Sunday, October 6, 2019

More Faith

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Ps 37:1-10
2 Timothy 1'14
Luke 17:5-10

The most important thing in the world is that we are in union with God. Loving God and loving each other is the meaning of salvation and the purpose of life. Each week the Sacred Scriptures provide us insights into this salvation-union.

The Bible is absolutely honest about the human condition on a fallen earth. God is sometimes inscrutable, the heroes have flaws, and the people of God are frequently unfaithful. The Bible has no lack of books which ask hard questions and wrestle with God.

Habakkuk is a perfect example of this. The prophetic book begins with these words:  "How long must I call for help and you do not listen? Or cry out to you 'violence' and you do not save?" The prophet is disgusted by the corruption and disappointed with God.  God speaks to the prophet, declaring that judgement is coming in the form of the Babylonian invasion which will topple the holy city and all its institutions. Afterwards, Habakkuk again complains, declaring that things are actually worse under the Babylonians.  God exhorts Him to trust and endurance. Believe in My promise the Lord declares. Hope sustains us when our lives are unbearable. 

The spiritual practice of praying psalms provides us daily meditations on this difficult life of faith. Psalm 37, part of which we prayed today, is a particularly deep meditation on a world where all is not right, and the light of God is hidden in dark shadows. The underlying Hebrew can be paraphrased in our vernacular: "Chill out" says the Lord, life is a journey, and shalom, a peaceful heart, is the fruit of the spiritual practices: hope in God, do good, make Him your heart's center. It is an apt reminder that we spend too much time "worried about others and what they are getting away with." A huge part of saving faith is really believing-- God knows. God cares. I can trust God will make it all well.

Trusting anyone, even God, is hard. Our hearts are sick with doubt and fear. Like the disciples we say, "Lord increase our faith!" Like them we are confused by His words "if you had faith the size of a mustard seed you could uproot a tree." Based on that criteria, it seems I do not even have faith the size of a mustard seed, and I don't know anyone who does.....

But perhaps we are misunderstanding Him. Notice how He suddenly starts talking about how slaves should do their jobs and see themselves as slaves doing their job--not expecting the Master to gird Himself and serve them? Maybe real faith means loving Jesus, serving Jesus and focusing on Him not me. It means living a life of loving faith, not talking about trust and love.

One more thing, there are many subtle connections between the Gospels of John and Luke and here is another. In the Gospel of John, we read that Jesus did in fact gird Himself and wash the disciples' feet. Jesus said you call me Master, because I am, but I serve you. Jesus says that the powerful of this world demand that slaves serve them, but I think that the rest of the story is if we understand our place then Jesus will do the same for us.

Summary:
The Bible is clear
*the world is a tough place to live, for some it is very hard.
*God is faithful and He is saving the world, even  if you don't see it.
*we are not the first to ponder hard questions of faith, the Bible is full of them.
*we must forgive others, trust God and do good to receive salvation.
* we are servants of God, be humble and thankful.
* Jesus loves you more than you love Him.
*Chill in the Holy Spirit!

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Helping the Poor (and the complexities of economic justice)

[9/29/19]  Amos 6:1, 4-7    Ps 146   1 Tim 6:6-19   Lk 16:19-31



Once again I recommend reading the book of Amos. Listen to God pour out His heart. Amos says God will judge the powerful because they are not grieved over the ruin of [Joseph] God’s People. The life styles of the rich and famous offends YHWH. Amos promises they will lose everything.

The Jewish prophets proclaim His word—trust God, love God, obey God and act justly. Prophets remind His people of the Torah and the offer of blessing and curse. The Jews believed that there will be a Judgement Day when God and His Messiah will rule the earth, but the prophets make clear that God acts already and the unjust societies will not stand. Amos declares doom for Israel, but also for the neighboring nations. God declares that they will fall for the evil they have done. Moral corruption produces a bitter fruit which poisons a nation. Nature and other people are potent weapons to lay low even the greatest nation. What was true then is still true today. We will reap what we sow.

