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I recently watched again “The Book of Eli.” As the title suggests, this movie focuses on a book and a character named Eli. The book, we learn, is the last of its kind and sets Eli off on a special mission. I suspect the name of the primary character was chosen very carefully. Eli, and variations of that name, carries a great deal of significance in the book. The play on Eli’s name could prompt us to think of the coming of “one like Elijah.”

Eli is a walk by faith not by sight guy. Yet, in many ways the movie is about seeing. The movie is dark and not only due to its content. It is set in a sepia tone that works well in a world where not many are able to see what is really going on. Sunglasses are a prominent part of the wardrobe. And sight belongs to the blind, while blindness is prominent among the sighted.

There are parts that are tough to watch due to violence. For instance, do not mess with Eli. He has incredible skills of anticipation, as if he is able to see things before they happen. This is only enhanced by his skills with a machete, a bow, and even with guns. Eli is a hybrid between a prophet and a cowboy. And that is exactly how he rides into town, not looking for trouble but finding it.

But even Eli begins to see more clearly as the movie plays out. For much of the movie he quotes the book and defends it, but in the end he realizes it is more important to live by the book. This is evidenced in a scene where Eli is talking with Solara, a young lady he rescues from this dangerous town and who becomes his traveling companion. He tells her “All the years I’ve been carrying it and reading it every day… I got so caught up with keeping it safe… I forgot to live by what I learned from it.” Perhaps the movie could have been titled “Eli of the Book.”

But Eli is not the only one interested in the book. Every post-apocalyptic town is in need of someone to take charge and Carnegie is happy to do it. This Carnegie wins friends and influences people through manipulation and coercion. He is infatuated by power, which is why he wants the book, so he might further control the people. He talks about the book as if it is a weapon to aim at the hearts and minds of the weak and desperate. Needless to say, a significant portion of the movie includes a battle for the book.

The movie includes a message about things that really matter. Water is a precious commodity. A good pair of boots is rare. Food is so scarce that cannibalism becomes common. A friendly companion is something to be grateful for. Music is enjoyed as something sacred. Shampoo is considered a luxury. Important possessions receive special care. What we take for granted is in stark contrast to what we find in this post-apocalyptic world. This is highlighted in conversation as Eli tells Solara “People had more than they needed. We had no idea what was precious, what wasn’t. We threw away things people kill each other for now.”

One of my favorite scenes comes at the end as Solara prepares to continue the mission. The gates open, she sheaths Eli’s machete, puts his ear buds in her ears, and she steps through the gates. All while we listen to Eli’s voice pray for her protection. Perhaps we should not be surprised to find that, after spending so much time with Eli, we see the fruit of discipleship. Perhaps those of us who need help to see more clearly should make it a point to watch the movie again.

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Our family would like to thank so many people for kind words and kind gestures. We especially want to thank you for loving Mom and Dad.

Every once in a while we hear of or experience a life changing event. At the risk of understatement, the death of my Dad is one of those. Who knows what to say at times like these? I surely do not. If I were asked about the chance of this happening at this time I would have guessed somewhere around zero percent.  In my eyes, Dad was one of the strongest people I could even imagine. I am pretty sure my siblings thought the same thing. For much of my life I thought he could do nearly anything. It is not that we thought Dad was a super hero. Though he did successfully convince one of our cousins that he was superman. Maybe he could not leap tall buildings in a single bound but he did have skills. There is a story about a boy who could walk on his hands and used those skills to attract the attention of a girl in sixth grade. That boy was Dad and that girl is my Mom.

The stories will live on. The fact is we love telling stories about Dad but they will never be the same without him sitting there adding to them or trying to deny them. To be honest, I have no idea what life will be like without him being a part of it. Have I mentioned that this was a life changing event?

Dad taught us things like bike riding and fishing and fielding a fly ball. Dad taught us how to sharpen a knife and appreciate the outdoors and to drive a car. My sister Jennifer wanted to make sure that I highlighted the role he had in teaching us how to love.

That love was evident in his role as Grandpa.  With some irony, on the day of Dad’s funeral, I became a Grandpa. If I am able to even utilize some of his Grandpa skills, I will be successful.

Later in life Dad became a gardener and a bird watcher and a photographer and a traveler to Florida. He loved living near the black bears that played in his yard in PA and the alligators that lived near the house in FLA. And there are plenty of photos to prove his love of both. Dad became an inventor of sorts as evidenced by a contraption we used to pick tangerines from high in the trees last spring and another that he used to hang bird feeders in unlikely places.

