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Hopelessly Devoted: Matthew Chapter Thirteen Verses Forty Four Through Forty Six

This morning’s devotion comes from the great magician, Jim McNeely III. 

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-46, NASB)

pearlHere we have two very distinct parables with two very distinct messages: the “Treasure in the Field” and the “Pearl of Great Price.” Let’s start by getting our actors straight. In the first parable, the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure, and you and I are the man. In the second parable the kingdom of heaven is like the merchant, and you and I are the pearl. The simple observation that the kingdom of heaven is said to be like the merchant, not like the pearl, ends up being very significant, as you will see.

After years of thinking and writing about it, I am more convinced than ever that the message of the parable of the treasure hidden in the field is critical for us. It is because there was a treasure that the man sacrifices all. It is from joy that he sells all that he has. It is from a great and a true desire that he acts. The Gospel is not simply doctrinal correctness or sound theology—it is a great treasure, and once we perceive its surpassing value hidden in the scrubby field of the church, it engages our desire powerfully. We drop our self-justification projects with joy, because we have found a treasure of much greater worth. We are released from all care and worry, and we have become impossibly and eternally rich and taken care of. Of all the people on earth, we have found our way and have obtained our fortune—we are spiritual gazillionaires.

I am even more convinced that the message of the Pearl of Great Value is critical for us. The heart of the message of the Gospel is that God truly wants us. He is greedy and jealous for us. He has sold all that He had, to obtain us:

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:10-11, NASB)

Why do we call Christ’s death on the cross the “Passion?” I haven’t researched it at all and I have no idea why we call it that. But I know what passion means—it means extreme desire, reckless love, fierce devotion to the point of obsession. It means laser-like focus born of strong wanting. How does this word relate to Jesus’ death on the cross?

His love for us is an absolutely reckless and dangerous love. It is abandon-everything-else desire. It is the pearl merchant selling all he had to get that one perfect pearl. It is passion for us that led to such sacrifice. He wanted us. Badly. Enough to do this.

God is love. Not just any love. Not just idle affection. Not the gentle, detached love of a grandmother. That is a wonderful kind of love, but it is not this love. His is a passionate, reckless, die-for-you love. His is a throw-away-every-other-option love. We are His obsession. We are not His obligation, we are His joy (Heb 12:2). This is the God who is love—the God who would go to such shocking lengths on our behalf.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. Amen.

From the Archives – Coping with Our Failure to Be Happy: Moral Palliatives vs Repentance

From the Archives – Coping with Our Failure to Be Happy: Moral Palliatives vs Repentance

Well, we’re probably nearing our yearly limit for writing about anxiety, but great articles on the subject have been irrepressible. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that our increasing need to self-actualize, and increasing avenues for doing so, is a root behind the contemporary epidemic of nerves that had 1 in 5 American adults on anti-anxiety or antidepressant meds in 2011, numbers which have presumably risen since. An organization called the ADAA (anxiety and depression, etc) reported that almost one-third of the nation’s health bill is caused by anxiety disorders. You could reasonably ask to vet the numbers there, but even…

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To Tide You Over: Capon Closes Down the Religion Shop

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Hopefully you’ve all heard the big news by now: Mockingbird has been given the wonderful privilege of bringing back to life 5 out-of-print books by our favorite salty lamb, Robert Farrar Capon, beginning with a previously unpublished manuscript to be released around Christmastime! To support this endeavor click here. Meanwhile, our greasy fingers are flipping through the texts as we speak.

To help tide you over, here’s an excerpt from Capon’s chef-d’œu·vre Kingdom, Grace, Judgment (still in print), a study on the parables of Jesus. The excerpt below responds to hypothetical objections to Capon’s emphasis on death and free grace: “Grace works only in those who accept their lostness,” he writes on page 204. “Jesus came to call sinners, not the pseudo-righteous; he came to raise the dead, not to buy drinks for the marginally alive.” In an interlude on pages 252-253, he continues:

“What ever happened,” you want to object, “to the positive idea of Christian living? If all we have to do to be saved is drop dead, why bother even trying to live–especially, why bother to be good, loving, or moral? Why not just go out and sin all we like? What role have you left for religion in the world, if everybody is going to get home free for nothing?” …