This is why Amos is frightening. Trampling the poor is just an accepted part of the global economy. God despises injustice, and we live in a time where the gap between rich and poor has never been greater. It is not enough to virtue signal, as if talking about the sins of others somehow makes us good. We must repent, but economics is complex. Poor people aren’t always victims and the well-off are not always villains. Not so long ago a cobbler could sell shoes to his village and make a living. In our own time, Nike sells shoes to the world and makes $39 billion. Almost half the world’s nations have a lower GNP than NIKE. The scope of the problem takes away one's breath. 

Fortunately, Jesus makes the problem concrete and more manageable. The rich man is held responsible for ignoring Lazarus, who lay at his gate. He is not accused of ignoring the world, the nation, or even the city—just ignoring the one guy he sees each day. Jesus says, look around you and touch those who are in reach of your hand.

St. Andrew's outreach is simply that, reaching those whom we can touch. We support an orphanage in Haiti because otherwise those children would literally die in the streets, like Lazarus. We provide medical care for the working poor, support to the homeless, old and financially disabled. We help heal veterans of their war wounds and provide respite for families suffering with the effects of dementia. The bulk of our support is to agencies and ministries which daily face more need than they can supply, but have the expertise to make a difference.

We also experience that hands on ministry. Our phones ring every day. People who are hungry, under threat of eviction or having their utilities cut off turn to us, some of them regularly. It is sad because many of them work, and usually they are mothers with children but no other support. We know them. We pray with them. Lately we have had not funds, so we can only listen to them. We also grieve over the ruin of God’s people.

Sixteen hundred years ago St. Augustine preached a sermon on this topic: "We can understand that we have to give alms and that we must not really pick and choose to whom we give them, because we are unable to sift through people's hearts. When you give alms to all different types of people, then you will reach a few who deserve them. you are hospitable and you keep your house ready for strangers. Let in the unworthy, in case the worthy might be excluded. You cannot be a judge and sifter of hearts." (Ancient Church Commentary, Luke, p255)  

Jesus did not say whether Lazarus was deserving. 
Jesus didn’t explain why Lazarus ended up in that gutter.
Jesus did say that Lazarus laid in the street, dogs licked his wounds, and the rich man went to hell for ignoring him....

The Word of God we heard today:

Amos tells us to care about society and repent of materialism and indifference to the poor.
Jesus said to stop ignoring the needy within your reach.

We have been offered a share in the Kingdom of God, eternal peace, but the Kingdom is justice for all. The kingdom is in our midst. Those who love the Lord will serve the poor..
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

As I worked and reworked the homily for the last three weeks, the image of the village cobbler came to mind. It is easier to speak of fair wages and justice on the level of one man and one village. Thinking of shoe sales today, I ended up looking at NIKE which led me to further reflection on justice. A few days later down I pondered the social justice marketing around Colin Kaepernick. That gets really complex. The cobbler charging fair prices and providing a good product is fairly manageable. The multi-national shoe company which involves thousands of people and billions of dollars is not so easy. 
*
This timeline depicts Nike's revenue worldwide from 2005 to 2019. In 2019, Nike's global revenue amounted to about 39.1 billion U.S. dollars. https://www.statista.com/statistics/241683/nikes-sales-worldwide-since-2004/
++https://www.newsweek.com/nike-factory-workers-still-work-long-days-low-wages-asia-1110129

