Sunday, November 12, 2017

Too Late?

Homily Nov 11-12   Too Late”

Amos 5:18-24, Wisdom 6:17-20, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Matthew 25:1-13

The Bible is clear that God's judgment actually has two dimensions. The friends of God cry out for His judgment in the form of deliverance. They cry out, "Save us, Lord, judge the earth!" However, in the process of saving His friends, He destroys His enemies. The enemy may be a foreign nation, or perhaps it is a raging disease. There are many enemies, and the last two, sin and death, will be the last to be destroyed. We can trust the Father's promise to heal and save. Those who live with such confidence experience a sense of peace because they know that no matter the circumstances, all will be well. To be reliant on God's hand to deliver is to be "saved by faith." This is true for Israel, as it is for the New Israel, the church. Salvation (yeshuah: healing, help,  victory, deliverance, abundance) is an expression of God's grace, His faithful mercy-love (Hebrew hesed) for His people. The Scriptures call this mutual relationship a covenant. Like all ancient covenants there are promises and commitments--faith includes faithfulness, the bond of loyal love. The Torah provides an in depth explanation of the covenant. God spells out the blessings for His friends, but there is also another promise--the promise of punishment for the unfaithful. God declares curses upon those who break covenant. Remember, the relationship is an unmerited grace, but it is possible to break covenant and become as an enemy of God. The unmerited grace can be nullified. The prophets' vocation is to remind Israel of the revelation of God in the Torah. Amos does that in today's reading. Israel is condemned for treating the poor unjustly, so God says, "Do not look forward to the Day of the Lord because you are not a friend of God." Yes, we can trust in our Lord's mercy, but their confident assurance had become arrogant presumption. God saves His friends, but His friends love and obey Him, they take care of the poor and needy. Israel had walked away from friendship. So, too, can we....

Over seven centuries after Amos, Jesus proclaims a similar prophetic message.  In chapters 23-25, Matthew bundles together Jesus' apocalyptic warnings and parables to Jerusalem about the coming judgment. Originally, the parable of the women was a simple warning to faithfulness. Quoting from the prophets (Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 31:31; Hosea), Jesus compares God to a groom. Jesus had told Israel (Matthew 5) that she is "the Light of the world." Israel is the young women who are to be light bearers upon His arrival. Some, however, have squandered this opportunity--they have no oil--so they are on the outside looking in when the Kingdom comes. It is too late, the door is closed. Jesus is telling His hearers that they must repent now. Time is too short to delay.

Writing his Gospel a short time after the judgment (Rome destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD), Matthew confronts his contemporary Christian readers with the challenge to be alert until the Lord returns. The elements of the story will be re-envisioned allegorically by the early church. Olive oil which fuels the lamps is also used in the healing ministry (Mk 6:13; Lk 10:34; James 5:14). Healing is salvation for the sick, salvation is the divine healing of the whole person--body, soul and spirit. Those who have been healed by Jesus are called to follow Him and be the church. The church is the bearer of healing
light (salvation) until the Bridegroom Christ appears. Light bearers without a functioning lamp, however, serve no purpose. A lamp without oil is a friend of the darkness. If we fail to serve in the wedding party, then the wedding party should go on without us. The door should be closed to us. We are called by grace into friendship, but our response decides our fate.

So "wake up"! The Greek word "gregorio," literally means to stay awake, but implies being alert and watchful. Watching was a byword of the early church as it explained the organic process of salvation. Salvation is living union with God. This union--theosis--requires our attentiveness. Our mind (nous) is darkened and needs His light. We are too often unaware of how our thinking and perceiving, our feeling and deciding, lead us into sin and away from friendship with God. The oil of self awareness and discipline, however, feed His light. Our hearts are wounded, He brings healing light, but the oil of our faithfulness is the fuel.

