Last Sunday I preached in Tulsa. By definition, it was spring. The vernal equinox had just passed. As certain as the whole solar system, it was (and is) spring.
However, it didn’t feel like spring. It was cold, dark, snowing, and breezy with a wind that cut to the raw bone.
It’s always disorienting when it is spring by definition but yet still feels like winter.
For believers, it is spring: Christ is risen! Yet for many of us, it still feels like winter. We identify with those powerful words Paul uses to describe our experience: groaning, longing, waiting, hoping. Those are not words of despair but of deep trust. They proclaim: “I believe spring has started even though it feels wintery.”
Even though it was cold, dark, and wet, I could see small signs of spring starting to peek out. And this I knew:Before long, the redbuds will brighten the earth, the irises and petunias will burst forth in stunning color.
And for us—Easter believers!—we eagerly await the day when dark losses and despairing griefs blossom into joy, joy, inexpressible joy.
To learn more about Dave Clayton and the Ethos Church, check out this site. Dave will be speaking on Wednesday night on Revelation 5.
Chris Doran talks about the track on “Faith and Sustainability” that he’ll be leading at the 2013 Pepperdine Bible Lectures:
Just recently I watched “The Stoning of Soraya M.,” the powerful (true) story of a woman stoned in Iran under the strict interpretations of Sharia law. Just after that I saw this piece shot by Matt Maxwell for last Sunday’s assembly at Golf Course Road.
Here’s my official invitation to you:
So much will be happening that I’ll tell you about over the coming months. But I especially want to encourage you to prepare for a study of Revelation. Many have shied away because the book seems so, well, weird; others have kept an arm’s length because of the bizarro interpretations of the book floating around popular culture.
If you’re a minister or Bible class teacher, let me encourage you to plan to do something on Revelation in the summer or fall of 2013. Come to Malibu—tough gig that it is!—April 30-May 3, 2013, to help in your preparations.
Here are some resources I’d like to recommend if you want to get a head start:
Michael Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly
Eugene Peterson, Reversed Thunder
Barbara Rossing, The Rapture Exposed
N. T. Wright (of course!), Revelation for Everyone
One of my very favorite resources will come out at the lectureship: Dr. Greg Stevenson, who teaches at Rochester College, has a new book called A Slaughtered Lamb: Revelation and the Apocalyptic Response to Evil and Suffering that is amazing. He will be one of the resource scholars, along with James Walters of Boston University (and others).
This morning Charles Siburt, described by one of his sons as “the best man I’ve ever known,” died. He was a good friend. I’ll remember his remarkable voice, his big bellowing laugh, the way his face could express the words “these are my sons in whom I’m well pleased” when around John and Ben, and his insight.
Like Tiresias, the blind prophet in Greek mythology, Charlie could see things no one else could see—despite his failing eyesight. And he wasn’t afraid to help people move beyond the places where they were stuck. He helped others see ways in which their own pride, bitterness, sense of privilege, and nearsightedness were interfering with better relationships.
Two of my favorite memories about Charlie aren’t altogether pleasant. (Let’s be honest: people didn’t call him “Chainsaw Charlie” for nothing. The truth is that this was a compliment: you just don’t meet many people in life who will love you enough to tell you the truth about yourself. It’s also why so many churches brought Charlie in to help them. When all else fails, try asking someone who will tell you the truth.)
Both of the memories come from the mid-90′s, around the time of Megan’s death. Diane and I were exhausted, and in my exhaustion I lost nearly all ability to see myself. Charlie held up a much-needed mirror.
Once was after a tense elders meeting—this seems strange to say, because there was almost never a tense elders meeting the last ten years I was at Highland—when I drove him home. We sat in the car late at night. I invited him to tell me what he thought about some conflict I was in with a few people. And kindly, but very directly, he spoke words that hurt. Because they were true. He spoke them as a friend, not as a scolding elder. And then he moved on to words of affirmation and hope. I remember thinking that this was a new beginning for me as a minister.
The other time came about a year later. It was two months after our daughter’s death. I was fragile and tired, but I needed someone to tell me that that’s not an excuse for poor behavior. I got mad at Clois Fowler. Yes, Clois Fowler: one of the best men I’ve ever known in my life. My friend. Like a father to me. But in my exhaustion and immaturity, I got upset. So I went to Charlie. I guess I was going to tattle on Clois. Or perhaps I just figured another strong leader of our church would put his seal of approval on my anger.
