Monday, July 29, 2013

Sheldon, Jesus, and "The Big Bang Theory"



    While those who read my blogs may not have an interest in reading my Sunday sermon each week, I recently saw something in scripture that had a connection to our modern culture that I’m sure many of my friends would appreciate.  

    In Luke, Jesus tells a story about a man (or woman, it’s you, actually) who goes to his friend’s house to get bread to feed to an unexpected house guest.  As I read this story, told more than two-thousand years ago, I heard the voice of Sheldon, from the television show “The Big Bang Theory.”  Jesus’ story is short so I invite you to read it with me…

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

    Luke tells us that, because of our friendship with God, through his son Jesus Christ, we are given the privilege to trade on our friendship.  Because we are friends, and indeed, family, we are able to ask for what we need without fear that we will annoy God into ignoring us.  Luke says that if not “because of friendship”, then because of “shameless audacity,” God will give us what we need.  The story that Luke tells is of asking a friend for bread after that friend had locked the doors and gone to bed at night.  

    It helps to understand that the houses in ancient times were not like the houses we have today.  Not every member of the family had their own room and in fact, while Mom and Dad might have had some privacy, in many cases the living room was somebody’s bedroom and quite possibly everybody’s bedroom.  At night the furniture would be pushed aside, bedding would be unrolled and members of the family would sleep on the floor and in front of the door.  The man who was in already in bed would have to light a lamp so that he did not step on sleeping family members, step over those who were sleeping and then move whoever was in front of the door.  Certainly by the time he had done this most of the family would be awake, grumbling and grouchy… and yet, because of your persistence, because of your “shameless audacity,” even if not because of your friendship, he would get up and get you the bread that you need.

    And this is where I made the connection with “The Big Bang Theory.” There, in episode after episode, week after week, Sheldon knocks on Penny’s door at all hours of the day and night

Knock, knock, knock, “Penny?” knock, knock, knock, “Penny?” knock, knock, knock, “Penny?” 

    Sheldon knocks over and over and over again until poor Penny answers, in her pajamas, often bedraggled, hair a mess, and half asleep.  Not because she’s happy about it, partly because of their friendship and mostly because of Sheldon’s shameless audacity, Penny comes to the door and helps Sheldon with whatever problem that he is having.

Luke says that our relationship with God is sort of like that.

    God desires to give you good gifts, just as a father desires good things for his children.  He is not put off by your persistence and you aren’t going to annoy him into ignoring you.

Never forget that God loves you.  He has adopted you so that you are a part of his family.

    You are a child, and a friend of God who never needs to be afraid to pound on the door of heaven at all hours of the day and night, to ask for the things that you need.

Knock, knock, knock, “Jesus?  Knock, knock, knock, “Jesus?  Knock, knock, knock, “Jesus?  


Monday, July 15, 2013

Trayvon, George, and the Church



    I wrote Sunday's message, "The Test", long before the verdict in the Zimmerman trial was announced and yet, the parallels between these events and scripture reading were worth noting.

    In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) a religious lawyer seeks to use Jesus to assure himself that he is good enough to go gain eternal life.  The lawyer and Jesus agree that the two fundamental criteria are 1) to love God and 2) to love your neighbor, but that isn’t good enough and so he asks Jesus “Who is my neighbor?”  In the time of Jesus, rabbis had differing opinion over who qualified to be a “neighbor” and these opinions ranged from friends and family, up to including anyone who was Jewish.  This man was hoping, even expecting, that Jesus’ opinion would be similar so that he could declare himself “good enough.” But Jesus goes an entirely different direction.  Jesus tells this story of a man who was brutally robbed, beaten and left for dead in the wilderness only to be rescued by a Samaritan.  

For many of us, this may also require some explanation.

    Long before the birth of Jesus, the Jews and the Samaritans hated one another with a deep and abiding hate.  Regardless of whose version of history you believe, hostilities between the Samaritans and the Jews dated back to the Old Testament, perhaps a thousand years or more.  Over the centuries, each side had attacked the other and had desecrated or burned the others’ temple.   A great many had been killed on both sides.  The only reason that the two groups were not fighting one another in the time of Jesus was that the Roman army was there to make sure that they didn’t. 

    In this environment of hatred, Jesus tells a story in which the Samaritan enemy was the hero and tells the man that even his enemy is his neighbor.  Jesus’ command is to “Go and do likewise.”  As followers of Jesus the  command to “Go and do likewise”  instructs us to show mercy to people we’ve never met, to share what we have with people who can’t do anything in return, to help people who aren’t like us, people who don’t like us, and even to people whom we consider to be our enemies.  It was a tough pill for that lawyer to swallow and it isn’t any easier for us today.  The parable of the Good Samaritan has always been, and will always be, difficult to put into practice.

