Friday, April 28, 2017

Theosis, holy fire and living water

Follow-up on the "theosis" teaching in dialogue with today's readings from the Daily Office.

1 John 3:2
Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this; when He is revealed , we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is.

In many of the Ancient Church Fathers, especially the Eastern Orthodox, the idea that we 'become divine' (theosis) is the primary expression of salvation.  It is not about "going to heaven," it is about becoming "one with God" and participating in His divine life. Several times I have read that the vision of God makes us one with God, something which I found difficult to grasp. Today, reading 1 John, I find the source of this teaching: "we will be like Him for we will see Him as He is."

To be "a child of God" is to share in Jesus' Divine Sonship. We become by God's grace and mercy what Jesus is by nature. This is already true, we have become His children, but it is in process, it is not fully manifested yet. We are like caterpillars; the butterfly glory lies within us, but now we live the caterpillar life until we are wrapped in the cocoon of death. Afterward we will emerge glorious and transformed! When Jesus is revealed and we see Him, we become Him. Perhaps, seeing, which often means to know and understand, is a metaphor? Maybe seeing is participatory because of what we see---divinity, and that unlike seeing created reality, seeing the uncreated Creator has an intrinsic power to transform? I do not know, but I do know that there is power in God which we have not yet encountered or experienced.

Luke 3:16
"I baptize with water... He [Jesus] will baptize you with fire and the Holy Spirit." (John the Baptist)

Ceremonial washing plays a role in many religious traditions. Water is a natural symbol and evokes deep realities: the water of the womb, the water of seas and oceans from which life first emerged, water sustains life for vegetation and animals, and water cleanses. It is easy to see how baptism (this is actually a Greek word which means to dip, to soak, to immerse, to bathe or wash) came into being as a sacrament (visible sign of a unseen spiritual reality). John offered a ceremonial washing to repentant sinners--it was a sign of their desire to be cleansed and made new. Christian baptism is an incorporation into Christ for new life--birth waters--as well as a cleansing from sin and death. Through baptism God makes us His children. The Jesus baptism also includes the Holy Spirit. This is another angle on theosis. The Divine Spirit in Jesus--the actual life breath of God--is given to us as a gift. We are made one with God because we share the same spirit, the same life energy! [In the Fourth Gospel Jesus compares the Holy Spirit to a fountain of water bubbling up within us (and hopefully pouring out of us to bring life to others in His Name).]

But Jesus baptism is also fire. Paradox is the fruit of mystery. The unexplainable is best expressed in opposites which encompass reality in a way that is beyond our grasp. Fire and Water cannot mix together, water drowns fire or fire turns water to steam. One or the other must triumph. In the spiritual sphere, however, the two are metaphorically co-existent (like divinity and humanity). The holy fire of Jesus purifies us, destroys the sin in us, but it also sanctifies and makes us alive. The flame of love, Who is God, engulfs us and we become a living flame ourselves. One Fire, God and us, burning together. In fact, in my favorite description of Hell, the love of God is compared to a burning, consuming fire of love--which torments those who reject Him and gives those who love Him joyful, blissful hearts afire. [Many orthodox thinkers believe hell is ultimately a human 'creation', the result of human sin embracing the demonic and rejecting God. If God's love is an eternal fire, perhaps it makes sense that the love of God is torture for those who do not love Him in return. Eternal love, eternal flames, eternal torment for those who reject theosis and sink deeper and deeper into a God-less human nature slowly transforming into pure darkness, evil, and death in companionship with Satan and his hate filled horde. Eternal flames, eternal love, eternal bliss for those who love Him an become one with Him. The latter is life's purpose and our destiny if we embrace Him.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A reminder and an invitation into a hall of mirrors

The word has popped up quite frequently in our daily Office readings the last couple weeks. The reason for that is we have been reading from he Gospel of John and 1 John. The blueletter Bible identifies 33 appearances (in 29 verses) of the word 'abide' in the RSV. Thirteen occur in John's writings. However, it also appears in the Jewish Scriptures.

