Sunday, January 14, 2018

Listen, Hear, Understand, Obey

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)     1 Corinthians 6:12-20     John 1:43-52   Psalm 139

The priest Eli has misgoverned Israel, allowing his sons to disdain the Lord. Their contempt for God is an unforgivable sin (1 Sam 2:25). Today we read that Eli's sight is dimming and he is going blind. We also read that 'the lamp of God had not yet gone out in the temple.' The sanctuary lamp that burns all night is almost out of oil, meaning the night is almost over. The symbolic meaning is that a new day is dawning upon a time of darkness and blindness.

In the Jewish ordering, the previous book is Judges. Seven times it records that "Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord" (2:11, 3:7, 3:12, 4:1, 6:1, 10:6, 13:1). The last judge, Samson, is a dismal failure who makes bad decisions based on pleasing his own eyes. He is not a leader, but a wild loaner who breaks his vows to God. His battles are motivated by personal vengeance, not serving the needs of Israel or serving God. He also ends up blind. In the Book of Judges it says (17:6, 21:25) that "there was no king in Israel so each man did what was right in his eyes." The Book of Samuel begins with the understanding that they are blind people led by blind leaders.

This darkness is expressed starkly in verse 1 "the word of the Lord was rare in those days, there were no frequent visions." No word. No visions. The blind priest Eli has failed as a "seer" for Israel. 

The Lord calls the boy in the darkness and three times he runs to Eli saying "Here I am." On the third time the old priest discerns that it is God and instructs his protégé in how to respond: "Speak Lord your servant is listening." Is it noteworthy that young Samuel fails to say "Lord" when he responds? As is so often the case in biblical narrative, we are not told.... I think it is important.

The name Samuel is a composite of the words shama= "hear" and el="God." The English translation of shama includes hearken, hear, listen, understand, obey. The creedal prayer of Dtn 6:4 "Shema Yisrael" (Hear Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is One) ties together Moses and Samuel. God has spoken His word who will listen? Who will interpret and speak the divine will?

In the biblical literature, God is not always present. When He is, He is usually  silently present. If He speaks to someone it is to call them to a leadership role; but these human instruments remain fallible people. By chapter 8, "Samuel became old." He had plans, setting up his sons as judges over Israel. Ironically, they are like the sons of Eli. They are not worthy to the task. As a result, Israel's elders will demand a king. The era of judges comes to a close and the era of kings begins. Samuel is the end of one and begins the other.

The story of Samuel is about this transition. It is a reminder that God saves by intervening in history, not controlling it. There are ups and downs and lots of twists and turns. God does not preserve people from the struggles of life. 

Is God silent and absent in our age? Some claim to hear Him, but they are also fallible and imperfect, and often times I doubt their claims. We do have the Scriptures, though, so as we wait for Jesus to return we can prayerfully search His Word to hear Him. We have the gift of the Holy Spirit. We have the voice of the church. We can say, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening." We can listen, hear, understand and obey. 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

baptism of the Lord 2018

Genesis1:15      Acts 19:1-7     Mark 1:4-11     Psalm 29

Most religious cultures have some type of ritual cleansing practice. Removing "impurity" and sin is a human need before entering the presence of the Holy. Such rituals are visible expressions of spiritual realities which are invisible. Insincerity can empty the ritual of its power. To just be "going through the motions" disconnects the person's heart from the liturgical behavior rendering it meaningless. This is also true of Christian sacraments.

Water is ambiguous. We cannot live without it, but can be destructive. Water is connected to life and death, blessing and curse. The great waters of Genesis 1 are described as chaos which God must put into order. These same waters return as the flood in Noah's story. In Exodus water saves Israel but destroys Pharaoh's army. In both cases, those who belong to God 'pass through the waters' and are saved, while those opposed to God are swept away and perish. Yet, the story indicates that Noah's family and Israel do not leave sin and struggle behind. We, like them, must constantly repent and return to God our Savior.

