Sunday, November 25, 2018

KING Jesus

Book Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 93
Revelation to John 1:4b-8
Gospel of John 18:33-37

The Feast of Christ the King is not easy for contemporary Americans to embrace. Yes, we understand the idea of a King, but Moderns struggle to connect with the ancient and medieval imagery. In fairness, it has been rare that human kings have faithfully reflected the divine kingship. Even in the Bible only eight of the forty-two kings listed were called good. King David, the model king, is also an ambivalent figure, reminding us that the word "good" is relative. Human kings often abuse their power.

In Ancient Israel, a king was supposed to obey God's will so that the people could prosper. The king led the army, administered justice and sponsored the religious sacrifices. However, by the first century, Rome ruled their land and temple. There was no king in Israel as the Roman Emperor asserted his authority over every aspect of Jewish life.

Jesus had proclaimed, in word and deed, that He had been sent by the God of Israel, but standing before Pilate, He probably did not look like much of a king. In Rome's eyes, He was another revolutionary, fit only for crucifixion. When Jesus speaks of a spiritual Kingdom and the truth. Pilate will respond, "What is truth?" (or as we say "whatever").

Jesus is a Warrior King with no army, who battles sin, sickness and demons. His weapons are forgiveness, healing and exorcism. The Pilates of every age neither believe nor care about such things.

Jesus offers divine justice, a truth which transcends every human court. The world prefers power and perverts justice to its own ends. Self-interested humans promote their own group at the expense of others.

Jesus is the True Priest-King who offers Himself to die upon the cross. Worldly worship, in every age, tends toward idolatry, which is actually a twisted self-worship.

Modern people vote, we choose the leaders which please us. Jesus transcends the democratic process. He said "I chose you, you didn't choose Me." He said, "You must love Me more than possessions, family or your own life." A Crucified King, He demands that we pick up our own crosses as well." We are called to trust Him and submit to His Royal Authority. The Christian vocation consists of following Him and being sent in His Name. If Jesus is our King then we must declare that God is near at hand, as we teach, heal, exorcise and reconcile humans to one another and God in His Name.

There is much hostility toward Jesus--in the world, inside the church and within each of us. All of us have some Pilate within us. In these days of waiting for the king, it is easy to get discouraged and distracted. The darkest days will come before Jesus returns. Trusting in Him, we must be the light of the world until the True Light shines among us. He is our King and that is our duty and privilege.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

On temples and widows

First Kings 17:8-16
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

The context of the widow's donation is Mark 11 to 13. The conflict between Jesus and the religious/political authorities will culminate in a prophetic announcement that all will be leveled and destroyed. We are commanded to love God above all else and others as ourselves. As the scribe told Jesus, love is greater than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifice. Love is more important than the Temple. 

Too often we forget that no human institution is more important than the Lord: not family, not country, not church. Of course, the love of neighbor requires institutions—family, nation and church—because the world is sacramental; but when a sacrament ceases to function correctly it can become an idol. we cling to what we can see and touch, forgetting that the church, without Jesus, is just another human institution. Humans, without Jesus, are advanced primates driven by passions and self will. 

Jesus warns against the errors of the religious elite and their focus on status. We now call it "virtue signaling," speaking hollow words and doing empty things to appear righteous. He condemns them because they "devour widow's houses," abusing their power for personal gain. So there are feelings of ambivalence about the generous, poor widow. Yes, she is a model of sacrificial giving, but she is also a symbol of victimization. 

The sacred is not magic power at our disposal. We serve God, He does not serve us. When disobedient Israel marched the Ark of the Covenant into battle Israel, they lost the battle and the ark. Four hundred years later, ignoring Jeremiah's prophetic word, Judah was confident that Solomon’s temple would protect them, only to see it destroyed by the Babylonians and the ark disappeared. Now Jesus sits in the Second Temple, watching the leaders and the widow. We do not know what He was thinking, but in the next verse we will hear Him say, “Not one stone will be left on another, it will all be torn down.”

God does not dwell in buildings—He lives in the hearts of faithful people. Jesus is the true Temple where God lives, so if Jesus is in us then God dwells in us. Two thousand years ago scribes and priests failed to recognize that and all was lost because of their blindness. In our own time, perhaps, we are also blind, trusting the wrong things, some of them religious.

The Church, and other institutions, are sickly and in decline. But in a post-Christian world, God still dwells in the hearts of His faithful people, and so we must ask. Do I love and trust God? Am I faithful?