The issue of low wages and poor working conditions turned up in many articles, but there was also a question about whose standards apply? The moral ambiguities continue. Most of the Nike shoes which came up on the computer cost $150--$200, yet the workers reportedly make less than a living wage, only dollars a day. On the other hand, if the workers are poor, we hear from some, they were poorer before and now they have jobs. The clothing industry has generated a huge influx of jobs into the region which has created an economic boom. To further complicate it, Colin Kaepernick, with a net worth of $22 million in 2016, received a large cash settlement from the NFL and then signed a lucrative contract with Nike as a spokesman (both are in the $ millions). Some say he is an icon of a courageous man who lost everything speaking out for justice. Others think that he made out fine. Some ask “justice” for whom? What of the workers making dollars a day so that others make millions? How do you determine what each person should make? If spokesmen generate millions more in sales are they are worth millions more than the exchangeable humans who put the shoes together? However, divine economics declare that each human, exchangeable or not, deserves dignity. How does one construct a world economy where billions of people in very diverse situations are all treated fairly, when "what is enough" is not clear at all?



Jesus provides one option, until we can answer these big questions. Love the ones around you, the ones who you see and hear. Do something…  

Monday, September 23, 2019

loving the poor like you are one




Amos 8:4-7   +Psalm 113   +1 Tim 2:1-7   +Luke 16:1-13

Psalm 113 is a song of praise and revelation. We who pray it are identified as servants, which should govern our relationship with God.  Praise is “now and always” from “east to west”—always and everywhere—and God is transcendent. High above the nations! High above the heavens and earth. So we pray each Sunday: “Glory to God in the highest!” 



The transcendent God “stoops to behold” what is below. The Hebrew word, ‘shaphel’ [to humble, abase, or make oneself small] reminds us that God must “empty Himself” anytime He reaches out to us. Salvation is very concrete, He raises the "weak" out of the dust and lifts up the "poor" from the ashes*. The relationship of salvation and creation centers on the word ‘aphar/dust’ which is used in Genesis 2. God forms the 'adam from the 'aphar' so we can say He literally 'raised a man out of the dust.' As God makes us from inert particles, so will He also raise us from the ash heap of death. We are all included in the poor and needy because of our absolute dependence. 


God loves the poor, and this is echoed in Amos' preaching. The powerless are easily abused. Amos shares their fringe status because he is an unwelcome outsider from the Southern Kingdom of Judah who preaches his visions of doom to the powerful in the Northern Kingdom called Israel. Amos declares that “Divine Economics” centers on the value of every human life. When the rich get richer++ while the poor get poorer the Lord brings judgment. As the Virgin Mary** said, “[the Lord] has mercy…He has cast down the mighty…and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry…and the rich He has sent away empty.”


Jesus teaches us how to make money holy. His parable illustrates a devious and self centered man. Jesus wants us to be as clever serving God as he was serving himself. Jesus says, “Don’t only use money to makes friends for earthly needs, but use your wealth to make friends who will welcome us into a (skene) “tent” that lasts forever.


Back to Psalm 113.


Praise the Lord! Our Lord humbles Himself to see the needy and raise them up and make them His royal children (theosis!!).

Blessed is he who raises the poor out of the dust…
Blessed is she who befriends the needy…
Blessed are they who glorify God by blessing the weak…

For they shall dwell in the tents of the Lord forever.
You can never be too generous serving the Lord.


++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ 
some references and things to ponder 

*[This same sentence (including sitting with princes) appears verbatum in the Canticle of Hannah, 1 Samuel 2:8, which shares many features in common with the canticle of Mary (He has looked with favor on His lowly servant). God’s salvation is expressed in her miraculous pregnancy. Her son, Samuel, will be one of Israel’s greatest figures. Both women are poor and lowly, and each is a ‘barren’ women who becomes the happy mother of a son Ps 113:9. Their sons will be God’s act of lifting the poor out of the dust and ash heap!] 

++The issue of what to do about poverty, beyond personal generosity, is very challenging. In an earlier version of this sermon I actually looked at current income distribution in the USA. If you rank by income and divide the nation into five equal sized groups, currently the bottom 20% make 3.1% of the total wealth while the next makes 8.2%, and the next makes 14.3%. All three groups have a seen a significantly lower share compared to 1970, which is a very troubling trend. ++When the top twenty percent makes more than double what the bottom sixty percent does, one should listen to the words of Amos.
 