The symbolic waters of baptism are also ambiguous. We are plunged into these waters to die--die to self, die to sin. We often down play the death part of baptism. It is also true that we emerge, a new creation in Christ, with the promise of life everlasting. Baptism  cleanses us of sin and death; yet we continue to sin and we all die. The waters set us right with God, making us His holy children; yet too often we are alienated from God and one another.

Baptism is not magic. We still live in this world of light and darkness, a world where chaos is a constant threat and people, even good Christian people, are not perfect. Union with God is a work in progress. Repentance, confession and penance are the daily remedy for what is broken and incomplete. The Holy Spirit uses them to renew our baptismal purity. We are born again in baptism, but each day we battle to cling to the new life. We must pray, we must learn the Scriptures and we must love and serve the Lord and one another. This is the work of the Holy Spirit within us, but too many of us are like the people in Acts who had no experience of the Holy Spirit. The fullness of the Spirit's power is dormant within us, because we fail to understand and we do not believe. We cannot believe we are holy or that God is using us to save the world in Jesus Name. Perhaps, right now, we need to hear God say to each of us, "you are my beloved son, my beloved daughter." Hear it and believe. We need to trust that Abba Father is well pleased with us and loves us beyond our imaging. Hear it and believe it. We need to trust the Holy Spirit is already in us ready to do amazing things.

Baptism opens the door to eternity, but our baptism into Jesus happens in this finite world. We must cooperate with God as He divides the light from darkness in our own lives. As I said last week, we are in the process of becoming what we already are---one with the Triune God by grace.

The Father calls Jesus His beloved Son. Through faithful baptism, we receive the same designation. Beloved Son. Beloved daughters. So let us open our hearts to receive the power of baptism. Let us purify our minds and hearts, let us pray and study, so we can understand what God's Word and Spirit are telling us. Let us love and serve others as if creation depended upon it! Baptism is the beginning of an amazing journey deeper into the heart of God. It is not always an easy journey, it is actually very difficult, yet fear not, the journey's end is already within us, for God dwells in the heart of the baptized.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Christmas 2

Isaiah 61:10-62:3     Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7     John 1:1-18     (Psalm 147)

Christmas is the feast of the incarnation. It is not necessary to speculate on the accuracy of his birth date, rather we are invited to ponder the deepest meaning of the event. Theosis--humans being united to God--is the result of incarnation--God becoming human.

Today our readings are full of images which provide insight into the mystery of theosis. These metaphors allow us to think in human terms about a divine process beyond our understanding.
Isaiah 61 celebrates God's intimate love for His people. Israel is "clothed in salvation" and "robed with righteousness"--dressed like a bride. In marriage, the man and woman become one flesh. However, getting married takes but a moment, being married requires constant renewal each day. In the same way, we are also in the process of becoming what baptism already made us---one with God.

God says: "For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her righteousness shines out like the dawn and her salvation like a burning torch." The Lord is passionate and restless, He longs for all to be right. He wants His people to be healed and prosper. Notice salvation is manifest in light and fire. We must pray constantly for the healing light and fire of love to fill us.

In Galatians, we read that Jesus is sent forth so that we can be adopted as children of God. This is another metaphor of union. In the Roman world adults adopted adults to provide them with status and an inheritance. Jesus is the only Son of God, but by the power of the Holy Spirit we share in His status. Like the Hebrew slaves, so we leave slavery to sin and death behind. We are adopted, and our inheritance is resurrection life in Jesus.

In the Gospel, Jesus is the Light. He gives life. All who welcome Jesus in loyal trust receive His authorization to be called children of God. Jesus in us makes us God's children.

In marriage the two become one flesh, in the incarnation God the Word becomes flesh. Two--God and Man--become one. The Greek word, to dwell among, literally means to live in a tent or tabernacle, and is taken from the book of Exodus. YHWH's glory was present among His people in a tabernacle, now, the human flesh of Jesus holds the glory of God among us. Jesus is the tabernacle of God's glorious presence.

