"We Christians are a Bunch of Scheming Swindlers".

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The matter is quite simple. The bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.
--Søren Kierkegaard (Taken from Dr. Richard Beck)

To read Kierkegaard’s words might lead one to conclude that we ought to read the Bible literally. Even Kierkegaard would disagree. Rather, the call of Kierkegaard is the critique to read the Bible then use various rationalizations to avoid the ways we are convinced by the Truth and Love of the Good News. Time and time again we read about how God recklessly forgives. We find justifications to measure forgiveness. We hear Jesus place a priority on accepting the “others” the authorities rejected, we prioritize our own acceptance.

We are all able to cite the Bible to justify our current positions and feelings. We are less able to cite the Bible to challenge or critique our current positions. And when we do find scripture that challenges us, we are clever enough to cast it aside.

Sell all your possessions? Pick up the cross? Welcome the widow, orphan and sojourner? Keep the Sabbath? Prioritize love at the expense of truth?

Instead, I find myself saying, “The Bible is so cryptic and difficult to understand.”

Tossing Jesus Off A Cliff

…And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’ And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

The group is excited because they are anticipating that Jesus is going to not only do great things among them, but probably even going to give them a little extra. Like when you go to a restaurant and know the server and they tend to your table a little more than others and bring you a birthday dessert even though it is not your birthday. This town is looking to get the hook up, as the kids say.


Jesus says that in fact God has a history of giving favors to people other than the chosen ones. Jesus cites two times when Elijah and Elisha both were sent not to the chosen people but to the foreigners.

The people around Jesus got super angry and move to give him the death of a heretic. All because Jesus reminded them that God is less interested in giving the “extra good stuff” to the chosen ones and more interested in integrating the ones that the people of God thought were downright unrepentant sinners.

Imagine a group of people agreeing that they are in the right, that Jesus should take care of them first, because he is one of them, and they are the majority. Jesus says he is not going to do that but go to the hated minorities. Perhaps people cry out, but we are the majority Jesus and we are the faithful ones! Jesus might have reminded them that they should be the first ones to understand why he is to go integrate the minority. Instead of seeing that grace compels us to move beyond what we identify as kosher or orthodox, they decided to drive Jesus off a cliff.

But that was a long time ago.

Preaching Rattlesnake-Rabbit Sausage

Not a paid endorsement, just delicious -

Not a paid endorsement, just delicious -

Every chef can make the staples. They can roast chicken, grill up steak, mix a vinaigrette, saute vegetables and know what to do with salt and pepper. They understand the basics of knife skills and presentation. What makes a chef’s food worth waiting in line for is the unique flair that the chef develops over time. Locally people will wait in line for Tim Love’s Rabbit-Rattlesnake Sausage. Chefs know how to make sausage, but this particular expression of sausage is what captures the imagination of foodies.

Likewise, every Christian preacher can preach the staples: God loves you, You are forgiven in the work of Jesus Christ. Death is not the end. The Holy Spirit guides the Church to the ends of the earth. Every preacher understands the basics of voice control and best practices of toast-masters. What makes the preacher worth listening to is not the staples but the unique perspective that God gifted to that preacher as they build on the staples.

Isaiah had a vision where God touched his lips with a hot coal, purifying and giving him a message. Preachers are each given a unique point of view on the Gospel message and is called to take those hot lips of fire and preach the Rabbit-Rattlesnake Sausage equivalent of sermons.

Too often, however, we preachers stick with the basics. We grind out quality sausage each week knowing it is good and filling, but it lacks the Spirit God burned onto our lips. What made Jesus so compelling is his dedication to preach his unique flavor. It was that unique flavor that people asked “on what authority” does this man act/teach?

As fine of a restaurant Applebee’s is, there is rarely a clamoring for more Applebee’s. There can be a line out the door at peak times of the week, but I have never heard, “I wish there was an Applebee’s that would move in so that I could get some great food!” Christianity does not need more Applebee preaching, there is already enough. What changes and challenges people is the unique flavor of the Gospel God has given to preachers.

Preach rattlesnake-rabbit sausage.

The Legitimate Leader and the She-Bears of 2 Kings 2:23-24

Elisha is the apprentice of the prophet Elijah and in 2 Kings Elijah is taken up in a chariot of fire, leaving Elisha alone to carry the mantle of prophetic leadership. The young Elisha picks up the mantle of Elijah and touches the river. The waters part and Elisha walks across the dry land.

Soon a group of people see Elisha and bow down to him out of respect. Even as they respected the office that Elisha now holds, they might have wondered what happened to Elijah? Did something wonderful or nefarious happen to him at the hands of Elisha? The group asks if they can search for the body of Elijah. Elisha says to not do this, because they will not find the body; which, if you are a conspiracy theorist, sounds suspicious. However, the group still sends 50 men to search for 3 days only to return and tell Elisha that they did not find the body of Elijah. Elisha says, "Did I not say to you, Do not go?" 

Elisha may have felt at this point a sense of frustration. He was shown signs of respect when the group bowed, but they questioned his decision to not search for Elijah. Elisha's legitimacy as a leader is called into question.  

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Just after, Elisha walks to a town and discovers the water is bad killing the land and causing miscarriages. Elisha heals the water with some salt. Like Moses making the bitter water sweet, Elisha goes one step farther and heals the water and the town rejoices. As he leaves the town a crowd gathers to mock Elisha. He is called "baldy" which is only obvious if Elisha was not wearing the mantle of Elijah over his head. If he wore the mantle then would the crowd have made fun of him? Once again, Elisha's legitimacy as the leader is called into question.

In response to this claim, Elisha curses the crowd and two she-bears maul 42 people.  

Two sets of stories with complementary suggestions about how Elisha struggled being seen as the legitimate leader. In one case Elisha suggested that no one trusts him and in the other Elisha lashes out to his enemies. 

When Elisha struggles with legitimacy, people get hurt. In this case, young people die.

There was another who ascended to heaven and when his followers came to share this good news, they were considered drunk. When the disciple preached that Pentecost Sunday they, like Elisha, had their legitimacy questioned. They did not call forth She-bears. 

When the legitimacy of the leader is called into question some leaders lash out, curse enemies and call forth destruction. They look sort of like they early days of Elisha. Christianity requires a different response. Notice that Christians are not called "Elishans." Christians do not curse our enemies and wish/cause their destruction - even in the face of a legitimacy crisis.