We live in a time of dramatic change, it is the end of an era. Trusting God can be more challenging. If the Temple was destroyed twice, we are foolish to think that the institutional church can not also be leveled. The Bible teaches of the holy remnant, those who remain faithful to God. Remnant spirituality does not rely on the success of institutions, it centers upon the Lord. It is prayerful and Scripture based, it proclaims God's Kingdom even to those who deride it. Remnant spirituality is neither optimistic nor pessimistic; it is hopeful. Remnant spirituality is more concerned with knowledge of self and repentance than it is with culture wars and passing judgment on others. 

We have one week left of Mark, the harshest and most critical of the Gospels. We have been asked "have you no faith? do you not understand?" over and over. Now we face the judgement and the end of all which we rely on. Perhaps with nothing left, finally, we can turn to Father God? Trusting Him in the darkness as we wait for resurrection light. 

Sunday, November 4, 2018

On Law and Love

Deuteronomy 6:1-9
ps 119:1-8
Hebrews 9:11-14 (Christ perfect high priest and gift)
Mk 12:28-34 (Love God, Love Neighbor)

God says 'do the Law so that you will honor me and it will go well for you in the land.' The expression "it will go well for you" occurs nine times in Deuteronomy and three more in Jeremiah.  The Law is not the way to heaven, it is the means to honor God and open earth to heaven's presence among us. The Law is instruction for living as the covenant people. Israel was saved by trusting the Lord, the Law was never intended to serve as the way to salvation for Israel, it was a response to it. As Christians we must understand this, especially as Jesus declares that loving God and loving our neighbor are the great summary of the law.

For Israel, the Exodus is The Salvation Event and predates reception of the Law. God will save the nation, again and again. God heals the sick and rescues folks from trouble. God does this for those who love and trust Him. God is faithful to those in covenant relationship. Salvation is never earned, it is always a gift. The covenant relationship. however, was understood as a relationship of mutuality. God and Israel, a King and His people, a Father and His children, a husband and His wife, a master and His servants--every relationship is governed by expectations. If one upholds the promises then all will be well, but to break one's word is to undermine the bonds of love. Keeping the Law does not earn salvation, but breaking the Law does create the next crisis.

Breaking the Law is a rejection of God and drives His Presence out of the Land. Israel, both land and people are consecrated and holy. God's presence provides life and healing. God's absence leaves room for the destructive power of the world, the flesh and the devil.

The gentile church has never been under Israel's Law, it is for them not for us. But, the command to love God and love our neighbor belong to us as well. A loveless land is a godless land. But it is God who defines love, not us. Therein lies the danger and so we return, again, to the theme of theosis and the passions and the darkened nous.

The Hebrew word for keeping the law is shamar, which is the same word for keeping watch in the Garden of Eden. Keeping and watching are part of being human. We must keep watch over the gardens in our life--our nation, our community, our family and church--for God entrusts them to our care. But all our guarding and keeping is in vain unless we watch and keep our hearts and souls, our minds and spirits. Love is the medicine for our sickness, the love of God and our love for God. We must be saved, redeemed, healed and that is the work of repentant love. For if God dwells in us, each of us, then God dwells among us as well.

The Law can not save us, but rejecting God's instructions can destroy us. We are saved by faith, but we are lost by disobedience. When we obey it goes well for us in the land. Let us love God and one another.

Healing for Hard Hearts

Isaiah 53:4-12
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

In the center of existence lies the paschal mystery: the Cross of Jesus. The disciples, normal humans all, cannot understand this mystery. Every time Jesus tells them about His impending suffering and death, they bicker about who is the greatest, or chase off kids or (today) request a special status.
This is not simply a cognitive error, it's the manifestation of the "darkened nous" and "sick heart" which need to be healed, enlightened and sanctified. James and John ask Jesus for a place of glory, after He had just said He would suffer and die because humans are hard headed and hard hearted, we are all broken and weak.
The Good News is Hebrews 4:15 says “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” In Jesus, God embraces our humanity, looks us in the eye and says "I understand, I am with you in this human weakness." Weakness is the human dilemma. We know our power and strength hang by a thread. We can lose everything in the blink of an eye, so we pursue safety and security on our own terms, and deny we are afraid. 

