Sunday, December 31, 2017

Christmas 2

Isaiah 61:10-62:3     Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7     John 1:1-18     (Psalm 147)

Christmas is the feast of the incarnation. It is not necessary to speculate on the accuracy of his birth date, rather we are invited to ponder the deepest meaning of the event. Theosis--humans being united to God--is the result of incarnation--God becoming human.

Today our readings are full of images which provide insight into the mystery of theosis. These metaphors allow us to think in human terms about a divine process beyond our understanding.
Isaiah 61 celebrates God's intimate love for His people. Israel is "clothed in salvation" and "robed with righteousness"--dressed like a bride. In marriage, the man and woman become one flesh. However, getting married takes but a moment, being married requires constant renewal each day. In the same way, we are also in the process of becoming what baptism already made us---one with God.

God says: "For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her righteousness shines out like the dawn and her salvation like a burning torch." The Lord is passionate and restless, He longs for all to be right. He wants His people to be healed and prosper. Notice salvation is manifest in light and fire. We must pray constantly for the healing light and fire of love to fill us.

In Galatians, we read that Jesus is sent forth so that we can be adopted as children of God. This is another metaphor of union. In the Roman world adults adopted adults to provide them with status and an inheritance. Jesus is the only Son of God, but by the power of the Holy Spirit we share in His status. Like the Hebrew slaves, so we leave slavery to sin and death behind. We are adopted, and our inheritance is resurrection life in Jesus.

In the Gospel, Jesus is the Light. He gives life. All who welcome Jesus in loyal trust receive His authorization to be called children of God. Jesus in us makes us God's children.

In marriage the two become one flesh, in the incarnation God the Word becomes flesh. Two--God and Man--become one. The Greek word, to dwell among, literally means to live in a tent or tabernacle, and is taken from the book of Exodus. YHWH's glory was present among His people in a tabernacle, now, the human flesh of Jesus holds the glory of God among us. Jesus is the tabernacle of God's glorious presence.

The infinite Father comes to His creation in Word and Spirit. He comes to enlighten our darkened minds and wounded hearts--and fill them with His own life and presence. Theosis is the marriage of God and humanity. Theosis is to be adopted as children of God and share in the sonship of Jesus. theosis is the burning flame of God igniting our minds and hearts, His holy light penetrating us and setting all things right until we enjoy the abundance of salvation healing. theosis is loyalty to the one we trust, loving fidelity to Him in response to His faithful love.

The word becomes flesh today in you and I. The Word dwells in us. The Holy Spirit will accomplish what we cannot do. Take heart Christian pilgrim--the life of God is already at work in you making you one with Him. Take heart and refocus your energies to cooperate with the energies of God. Take heart, for you are a glorious tent filled with the presence of the All Holy One---the One who calls you spouse and child. The One whom you will live in forever.

* this includes some of the Hebrew with translations..... "For Zion's sake I will not keep silent [chashah - silent, still, quiet, at rest] Jerusalem's sake I will not rest [shaqat- quiet, still, at rest, at peace, inactive], until her vindication [tsedeq - righteousness, justice, rightness] shines out [yatsa- goes forth, exits, comes forth, escape; used of Exodus] like the dawn, and her salvation [yeshuah- salvation, deliverance, aid, health, prosperity] like a burning torch."

Salvation is God's victory and Israel's abundant health and wellbeing

Sunday, December 24, 2017


"Do not be afraid--I have good news. Today is born a Savior, the Messiah, the Lord. "Do not fear, trust." (Luke 2)

Fear is a huge barrier to the Kingdom work of God.
Fear focuses on problems; trust looks to solutions. 
Fear erects barricades of self-protection; trust opens hearts to salvation.
Far focuses on what can go wrong; trust produces hope and joy.
Fear feeds the darkness of disease and sin; trust opens us to the light of healing and forgiveness.
Fear kills; trust leads to eternal life.

The angel's message can never be understood by those who fear. Fear dismisses the Christmas story as a fairy tale. Faith, on the other hand, has ears to hear the good news of great joy. We are those who gather in faith. We, who believe in the Savior, cherish this story and, like Mary, we want to ponder its meaning.

