Sunday, September 24, 2017

New mind in Christ

Jonah 3:10-4:11   Psalm 145:1-8   Philippians 1:21-30   Matthew 20:1-16

I remember the first time I put on glasses. After months and months of squinting, I walked down Maple Avenue able to see leaves in the trees. I did not know I couldn't see clearly, until I could. I think the same is true of our souls.

Paul uses the word nous 21x (Luke 1x, Revelation2x). It is from the root of gnisko which means to know, understand, perceive, feel and is a Jewish euphemism (used by Mary) for sexual intercourse. It implies an experiential, deep way of seeing and knowing. Unfortunately, since the  Fall our mind--the nous--is darkened, and our heart is damaged and wounded. We struggle to perceive reality because our feelings are in chaos and we don't understand, we misjudge and make poor decisions. These bad choices are sins, which increase the inner darkness! Paul also uses another term, psyche, today. It is often translated as "soul" or "life," but it also has the same meaning as nous. Our mind is the door to our heart and Paul makes clear, we must all be of one mind, united in Jesus Christ. The one Mind means His mind. This union is both the path to salvation and a fruit of redemption. When our Mind and Heart are one in Jesus, then Jesus, who is one with the Father, sends the Holy Spirit to heal and purify our mind and heart and we are made one with God.

Paul also challenges us to "live our life in a manner worthy of Christ." This is one of three similar exhortations by Paul [The other two are Ephesians 4:1 "live a life worthy of the calling you have received" and Colossians 1:10 "live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God."] The Greek word literally means to act in accordance with citizenship. Paul tells the Christians (citizens of God's Kingdom) that their corporate (and by extension individual) behavior should be in accord with the covenant each citizen makes with his/her community. Faith is a way of life. In this instance, Paul illustrates the worthy life as "standing firm." Paul likes this expression, using it on five different occasions. This expression first appears in Exodus 14:13; when the Hebrew slaves, terrified of the approaching chariots of Pharaohs lose faith and lose heart, but God says "fear not, stand firm and see the salvation of God," Daniel 11:32 (in an apocalyptic exhortation to those facing persecution and martyrdom, warning that those who break covenant will be seduced by the evil one) "...but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action." To stand firm is to have faith. To stand firm is to be faithful. To stand firm requires all our strength and courage. To stand firm depends on God's hand to uphold us.

The parable story of Jonah illustrates the fallen mind. Jonah is the most unfaithful prophet in the Bible, he resists God's call and flees, he reluctantly preaches God's message because he is forced to but then he throws a tantrum when he becomes the most successful prophet ever and the pagans repent. Jonah says that he 'knows' that God is slow to anger and rich in mercy, but his knowledge is superficial. He does not understand God's mercy, nor does he feel the mercy or choose to embrace it. Rather, for reasons not stated, but assumed, he pines for death in response to God's gift of life. Jonah is the icon of us all--our darkened minds and hearts unable to embrace the extent of God's saving love. The book of Jonah is designed to confronts us with a hard question.

For the Jew, "do the pagan matter to God?"
For the Christian, "do non-Christians matter to God?"
For all of us, "does God love people so different from us?
The answer in the Book of Jonah is, "yes, He does."

But there is a caveat, the missing piece left out of the false-gospels of inclusion. Nineveh repents. All of them, even the animals. Sackcloth and ashes repentance. Yes, God desires that all persons be saved. God has forgiven everyone of everything, but His forgiveness can only be received through repentance. It is His gift of Himself, but until we return to Him we can not be with Him."

Jesus' parable illustrates this tenacious, generous God. Now, I have found that many of you do not like this parable, because it seems unfair. Perhaps we see ourselves as hard at is all day? Jesus' original audience included righteous Jews, some who felt that same anger. They were mad that Jesus welcomed sinners to repent. They were even madder that Jesus included Gentiles. It is the Gentile who came at the last hour, long after the Jewish people had begun their labor. Does it make you mad that you, a late arriving Gentile get treated mercifully?

Also, remember that in the Jewish Bible the vineyard is a symbol of the Kingdom of God. Work in the vineyard is the work of becoming holy and righteous--it is the work of repentance, faith, love and community. If you labored long and hard in the heat of the day, then you love God, totally, and you  love your neighbor as one like yourself--and you are happy to see the Heavenly Father's joy at each new, later arrival. And you understand, they have just begun the long hard process of purifying mind and heart, and however late they start, they won't get away with anything!

