The Effects of the Fall (Genesis 6:11-22)

The Flood of Noah by Majd Ramadan, 2014

In God’s sight, the earth had become corrupt and was filled with violence. God saw that the earth was corrupt because all creatures behaved corruptly on the earth.

God said to Noah, “The end has come for all creatures, since they have filled the earth with violence. I am now about to destroy them along with the earth, so make a wooden ark. Make the ark with nesting places and cover it inside and out with tar. This is how you should make it: four hundred fifty feet long, seventy-five feet wide, and forty-five feet high. Make a roof for the ark and complete it one foot from the top. Put a door in its side. In the hold below, make the second and third decks.

“I am now bringing the floodwaters over the earth to destroy everything under the sky that breathes. Everything on earth is about to take its last breath. But I will set up my covenant with you. You will go into the ark together with your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives. From all living things—from all creatures—you are to bring a pair, male and female, into the ark with you to keep them alive. From each kind of bird, from each kind of livestock, and from each kind of everything that crawls on the ground—a pair from each will go in with you to stay alive. Take some from every kind of food and stow it as food for you and for the animals.”

Noah did everything exactly as God commanded him. (Common English Bible)

The entire world is profoundly broken. 

Everywhere, people are messed-up. In one breath they can tell you they’re sorry for another’s abuse or violence against you, then turn right around and say some irrational nonsense and terribly insensitive things to you.

It doesn’t matter where you go – whether school, work, home and even church, there is institutional brokenness. Individual persons, and the human structures and systems they put in place, all contain elements of bondage instead of freedom. It doesn’t take a religious person to observe that there’s such a thing as sin.

Holy Scripture’s description of this sad reality goes all the way back to a story about the fall of humanity into sin and rebellion. Satan, the devil, led the original persons, Adam and Eve, into disobedience of God. Satan tempted Eve to doubt whether God really had her best interests at mind; to question the truthfulness of God’s Word; and, to wonder about the wisdom of listening to God (Genesis 3:1-5). Adam just flat out chose to disobey God, and, so, the entire world changed (Genesis 3:16-17). 

Immediately, everything was different in the world and with people. The choice to disobey God brought feelings of fear and shame; a loss of fellowship with God; hiding from God; a bent to pervert the truth; the propensity for the genders to try and dominate each other; expulsion from the garden; and physical death (Genesis 3:7-24). 

And the unholy tools people used against one another were violent and corrupt. People thought nothing of oppressing each other, abusing one another, attacking others – both verbally and physically. Rape, assault, theft, and murder became daily experiences. That’s some downright icky stuff. 

No wonder the world is messed up.

God saw that human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil—evil, evil, evil from morning to night. God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart. God said, “I’ll get rid of my ruined creation, make a clean sweep: people, animals, snakes and bugs, birds—the works. I’m sorry I made them.” (Genesis 6:5-7, MSG)

Noah was the only guy on the face of the earth for whom the Lord saw any good. And it was enough good worth saving. Yet, people are still in the nasty habit of turning on each other, like a bunch of sharks with blood in the water.

Unfortunately, the fall of humanity still affects us all. It has brought not only physical death, but spiritual death. That means we are alienated from God, in rebellion, and enslaved to our own passions and desires (Isaiah 1:2-6; Romans 2:14-15; Ephesians 2:1-3). 

We are also alienated from one another by having continual bents toward discord, suspicion, and jealousy instead of love and trust (Romans 1:29-31; James 3:14-16). 

We are even alienated and totally out of touch with ourselves by either loving ourselves as gods or hating ourselves with an inordinate emotional masochism (Philippians 2:21; 2 Timothy 3:2-4). In short, we are selfish people who experience separation from God, others, and self.

If this is the true reality of humanity, then it is awfully depressing, discouraging, and damaging. And we know it’s true because we’ve all been both victims and victimizers. So, who then, will rescue us from this horrific death? 

Thanks be to God who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 7:24-25; 1 Corinthians 15:57). 

The good news is that, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the curse has been reversed. Christ has restored us to our original place of fellowship with God. He is the way, the truth, and the life. In Christ, there is hope for humanity (John 14:6). 

To live in freedom, therefore, involves knowledge, honesty, and sincere decisions of faith and love whereby truth is applied to life.

Just as the world needed a thorough purging of evil through a cleansing worldwide flood, so we need a bath of grace, to be completely awash with the love of God in Christ, to have all the crud of evil scrubbed from our soul. And this is precisely what Christian baptism symbolizes.

