I love orange Julius; Church I’m not so sold on.

Boy do I love a delicious orange Julius.  I drove 15 minutes out of my way and back to grab the largest one they sold, less than an hour later my cup is empty and I am doing the math to see if I have time to go get another one.  I mean look at it.ImageIt looks absolutely wonderful.  I’ve never passed an Orange Julius store without stopping to get one.  The beauty of a chain like Orange Julius is that great efforts are made to ensure that the food is consistent from store to store so that their delicious orange, milk and ice beverages are the same every time.  They do a great job.  That  is why I love Orange Julius.  Church on the other hand that’s more of a mixed bag and that in a nutshell is why I don’t love “church” as much as I love Orange Julius.  I know that is probably an odd statement for a Pastor to make, an  odd statement for someone who spends most days inside a church but the truth is I have a love hate relationship with church.  I love Jesus, how he taught us to live and the hope that can be found in the resurrection.  I love God and the life I believe he is calling us into.  I love the Spirit and the feeling I get when I feel the spirit moving through God’s people.  What I don’t love is that the word is so all encompassing,  for instance you can throw the word church on the end of the phrase Westboro  Baptist and all of a sudden it’s hard to love what that word “church” has become  . I looked at today’s reading and it didn’t help much.

1 Chronicles 21:1-17 (NRSV)Satan stood up against Israel, and incited David to count the people of Israel. So David said to Joab and the commanders of the army, “Go, number Israel, from Beer-sheba to Dan, and bring me a report, so that I may know their number.” But Joab said, “May the Lord increase the number of his people a hundredfold! Are they not, my lord the king, all of them my lord’s servants? Why then should my lord require this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?” But the king’s word prevailed against Joab. So Joab departed and went throughout all Israel, and came back to Jerusalem. Joab gave the total count of the people to David. In all Israel there were one million one hundred thousand men who drew the sword, and in Judah four hundred seventy thousand who drew the sword. But he did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, for the king’s command was abhorrent to Joab. 

But God was displeased with this thing, and he struck Israel. David said to God, “I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing. But now, I pray you, take away the guilt of your servant; for I have done very foolishly.” The Lord spoke to Gad, David’s seer, saying, “Go and say to David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Three things I offer you; choose one of them, so that I may do it to you.'” So Gad came to David and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Take your choice: either three years of famine; or three months of devastation by your foes, while the sword of your enemies overtakes you; or three days of the sword of the Lord, pestilence on the land, and the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.’ Now decide what answer I shall return to the one who sent me.” Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress; let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is very great; but let me not fall into human hands.” 

So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel; and seventy thousand persons fell in Israel. And God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it; but when he was about to destroy it, the Lord took note and relented concerning the calamity; he said to the destroying angel, “Enough! Stay your hand.” The angel of the Lord was then standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. David looked up and saw the angel of the Lord standing between earth and heaven, and in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell on their faces. And David said to God, “Was it not I who gave the command to count the people? It is I who have sinned and done very wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Let your hand, I pray, O Lord my God, be against me and against my father’s house; but do not let your people be plagued!” 

I need an Orange Julius after reading that, seriously I’m leaving my computer and getting one right now.  2013-02-18_13-25-32_669 Ok that’s much better.  So in this reading David makes God angry by trusting the size of his army (taking a census) rather than trusting God’s power.   So maybe Hannibal Lector was just a misunderstood follower of this anti-census God. Seriously though let’s look at how God responds.  He gives David a choice 3 years of famine, 3 months of being ravaged by an army or 3 days of God’s punishment.  David takes the merciful option and God shows further mercy my not destroying Jerusalem.  No God “only” kills 70,000 people.    That’s a lot of deaths! Its over 23 9/11 attacks, its 76 Jonestown massacres  2592 times more than the Sandy Hook shootings, 4666 more than the Columbine shootings.  It’s more than was lost in any single battle in american history, Antietam is considered the bloodiest day in american history and this is still 3 times more deaths than Antietam.  And to be clear this death toll is to be thought of as a sign of God’s mercy because it could have been worse.  And to top it off the guy who made the mistake to cause all of this, King David, he is left unpunished.  The message seems to be do what God says, or else you will face  punishment unlike any other.  The truth is a lot of Churches have that sort of message too they just trade a plague for hell.  From what I can tell hell is a small town in Michigan.  It is also possible people are talking about this place.  That site by the way is the third link listed when you Google search hell which means when some random person wonders what this Hell thing Christians talk  about is, they will most likely find a site like the one I just linked to , or Wikipedia, which is always accurate.  The point of all this is that when people look at this view of Christianity and this view of God they want no part of it.  This God whose mercy isn’t very merciful, this God whose punishments are beyond imagining is a God people want no part of.  Now most Christians (I think) have a much more Gracious understanding of who God is.  They understand God to be full of Grace, forgiveness and love.  This is the God of all Good things the God of the footprints poem.  But that takes me back to Orange Julius.  The reason chain restaurants have such strict standards is because you never know which customer is trying your product for the first time.  Imagine if my first Orange Julius was rancid, it would have been the only one I ever tried, I wouldn’t have Gone back.  And that is why I don’t like churches, because we all get lumped together, people think we are all the same, people think all Christians have the same understanding of God and the obvious truth is we don’t.  No the truth is God is bigger than we can picture, whatever we say God is, we can be sure that God is in fact bigger than our words.  That goes for the Bible too, we can’t look at this one story and say this is how God operates, even in we read the whole bible thousands of times our errors in perception  logic, reason, memory and so much more will skew our vision of who and what God is to some degree.  But I don’t think we are left with a God who is imperceptible  we just won’t get the whole picture.  I would say start with the words Grace, love and forgiveness to describe God explore who God is from there.  I am sure someone would say that other words would be more important to start with, but that just goes to show you that Christian understandings just aren’t as consistent as Orange Julius’