Let us pray
Father God. Yeshuah! save and heal us. Purify our mind with holy fire and fill our hearts with Your light. Grant us the mind of Jesus. Grant us the Holy Spirit. Set us free and unite us to Yourself!

Friday, September 22, 2017

"Come Down, O Love Divine," was the hymn for Morning Prayer. We sometimes sing it at Sunday worship. I have always thought it beautiful, but the number of themes resonating with my studies of the Orthodox understanding of salvation made me especially attentive.  It was written by Bianco da Siena, (c350-1399), a mystic poet and member of the "poor Jesuates" (a religious order I never heard of, which apparently lasted some three hundred years).

I teach on it today because it illustrates the Orthodox way of "psychotherapy" (soul healing) and shows the common core shared by Christians in the East and West. I added numerals to aid connecting it to the comments below:

1 Come down, O love divine, seek Thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with Thine own ardor glowing.
2 O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear,
And kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn, til earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
3 And let Thy glorious light shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

4 Let holy charity mine outward vesture be,
5 and lowliness become mine inner clothing;
true lowliness of heart, which takes the humbler part,
6 and o'er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long,
Shall far outpass the power of human telling;
7 For none can guess its grace, till he become the place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes His dwelling."

1. It is God who seeks us. He must come to us for us to be made new. We can only respond to His love, and cry out to Him Who has already chosen us.
2 The work of the Holy Spirit is called fire. The "soul healing" requires the nous (Biblical Greek-the mind is the seat of perceiving, understanding, feeling, judging, and determining. It is the door to the heart/inner person) be purified by the fire of God. Again and again we read of this holy fire and here we sing of its life giving power. Note the fire burns the passions. The Fathers speak of the passions, but we must remember that the ancient usage of the word passion (meaning suffering) is not a good thing. The sinful passions are the desires which draw us away from God, the hunger which deprives us of freedom and peace. Until they be burned away (dust and ashes) as a sacrifice, we will not be made holy. The fire of God transforms every desire into the desire for Him, the perfect desire, where alone we find our joy and life. His fire makes a bad thing (sinful passions) into a good thing (holy desire).
3 Like fire, light is another common element of the process of theosis (union with God which divinizes us). The association of God and light has long been part of the biblical heritage ("Jesus says, "I am light of the world," John writes "God is light, in Him there is no darkness at all"). To be enlightened means to know and understand God and His ways. His word is a light for our path. Once more, the darkened nous/mind needs the light of God to see and be free.
4 "Outside", we sing for the Lord clothe us in love. Love, our relationship with others, is the great commandment. We act with love.
5. Humility, meanwhile, is the "inside" virtue which puts us right with God. This morning reading the Orthodox book on Psychotherapy, I read that humility is the most important virtue to combat the Eight Deadly Thoughts which create the sinful desires. So here, this medieval Italian shares the Orthodox insight.
6 The ancient Fathers of the East make much of the importance of tears. I touched on this briefly Sunday. Tears of repentance cleanse the heart and soul. Tears water the soul and make it grow. We do not take sin seriously enough nor are we truly sorry for them if we never cry. God must soften our hearts and tears are the remedy of hard hearts. So teach the mystics and holy men and holy women in every age from every corner of the church.
7 theosis is when the Holy Spirit dwells in us, when our spirit is completely united with God's Spirit, the work of union is done. We are divinized, which is the purpose of life.

My readings in "Orthodox Psychotherapy"--usually a few pages a day--have given me deeper understanding about the path of salvation. Union with God is so much richer to me than the concept of "getting saved" or "going to heaven." Finding this hymn, written over six hundred years ago by a man from Siena Italy, was a wonderful confirmation that while the Orthodox ways are not always the same as Western Christianity, the most important part, the road to life, are found in both. I sing with Bianco in my 'Anglican' (Episcopal) Church for the same things that Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox pray, the same things that Evangelicals and Pentecostals pray. That we may all be one in Jesus, and that in Jesus the Holy Spirit will unite us in the heart of God---there to be one with God forever.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Psalm 72

What is God's goal for humans? In Genesis we learn that humans are created in the image and likeness of God. Made of the "stuff of the earth" (adamah=ground, clay, dirt, dust) God breathes His ruah (breath, spirit, wind) into the clay figure and makes him a living soul (nefesh=soul, living being, hunger). God says that the human (adam, note the playful pun on the Hebrew word for dirt) has authority and dominion. Later we will learn that humans must conquer and defeat the natural chaos; the human must protect and watch over (literally keep, the Hebrew word will also be used in commands to keep the laws of God. Obey and keep are connected and the Good Shepherd keeps the sheep and keeps the law).