167935703_200acd7747_zWhat role have I left for religion? None. And I have left none because the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ leaves none. Christianity is not a religion; it is the announcement of the end of religion. Religion consists of all the things (believing, behaving, worshiping, sacrificing) the human race has ever thought it had to do to get right with God. About those things, Christianity has only two comments to make. The first is that none of them ever had the least chance of doing the trick: the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins (see the Epistle to the Hebrews) and no effort of ours to keep the law of God can ever succeed (see the Epistle to the Romans). The second is that everything religion tried (and failed) to do has been perfectly done, once and for all, by Jesus in his death and resurrection. For Christians, therefore, the entire religion shop has been closed, boarded up, and forgotten. The church is not in the religion business. It never has been and it never will be, in spite of all the ecclesiastical turkeys through two thousand years who have acted as if religion was their stock in trade. The church, instead, is in the Gospel-proclaiming business. It is not here to bring the world the bad news that God will think kindly about us only after we have gone through certain creedal, liturgical and ethical wickets; it is here to bring the world the Good News that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.” It is here, in short, for no religious purpose at all, only to announce the Gospel of free grace.

The reason for not going out and sinning all you like is the same as the reason for not going out and putting your nose in a slicing machine: it’s dumb, stupid and no fun. Some individual sins may have pleasure still attached to them because of the residual goodness of the realities they are abusing: adultery can indeed be pleasant, and tying one on can amuse. But betrayal, jealously, love grown cold, and the gray dawn of the morning after are nobody’s idea of a good time.

On the other hand, there’s no use belaboring that point, because it never stopped anybody. And neither did religion. The notion that people won’t sin as long as you keep them well supplied with guilt and holy terror is a bit overblown. Giving the human race religious reasons for not sinning is about as useful as reading lectures to an elephant in rut. We have always, in the pinches, done what we damn pleased, and God has let us do it. His answer to sin is not to scream “Stop that!” but to shut up once and for all on the subject in Jesus’ death.

From Grace in Practice: The Problem with Christianity

Here’s another excerpt from Paul Zahl’s Grace in Practice, from pages 36-38, in the sections entitled “What is Grace?” and “Grace in the New Testament.”

otis-redding-try-a-little-tend-290448In 1965 Joe Meek produced a would-be pop single that was sung by Bobby Rio and The Revelles and was entitled “Value for Love.” It was a great tune, but, like almost everything Joe Meek produced, it only grazed the Top Thirty. The lyrics were wildly false. The singer keeps telling the girl she should go for him because he is “good value for love.” He is “worth” her falling for him. Sure, Bobby Rio! That line never works. It never will. It is all weights and measures. Grace is one-way love.

The one-way love of grace is the essence of any lasting transformation that takes place in human experience. You can find this out for yourself by taking a simple inventory of your own happiness, or the moments of happiness you have had. They have almost always had to do with some incident of love or belatedness that has come to you from someone outside yourself when you were down. You felt ugly or sinking in confidence, and somebody complimented you, or helped you, or spoke a kind word to you. You were at the end of your rope and someone showed a little sympathy. This is the message of Otis Redding’s immortal 1962 song, “Try a Little Tenderness.” […]

One-way love is the change agent in everyday life because it speaks in a voice completely different from the voice of the law. It has nothing to do with its receiver’s characteristics. Its logic is hidden within the intention of its source. Theologically speaking, we can say it is the prime directive of God to love the world in no relation to the world’s fitness to be loved. Speaking in terms of Christian theology, God loves the world in a kind of reverse relationship to its moral unfitness. “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

In the dimension of grace, one-way love is inscrutable or irrational not only because it is out of relation with any intrinsic circumstances on the part of the receiver. One-way love is also irrational because it reaches out to he specifically undeserving person. This is the beating heart of it. Grace is directed toward what the Scripture calls “the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Not just the lonely, not just the sick and disconsolate, but the “perpetrators,” the murderers and abusers, the people who cross the line. God has a heart — his one-way love — for sinners. This is the problem with Christianity. This piece of logical and ethical incongruity and inappropriateness is the problem with Christianity.

The Future’s Past: Time Travel and Justification in Fiction, the Bible and You – Adam Morton

Another fantastic breakout from NYC, this time courtesy of The Rev. Adam Morton. We should’ve posted it when we first had the chance…

The Future's Past: Time Travel and Justification in Fiction, the Bible and You – Adam Morton from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

From Grace in Practice: “Grace in Everyday Life”

From Grace in Practice: “Grace in Everyday Life”

The following is an excerpt from pages 73-76 of Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life by Paul F. M. Zahl. Soak it up!

Grace has the power of the mallet. Every other prong and heavy-lifting device that seeks to change people is an expression of law and accomplishes the opposite of what it intends. People fear that grace will give permission to be bad. This is the classic fear: that grace will issue in a license–“007”–to do whatever you want, without consequences.

