Sunday, August 27, 2017

Of Rocks and Renewed Minds

Isaiah 51:1-6     Psalm 138    Romans 12:1-8    Matthew 16:13-20

 Isaiah 51 begins with a command: Listen (shama- to hear, to obey). Therefore, my friends, we must quiet our heart with prayer to be able to hear, we must love and trust God to be able to obey. The  spiritual disciplines are the process to receive this gift of listening from the Holy Spirit. Who is called by Isaiah to listen? The one pursuing tsadiq/righteousness and seeking the Lord." The Hebrew verbs are strong meaning an energetic pursuit and requesting. It is a focused desire for God and His righteousness. As Jesus said, (Mt 5:6) "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled up. God's promise is "some day I will redeem it all until then, trust and be faithful." Isaiah, again, twice: Look (nabat- to look at intently, to look with love and special interest). Look to the rock, look to the quarry. Look to Abraham and Sarah. We can be deaf and blind, can't we? The Lord says, "Look... See.... You are a rock from the rock of faith."

The Lord promises His people comfort. Comfort (nacham) the Hebrew word literally means "a heavy sigh" and refers to the emotion of deep compassion for another [it also means to regret or repent in other places]. This promised comfort is a flood of intense blessing which renews Jerusalem and the land; the people are filled with joy, gladness and gratitude. Listen, again, God says, hear Me, I will teach the people and my justice and salvation will be manifest through all the world. Look, again, Look at the sky and the earth--these are temporary. Again, the New Testament takes its lead from Isaiah. "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" Jesus Himself will similarly say. (Matthew 24:35) In John's Apocalypse, "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away." (Rev 21:1) Isaiah says it will vanish like smoke and wear out and the people die, but His salvation and righteousness are forever. Salvation, Yeshua, in Hebrew. The Name of Jesus. LOOK. LISTEN. SEE. HEAR. Jesus is forever and His salvation and righteousness are without end. This is the ROCK of promise. This is the ROCK of faith. This is our life and hope! Thanks be to God for Isaiah and the answer to our hearts deepest longing.

The Bible not only gives answers, but it is also brimming with questions. The Scriptures are filled with hundreds of instances where God peppers humans with questions. God the Son, Jesus, is every bit as inquisitive as the Heavenly Father.

Today, Jesus asks two questions. However, it is noteworthy that in the verses prior to this, Matthew 16:9, Jesus asks the disciples five questions centered around the theme of faithlessness and obtuseness: "Why do you have such little faith and why don't you understand?" Jesus now asks them about His identity. It is asked in a significant place. Caesarea Philippi is a Roman stronghold and more to the point it was home to an ancient pagan nature shrine with multiple idols. The question is literally asked in enemy territory both spiritually and politically. The gods and rulers of this world---demonic and human governments which control the world in every age--are put on notice. Jesus is God's Anointed King sent to conquer and redeem the world. "That Day" is near. "That Day" is here.

The righteousness of God is Yeshua -salvation abundance-incarnate in Jesus, the Man. In Him the new heavens and earth are already bursting forth. In Jesus, Paul says we must live in a new way. The old temple sacrifices are given a prophetic twist. The offering is not oxen or sheep, it is ourselves, our souls and body that are a holy sacrifice! We are made holy by not being conformed to the world. But how to do this?  In the book Orthodox Therapy we learn how to "heal the soul" from the Ancient Christian Church. It is based on Paul, who says that we must have a metamorphosis--a complete transformation--through the anakainosis--renewal, renovation, complete home improvement style make over--of our nous (mind, eye of the soul which perceives and understands). Don't think too much of yourself, he warns, because he knows since the 'First Sin' our mind is darkened and we misperceive the will of God. The transformation of the mind is a gift of Gog and a very long, difficult process. Conversion truly transforms our minds. We quiet our souls, we LISTEN to GOD, we LOOK and SEARCH for the Lord. We silence bad thoughts which lead to bad desires in our hearts. We offer the nous to God. The road to theosis- union with God begins with the nous/mind. Our perceiving and thinking, are the first thing in need of salvation.

Until we are healed it is hard to function as the body of Christ. Paul makes it clear, we are, all of us together, already that body. Church history, however, teaches us that being faithful and effective is not automatic. Church leaders in communion with one another in the universal church have the power and authority to bind and loose. The keys to the Kingdom of God here on earth are ecclesial. Christian faith is communal, it is personal but never individual. WE believe. WE exercise power and authority. WE are the body of Christ entrusted to be Gospel heralds, teachers, healers, exorcists, reconcilers, and so many other ministries. However, if we have the old darkened nous if our perception and thought is still broken, then we will drag the church down and her ministry will be diminished. WE must LOOK, we must LISTEN, we must have a renovation of mind and a reorientation to the will of GOd. It is a glorious gift--this salvation, this life in Jesus. It is also a serious task to do the ministry, in word and deed, of setting free and binding up. It is our task, here and now. It is God's gift. Let us do it well in accord with His Spirit.

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