I believe that the incarnation was always part of the divine plan. The Father had to enter time and space to interact with us. The incarnation is the means by which God relates to us. Obviously, with the Fall of Adam and Eve, the incarnation of Jesus also had to deal with sin and death; so the birth of Jesus is now shrouded by the cross. However, let us be clear, God has come among us and become one of us so that we can be united with Him. This is the reason for creation; the gift of divine love which unifies us to the Father. I think that Jesus, was always supposed to be Messiah and Lord, but it is our sin which  required that He also be a Savior. Even so, the deepest meaning of salvation is always union with God.

Luke tells us several times that Mary "pondered" the events she experienced. Pondering is a spiritual disciplines which requires time and patience. I assume Mary never stopped pondering her Son. She pondered His ministry, she pondered at the foot of His cross and she pondered His glory on Easter day. You and I must ponder the revelation of God on our own journey to union with Him. We must ponder God's word in prayerful wonder.

Jesus lived a full human life because God fully embraces our human existence Salvation is also a life long process. There is no single moment when it is completed here on earth. Unfortunately, we, too, are affected by sin. Suffering and death impact us as well. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we battle the against the Evil One and the deadly passions. It happens here, in this world.

Christmas shows that God thinks His material creation is important. Incarnation means that the matter matters, stuff is redeemable, and there is more to human life than being spiritual. The birth of Jesus should not be reduced to mere sentimentality, but the mystery of incarnation should produce a warm feeling in our hearts, and perhaps even a tear or two. 

Ponder it: human existence is sacred. Ponder it: God embraces your humanity. Ponder the wonder of existence and let it transform you. Embrace your body and soul--the same way God does--and receive  union with Jesus. Be His holy presence in the world.

Children's Service Christmas

reflection on the Gospel of Luke at our 4:00 children's service

The angel said, "Stop being afraid. I have Good News of great joy for everyone! Today the Savior was born, the Messiah Lord."

In the first two chapters of Luke, Zechariah (and his neighbors), Mary and now the Shepherds are all afraid. The angel tells each of them, "do not fear." Fear is the opposite of faith; it makes people sick in body and soul. The angel says "fear not," which really means "trust." Like any parent, our Heavenly Father tell us, "Don't be afraid, trust me. I am here to save you."

Like angels, children can generate a lot of fear. We are afraid they will get sick or hurt. We are afraid  they will do something wrong. We are afraid because we love them so much. We are afraid because we cannot control everything and protect them. Children remind us that we are not in control. We must entrust them (and ourselves) to God. The angel tells each of us, tonight, "Do not fear. A Savior has been born. Jesus the Messiah Lord, you and your children are in His hands. His love is big enough to save them and us. So trust Him, and fear not. 

The birth of the Messiah is God's declaration that "fear is useless..." The Creator has entered creation. Jesus is one of us. We will never be alone. It is interesting to note that in Luke 12:32, a grown up Jesus will declare, "fear not little flock for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom." Shepherds and sheep are told to believe the Good News.

So, let us trust more and fear less. Let us repeat to all we meet the angel's message: "Fear not. A Savior has been born, Jesus who is the Messiah and Lord." It would be good to raise our children in love and trust. It would be good for us to live in love and trust. It is possible if we believe that the Savior is born, the Messiah and Lord. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Pre-Christmas Meditation

God made a creation and gave it substantial being. This means that the world really exists. God enters that world by limiting Himself to time and space. These are things upon which we must constantly ponder and reflect. The Eternal fitting into finitude is a mystery. It is the reason why unbelievers can scoff. It is why they can point to science as an "explanation of everything" (which of course requires a blind eye to much that we experience). God is present 'in and through' the world. He communicates to us in human language, human feelings and human experiences. As such, any experience of God has a human element. In the end, philosophically speaking, all experiences of God are mediated experiences and the human meets infinite God in finitude.

The created world is in process. Things take time. Humans, like all living creatures, grow and develop. Our relationship with the Timeless God (mysteriously) is an encounter in time and space. Spirit encounters matter. It is all too much to fathom. As I have said before, God takes humanity and His creation much more seriously than most Christians. The Lord does not disdain His creation as so many of us do.

God's purpose, as expressed in limited human language, was to make us to love and be loved, to know and be known. He made us for laughter and joy, for trust and kindness, for myriad wonderful things. Probably, He created us to grow and develop and from the beginning that was part of the plan. We were born incomplete, just as Adam had needs, so do we. Hence, the unitive process---becoming one with God--was probably always a process. He speaks to us (Word) and breaths His life into us (Spirit). This "unveiling" (revelation) of Himself is part of the process of giving Himself to us and bringing Himself into Him. This unity is called theosis, a Greek term translated as "divinization" in the West. "God became us in Jesus, so that in Jesus we can become God." The great theologians have taught this for ages. It is the mystery of the human soul and spirit that we contain the divine, it is the mystery of the divine that the Eternal, Holy and Perfect God can empty Himself and squeeze Himself into time and place with all its limitations.

