Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Fiery Ordeal: Already, Not Yet

Acts 1:6-14     Ps 68     1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11      John 17:1-11

It is vacation season, and no family car trip is complete without the question: "How much longer until we are there?" The question is an expression of frustration (sitting trapped in a car) and excited anticipation of coming events. In Acts, we hear the apostles ask the same question about the Kingdom, "Are we there yet?"

There is much theological debate about the Kingdom of God. One school of thought is that it is already here among us. Right here, right now, Jesus reigns. As a result, the tendency is to blame every problem on doubt or sin. Those who believe and are aligned with God can be living abundantly every day. At the other end of the spectrum are those who, like the Jews, are awaiting Messiah. The world is still a mess and Jesus' ministry was a temporary interruption--more like a commercial for coming attractions than the beginning of anything new. Miracles, signs and wonders are in the future. The main focus is "getting saved" and "enduring." There is truth in both of these so I think the Kingdom is a paradoxical already/not yet.

John 17 expresses the tension. Listen to Jesus' words: " have given [the Son] authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given Him....I glorified you on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do." Hear how the 'past tense' and 'already accomplished' echoes in these words. Yet, Jesus goes on to say, "and now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one." The work is done, but the need for protection continues, because Jesus is no longer with us.

This absence of Jesus is also found in Acts, where the angel says, "This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way you saw Him go. Jesus has left the world and is absent, but He will come back again. And, as Jesus made very clear, "it is not for you to know the time that the Father has set by His own authority." So what happens in the mean time? Peter, one of the twelve who watched Jesus taken up to the Father, has remarkable tings to say in his letter:

Do not he surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test are sharing Christ's sufferings...Discipline yourselves and keep alert. The devil is a prowling lion who seeks to devour you. Fight back, steadfast in faith. Christians everywhere suffer the same, but the suffering is only for a little while.

The Christian life is a call to fearless trust, unworried love, steadfast hope--and courageous imitation of Jesus. You have a promise: it will be a battle, spiritual warfare entails 'fighting back.' St. Peter says, "Do not be shocked" that it is an ordeal, this is how the time before Jesus' return must be. The world is still partially under sin and death, Satan, the world's prince, is still around. Let us not despair, the victory is already won, but the Kingdom is still (in the process of) coming. We are sent, by Jesus, (paradoxically) as warriors to do the Kingdom peacemaking as we await the King's return. Satan, meanwhile, is still hungry...

When you think that things are not as they should be, you are correct. The spiritual war is all around us and within. Fear not, trust Him for the victory. All will be well. However, stay sharp, stay active. You are a warrior for God. And until His return, it will be a fiery ordeal!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Whose Life is it Anyway?

In Morning Prayer the readings from Roman 14 reminded me of  the question: whose life is it, anyway? There was a movie with that title, when I was in High School, about a man who was injured in a wreck and wanted to kill himself. It was a film about euthanasia. Like many movies of my adolescence, it provided a sympathetic treatment of non-traditional beliefs and desires. 

The question is rhetorical, in that the implied answer is obvious. Whose life is it...... Mine (of course). Freedom of choice means I can choose for myself, including the choice to die on my own terms. I think for many in our culture this is reflexively seen as true and good. Autonomy is a treasured value.

Paul writes, "We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's." (Romans 14:7-8, NRSV)

I consider this to be the Kingdom of God answer to the question, while the other is "the Eden Option." In other words, the serpent asks Eve (and by extension Adam) "whose life is it anyway?" The correct answer is "the Giver of Life," it is God who made me and owns my life. The (sinful) human desire is to say, "Mine."

Autonomy is wonderful, but in reality it is only part of the story. The "Objective Reality" is that we are dependent creatures. (note, the word creature implies a Creator) We at not self-generating and we are not rulers of anything (including ourselves, I believe). Paul is not arguing his point here, he assumes it is obvious and it is part of a larger argument about tolerating different views of the Jewish dietary practices.

Each of us must answer the question, "Whose life is it anyway?" The answer is fundamental to our life.  

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Reframing the Sacred Stories

There was a Morning Prayer discussion today, generated by our reading from the Wisdom of Solomon chapter 10. (it is in the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Bibles, but in the apocrypha of Protestants) Wisdom is an active character, a manifestation of the Divine, in this long Jewish book attributed to Solomon. For Christians, the presence of this type thought in Jewish writings is supportive of the theological/philosophical assumptions for the incarnation and the Trinity. What the author does is provide a summary of the Ancient Holy Stories, but inserts Wisdom as an active character in the overview. Wisdom 9:18 which introduces the reading today says that Wisdom sets the paths right, teaches people what pleases God and we are saved by Wisdom. That reframe will now be applied.

Chapter ten does not give the names of the person referenced ("the first formed father" for Adam, "an unrighteous man" is Cain, "the righteous man" is Noah, etc.) and if one was not well versed in the sacred stories the entire chapter would be a riddle and a puzzle. However, my reflection is drawn to the idea of 'reframing' the stories.

I was introduced to the concept of reframe as a therapist. Our perceptions are influenced by the frame of reference, literally (e.g., the same painting surrounded by frames of different colors) or figuratively. To reframe is to look at the same event from a different context. For example, if someone was mean or afraid. A theological reframe is looking at an event and asking different questions. For example, "what can I learn from this?" or "how does God see this?"

