Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas: REMIND GOD, says the Lord

Isaiah 62:6-12

Titus 3:4-7

Luke 2:1-20

The tension of present and future, already but not yet, is central to the Judaeo-Christian understanding of salvation. Yes we are saved, but not yet. Come Lord and save your people.

Isaiah’s sentinels on the wall and Luke’s shepherds are watchmen. Watching can become a passive waiting to respond, but Isaiah adds an active dimension. Listen: Isaiah says, “I have posted sentinels; all day and night they shall never be silent. You who remind the Lord, take no rest, and give Him no rest until He establishes Jerusalem and makes it renowned through all the earth.”

The Hebrew Zakar (zach hair)= REMEMBER is vital for understanding the salvation. When God remembers He saves, beginning with Genesis. 8:1 God remembers Noah and saves the inhabitants of the ark. 9:15-16 God says He will remember His covenant with the earth when He sees the rainbow. 19:29 God remembers Abraham and saves Lot. 30:22 He remembers Rachel and opens her womb to have a child. In the great salvation event of Israel’s history, Exodus 2:24 God hears the groaning of Israel and remembers His promises Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In 6:5 He tells Moses. I remember my covenant, tell the people I come to set them free.

Leviticus 26 spells out the tragic relationship of God and His people. If you are faithful, God says, I will bless you with health and abundance, my shalom will be with you. But if you reject me, and disobey me, you will suffer the consequences. Exile and oppression. YHWH says, there will be some who repent and return to the Lord. I will never reject or spurn them, I will never destroy them and annul my covenant. I will remember my covenant and remember the land, says the Lord.

The Words of Isaiah are spoken after the exile God warned them about, as the return to the land. But the promise of salvation is not fully realized. Israel’s salvation is incomplete.

This is the context for understanding the birth of Jesus. The Father remembers His promise and sends the Son is Jesus! “Glory to God in High Heaven and shalom upon those who belong to God on the earth,’’ sing the angels. But violence and conflict continues in our world, in families, and within our hearts. It is fair to ask, “What did the birth of that baby change?” Even the church is imperfect and sinful, right?

What if the Christian vocation is to be a watchman who reminds God, day and night, to complete the salvation? Is the church too comfortable in the world? Are we satisfied pursuing our desires and distracting ourselves from the state of the world and the state of our own souls? Have we forgotten God’s promise to save the whole world and contenting ourselves with the hope of going to heave when I die?

Jesus said that our prophetic vocation is to remind God. When He was born, He was laid in a manger because there is no guest room; but the night before He died there will finally be a guest room. He will bless bread and wine and call it the covenant of His body and blood. He will command us to do it as a MEMORIAL to Him. “Remind the Father,” Jesus says, “that I die to save the world.” “Remind the Father,” Jesus says, “salvation is not complete.” Pray for God’s rule to come.

So tonight we remember. Tonight we pray. We remind the Father:

Father make your name holy.

Father your kingdom come.

Father your will be done on earth.

WE remind the Father of the meaning of Jesus in the bread and cup.

And, finally, when enough people truly want God to live among us, He will remember His promise and come. HE will remember and make salvation complete!

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Reflection: Children Service

Luke 1:39-55

Luke's story is a comparison between the Caesar and the Christ. Who is the real King of everything? Jesus. The angels of heaven let us know the real truth about the Messiah Savior and Lord because in the story they tell the shepherds and we can read it.

There are lots of meaning in the story. Shepherds  were watchmen, protecting the sheep from danger. They were usually poor and did not get a lot of respect. They are a sign that if we feel unimportant God still speaks His message to us. The Messiah is for everyone, great and small. Even me and you!

Shepherds are also witnesses and worshippers. They saw baby Jesus and told others what God had said and God had done. They were amazed and praised God and glorified Him. God is still amazing, every day is a miracle. We should praise God every day, lots and lots!

But I think there is a secret meaning to the story. In the Jewish Bible, the Kings and leaders are called shepherds. Here's the secret. In the Gospels the authors find stories in the Jewish Bible and apply them to Jesus. They say He fulfills the prophecies. I think the story of the shepherds is also a prophecy. Some day, the angels of God will announce to all the world that Jesus is the Messiah Lord and Savior. I think those shepherds are a reminder that all the kings and leaders of the world will come to worship Jesus some day. They will understand that He is the true King, the real King.

Baby Jesus was in a manger--that is a feeding trough. This is also a secret meaning. Jesus is the Bread of Life--He feeds us Himself. He feeds us with His words and with His body and blood in communion. We have heard His word, now we are amazed that God loves us so! Now let us go to the altar/manger and be fed with His own life.