Union is God's first desire. The Christian must keep that in mind. Jesus did not come simply to save us from our sins. Truly He does forgive and save us, but that is secondary. First He comes to take us to Himself. Sin and death (which we received through no fault of our own from our ancestors, but which we embrace and increase--through our own fault--and pass on to others) were not the original state of things. Jesus comes to make us one, but now that unity entails an additional step. Now, God must deal not only with our humanity, but also with our fallen humanity. The divine-human gap (Eternal Perfection and Limited Matter) has always been a real gap. God has always had to bridge it by Word/Son and Holy Spirit/Breath. Now as the bridge is built, the world in which Word and Spirit are at work is darkened and wounded, touched by evil and subject to corruption and decay. The growth process has been thwarted and even the best of us wanders astray. We hurt and suffer and die. We also hurt, damage and kill others. It is not always intentional, it is sometimes what we do not want. We hurt even those whom we love, sometimes hurting them the most. Our homes are often a battle ground of constant conflict. The person whom we should feel most safe with is often the one inflicting the most damage. Things are broken, sick and not as they were intended to be. So the incarnation, God's way of incorporating us into Himself, now does double duty, as the Messiah must deal with sin and death. Forgiveness, reconciliation, healing are now added to Messiah's work of unification (and the Spirit's work of sanctification).

The Word Incarnate plunged into this real world. He was born and grew up, He was threatened and chased out of His own place. He was rejected and abused by the ones He created and loved. In Him the suffering of us all was embraced. In Him, the forgiveness for which we hunger was manifest. In this season of waiting, we look to the day a new born baby will be declared Savior, Messiah and King. A few months hence, in April, that same Savior Messiah King will be tortured and then hung upon a cross. Before He will die, He says "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." He meets us first in our sin and evil and forgives is. Forgiveness, not simply to remove sin, but to provide us hope to empower repentance and conversion. Forgiveness which makes it safe to say "I am sorry." It is also the power within us to forgive others. In facing my own brokenness, I can discern the same in others, with compassion and kindness.

So I am sorry for all I have done and I ask others to release me from the debt and burden. As the Lord has forgiven me, I forgive others. I remember that Jesus said often, that we must forgive others so that in forgiving the power of abundant mercy can be at work in us all.

But sin is not the main thing. It is not the sole purpose of Incarnation. Life is. Love life, indwelling of the Word and Spirit life. Divinized human life. God made us for unity. Focus on becoming one with God. Or, better, focusing on letting God make you one with Him.

It is why you are here. It is your intended destiny. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Advent 3

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11       1 Thessalonians 5:16-24     John 1:6-8, 19-28

When Jesus read Isaiah 61* He said that the words were filled up (fulfilled) in Him. He applied the text to Himself declaring that "the spirit of the Lord YHWH has anointed" Him:
1. to bring good news to the poor/afflicted;
2. to wrap up/heal the hearts which are wrecked/broken in pieces;
3. to proclaim freedom/release to those imprisoned/in bondage;
4. to proclaim the year of favor, comfort and provision to those who mourn...

Biblical salvation is a large concept, and it includes forgiveness, rescue, reconciliation, redemption, healing, transformation, victory, and abundance. It impacts our body and soul, our relationships and communities. Poverty, brokenness, imprisonment and sadness are at odds with God's kingdom. They are the ruins of creation.  However, like the Jews we must rebuild, raise up and repair the world. Redemption is God's gift, but it includes our faithful work as well. 

The Spirit in Jesus is in us! We are being saved by the Spirit, but we are also being consecrated and sent in Jesus' name to bring the same Good News to others. Unlike John the Baptist, we cannot simply declare, "I am not the Messiah," because we are the Messiah's body here and now. He lives in us. Like Jesus, we are to make these words of Isaiah a reality for others. We are the Lord's instruments of justice, fairness and peace. In His Kingdom, politics is holy because it is a self emptying focus on the need of others.