"Blessed are the pure in heart." Purity of heart is God's gift through the working of the flame of the Holy Spirit, but our conversion disciplines are the oil. To seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness we embrace a life of faith through the spirituality of repentance: constant prayer, study of Scripture, self denial and apostolic ministry. We are sent by Jesus to proclaim the kingdom by teaching, healing, exorcising, and reconciling. Those who obediently live in such a way are never "too late." This is the life of faith in response to His grace which has abundant oil for the flame of salvation light to burn brightly forever. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Imperfect Servants in Ministry

Today's Homily on these readings.
Micah 3:5-12      Psalm 43        1 Thessalonians 2:9-13           Matthew 23:1-12

Micah the prophet preached both judgement doom and salvation hope. Focusing on the powerful---he contends God holds them responsibly for the coming destruction of Israel and the suffering poor. In Micah 3 he declares that false prophets shape their message for money. They are like researchers who lie about product safety saying, “Peace, all is well" when it isn’t. Truth is relentless--- Samaria will fall; misled Israel will be exiled, disappearing into the mists of time forever.

Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and Rome—in every age a different empire serves as the rod of God’s wrath. In our own age we will face another. Our church perverts her prophetic role as she embraces the culture at the loss of Gospel truth. We, too, fall to the temptation of seeking other gods than the Lord. Hearing Jesus judge hypocritical leaders, "don't do what they do," is worrisome. He still says, "but listen to their teaching." Their words are still true even if they are not true to their words.

Unfortunately, there will always be a gap between the truth we proclaim and the life we live; we must teach God’s truth even if we struggle to conform our lives to that Truth. Jesus makes clear, only God is truly Father and Teacher; yet, we have been commissioned by Jesus to proclaim the Kingdom of God as we teach, heal, exorcise and reconcile in His name… While it is terrifying to consider the high standard God has for us, we cannot refuse to proclaim the truth because we are afraid. We are also answerable for what we have left undone. Becoming holy--the work of theosis-- takes a life time. Take heart, teaching others actually helps us to learn. Speaking the words can change our own hearts. Jesus mercy is still to be trusted.

So, once more we are confronted: Will we commit to Jesus? Will we open to the Holy Spirit? Will we become a holy light shining for the world?

If our progress is slow, it is still progress! Fear not, Jesus has saved you, but if you are saved you are also sent—to do work in His name. The Holy Spirit has sanctified us, but we must also embrace the discipline of holiness each day. Remember we are all materially rich and spiritually powerful by the world’s standards. We have the Kingdom of God within us. We are personally connected to the Holy Three God.

The prophets shout: "Woe to the one who hoards his treasure and ignores the needy. Woe to the one who seeks her own salvation while others are lost in the wilderness. Blessed is the one who feeds hungry bellies and fills hungry souls. Blessed is the one who worships the Father and brings Jesus light those in the dark. Blessed are you who love and serve the Lord. Each of you. Blessed are you."

Friday, November 3, 2017

Of Good and Bad Seed

Matthew 13:24ff is a brief and simple parable. It says that the Kingdom of God (i.e. the way that God is ruling) is like someone sowing seed in his field. While they slept at night the enemy snuck in and sowed bad seed. The servants are dismayed and surprised, "You sowed good seed so how did this happen?" they ask him. "The Enemy's hand is at work," he replies, but when they offer to pull up the bad he says they should wait for the Harvest Day because some good might be pulled up with it. The parable can be read as a straightforward allegory (13:39 includes just such an interpretation), however, the artistry of parables is that they reveal core truths and various interpretations can be generated by looking from different angles (e.g. the field is our soul, our community, the world. Seeds are people, seeds are teaching, seeds are 'holy or evil spirits').

The core revelation is that the Master (God) made a good creation. The surprising outcome (our mixed-bag of good and evil world) is not His doing or intent. Pause..... Reflect.....
Think of what Jesus did not say. He did not say "The Master sowed good and bad seed for his own purpose." Jesus did not say, "The Master sowed good seed, but as He was in control of everything, He allowed bad seed to be sown." Jesus did not say anything which implies that the mixed bag outcome was intended by God.

This is important because it underlies several vital theological insights.
1. God is the author of good and His intent for us is abundant life. If bad things happen (aside from punishment/wrath) it is likely that the Enemy (Sin, Death, the World, the Devil, the Flesh) has a hand in it. Life is more like a war (between God/good and the Enemy/evil) than it is a well ordered unfolding of the Divine Plan.
2. The ongoing evil in the world is "allowed" because the harvest time is not yet. Premature intervention could cause other problems (good taken with bad). God gave up His control for a higher purpose (freedom for creatures to embrace or reject His offer of Himself).

