these are just work habits

Continued from: The Kingdom Cuts You In Half

After John addresses the whole crowd, apparently, some tax collectors want to get in on the action. Who wouldn’t though, right? “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” Those are some strong words! Does anyone really want to be one of those trees?

Well, the tax collectors don’t. They’ve been watching, seeing lives changed and hearts moved. People are being transformed in front of them. Now tax collectors, while wealthy, weren’t the most beloved of individuals in Roman culture. They collected taxes and had the rep of your average IRS auditor (just playing off a cliche, please don’t take it personally). The real problem was what they collected in addition to the taxes, their cut. The way that they made money was by graft. They added to the tax they charged a healthy profit. If you paid them tax, you were doubled then nothing: The invoice was double and left you with nothing.

I would imagine they found that all the money in the world doesn’t do you a whole lot of good when you don’t have love.

It’s hard not to be loved.
It makes you want a miracle.
Something that will blunt the searing burn of isolation.
To numb the pain of your uneasy soul.

He told them, “No more extortion-collect only what is required by law.”

The answer should have been obvious. Stop doing the thing that’s making people not like you. But it’s not always that easy, is it? I mean, once we get into the groove of doing what we have to, it’s hard to stop. If you first buy a house, then two cars, then three jet skis, a boat or two and a posh Golf course membership, you do what you have to to keep that standard of living going…even if it’s not living at all. It’s easy to be possessed by possessions. It’s an intoxicating illusion, an idol.

What John the Baptist suggests will surely result in bankruptcy, but bankruptcy in this case equals freedom.

The Tax Collectors were rich valleys: all the money in the world, but it didn’t afford them life. They walked a crooked path. The words of the prophet Isaiah came to life in John’s exhortation: make low mountains, make what is crooked straight. The Kingdom of God at work in the life of the tax collector was an accounting nightmare, but a win for God’s justice on the earth.

The Zacchaeus story is a great illustration:

When Jesus got to the tree, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry down. Today is my day to be a guest in your home.” Zacchaeus scrambled out of the tree, hardly believing his good luck, delighted to take Jesus home with him. Everyone who saw the incident was indignant and grumped, “What business does he have getting cozy with this crook?”

Zacchaeus just stood there, a little stunned. He stammered apologetically, “Master, I give away half my income to the poor-and if I’m caught cheating, I pay four times the damages.” Jesus said, “Today is salvation day in this home! Here he is: Zacchaeus, son of Abraham! For the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost.” [Luke 19:5-10]

Preparing the way of the Lord doesn’t simply look like some rocks getting kicked off the driveway. It looks like lives transformed in challenging, difficult, unpredictable and uncomfortable ways. It produces just work habits in the most unjust jobs.

But that’s what it takes to make low mountains.

next up: Neptune loves the little guy

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the kingdom cuts you in half

continued from the matrixization of isaiah 40:3-5

John the Jesus Recognizer, and Baptizer, gazes across the brood of vipers, otherwise known as the people who were listening to him, and he rips through them with this, “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” Not wanting to be thrown “into the fire,” Luke mentions that the crowd begins to ask for an alternative.

“What should we do?” they ask. “What does it look like to live a life the bears fruit worthy of repentance?”

John answers, not with theology or doctrine, but with a practical way to prepare the way of the Lord that fulfills the Isaiah prophecy at the same time. “If you have two coats, give one away,” he said. “Do the same with your food.” In this world, there are the haves and the have nots. Here, John addresses both, not to make the haves feel guilty or the have nots feel worthless, but to invite both into a life that engages the presence of the Kingdom of God on earth.

When a “have” gives one shirt away from their abundance, to someone who has none, then both end up having one…the same…they are equal. The Kingdom of God creates equality through repentance. Repentance is shared between the richest and poorest because it’s about the heart, not money. John is preaching a message of justice to the crowd. Isaiah’s message to the Hebrew exiles comes to life on the banks of the river Jordan.

