Sunday, July 14, 2019

Perceive




Dtn 30: 9-14     Col 1: 1-14      Lk 10:25-37


This summer we have read from Luke 9 and 10. Let’s pause for an overview to see how it fits together. In Luke 9:20 Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah, but Jesus swears them to silence as He begins to explain that His Kingship is a way of suffering and death. We, too, Jesus said, must die to self. Next, on the Mountain of Transfiguration, God the Father confirms Peter’s insight, revealing that Jesus is, “My Son, My Chosen, listen to Him.” Jesus comes down the mountain, casts out another demon and repeats that He is going to die.



Next Jesus teaches the disciples that “the least is the greatest,” saying to welcome a child in His name is to receive Him. The same themes occur over and over. A Samaritan village rejects Jesus because He does not fit their beliefs so they can’t see God. Jesus challenges others to leave family behind to follow Him, God takes priority over everything. Jesus sends out the seventy to proclaim the kingdom, and there is more healing and exorcisms, more acceptance and rejection of Jesus.



Today we hear Jesus’ prayer. Jesus thanks God who has hidden from the learned what He reveals to children. The child, the small people, is woven throughout several stories. No one know the Son except the Father, no one knows the Father except the Son, and anyone whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. Only the children can hear Him.



This is the key to reading the next two stories, our Gospel today and next week. Today we meet a learned lawyer and next week, busy, distracted Martha. Luke often parallels a story of a man and a woman to illustrate the same point. The lawyer and Martha fail to recognize Jesus and receive the kingdom.



Luke uses the Greek word ekpeirazo. It means to test but occurs rarely, only occurs twice in the (Ancient Greek version of the Jewish Bible) Septuagint —both in Deuteronomy. Dtn 6:16 “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” is quoted by Jesus responding to Satan in the desert. Paul uses it in 1 Corinthians 10:9 (We must not put the Lord to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents).



Is Luke giving a verbal clue that the lawyer, in testing Jesus, is actually testing God? Is the lawyer actually breaking the Law which he thinks he is upholding? In failing to see God in Jesus has he chosen death?  More to the point, have we?



God, like the Torah we read about in Deuteronomy, is near to us. Jesus repeatedly tells us to see God in those around us. The parable of the Good Samaritan makes clear that everyone, including those whom we despise, is our neighbor.  Such love transcends and fulfills the material content of the law. Jesus draws us into the heart of God What Deuteronomy says remains true: Choose God and choose life. Reject God and you choose death.



It is hard to find God without seeking Him. Our challenge is to see God in Jesus and see Jesus in others. 
( the actual sermon expands on this written version. God to our church website where it will be downloaded this week)

Sunday, July 7, 2019

4th Pentecost Sent by Jesus




Isaiah 66:10-14

Galatians 6:(1-6) 7--16

Luke 10:1--11, 16--20

In the Jewish Bible, the Kingdom of God is compared to vine yards and other agriculture. Jesus does the same. The "Day of the Lord" is often likened to a harvest. Jesus tells one parable, where God patiently watches as the wheat and weeds grow together. Our world, like our hearts, are weed infested. God waits for His day.

If things are sometimes hard now, Christians hope that someday God will make all things well, but in the mean time we must be patient, long-suffering and steadfastness. We encounter so much physical pain and emotional suffering, in others, if not ourselves. Demons of despair sink their claws into our hearts to tear them from Abba Father.

The Bible makes clear that we are to pray to God for salvation in all its forms. We all know, however, that our prayers are often "ineffective." We have looked at this, but a brief refresher: we must pray in faith, doubt is an effective barrier to receiving what God would give. This includes the unbelief of  those around us. However, if we fail to pray with faith it is a barrier to deliverance [see Mt 21:22 and James 1:6]. Unfortunately, doubt is not the only issue; unrepentant sin, fear, and unforgiveness are as well. The sinful passions all render prayer ineffective.  