God does not send bad into our lives to make us strong or to get our attention. God blesses those who love Him. However, the world contains evil so bad things happen. When we stray, the wrath of God (probably best understood as the evil which befalls us when we leave the umbrella of His protection and/or He withdraws His nearness due to sin) is manifest. The prophets associate wrath with famine, drought, plagues and conquering armies; almost always natural events. However, God also punishes the conquering armies for "overdoing it" so clearly He intervenes without absolute control.

The purpose of Divine "punishment" is to call us back. Repentance and renewed relationship with the Abba Father is always the goal. Not to inflict pain, but to increase the joy of love together, not to inflict pain, but to sanctify us and make us holy... Pain, however, is redeemed by God. Pain might be used by God, but God does not torture and kill us to make us strong. When Jesus confronted sickness and suffering He healed. When He confronted sin He invited repentance and forgave those who came to Him. When He confronted the demonic He sent it away. He calms storms but never creates one. Notice a trend?

Genesis creation accounts echo in the parable. YHWH creates 'adam and eve (the Man and Mother) and hands the garden over to them. There are instructions, duties, limits and warnings. The serpent, a wise/wily creature, plants a seed of doubt. First Eve, then Adam, take the forbidden fruit because it looks good. God returns, He has been off somewhere, and cries out for the couple, who are hiding. "What have you done?" He asks.

Whose hand was at work in the Garden? The serpent, for sure, then Eve, and finally Adam, but it is not clear in the narrative what motivates ruining the whole thing for the sake of one piece of fruit. Later, Christian authors identify the snake with satan---the spiritual power behind the scene--which leads to the creation of the story of Lucifer's rebellion in heaven. However, Eve was open to some extent, because she fell pretty quick. What hand was already at work within her? Adam offers no resistance, so what about within him? The "surprised" YHWH of the story is hardly portrayed as the Divine Puppet Master guiding everyone to this predestined outcome. So things in the narrative as it is written seem a bit out of His control, perhaps even lots out of His control. He is involved though and responds to what has transpired.

What about the fact that God knows everything???
Setting aside that in the story He doesn't (He asks questions after all), let us consider, yet again, who the Biblical God is. He is the "incarnate" God (Jesus), the God who enters creation on its own terms. When He displays His amazing presence, it is thunder, lightening, fire and earthquake--all of them earthly, worldly phenomenon. When He meets people (in a garden--Adam and Eve, near a tent--Abraham, in a bush or mountain--Moses; in Jesus) it is in a here and now. Eternal God who is timeless and everywhere can now be located on a map and calendar. We can say, "Remember the time God was here and did this or said that?" When God enters time and space, He is squeezed into finitude--and the cross reminds us that such squeezing is self sacrificial love."

Creation is out of control, but He intervenes from time to time to save (help, heal and make holy). He interacts with us, more often with those who desire Him, and He finds a way to accomplish His goals in spite or our resistance. But be clear, such interventions are not final nor are they complete. The good and bad seed, after all, are left to grow together until the Harvest Day. Some day His Kingdom will come, but in the meantime there is a whole lot taking place which He did not want and does not like. That is why the final harvest is a judgment. He tosses out the ones who messed up His work. Hardly a book in the Bible doesn't have that as a major theme.

When bad things happen, repent if you have drifted from God. If that's not the cause, take solace in offering it to His love and care, but do not embrace the evil. Embrace the redeeming love. Call out for healing. Body, soul, spirit---it all needs healing and that is what salvation really is, healing, God's victory and rescue. Don't let the church people mislead you that God is the cause. He is dealing with the same messed up world you are. He wants to make you whole and holy. He wants to make you well. Believe it and trust Him. Get your mind emptied of teaching which implies God is someone whom you would not leave alone with your kids. Listen to Jesus, hear what He says.

All this evil seed, it is the hand of the enemy.
the enemy of God.
our enemy, too.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Love God

Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18     Psalm 1     I Thessalonians 2:1-8      Matthew 22:34-46

I think it fair to say that Christianity really does not know what to do with the Jewish Law. We are not "under the Law," yet we reject lawlessness. Even grace-centered Evangelicals use Leviticus 18:22 in debates on same sex marriage. If Progressives disdain this use of law, they still trumpet the social justice text in 19:9-10 as Gospel truth. Yes some Bible laws seem silly to us, yet many touch the core of our humanity. Even Paul says that saving faith in Jesus cannot co-exist with idol worship.