Jesus offered himself for us so that we might live without violence and no longer be separated from God, others, and self. He has brought us reconciliation. In him we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing (2 Corinthians 5:16-19; Ephesians 1:3; 2 Peter 1:3).

In Christianity, the purpose of ministry is to come alongside people trapped in their awful cycles of brokenness and communicate good news of grace and forgiveness with both words and actions.

Although the world is terribly askew, God has demonstrated his love for us in that, while we were still violent and corrupt sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). 

We needed a Savior. God provided One. 

Are you in touch with the ways you are separated from God, others, and self? 

Are you aware of the ways in which your church or faith community has an unhealthy separation from the world? 

In what ways can you apply the love of God to broken people and systems in your community? What will it take to reach them?

Sin, guilt, shame, rebellion, disobedience, and violence need not define us. We can do better.

Almighty God, we have sinned against you, through our own fault, in thought, and word, and deed, and in what we have left undone. For the sake of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, forgive us all our offenses; and grant that we may serve you in newness of life, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

A Parable about Faithfulness (Luke 19:11-27)

Parable of the Ten Minas, by Dutch painter Willem de Poorter (1608-1668)

The crowd was listening to everything Jesus said. And because he was nearing Jerusalem, he told them a story to correct the impression that the Kingdom of God would begin right away. 

He said, “A nobleman was called away to a distant empire to be crowned king and then return. Before he left, he called together ten of his servants and divided among them ten pounds of silver, saying, ‘Invest this for me while I am gone.’ But his people hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We do not want him to be our king.’

“After he was crowned king, he returned and called in the servants to whom he had given the money. He wanted to find out what their profits were. The first servant reported, ‘Master, I invested your money and made ten times the original amount!’

“‘Well done!’ the king exclaimed. ‘You are a good servant. You have been faithful with the little I entrusted to you, so you will be governor of ten cities as your reward.’

“The next servant reported, ‘Master, I invested your money and made five times the original amount.’

“‘Well done!’ the king said. ‘You will be governor over five cities.’

“But the third servant brought back only the original amount of money and said, ‘Master, I hid your money and kept it safe. I was afraid because you are a hard man to deal with, taking what isn’t yours and harvesting crops you didn’t plant.’

“‘You wicked servant!’ the king roared. ‘Your own words condemn you. If you knew that I’m a hard man who takes what isn’t mine and harvests crops I didn’t plant, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’

“Then, turning to the others standing nearby, the king ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one who has ten pounds.’

“‘But, master,’ they said, ‘he already has ten pounds!’

“‘Yes,’ the king replied, ‘and to those who use well what they are given, even more will be given. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. And as for these enemies of mine who didn’t want me to be their king—bring them in and execute them right here in front of me.’” (New Living Translation)

The great humanitarian issues of this world are not only individual concerns but are also systemic problems.

And the majority of those troubles are us climbing the wrong ladder. It’s a booger to get to the top and find out all that energy was expended for a worthless chamber pot full of $%&!.

So, whenever we examine Holy Scripture, especially the words of Jesus, it’s necessary to pay attention and hear both the responsibility of individuals and the accountability which human culture has to ensure a just society and equitable structural systems.

In other words, evil resides in both the individual human heart and in the world’s operating system. Corporations, communities, and churches not only have sinful persons within them; sin also resides in the very ways we about business, interactions, even worship.

Westerners tend to read a story, like today’s Gospel parable from Jesus, with individualist eyes. Yes, it is about individual servants; and it’s also about community and culture – and ultimately about the kingdom of God.

The cost of Christian discipleship is high, demanding both personal and communal faithfulness to Jesus Christ.

Christianity is concerned for all of life – not just the religious parts but all the parts – both body and soul, personal and communal, church and workplace, individual minds and institutional education, healthy emotional selves and healthy public discourse. It all matters to God.

Whoever’s in charge makes a big difference as to whether right and just systems are followed, or whether corrupt and oppressive operations are the chief mode of ruling.

To illustrate the contrast, Jesus told a parable about systemic evil and whether one will be faithful to that or some other way of operating.

In the parable, the nobleman becoming the king is a reference to an earthly ruler, not Jesus. Before this worldly prince takes off to obtain more authority, he summons ten of his servants and gives them each ten pounds, or coins.

As the sort of person who rules in standard worldly ways, the nobleman fully expects the servants to operate just as he himself would: collect unfair taxes, squeeze the poor of what little they have, and generally do whatever it takes to make a profit. This, of course, is why the story tells us that the general populace hate the guy in charge.