I do not know what the just answer is, though I do know that whatever we do, it will not solve the problems to everyone's satisfcation and it will generate new problems in the days ahead. 


Concerning reparations and income redistribution. If it were possible would it help change things longs term? We must remember that wealth is fluid and  can quickly be transfered through spending and saving practices. If we could redistribute all the wealth equally among our citizens, is there any doubt that in ten years we would see a similar pattern repeat itself? For example Sports Illustrated did a study which found that 80% of Football and 60% of basketball players are in some type of financial distress within a decade of leaving professional sports. In other words, it is possible to quickly spend hundreds of thousands, millions, even tens of millions of dollars--with nothing to show for it.
Even so, God's word will not allow us to do nothing. Therein lies the challenge. 


*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Personal_finances_of_professional_American_athletes


Income levels demonstrate the concentration of wealth. The obligation of the rich to the poor is made very clear in Scipture.

The top .1% ($2.7mill) 1% ($700,000) 5% ($300,000) 
10% ($118,000)
https://www.investopedia.com/personal-finance/how-much-income-puts-you-top-1-5-10/

However, the reality is the cost of child care and their education, or medical care, or support of adult family members especially parents, can quickly consume even extremely high income. In addition, saving for retirement requires very large sums of money each year. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/27/sam-dogen-a-middle-class-lifestyle-now-costs-over-300000-a-year.html

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Institutions

Jesus judges not only people but also our human institutions. A homily on
Deuteronomy 30:15-20    Psalm 1    Philemon 1-21   Luke 14:25-53


An “institution” is an intentional organization or society or an established law, custom or practice. Human institutions order our common life, but human institutions are “fallen” so they are always a mix of good and evil. We were created by God to share in His perfect life, but we live far from Him, ruled by sin and death. He defeats sin by forgiveness and death by resurrection. That healing is already in process and we can choose to cooperate.

We were created for freedom, so the human institution of slavery is obviously very evil. God’s judgement on slavery is at the heart of the “exodus story.” God patiently tried to convince Pharaoh “to let my people go,” but Pharaoh chose to reject His request. The cost of Israel’s salvation is the death of Egypt’s firstborn sons, a God literally does unto Egypt, what Egypt had done to Israel. The escape from Egypt is the first stage of freedom, the next step is choice. It is the freedom to choose which makes a person free. Choices, however, have consequences. God says: I lay before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose Life.

Freedom has a requirement: "loving the Lord your God, obeying Him and holding fast to Him." Too often we reduce freedom to “doing as I want,” not realizing that this merely makes us slaves to my wants, passions and desire. Paradoxically, when we serve God we become truly free.

This is why Paul’s request, “receive [Onesimus] back, not as a slave, but as a brother," is an historical turning point. It frees both slave and owner from an evil institution.  

Jesus brings judgement on the failings of every human institution—not just the obviously evil ones like slavery. He judges every human institution, and reminds us of the priority of God. He places Himself above Rome, the Law and the Temple, and tell us that the world will pass away, He warns us against wealth, He calls us to carry a cross and follow Him---so it should be no surprise when He judges the human institution of the family.

The demand to "hate" family and self is hyperbole—Jesus is saying that family loyalty, like perverted self-love, can become idolatry. We must remember the family in the ancient world was the sole source of identity. The authority of the father was unquestioned. Jesus replaces loyalty to a human family with membership in the family of God. If your family wants to take you to Hell, then you "hate" them (all the while loving them).

The centrality of love to Christianity cannot be overstated. What would a person of love be driven to hate? If a son overdoses we would hate the drug trade, if a daughter was a sex slave, we would hate human trafficking. The word “hate” as Jesus uses it is symbolic. It is the declaration that anything which keeps us from the love of God and fellowship with Him is the enemy. Discipleship does not await parental approval. If a choice must be made, we must love God and “hate” whatever institution would stand in the way.
Today we are also confronted with a choice: life or death?
We must choose to cling to God in love and obedience.
We must not choose any human institution, not even family, not even ourselves, over Him.
Choose wisely!


