My Buddhist Welcome

Many years ago I was stationed in Korea where I had several opportunities to visit Buddhist temples. Some were small, like the temples on the mountain behind my home. Others were large, historic centers of Buddhism in Korea.

One one occasion I toured one of the larger temples with a group of leaders from my military organization. One of the local chambers of commerce was eager to show off its region and the Americans wanted to be known as good neighbors. In addition to showing us the countryside, the business leaders took us to a water park, a living history museum, and an active Buddhist community.

At the temple, one of the younger monks who spoke English greeted us and showed us around the grounds. He explained the function of the various structures and the symbolic meaning of the things we were seeing. He answered questions without taking offense, and in ways that were easy to comprehend.

What struck me is the way he welcomed us and made us feel at ease while simply being who he was, a Buddhist monk. He explained his Buddhist beliefs and practices in a straightforward manner, without a need to either win an argument or to harmonize them with those of his (mostly) Christian guests. It appeared to me that he hoped his presentation would both engender understanding on our part and draw us toward the truth as he understood it.

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Of Lost Sheep and Lost Coins

Luke 15:1-10 – The Parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin

God is looking for you

In World War I, illustrator James Montgomery Flagg produced the iconic recruiting poster that we’ve all seen. Uncle Sam is looking intently at the viewer and announcing, “I want you for the U.S. Army.” More than 4 million copies of the poster were printed from 1917-1918, helping to man the Army with 4 million soldiers to fight the war. The Army continues to look for men and women to fill its ranks. The total Army needs to add over 120,000 men and women to its rolls in 2019 in order to achieve the mission it has been given by the nation.

Similarly, the United Methodist Church is looking for a few good men and women (to borrow a Marine slogan) to fill the ranks of its clergy. Specifically, it is looking for young clergy. Like the denomination itself, the clergy are graying. The Young Clergy Initiative is a $7 million fund created by General Conference to increase the number of young people called to serve as elders and deacons. The institution needs them to survive.

Jesus tells us that God is looking for us, too, but his purpose is rather different. Jesus isn’t looking for us because he needs us to do something for him. Rather, he wants to do something for us. He is looking for us simply because we are lost, we are in peril and we important to him.

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Receiving the Apostolic Witness

Luke 9:1-6, Luke 10:1-20

What if, in reading the stories of the twelve and then seventy disciples Jesus sent to preach and heal on his behalf, we saw ourselves first as the villagers whose fate depended on how they received the apostolic witness, and not as the disciples chosen by Jesus for a special mission?

We all want to imagine ourselves as the hero of the story. In our vanity, we want to see ourselves at the heart of the narrative. How can I be like those courageous individuals Jesus personally chose to share his power and authority? How can I make my life more complete by applying lessons from their lives? In other words, how can I make this story about me?

But the story is not about me. I could imitate parts of it. I can proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God and encourage people to respond to this unique moment of grace in their lives. I could surrender all my possessions and walk from village to village, asking for a place to stay and some food to eat, although that would be a very strange way to engage people in my cultural context. But what I can’t do is what Jesus did: heal the sick, cast out demons and raise the dead. I can do good things for people, but I can’t do that. I can pray for people, but I can’t unfailingly heal them with the words of my mouth or the touch of my hand. That’s exactly what Jesus did, and that’s what he appointed a group of disciples to do in the context of his Galilean ministry.

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Seeing the Life of Jesus in Philippi

Acts 16:16-34

As you probably know, the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts are two consecutive volumes written by the same author. The gospel tells us about the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The Book of Acts begins with Jesus’ ascension and tells us about the life of the early church, how the Holy Spirit spread faith in Christ from Jerusalem to Rome, and how God used the apostles as his witnesses.

If you pay attention, you might notice that what the Holy Spirit is doing in Acts sounds very much like what Jesus was doing in the Gospel of Luke.

In the gospel, Jesus begins his ministry in the synagogue in Nazareth by reading from the prophet Isaiah.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

What kind of freedom did Jesus bring? In what way did he set the oppressed free? In the very next scene, Luke tells us.

In the synagogue there was a man possessed by the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, “Let us alone! What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in the midst of the people, he came out of him without doing him any harm. And amazement came upon them all, and they began talking with one another saying, “What is this message? For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits and they come out.”  (Luke 4:33-36)

Jesus was an exorcist. If I had to summarize the ministry of Jesus, it would go something like this. Jesus and his disciples walked from town to town, depending on the solely hospitality of the townspeople they met. They announced the coming kingdom of God, healed the sick and cast out demons. And, according to Jesus, his small victories over Satan’s minions were a sign that the kingdom of God was already poking its nose into this present evil age.

But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Luke 11:20)

A Woman with a Spirit

Paul’s encounter with the young girl in Philippi sounds remarkably like those of Jesus with the demon-possessed people of Galilee.

Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by an enslaved young girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her. (Acts 16:16-18)

Of Human and Spiritual Bondage

So, the story begins with Paul’s encounter with a young girl who is both enslaved by human masters and inhabited by some sort of spiritual presence. By this spirit, the girl could predict the future and provide individuals with messages from the divine world.

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Jesus, Peter, Boat, Fish

Luke 5:1-11

Simon lived on the lake of Galilee in a town called Capernaum. He was a fisherman. It wasn’t a sport for him. It was his job, and it was hard work.

He and some friends had a couple of fishing boats and of course the boats had no motors. They probably had a simple sail and an oar with which to steer. Much of the time, the boat moved by people power. The boat wasn’t the Queen Mary, but it wasn’t dinghy either. I am exhausted after a few minutes on the rowing machine in the gym. Ancient fishermen must have been studs, but I’m sure they still came back to shore exhausted.

Now there were a couple of ways to fish from a boat.

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