Yet that never happens! In fact, the opposite happens. When you treat people gracefully, they always end up…

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When the Infinite Becomes Real: Thoughts on The Conjuring 2

When the Infinite Becomes Real: Thoughts on The Conjuring 2

“In and through every preliminary concern the ultimate concern can actualize itself. Whenever this happens, the preliminary concern becomes a possible object of theology. But theology deals with it only in so far as it is a medium, a vehicle, pointing beyond itself.” – Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology Vol. 1

This week I saw The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist on opening night (apologies in advance for referencing the horror genre twice in two weeks, but it is what it is), which is the story of Ed and Lorraine Warren, 1970s ghost hunters working unofficially for the Catholic Church. They are invited to investigate…

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Condemned By Illness to Passivity

Condemned By Illness to Passivity

This amazing passage from Frank Lake’s Clinical Theology is perhaps the best reading of Mark 2 ever written. As we prepare for the Mental Health Issue, it has much to say about Christ’s office being (quite literally here) at the end of our rope. And that pastoral care–in every facet, from simple friendship to hospital chaplaincy–does not mean giving power to those who are powerless over their afflictions, but instead digging the grave they are too powerless to dig for themselves.

The pastoral dimensions for the healing of the person with schizoid characteristics can be seen in the Gospel record of the healing…

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The Ubiquity of Grief (and How I Tried to Climb the Ladder)

The Ubiquity of Grief (and How I Tried to Climb the Ladder)

Another powerful one from our friend Connor Gwin. 

Last year I wrote a piece for Mockingbird about grief and Sufjan Stevens. I wrote about the cathartic experience I had at a Sufjan Stevens concert featuring his newest album (Carrie & Lowell) which centered on the death of his mother.

It has now been two years since my father died and I am still grieving. Do you know how frustrating that is for me? I believed the cultural maxim that eventually things would return to “normal” and I would “move on”. I believed that if I allowed myself to feel my feelings in the…

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Hopelessly Devoted: Zechariah Chapter Twelve Verse Ten

This morning’s devotion comes to us from Gil Kracke. 

And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn (Zechariah 12:10, NIV)

On the heels of a previous declaration that the Lord alone will be the source of a fearsome and awesome salvation, the prophet continues with this thunderbolt about the “one whom they have pierced.”

tumblr_inline_n9or5km2IH1qkqzlv“And I will pour out a spirit of grace; And I will pour out pleas of mercy.” The Lord is speaking here: the spirit of grace and supplication is given to us—it is never natural to who we are. This givenness always prevails: the work of the Lord within me continues hour-by-hour, moment-by-moment, as I relate to Him in a fundamental position of reception. Without this grace given, my heart is hardened; my judgment remains clouded; my sense of perspective stays skewed. In short, I remain self-interested and self-absorbed.

“When they look on me, on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” This is the remarkable fruit of being given a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy. As I look on the one whom I have pierced, I am also given the right portions of gut-churning remorse and despair.

Why is this important? Because if the spirit of grace is not first given, if the Lord is not this “first mover,” if I am not given the eyes to see—then I look on this “one who was pierced” in an entirely different light. Naturally, I move to blame-shifting and disassociation: It wasn’t me, I had nothing to do with it. Naturally, self-justification reigns: Well, he deserved it; she got what was coming to her; they didn’t leave me any other optionsI had to take care of myself and my family.

The Lord has none of this—He squares each of these directly, and directly God transfers the justice upon Himself. Pouring out grace and mercy, the Lord draws us to see our hands driving the nails of our transgressions, gives us the sobriety to deal with our part in the death. In a flood of guilt, we are yet loved, even by the one we have crucified, resulting in “true repentance, amendment of life, and the grace and consolation of the Holy Spirit.” We can then join in declaring with fearful wonder, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Impossible Is Nothing… And Everything – Nick Lannon

Another stellar breakout from the NYC conference, courtesy of Rev. Lannon:

Impossible is Nothing…and Everything – Nick Lannon from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

People wear Samsung Gear VR devices as they attend the launching ceremony of the new Samsung S7 and S7 edge smartphones during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, February 21, 2016. REUTERS/Albert Gea      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - RTX27XXM

What Is News (And What Isn’t)

A lot of people were talking about Facebook last week. Besides Chewbacca Woman, its Trending News platform was, well, trending. Despite the fact that, in the epoch of FoxNews and HuffPo, news like this should never be news to anyone, the ‘news’ was leaked that Facebook uses hired editors over their algorithms to select which news articles are “Trending.” Now, I know, it may seem strange to you that human editors would be behind the scenes of a news organization instead of using what editors have always used—algorithms. (What is an algorithm?) Facebook, the world’s largest news distributor, was accused…

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