******************************************************


For further reflection

Taken literally, the words of Jesus sound like a "depressed adolescent" transitioning, through self loathing and hostility toward parents, into adulthood. I think such a reading is in error, and below I have provided ample references in which to interpret "hate."
LOVE
Mt 22:39 love your neighbor as yourself
Lk 6:32 if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.
John 12:34 a new command I give you, love one another as I loved you.
John 13:35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.
John 15:12 This is my command that you love one another as I have loved you
Romans 12: 9-10 let love be genuine...love one another with brotherly affection.
I Corinthians 13 "if I have not love"... basically I am nothing of value.
and dozens of other declarations of love or exhortations to love
On the issue of hate
Luke 6:27 Love your enemies
16:13 no one can serve two masters, they will love one and hate the other... You cannot serve God and Mammon (money/wealth)
hate I more regularly aimed at the disciples. 16:13 blessed are you when men hate you for my sake and 21:17 you will be hated by all for my sake.
Ephesian 5:29 Paul writes "no one hates his own flesh"
I John 2:9 whoever hates his brother is in darkness, 2:11 whoever hates his brother walks in darkness and is blind, 3:15 the one who hates is a murderer

On the issue of relationship to family: Luke's Gospel begins with two "families" the parents of John the Baptist and Jesus. The angel promises (Lk 1:17) John the Baptist is going "to turn the hearts of parents to their children." In Lk 11:11, in His instruction on prayer, Jesus asks, "What father among you, if his son asks for a fish instead of a fish would give him a serpent?...if you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Heavenly Father..." In 12:49-53, Luke quotes Jesus on His impact--I have not brought peace but division; parents and children will be against one another. Related to this, 14:12-14 Jesus suggests inviting the poor and needy to the banquet, rather than family, friends and the wealthy. Also, recall 9:57-62 where Jesus asserts the priority of His call to the demands of family piety.

The parallel in Matthew 10:37-39 offers a softer version of Jesus' hard saying, "He who loves father of mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me."

Mt 19:29 (//Lk 18:29) "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my names sake, will receive one hundred-fold, and inherit eternal life."
Mt 23:9 "Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven." 

Monday, August 26, 2019

healing salvation (with addendum)

in light of some questions about my sermon I have tried to clarify at the end of the text....

Isaiah 58:9b-14
psalm 103:1-8
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17


Isaiah 58 is a stunning prophesy where, God declares that His people are false and sinful, engaging in empty pious practices; but He promises, ‘if you care for the poor, your light will shine. If you take care of the needy your healing [‘aruwkah: a long bandage, healing, restoration] will spring up quickly.’ Salvation heals body and soul, individuals and communities—and it begins here and now!

However, Isaiah says: Salvation is received through obedient, loving-trust. Serving the poor opens us to receive the gift, probably because we receive from God through the same door to our heart from which our generosity and love pour out. The Sabbath also matters, “if you refrain from  trampling the Sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs…” God says He will raise you high.

We know that the ministry of Jesus is our model. We see that He saves the needy--healing is a weapon of spiritual warfare. Jesus healed constantly. Taking  healing out of the  Jesus' ministry is like playing baseball without a bat. Healing is a major part of the Gospel narrative. In fact, there are forty recorded healing incidents, of which eleven involved crowds. Seven times Jesus healed on the sabbath, including today’s controversy.

So we turn to ask, does Jesus conform to God’s message in Isaiah 58? Is He disdaining the Sabbath, pursuing His own interests, and trampling on God’s holy day? It seems not. He is freeing a woman in bondage to a “spirit of weakness” (infirmity) and as He said elsewhere, the  Father continues to work, He has no sabbath break from His creation. Jesus, the Incarnate God, must continue the work of 'creation', this is a work of salvation—He reveals God’s saving love. Sabbath is for human restoration and Jesus is restoring!