The first, in Genesis 6:3 "My spirit will not diyn ( Hebrew: to judge, to rule, to strive; Septuagint translation is katameno-abide for a long time) with man forever for he is flesh", when God determines that the human life span will be reduced to 120 years. The next three times abide appears in RSV are three different words in Hebrew. This caused me to pause.

However, in the New Testament things get tricky. The first appearance of abide in the New Testament is John 15:4, the Greek word is 'meno.' However, if you look up the word meno, The blue letter bible reports it occurs 120x. Suddenly, the word is everywhere [Mt 3x, Mk 2x, Lk 6x but Jn 33x]. It's just not translated as abide most of the time. This is why it is important to remember that our Bibles are English translations of Greek and Hebrew. Many times, a point being made in the Greek or Hebrew text is lost on us because we have only an English translation.

A brief reflection on 'abide':
"Where do you stay?" This question was asked of Jesus by the first disciples who followed Him at the baptizer John's urging. The question is to be understood on many levels. "Where do you stay?'' means "Where is your house?" It is a mundane question like "Where do you work?" (the sort of opening for polite conversation) But in the paradoxical Gospel of John, questions are really reflexive. Later, Jesus will make this clear, "Where do I abide?? How about, where do you abide?! Is my word abiding in you? Is my Father's love abiding in you? Will you abide with me? Will you let me abide in you?" In Gospel interchange, we think we are seeking God, so we ask such questions, but it is we who are lost sheep, He is a shepherd. He seeks us. (Jesus says, "you did not choose me, I chose you") We ask the questions because we fail to recognize that we are the object not the subject.

At another level, the question, "where do you abide?" is a question of identity. Jesus abides in the bosom of the Father from eternity and is now incarnate among us. He continues to abide in the Father and the Father abides in Him. To ask, "Where do you abide?" is to invite an answer of identity. Jesus says, "I am" (the divine name from Exodus). I am in God and God is in me.

"Where do you abide, Jesus?" His first answer is "Come and see." It is an adventure response. It is not information for your head, it is experiential; requiring a full engagement of the whole person. "You want to know about me?", Jesus says, "then it will cost you. Only disciples get the answer to that question, through life experience, observation and reflection."

"Where do you abide, Jesus?" His answer, ultimately, "I abide in the heart of the one who trusts and loves me, the one who does what I ask." "Where do you abide, Jesus?" The option, at least in that case,  is ours.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

You are Mentioned in the Bible

The modern concept of writing history is, well, modern. There is a reason why "modern historiography" is a term. Modern is different from ancient. The "rules'' governing writing about history are different. The ancient expectations of the audience and the author are not the same as our own.

The authors of the Gospels are ancient writers. They do not aspire to some value called "objectivity" nor do they write with the same rules that apply to modern historiography. If one simply looks closely at Matthew, Mark and Luke, it soon becomes apparent that the authors are making subtle (sometimes not so subtle) changes in language. (an easy example, Matthew often make Mark's 'one' into "two', two blind men, two angels, etc.) The ancient writers are comfortable re-shaping the narrative for theological purposes, because it reveals the deeper truth. The more wooden, literalistic and simplistic modern approach is "fact" driven, but can miss the forest (truth) for the trees (facts).

However, having noted the difference, it is also the case that in ancient times the listener still was concerned with the question "did it really happen?" One can find numerous ancients who are concerned with veracity. So while the Gospel is not a modern biography, it does relate events from the life of Jesus. And the ancient reader, while not scrutinizing the text in the modern way of reading history, would still at some point want to know: is what you say of this Jesus true?

Today we read from John, the night of Easter Sunday. The followers are shaken, after the crucifixion they fear they may be swept up in a dragnet of his followers and put on their own cross. Perhaps the words of Jesus "pick up your cross and follow me" were mocking them in the fretful silence. There may have been a time of bravado when carrying the cross and dying looked worth it, but now? Now, in the face of Jesus' own demise, the motivation has waned, terror rules their hearts. Hidden away. Worried. Afraid.