Torah (law) really means instruction, it is God's wise words to govern our choices. From the beginning, humans are not completely one with God. From the beginning, we are separate beings, hungry and lonely ('it is not good for the man to be alone,' says YHWH the Creator Lord). From the beginning God comes and goes, providing humanity with space to choose. With instructions in  place, God trusts the human and entrusts the world to human dominion. Humans have freedom to choose: will it be God's way or another?

The Genesis Garden story is rich in images and its symbolic depth far exceeds the simple story. Sin and exile are recurring themes of the Jewish Scriptures. The failure of humans (individually and corporately) to "keep" the instruction of God, the refusal to take it to heart and honor the covenant, the decision to reject the Lord and walk in paths of our own making is a disaster. It opens the heart of humanity to powers and forces which are demonic and deadly. With God pushed out, it opens the world to dissolution and decay. As Paul says, "all creation groans."

YHWH the Creator will soon be described as regretful and grieving. In a few chapters, the sins of the first parents and then their son multiply until all the earth is filled with evil sinners. Chaos returns with a vengeance. God grieves, we read, He is sorry He created humans. Love opens God to pain. Rejection inflicts the pain on the heart of God--already we see the crucifixion revealed. So God starts over (reread the flood story in light of the first creation account and see the parallels) this time with a remnant (one family, pairs of animals) locked up in an oblong box, God seeks to redeem His world. In the aftermath, life springs forth, however, just as quickly so does sin. And more sin.

God makes a people, choosing Abraham (daddy, father) and making covenant with him and his descendants (next Isaac, then Jacob=Israel, finally the twelves tribes through Moses). Abraham's children are to be the source of blessing to all the earth. This people, peculiarly God's own family, are, in Jesus' words, "the light of the world." It is an honored place and special grace, but also a heavy task. It is a burden of holiness to be the "image-bearer of God"--as the Ancient Church Fathers say, "we have the image of God, but we must repent, cooperate through hard efforts to renew the likeness of God." It is God's gift and our lifelong task...

In time, the people of Israel (there are lots of ups and downs, sinning and repenting, with much suffering) call for a king. The Scriptures are of two minds regarding this king. On the one hand, YHWH God is Israel's king (He tells Samuel they are rejecting me by seeking a human king) and this is seen as tragic (distrust of God and the desire to be like other nations). On the other hand, there is a stream of writings around King David who is the type of Messiah. God will reign through His beloved son (the Davidic line, fully-filled-up in Jesus the Messiah Son of God). This is reflected in Psalm 72 which spells out what salvation means from God's perspective.

Psalm 72 is ascribed "of Solomon." Does this mean David wrote it about his son, or his son wrote it, or another scribe composed it with the son of David as a symbolic representation of "THE Son of David." It is very common in the Bible to speak of a people in the person of their founding father (starting with Jacob as a stand in for all Israel).

The king must be blessed with justice and righteousness so that He can rule justly and rightly. God desires justice and right relationship between humans and Himself, and between humans with one another. These words (justice and righteousness) will be found often in Paul regarding our relationship with God in Jesus. It is not simply legal performance, although doing the right thing is always part of the picture. It is, first and foremost, right relationship (including repentance for sin). We are not perfect, but if we truly love and seek God, if we trust God's promise, then we are 'in the right'! But the King's rule in justice is also divine saving actions. He rescues and redeems the lowly poor (Hence, Jesus' beatitudes: blessed are the meek, blessed are the poor, blessed are those who suffer for righteousness). The continued contrast, abundance poured out on God's faithful poor while the enemies of God are humbled and brought low, is intermixed with the refrains on justice and righteousness and redemption.

In the end, all the earth shall stream to God's king with gifts (signs of worship, hearts humbled and contrite) something the discerning eye will find in the Book of Revelation and the magi//wise men of Matthew's Gospel. In fact, Psalm 72 could be called a non-apocalyptic apocalypse. It is composed of the same themes of judgment/salvation/deliverance, without the extraordinary images and symbols.