But our solutions, like the apostles' desire for glory, are fueled by the blind “passions,” and lead to pain and further brokenness. The false self cannot find authentic salvation, because it looks in the wrong direction. The purpose of life is union with God and one another in love. The passions literally stir up chaos within us and around us. Isaiah says that God’s Servant will carry our sickness, pain and sadness. He will heal us by His suffering and carry out sins—the Passion (Jesus' cross) heals human heart's of the passions (sinful desires). Like Jesus, we must die to become our true self.
“Although [Jesus] was a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered; and having been made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who *obey Him.” Why is the path of suffering  the road to salvation? Only those who have faithfully walked it can explain. Why is obedience to Him required? Only those who have submitted to Him can understand. 

James and John want glory. Other apostles want power. Others want to not be disturbed. In each case, Jesus must bring them back to their true identity. Glory means suffering, power means service, the Kingdom is for children....and none of it makes any sense to our worldly egos, darkened minds or wounded hearts.  

It is only when we believe that He sympathizes with us, that the doubt and fear go away. When we know He suffers and dies for us, then we can obey, even if it means we suffer as well. When we know that by His wounds we are healed, we can turn to the crucified Messiah and open ourselves to receive healing. 

To love God and love one another, to be united with God in our humanity and experience theosis, is the purpose of life. Love looks up to God and opens its arms to others, so it looks like the cross. James and John had to learn that obedient love and self sacrifice are the only real seat of glory. So must we....

*Psalm 78, which uses the words trust, remember and obey interchangeably, is a biblical source which helps us understand this concept. Trusting faith is faithful, obedient trust.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Weakness and the Cross

Isaiah 53:4-12
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

In light of ongoing scandals in the church it is understandable why we have seen such drops in attendance and membership. Institutions, perhaps especially religious institutions, are prone to seek power and control. Churches are divinely guided, but remain human institutions. The Holy Spirit does not negate our humanity. We are uncomfortable with incarnation, believing that Jesus is fully divine and fully human, perhaps because we deny, to some extent, our own humanity? The readings today are central to the Christian message, and 'humanity' is at the core. When I reflect on the sins of the church, my own and others, the tragedy of sin and evil--since the apostles the church has been unfaithful--is ironically a source of consolation. We need saving and redeeming, we need healing and transformation. We always have.    

Like Jesus, the church is fully human.

And as His body, someday we will become fully divine.

Union is a slow, often painful process. The False Self must die before it can be raised as the True Self in Jesus, but humans are reluctant to accept “the cross is salvation.”

That’s why every time Jesus says, “I am going to suffer and die,” the disciples display their lack of understanding (Mk 8:14-21). First Peter rebukes Jesus and says “no” (v33-3), later the twelve argue about who is the greatest (9:33-37), they keep a man from using Jesus’ name to cast out demons and angrily chase off babies seeking a blessing. Today, when Jesus says, “I will suffer and die;” James and John respond, “Can we sit next to you in the glory?”

Why? Why are the apostles so dense? How come every time He talks about suffering and dying they focus on power, glory and themselves? The short answer: they are sinful, wounded humans. They are young men—poor and powerless—crushed by the authority of Rome and the Jewish ruling class. They are first century MeToo# and “Jewish lives matter” protestors. They are victims of the daily tragedies of existence. Their minds are darkened so their thinking, feeling, perception and judgement are not aligned with Jesus—and they resist the way of the cross.

Like us, they don’t want to believe that the journey must be painful. Hebrews 4:14-16 says that Jesus can sympathize with our weakness because He was tempted and tested in every way that we have been without sinning. Jesus is the reason we come to God’s throne of mercy with boldness. Today’s reading from Hebrews 5 continues this instruction, declaring that Jesus can deal gently with those who are ignorant (malfunctioning nous) and go astray (deceived by the passions) because Jesus was subject to weakness and He understands our weakness. Jesus was the Son who learned obedience through what He suffered. Completing this task, Jesus became the source of salvation for everyone who obeys Him.

Pain, suffering, struggle, obedience—are all part of the fully human experience. Yes we do terrible things, but we are not just evil and horrible. We have hard heads and hard hearts, we are often oblivious, selfish and sinful. The passions rule us all, but we are also wounded and broken, misled and deceived. We are all victims saying “me too” about all manner of abuse and we all cry out “my life matters,” especially when we fear that maybe it doesn’t.

We are weak, so like Jesus we must have compassion for others, especially our foes, as they deny their weakness by seeking glory and power. Like Jesus we cannot let doubt and fear keep us from picking up the cross.