Parable of the Ten Minas, by Unknown 16th century artist

This is not a parable about rejecting the Messiah or God; it is about authority and government, economics and politics, systemic oppression and structural evil. It’s about where our faith and commitment is truly placed.

The ruler is quite pleased when the first and second servants faithfully invest in the politics and economics of his worldly kingdom. So, the servants are rewarded for abiding by the system.

However, if you buck the system, like the third servant did, you’ll get condemned. That servant knew the sort of ruler he was dealing with and the kind of cutthroat system which was in place. And he wanted nothing to do with it.

The third servant in the parable is unfaithful to the unjust ruler and oppressive system because he is faithful to another lord with a different kind of system. This servant was prepared to accept the consequences of his convictions and his inaction. In a way, he was practicing civil disobedience.

As servants under God’s rule and reign, we are not to play along with worldly systems of injustice and oppression. If we want to be faithful Christian disciples, then we must live into the words and ways of Jesus; we must be prepared to pay the price for our commitment to an alternative kingdom.

Everyone has faith. It’s just a matter of whom and what we place that faith in.

Perhaps Jesus had the words of his mother, Mary, in his mind when he told the story. She was willing to accept whatever happens in a complete commitment and faith in God:

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38, NRSV)

Jesus was unlike any earthly ruler. Christ operated very differently than any worldly government. He and his teaching were in stark contrast to others:

God will bless you people
who are poor.
    His kingdom belongs to you!

God will bless
    you hungry people.
You will have plenty
    to eat!
God will bless you people
who are now crying.
    You will laugh!

God will bless you when others hate you and won’t have anything to do with you. God will bless you when people insult you and say cruel things about you, all because you are a follower of the Son of Man…. So when this happens to you, be happy and jump for joy! You will have a great reward in heaven.

But you rich people
    are in for trouble.
You have already had
    an easy life!

You well-fed people
are in for trouble.
    You will go hungry!
You people
who are laughing now
    are in for trouble.
You are going to cry
    and weep!

You are in for trouble when everyone says good things about you. (Luke 6:20-26, CEV)

In order to embrace Christian ethics, worldly practices have got to be jettisoned. To make room for the good, the just, and the right, we must let go of any and all ways contrary to our Christian commitment of following Jesus.

Are you willing to be the third servant?

Gracious and sovereign Lord God of all, in your mercy, hear our prayers:

Help us to be understanding and forgiving of all those we encounter.

Show us how to serve one another, to offer love, care and support.

Guide all those who are called to lead and advocate in the world.

Inspire our leaders, teachers, doctors, social workers and counsellors to be bringers of hope in all situations.

Protect all those who carry peace to other nations. Bless the food, care and shelter they provide.

Comfort those who live with grief. Help them see the light of heaven.

Heal all the broken-hearted and those with broken bodies and spirits.

Embrace those in pain and physical suffering. May they feel your abiding and close presence.

Watch over all who feel isolated and alone. Calm their fears and lead them into peace and freedom.

Strengthen and encourage all those who seek to serve and protect the vulnerable.

Lead us to be generous with our time, possessions and money.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers, and answer them according to your good grace and in your good time. Amen.

Speaking Truth to Power (Jeremiah 26:1-15)

The prophet Jeremiah, 6th century mosaic, Ravenna, Italy

Early in the rule of Judah’s King Jehoiakim, Josiah’s son, this word came from the Lord: The Lord proclaims: Stand in the temple courtyard and speak to all the people of the towns of Judah who have come to the temple to worship. Tell them everything I command you; leave nothing out. Perhaps they will listen, and each will turn from their evil ways. If they do, I will relent and not carry out the harm I have in mind for them because of the wrong they have done. 

So tell them, The Lord proclaims: If you don’t listen to me or follow the Instruction I have set before you—if you don’t listen to the words of the prophets that I have sent to you time and again, though you haven’t listened, then I will make this temple a ruin like Shiloh, and this city I will make a curse before all nations on earth.

The priests, the prophets, and all the people heard Jeremiah declare these words in the Lord’s temple. And when Jeremiah finished saying everything the Lord told him to say, the priests and the prophets and all the people seized him and said, “You must die! Why do you prophesy in the Lord’s name that ‘this temple will become a ruin like Shiloh, and this city will be destroyed and left without inhabitant’?” Then all the people joined ranks against Jeremiah in the Lord’s temple.

When the officials of Judah heard these things, they went up from the royal palace to the Lord’s temple and took their places at the entrance of the New Gate of the Lord’s temple. The priests and the prophets said to the officials and all the people: “This man deserves to die for prophesying against this city as you have all heard firsthand.”