Jesus provides us a way out. Every problem is caused by sin--the separation from God--so union with God is the antidote. Jesus challenges us to pray for God's concerns: the fallen world. We are disciples, entrusted with a sacred mission. We are to make the world holy—starting with our own hearts—by offering it to God. We are to proclaim the Kingdom message of salvation. Unfortunately  there are not enough people willing to do it. Jesus Himself said there are too few workers—He tells us, Pray that the Father will send more workers into the harvest! He also sends us, “Go! Do the work!" This prayer and kingdom work unites us to God.


This does raise an issue, “Why doesn’t God just take care of it Himself?” I don’t know. The Incarnational God is a "scandal" for our theology. The 'God-among-us' says He needs us. Jesus says that we have to pray. Why? Jesus sends us out to do the work. Why? Jesus says God is like a land owner who needs laborers to bring in the harvest. How can this be? It sounds crazy to say God needs our help, yet Jesus seems to say just that. Why would God be in partnership with us? (Some claim this is what set Lucifer and the fallen angels against God) Ever since YHWH gave Adam dominion over the earth, human agency has partnered with Divine. Since the Fall, humans have been both united and separated from God. As we said earlier, Jesus said it is like weeds in a farm field. The weeds are everywhere, including our hearts and souls.

If we are the problem, God’s solution still includes us. Jesus sends us out as lambs among wolves. He says focus on God’s provision and not our resources. He tells us to confront Satan and set people free from the demonic. He says be instruments of God’s healing love—for body, soul, spirit.

It amazes how much Jesus trust us, especially as we are rarely enthusiastic about discipleship. He identifies Himself with us, saying, “Whoever rejects you, rejects Me, whoever rejects Me, rejects the One who sent Me.” If our biggest problem is our separation from God, then Jesus identifying with us (Theosis—union with God) is the solution. Prayer and Kingdom focus are the best way to be one with God.

Let us pray. Father make us one with you in Jesus. Holy Spirit purify us and consecrate us as instruments of Kingdom salvation. Help us love you and love others enough to be Jesus in the world today!

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Love God above all else





1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Luke 9:51-62



We just prayed Psalm 16 “YHWH you are my Lord… I desire no other gods.” Yet our lives are filled with competing loyalties which take precedence over God, and none more subtle than family. In the ancient Middle East family identification was primary. When God chooses Elisha to be a prophet, Elijah gives him his mantle. Elisha wants to say good bye to his family, it seems a reasonable response. Elijah simply asks him “What have I done to you?” Elisha knows the answer—you have made me your successor. I am now God’s holy prophet. That takes precedence over everything.



Jesus alludes to this very story when He describes discipleship. Jesus says follow me, and don’t look back. Perhaps we are offended by His terms—what of family relationships and responsibilities? But the truth is this: We are broken—until we are completely healed, we will not be free to truly love anyone. We are wounded and self-seeking, and this impacts every relationship—especially our relationship with God.  



Our life is the struggle to become our true selves: the children of God. Jesus says these hard words as He travels to Jerusalem. He goes there to suffer and die, to leave behind family and friend for love of God. Until we die to self we are not free to fully love anyone.



When Paul says, “For FREEDOM Christ has set you FREE,” he reminds us of this. Freedom is not license. Sin diminishes our freedom, and makes us less able to love. Our mind and heart must be purified and freed. We embrace the work of repentance in response to the gift of redemption. Our freedom is as sturdy as the Triune God, but it is as fragile as our wavering wills.  



The greatest threat to freedom in Christ is slavery to the sarx/flesh—those desires which go against the Holy Spirit. These lusts/cravings/passions manifest in concrete ways, Paul provides a partial list. He warns us that “those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”



If we cannot earn our way into God’s Kingdom, we can sin our way into Hell.” Paul is not advocating the Law—he even includes the Law as one of the powers from which we are free—but he wants us to understand that in Christ we cannot serve the deadly passions. The sinful cravings destroy God’s image and keep us from love. Paul is clear: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”



Turning from the passions is balanced by turning toward God. His life in us—the Holy Spirit—unites us to God! As we grow in union with God, His life manifest with us: love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are fruits as we turn from our own wants and desires and seek God above all others.



