Crisis Driven Faith

When I was reading the gospel passage, I was struck by how contemporary this conversation sounded. Weekly, if not daily, I am sure the Israelites living under Roman rule would hear about incidences of government imposed cruelty as well as everyday tragedies like the Siloam tower collapse, for afterall, OSHA did not exist in their workplace and no laws to enforce safety guidelines.

I thought about two incidents in the news this week. The bombings in Spain that have claimed at least 199 lives and the 11 million Spaniards who marched in solidarity decrying the atrocities. I thought about the Inner Harbor taxi that capsized and the search to find the bodies in the murky polluted waters of the harbor.

I reflected too about the intense research that would be undertaken to determine who was to blame for these two incidences. Will we ever know if it was Al Quaida, or the Basque Separatist group or someone else with a cause demanding a voice? Could the captain of the boat have prevented the capsize? Was the design of the ship at fault?

We people today look for the perpetrator of the crime while families mourn. Some mourn in despair, others in anger, others in utter heartbreak. Many invoke God turning to God in utter dependence to uphold and sustain them through the grief and trials that accompany such loss . But not all turn to God for strength. Many question God's wisdom, God's purpose, or God's love in allowing such tragedies to occur. Both reactions are natural and understandable. But notice. The word is reaction.

Over the centuries the general trend has been toward a reactive faith or a crisis driven faith. People return to God in great numbers when life takes a downturn. Prayers are lifted loud and clear to God to fix the messes we're in or stand by us when the going gets tough. Or at least give someone that inspiration that is needed so desperately so we can solve the problem ourselves. Others perhaps pray that the guilty person will be caught and brought to trial and punishment.

I think it is interesting though that in Jesus' day, the focus was not solely on the person who committed the deed. There was also the understanding that the wounded party perhaps had sinned and deserved - no I don't want to use that word deserved - rather was responsible in part for the chain of sequences that influenced what had happened. When I hear that word, deserve, I think that someone has committed an inappropriate act and by some law written or understood should receive a penalty. Rather let's stick with sin here…. Sin is living apart from God - not hearing and understanding the will of God for one's life - doing things our own way.

I looked up the historical record behind the events Jesus spoke of. Now, we all know that Pilate was not opposed to using extreme violence against those that stood in the way of him carrying out his duties. Yet, when you read the historian Josephus you will also find Pilate was a man who could be affected by dedication to purpose and honor. As a representative of Caesar, Pilate was within his rights to put up various signs and symbols reflecting the governing body of the land. Not any more or less innocent than the United States Flag that stands in our sanctuary. But according to the holiness codes of the Old Testament, symbols such as statues of Caesar or national flags would be considered a desolating sacrilege because it would detract from the full attention of the worshipper to stay focused on God - not human institutions. If Pilate would have kept Caesar's images out of the temple, life would have been tolerable.

But the history books say that when a huge delegation of all the priesthood gathered to address the situation lying prostrate on the floor before him, necks bared for the sword, Pilate was moved by their concerted willingness to lay down their lives for God. And Pilate had the images removed and no one was harmed.

However, the next incident did not have the same happy ending. Pilate decided to embark on a public works project. He decided to bring water into the city of Jerusalem via aqueducts and other water conduits. A positive thing most of us would say - to have running water? The problem is he used the money in the temple treasury to pay for it. The people got rowdy, throwing insults and rocks at Pilate wherever he went. Until finally, he got tired of the abuse and had his military armed with knives prepared for the next onslaught. Tragically many Galileans were killed and their blood mingled with their sacrifice.

So, Jesus was on target when he asked the question, were they worse sinners, was there some responsibility that could be laid upon the participants. And, yet, it was not that their deaths were somehow ordered by God in response to some sin. By God's own rules regarding the temple, the Hebrews were legally correct. Pilate had no right to access temple money. And, yet, what had the priests been doing with the money other than accumulating it? What other of God's rules had the priests been neglecting? What about taking care of the poor and hungry? Jerusalem was a city that was always filled with pilgrims in need of fresh water. And Pilate was filling a great need. So when the priests reacted the way they did, Pilate could not allow that behavior to go on for long. It made no sense and accomplished nothing but anger and hatred.