Wanna guess how that went? Charlie told me that he could understand how weary I must be, but that I needed to pull it together. He told me that if I had a bigger fan at Highland—someone who’d cleaned up more of my messes than anyone else—than Clois, he didn’t know who it was. He said, “If you can’t make things work with Clois, I’m guessing you can’t make things work. He’s your greatest fan.” I crumpled in sorrow. Charlie prayed for me, and I went to Clois immediately to apologize. (If you know Clois, you know that he’d already forgiven me.)
Somebody in life has to love you enough to tell you the truth. And it helps when this person is a friend.
My greatest bond with Charlie was this: we were ALWAYS fans of each other’s sons. (And he and Judy loved Megan while she was alive, too.) I aways asked him about John and Ben; he always asked me about Matt and Chris.
So it’s fitting that the last time I saw Charlie was about three weeks ago: he was sitting at The Beehive eating lunch with Judy, John, and Ben. He asked about Chris’s youth ministry internship; and he told me that John came into his hospital room asking if it was Halloween because he’d just seen Matt Cope dressed up like a doctor.
His body was bearing the marks of a long battle with cancer. But there was that great joyful face of his, sitting at a good meal with his wife and sons.
Thank you, Charlie. Well done.
“Practice hospitality.” – Romans 12:13
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” – Hebrews 13:2
(Richard Beck put me on notice that I have two weeks to put up this post before he does so on his blog. It’s a brief summary of material I gave at Rochester College’s Streaming Conference. The full message will be in a forthcoming book.)
The Greek word for hospitality in these (and other) passages is philoxenia. The love of a xenos, a stranger. We’re fairly familiar with that word from the English word xenophobia: the fear of a stranger.
Xenos originally referred to a foreigner—leaning toward darker adjectives like strange, distasteful, and untrustworthy. Basically, it could refer to your enemy.
But one of the hard things about learning a language is that it’s like playing whack-a-mole. Just when you think you’ve nailed down the meaning of a word, it moves.
So xenos doesn’t just mean a stranger. If you invited the stranger into your home, they are now your guest. Still a xenos. So the word is fluid: it can mean either stranger or guest, depending on context.
And it carries one of those meanings everywhere it appears in the New Testament. Except for one occurrence.
In Romans 16, Paul sends greetings to the church in Rome from some believers in Corinth. Included in that list is “Gaius, who is the xenos of me and of the whole church” (v. 23).
Gaius isn’t their stranger or their guest. He’s their host! Talk about a roving meaning: xenos could mean either guest or host!
Perhaps it’s worth noting that Greek isn’t the only language with a word that can double for guest or host. In Spanish, the word huésped carries both meanings. And actually the old Latin word hospes did as well.
I’m guessing that the word morphed originally because of social obligation: once I’ve been your guest, I’m expected to reciprocate and be your host.
But as followers of Jesus, the border between host and guest breaks down for other reasons (just as the lines get blurred between leader and servant, strong and weak, teacher and learner).
We practice hospitality because Jesus is the host. He’s the one who washes feet, who serves at the table, who gave his life for all. We have learned a way of self-giving love through him. We’ve learned to open our lives, to create space, to welcome.
But we also practice hospitality because Jesus is the guest. The word xenos appears 14 times in the NT. The biggest cluster of occurrences is in Matthew 25, where it appears four times.
Jesus (to those on his right): “I was a xenos and you invited me in.”
Those on his right (to Jesus): “When did we see you a xenos and invite you in?”
Jesus: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Maybe Christian hospitality is strongest when the lines of host and guest are blurred. We learn to welcome others; yet we also are willing to be welcomed by them.
It’s fitting that Hospice Care comes from a word that could mean either host or guest. I’ve talked to Hospice volunteers and staff who go as servants. They go to welcome and minister with ambulatory care to those who are dying. But their response is always the same: they come away being ministered to; they learn from walking on holy ground; they find they are the ones who have been welcomed.
My religious heritage, maybe my age, certainly my pride—to say nothing of my obsessive compulsive tendencies—want a clean, strong, visible border of safety. I want to know who’s the host and who’s the guest. But to make room for my neighbor, I have to follow Jesus into places and relationships that don’t have nice, sterile, quarantined borders.
I wonder if we best obey the command to be hospitable when we aren’t completely sure whether we are the host or the guest . . . or a bit of both.