By taking the events of salvation history and indicating how Wisdom was present guiding events, the author is engaged in the ongoing practice of each generation--a new slant on an old story. Revelation, as I understand more and more, means to "pull back the veil" (the Greek word apocalypse). When the veil comes back we get only a glimpse. There remains so much more that is yet to be revealed. (Wisdom in this book plays a similar role to the Holy Spirit in other writings.) The reframing is all part of the interpretative process. Even in the New Testament this takes place. For example, 1 Corinthian 10:4 refers to the rock which accompanied Israel in their desert journey (found in Jewish Tradition based on Bible) and Paul declares that the rock is Jesus Christ.

However tightly or loosely one approaches the divine authority of Scripture it cannot be doubted that how one reads it and the process for understanding it require various literary tools. It is helpful for me to see how "the Bible reads the Bible." The reading of Scripture is enhanced by the insights of the ancient readers and writers. The more we listen to them and pay heed, the more we benefit in our own journey of faith. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

More Trust

Following on yesterday's homily, I was especially open at Morning Prayer to hear these words:

psalm 56
3 Whenever I am afraid, *
I will put my trust in you.
4 In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust and will not be afraid, *
for what can flesh do to me?
8 You have noted my lamentation;
put my tears into your bottle; *
are they not recorded in your book?
9 Whenever I call upon you, my enemies will be put to flight; *
this I know, for God is on my side.
10 In God the LORD, whose word I praise,
in God I trust and will not be afraid, *
for what can mortals do to me?

and the Monday Canticle
Isaiah 12:2-6
Surely, it is God who saves me;*
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense,*
and he will be my Savior.
Save in Hebrew is yeshuah--Jesus in Hebrew. Knowing it is His name in the text has made the word even more powerful to me. The circle of fear and insecurity, trust and assurance is present both in psalm and canticle. This is a central component of Jewish Revelation and, by extension in Christ, the Gospel.

Theologically, there is much to be said here, but in simplest terms isn't it fair to say that the revelation of God's mercy and kindness is a call to trust? We all struggle with the role we play in this human divine dialogue. Is faith passive or active? Is human effort ruled out as an obstacle to God's activity or is it called forth as a response to grace? And Jesus (yeshuah), might be hidden (behind the veil) in the process of God's hand at work in the world.

As I strive to fear less, trust more, love more, I have solace in knowing that the Invisible One is trustworthy and that God's intent is to save all who trust in Him.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Do Not Fret: Easter 5

Lectionary: Acts 7:55-60    1 Peter2:2-10    John 14:1-14    Psalm 21:1-5, 15-16

The deacon Stephen delivered a bold, prophetic overview of salvation history, culminating in a condemnation of the unbelief of the Jewish leadership judging him. They had to decide if they would repent or reject. They chose, like a lynch mob, to silence Stephen, permanently, as they stoned him to death.

Stephen, however, was not silenced, and his words have lived on two thousand years. No one remembers the names of those who killed him, while he serves as the paradigm of Christian martyrdom. Luke purposely uses language to show Stephen dies as the Lord Jesus did. This is in keeping with the idea that the church, filled with the Holy Spirit, is the body of Christ on earth and continues His ministry. Stoning was a particularly gruesome form of execution, ponder it for a moment. However, it is fair to say that Stephen's heavenly vision overshadows his death:

"Look, I see the shekinah glory of God!
Look, I see Jesus standing with God's power!
Look, I see my killers in need of mercy, forgive them Lord."

What if the veil were pulled back and we could see God in His glory with Jesus standing there, looking at us, right now? If you could literally see God, would it change you? Most of us say, "Yes!" If I could only see...but, isn't that what faith is, or should be?

Christian faith is living each day as if we could see the glory of God with Jesus standing at the right hand of the Power. We declare that the Divine glory shines brighter than the darkness of our daily struggles. We may not see with our eyes as Stephen, but, by the Holy Spirit's power, we can believe in our heart as intensely as he. Believing, we can also boldly proclaim the story. 

The Gospel is a popular choice for many funerals. Jesus assures us: "Do not let your hearts be trouble. Trust God. Trust Me." The day after I wrote this sermon I received a birthday present which reads: Trust in the Lord, I think it confirms my message today!

On Ash Wednesday I said reject fear and doubt and embrace love and trust. I have tried, with God's help, to do that, too, because I'm a skilled worrier. You may be, too. We can envision problems and generate terrifying lists of "what if's?" To make it worse, we are bombarded with threats and told to worry. Meanwhile, Jesus is gone and sometimes we feel alone and helpless.

But hear Jesus. He is truly gone, but He tells us that He is gone to prepare a place for us. "Don't worry," He says, "you will be with Me and you will feel the Father's love forever."

A few weeks ago I put a prayer of St. Teresa of Avila on my blog coupled with Bible verses. It is worth reading and remembering. Basically, what she says is based on God's promises of love and faithfulness. Here is my paraphrase:

Do not worry or fear. Everything is passing, so be at peace. Problems won't last, but God is forever. Courage and strength are required--be steadfast! Patient endurance is the character of faith and the Father provides. God is enough. If you live in the Holy Three, you need nothing else. Shalom! peace! No worry. No fear. Jesus is loves you more than you know, so trust Him.