Suddenly He is there. "Shalom!," He greets them. "Shalom." This is not the world's peace, a shaky time of lull in combat. It is not a fleeting moment to catch your breath... It is the Kingdom atmosphere, peace, balance, abundance, security, "all is well." It is the state being in that prayer of Teresa we wrote about the other day. No worries. No fears. Possessed by God. 

In John's Gospel, it is implied that after the resurrection Jesus might have ascended to His Father and has now come back. The Fourth Gospel also makes a Pentecost event of this appearance, as Jesus breathes His own 'ruah' (breath) upon the apostles and says "receive the Holy ruah/Spirit." The super power He bequeaths them? FORGIVENESS. He gives them power to forgive (and reminds them of the power of withholding forgiveness). The ministry of the church--proclaim the Kingdom, teach, heal, exorcise, forgive sins, reconcile and give life--is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a gift received and a task on which we embark.

Thomas is not there, so in the face of his friends claim that they have see Jesus, he announces that he is not a simpleton to be easily duped, and he makes bold demands for proof. See, even ancient people are not easily convinced that dead people rise alive. [It is noteworthy that both Matthew and Luke have references to the apostles looking at the risen Lord, being filled with joy, but still "not believing."] It may not be modern but it is certainly human. The impossibility of Jesus being with them is as much a mystery to the ones who saw it as it is to us who hear about it. "How can this be?" they ask and we ask. "How can this be?"

The Gospels never portray the apostles as heroic or flawless, instead they emphasize the opposite. In an honor culture, which takes shame so seriously, it is amazing that the real events dictated that the documents reflected the bumbling disciples as bumblers. One knows that only truth could convince people to reveal themselves in such unappealing ways. No apostle would relish this portrayal of himself. The power of the event, the power of the actual Jesus actually rising from the grave and actually appearing; that power is the only explanation for the lack of spin in their self portrayals. One can almost hear them saying, "who cares about me and what my failings were, look at Jesus, dead and now alive, vanquished and now Victor. Look at Jesus, for He is all that matters!" 

Jesus tells Thomas, when He appears a week later, come here, "feel me, touch me."  The implication is Thomas's own words were heard by the Master, even if He waited a week to respond. (A helpful reminder that God can seem terribly slow moving). The story ends, as I told the children chapel today, with a turn in our direction. The author writes, not modern history, but revelation. God is not contracted into the limits of time and space. The narrative, after commending Thomas' confession (Jesus is Lord and God) as belief, goes on to proclaim a beatitude: blessed are those who have not seen and believed.

Blessed, in other words, are you and I.
It is as if Jesus paused and comes out of the page for a moment, looks us in the eyes and smiles. "You," He says, "you are blessed because you believe." No eye to see Him, no body to touch, no voice to hear. Yet, we say, "I believe."

So you are mentioned in the Bible. You, a "not-see-but-believe" contrast to Thomas. But he makes the highest declaration of faith in the Gospel. Seeing and touching he makes the confession of faith. Tradition has it he faithfully carried the message to India! What will we do? What will we who believe He is Lord and incarnate God do this day? Easter is a season, fifty days of resurrection peace and joy, fifty days of celebrating Life's victory over death. Fifty days, and we now enter week two of telling the story.

Friday, April 21, 2017

One Name

Peter and John walk into the Temple. They see an invalid begging, they focused in on him and demanded "look at me." "Look at me" is an invitation, even a command, to make human contact. The authority which they felt and the power surging in them was connected to Jesus. They had begun to live as Jesus' ambassadors of the Kingdom. Their level of intensity was increased dramatically, as the cross had given way to the resurrection, and the Holy Spirit gift was manifest. Absolute confidence, as they say "Look at me."

