Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving 2017

"Thank You, Lord" may be the most beautiful prayer we can utter.

I think one effect of the Original Sin is our sense of entitlement.
We think we deserve better, which drains our souls of gratitude.
Isn't the sin against the Holy Spirit, at its root, a refusal to recognize God's saving mercy and love are at work? The resentment that we feel when someone else gets undeserved blessing, because we secretly feel we are being deprived?

Thanksgiving is a time to count our blessings, we all know it, but perhaps we need to really do it? How many times each day do you say the words, "Abba, Father, thank you, I love you."

God has revealed to me the importance of purification of our nous mind/soul. We have darkness at work within us. It is why we are so unhappy and unhealthy. What if we were able to see, understand, feel, and know how blessed we are? Genuine, heartfelt gratitude, increases our love for our Lord and bonds us together with Him (theosis union). 

Fifty years ago I was at my Aunt Mary's house and my mom sent me across the street to the corner store to get something. When I returned a few minutes later, she was crying uncontrollably. "What happened?" I asked.

What had happened was an apocalypse, an unveiling. A car had squeeled its tires taking off from the stop sign. My mom, fearing the worst, thought I had been hit by a car. The thought of losing me was apparently a horror to her, but I assure you a few minutes prior to that she was not experiencing an intense gratitude for my existence. She took it for granted, because it is what we humans do. 

Thanksgiving is apocalyptic--an unveiling that reminds that we can be aware of God's gifts and be thankful for them, all the time. Until the Holy Spirit purifies our minds and hearts, Thanksgiving is the spiritual discipline of pulling back the veil which darkens our nous. It is the holy work of seeing that we are richly blessed. We exist. We are redeemed and being healed. We are in an amazing relationship with the Triune God and one another. So many blessings each day, with the Hope that better days are coming.

Every day, a hundred times a day say: "Thank you Abba. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Holy Spirit. Thank you, my friends, my family. Thank you."

Monday, November 20, 2017

What if God loves us enough to expect a return?

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18        Psalm 90:1-12        1 Thessalonians 5:1-11        Matthew 25:14-30

What if salvation really is about theosis—union with God in a relationship of love? What if salvation is an organic process with love at its core?

I had one of those middle of the night wake ups Thursday so I decided to read Zephaniah. As I reflected on the prophets, it is clear that these are people who have experienced purification of their "nous" (minds) and are in a substantial union with God—theosis. Hence, they speak "the Word of the Lord." Prophetic words are frequently speak harsh words of judgment.  Prophets seem especially focused on attacking the idea of “blessed assurance.” (or at least a twisted understanding of it)

Taking God for granted is a deadly sin. Israel is condemned for assuming that salvation was a guaranteed status, that being the people of God, which was a gift, is a status which one retains regardless of what one does.. The prophetic books contain a message from God that faithfulness is the required response to grace.

Jesus’ story of the buried money is a judgment parable. The Master graciously gives each of the three men a large sum of money. It is the Master’s wealth—an undeserved gift—which He distributes based on each man’s skill set. The day of reckoning comes and the first two men are commended for investing the monies, but the parable focuses on the third man. He says he played it safe out of fear. However, the Master’s assessment is he is evil, lazy and useless.

This is not a parable about working your way into heaven. It is a parable about discipleship. There is a difference. It is a warning about acedia, one of the eight deadly sin identified by the early church father John Cassian*. The word “acedia” has been translated as sloth/laziness, but is best understood as anxiety and weariness of heart. It is disinterest in conversion. It shares similarities to depression and is best expressed as “what’s the point?” In the parable the man says he is afraid, symbolizing the anxiety and weariness of heart based on a bad theology—the belief that God is an unfair tyrant. Convinced that there was no hope to please God, the man simply buried everything and went about his life. “What’s the point of trying?” It is noteworthy that many Christians say the same thing about grace. "We are saved by faith (understood non-biblically) so what we do does not matter," they say, "Jesus did it all for you on the cross." Please note this ignores Jesus' own teaching on the cross, namely "pick yours up and follow me." 

Theosis, is the unitive process of repentance and conversion. It is organic. Theosis is the full fruit of divine-human love. The fire of the Holy Spirit burns false theology out of our minds and burns the lazy indifference out of our hearts. Our natural desires draw us from God. Our passions entangle us in satan’s lies producing doubt, fear, anger, and acedia. “What’s the point?” we mutter, digging away to bury the treasure.