The infinite Father comes to His creation in Word and Spirit. He comes to enlighten our darkened minds and wounded hearts--and fill them with His own life and presence. Theosis is the marriage of God and humanity. Theosis is to be adopted as children of God and share in the sonship of Jesus. theosis is the burning flame of God igniting our minds and hearts, His holy light penetrating us and setting all things right until we enjoy the abundance of salvation healing. theosis is loyalty to the one we trust, loving fidelity to Him in response to His faithful love.

The word becomes flesh today in you and I. The Word dwells in us. The Holy Spirit will accomplish what we cannot do. Take heart Christian pilgrim--the life of God is already at work in you making you one with Him. Take heart and refocus your energies to cooperate with the energies of God. Take heart, for you are a glorious tent filled with the presence of the All Holy One---the One who calls you spouse and child. The One whom you will live in forever.

* this includes some of the Hebrew with translations..... "For Zion's sake I will not keep silent [chashah - silent, still, quiet, at rest] Jerusalem's sake I will not rest [shaqat- quiet, still, at rest, at peace, inactive], until her vindication [tsedeq - righteousness, justice, rightness] shines out [yatsa- goes forth, exits, comes forth, escape; used of Exodus] like the dawn, and her salvation [yeshuah- salvation, deliverance, aid, health, prosperity] like a burning torch."

Salvation is God's victory and Israel's abundant health and wellbeing

Sunday, December 24, 2017


"Do not be afraid--I have good news. Today is born a Savior, the Messiah, the Lord. "Do not fear, trust." (Luke 2)

Fear is a huge barrier to the Kingdom work of God.
Fear focuses on problems; trust looks to solutions. 
Fear erects barricades of self-protection; trust opens hearts to salvation.
Far focuses on what can go wrong; trust produces hope and joy.
Fear feeds the darkness of disease and sin; trust opens us to the light of healing and forgiveness.
Fear kills; trust leads to eternal life.

The angel's message can never be understood by those who fear. Fear dismisses the Christmas story as a fairy tale. Faith, on the other hand, has ears to hear the good news of great joy. We are those who gather in faith. We, who believe in the Savior, cherish this story and, like Mary, we want to ponder its meaning.

I believe that the incarnation was always part of the divine plan. The Father had to enter time and space to interact with us. The incarnation is the means by which God relates to us. Obviously, with the Fall of Adam and Eve, the incarnation of Jesus also had to deal with sin and death; so the birth of Jesus is now shrouded by the cross. However, let us be clear, God has come among us and become one of us so that we can be united with Him. This is the reason for creation; the gift of divine love which unifies us to the Father. I think that Jesus, was always supposed to be Messiah and Lord, but it is our sin which  required that He also be a Savior. Even so, the deepest meaning of salvation is always union with God.

Luke tells us several times that Mary "pondered" the events she experienced. Pondering is a spiritual disciplines which requires time and patience. I assume Mary never stopped pondering her Son. She pondered His ministry, she pondered at the foot of His cross and she pondered His glory on Easter day. You and I must ponder the revelation of God on our own journey to union with Him. We must ponder God's word in prayerful wonder.

Jesus lived a full human life because God fully embraces our human existence Salvation is also a life long process. There is no single moment when it is completed here on earth. Unfortunately, we, too, are affected by sin. Suffering and death impact us as well. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we battle the against the Evil One and the deadly passions. It happens here, in this world.

Christmas shows that God thinks His material creation is important. Incarnation means that the matter matters, stuff is redeemable, and there is more to human life than being spiritual. The birth of Jesus should not be reduced to mere sentimentality, but the mystery of incarnation should produce a warm feeling in our hearts, and perhaps even a tear or two. 

Ponder it: human existence is sacred. Ponder it: God embraces your humanity. Ponder the wonder of existence and let it transform you. Embrace your body and soul--the same way God does--and receive  union with Jesus. Be His holy presence in the world.

Children's Service Christmas

reflection on the Gospel of Luke at our 4:00 children's service

The angel said, "Stop being afraid. I have Good News of great joy for everyone! Today the Savior was born, the Messiah Lord."