We are called by Jesus, and we must leave behind all that would hinder us from answering the call. It is life, abundant life, and worth any price—especially crucifying our sinful passions and desires.







Lord Jesus, set us free for true freedom. Holy Spirit fire burn away the sinful passions. Make us holy. Heal and save us.



Sunday, June 23, 2019

On Deliverance and a Right MInd




Isaiah 65:1--9   Galatians 3:23-29   Luke 8:26-39

The thematic interaction of Isaiah and Luke is best understood with the Genesis Garden account in the background. In Genesis 3:10 we hear God’s first spoken word to a human: “Where are you?” [One Hebrew word: ’ay]

I think God’s question summarizes the human condition. In our Processional hymn today we sang: “Jesus sought me, when a stranger wandering from the fold of God,” and then, “bind my wandering heart to Thee; prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”

We wander away, and God seeks us. Hear Isaiah 65: YHWH says “I stretch out my hands and cry “here I am!” I wait for Israel to seek me, but they do not.” Isaiah said, Israel rejected their Lord, and offered [pagan] sacrifices in gardens, they sit in tombs and eat swine’s flesh and are made unclean. See the irony? God cries, “Where are you?” as Adam hides. God cries, “Here I am,” as Israel wanders away.

Today’s Gospel is also among tombs. Jesus is confronted by a naked man possessed by demons. Since Adam, who was also naked, humanity has been subject to the demonic and death. Jesus enters the realm of death, a graveyard, to liberate the man from Satan’s hold. The unclean swine carry the demons into the lake and drown. Jesus is doing the work of redemption.

 After the exorcism the man sits with Jesus in “his right mind.” The Greek word sophroneo literally means “a saved/healed/whole understanding.” The town’s folk were fearful so they rejected God’s offer of salvation in Jesus. They were afraid because, ironically, their minds are not right, they also needed healing. Since Adam uttered the words “I hid because I was afraid,” humans have not trusted God and lived in fear. The doubt and fear of the townsfolk leads to sin: they reject Jesus. Paradoxically, Jesus casts out demons and the frightened people cast out Jesus.

That is the danger. The demons are not only at work in the deranged—they are also quietly at home in the ordinary people who just keep Jesus at the periphery of life. The process of receiving a new mind and new heart, of being purified of wrong desires and bad thinking can be long and difficult—we prefer something quick and easy. Make no mistake, everyone sends Jesus away from time to time and no one has a right mind. We are all distracted by our own lives and prefer worldly practicality. We do not want Jesus upsetting things.

Healing and exorcism are major components of Jesus’ ministry. The world is hostile to the proclamation of the Kingdom. If we are aligned with Jesus then the world will be hostile to us and send us away—but the good news is then we will be with Jesus! What could possibly be better?

Monday, June 17, 2019

Trinity Sunday

TRINITY SUNDAY

Celebrating the Trinity begins the season "after Pentecost," or Ordinary Time. We will continue with Ordinary time into late Fall when Advent begins the next Church Year Cycle. Each year we celebrate Trinity Sunday the week after Pentecost. It is the deepest and most mysterious insight we have about God. 

Christians believe that the (One) God of Israel has revealed Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We recognize that there is personhood in each, yet there is also a divine unity which is expressed by the term One God. Explanations only go so far, and the more precise they become the more likely they are to slide into heresy. Heresy frequently has the power to sound rational and reasonable, but the truth is Mystery cannot be explained. 

In Genesis 1 we read that God said, "Let us make the human in our image and likeness." The Hebrew word, 'adam, is sometimes translated into English as man (or human) and other times as a proper name, Adam. The modern assumption is that the singular man, Adam, is in the image of God, and I am sure that is partially true. However, it is also true that humanity is the image of God. All of us together are made in God's image. Herein lies one of the important aspects of the Trinity.