We are called to pray and ponder Psalm 72 in the Holy Spirit. It reminds us that Messiah Jesus saves and delivers, not to bring people to heaven but to bring the Kingdom of Heaven (God's reign) to earth. It causes us to ponder: am I one of His poor and needy ones, or do I act unjustly towards others? When Jesus comes, will He rescue me, or toss me aside to rescue others whom I oppress? A frightening concept, no doubt, but one which we must take seriously. Remember, Jesus warns that some will be told "I do not know you, out of my sight!" Perhaps you must ask today, who among the poor and needy would point to me and say, 'the mercy and salvation of Jesus is already present in that one.' 

We are image bearers of God, servants of the true King. In His name we bring deliverance and salvation. (Today's Gospel calls it proclamation of the Kingdom, teaching and healing--bodies, souls and spirits) We are to keep the instruction of God and tend the sheep, care for the world and help one another. We do not do it well all the time, so we pray that the true KING JESUS will come soon. To fill up perfectly the promise of Psalm 72. 


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Forgiven 9/17

Genesis 50:15-21   Psalm 103   Romans 14:1-12   Matthew 18:21-35

Three readings and a psalm and all we hear about is 'forgiveness.'

I hope you know the psycho-physical impact of forgiveness. The Mayo Clinic claims forgiveness helps the heart, blood pressure, sleeping, and moods; it increases our life span and makes us happier.

Theologically, Jesus makes it clear. "If you want to be forgiven you must forgive. Period"

Each Sunday we pray, "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Jesus has declared that, if you do not forgive the trespass of another, then God will not forgive you. Period. Today, there is a parable about forgiveness. It is a story of two servants. The first owes a ridiculous debt. Ten thousand is the biggest numeral available in Hebrew and a talent (twenty years wages) is the largest monetary measure; so it is as symbolic as my kids saying "a million billion." [200,000 years wages] Point one, we are in debt for everything to God. Life, blessings, forgiveness; it is all a mercy. We stand before God with an unpayable debt. However, this does not mean that others are not in our debt. In particular, those who have done us harm. One hundred denarii is just over three months wages. That is not a trifling amount to a working person. The issue is not that we minimize what others have done to us, it is that we are aware of all we have been forgiven, of all that we have received, of the undeserved gift of eternal life.

NT Wright explains it thus. If you close off your heart to forgive others, then your heart is closed and cannot receive God's mercy. It is a helpful analogy. In the end, how ever you try to explain it, be crystal clear. Jesus says, "If you do not forgive, you will not be forgiven."

How do we do it? How do we forgive the big things which others have done? How do we forgive those who use and abuse us? How?

Well, the start is honestly facing ourselves as in debt. Deep debt. A 'million billion dollars' in debt. It starts with realizing that we do not love God as faithfully as He loves us. We are unfaithful to God--the prophets call it adultery. Within our hearts we hold all manner of ill will towards others, Jesus calls that murder. We lack sufficient gratitude and generosity. We are self-centered. Any checklist of sinful thoughts and desires condemns me and you as debtors. So, if we focus on repentance, every day, all day. Focus on sincere contrition and commit to robust amendment of life, that will keep us busy for the rest of our days. There just isn't time for us to focus on the sins and offenses of others. We can forgive graciously and gladly. Gladly? Yes, gladly, because the Lord wants us to be merciful to others and it is our one chance to actually do something pure and clean for God.

Secondly, we can embrace trust and faith. I found seven occasions in Genesis where it said that Joseph wept. Crying is misunderstood. [In Orthodox Psychotherapy, Bishop Hierotheos 143, 183]
The Ancient Fathers teach that in the process of theosis (God uniting with us) the nous (mind) is unified with the heart. "This union is confirmed by tears of compunction and a sweet sense of the love of God." (p143) "Tears are a way of life. Just as repentance and mourning are a way of life, so are the tears which pour from the repentant and broken heart." (183) Sometimes the tears are spiritual, but often they are literal. The Fathers say that 'the value of tears is great... a sign of a man reborn...a gift of self-knowledge and reproach....tears open the eyes of the soul...tears are a sign of life.

Joseph was horribly maltreated by his brothers, but his years of suffering had softened his soul. He confronted himself in the dark dungeon, facing death. One can assume that he learned of the inner workings of his own heart and soul. His nous/mind+eye was purified. He became pure of heart and he saw God. He tells the brothers, "what you intended for evil God intended for good." In other words, he believed that God had redeemed their sin and paradoxically used the brother they sought to destroy to save them and their families. Like the cross, God uses human evil for good. If we trust God and if we know God and if we allow ourselves to be purified our eyes will stream with tears. It is a constant teaching across Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical and Pentecostal teaching. I see it every where: East and West, Ancient and Medieval...  Cry more. Weep more. Forgive more....