What is the treasure? In ancient language, wealth and life are synonymous. To share one’s wealth is to share one’s life. To bury God’s gift because of acedia/laziness is to reject the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the treasure and holy lives as disciples and apostles is the "investment" of the large sums He entrusts to us. 

What if salvation really is theosis? What if union with God is the real point of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection? What if the popular concept of “going to heaven” is a perversion of something much more holy, precious and personal? What if heaven is coming to us already through our relationship with Jesus? Here and now?

What if we are choosing to be the third guy—what if we are burying the gifts of the Holy Spirit given through salvation because we are afraid, or worse, immobilized by the vice of indifference and despair? What if the Abba Father is waiting for us, right now, to trust Him, dig up the gift and get on with life as His beloved? What if Zephaniah was sent to us today to warn us that we are arrogant fools who are blowing it--not warning us about hell when we die, but warning us about the living hell in this world which sinful nations and sinful peoples reap? What if Jesus wants to shine His light and life in and through you to save the world? What if there is life BEFORE death and Jesus wants us to be alive now!


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Too Late?

Homily Nov 11-12   Too Late”

Amos 5:18-24, Wisdom 6:17-20, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Matthew 25:1-13

The Bible is clear that God's judgment actually has two dimensions. The friends of God cry out for His judgment in the form of deliverance. They cry out, "Save us, Lord, judge the earth!" However, in the process of saving His friends, He destroys His enemies. The enemy may be a foreign nation, or perhaps it is a raging disease. There are many enemies, and the last two, sin and death, will be the last to be destroyed. We can trust the Father's promise to heal and save. Those who live with such confidence experience a sense of peace because they know that no matter the circumstances, all will be well. To be reliant on God's hand to deliver is to be "saved by faith." This is true for Israel, as it is for the New Israel, the church. Salvation (yeshuah: healing, help,  victory, deliverance, abundance) is an expression of God's grace, His faithful mercy-love (Hebrew hesed) for His people. The Scriptures call this mutual relationship a covenant. Like all ancient covenants there are promises and commitments--faith includes faithfulness, the bond of loyal love. The Torah provides an in depth explanation of the covenant. God spells out the blessings for His friends, but there is also another promise--the promise of punishment for the unfaithful. God declares curses upon those who break covenant. Remember, the relationship is an unmerited grace, but it is possible to break covenant and become as an enemy of God. The unmerited grace can be nullified. The prophets' vocation is to remind Israel of the revelation of God in the Torah. Amos does that in today's reading. Israel is condemned for treating the poor unjustly, so God says, "Do not look forward to the Day of the Lord because you are not a friend of God." Yes, we can trust in our Lord's mercy, but their confident assurance had become arrogant presumption. God saves His friends, but His friends love and obey Him, they take care of the poor and needy. Israel had walked away from friendship. So, too, can we....

Over seven centuries after Amos, Jesus proclaims a similar prophetic message.  In chapters 23-25, Matthew bundles together Jesus' apocalyptic warnings and parables to Jerusalem about the coming judgment. Originally, the parable of the women was a simple warning to faithfulness. Quoting from the prophets (Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 31:31; Hosea), Jesus compares God to a groom. Jesus had told Israel (Matthew 5) that she is "the Light of the world." Israel is the young women who are to be light bearers upon His arrival. Some, however, have squandered this opportunity--they have no oil--so they are on the outside looking in when the Kingdom comes. It is too late, the door is closed. Jesus is telling His hearers that they must repent now. Time is too short to delay.

Writing his Gospel a short time after the judgment (Rome destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD), Matthew confronts his contemporary Christian readers with the challenge to be alert until the Lord returns. The elements of the story will be re-envisioned allegorically by the early church. Olive oil which fuels the lamps is also used in the healing ministry (Mk 6:13; Lk 10:34; James 5:14). Healing is salvation for the sick, salvation is the divine healing of the whole person--body, soul and spirit. Those who have been healed by Jesus are called to follow Him and be the church. The church is the bearer of healing
light (salvation) until the Bridegroom Christ appears. Light bearers without a functioning lamp, however, serve no purpose. A lamp without oil is a friend of the darkness. If we fail to serve in the wedding party, then the wedding party should go on without us. The door should be closed to us. We are called by grace into friendship, but our response decides our fate.