The New Testament often speaks of the church as a body (the Body of Christ). In Corinthians we are told that we who are many make up the one body. Individual organs cannot dispense with one another and still be a whole body. The Modernist approach is to see each individual human being as a separate entity. However, the corporate human nature which we share is often diminished in our eyes. We do not see ourselves as a person who is part of a unified whole. As there is One God (who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit) so there is One Human(ity) which is manifest in billions of people.  Jesus emphasized the import of love because love is the bond which holds the body together. As the Father loves the Son, so the Son loves the Father--and they live in each other, as does the Spirit. In the spiritual realm the simple laws of observable material reality do not hold sway in the same way. (I say observable because when I read about Physics at the atomic and subatomic level then even material reality seems to be filled with all manner of mysterious contradictions). My body can also be part of the Body of Christ. Jesus can live in my heart and He can take me into His heart. The Holy Spirit can fill me and make me my true self. What is true of me is true of you, as well. We both live in the same Lord and the same Lord lives in us.

Like fractals, each individual human is a smaller version of the one larger, all encompassing "human nature" which is in Christ. In other words, I am what we are, and all of us (individually many) together are the One. Trinity means that at its core, reality is a relationship (of love). Love is the ontological beginning point and relationship takes precedence over all things. Love is the most real and true. So, on Trinity Sunday, we celebrate an important insight into the meaning of the word God, but by extension we also come to a deeper understanding of what humanity is. Salvation is, primarily, the perfect union of humanity with the Lord--the life (Holy Spirit) of the Father forming us into the fullness of Jesus Christ (who is one with God the Father and one with us).

Perhaps the great value of teams is they are a sacrament of our unity. At its best, the local church should be a manifestation of the very unity of God, as members love one another and work together to bring others into union with the Lord. This is why there is no salvation "outside the church," because salvation is union with Christ, and Christ is one with the church. Those who are saved become the church, and none is saved outside of it. The challenge, then, is to become what we are--the Body of Christ, part of the Holy Trinity.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fractal

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Pentecost 2019

ACTS 2:1-21   psalm 104:25-35, 37   Romans 8:14-17   John 14:8-17

Salvation is best understood as "God uniting us to Himself," so the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost was the next step in His plan to save us. The word Spirit-- (pneuma) in Greek and (ruah) in Hebrew--is also  translated as wind or breath. In the bible, the spirit animates a body and it is the essence of he person. When the spirit departs the body becomes a corpse. By extension, the Holy Spirit is the Father's divine life and essence, which He shares with us. The life in Jesus is made available to us. We share His essence and become children of God. However, the life of God within us can be nullified by unbelief and sin. 

In the Gospel Jesus said, "Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me." This is a core Christian belief. When we really believe that Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in the Son, it becomes possible for us to receive adoption. In John 14:20 Jesus says "I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you." This is also a core Christian belief. It is why Jesus is at the center of any talk of God. It is the mystery of theosis. The expression "in Christ" occurs 580x in the New Testament and it is fundamental to understanding the true meaning of being saved.
  
Paul uses adoption language to say the same thing--we become what Jesus is. Paul refers to the Roman practice of the political elite where adoption allowed the aristocracy to find a suitable heir. Paul says that we share in the divine sonship of Jesus, which makes us heirs of God. We are made into His sons/daughters by the Holy Spirit, but this gift, is also a task. We repent, we pray, we study and we constantly struggle against the sinful desires which would steal our hearts from God. We cooperate with the Holy Spirit and live as children of God. 

To be the chosen people is to be chosen for ministry. Jesus says, " Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works then these, because I am going to the Father... If you ask in my name I will give it to you.... If you love me keep my commandments."


Pentecost is about continuing Jesus' mission of salvation. The power of God lies dormant in the church if we chose.  We are the Body of Christ, so everything that Jesus did on earth before He died we can do today. If we love Him, obey Him and trust Him He will work in us and through us. 