    If we measure the events surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin by this standard we find that everyone failed.  Both George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin failed when they chose to be suspicious and hostile and to engage in a brutal brawl on the ground rather than try to explain, discuss or walk away.  Both men assumed the other was his enemy.  The news media when they looked first for sensational headlines before reporting the facts.  Others failed because they were looking for an enemy and assumed that this violence was somehow different, that this murder was somehow more notable than the other thousands of young people who have been victims of violence since Trayvon Martin died. 

    Finally, the church failed.  We have known the story of the Good Samaritan since we were children.  We know that Jesus taught us to love our enemies and to do good to those who persecute us.  And yet, even now, in the midst of this tragedy, the followers of Jesus Christ, both black and white, look to place blame and to see an enemy in others, rather than demonstrate mercy, compassion, and forgiveness.  For the church, this case cannot be about who is right or who is wrong.  A wedge has been driven between two groups who already saw the other as the enemy.  Instead of arguing over who was in the right, we must find ways to avoid this sort of violence that kills young men and women every day in Sanford, Florida, New York, Washington D.C., and all across our nation.  We must find ways to teach the things that Jesus commanded us to teach.  We must show mercy to people we’ve never met, share what we have with people who can’t do anything in return, help people who aren’t like us, people who don’t like us, and even people that we consider to be our enemies.  We are called to be agents of healing instead of division.  We must love our enemies, do good to those who persecute us, and yes, we must love our neighbors.

Each one of us can make the world a better place if only we would, “Go and do likewise.”


Monday, July 1, 2013

Seven Things Car Dealers Should Know




    Last week I shared some of the ways that we were able to save money when we finally had to go shopping for a new car (Seven Car Shopping Tips to Save You Money).   Our experiences were mostly positive, but there were times that were not.  While we were ultimately successful in finding a great car for a price that we could afford, there were a number of times that we just shook our heads at the attitudes and behavior of various car dealers.  On the other hand, there were a handful of them that were doing an awesome job.  Here is a list of things that we wish all car dealers knew:

  1)      It would be nice if automakers would make the cars that we want: Chevrolet used to make the Venture, which we liked so well we bought two of them.  It was comfortable, affordable, reliable, had eight seats, and got good gas mileage.  We would have happily bought another one, but they don’t make them anymore.  Our local Chevy dealer only carried other brands of minivan in their used car lot and almost no one makes a van with eight seats.  Brilliant.

  2)      Dealers should know that we own computers and know how to use them: Thanks to the Internet, before we left the house we knew what car we wanted and every dealership within 50 miles that had one.  We knew the Kelly Blue Book recommended price, and how much the dealerships wanted for them.  Several dealerships seemed to have no clue that this technology exists.

  3)      Just because it looks like a van, doesn’t make it a van: One major brand advertises that they have the highest fuel economy in a minivan but when we looked into it, their minivan only has seating for five.  Seriously?  Our Aunt Gladys’ Buick LeSabre has more seats than that, it gets better gas mileage, and its big overstuffed leather seats are almost certainly more comfortable.

  4)      Comfy seats do not always make the sale: The dealer whose lot is literally across the street from our church was courteous and polite but failed in two ways.  1) They had nothing close to our price range because the vans on their lot were all loaded up with leather seats and all the extras and 2) while these vans were only a little more than we were looking for, they made absolutely no attempt to negotiate.  We left.
  
  5)      Rudeness never pays: Downtown Ford in Canton offered one price online but when we asked how much the car cost, the saleswoman made two mistakes.  1) She nearly demanded that we drive it before she would tell us the price and when we insisted, she copped an attitude and gave us a base price that was $2500 more than the price quoted online.  We left.

  6)      We don’t negotiate the price of most things, but we expect it when buying a car AND some of us prefer to pay cash: One dealership we visited had two, reasonably priced, low mileage vans that we liked.  We test drove both of them.  They wouldn’t budge on price and insisted that because they were a wholesaler they couldn’t negotiate.  They did, however, try very hard to offer us a “better deal” if we would only take out a loan, despite our offer to pay cash.  How is paying interest supposed to save us money?  We left.
  

  7)      Being polite and helpful never hurt your business: The salesman at Greg Pruitt Honda met us in the lot almost as soon as we got out of the car, asked what we were looking for, and actually listened.  He told us that they didn’t have any in stock but got several in each week and would, if we wanted, let us know when one came in.  He was polite and helpful even though he knew he didn’t have what we wanted and also knew that we would continue to look elsewhere.  I will almost certainly go back to their dealership the next time I am looking for a car.
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