As an aside writing this inspired me to find a recipe to make Orange Julius at home and each site gave me the same recipe, talk about constancy!

6 ounces frozen orange juice concentrate

1 cup milk, lowfat okay

1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 ice cubes
Directions:

1
-Combine all ingredients, except ice cubes, in blender.
2
-Blend 1-2 minutes , adding ice cubes one at a time, until smooth.

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What Do these names have in common, Marty McFly, Doctor Who and Jesus…

I have been looking forward to the year 2015 for a long time and October 21st 2015 in particular.  The reason is that’s the date Marty McFly travels to in Back to the Future 2: Electric Boogaloo (I may not be right on that secondary title).  The time Marty and Doc spend in 2015 is some of the best future predictions ever, hover boards, holo-theaters, food hydrators, self fitting and drying clothes, not to mention flying cars. Some of the predictions are really bad too for instance people still use fax machines and the fax machines print like one of these

 Image

Time travel always seems to be a good idea for a movie or TV plot (exceptions being Star Trek: Enterprise, Masters of the Universe and Beast Master 2).  Often the premise is to fix time (Back to the Future 2) or make the future better (Terminator)  or to right some wrong (Quantum Leap (Quantum Leap counts as time travel right)) it never seems to deal primarily with the burden of seeing the future, of seeing what is going to happen and being unable to change it.  Sure there is always the talk of the catastrophic results of messing with time, paradoxes implosions, Biff owning the world or Abe Lincoln losing all dignity ( had to make at least on e Bill and Ted reference) but the results always seem to be generally positive or neutral no one seems generally shaken by seeing the tragedies that history has in store.  Jesus here has a different take…

Luke 19:41-44 (NRSV)

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” 

About 40 years after Jesus was in Jerusalem (70 CE) Rome had enough of the locals and their idiosyncrasies so they burned the Jewish temple, burned its ashes and forcibly relocated the Jewish people across all of the Roman Empire.  It should be pretty clear but its still worth noting this was pretty terrible for the Jewish people, if you ever doubted how tough the Jewish people are they’ve been putting up with this kind of oppression for over 2000 years.  It seems fair to say that this is what Jesus was referring to when he weeps while looking at Jerusalem. 

——Side bar here The book of Luke was first put on paper, or scrolls, or papyrus or some early form of a Kindle, or whatever they had back then  in about 80-90 CE or 10 years after the event being predicted by Jesus.  Because of that the argument can be made, easily, that the author added this in to point to how great Jesus was, to add fortune telling to wine making and water walking on the things Jesus can do list.  Time isn’t relevant to God (it’s one of the questions asked on the are you God quiz) so if you believe in God you believe God is not subject to our linear time and if you believe in Jesus as God then A=B and Jesus would think beyond the constraints of liner time (Do I sound like a professor in a time travel movie, because I’m trying to).  So if Jesus actually said this or not is rather inconsequential the point is more his response than the prediction itself. —————-

Jesus looks at the city, thinks of the pain that will occur there and is sad, and weeps.  He wishes that the people could see what God has in store see that life could be better see that peace is real and achievable and make it happen, see what God is doing in Jesus and stop the flow of time that leads down this path of pain.  They didn’t.  We didn’t   Truth is Jesus could have walked to any population center and done this.  We could do the same pick a town a city a country whatever you want  say the same words Jesus says feel free to paraphrase “Pain and agony are preventable if only you knew how to stop them before they happened”  then watch the news for your location see what happens.  Sooner or later you’ll see something bad, depressing, disheartening, something that makes you wish events had happened differently and when you do I bet you’ll be able to see a way in which it could have been prevented through compassion, concern, love or care the way you feel in that moment is how Jesus felt.  I think that is a powerful statement about God he feels for us, God wants better for us, God weeps with us.  God gives us the gift of life and freedom wishes for the best and is with us when the best doesn’t happen.  The real gold in this verse for me is the line “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!”  The call is for us to be the change to figure out what makes for peace and be that change.  God has the perspective of the time traveler (The 12th Doctor perhaps) but we are the ones called to change and shape the future through compassion, concern, love and care.  Instead of being Sarah Connor fighting against a future where machines rule the planet we are called to be regular people fight for a better world.  We know the ugly is out there, we know things can be done to make this world better now we just have to do it… without a time machine.