Jeremiah said to all the officials and to all the people, “The Lord sent me to prophesy to this temple and this city everything you have heard. So now transform your ways and actions. Obey the Lord your God, and the Lord may relent and not carry out the harm that he’s pronounced against you. 

But me? I’m in your hands. Do whatever you would like to me. Only know for certain that if you sentence me to death, you and the people of this city will be guilty of killing an innocent man. The Lord has in fact sent me to speak everything I have said to you.” (Common English Bible)

When it comes to the spiritual and religious life, on the one hand, we hold the joy and contentment of divine connection and peace; and, on the other hand, we hold the sadness that many turn their backs on divine realities. In Christian terms, Jesus is both the cornerstone of faith and the stone which causes people to stumble and fall. (1 Peter 2:8)

Frankly, the Lord is not okay with cruel injustice, hollow worship, and inattention to both the divine and human. There is a way to make things right. But not everyone wants that. Systemic evil persists because there are always those who benefit from the current structures of power – and they care little about how it impacts those on the underbelly of their control.

Things may be going well for a large chunk of people. And, conversely, things may not be going well at all, for an even larger group of folks. Therefore, it is necessary to acknowledge that the world is not only good, but also quite broken. We must speak truth to power. I understand that this is no easy task, because rarely are things simply black and white, all good or all bad.

Jeremiah preaches in the temple gate, a woodcut by Unknown artist, 1886

In the prophet Jeremiah’s day, it was not that his opponents were pure evil with no acknowledgment of God. Rather, the problem was that the power brokers in Judah tried to keep a strict separation of religion from everything else; they were perfectly fine with God, that is, if the Lord would stay in the temple where he belonged.

But Jeremiah would have none of this sort of mentality and behavior. Keeping Yahweh out of matters of social justice, geopolitics, and institutional governance led to severe humanitarian problems. Jeremiah became God’s voice to a generation of people who ignored the divine in everything but religious ritual.

Bifurcating worship and work disconnects daily life from divine resources. Without God infused in all of life, a lack of grace fills the empty places. What’s more, the sovereign Lord can neither be silenced nor dismissed; God will find a way to accomplish peace and justice for the common good of everyone, and not just the few.

The heart of Jeremiah’s message was for king and people to be obedient in all of life, to recenter themselves around God’s law – not just the religious bits but the social ones, as well. Jeremiah did not proclaim something new. He was calling those in places of power and authority to a proper Torah observance.

The true needs and interests of our communities can never be addressed and lifted-up in the narrow self-serving interests of persons in power who turn a blind eye to anyone unlike them.

The needs and interests of our world lie in becoming who we were designed to be from the beginning: A people belonging to God, tapping into the deep reservoir of light and spirituality within us. It is to acknowledge the image of God inside us all.

We are to follow in the way of grace and truth. There is to be no division between the sacred and the secular because, for the Christian, Jesus is Lord of all.

We are to continually use our voice for both praise and prophecy, for shouting celebration to God and for speaking truth to power.

Holy God, the gracious Sovereign of all, we give you praise for your steadfast love toward us, your people. Keep us grounded in humility, sensitive to sin, attentive to that which is just and right, merciful in all things, pure in worship, and peace-loving through Christ our Lord in the strength of the Spirit. Amen.

Luke 19:45-48 – Jesus Cleans House

A bronze panel of Jesus chasing the merchants from the Temple by Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455)

When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words. (New International Version)

Jesus seems a bit like an actor in an old western movie. He’s the sheriff who drifts into town, sizes up the situation, shoots up the bad guys, defends the women and children, and cleans up the town. 

It’s a side to Jesus that might surprise some.

Jesus is no simple one-dimensional person, as if he’s always calm and picking dandelions. Christ is fully human and fully God – a complex person full of both human and divine anger. Today’s Gospel lesson reminds us that Jesus defies stereotyping, and that we need to see a fuller profile of who he is, and what he is up to.

Jesus is not only the merciful servant who graciously heals at the temple; but he is also a mighty judge who is intolerant of unjust systems and cleans house. 

Because Jesus is superior to everything, he is not some Being that we can domesticate for our own personal use. He did not come to this earth as some sort of spiritual vitamin supplement, or to be on call 24/7 in order to bail us out when we need it, or help us get ahead in life.

Instead, zeal for his Father’s house consumes Jesus. (John 2:13-17)

Jesus driving the merchants out of the Temple by Raymond Balze (1818-1909)

Christ sought to please the Father. Jesus oversees what the church and Christians are supposed to be. 