The New Testament delineates different causes for illness, some physical and others spiritual, Today the woman is sick for eighteen years because of a spirit of infirmity. [We hear often that the majority of physical illness (75%-90%) is actually connected to cognitive and emotional causes--the spiritual realm.] All human illness belongs to Satan’s reign, not God's Kingdom. It is hard to overstate how important healing is in the mission of Jesus and His church. Where God is king there is health and salvation!

Spiritual warfare between Jesus and Satan continues today. Social conflict, physical disease and mental illness are all a taste of hell—but Jesus is risen and through the church He not only can heal, He does heal. Jesus is healing among us every day! We have seen people healed of cancer and all other manner of maladies. We have even seen it happen immediately--people's surgeries canceled because the cancer or malady was gone!

Doubters say, “but so many sick aren’t healed.” While it is true, isn't it also fair to ask “why?” Isaiah 58, says that healing/restoration occurs among those who serve the poor and do not pursue their own desires. If our community is disobedient then the word of God makes clear, healings will not happen. God says sin is a barrier. So, too, He says are fear, doubt and unforgiveness. Remember, we are connected to community, our own faith is part of a larger system. 

Jesus testified to the power of unbelief—and too many Christians do not believe. We reduce salvation to ‘going to heaven after we die,’ we deny that there is a devil and preachers declare that Jesus no longer heals. Christians are actually programed to say, “Don’t bother God with your problems when there are others who are worse off.” We literally believe that Almighty God has His hands full, we can help Him by not asking! Ironically, the opposite is true…. Healings increase faith, which draws more people closer to God, which leads to more healing. Our refusal to ask in faith only adds to the doubt and despair in the world. Understand, the spirit of infirmity is already here among us; we need Jesus' healing salvation.

Our Father promises amazing things if we are radically generous to the poor, if we love our Lord and trust His power to heal. Jesus-light already shines in the world—the question is, do enough of us want it shining here? 

addendum (9/8/19)
1. The point of Isaiah is that "the nation" is under judgement. The entire people, the group, and any individual is always part of the group. There is NOT a direct linear correlation between "taking care of the poor" and "receiving God's blessings." While our individual lives do matter, the social context does as well.
2. Salvation is a whole body experience, and healing affects all aspects of the human person and human community. Physical healing is not the primary issue, right relationship with God is. 
3. While salvation/healing begins now it does not reach its completion (teleos--perfection, wholeness, completeness, end). So the question "are you saved?' is answered by "how do I look?" which literally means--do I look like I am seeking God and receiving His life? Do I look like I am on the path and  headed in the right direction? Are their manifestations of God's Holy Spirit in my life?
4. "Doubters" are not the only ones who ask "why are not all healed?" We all have those questions. However, there are many people who self identify as non-believers. It is them to whom I refer. Unfortunately, to some extent, we are all doubters. The Bible is clear, our doubt is a barrier to God. Peter sunk in the water and Jesus asked, "Why did you doubt?" The disciples are scared in a storm and Jesus asked, "Why have you no faith?" There are dozens of times that unbelief is challenged by Jesus. Part of facing our "sinfulness" is admitting that we have doubts and these doubts are a problem.
5. All physical healing is temporary. Lazarus is dead. The disciples are dead. I understand mortality is real. However, healings took place in Jesus' ministry and to the extent Jesus' ministry flows UNIMPEDED through us we will see "greater deeds than these" (per His promise). 
6. We live in a fallen world. Sin, unbelief, disease, suffering, mental illness, etc. are the "World" (in the negative sense). We are in a physical, social, spiritual environment which is (more or less) toxic.
7. Being healed does not mean you have more faith than someone who was not healed, necessarily. Personal faith is one important component, but there is much more to the story. How serious is the problem? The bigger the problem, the more power is needed. What about your social environment? are you surrounded by anger, fear, doubt? What about outside spiritual forces? Is the Enemy at work? Are there people who wish you ill? Are there unconscious wounds or thoughts at work? Sometimes the ministers are filled with doubt. Their prayers are ineffectual. It is not a simple equation of faith means healing. 
8. Even if the physical healing doesn't happen there can be other healings of greater long term impact. Many who die are closer to God in faith and love. From the perspective of eternity, ten or twenty years are not much. From our perspective, they can feel like an eternity. Herein lies the dilemma
9. There is so much more that I do not know or understand, than there is that I do. I am hopeful what I have learned and shared here is of value.