Valleys will be filled up.
Mountains will be made low.

The Kingdom of God is not alternative economic system, in the sense of the word. It’s not Communism for Christians. We get our word economy from the Greek, oikonomia, which means ‘household management’. If Christians are gathered into one body, a new community under one roof as it were, the question is, “how does the new community run?”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Life Together, writes:

Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this. What does this mean? It means, first, that a Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ. It means, second, that a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ. It means, third, that in Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity. [p.21]

Chosen from eternity.
Accepted in time.
United for eternity.

The church finds it’s location there, between chosen and united. Eugene Peterson writes:

Church is the core element in the strategy of the Holy Spirit for providing human witness and physical presence to the Jesus-inaugurated kingdom of God in this world. It is not that kingdom complete, but it is a witness to that kingdom.

To quote, Fr. Gregory Boyle, “Marinate in the vastness of that!”

The message of John in the wilderness is no different than what Jesus himself continues on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you [Mt 5:38-42].”

When the Kingdom cuts you in half, providing for someone’s scarcity out of your abundance, the valley of poverty is filled up. It becomes level. At the same time, the mountain is made low. It, too, becomes level. And its not just about money.

Is the Salvation Army pick up on your mind?
What do you do with your surplus stuff?
Are you material for that show, what’s it called…?
Have ou heard of water.org?
Compassion International?
World Vision?
What about Homeboys Industries?
Who do you know that needs your time and attention?
Where can you plug in in your community?

How can you make low mountains and high valleys?

Just saw this pic on twitter.

I think it preaches.

Next up: these are just work habits

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the matrixization of Isaiah 40:3-5

So, John is in the Jordan river basin watching the crowds descend like vipers fleeing a fire. His baptism is one of repentance, asking people to turn from the actions, words and thoughts of a life contrary to God’s intended for his creation and re-orienting them back to the With-God life.

Standing waist deep, by the river’s edge, this camel hair coutured, honey gorging prophet began his sermon with a Hebrew Testament prophetic word from the Prophet Isaiah. Isaiah spoke to a people who were in exile, waiting for the day where all things would be made normal again, all things righted by the hand of their Savior King:

As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“A voice of one calling in the desert,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.”
And all mankind will see God’s salvation [Lk 3:4-6; NRSV].”

Here’s a matrix style video animation of the text above…read along. I would have added to text to the animation, but I’m blogging here…who has that kind of time?


*only from the minds of some Edwards

The reason that I went with the Matrix vibe on this video breaks down like this:

When John the Baptist used this text to illustrate what was about to happen, the people who were listening caught on. The phrase, “Prepare the way for the Lord” had historic weight. When a King came to your town or community, you would “make straight paths for him.” You would literally, roll out the red carpet, making his approach as smooth and regal as possible.

This was the original, “the end is near” sermon. John is preaching the end of an era, the Savior King is on the way! The trouble was, how would you recognize the Savior King among such a great and eclectic crowd?

John the Baptist had another job, he was the chief Jesus Recognizer. John the Baptist had the unique gift of recognizing Jesus. Like a Qui Gon Jinn or Morpheus. In Star Wars, Qui Gon Jinn recognized Annakin as the one who would restore balance to the force. Morpheus was the recognizer of the One (who happened to be Keanu Reeves in a trench coat). His job was to find the human embodiment of an aging prophecy.

The One was on the way and way was prepared through repentance.

So, what do the baptism of repentance and the Isaiah passage have in common? John shows us three different ways in Luke 3:7-18.

Coming up next: The Kingdom of God cuts you in half!

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quoting Isaiah

As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“A voice of one calling in the desert,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.

Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.”
6 And all mankind will see God’s salvation [Lk 3:4-6; NRSV].”

Hey, Become a prophetsandpopstars subscriber today and receive each and every new post fresh in your inbox. If you open it soon enough, you may even get to sniff the warm mimeo ink! Thanks for reading.
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