In the introduction of the Jewish Study Bible to Leviticus, we hear that "the study of the laws of Leviticus stood at the center rabbinic learning....It was customary for small children to begin their study of the Bible with Leviticus...[because] 'the pure' (i.e., children) should be engaged in the study of purity...Leviticus remains at the foundation of Jewish life." (p205, Baruch J. Schwartz) However, it is what follows that most resonates with my Christian soul, "Leviticus teaches that the ritual commandments and the ethical or social ones (between humans and God and between humans and humans) are equally important and equally valid....the love of one's neighbor is a divine commandment and every offense against one's fellow human being desecrates the name of God....
[this] is the reason for the Jewish people's existence. God has entered into a relationship with the Israelites so that they might perpetually sanctify His name. Their role in the world, and in history, is to attest to His existence, to publicize His oneness, and to advertise His greatness.... When they fail to do so, His name is profaned, that is, His name is diminished and His reputation tarnished; when they live up to this charge and duty, He and His name are sanctified." (206)

It would take me years to ponder this remarkable book. While often painfully repetitive in detail, it deals with a primary religious question, "How do sinners become holy?"

Our corporate and individual sins diminish the presence of God in the world. Jesus says that Jews (and be extension us) are the light of the world. Like the Jews, our reason for existence is also to glorify God's name. We have no Temple sacrifices, we have Jesus, but Leviticus' instructions help us to understand Jesus more deeply. It also reminds us that human behavior matters to God. Behaviors matter because it is at bottom about a relationship. Law, however it is described, still functions and love is at the heart of the law. 

Jesus' answer to the question, "Which law is the greatest?" reminds us that God's instruction and commands are not random or arbitrary. Jesus does not reject the question as redundant, nor does He say, "Forget the Torah, just believe." Human sin is a breeding ground for Evil and Darkness. Our mind, heart and soul are diseased and sick, in need of healing.  Decay in the human soul begets societal decay. The Gnostic reduction of salvation to "an escape to heaven when I die" is a rejection of the Biblical God Who has intervened to redeem creation. God loves His creation. Creation groans for the coming salvation. Today one gunman can wound and kill hundreds of people. One match can destroy thousands of acres. One false prophet can peddle his lies to millions. All of this harms creation and brings shame on God's name. This is anathema to those who love God.

Sin and death are the direct fruit of humanity's failure to love God. Jesus tells us to love God with all our mind, heart and soul.* This is total love--not a feeling, but loyalty to His Cause. It is a pledge of all I am and all I have. In other words, it is way more than we give. Do we love God totally? No. Do we love others? No. Honestly, lots of times I do not even like myself.... Take heart, each week the liturgy includes the confession, "we have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves." Apparently, they already knew we wouldn't!  Perhaps, some day, we will. The first step is to say, authentically "We are truly sorry and humbly repent." (Confession is from the Book of Common Prayer, p360) And never, ever forget, the Lord does love you totally, and that is our hope. 

If we repent and begin to change our lives; that is all God needs.
So ask for Holy Spirt fire of love to burn in you.
Trust Jesus as Lord and be open.
Tell the Heavenly Father, "I love you, help me love you more"
It will begin to happen, here and now. 

* in Mark 12:28-34 there are four: heart, soul, mind and strength. The source text, Deuteronomy 6:5 says "heart, soul and strength." However the word in Hebrew me'od is usually translated as an adverb meaning 'very' or 'exceedingly' and implies strength, but could also be translated as 'wealth' or 'property.' The discussion of the "inner person"--raises the question, what exactly are the mind, heat, soul, spirit? The overlapping definitions and different opinions confuse as often as they clarify. Also, unlike Matthew, in Mark the interaction is more positive. The Scribe (not a lawyer as in Matthew and Luke) commends Jesus for His answer and Jesus tells him that he is "not far from the Kingdom of Heaven." In Luke 10:25-28 the engagement has shifted from a hostile test to an inquiry, "what shall I do to attain eternal life?" Most Christian do not know that Jesus responds by turning the question back on the lawyer, "what do you think?" When the lawyer answers love God and neighbor Jesus tells him that he is right so "do this and live." This leads Jesus to explain who is the neighbor with the famous parable of the "Good Samaritan." I was shocked to find this morning that very reading was assigned in the Gospel of Luke for morning prayer.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Thessalonians Three Threes of Salvation Living

