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Many years ago I went to see a theatrical production called Cotton Patch Gospel, a musical about the life of Jesus with an Appalachian, country-western twist. It was based on Clarence Jordan’s paraphrase of the New Testament, by the same name. It tries to tell the story of Jesus as if he has been born in Georgia in the 1950’s. The lyrics and music were written and composed by the late Harry Chapin. I wish I could play one of the songs for you, for it is both gripping and haunting.
It begins with Herod’s men singing:
All through the ages, the wise men and sages,
have said there are dirty deeds that simply must be done.
To keep society going, and the benefits flowing,
there’s the simple necessity of hurting someone.
It means strength and agility, taking responsibility,
it’s the core of what leadership’s really about.
When the red blood starts coming, just think of it as plumbing, if you’ve got a problem you must flush it out.
Then the narrator comes in and tells this story: Herod had seen to it that on Sunday morning a bomb got tossed into the nursery of a church where Jesus was supposed to be. Fortunately, Joe had taken Jesus to Mexico, so the plan failed to get him. But the explosion did kill 14 innocent infants and toddlers. It was a horrible sight that morning. The doctor couldn’t even convince one mother that her child was dead. And then the mother sings her song:
Rock a by sweet baby, Mama is here
Hush a by sweet angel, there’s nothing to fear
Close your eyes sweet darling, all through the night
Mama will hold you safe ‘til the morning light.
But we seem to live in two different worlds, the rich and the poor. A striking example is shared by Brett Blair, a pastor in the Kentucky Annual Conference. Blair shared that some years ago before the death of Mother Theresa, a television special depicted the grim human conditions that were a part of her daily life. It showed all the horror of the slums of Calcutta and her love for these destitute people. The producer interviewed her as she made her rounds in that dreadful place. Throughout the program commercials interrupted the flow of the discussion. Here is the sequence of the topics and commercials: lepers (bikinis for sale); mass starvation (designer jeans); agonizing poverty (fur coats); abandoned babies (ice cream sundaes) the dying (diamond watches).
The irony was so apparent. Two different worlds were on display--the world
of the poor and the world of the affluent. It seems that our very culture here in the United States, and any other place that has a great deal of commercialization to it, is teaching us to live as the Rich Man in the story of Lazarus.
There’s a movie called “Shadowlands” about the life of C.S. Lewis. At one point, Lewis is told by a friend, "I know how hard you’ve been praying .... Now, God is answering your prayer."
"That’s not why I pray, Harry," Lewis says. "I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God; it changes me."
THE SPIRITUAL ODD COUPLE
Often times we stand in awe of the fact that our Savior Jesus Christ was born into this sinful world and took on human flesh - born in a cattle stall! What a filthy place for God to be born! In the same way, then, shouldn’t we stand in awe at what the Holy Spirit does?
Do you remember the old show called the Odd Couple - with Felix and Oscar? One was a complete and ungracious slob while the other was a perfectionist and good cook. That’s how you might compare our relationship to God. Here we were, living as slobs in the filth of this world. But then the Holy Spirit moves into our homes, cleans us up, cooks our meals, and takes care of us.
The blood of Christ does not flow into our veins only if we say “please” or “thank you.” The Holy Spirit continues to give us our daily ...