The seven sabbath miracles http://icogsfg.org/sab-7mir.html



Sunday, August 11, 2019

do not be afraid


genesis 15:1-6

Psalm 33:12-22

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Luke 12:32



The Lord tells Abram, “fear not,” the second time the Hebrew word yare (‘afraid’) occurs in the Jewish Bible. The first time was Genesis 3:10 when Adam told God, “I hid because I was afraid.” The word afraid will occur 412x. Fear is a big problem.


The central role of doubt and fear are manifest from the beginning, although the Bible is silent on why Adam and Eve sinned. This is the nature of a richly symbolic revelation--it invites us to hear and interpret (within the context of the church). I think God was absent in order to give humans the freedom to choose to trust and love Him. Absence, however, also provides freedom to not trust and not love. The doubt of Adam and Eve opened the door to fear and sin. Eve did not trust God, she trusted herself. Did she fear being duped? I don’t know but we do know that they hid from God in fear. What is more frightening, to be abandoned by God or face His judgement and rejection?

Did Adam blame Eve because he was afraid to face his guilt? 
Did his betrayal feed her doubt and fear? 
Cain will soon murder Abel—biblical families are rife with jealousy, betrayal and even violence. Trust and love are risky business.

We will each experience doubt and fear in our own unique ways. Do you prefer God’s providence or your own autonomy?
Is it better to be isolated or to trust someone? 
Can you face the truth about yourself and take responsibility or do you prefer projecting it on others? 
From the beginning we have had to subdue the world, work and keep watch. Creation is good, but it is also dangerous. No matter how brave or strong we might be, the threats are bigger than we are. God's solution to our dilemma is salvation; which unfolds in promises!

In Genesis 12 God had promised an heir to Abram. Abram believed, but he also wavered. He was worried about the lack of an heir.  Now, in Genesis 15 “The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, "Do not be afraid…" This is how prophets described God’s communication. The prophetic word is aimed at salvation! Abraham worried about an heir, in spite of God’s promise. Now God’s prophetic word is, “Fear not, I am your shield.” The prophetic word sets us back on the right path. Like us, Abraham struggled to trust in God’s promise.

Hebrews says "by faith Abraham obeyed..." Hebrew says that faith is confident assurance in what is unseen. Fortunately, even when our confidence is less than assured, we can still be obedient. Faith and obedience are interconnected. Sometimes faith is behaving like the promise is true, even if we are unsure.

Jesus says, "Do not be afraid little flock, it has pleased the Father to give you the Kingdom." God’s promise to us is a share in His reign. We have everything we need in God, but we may not always feel sure that that is true. Jesus tells us to check our hearts—do we desire God or are we led by our other desires? He warns us to use material wealth to help others, He says. The amount of wealth we have is easy to overlook. The lure of pleonexia--wanting more cannot be ignored. Jesus wants us: Be watchful and faithful.  

Prayer, worship and study, in-reach and outreach are concrete ways to trust and obey Jesus. Be alert to what scares you, or worries you. Be aware of your doubts. Doubt and Fear block theosis union with God. We are all unsure, worried and afraid, in our own way. Admit it and do not let them steal your heart from God. 
******************************************************
"The word of the Lord came..."
this expression occurs a dozen or so times in the books of Samuel and Kings in connection with prophets like Elijah or directly to a king. Jeremiah has it 20x, Exekiel 49x and Zechariah 4x. There are also many more examples, with slight modifications in wording or order, which are also found. The point is this is a standard expression of prophecy and an indication that Abraham was also a prophet.