Thirdly, mercy is generated by knowing our place. Paul says, we accept others as they are, and do not go looking for reasons to be in conflict. "Who am I to pass judgment on someone else's servant?"  I am not in charge. I belong to the Lord, whether alive or dead, I am His possession. If God is forgiving another for their sin, who am I to raise an objection? If I trust God to be just, why do I fret over others? How can I have unity with God when His heart is love and mercy and mine is anger, fear, resentment and unforgiveness? How?

Has anyone really done anything to you that warrants eternal separation from God while you stew forever in anger over wounds suffered by others? What wound can Jesus not heal if we trust it to Him.

I am a sinner. I am a debtor. I am a servant of the Lord. I have been richly blessed a thousand times over without the ability to pay back the smallest portion.

The Lord is kind and merciful. The Lord blesses me endlessly. The Lord has forgiven me endless evil and I am shamed to stand in His presence, for what I have thought, what I have desired, and what I have done.

Jesus dead on the cross. My responsibility.
So if He asks in return that I love Him, trust Him and forgive others.
Well, I will try. How about you?

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Psalm 87

Recently a dear friend shared this rabbinic statement about the Bible:
God said it.
I believe it.
Let us discuss it.

My heart was stirred by this. It affirms the truth of the Bible and yet it honestly expresses the struggle to come to terms with the text. Too often, the "mystery of God" is ignored as we create our certitudes to protect us from the realities of life. We are tempted to explain things. We are called to trust and worship. We are tempted by the tree of knowledge when we are called to embrace the Tree of Love (the Holy Cross).

Psalm 87 is one of those sweet, mysterious words of our God. It begins looking at Jerusalem, in particular Mount Zion, the city of David. The psalmist declares that this is God's favorite place in all of Israel. What could it mean that the Father Creator has a favorite? It is something to ponder. It may feel exclusionary, but so be it--reality often is uncomfortable. "Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of our God." A sacred and special place. Sanctified locations are important for many of us. Is it possible that there are places more God-full than others? I think yes, but maybe we need to discuss it.

Suddenly there is an unexpected shift in a surprising direction. "I count Egypt and Babylon among those who know Me." In case you forgot, Egypt is 'the land of slavery' and Babylon conquered Judah, leveled the temple, and took the people into exile. How can God number these two 'icons of horror' as those who know Him? Mysteries indeed. What Jewish author wrote it and what magisterium included it among the sacred songs of Israel? Pondering the surprise, I hear Jesus say, "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Wondering: whom I am reluctant to see as children of God, as peoples embraced by His arms of love and mercy? God said it, I believe it, what could the ramifications be today, let us discuss...

"of Zion it shall be said,''Everyone was born in her''...the Lord will record as He enrolls the people, ''these also were born there." Everyone? God said it, I believe it, but..... everyone?
The lands identified (Philistia, Tyre, and Ethiopia) are filled with people as foreign to us as they were the ancient Israelite. Today, they are often Muslim. How am I to pray this psalm and hear it in my heart? How am I to embrace God's word in this strange message of inclusiveness (everyone born there) encompassing extreme favoritism (born there, in Zion).

Certainly, as Paul says, in Jesus Christ, God has made us into one people. With so much division and conflicts of various types how is my heart touched by the Word of God, which He spoke and I believe. Do I see them all with the Father's eye? Do I see them all as children of God? and if I do, what then of other Scriptures where the wrath of God falls heavily upon the enemies of God and His people? What of Psalm 137:9 and the most horrible beatitude? ('happy the one who dashes your infant's head on a rock') The Word of God is clear, the day comes when the enemies of God will quake in fear, on that day of deliverance the Lord will destroy all those who stand against Him.

God said it, I believe it, let us talk together. Let us prayerfully, humbly and sincerely talk together. Let us remember that God, wrapped in impenetrable clouds, is too big for our theories. Let us trust that He desires all people to be His own. Let us treat one another with the same compassionate kindness and longsuffering love. Let us know we are called to stand for Him or perish against Him. Help us understand, Lord... Holy Spirit, come and help us become the faithful people of God!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Love Everyone Enough to Tell Them the Truth

Ezekiel 33:7-11    Romans 13:8-14    Matthew 18:15-20

Two weeks ago, I listened as Chris and Lydia were doing a great job of teaching the Jr/Sr High on Paul. They explained to the kids that it is our duty to proclaim Jesus, even if it is a struggle at times. Then they shared a prophetic text from Ezekiel. It was today's first reading: Thus says the Lord, you who speak not, "Their blood is on your hands." Prophecy is a work of love--for God and neighbor.