It’s our task to conform to Christ, and not the other way around. 

That happens whenever we let Jesus be the sheriff who drives out our sin, and, at the same time, the town doctor who brings the needed healing to our lives. 

Jesus cleaned house by attacking the system he saw operating.

It was Passover, the time when all pious Israelites made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Cattle, sheep, and doves were used for sacrifices. And the only place where those sacrifices were made was at the Temple in Jerusalem.  This meant that anyone wanting to worship God from outside of Jerusalem would have to do some traveling. 

Over time, a system was set up: Vendors established kiosks which lined the Temple courts; and they sold animals for the required sacrifices, as a matter of convenience. 

Since there were thousands of folks who came from a long way, often from outside of Israel, they brought their foreign currency with them, and it could be exchanged at the tables set up by money-changers.

Perhaps that all sounds practical. A little capitalism which provides a service for the people doesn’t seem all bad. So, what’s the problem? 

Jesus didn’t have a problem with capitalism per se; his problem with the whole system is that it should not even exist – these guys should not be in the Temple, at all! 

Jesus attacked the system and made a western movie scene out of it because the vendors and money-changers, even if using sound business practices (which they weren’t) should not even be there. For Jesus, it trivialized the Temple and took away from its intended purpose as a house of prayer for all nations.

Here’s how the system was supposed to work:

Coming to the Temple from outside of Jerusalem was never intended to be easy or convenient.

Making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem was supposed to be difficult. For the past year, since the last Passover, a family raised a newborn lamb in their house. Parents and children all took part in caring for it.

Then, when it was time, they all journeyed to Jerusalem together, taking turns carrying the year old lamb over their shoulders. Everyone knew what was coming. Their precious lamb, now a cherished part of the family, would be given in sacrifice at the Temple.

It was all a very powerful reminder of sin’s cost and how terrible it truly is.

Entering Jerusalem with no animal, and only money to buy one, is a cheap facsimile of real worship.

It misses the entire point of the system. It hinders people from genuinely connecting with God through prayer.  And Jesus will not put up with it – to the point of violently driving the whole system out of the Temple.

Jesus didn’t mess around with the sinful system. He didn’t politely ask the money-changers to move their tables somewhere else; he didn’t strike a deal with those selling animals to market them at cost. No. Instead, he went all town sheriff on them because the whole system was a blasphemous act against the right and true worship of God.

It has been the sin of the Church, through the centuries, to find ways of doing ministry and worship by not actually doing it (e.g., selling indulgences). 

We might feel good by simply attending a worship service, or offering some obligatory prayers, and giving money without having done anything to meaningfully connect with God. Our devotion may not be toward bringing something of ourselves to sacrifice by using our spiritual gifts and laying our lives down for others. 

It’s really a heart issue. For example, we might rightly give to missionaries or mission projects. Yet, if we give without any thought to doing missions ourselves and being missional people, then we are in grave need of having a clean house by overturning the tables in our hearts. 

17th century Ethiopian depiction of Christ cleansing the Temple

Jesus cleaning house was not an end in itself; he did it so that the Temple could be used for its intended purpose: A house of prayer. A place of healing. A gathering of collective praise to God.

Whenever an existing system is challenged, there will be those who push back because they benefit from the way things are.

The religious leaders were incensed by Christ’s systemic change. The behavior of Jesus challenged their authority, and they were angry about losing some of their power – not to mention jealous and envious that the people hung on his every word.

Jealousy rots the bones. Envy and selfish ambition accompany every evil practice and are behind every evil system. (Proverbs 14:30; James 3:14-16)

The real culprit behind the Temple system, as well as our own conflicts and disagreements is our selfish anger, our abject jealousy that someone else is receiving something which should be mine, and our insidious envy of wanting what another has.

Jesus knew he would upset and anger the religious leaders. But he cared enough about the proper place of worship that he attacked the contrived Temple system that fed on obscuring what real sacrifice was. Christ was willing to take on the establishment and reestablish a house of prayer for all people.

The way for us has been made clear through the death of Christ. Jesus has removed the old system and replaced it with the new. (Hebrews 8:13)

Therefore, we ought to be a beacon of hope for all who are coming to God and desire to offer their sacrifice of service or praise. We must eliminate any system, rule, or practice that eviscerates true worship.

May we follow the Lord Jesus by being active and proactive in making the way clear for others to come to God. And the first step to doing so is by having God clean house on our own hearts.

It’s what a good deputy sheriff would do.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and put a new and right spirit within me.

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Amen.