So "wake up"! The Greek word "gregorio," literally means to stay awake, but implies being alert and watchful. Watching was a byword of the early church as it explained the organic process of salvation. Salvation is living union with God. This union--theosis--requires our attentiveness. Our mind (nous) is darkened and needs His light. We are too often unaware of how our thinking and perceiving, our feeling and deciding, lead us into sin and away from friendship with God. The oil of self awareness and discipline, however, feed His light. Our hearts are wounded, He brings healing light, but the oil of our faithfulness is the fuel.

"Blessed are the pure in heart." Purity of heart is God's gift through the working of the flame of the Holy Spirit, but our conversion disciplines are the oil. To seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness we embrace a life of faith through the spirituality of repentance: constant prayer, study of Scripture, self denial and apostolic ministry. We are sent by Jesus to proclaim the kingdom by teaching, healing, exorcising, and reconciling. Those who obediently live in such a way are never "too late." This is the life of faith in response to His grace which has abundant oil for the flame of salvation light to burn brightly forever. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Imperfect Servants in Ministry

Today's Homily on these readings.
Micah 3:5-12      Psalm 43        1 Thessalonians 2:9-13           Matthew 23:1-12

Micah the prophet preached both judgement doom and salvation hope. Focusing on the powerful---he contends God holds them responsibly for the coming destruction of Israel and the suffering poor. In Micah 3 he declares that false prophets shape their message for money. They are like researchers who lie about product safety saying, “Peace, all is well" when it isn’t. Truth is relentless--- Samaria will fall; misled Israel will be exiled, disappearing into the mists of time forever.

Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and Rome—in every age a different empire serves as the rod of God’s wrath. In our own age we will face another. Our church perverts her prophetic role as she embraces the culture at the loss of Gospel truth. We, too, fall to the temptation of seeking other gods than the Lord. Hearing Jesus judge hypocritical leaders, "don't do what they do," is worrisome. He still says, "but listen to their teaching." Their words are still true even if they are not true to their words.

Unfortunately, there will always be a gap between the truth we proclaim and the life we live; we must teach God’s truth even if we struggle to conform our lives to that Truth. Jesus makes clear, only God is truly Father and Teacher; yet, we have been commissioned by Jesus to proclaim the Kingdom of God as we teach, heal, exorcise and reconcile in His name… While it is terrifying to consider the high standard God has for us, we cannot refuse to proclaim the truth because we are afraid. We are also answerable for what we have left undone. Becoming holy--the work of theosis-- takes a life time. Take heart, teaching others actually helps us to learn. Speaking the words can change our own hearts. Jesus mercy is still to be trusted.

So, once more we are confronted: Will we commit to Jesus? Will we open to the Holy Spirit? Will we become a holy light shining for the world?

If our progress is slow, it is still progress! Fear not, Jesus has saved you, but if you are saved you are also sent—to do work in His name. The Holy Spirit has sanctified us, but we must also embrace the discipline of holiness each day. Remember we are all materially rich and spiritually powerful by the world’s standards. We have the Kingdom of God within us. We are personally connected to the Holy Three God.

The prophets shout: "Woe to the one who hoards his treasure and ignores the needy. Woe to the one who seeks her own salvation while others are lost in the wilderness. Blessed is the one who feeds hungry bellies and fills hungry souls. Blessed is the one who worships the Father and brings Jesus light those in the dark. Blessed are you who love and serve the Lord. Each of you. Blessed are you."

Friday, November 3, 2017

Of Good and Bad Seed

Matthew 13:24ff is a brief and simple parable. It says that the Kingdom of God (i.e. the way that God is ruling) is like someone sowing seed in his field. While they slept at night the enemy snuck in and sowed bad seed. The servants are dismayed and surprised, "You sowed good seed so how did this happen?" they ask him. "The Enemy's hand is at work," he replies, but when they offer to pull up the bad he says they should wait for the Harvest Day because some good might be pulled up with it. The parable can be read as a straightforward allegory (13:39 includes just such an interpretation), however, the artistry of parables is that they reveal core truths and various interpretations can be generated by looking from different angles (e.g. the field is our soul, our community, the world. Seeds are people, seeds are teaching, seeds are 'holy or evil spirits').

The core revelation is that the Master (God) made a good creation. The surprising outcome (our mixed-bag of good and evil world) is not His doing or intent. Pause..... Reflect.....
Think of what Jesus did not say. He did not say "The Master sowed good and bad seed for his own purpose." Jesus did not say, "The Master sowed good seed, but as He was in control of everything, He allowed bad seed to be sown." Jesus did not say anything which implies that the mixed bag outcome was intended by God.