Isaiah 45:1-7      Psalm 96:1-9(10-13)      I Thessalonians 1:1-10      Matthew 22:15-22
Our Abba Father has a plan to save His out of control creation. Through His Incarnate Word and Holy Spirit, the Father leaves eternity and intervenes within the limits of time and space. He is finding a way to accomplish His purposes, sometimes  through human actors. In Isaiah, today, God declares that Cyrus, the Persian ruler is His Messiah. This is an amazing claim. A pagan king called Messiah? Revelation: Our Father is the God of unbelievers and He can use them as tools of salvation. Perhaps this is why Jesus is not worried about giving Caesar his due? Jesus trusts His Father. The Kingdom of God is bigger than human politics. God's Kingdom encompasses all the earth, even as it penetrates our minds and hearts. The human and demonic powers at odds with God are already defeated. We can live in shalom peace trusting our loving Father.

The early church was small and weak, yet trusted in the power of God. The power of the Roman Empire seemed unassailable, yet Jesus followers in Thessalonica received the Gospel even as they suffered persecution. Rome's pagan culture seemed to be eternal. Yet today there are over two billion Christians while Rome's pagan temples lie in ruins. Jesus is worshipped as Lord while Caesar is only a salad.  

1st Thessalonians, the earliest New Testament letter, says that the church is in God. The two word greeting says it all: grace (that which provides joy, pleasure or delight; kindness bestowed) and peace (security, tranquility, quietness, rest, translates Hebrew shalom- completeness, contentment, prosperity, friendly relationship with God and others) are the gifts of God to His church. Hear this gospel message in your own heart.

Paul's gratitude challenges us to constantly thank God all day. 

Paul commends their faith, hope and love.  He calls it the work of faith and the labor of love.  Sometimes it is (Greek ergos)  labor/work to trust God and be faithful. It is a (Greek kopos) "difficult struggle" to truly love God and others. The daily journey of faith and love requires steadfastness. The Greek hypomenos can also be translated as patience or endurance. People of hope are patient during theosis/divinization--as we grow in faith and love we enter deeper union with God. Becoming holy takes a lifetime and more, yet the moment we turn back to God (repentance) it is already begun. The church is in God, after all.

A second set of three describes their response to the gospel. "He has chosen you" Paul says to them and to us. The word ekloge literally means "called out/from."  How awesome, God calls you out from the broken world into relationship. The message has POWER--the empowerment of being beloved and chosen. The message is Holy Spirit filled--God Himself is the gift. The message evokes pleroporia--full conviction, absolute assurance--that it is true. When we turn from fear and doubt and embrace God's Promise amazing things happen.

Faith, then and now, opens us to transformation. We are made into imitators (mimetes - mimic or follow; a mime) of the Lord. Even persecutions can not diminish the real joy. Is there joy in being called? Yes, and we must affirm that joy regularly. We must say I am called, I am beloved and my Father wants me to be with Him forever. It is okay to have joy in your heart, especially if it is the joy from a love relationship with our Lord.

A life of  real faith becomes its own witness. The third set of three illustrates for us. We turn FROM false gods, idols of our own making, the futile search for salvation and life in the temporal circumstances of a dying world. We turn TO serve a living and true God. The Christian life is the best of lives, and it is time for us all to experience more deeply. And we WAIT. Jesus taught frequently of the need to watch and wait. Hope gives us patience until all things are made new. This is the in between time: Christ has come, Christ will come again. In the meantime, chosen by God, we are to do the work of trusting and the labor of loving. In the meantime, we serve our God as we await Jesus return. In the meantime, together, as the church in God, we live in joy as the chosen people whose way of life is a witness to all those around us!
Amen, so be it.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Praying into Union

Praying into Union

The word “salvation” (yasha; yeshuah=Jesus) first appears in Genesis 49:18 “For your salvation I wait.” The Hebrew (yeshuah=Jesus) word can be translated “salvation, deliverance, welfare, prosperity, victory, help, health and saving health.” It is the feminine passive participle of yasha (literally--to be open, wide, free, opulent; by extension save, savior, deliver, preserve, rescue, (give) victory, defend). These words have both a mundane, temporal application and a spiritual, theological application. A large number of usages were in the context of military deliverance.