American culture is money driven. Money is power. We pursue money because we believe that we can "buy" what we need. Money does matter, but it is not the answer to every problem. Being an invalid is not a money problem, getting food to eat is. The man was beyond hoping to be cured, he was resigned to his situation. He just wanted to beg enough coin to eat that day. The apostles, bristling with Holy Spirit fire and brimming with healing light, had no money. "Sorry, we do not have gold or silver, nothing to give.... Well, except one thing. We have Jesus. Jesus our King sent us with the power and authority to do wondrous things in His Name. So we give  you what we do have.....Stand Up. Walk." It is a permanent solution to the real problem. The invalid was no more, now he was a man. Strong and able to walk. A new creation in Christ!

There is an explosion in the crowd. Amazing deeds baffle and excite them. Peter explains about Jesus, in particular His cross and death, and the resurrection. The unauthorized preachers are dragged before the leadership. It becomes testy. In every age, the powerful see Jesus as a threat and adversary--in the religious communities at times, in the secular community always. The Lord stands against the principalities and powers, so they push back.

Peter utters the central truth. The man is healed by the holy Name of Jesus. There is no other name for salvation. Jesus. Yeshua. Yasha. The Name is "YHWH saves." The Name is salvation. victory. healing. The Name is a declaration that the One and True, the One and Only God---the One Who is Who He is, YHWH--- Is saving and rescuing  and healing people already, in anticipation of The Day, the Last Day when all creation will receive the final make over.

There is no other name for salvation than 'God is salvation.' There is no other option. The Name is also the Man. Jesus the Name and Jesus the Man are one and the same. In Jesus God the Father ("The Father and I are one," He said) is saving. There is no other venue, how can there be? How can one go to God and not go through God?

It is popular in contemporary culture to minimize Jesus. We hear discussions of salvation which sound more like friendly debates about 'who is the best baseball player ever,' or 'what is the nicest vacation spot?' "Why you like the Mountains and I prefer the Beach," we say with open minded magnanimity, "can we not say there are many wonderful vacations and to each his/her own?" Jesus, however, is not an option or preference. When one says the word God, Jesus is included in the definition of the word. Jesus is God incarnate, the Son become flesh. "There is no other name for salvation--Jesus (YHWH saves) is the name and the person. Jesus heals.

We ponder why the healing and salvation is not always manifest. We wonder what was in Peter and John that is stifled in us? Why does the Name seem ineffective in most churches? Where is the power exploding in healing wonders and bold preaching? We ponder and face the truth. We are not confident (literally "with" + "faith") much of the time. We are tentative, shuffling into the Temple, not striding with power and authority. We are timid, offering a word of meager hope ("I will pray for you, who knows, perhaps something good will happen") while barely stuffing our deepest fears and feelings ("But let's be clear, your situation is very bleak and looks hopeless. God can work miracles but let us refrain from expecting such a thing...") We do not preach the Name (good manners dictates that we give equal footing to all manner of belief and unbelief, besides, we are not totally sure our beliefs are accurate, so why 'impose' them by publicly saying they are true?) In the end, we are not dragged before any authority of any type. Why would we be, we are quiet harmless...

The inner battle of belief and unbelief, the temptation to forego the ministry which baptism demands and the Spirit empowers--such things are a daily struggle. Perhaps this is the reason we need to read the Bible more than we do. Reading Acts 3 opens us to possibilities which are otherwise unthinkable. Yes God can, so yes we should. There is no other Name and we know the Name! We have the Name and can pronounce it. To forgive sinners, to set free the captive, to heal and exorcise... The Name, not us, the Name, that is what we have. Our silver and gold cannot provide what the world needs most. Money is not the answer. Salvation is the answer. God is the answer. The Name of Jesus--YHWH is victorious, healing and saving--the Name of Jesus is the Answer! 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Teresa's advice for worriers

Let nothing disturb you;
Let nothing frighten you,
All things pass away.
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
He who has God,
finds he lacks nothing.
God alone suffices.