The Bible does not provide much psychological information, so we rarely have insights into motivations. We are left to interpret, based on the Rule of Faith (the orthodox faith and church teaching), most narratives. This must be done carefully and humbly. So what I say above about fear and doubt is my opinion, and, therfore, not put forth as necessarily true.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

you cant take it with you

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
Psalm 49:1-11
Colossians 3:1-11
Luke 12:13-21


Most of the Jewish Bible pre-dates belief in eternal life. Ecclesiastes has a particularly bleak assessment of human existence and mortality. “*Everything is a vapor”—it says, to start a book which declares that life is not fair and things don’t work out for the best. Work is drudgery and busyness—(the same Greek word Jesus said to Martha). He basically asks, “What’s the point?” and in 2:24 advises us to eat, drink and enjoy what time we have, before we disappear forever.

Ps 49 takes up a similar theme—both the wise and the foolish will die, leaving everything they have to others. Even the rich cannot ransom their life from God. Our sense of control is actually an illusion.

In Jesus Christ, however, the dark view of human toil and mortality are seen in a new light. The resurrection of Jesus changes everything and Paul exhorts us to a new way of thinking. We must “put off the old humanity” (paleos anthropos) and “put on the new [self],” our “mind renewed in the image (ikon) of the creator." 

The Ancient Church teaching on the passions and theosis is all found here in the Colossians reading. Theosis focuses our mind above because that is where Jesus reigns. Ecclesiastes paints an accurate picture of life on earth. Our Lord saves us from the earthly, which Paul delineates:

Porneia—literally any form of sexual immorality, figuratively idolatry.

Akatharsia—uncleanness, impurity, lust; the opposite of holiness.

Pathos—passion, illicit desires which cause us pain

Epithymia—desire, craving, longing, lusts for what is forbidden

Obviously, all four overlap, and each reveals how our souls are tied to the earthly. Sin is deadly, and death is of sin. Every sinful behavior is produced by these earthly desires and it is our behaviors which ruin us, our loved ones and our world.

Last of all Paul lists pleonexia (greed, avarice, covetousness) which literally means “to have more.” Each person want more because nothing satisfies the hunger within us. Always is search for something different, something else, something more… Paul says pleonexia is actually eidolotria—idolatry.  

Our hearts were made for God, He is the Something More which we desire. The holy desire is union (theosis) with God and others in love, but in our brokenness our heart is twisted and betrays us. The passions, lusts, unclean desires and greed are distortions of the true desire. Only God can satisfy our hearts, so the couunterfeit desires are really creating false gods. The tragedy of life in a fallen world is that we desire what hurts us and we desire to have more and more of it to satisfy our longing.

It is pleonexia which Jesus warns us about in the Gospel. Jesus is not among us to settle property disputes—to distribute resources. Jesus came to heal the passions not feed them. Jesus quotes from Ecclesiastes—the rich man who says ‘now I can eat, drink and be merry,”--but Jesus calls him a fool, for tonight, says Jesus, you die. For the author of Ecclesiastes, death was the end, but for Jesus it is only the beginning.

It is hard for us wealthy Americans, driven by the passions and always wanting more and more, to become rich for God. There is so much for us abundance around us... We can stay busy and distracted, perhaps even believing in a God whose job it is to settle our disputes and give us what we think we are owed. This is to limit ourselves to the old humanity--living as if the here and now is all that matters. This is to choose death. There is another way. The way to life in Jesus is death to old humanity, a rejection of the earthly passions. Let us truly and deeply repent. Let us truly seek the heavenly things where Jesus is. Let us truly choose life.