1Thessalonians 4:3, 5 says "the will of God is your sanctification...not in the forbidden passions." Once more we are reminded to do battle with the passions as we pursue relationship with God. The Holy Spirit unites us with Jesus (Theosis) producing personal holiness and selfless service I us corporately and individually. In Thessalonians 5 Paul exhorts the church to be a community--in peace, encouragement and goodness. "Rejoice always, praying without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances." Do you want to be holy? Do you seek gratitude and joy? What will be your constant prayer?

Isaiah also declares, "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall rejoice in my God." Mary says, "My heart magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior." 

You are anointed by the Holy Spirit. You have been sent to proclaim hope, to free people, to heal their broken hearts and tell them God is gracious. This Holy Spirit makes you holy, here and now, so rejoice and be thankful. This is the true meaning of Christmas--God becoming human in each of us (theosis).

*Luke 4:21

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Advent 2 Isaiah 40

Isaiah 40:1-11    2 Peter 3:8-15   Mark 1:1-8


Isaiah 40, a message to Israel in the Babylonian exile, is a call to return home. The Temple and holy city lay in ruins, they must be rebuilt. The people had lived in a hostile land and suffered greatly.

"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God." Note the possessive pronouns: your/me. Covenant relationship is at the heart of God's dealings with His people. It is an intimate divine-human bond. Israel had pushed God away to pursue her sins, so she lost her Defender in a hostile world. Babylon invade, lay waste the nation and drove her into exile. Now God sends messengers with His compassionate word: the Lord will return with His people to Judah. His holy presence will return.

The biblical language is not literal. Hills and valleys did not actually flatten for the travelers—it is apocalyptic poetry declaring the power of God’s salvation. Salvation is in real life, real time. It is a process and a journey. The human enemy, however, is vanquished, as Lord declares "all people are grass." However, new oppressors will rise, first Greek, then Roman. Last week Jesus said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away." Today Isaiah says, "The word of our God will stand forever." Human empires are temporary, but God’s word is eternal. God's word is a message of joy: Israel is like a flock of sheep and God is a shepherd who loves. In every age, God cares for His covenant people. This remains true forever.

Babylon was a real place, but later Christians use it as a code word for Rome. Babylon is a symbol of any unjust human kingdoms which oppose God. Many "Babylons" have come and gone and certainly new ones exist today. A hostile world and the demonic powers are real foes. But Babylon is also personal. It is our own darkened nous (mind/soul) which leads us astray. Our wounded heart is the destroyed Temple, ruined by the passions and sinful desires; we are all, in some respects, in exile from God's Presence. The Jews will return to the Promised Land to rebuild the Temple. God is the source of this, but human beings will lay and cement each brick (read Ezra and Nehemiah). It is a long arduous process. Salvation is an organic process as well.

If we would receive the gift of union with our God, we must cooperate with the Holy Spirit. We must repent, that is, return from exile and leave Babylon. We rebuild the Temple of our heart through the spiritual disciplines. God expects our labor. The question is, do we have the courage to look within and confront our own personal Babylon? What constrains the Holy Spirit in my life? What diminishes my faith, hope, love, joy, and peace?

Let's review some of the deadly passions, or sinful desires.

Are you angry, afraid, doubtful or sad? that's exile... Are you jealous, envious or greedy? Do you drink to excess, spend too much, or have other out of control behavior? Those are Babylon.... Are you immobilized by laziness or distracted by worries? Is your life filled with conflict? These separate from God.... Each of these is a personal exile from His Kingdom. Abba Father wants to rescue us. Do you want to be healed? First step is to recognize you need saving. Admit you are broken and wounded. Cry out for help--human and divine--for the Lord stands ready to deliver. Talk to your spouse, your parent, a friend or family member. Tell them you need help. It is good for the soul. 

Mark connects John the Baptist to the Isaiah verse because Jesus fulfills the prophet’s words. Jesus is the Presence of God. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Father’s gift of healing deliverance out of exile. Jesus, frequently in and through human agents, is reaching to you right now.

Advent is the journey out of the exile in Babylon. It is a time to take stock of our thoughts, feelings and desires. We are all broken. No one’s heart is totally free. We all have darkness within us. We need to be saved and healed. We need to be sanctified and strengthened. Jesus wants to do it, but we must cooperate. It is not going to be all done in the snap of a finger, it will take time, and you must cooperate.