Do you want to be children of God?

Do you want to do great works in Jesus?
Are you tired of scraps under the table and ready to live as the Spirit filled church of God?

Let us pray!

Holy Spirit, set our hearts on fire with love. Make us, more and more, the holy children of God.
Jesus, we want to do great works in your name Use us today to save and sanctify the world. Amen. 


*cf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adoption_in_ancient_Rome



Sunday, May 19, 2019

Revelation 21 TODAY

Fifth Easter
Acts 11:1-18   Revelation 21:1-6   Psalm 148  John 13:31-35

The Book of Revelation is like a "cut and paste" construction from myriad texts in the Jewish Bible. To read and understand one must be familiar with the Jewish texts to which it is related.

Around 500 BC, a generation after the Babylonians leveled their Temple and drove them into exile, the Jews returned to the promised land by order of the Persian King. The book of Isaiah contains many prophecies of hope and joy from this time period. The reality of return, however, did not match their expectations. Other prophetic writings indicate that the people still fell short in their relationship with God. As a result, God was with them, but always in a veiled way. The power of Sin continued to be a barrier to Kingdom Shalom.

The exile in Babylon, like slavery in Egypt and the expulsion from Garden of Eden, is a primary Biblical metaphor for alienation from God. The loss and restoration motif echoes the ultimate salvation found in death and resurrection. The last of the writers in the Isaiah tradition, addresses Israel with God's complaint that they were a people to whom He stretched out His hands and they did not respond, who turned to other gods before His face (Is 65). Yet, in spite of their infidelity YHWH the Lord declares salvation (Is 66-67).  He promises a glorious future with a new heaven and a new earth. One must read Isaiah to hear this vision of John we read in the Apocalypse today


Babylon is a code word for Rome in the Apocalypse. The revelation centers on the destruction of Jerusalem. However, the biblical revelation must also be read as spiritual metaphor. In every age, the Book of Revelation and the prophets are contemporary! Today at our own border we see people in exile from their homes. Nations continue to fail. Churches disappear. More deeply, there are exiled hearts, spiritually cut off from God. This spiritual decay within us often leads to the chaos around us. Those who are cut off from God have no protection from the demonic forces in our world.

The new heaven and new earth are the transforming life of salvation. Some day God will definitively redeem and heal the fallen world, but in the meantime, He does it here and now each day.

Salvation is not a one time event. The Kingdom is among us and within us. It works in our hearts now and impacts communities today. God dwells among us. Today tears are being wiped away and broken lives are healed. Jesus' ministry continues in the Church--wherever His Spirit encounters true faith.  We are being united with God through theosis and made into the holy Body of Christ. Our godly work is a first fruit of the new heaven and new earth. Our love for one another, today, is the "return" of Jesus manifested already, even as we wait for the Final Return. 

Salvation is not going to heaven when we die. It is a new mind and heart--the new heaven and earth at work within each of us right now! Until we go forth and bring the Kingdom life to others, we are not fully people of faith. When we pray with faith and act with trust-- every tear, every illness and all brokenness and sin are wiped away by His love through us.

The Book of Revelation announces to us "Have courage! Be steadfast! Do not waver in faith!" It invites us to open our hearts in love and faith so that God would reign within us more and more. It is a word of hope: 
Do not be discouraged if there is still suffering and pain--respond to it. 
Do not lose heart if there are still illness, loss and tears--heal it. 
Do not lose faith if God seems slow in coming--open in faith so He can work through you. 
His promise is true, and we must stop distancing ourselves from Him.

We must long for His reign and enthusiastically pray "Thy Kingdom Come!" Our words and deeds as members of Christ's own Body, must continually open the world to new life in His salvation.

Perhaps it is God who is in exile, not us. Perhaps He awaits our invitation with new heaven and new earth in hand. Maybe when enough of us turn to Him and say "Come Lord!" He will arrive. Until that Day, we must be open to His power to begin that work on this day.