This is the rare Sunday where all three readings are focused on a common theme. Love is not warm and fuzzy, nor is it "I could just eat you up" affection. It is a deep commitment to the wellbeing of another. It is the understanding that union with God (theosis) is always woven together with loving others as well. The door to the Father's heart is loving His children.

Thus says the Lord, "I love you! I created you. I saved you. I have glorious plans for the future with you." But the Lord, it seems, is an extrovert who wants everyone at the party. Remember, Jesus said that the Kingdom is like a wedding feast! Who wants a reception with three people? We want to gather together far off cousins and childhood friends and to delight in being together and seeing them. That is God's kingdom plan. It looks like a family reunion where we are glad to be together.

God says, I hate death, I want everyone to turn back (repent) and live. God's forgiveness is given, but it is only activated by repentance: trusting Him and His promise, turning to Him in obedient love. This is our message to the world. The Father loves and forgives you, but He will allow you to choose death. The message of the cross is that He desires everyone to turn back to Him and live, but He gives you the freedom to die forever!

We are not under the Ancient Covenant Law of Moses, but the Father's instruction--Torah--is a blueprint for life. Paul calls it the Law of Christ. Paul takes his cue from the "do nots" of the ten commandments. Love, he explains, is not harmful to others or ourselves. The church's job is to set folks free from sin, not close a blind eye to it. "Wake up!" says Paul, "Wake up, the darkness is coming to an end! Wake up and leave behind the pleasure seeking flesh! Wake up to the renewal of your nous/Mind in Jesus. Wake up and seeing the world from a Holy Spirit sanctified perspective."

Contemporary Christians do not understand that our human nature is broken. What we feel "naturally" is actually not human nature. It is  the "flesh."  We are so 'upside down' that we frequently desire what is not wholesome, holy or helpful. The human appetites, fueled by darkened mind (nous)is inclined to death. We need an Ezekiel to love us enough to warn us. We need to be Ezekiel for others to save them.

Jesus provides a process to do this one on one. [Matthew 7:3-5] First, our primary focus is purifying our own mind and heart. Jesus warns us, our 'flesh' nature sees the small things in others while overlooking the big problems in ourselves. Look in the mirror, Jesus says, be tireless in rooting out all manner of evil within yourself. Pray, read the Bible. Listen to the Spirit and wise Christians. If we are sincerely, constantly repenting, then we can, in love, faithfully tell another their fault. If they are not open, then we are to seek a holy person to help. If a person still chooses to embrace the darkness, Jesus says treat them as a Gentile of tax collector. What does that mean? It means that we still love them, but we recognize that the pagan and the heretic/schismatic is walking away from God. We pray for them and treat them kindly with respect, but we continue in the path of Jesus. We do not judge the heart of others, but committed to theosis (union with God) we understand that the hard work of purifying mind and heart cannot be put at risk.

We are ambassadors. We speak in God's name. We are to love everyone. Love seeks the best for others. Love draws each one to God and His Kingdom. Love means confronting sin, first in ourselves, then in others.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Psalm 31

Reflection on Psalm 31 for the prayer group which I am posting.

From the Jewish Study Bible (p1314-1315) Psalm 31

"I seek refuge in you O Lord may I never be disappointed, as you are righteous, rescue me!"
The Hebrew chacah means to flee for protection, trust, to hope in. It is a reminder to Christians that we did not invent "saved by faith," it is at the heart of Judaism. Trusting God is a tricky business, we are not always sure about Him. We doubt His intention to take care of us. Even when we try to trust God, we always have Plan B (and C, and D...). The psalmist declares His trusting hope in God, but voices that all too human concern that such trust will not prevail. Don't let me be buwsh (literally paled, as in ashamed, disappointed)--to be shamed in this "Honor" culture is the ultimate horror. The psalmist returns to this theme in the final verses--'I trust you, save me, deliver me, don't shame me, shame the wicked.'

The words used to describe the Savior God are very concrete: You are righteous, be quick to save me, be a rock, a stronghold, a citadel, my fortress. The only hope of rescue is God's power. That is the first step for many of us, coming to realize it is too big for us to handle.