Reactivity. When the priests stayed focused on God's desires and behaved accordingly, they received the Godly results. But not so when they behaved humanly. When they simply reacted and missed God's purpose for establishing the rules they harvested a violent response.

Jesus highlights this when he says, "Unless you repent you will all perish as they did" It is easy to be legally correct and miss the point entirely. Laws cause us to react. We obey in order not to get punished. Or, we punish because someone disobeyed. Listen, Jesus used the word perish. One definition for that word perish is failure to thrive. We can continue to exist by obeying rules or we can thrive, we can grow, and we can flourish by knowing God's purpose for the rules and living purpose filled lives.

We've heard the parable of the fig tree so many times. And what do we take its meaning as???? Bear fruit or get cut down. So, we try to bear fruit to avoid punishment. Well, God does not desire your punishment. God desires your fruit. There's a Middle Eastern parable just like this one - only it is of secular origin. But the endings are different. The owner of the tree comes to the garden to inspect for fruit. When implored to wait another year, he says, no you haven't born fruit these last three years, what makes me think you will next year???? Cut it down.

Jesus helps us understand God's purposes by altering the ending. Jesus allows the gardener another year to water and fertilize before the decision will be made to cut the tree down. Again, it is easy for us to focus on the fear of getting cut down…instead of on the grace that gave us more time to be nourished and grow.

I normally hate to hitch a ride on the commercial hype of our day. Our bookstores are filled with books and other items touting the purpose filled life. But the principles behind this book and its predecessor, the Purpose Filled Church are commendable. Brother and sisters, we are more than just bodies that must unlock the secrets of longer life. Avoidance of death, pain or punishment is NOT our purpose for existence. God does not exist to fix our problems. The reason Jesus came was not to meet our needs.

We exist because God created us, delights in us and wants to be in relationship with us. Jesus came so that we may be nourished and developed more fully into the image of God. At baptism we were given the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is a divine spark that we can fan into being on fire for Christ or we can feed it a little wax and add a little more wick on Sunday mornings just to keep it alive.

Jesus would say, repent or you too will perish. Open your eyes or you will not thrive. Look around you and flourish. There is a world out there starving - not for more rules and consequences - but desperate to understand grace and what love really means. The history of human beings spirals around crime and punishment, aggression and war. I need food and I'll figure out a way to get it. You stole from me, so I'll make sure you get punished. That is the way of the world since the beginning. Act and react and react and react.

Except for one named Jesus in whom the divine nature flourished. He thought little of his own needs. Rather his life was focused on his purpose - to teach and to do God's will in his life and the lives of others. His purpose was to understand the underlying pain and address it not the symptomatic behavior. His purpose was to help people understand the Father's love even at the expense of his own life.

What is our purpose as individuals? An infant would say feed me or change my diaper. A child might say, come on play with me or I want some candy. Older kids just want to have fun. Teens might be focused on sports, sleep, or developing their own individuality. Adults are focused on their jobs and responsibilities of family. But at some point in our lives we look around and wonder what this is all about? Why do we exist? What do I stand for?

Jesus challenges us to think about that sooner rather than later. Everything we hear in church asks us to think about our reason for life from the moment we are born so that in all we do, we have purpose - divine purpose. So that this world, with all its inherent dangers and risks can have a place of refuge in us. For as Christians WE have been asked to represent God's grace mercy and forgiveness.

If someone has hurt us, we certainly can and should step away and heal but is that where our responsibility ends? Can we take a step toward understanding where the painful actions came from? Can we work toward healing the other person's underlying hurt? As long as we only mend ourselves, the world will continue down the same path it has for thousands of years.

There are so many underlying hurts that plague not only people, but nations. For the most part, we address behavior. We think we know the cause of the behavior because we look at the situation with our own set of sunglasses. But we haven't looked with God's eyes. Our challenge is to put on God's sunglasses and see with a purpose filled faith - not a reactive faith.


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