St. Teresa of Avila
for a number of short, powerful words of wisdom look at

St. Teresa, a 16th Century mystic, has long been one of my favorite church figures. The exhortation above can be very comforting, especially in times of stress. I rephrase and share it below, with some Scriptural (RSV)comment, as a support to others in their journey to Easter Faith.

Let nothing take your peace--do not be disturbed or frightened.
Jesus said, "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink...Therefore do not worry...Your Father in heaven knows you need these things." (Matthew 6:25-34)
Jesus said, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust God, trust Me. (Jn 14:1)
"If the world hates you, be aware that it hated Me before you." (Jn 15:18
Jesus said, "Why are you afraid, you of little faith?" (Mt 8:26)
"Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid" (Mk 6:50)
Nothing lasts forever, everything is passing away.
"I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to be revealed." (Romans 8:18)
"What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." (James 4:14)
"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away...we wait for new heavens and a new earth." (2 Peter 3:10, 13)
"The world and its desire is passing away." (1 John 2:17)
Be patient, endure, all things will be provided...
"Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord." (Psalm 27:14)
"For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him." (Isaiah 30:18)
"Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." (Isaiah 40:31)
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, theirs is the Kingdom of God." (Matthew 5)
He who has God , lacks nothing, God alone is enough
"They shall know that I, the Lord their God, am with them, and that they, the House of Israel, are my people... You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God," says the Lord God (Ezekiel 34:30-31)
"Ask and it will be given you, search and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him?" (Mt 7:7-11) 
"If you are able???All things can be done for the one who believes" (Mk 9:19) 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

"A friend I didn't know"

John 20:1-18 He is Risen!

"Mary turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus..."
Mary saw Him but did not see Him. Mary did not believe yet. How could she, she saw the crucifixion. Crucifixions are a horrible way to die, she was convinced He was dead, she saw Him die, she saw Him pierced through the heart with a spear and everyone knows dead people stay dead. But when He spoke her name.....

Listen: Today He speaks your name.... Do you see Him?

Last week, Levi climbed into the van after school and Ann noticed a bandaid on his knee. She asked, "What happened?" His reply, "I was in the playground and I fell down. But a friend I do not know came up to me and said it would be alright." In the Bible "falling down" is a metaphor for sin. In the Bible the Risen Lord tells fallen sinners that "it will be okay." The Lord is risen, it will be okay.

Many do not know Jesus or believe. They cannot see. Jesus comes to them through witnesses, just as Mary went and told the disciples, so we must also go and tell others. Jesus is that "friend whom they did not know" who brings them the Gospel message, "it will be okay." We also fall down and sometimes the bumps and bruises of life need more than a band aid. Jesus, the Risen One, is there for us, too. Jesus reaches to us to heal our sin sickness and wounds, to wipe away each tear. Often times we do not see Him, we do not know Him. Often times, even for us, He is the friend we do not know.

My first Easter homily was preached in Waterloo, Belgium in 1983. I was in seminary then and we spent lots of time with the American families who lived in Brussels. At 26 years old, I was as comfortable running around and playing with the kids as I was sitting around with the parents. One night in Holy Week we were playing hide and seek. I was lying under a bush and one of the girls stood looking at me, but she did not see me, I was stunned because it reminded me of this Gospel which I was supposed to preach a few days later. Fifteen years before that, my grandmother came on the train from Chicago to Philadelphia. We all knew that grandpa was coming, too, but mom didn't. My mom told grandma, "Ma, move, that man is trying to get by." Grandma said, "Barbara, don't you know your own father." Mom burst into tears and grabbed him. Every time I read this Gospel I remember that moment of sudden recognition of an unexpected presence and the spoken name.

Barbara, it's your dad...
Mary, it's your Jesus...
To each of us, listen, He speaks our name: "It is I."