Who is the enemy? Classical Christian thought identifies three: the (fallen) world, the (sinful) flesh, and the devil. The world does not worship or honor God. It worships power (hence the inherent issue with any political system, it is always about power and control) and wealth and seeks to be self-sufficient (hence the arrogance of unbelievers who mock God). The flesh is best understood as a darkened nous (NT Greek for "mind": the source of perceiving, understanding, feeling, judging, and determining) Sinful desires grow out of "bad thoughts" and sinful acts are committed based on bad thoughts and desires. We are at war with ourselves and we are our own worst enemies. Lastly, in the spirit realm there are the demonic powers at work. The demonic works inside us through our thoughts and outside us through the world. It is best to see these three as the ultimate enemy seeking to undermine faith, hope and love, to sever the relationships in the human community, and to generate illness, pain and suffering.

In Hebrew, sometimes a verb can be translated as
a declaration or a request. "Save me" and "You save me" are both possible translations, so different Bibles will translate it as a request or a declaration of faith. (If we trust we can ask, and if we ask we must declare our trust.)

The heart break of the psalmist is evident ("I am in distress, my eyes are wasted by vexation, my substance and body too. My life is spent in sorrow, my years in groaning; my strength limbs waste away...), our human struggles can be much to much. There are too many people who feel this words, sadly, and their need for God is unrelenting. Let's pause here, though, to remember that these are words in the Bible--they are God inspired. Ponder that. We should not be shocked or dismayed, no confused or doubtful when things go bad. Reality is filled with bad moments, and the Bible does not paint a picture of endless prosperity and trouble-free existence. 

The psalm also has a verse (v6) that resonates with our knowledge of Jesus. "Into your hand I entrust my spirit; You redeem me, O Lord, faithful God." Jesus said this on the cross, but I have to believe it was a prayer which He often made. It had been internalized into His core and expressed His relationship with the Father perfectly. You have to be firmly committed to giving your spirit to God each day if you want to be able to do it on your worst day! So, we are invited to pray these words dozens and dozens of times each day to get ready. Each hour is a rehearsal for our last hour, each minute is preparation for our last minute. If we trust, even in the midst of the struggles, the losses, the failures, the sin, the suffering, if we trust enough to say with each breath, "Father God, my life force, my spirit and soul, my 'deepest me,' I put it all in your hands," then we can live and die in the Lord. The fears and worries will dissipate, because our life is in the Redeemer's hand. 
Shalom peace is found by the one abandoned totally to God, so I have read. I continue the journey to do it.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Psalm 37

This is a reflection for prayer group on psalm 37. Prayerfully read the psalm first...

"Do not fret because of evil doers; do not be jealous of those who do wrong." The Hebrew "charah" means to be kindled, burn, incensed, angry, hot with anger. Evildoers (Hebrew: those who break apart, who spoil, who do harm to others) are vexing. Of course, many of us see ourselves as victims of evil doers forgetting that we are designated evildoers by others. We are exhorted to not be jealous of the unrighteous or envious of those who do wrong. Do we envy sinners? The danger of focusing our ministry on the sins of others cannot be overstated. Feelings of anger and jealousy are interrelated. We may want bad things to happen to the "bad guys," yet are strangely envious that they might be getting away with something when justice fails to lower the hammer upon them. Jesus' teaching is helpful here; "stop looking at every little thing that is wrong with others and focus on the big things wrong with yourselves." The two passions (anger, envy) are among the deadly sins. To be freed of these passions is the spiritual discipline of faith.

The psalmist makes this clear--they shall soon wither like the grass and like the green grass fade away. As Teresa' prayer reminds us, "all things are passing." You and I forget the perspective of time. We are impatient for God act! All things are temporary, the psalmist declares, especially the ascendency of the evildoers. 
Verse 3 continues, "put your trust in the Lord and do good." Arguably, this is a summary of the Judaeo-Christian way. Trust the Lord and be faithful ("do good"--the Hebrew towb also means beautiful, benign, beneficial, pleasant, appropriate, fair, fine and wealthy). Abide in the land and be faithful. Always the life of faith implies fidelity, to trust God means to be loyal to Him.

Verse 4 is grace and hope. Take delight in the Lord and He shall give you your heart's desire. The Hebrew, 'anag, means delicate, soft, even alluring and in this usage means to take great delight. Those who truly seek God, who have purified their minds and hearts, whose focus is on the Father and His will--such people are in alignment to receive His Kingdom beneficence. It is interesting that the word delight reappears several times in Isaiah 55-60, usually in reference to the abundance God pours out upon His faithful ones.