Salvation is God's work of love and mercy. Our response, repentance, is the work or returning to God. The Greek word, metanoia, is a compound of "meta" and "nous" and means a change of mind, a mind from above. Repentance is a "nous" centered phenomenon. The central focus of Christians has two elements: God's grace/mercy entering covenant with us and our response repentance/fidelity/love/trust.

Ultimately, “salvation” includes victory over sin and death, freedom from the world, flesh and devil and healing of our brokenness in body, soul and spirit. It is also reconciliation of humanity with God in perfect unity. Salvation is a process. I believe that there are similarities in how the physical, emotional, mental, relational and spiritual dimensions work. So physical exercise can be a model for understanding spiritual exercises; healthy body and healthy soul.
The least helpful way to understand salvation is “going to heaven.” “Going to heaven” is impersonal, it focuses on a reward earned or a gift given to people who get access to enter the “greatest amusement park ever.” Many people imagine a family reunion, however, it is often devoid of any sense of worship. God's role is reduced to “providing the fun”… The theological debates, in light of this, question of the admission process: good works or grace? The modern salvation debates have centered on law court justice. God is envisioned as The Judge. Theologians ponder the decree of guilty or innocent and shift the focus from relationship with God to exoneration. The relational model is organic. By definition it cannot ignore God. The theosis model is about transformative union, it is, therefore, about the existential and ontological state of a person, not their legal status.

However, if Heaven is actually a circumlocution for God, then relationship with God is actually the content of Heaven. Relational models do a better job of grasping that reality then a Law Court explanation. Based on Incarnation theology—God became one of us so we could become one with Him—it is helpful to have a developmental approach as well.

If our goal is to repent and turn back to God; then prayer should be part of that return. Prayer is opening the mind and heart to the triune God. Prayer is an experience of the Kingdom of God now. However, it is a long, slow and imperfect experience of the Holy Three God. The communion of prayer is impacted by the divisive power of Sin. We constantly turn from God  and prayer is the eternal return to God. It is more important that we connect with the Holy Three God  than it is provide a "to do list"... 

“Mind/Soul” [Greek nous] is the seat of perceiving—both intuition and sensing; feeling; thinking—to include knowing, reasoning and understanding; judging and choosing. The ‘mind’ is darkened by sin which means we are often misled. We are in broken communion with God. The Divine Light does not fill our “nous” which wounds us to our core (heart). We cannot "see" rightly so we cannot choose rightly. We need saving: forgiveness, healing and renewal. 

The ongoing problem of “bad thoughts” and the resultant “sinful desires” (called ‘passions’ because they cause pain) is the sin which divides us further from God, each other and ourselves. Sin is both an outward act and an inward disposition (hence Jesus in Matthew 5 “You have heard it said “do not…” but I say to you…).

The purification of the “nous” has two dimensions. The human dimension is our responsibility. It is the so-called “spiritual disciplines” including prayer, study, ascetical practices and love. The purpose of the church is to support this healing process ("soul healing" or from the Greek words; psycho-therapy). All of our efforts open the mind and heart to receive God’s gracious activities. Remember, God saves us, we just cooperate. However, He does not save us against our will. For example, if God reveals Himself to us in the Scripture, then if we prayerfully read (or hears) the Scripture we encounter God. If we turn away..... It is the work of the Holy Spirit but we cooperate (synergism= work with) and this is because free will is required for a genuine relationship. Love cannot be bought, coerced or programed, it must be freely given. 
Simple, relational prayer is the best: 

1.    Focus on the reality of God. Spend time in awareness.

2.   Focus on opening to God and request the Lord's help in this. It is about unity and relationship, not getting stuff.

3.   Jesus’ name—we pray in and through Messiah--is central. The word Yeshuah has a depth of meaning revealing His identity. Pray with gratitude and trust His Promise. Mt 7:7-11 “Ask... Seek… Knock…” you will “receive… find… it opens...” 