To be human is to sing and dance, to laugh and love, but to be fully human we must worship, obey, suffer and die. Jesus knows how hard it is to be fully human. We are not alone.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

marriage Jesus style

Genesis 2:18-24      Ps 8      Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12       Mk 10:2-16 

Reading His teachings, we realize that Jesus preached a very high moral standard. We can assume His adversaries know this, so when they ask Him about divorce, and Mark calls it a "test," it is likely because Herod had married a divorced woman. In Mark 6 we read "For John had been saying to Herod, "it is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." John the Baptist was executed for saying Herod sinned. Like the question on paying the Roman tax, this is an effort to get Jesus killed. Jesus outsmarts them by asking, "What did Moses say?" When they answer, 'Moses allowed divorce', Jesus accuses them: "because of your hardness of heart." 'Moses allowed it,' Jesus says, 'because humans are sinful.' God's law allows it, but God's original intent is one man, one woman, for life. So we need to be clear, Jesus says that God allows divorce, but that is not the goal and remarriage is adultery.

Jesus looks to Genesis 2. When God declares "it is not good that the man is alone," it is a judgement on loneliness. The Creator addresses the man's isolation by creating a "helper." Some think this a derogatory term, but the Hebrew word (ezer) is used almost exclusively of God in the Bible, so it may imply that she will be like the divine presence for the man. Adam's flesh becomes two people, and marriage makes two people one flesh. Marriage, therefore, is connected to creation.

What about the adultery issue? First of all, remarriage is the issue, but Jesus teaches that fundamentally (Mt 5:28) adultery is a matter of the heart. It is produced by the passions within us, most notably lust and coveting. What this means is adultery is secretly at work in the heart of almost everyone. We are all adulterers. So the reason why Jesus calls remarriage adultery is because He speaks the truth, what else can it be called? Let's ponder the question.

In our church the couple is asked "Will you love, comfort, honor, keep one another in sickness and in health, forsake all others, be faithful as long as you live?" What does this mean? Shouldn't we just say "Maybe" if the words have no real meaning?

The couple declares to each other: "I take you...for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until parted by death." What does that mean? We say these words before God and other people, yet, in the US, the average first marriage lasts eight years, and close to half of marriages fail.   

The effort to undo Christian civilization has included a focus on undermining the institution of marriage. It is working. The current marriage rate is at record lows and one third of Millenials will never marry. More and more couples opt to just live together, with society's blessing, but it is actually even less stable and worse for kids. And the human sexes (male and female) are replaced with Gender, the number of young people identifying as LGBTQ has dramatically increased the last five years and is now over 8%. Much of this is a function of hyper-individualism. Parents say that their child should choose what they are irrespective of biology. The individual "I," alone, decides what is right and true. Perhaps this is why God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone...."

What do you want Jesus to say about all this? 

Do you want Jesus to reject Genesis 2? 

Should He advocate for no fault divorce? 

Should He bless same sex unions?  

Should He embrace multiple new sexual identities? 

Should Jesus say "do whatever makes you happy"?

I cannot speak for Jesus, but I can tell you what He did say: God made us male and female. God's intent is for sexual intercourse to occur in a marriage between one man, one woman committed for life. It turns out that arrangement is better for everyone.

I understand this is very difficult, but if we fail it is a sin. Sin means to miss the mark. We sin all the time, failing to love God and neighbor as we should. The contemporary church has dealt with sin by pretending it doesn't exist. We don't want people to feel guilt and shame. Good News! We do not need to excuse or minimize sin, because Jesus loves and forgives sinners. We can face the truth because He is merciful, and repentance is only possible when we face the truth and trust in His mercy. Now, we should not condemn other people. We should not over-focus on particular sins, but neither must we pretend that everything is okay because society says so. Hollywood is a lousy moral teacher and the popular media is no friend of Jesus.

I understand this is hard, and I am not minimizing the struggles we face. I have walked with people through the heartbreak of life. I know that one person can destroy a marriage. I have seen that sometimes people can't stay together and work it out. I understand that people aren't always wired to fit neatly into one man, one woman, forever. I know that a number of people find Jesus' teachings hurtful. These realities, however, support my belief that we are all hard-hearted. We are all broken, wounded, and sinful people living in an imperfect world. We all need to be saved. Good News, that's why Jesus came!

