Thursday, November 21, 2013

Tombs and Temples

In the movie version of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Gandalf and Pippin are walking through the levels of the city of Minas Tirith which is a massive seven-tiered city built into the side of a mountain. The white stones of the city shine bright in the rising sun and burn as with fire at the it's setting. On the highest level of the city is a courtyard in which stands the White Tree of Gondor, a symbol of the cities rich heritage and history. Unfortunately this tree has not blossomed since the last king sat on the throne many years earlier. Before the failing tree Pippin asks Gandalf why they still guard it if it's dead. Gandalf responds, "They guard it because they have hopeFaith and fading hope that one day it will flower. That a king will come and this city will be as it once was before it fell into decay. The old wisdom that was borne out of the West was forsaken. Kings made tombs more splendid than the houses of the living and counted the names of their descent dearer than the names of their sons. Childless lords sat in aged halls musing on heraldry or in high, cold towers asking questions of the stars. And so the people of Gondor fell into ruin. The line of Kings failed, the White Tree withered, and the rule of Gondor was given over to lesser men."

While there are a ton of sermon illustrations in that single quote alone, one line has always struck me in a powerful way, "kings made tombs more splendid than the houses of the living". To me that is a very sad picture of the state of a once magnificent kingdom. When a kingdom venerates the halls of the dead and neglects the slums of the living there is something wrong. When Gondor placed a greater priority on remembering the glories of the past they neglected the suffering of the present and thus doomed their future. Now they are waiting and hoping for the king to return to Minas Tirith to bring life to a dying city and diminishing people. 

This line in the movie always reminds me of when Jesus said in Matthew 23:27-28, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." 

This stands in juxtaposition with what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, when addressing the topic of sexual purity, "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body."

What a contrast though, between being a tomb and being a temple. A tomb is filled with death and sorrow,  a temple is filled with life and joy. Though a tomb may appear beautiful on the outside the inside it is filled with "unclean things". Conversely, the adornments and decorations of a temple are superfluous, what makes a temple a temple is the living presence of God residing within it. 

These are two stark spiritual realities, we are either tombs or we are temples. This world has enough tombs as it is, people who walk around and behave as though they are alive but spiritually they are dead in their sins and trespasses. What this world needs is more temples, people who are spiritually alive because God the Holy Spirit has taken up residence inside their hearts. 

I could write a lot more (and I might at a later time) but these are just some thoughts that I have been having lately, but I want to leave you with some words from one of my favorite worship tunes and my hope is that this would be all of our prayers, that we would desire to be temples of the living God and not tombs of death....

"Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. With thanksgiving I'll be a living sanctuary for you."

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Zombies, Plauges, and the Compassion of Christ!

Hershel Greene; The Walking Dead
For those of you who have not caught the zombie virus yet, here is the quickest synopsis of AMC's  The Walking Dead that I can manage; The world is much as we know it, that is until, as usual, a zombie virus outbreak. People, lots of people, get infected die then come back as zombies. People get bit or scratched by zombies, die, then they too become zombies. People die of the common cold then come back as, yup you guessed it, zombies. If you haven't picked up on the common theme, basically people are becoming mindless flesh eating zombies creating a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by zombies and survivors. The show follows one group of survivors who daily strive to stay alive and create some semblance of normality in a world gone mad. A man named Hershel Greene eventually joins this group, a man of faith and a farmer, he was former veterinarian, who at first struggles to keep his faith in the midst of the madness but quickly emerges as a leader and beacon of compassion and humanity in this savage dog-eat-dog world. While taking refuge in an abandoned prison a flu virus begins to kill the survivors within its walls. Hershel's veterinarian training comes in handy but because of fear of more deaths the sick are quarantined and Hershel is not able to treat and comfort them, or else risk his life. Being the creature of conscience he is, Hershel can not sit idly by while people are suffering that he might be able to comfort, though he has no cure. He determines to enter into the quarantine to administer an elderberry tea in hope of reducing the fevers of the ill. Another leader of the group and Hershel's daughter try to stop him saying that its just too risky, Hershel might get sick and then the group would be worse of with him gone. Hershel stops at the door to the quarantine and turns to confront those who would stop him saying;

"You walk outside, you risk your life. You take a drink of water, you risk your life. Nowadays you breath and you risk your life. You don’t have a choice. The only thing you can choose is what you’re risking it for.” Then turning back around he enters into the quarantine. 

In the third century, the ancient world was hit with a devastating plague (though let me state that nowhere do sources say it wasn't a zombie plague). There were many casualties, but perhaps the greatest casualty was that of the human spirit of compassion. In attempts to keep themselves from joining the dead and dying, many people threw infected family members out into the streets to die alone. It was the Christians in the community who took it upon themselves to care for the sick risking their own lives in the process. It's very likely that many of these brothers and sisters contracted the illness and died as a result. I am confident however that were you to ask those Christians who died as a result of risking their lives to comfort the sick, they would have no regrets. They were following the model of a radical self-sacrificing compassionate savior who they loved more than all the health and wealth of this world. 

Jesus was not one to throw the sick out into the street to spare himself. We know that he was able to heal from miles away (Luke 7:1-10), yet he choose to heal the sick, the blind, the "unclean" by touching them (Matt. 8:1-4). We know that Jesus was able to call back people from the dead by the word of his mouth (John11:38) yet in an incredible demonstration of compassion, when he saw the widow mourning over the death of her only son he went and touched the body of the boy and gave him back to his mother alive and well (Luke 7:11-17). 

2 Corinthians 1:3-5 says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too." 

How has God comforted you? I'm sure many of us can think of many times when we felt the warm embrace of our Heavenly Father in our time of need, weather an inner sense of peace, the kind words of a brother or sister, or in some other way. 

The verse above says that God comforts us in all our troubles so that we are able to comfort others in any trouble they are experiencing. 

How have you comforted others with the same comfort you have received?  How have you shown compassion to others with the same compassion shown to you by God? This is a topic that Jesus takes very seriously, we all who are in Christ long for the day when we see our savior face to face and hear him say "Well done my good and faithful servant". But what if you heard this instead; 

"Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me...Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me" (Matt. 25:41-43,45). 

You have faith in God, good! Even the demons believe that God exist and shudder in fear (James 2:19). But unless our faith compels us into action, it is a dead faith that cannot save (James 2:14-26). Martin Luther once said, "We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone". Faith results in action. 

Herschel and the early Church demonstrated their faith in God by risking their own lives to bring the comfort and compassion that Jesus modeled to "the least of these" in society with no regard for their own security or safety. 

Nowadays we walk outside our homes, we risk our lives. We drive down the highway, we risk our lives. We eat and drink, we risk our lives. We breath the air and we risk our lives. We don’t have a choice. The only thing we can choose is what we are risking it for. 

May we put everything on the line and expend our lives loving God and loving others with reckless abandon.