In the first two chapters of Luke, Zechariah (and his neighbors), Mary and now the Shepherds are all afraid. The angel tells each of them, "do not fear." Fear is the opposite of faith; it makes people sick in body and soul. The angel says "fear not," which really means "trust." Like any parent, our Heavenly Father tell us, "Don't be afraid, trust me. I am here to save you."

Like angels, children can generate a lot of fear. We are afraid they will get sick or hurt. We are afraid  they will do something wrong. We are afraid because we love them so much. We are afraid because we cannot control everything and protect them. Children remind us that we are not in control. We must entrust them (and ourselves) to God. The angel tells each of us, tonight, "Do not fear. A Savior has been born. Jesus the Messiah Lord, you and your children are in His hands. His love is big enough to save them and us. So trust Him, and fear not. 

The birth of the Messiah is God's declaration that "fear is useless..." The Creator has entered creation. Jesus is one of us. We will never be alone. It is interesting to note that in Luke 12:32, a grown up Jesus will declare, "fear not little flock for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom." Shepherds and sheep are told to believe the Good News.

So, let us trust more and fear less. Let us repeat to all we meet the angel's message: "Fear not. A Savior has been born, Jesus who is the Messiah and Lord." It would be good to raise our children in love and trust. It would be good for us to live in love and trust. It is possible if we believe that the Savior is born, the Messiah and Lord. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Pre-Christmas Meditation

God made a creation and gave it substantial being. This means that the world really exists. God enters that world by limiting Himself to time and space. These are things upon which we must constantly ponder and reflect. The Eternal fitting into finitude is a mystery. It is the reason why unbelievers can scoff. It is why they can point to science as an "explanation of everything" (which of course requires a blind eye to much that we experience). God is present 'in and through' the world. He communicates to us in human language, human feelings and human experiences. As such, any experience of God has a human element. In the end, philosophically speaking, all experiences of God are mediated experiences and the human meets infinite God in finitude.

The created world is in process. Things take time. Humans, like all living creatures, grow and develop. Our relationship with the Timeless God (mysteriously) is an encounter in time and space. Spirit encounters matter. It is all too much to fathom. As I have said before, God takes humanity and His creation much more seriously than most Christians. The Lord does not disdain His creation as so many of us do.

God's purpose, as expressed in limited human language, was to make us to love and be loved, to know and be known. He made us for laughter and joy, for trust and kindness, for myriad wonderful things. Probably, He created us to grow and develop and from the beginning that was part of the plan. We were born incomplete, just as Adam had needs, so do we. Hence, the unitive process---becoming one with God--was probably always a process. He speaks to us (Word) and breaths His life into us (Spirit). This "unveiling" (revelation) of Himself is part of the process of giving Himself to us and bringing Himself into Him. This unity is called theosis, a Greek term translated as "divinization" in the West. "God became us in Jesus, so that in Jesus we can become God." The great theologians have taught this for ages. It is the mystery of the human soul and spirit that we contain the divine, it is the mystery of the divine that the Eternal, Holy and Perfect God can empty Himself and squeeze Himself into time and place with all its limitations.

Union is God's first desire. The Christian must keep that in mind. Jesus did not come simply to save us from our sins. Truly He does forgive and save us, but that is secondary. First He comes to take us to Himself. Sin and death (which we received through no fault of our own from our ancestors, but which we embrace and increase--through our own fault--and pass on to others) were not the original state of things. Jesus comes to make us one, but now that unity entails an additional step. Now, God must deal not only with our humanity, but also with our fallen humanity. The divine-human gap (Eternal Perfection and Limited Matter) has always been a real gap. God has always had to bridge it by Word/Son and Holy Spirit/Breath. Now as the bridge is built, the world in which Word and Spirit are at work is darkened and wounded, touched by evil and subject to corruption and decay. The growth process has been thwarted and even the best of us wanders astray. We hurt and suffer and die. We also hurt, damage and kill others. It is not always intentional, it is sometimes what we do not want. We hurt even those whom we love, sometimes hurting them the most. Our homes are often a battle ground of constant conflict. The person whom we should feel most safe with is often the one inflicting the most damage. Things are broken, sick and not as they were intended to be. So the incarnation, God's way of incorporating us into Himself, now does double duty, as the Messiah must deal with sin and death. Forgiveness, reconciliation, healing are now added to Messiah's work of unification (and the Spirit's work of sanctification).

