or fear. God’s central characteristic is love and love does not force a person into intimate caring. God’s unfolding revelation reaches its zenith, highest form, in the person of Jesus Christ. God became a man and we can begin to relate to a man. That man showed us how to behave, the right way to think and got into a real, vital “I and Thou” relationship with his disciples. And Jesus continues to do so. God knows us as we really are, completely, in fact far better than we know ourselves. In Jesus, God beckons us to get to know Him, personally and intimately as people desiring a living relationship.
Is this going to be easy? Nope. But, as you know, no relationship with any depth is easy. Any genuine relationship grows us, forces us to reach farther out and deeper inside. Any genuine relationship grows us and shows us things about “the other” and about ourselves that can only be learned in that relationship.
But here’s a final ringer: any good relationship gives us meaning and direction and never is that more true than to enter into a real relationship with the living God. You can read a lot more about how to do this: check the Bible, New Testament to begin, I would say go to the Gospels like the Gospel of John. You will meet Jesus on those pages and get to know him better and better, as you acknowledge the initiative of the Creator who created you to be loved. That introduction to God, your response to God calling your name, begins a faith journey that will last the rest of your life and then, given the fact that we will know and see so much more, multiply in the realm of God’s eternal creation.
Render to God What is God’s
Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” 18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” 21 “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
We’re living in a politically tumultuous time in history. Factions on each side deeply distrust each other and, in some cases, are at work to bring about the downfall of the other side. Motives on both sides are hardly benign, often they are either questionable or deeply self-serving. And opinions are riddled with indignation and acrimony.
If all of that sounds familiar, it was just about the same in the Israel into which Jesus was born and came to minister. His “come to change the status quo” message was highly threatening to the entrenched factions who went to work to get rid of him. The power structures in Israel, political and religious, had established a working alliance with the Roman-based government that tyrannically ruled Israel and who were despised by the people.
That hatred was substantially multiplied around Christian calendar year 05 when the Romans levied a “poll tax” to identify the citizens of Israel and Judea and force them to pay what was, basically, a citizenship tax that the locals disdainfully referred to as “Caesar’s tax” or, more formally, “the imperial tax.” There had already been at least one violent rebellion among the people that the Romans had put down. Looking for a way to frame Jesus, the Pharisees asked a question that they thought would demand a lose-lose answer from Jesus. If Jesus said they should pay the “imperial tax” the people would look on him with disgust. If he said they should not pay the tax, he would be defying the Roman government and subject to arrest as an enemy of the empire.
But Jesus, overlooking their bogus statements of affirmation, read right into their nefarious scheme and, quite simply, beat them at their game of roulette. “Whose image is on the coin?” he asked them. “Caesar’s” they replied. “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” Then Jesus was presented with a stunning teaching moment: “And give back to God what is God’s.” This, for the moment, punctured their pretenses and sent them away. As we know, they would be back.
You can be certain that Jesus was not ignorant of the political and religious forces at work in his country but he would not allow himself to get sucked into the issues of the day which change with every change of government or position whether by rebellion, resistance, election of new leaders or death of the power(s) in charge. For Jesus, the focus was on God and God never changes. Factions and governments change, religious leaders change and with them some of their interpretations of God’s Word but God’s Word is immutable, it will not ever change. Therein lies much of our security as believers: we may change our understanding of countless things, of leaders and procedures and understanding of issues like baptism techniques or women’s role in the church or homosexuality, to name a few. But the foundation of our faith does not change: Jesus came to us, God in the flesh, ministered righteousness, was betrayed and set up for a trial and execution, died, was resurrected and took power over the forces of death so opening the flood gates of eternal life to all who will respond.
So to this, Jesus beckons us to muster the courage to live and thrive, living lives that are not riddled with worry but are structurally supported by faith and reassurance. The second passage above, Matthew 6:28-34, matter-of-factly says that very thing. Turn to God, present your worries to Him, God will take care of you. Simple? Maybe not. But every time we reach up, God touches us. This is the same message Jesus told the Pharisees, whose image is engraved on your heart?
By the way, that engraving was purchased at a very great price.