Advent is the journey of faith back home. It is the joyful discipline walking through the desert to the Promised Land. It is the hope-filled discipline of becoming what He made us: His holy, beloved people!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Advent 1

Isaiah 64:1-9   Psalm 80:1-7,16-18   1 Corinthians 1:3-9   Mark 13:24-37

In Isaiah 63:16-19, the prophet extols God's mercy: "Surely You are our Father...You Lord are our Father; from of old your name is Our Redeemer". Yet, he then seems to say God shares in the blame for Israel's sin and the destruction of the temple.* The juxtaposition of trust and the need for deliverance introduce what we read today: if only You would tear open the heavens and come down...if only You would make Your Name known...if only You would save us with the signs and wonders our ancestors experienced. IF ONLY....

Isaiah 64 is both a declaration of God's amazing acts of salvation in the past--"no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has ever seen" and a complaint about Israel's current misery. God is angry and the people sin. He has hidden His face and they have turned away. They feel unclean, unacceptable, dead and taken away by sin.

What was true of Israel then, is true for Judah in Jesus' day. Mark 13, written in apocalyptic images, is Jesus' prophetic word to Jerusalem. 'Not one stone will be left on another', Jesus warns that the amazing Temple is soon to be leveled.  Jesus, however, indicates that He will be vindicated, He is "the Son of Man coming with the clouds," a reference to His resurrection and Ascension. His word will prevail while that generation will witness God's judgement as the Roman army destroys all they hold dear. What is true in Isaiah's day, what is true in Jesus' day, is true in our own day.

Our nation, our church, and each of us lives in the twin realities of God's saving Fatherhood and the awful results of our sin and infidelity. The passions, those sinful desires which ruin men and ruin communities, are always at odds with God's instruction (torah) and opposed to His saving love. We follow these passions at our own peril. Obedience to God conforms us to His will, it makes the Image of God within us shine more brightly and we take on, more and more, His likeness. To be the image and likeness of God is to be one with Jesus, it is to have His Holy Spirit at work within us. It is theosis. But God grants freedom to His people, and we make our choices based on the darkened nous/mind/soul with which we operate. We too often choose sin, individually and corporately so God "delivers us into the hand of our iniquity."

Yet even in the pain of our lives, we hear the message of hope uttered by Isaiah (and Jesus). "Lord, You are our (abba) Father." He reminds us we are creatures--the image of the potter and clay (see also Isaiah 29:6 and 45:9) are an image of creation.** It is the Creator-Father, the Redeemer-Savior Who feels so absent and far away from us.

Isaiah prays for mercy. He asks God to forget our sin and look down on Your people. The city is laid waste, the Temple burned to the ground, their lives in ruin. "Will you stand by and do nothing while we suffer?" he asks. The Temple is also an image of our human hearts. Will YHWH rule there? Or do we hand the key to our heart to false gods and the demonic?

Isaiah 65 is God's answer. He has reached out to His people even as they rejected Him. It is Judgment Day. Those who turn away will perish, those who turn back will be saved. Repentance from sin is conversion; theosis union with God comes from watching our mind, heart and soul and rooting out all that takes us from God. It is the life of prayer and Scripture, and loving service to our brothers and sisters. It is to choose life and reject death. Perhaps, like Isaiah, we blame God for failing to keep us from sin. Yet, how can we look into the eyes of Jesus and demand Abba Father do more to save us?

Advent is a time of active waiting, and it entails our commitment to cooperate with the Holy Spirit. It is the holy waiting of repentance and spiritual transformation. It is the time to rebuild the ruins within our hearts and souls. Just as the ancient Jews, led by the Spirit, returned from Exile to rebuild the Temple--they were the hands on construction crew, even as God worked in and through them--so must we also do the hard work of heart and soul repair. It is a time of grace and beauty. As we wait for the incarnation, the bond of human and divine--the source of hope in theosis--we wait by praying, studying and serving the Lord. God became one of us so we could become one with Him. This is purpose of life.

*Isaiah 63:17-19 "Why, Lord, do you make us stray from your ways, and turn our hearts away from revering You? Relent for the sake of Your servants, the tribes that are Your very own! Our foes have trampled Your sanctuary, which Your holy people possessed but a little while. We have become as a people You never ruled, to which Your name was never attached" The Jewish Study Bible, p 910

**see Job 10:9 (also 33:6) "Remember you made me of clay (chomer), will you turn me to dust (aphar) again?" Then, Genesis 2:7 "God formed the man (adam) from the dust (aphar) of the ground (adamah)" ties it together..