This is important because it underlies several vital theological insights.
1. God is the author of good and His intent for us is abundant life. If bad things happen (aside from punishment/wrath) it is likely that the Enemy (Sin, Death, the World, the Devil, the Flesh) has a hand in it. Life is more like a war (between God/good and the Enemy/evil) than it is a well ordered unfolding of the Divine Plan.
2. The ongoing evil in the world is "allowed" because the harvest time is not yet. Premature intervention could cause other problems (good taken with bad). God gave up His control for a higher purpose (freedom for creatures to embrace or reject His offer of Himself).

God does not send bad into our lives to make us strong or to get our attention. God blesses those who love Him. However, the world contains evil so bad things happen. When we stray, the wrath of God (probably best understood as the evil which befalls us when we leave the umbrella of His protection and/or He withdraws His nearness due to sin) is manifest. The prophets associate wrath with famine, drought, plagues and conquering armies; almost always natural events. However, God also punishes the conquering armies for "overdoing it" so clearly He intervenes without absolute control.

The purpose of Divine "punishment" is to call us back. Repentance and renewed relationship with the Abba Father is always the goal. Not to inflict pain, but to increase the joy of love together, not to inflict pain, but to sanctify us and make us holy... Pain, however, is redeemed by God. Pain might be used by God, but God does not torture and kill us to make us strong. When Jesus confronted sickness and suffering He healed. When He confronted sin He invited repentance and forgave those who came to Him. When He confronted the demonic He sent it away. He calms storms but never creates one. Notice a trend?

Genesis creation accounts echo in the parable. YHWH creates 'adam and eve (the Man and Mother) and hands the garden over to them. There are instructions, duties, limits and warnings. The serpent, a wise/wily creature, plants a seed of doubt. First Eve, then Adam, take the forbidden fruit because it looks good. God returns, He has been off somewhere, and cries out for the couple, who are hiding. "What have you done?" He asks.

Whose hand was at work in the Garden? The serpent, for sure, then Eve, and finally Adam, but it is not clear in the narrative what motivates ruining the whole thing for the sake of one piece of fruit. Later, Christian authors identify the snake with satan---the spiritual power behind the scene--which leads to the creation of the story of Lucifer's rebellion in heaven. However, Eve was open to some extent, because she fell pretty quick. What hand was already at work within her? Adam offers no resistance, so what about within him? The "surprised" YHWH of the story is hardly portrayed as the Divine Puppet Master guiding everyone to this predestined outcome. So things in the narrative as it is written seem a bit out of His control, perhaps even lots out of His control. He is involved though and responds to what has transpired.

What about the fact that God knows everything???
Setting aside that in the story He doesn't (He asks questions after all), let us consider, yet again, who the Biblical God is. He is the "incarnate" God (Jesus), the God who enters creation on its own terms. When He displays His amazing presence, it is thunder, lightening, fire and earthquake--all of them earthly, worldly phenomenon. When He meets people (in a garden--Adam and Eve, near a tent--Abraham, in a bush or mountain--Moses; in Jesus) it is in a here and now. Eternal God who is timeless and everywhere can now be located on a map and calendar. We can say, "Remember the time God was here and did this or said that?" When God enters time and space, He is squeezed into finitude--and the cross reminds us that such squeezing is self sacrificial love."

Creation is out of control, but He intervenes from time to time to save (help, heal and make holy). He interacts with us, more often with those who desire Him, and He finds a way to accomplish His goals in spite or our resistance. But be clear, such interventions are not final nor are they complete. The good and bad seed, after all, are left to grow together until the Harvest Day. Some day His Kingdom will come, but in the meantime there is a whole lot taking place which He did not want and does not like. That is why the final harvest is a judgment. He tosses out the ones who messed up His work. Hardly a book in the Bible doesn't have that as a major theme.

When bad things happen, repent if you have drifted from God. If that's not the cause, take solace in offering it to His love and care, but do not embrace the evil. Embrace the redeeming love. Call out for healing. Body, soul, spirit---it all needs healing and that is what salvation really is, healing, God's victory and rescue. Don't let the church people mislead you that God is the cause. He is dealing with the same messed up world you are. He wants to make you whole and holy. He wants to make you well. Believe it and trust Him. Get your mind emptied of teaching which implies God is someone whom you would not leave alone with your kids. Listen to Jesus, hear what He says.

All this evil seed, it is the hand of the enemy.
the enemy of God.
our enemy, too.