Sunday, October 28, 2012

Young Goat Theology Is for Old Goats (Luke 15)

The problem is NOT belief in God but rather, what God do we really trust and cling to? Because we will become like the God we worship. J.B. Phillips brilliantly named some of our self-made tin gods in his classic Your God Is Too Small.

No matter how many gods you have, they are never enough, and if they are false, we will end up being formed by what is most false and fragmented in and around us. 

In the parable of the Two Sons (Luke 15), the older son's attitude over the feast thrown in honor of the younger son's homecoming bursts forth like sore boil: "You never even gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends." (15: 29)

OK, except that young goats are not even comparable to fatted calves. Well, maybe in the mind of bitter older brothers. Like the "Young Spring Chicken" from an old family favorite in my childhood (with apologies to the Dudley Motor Inn in Western New York),  the meat of young goats is lean but neither tasty nor tender nor plentiful.

Rob Bell suggests that the elder sibling has probably been saving this line up for years, and although I appreciate that possibility,  the outburst may have just come to him in the heat of the moment even as it exposes a deep seated resentment of the younger brother.  (Love Wins, p.166)

The younger "prodigal" brother is badly mistaken about his relationship with dad. At the outset, he asks for his share of the family fortune- and only later stumbles into the same thinking shared by his older brother: that the slave/servant relationship is the only hope for his father's acceptance.  

The father's words are of course, Jesus'. They come out of the relationship he himself experiences with his abba, his daddy. They're the corrective to our meager, self concerned, old goat theology: "Everything I have is yours." (v.31) There's no thought if there will be enough for everyone, or if celebrating with fatted calves instead of young goats is a waste of precious resources.

The words of the song Magic Penny, was written from a mother for her daughter's dance: "Love is something if you give it end up having more." With God, there is always more because this is the everything that Jesus' Father gives us: abounding grace, filled to overflowing.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Calming Storms with the Oil of Christ

Cross at Lindesfarne
This story from the mission of St. Aiden of the Celts and can be found in Bede's Ecclesiastical History of England (St. Bede, 673-735). In 563, St. Columba, ‘dove of the church’ (521-597) founded the monastery on the island of Iona. The monastery of Lindisfarne was the major missional influence in Northumbria, and was founded by Aidan of Iona in 635.
Utta, one of Aidan’s priests, was sent to Kent to bring back Eanfled to marry King Oswry and further his kingdom. Riding through enemy territory, he would have to return with Eanfled by treacherous sea. 

Aidan knew Utta was terrified of the ocean and its storms. So Aidan, blessing some oil, marked Utta on the brow with the sign of the cross: “The cross of Christ defend you from all evil.” Then he gave to Utta the phial of oil, saying, “Keep this close to you and let it be a sign of peace and calm. If a great storm arises, then pour the oil on the troubled waters. Remember that Christ is in your ship, and call on him. Speak to him who stilled the waves and calmed the wind. God be with you in your going out and in your returning. I can see that you will bring the princess and her retinue safely back to Bamburgh. Do not be afraid, my brother; trust in God.”

Utta traveled with great speed to the palace of the Kentish king. A ship was prepared and all boarded safely. Utta clutched the phial of oil that hung around his belt and it seemed all was going to plan, that his prayers were answered. Suddenly, it all changed. A great storm broke upon them; their sails had to be lowered. Planks were creaking and straining. Waves crashed over the ship. As the day darkened, there was no sign of the storm weakening. There was no harbor- they would have to ride out the storm in the open sea. As the boat rose high and plunged to the depths, all wondered how long they could survive the horrendous waves.

Utta decided this must be the moment to use the oil. He asked one crewman to tie a rope to his waist and to tie the other end to the mast. Then, with great struggle, he moved to side of the ship. A great wave nearly swept him overboard. As the ship dipped, Utta poured the oil on the sea and immediately the wind stopped and the waves eased; it all became calm. After the journey, Utta told Aidan. “You have to believe me father! The moment I poured oil on the troubled waters there was a calm, a peace. It was a miracle. No one on board knew what to say, except to thank God for their deliverance.”

We are often caught in stormy waters. Jesus is the One who stilled the wind and the calmed the waters. How could we learn to cast the oil of Christ over our lives? What is the oil that God gives us to pour calm and peace over our troubled spirits, tense relationships and whatever troubles us?

Oldies but Goodies