We love telling stories about Dad, whether true or not. We can tell stories about him shooting at squirrels in the bird feeders and at mice in our living room. We can tell stories about Dad with gun and holster practicing his quick draw.

His death may be a life changing event. But only because his life had such a significant influence on us. It is largely because of Dad’s influence that we know that God is interested in these stories and memories and the way they make us feel now. There is a room at the house where Dad sat and scribbled notes as he read and watched out the window. His most recent notes include references to the scene in the Gospel of John chapter eleven. For anyone not familiar with what is said there, John chapter eleven includes a scene where Jesus shows up at a funeral. A reminder that God does not shy away from times of darkness or even death. There is some comfort in that, knowing that God is interested in those of us who mourn. Yet this scene is not about comfort. In this scene, God looks death in the eye and begins to talk about resurrection and life. That is exactly what Dad would want us to do today.

Along the west shore of the Susquehanna River, tucked between the Juniata and Sherman’s Creek, almost hidden in the shadow of Cove Mountain, lays the borough of Duncannon. This is where you will find me on the first day of the week. There I gather with others of a similar mind about what has taken place on this day.

Genesis starts off from the beginning telling us how eventful the first day was. We go from “darkness was over the surface of the waters” to “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” Needless to say, this move from darkness to light is a significant one.

Perhaps no day has ever been more eventful than one described by the Gospel. John takes us from “they saw that He was already dead” to “the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there” to “on that day, the first day of the week… Jesus came and stood in their midst.” At the risk of understatement, it is quite a move from death to life.

We are reminded again of the unpredictability of the first day when Acts reports that people “from every nation” began to “hear in our own language.” Again, just to highlight the obvious. It is quite a move from isolation and division to community.

So we gather on this day and in this place with expectation. We realize that surprise is always a possibility. We believe the miraculous can occur on any day, we are simply acknowledging a serious precedent for unpredictability on this day, the first day of the week. A day the Trinity has already been extremely active. When I think of what has already taken place on this day all I can say is “wow.”

So John MacArthur is challenging N. T. Wright. He calls Wright’s writings “a mass confusing ambiguity, contradiction, and obfuscation.” (Extra credit to MacArthur for using the word obfuscation). He credits Wright with “academic sleight of hand.” In the end, MacArthur accuses Wright of propagating a false gospel. You can watch the video here… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZJEZiLfYHk

Regardless of whether one takes sides in this situation, we ought to ask ourselves how disagreement should be handled in the church.

MacArthur may come across as funny or clever when he makes a statement like “N. T. Wrong.” Still, to vilify our sisters and brothers does not communicate that we are one body. Even in our differences we are to communicate unity not division. Anything else hinders our witness.

I wish we could see disagreement as an opportunity to demonstrate how we are different than the world. Can we not talk to one another rather than about one another? There will be disagreement. Of that we can be sure. But the way we disagree becomes very important.

I admit to be influenced by a book I’ve been reading this past month. Perhaps I should send MacArthur a copy. Maybe he has read it. The title is I Corinthians. This book has had it with division. Every page is seeking unity. Throughout I Corinthians we are reminded that in a context of disagreement we will learn much about who we are. I Corinthians may not be against the world, but it is against bringing the ways of the world into the church. I Corinthians wants us to know the church is a different way to live. Why would the world be interested in what we say or do in our disagreements if we disagree the same way as everyone else?

Even our disagreements should insist on unity. The way we disagree matters much to not only our unity, but also our public witness.

“I’ve got a tiger by the tail its plain to see…” Not the lyric you might expect to hear in Sunday School. But there I was in front of the class belting out the lyrics. The way the story was told to me, the teacher asked if anyone in the class had a special song they wished to sing. While older me can’t imagine myself agreeing to sing in public, apparently five year old me thought it was a good idea. Buck Owens would have been proud. My parents – not so much.

We began to attend another church soon afterward. Hopefully that decision was not related to my singing.  But from early on I was part of a community called church. I had no idea what that meant at the time. I had no idea how belonging to church would shape me or where it would take me.