The psalmist repeats the charge---trust God, wait patiently, God will do it, do not be angry and aflame with rage. The time of trial will pass and the ascendancy of the evil one will end. God will be true and God will suffice. The lowly shall inherit the land... This verse is lifted by Jesus and placed in the Eight Beatitudes.

Friends, it is a task to keep eyes focused on our own conversion rather than distracted by the sins of others around us... It is a challenge to not be driven about by this negative emotion or that; impatient with God's slow justice. Psalm 37, describing the path of theosis (unity with God) instructs us that withdrawing from anger and judgement, impatience and doubt are a good thing. Psalm 37 reminds us that all things pass. Temporal reality is a veil hiding the eternal and the God who holds all time in His hand. The way to life is trust and faithfulness. Refocus, yet again, on trust and faithfulness. Do the hard work of cooperating with the Holy Spirit who makes mind and heart pure. Do the hard work of obedient love. Embrace the freedom, peace and joy of the Kingdom among us and pray for the Kingdom to come. amen  

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Love has a Lion Heart (9/3/17)

Jeremiah 15:15-21   Romans 12:9-21   Matthew 16:21-28

Last week we heard Paul's exhortation: Offer yourself to God as a living sacrifice, do not be conformed to the world, be transformed in your mind by a total makeover of your perceiving, thinking and understanding. He concluded that we, together, are the body of Christ. Today, Paul lays out Christian Behavior 101.

Let love be genuine [anupokritas: Not-hypocrite; sincere, real) detest [apostygeo: abhor] what is evil, cling [kollao=glue; same word used for marriage unity) to what is good.

The communal virtues of treating others better than they treat us, courage and perseverance in the daily struggles and being faithful in prayer rounds out the list. To treat others better than they treat you is expressed in myriad ways, but all point back to imitation of Jesus on the cross. This is the way to make a sacrifice of myself to God!

However, such a way of self sacrifice is not easy. Jeremiah, the prophet, loves unfaithful Israel and suffers greatly because he brings to them God's word. Jeremiah is a faithful prophet, but at times even he folded under the pressure. Weary of mistreatment and betrayal, he cries to God, "Justify me!" He cries to God, "Treat my enemies as they deserve." Jeremiah is desperate for a sign that God is with him. "Show yourself God!" The prophet's words even contain an accusation. God, the source of living waters, seems to be dried up for the desperately thirsty prophet. Can't trust anyone, even God, Jeremiah laments. God's response? He says. "Repent Jeremiah. You turn back to me." There is no promise of an easier way, only the promise that God will be with him. In contemporary jargon, God says to Jeremiah: "Man up, I've got this."

Where Jeremiah stumbles before the burden of human sin and (feeling) divine silence, Jesus embraces His destiny without complaint. "You are Messiah King" Simon (the Rock) declared. Now, when Jesus explains the meaning of Kingship, the suffering and rejection to be endured, the same Rock argues against him. "No, Jesus, No, never, never!" No doubt words spoken out of love, yet Jesus rejects them in a brutal, stunning way; rebuking him he says, "You are Satan, the tempter, get behind me." The rock of faith has suddenly become the stumbling stone... It happens that fast.

The destiny of Jesus is also ours. All of us suffer, all of us die. All of us. The question is for whom or what will we suffer and die? Jesus warns us that discipleship ends in losing our lives for Him--which brings us back to Paul who calls us to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice acceptable to God--but the Lord promises to be faithful to those who are faithful--just like He said to Jeremiah. Do you trust? Will you live each day in Jesus? Will you die each day for Jesus? These questions determine everything.

We are prone to complain to God for the difficulties. Like Simon the Rock our prayer is that God will keep us from trouble. We long for the easy way. The prophetic vocation is too hard, we prefer the pathetic vocation of just being 'good enough' and taking care of ourselves.

Love looks like a cross. Love is treating others better than ourselves. Not the way they deserve. Not how they treat us. Better than us.
Love is being faithful in the face of God's willingness to let us struggle. Not trusting when it goes well and griping when it doesn't. Not demanding God does what we want. Being faithful in all manner of circumstances, good or bad, that is the work of love.
Love is strong and faithful and other focused. Love is not sweet, cute and precious. It has a lion heart and unrelenting, cross carrying courage.
Such love is first received from the Lord. In prayer and study open to His life giving love. Open to receive the love of the Crucified One, so you can love as Jesus loves. (God's) Love is the power that will save the world.