It is Jesus, coming to you.
Messiah King, Lord and Savior
Risen and alive.
By His wounds you are healed.
He is victorious over sin and death.

Open your eyes to see.
Open your ears to hear.
Open your heart to believe.
Trust Him. Rejoice.
No doubt. No fear.
Jesus is risen and alive and among us.
He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday 2017

Each year on Good Friday we read the Passion Account of John 18-19. I divided the reading into three parts and here is my reflections from the service:

The brutality of the crucifixion needs to be interpreted. God is speaking to us; revealing redemption. Redemption is an economic term which means "buy back." It is especially applied to purchasing the freedom of slaves. The Father's purpose in creation has been hampered by human sin. When the Word became flesh to dwell among us to deal with the problem. God "buys us back" from the world of sin and death in Jesus in this new creation.

At its heart, sin is betrayal. Betrayal must be redeemed. We are all victims of betrayal, but we are also perpetrators. We have all betrayed Jesus and the characters in the Gospel serve as archetypes of each of us.

Judas is a traitor, but this Gospel pays little attention to him and his fate. We were told he was a thief (12:6) stealing from the group purse. We know the devil entered his heart (13:2). Our sins open our hearts to Satan.

Peter strikes with a sword--betraying the mission of Jesus--but then in cowardice denies Him three times. We deny Jesus regularly.

The High Priest and his cohort betray Jesus into Roman hands. They are false shepherds. We also hide behind others to betray Jesus' cause into the hands of worldly power.

The Roman leadership--Pilate and the soldiers--abuse Jesus terribly, blind to his humanity. How often are we blind to the poor and oppressed? How do we trample on Jesus in the name of political financial prosperity?

But it is the nameless crowd who cry, "Give us Barabbas!" We hide in the crowd and we cry too choose anyone but Jesus. We go along with popular opinion because it is easier to anonymously betray the Holy One than stand up for Him.  

Jesus redeems all of this betrayal. He receives every act of deceit into His body and soul. He unites our betrayal with the heart of God and sanctifies it in the light and love of the Father. Your worst experiences of betrayal as a victim and as a perpetrator---Jesus makes its holy.
Listen to God's word [read John 18]
God's Power is perfect love, so it is revealed in weakness.
To the outside observer, Jesus appears helpless before Pilate. Pilate has the Roman Empire with its wealth and armies. Jesus, however, has the truth. And an amazing secret. "You would have no power over Me," says Jesus, "except what the Father allows." Pilate is dismissive, yet frightened of Jesus. Pilate senses something different here. He will mock Jesus and Israel by calling Him 'King of the Jews,' but paradoxically it becomes a profession of the truth by the Roman Emperor's representative.

Worldly power appeals to us. We want to make decisions and have others do our bidding. We are seduced by power, but too often we find ourselves powerless and out of control. We have limits. Sometimes we feel needy, helpless and alone. Jesus redeems us. He is one with every victim. He redeems our darkest hour---as He embraces rejection, torture and death--we are not alone. Jesus also forgives what we have done to others. 

listen to Love's redeeming power [John 19:1-25a]

A mother sees her baby boy, hanging in agony on a cross. She would have traded places with Him if she could. Instead, she suffers with Him, like every mom feeling the pain of her children; Mary suffers with Him. Jesus redeems the troubles of family life, by bringing family into the heart of God. Jesus shares our experience. With His dying breath He entrusts his mom to the care of a friend. We are the Disciple to whom Jesus entrusts the broken. He redeems human suffering through the healing ministry of His disciples--the church. We heal and we are healed--in His redeeming love.

Psalm 22, Psalm 69, Exodus 12, Zechariah 12:10...
Most Christians do not read the Jewish Scripture. We call them old, unimportant. Jesus says they are alive and life giving. Jesus is the Word made flesh. In His death Jesus redeems the Bible. Jesus removes the veil, and each Scripture is illuminated by His life and death. Jesus takes the Bible and fulfills each promise.