The Word Incarnate plunged into this real world. He was born and grew up, He was threatened and chased out of His own place. He was rejected and abused by the ones He created and loved. In Him the suffering of us all was embraced. In Him, the forgiveness for which we hunger was manifest. In this season of waiting, we look to the day a new born baby will be declared Savior, Messiah and King. A few months hence, in April, that same Savior Messiah King will be tortured and then hung upon a cross. Before He will die, He says "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." He meets us first in our sin and evil and forgives is. Forgiveness, not simply to remove sin, but to provide us hope to empower repentance and conversion. Forgiveness which makes it safe to say "I am sorry." It is also the power within us to forgive others. In facing my own brokenness, I can discern the same in others, with compassion and kindness.

So I am sorry for all I have done and I ask others to release me from the debt and burden. As the Lord has forgiven me, I forgive others. I remember that Jesus said often, that we must forgive others so that in forgiving the power of abundant mercy can be at work in us all.

But sin is not the main thing. It is not the sole purpose of Incarnation. Life is. Love life, indwelling of the Word and Spirit life. Divinized human life. God made us for unity. Focus on becoming one with God. Or, better, focusing on letting God make you one with Him.

It is why you are here. It is your intended destiny. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Advent 3

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11       1 Thessalonians 5:16-24     John 1:6-8, 19-28

When Jesus read Isaiah 61* He said that the words were filled up (fulfilled) in Him. He applied the text to Himself declaring that "the spirit of the Lord YHWH has anointed" Him:
1. to bring good news to the poor/afflicted;
2. to wrap up/heal the hearts which are wrecked/broken in pieces;
3. to proclaim freedom/release to those imprisoned/in bondage;
4. to proclaim the year of favor, comfort and provision to those who mourn...

Biblical salvation is a large concept, and it includes forgiveness, rescue, reconciliation, redemption, healing, transformation, victory, and abundance. It impacts our body and soul, our relationships and communities. Poverty, brokenness, imprisonment and sadness are at odds with God's kingdom. They are the ruins of creation.  However, like the Jews we must rebuild, raise up and repair the world. Redemption is God's gift, but it includes our faithful work as well. 

The Spirit in Jesus is in us! We are being saved by the Spirit, but we are also being consecrated and sent in Jesus' name to bring the same Good News to others. Unlike John the Baptist, we cannot simply declare, "I am not the Messiah," because we are the Messiah's body here and now. He lives in us. Like Jesus, we are to make these words of Isaiah a reality for others. We are the Lord's instruments of justice, fairness and peace. In His Kingdom, politics is holy because it is a self emptying focus on the need of others.

1Thessalonians 4:3, 5 says "the will of God is your sanctification...not in the forbidden passions." Once more we are reminded to do battle with the passions as we pursue relationship with God. The Holy Spirit unites us with Jesus (Theosis) producing personal holiness and selfless service I us corporately and individually. In Thessalonians 5 Paul exhorts the church to be a community--in peace, encouragement and goodness. "Rejoice always, praying without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances." Do you want to be holy? Do you seek gratitude and joy? What will be your constant prayer?

Isaiah also declares, "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall rejoice in my God." Mary says, "My heart magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior." 

You are anointed by the Holy Spirit. You have been sent to proclaim hope, to free people, to heal their broken hearts and tell them God is gracious. This Holy Spirit makes you holy, here and now, so rejoice and be thankful. This is the true meaning of Christmas--God becoming human in each of us (theosis).

*Luke 4:21