It is time to begin thinking about church for what it is – an adventure. As with other adventures, this requires direction. Without direction it is a guarantee that we will be all over the place. Probably more of us singing Buck Owens songs in Sunday School. That is why we read the logs of those who have gone on before. They help us navigate territory by reminding us where we’ve been and they help us understand what to expect along the way.

This becomes our primary literature. It invites us into its story and takes us on a canonical adventure. Sometimes I explore this literature alone. This can be enjoyable and a reasonably helpful exercise. This allows me to move at my own pace. I can reread parts that I like best. I can turn the page if the reading becomes too uncomfortable.

But this literature is intended to be relational. It is written for a group. It is best explored in community. It is to be read in twos and threes and even larger gatherings. It prompts conversation about what this adventure should be like. It encourages hearers to continue some practices and to change others. It expects our gatherings to become enactments of a new reality that is to spill over into other parts of the journey.

The primary literature reminds us that this adventure is not one that is safe. One does not join this narrative in order to stay out of trouble. The journey will take you to slave camp, through deep water, into the wilderness, and into battle with giants. Those who have traveled this adventure have suffered stoning and imprisonment. The narrative explicitly calls us to follow one who was sentenced to execution. If safety is what you desire, then maybe this journey is not for you. It is safe to say that when five year old me stood in front of a Sunday School Class and sang, there is no way I could have known what I had gotten into.

Each time I send in my quarterly taxes I can hear the Beatles singing in the background. “If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street, If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat. If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat, If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet. Don’t ask me what I want it for, If you don’t want to pay some more. Cause I’m the taxman…” It makes me want to cast my line in the lake and hope to catch a fish with the coin I need in its mouth.

At the same time, I hear a question asked Jesus “Do we pay taxes or not?” This reminds us that politics were alive and well in first century Palestine. The fact that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record this episode reminds us that the gospels have an interest in politics as well. And Jesus was right in on the political discussion. This is good for us to be reminded of. Especially those of us who want to believe religion is private and separate from politics and that Jesus only talks about spiritual things.

Considering the song his mother sings during her pregnancy, I suspect her lullabies may have been a little political as well. If that is the case then it is no surprise that when Jesus began ministry he began with a political announcement. A new kingdom is here!

The context we are given for Jesus birth is Caesar’s decree. At his death he is charged as a rival king. And then in between he is asked the question “Do we pay taxes or not?” There is simply no way to avoid the idea that to follow Jesus puts us in a political story.

Caesar has coins stamped in his image. Jesus asks for one of these and says something along the line of “Caesar can stamp his image on as many of these as he desires. But do not let Caesar stamp his image on you. You do not belong to Caesar.” Jesus wants to be sure we do not confuse God with Caesar. We are in a political story. And following Jesus complicates politics.

I am struck by the amount of time the church spends talking about world leaders. Even more, I am struck by the division of Christians as they talk as if their allegiance is with one leader or another or one party over another. Still, after reading the New Testament, I cannot find the parts where the church becomes preoccupied with such conversation. If the first century Christians were debating who would succeed Tiberius as emperor, the New Testament does not show much interest. If the church divided its loyalties for and against the incoming Caligula, there is no mention of it.

Four years later, after Caligula was murdered, where is the talk about Claudius replacing him? And when Claudius banned Jews from Rome and made other important policy decisions, were there some Christians defending him and others asking for his removal? When Claudius was poisoned, did anyone in the church become obsessed with what Nero’s economic or foreign policy would be? Perhaps such conversations occurred, I cannot claim to know. But, if they did, the New Testament does not consider them worth mentioning.

Instead, the New Testament uses a lot of space to repeatedly focus on things like the death and resurrection of Jesus. While Rome appeared to rule and Caesars came and went, the New Testament remained interested in other news. I suppose conversations about emperors are not in the New Testament for a reason. It is possible the New Testament writers are only interested in the political changes that came with Jesus of Nazareth. It is possible the Christians in the first century were already aware that Caesar did not rule the world. It is possible they already realized that neither Julio-Claudians nor Flavians nor democrats nor republicans held the answers. It is possible that early Christians were convinced that if Jesus was risen the rest of this conversation was a sub point at best.

The first Christians knew their identity as Roman was not their primary identity. They knew that Rome was not the primary kingdom. They knew Caesar was not the true king. And they knew that Roman politics were not their politics. Instead, they were convinced that God had become flesh and sent the Spirit to make a new politic possible. A politic that, in our more faithful moments, we call church.