Jesus, like every human, dies. We don't know when, but someday our journey ends with a last breath. In Jesus, God is embraced by death. In Jesus, the Light enters the darkness of the grave and fills it with the divine presence. The terror of death is redeemed by the hope of meeting our Creator and Savior who loves us. Death is horrible, but now it belongs to God. Death is conquered by Life.

Listen to God speak to you [John 19:25b-42]
John instructs us. The incarnation, the life and ministry of Jesus. They redeem us. The suffering and death of Jesus redeem us. There is more to come, resurrection, ascension and the gift of the Spirit, these too redeem us.

The cross sets you free and redeems you. Will you open your heart to receive its power to save?
Trust Jesus.
Love Him.
Let the Holy Spirit fill you with Divine light and fire.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Penultimate Holy Day

Tomorrow we enter the Holy Days of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Today, the Morning Prayer readings are very helpful for the preparation for those days. It is important to get focus. A brief word on each and its connection to Jesus
Psalm 55
A heartfelt prayer of someone in need, it is an ideal psalm in times of duress. Of particular interest for us is verses 11 to 15, which reflect on the "trouble and misery" inside the city walls. "There is corruption at her heart" reflects the reality in Jesus day (as well as the psalmist's). The powerful of Jerusalem, in league with Roman oppressors, did what they always do, take care of themselves at the expense of the weak and poor. We can almost hear Jesus saying the next words looking at Judas. I paraphrase, "If an outsider or enemy betrayed me it would be different, but we were friends, studying and praying together..." Verse 21 returns to the theme of betrayal and the extra pain it causes. Mixed in are references to God's fidelity. Sadly, we are all victims of betrayal, but also perpetrators. Thankfully, God is merciful and faithful.
Jeremiah 17:5-10, 14-17
"Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals" Jeremiah begins. The cursing/blessing which we find in Jeremiah echoes Deuteronomy. The parallels to Psalm 1 are also obvious, examples of the "two ways" of life and death. We need only look at our lives to see what our choices produce. There is one particular verse, however, which echoes the Fourth Gospel, where Jesus, we read, did not trust Himself to anyone because He knew what was in the heart of humankind. Jeremiah writes: "The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse--who can understand it?" Harsh words indeed, but who among us can claim a pure and holy heart? It is why the Lord will "test the mind and search the heart." It recalls God's word to Samuel recently, that He does not see as humans do, He sees within the person. As we see Jesus on the cross, dying for our sins, it is a heart thing. It is about our hearts. Jesus on the cross is an answer to the prayer of Jeremiah in the latter verses today. "Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me and I shall be saved; for you are my praise." It is about God, as well as us, it is a mercy thing! As we kneel Friday, are these not words worthy of repetition before our Lord?
Philippians 4:1-13
One of my favorite verses is found here. "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice...The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything (pray with thanksgiving)" Paul exhorts us to focus on good and noble things and to trust the Lord, for we can do all things in His strength. The unsurpassable love of God is manifest in the Incarnation of Jesus. God with us, God for us--fear not for all will be well. Looking at Him, nailed up there, is an excellent frame of reference in looking at my own worries and concerns.
John 12:27-36
The Fourth Gospel tends to portray Jesus' strength and authority during the passion. However, here we do get insight into the very human struggle He endured. "Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say?" Jesus says that He cannot ask the Father to save Him from this hour because it is for this hour that He has come. So Jesus says, "Father glorify your Name." Everyone is called to glorify God and each of us is troubled in the struggles of life. We are in darkness (Jesus says), called to be children of light, called not to stumble but to walk in His light. Yet, He warns the disciples, the light will not always be with us. One might say that this is still true. Jesus' light shines among us, but it can be muted. He does not reign among us as King totally. "now the ruler of this world will be driven out." Jesus implies that God is not the ruler of this world. The cross and resurrection are the victory of God, but the enemy continues to rule (for a time). We, you and I, must not only meditate on the cross and resurrection of Jesus, we must open our hearts to the resurrection power, even as, here and now, we suffer our own crosses. The Satan is still bold and active spreading darkness. We are the light (in Jesus) sent into combat until the Last Day when victory (now assured) is finalized.