Most importantly, marriage is a sacrament--a sign of the union of Christ and His Church. Marriage is a sacrament of theosis: covenant love between a man and a woman reflects the salvation unity of God and humanity. Yes, we often do a lousy job of it. We sometimes fail, and our failures cause real damage to our children and to our society. Yes, we sin, but Jesus Christ redeems our failures and saves our children and our world. So let's be sorry for sin and failure and let's have hope in the power of Abba Father to save. Jesus tells us what marriage is, I do not believe we should tell Him He is wrong. Neither should we be ashamed and despair because of our failures. Rather we should pray with hope and even joy, "Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." Over and over. And know that He does.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Power of Prayer

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Psalm 19:7-14
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

"Shalom" is a Kingdom of God word. It means "peace," including health, welfare and prosperity. When God is King, all will be well. We will be well. We pray, “Thy Kingdom Come, Father."

Until that day, we serve God by proclaiming His coming kingdom in word and deed. This is Ancient Christian faith. James tell us to pray and praise; constant prayer in every circumstance. James says go to the church leaders for healing. James tells us to "confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed." Sin and sickness overlap. Jesus want to heal us: body and soul, mind, heart and spirit. Jesus also sends us to do the same for others. Prayer is the door which opens us to Him.  James has great trust in the power of prayer and so must we. He begins the letter (1:5) by saying "ask in faith, never doubting--for the doubter must not expect to receive anything form the Lord." Doubt and fear are drain prayer of its life.

This is our crisis; can we pray with faith? Can we see ourselves and repent of our sins? It is not enough to just 'say' the creed and confession; we must trust and repent. We must let the Holy Spirit heal and transform us by making us one with God in theosis.

The church today is in deep trouble across the board. It is tempting to give in to despair. But the Book of Numbers reminds us that this is nothing new. The unbelief and rebellion of Israel is a template for our own troubled times. We read from Numbers 11:1 "now the people became like those who complain." If we are complainers (and we are), we are not the first generation to be so... However, verse 4 further identifies a "collection" of people which is probably best translated as "riff-raff." These people have a "strong craving." In Genesis this word is used for Eve’s desire for the forbidden fruit. It is the same “sinful passion” which wounds our hearts and cut us off from God. We read that Israel disdains the manna pining after worldly foods, but the church does the same. We, too, take the Eucharist for granted while craving all that world has to offer instead. People skip church without a second thought, while others would distribute eucharist to anyone who walks in the door. We deceive ourselves that we are different, better than those Israelites, but we are not.

James says confess your sins to one another to be healed. We do confess our sins together each week, but we must go deeper to receive the healing. We must face ourselves and uncover the passions and secret sin at work within us. If you do not like the Enneagram find another tool or a spiritual guide, to hep with this vital work. Jesus offers healing, let us bring to Him our maladies.

However, the church in every age struggles with sin. Moses gets mad at God and asks to die. The apostles stop someone from exorcising demons in Jesus’ name because he did not follow them. We each, in our own way, despair of the ministry or become an obstacle to it. We are all prone to forget that God is not in our service, we are in His. Our nous is truly darkened. We are prone to sin.

Jesus warns us not to sin. Jesus says pluck out the sinful eye, cut off the sinful hand, avoid sin whatever the cost. Sin is an obstacle to God’s mercy; especially when it leads the little ones astray. How can we confront this evil within the church? Only by first repenting ourselves. Only by being a people of faithful prayer first. We must pray “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!" We embrace a discipleship focused on repenting and being healed—and the apostolic ministry of healing others and reconciling them with God.

Prayer of faith can do great things. Focus on Jesus and pray expecting great things.
addendum. Expectant prayer envisions the outcome and trusts God is able and willing to make it happen. An illustration. Long ago a minister in a rural community called together the area farmers during a brutal drought. He invited them to come together one afternoon and to pray for God to provide rain to the dry land. At the appointed time the farmers began to arrive, and all encircled the minister as they waited to begin. He looked around at the assembly and then sadly said, "Go home, there is no use in us praying." The people were shocked and began to ask him, "Why? Why cancel? We came a long way, shouldn't we pray?" The minister listened to them all for a moment and then answered them with these words. "You have come together, today, to ask God to open the heavens and pour forth rain upon the earth.... Yet not a single one of you brought an umbrella."

The prayer of faith can do amazing things.
prayer of faith is expectant.