4.   Trust God is responding. Confidently acknowledge it in faith even if you do not see/feel it. Focus on what is taking place. Work on receptivity. Thanksgiving prayer, over and over, is the proper response.

5.   Spend significant amounts of time in prayer each day. Repetitive prayer with a focus on being present to God, opening to God’s purifying, healing and unifying Spirit and with the desire to give ourselves to the Father (rather than cajole Him into granting some wish list) should become one of your daily occupations.    

6.   In addition, Listen. Read the Bible. Repeat verses or phrase prayerfully. Psalms is a rich source, by the way. It may take decades for our ‘nous/mind’ to be purified by His Holy Fire and Light. We are on a long journey into the heart of God, but paradoxically from the first step we are already in, but always we have farther to go. Prayer is a key component of successfully reaching that destination.  

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Salvation as destruction: a cowboy movie perspective

Isaiah 25:1-9 Ps 23 Philippians 4:1-9 Matthew 22:1-14

I read once that the appeal of cowboy movies was that they have the veiled Gospel. Gospel means the Good News of salvation. Helpless townsfolk need a hero, we need someone to face down the bad guys and rescue us. There are variations, of course, but in the end, usually after a violent encounter, the bad guys are defeated. And in the best of them, the hero suffers for his faithfulness...

Israel's stories of God are ancient templates for the Cowboy movies. The People of God need saving and YHWH, the Father God, hears their cries. Salvation, however, also leaves carnage. The bad guys do not experience salvation as a joyful thing. And sometimes the bad guys are the People of God. Jesus' parable is very much influenced by the prophetic books of Israel. The message of Judges, Samuel and Kings is two fold. "I will save my people and destroy her enemies," says the Lord, "but if you act like them I will destroy you too." This message fuels the works of Isaiah, Jeremiah and all the rest. This message is at the heart of Jesus' parable--a thinly veiled summary of Israel's history.

The King is graciously honoring citizens with an invitation to the wedding feast of his son! They dishonor the King,then abuse and kill his servants. In retribution their city is burned to the ground and leveled. The reference, perhaps lost on us, was quite apparent to Matthew's original audience. It was Jerusalem, the city of God destroyed by the Roman army in their lifetime. Jesus invited them to His Feast, but as they had rejected and killed the prophets so now they rejected and killed Him. In Matthew, the sinners and outcasts, even the late arriving Gentiles, were gathering around Jesus for the feast. However, Matthew would not have us misunderstand the nature of grace. It is a free offer but it requires an appropriate response. The wedding garment, I think, is a symbol of love, repentant faith and loyal discipleship. Good guys wear white robes in the Bible after all...

Isaiah 24-27, a collection of prophecies with an apocalyptic flavor, reveals the same story of salvation. John uses some of the language and imagery in His Revelation. No surprise then, that Isaiah's song praising God's salvation, begins with an announcement that the enemy's city is laid waste: a heap, a ruin, a rubble... The adjectives to describe the people and their city mean strong, fierce, greedy and terrifying. Their oppression is compared to the relentless summer sun or the destructive winter storm. The people seek refuge in God. Refuge for the poor and needy. Refuge in the safety of His love and protection. And what do you call people who are in a refuge? Refugees. It is easy to forget in our middle class comfort and splendor, that we are all spiritual refugees, brothers and sisters of all the marginal and outcasts.

In contrast to this, Isaiah lays out the wonderful feast awaiting all those who climb the mountain of the Lord. For people who never have enough to eat, such a feast was an unimaginable blessing. Food and drink in abundance is less amazing to us, we have too much, but the Lord makes an announcement which even our affluence cannot buy. "I will destroy death." The most beautiful verse to me, one which John uses in the Apocalypse as well, "My Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces..."

In the end, death is the ultimate enemy. It separates us from all we love, from all we hold dear. The Gospel message is death is on a short leash. The one thing missing from the cowboy movies is resurrection. Resurrection, however, is not missing from the Gospel. You and I, we have an invitation to a party. The greatest party ever. And it is a party where eternal life is the main course. Life. Abundant life. Glorious life. Already His strong hand overthrows the enemies who would oppress His people, already His gentle hand wipes away the tears. Come let us sing to the Lord and rejoice in God our savior.