There is much more to pray over or ponder. God's word is rich, but I hope this helps in your own meditation and prayer.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday

Zechariah 9:9-2      Philippians 2:5-11     Matthew 21:1-11

Holy Week 2017.... So it begins, Jesus rides into town on a donkey. To the casual observer, it looks like a guy on a donkey. There is, however, greater depth of meaning than the eye can see. Matthew uses Ancient Biblical texts to illuminate the event.

The first, Matthew 21:5, is actually two texts woven together, which unlock the secret of Jesus.
Matthew begins with a snippet from Isaiah 62:11 "Say to daughter Zion, but let us read the rest of the verse; "see your salvation (yasha=salvation) comes! See, His (i.e. God) reward is with Him, but His work lies ahead of Him.'' To Jewish ears this says "your yasha/Jesus comes" because Jesus' name is salvation.  "See your God comes"--Matthew is subtly correlating God and Jesus. Jesus is the God of Israel bringing salvation, Jesus whose work lies ahead of Him on Calvary!

Zechariah 9:9 "[Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion]...See, your king comes to you. [He is triumphant and victorious], humbly riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
Matthew omits the reference to victory and triumph, to reinforce what Jesus said of Himself (Mt 11:29) "I am meek and humble of heart."

The large crowd of rural pilgrims in town for Passover were very different from the city dwellers. City folk barely tolerated the arrival of the underclass masses. The powerful viewed the Jesus people with wary eyes. As they see them wildly waving branches and screaming "Hosanah;" they heard yasha=Save and nah=please, pray, now. They would have been deeply worried at the words, "Save us, we implore, Son of David!" Jesus (yasha in Hebrew) was unknown to them. How could such a man be king? What will Rome think of this? 

The crowd continues: "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" which is Psalm 118:26. Turning there we find several verses which further unveil Jesus. For example, Psalm 118:22 ("The stone which the builders rejected has become the corner stone") was used by Jesus to explain the rejection of His ministry, the culmination of this rejection is a few days away. Hidden from us in English, verse 25 says yasha anna - hosanna, again - (Save us we beseech you Lord, Lord we beseech you give us success--a cry to God). I think verse 27 is the most intriguing of all ('The Lord has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar'). The Hebrew word chag probably means chords, but in the ancient Greek (Septuagint) translation, which apparently Matthew used, it was rendered "branches." So in the Septuagint Bible which Matthew read, this psalm speaks of bringing the sacrificial victim to the altar with branches of palm. Think about it, isn't that the event unfolding before us. As they cry "King Jesus Save us!" the Lamb of God, surrounded by palm branches, humbly rides to his sacrificial death--just like the psalm. 

This revelation--apocalypse--unveils the meaning of the event. The city is shaken, Matthew uses the Greek word "earth quake" here,  when Jesus dies and when He rises again. Earth quakes are a sign of the end times and Matthew is intentionally telling us, that Jesus has ushered in the end of the age. God has come with salvation/Jesus.

Today, as we look at the humble king, we too must decide. Will we entrust ourselves to Him and cry out, "Save us, Lord"? Will we leave our insulated lives of privilege, renounce our power, and intermingle with the crude, underclass which clings to Jesus? Will we renounce the power of the world and choose Jesus? Most of us will continue with business as usual this week. We are after all Americans, busy with many things. But we can choose to follow the victim with palm branches to His altar--an altar shaped like a dinner table on Thursday night, an altar of a wooden cross on Friday. More importantly, we can make our own gift of self, taking up our own cross to follow humble King Jesus, the Suffering Messiah. In Jesus, God has made His choice. We can choose to trust Jesus. We can choose to love Jesus. We can choose.