And let us always praise God and glorify Him for He is so loving and good to us.

Advent 4 Mary Model

Advent 4
Micah 5: 2-5a
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-55

Life in the Middle East is governed by honor and shame. Social expectations and evaluations shaped, and sometimes scarred people. Emotional pain was something Elizabeth had endured because of sterility, while Mary, pregnant before marriage, will soon deal with the judgements of others. Mary’s decision to rush off to see Elizabeth would have been an extraordinary, and scandalous, decision in this culture. Mary and Elizabeth were brave and strong in ways that we cannot imagine. God chose them to play a vital role in salvation history. Though they were “powerless” women, their roles as mothers will unleash the power of God's salvation into the world.

This world will reject John and Jesus—both will be executed for their faith. On Christmas Eve we will read about this hostility when the newborn Jesus is laid in a manger because there was no room in the guest room. If the world is inhospitable to the boys, Mary and Elizabeth, humble servants of God, provide hospitality in their own wombs.

The two Greek words for womb are also used for the “inner person,” the heart and soul. The term womb appears again in Luke 11:27-28, when a woman tells Jesus, "Blessed is the womb that bore you!" He will respond, "Blessed is the one who hears God's word and obeys it." Mary heard God’s message and obeyed. So must we.

Salvation is not simply spiritual. We live in a flesh and blood world. Real women and actual wombs are needed for the unborn Messiah and His prophets. Salvation is a flesh and blood reality. It requires human cooperation.

You and I can never be the mother of John or Jesus. We can, however, open our hearts and souls to receive them. If God can use them to achieve His goals, then He can certainly use us, whatever our limitations might be.  These women played a central role in making the saving work of Jesus possible. The word of the prophet and the Word made flesh can and do live within us. Like them, we will suffer for our faith, like their sons we may suffer something worse, but the choice is ours to trust and obey whatever the cost.

To say yes, allows us the privilege to pray Mary’s prayer. Our souls can magnify the Lord, our spirits can rejoice in God our Savior. We can say “I am blessed,” and that “God has done great things for me,” because in every generation God does have mercy on those who love and obey Him. Salvation comes for those who wait. The world will be turned upside down. The mighty are destined to be cast down, while the lowly, hungry and poor will be raised up. Do not be fooled by the current situation, the day of salvation is coming. No one would have thought Mary and Elizabeth carried Messiah and His prophet, but they did. Now it is our turn: To accept the prophet’s mantle and prepare the way of the Lord. To carry Jesus salvation and healing to all we meet.  

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Advent 3: Prophecy and Response

Zephaniah 3:14-20
(canticle 9) Isaiah 12:2-6
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

In his book, The Prophets, Abraham Heschel describes prophets as men who have been shattered by an experience of God's nearness. Union with God is a consuming fire which purifies us. The Divine Heart, shared with the prophets, is described in human terms: God feels sorrow, is angry at injustice and moved to compassion for its victims. He is merciful to those who turn to Him and sustains those who trust Him, but those who turn from Him suffer the consequences. 

Zephaniah's (p679 NRSV) short book unveils these "feelings" of God in dramatic fashion. "I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth, says the Lord." Humans, animals, birds and fish are enumerated, but then the focus on Judah, her people and more pointedly, her religious and political leaders. Those who have been unfaithful, who have turned from God, will not be saved by their silver and gold on the day of the Lord's wrath.

Prophets declare judgment. They warn people of what is coming. Jesus does this very thing Himself. The "Bad News," however, is meant as an invitation to repentance. Zephaniah 2 is typical, with an invitation to "seek the Lord, be humble and righteous." The judgment includes both Judah and the Nations. God offers an invitation and human choices have consequences.

In addition to warning of judgment and offering an invitation to repentance, there is a third element to the prophetic message: the Promise. Prophetic books often end with an upbeat proclamation like the one we read today. Harsh words are balanced by the exhortation to sing and rejoice, and the declaration that for the people of God wrath comes to an end. Zephaniah proclaims God's promise: that He will be the King who will be among His people to deliver them and renew them. The messages of the prophets often move from death to resurrection.

Christians see John the Baptizer as the last prophet of the First Covenant. We have only a brief snippet of his preaching, but it does not stray from the prophetic model of Zephaniah. 

John begins with the words "brood of vipers," a harsh declaration of the unworthiness of the crowd. (Jesus uses the same word in Mt 23:33) John also declares "the wrath to come" and commands not only repentance, but also the fruits worthy of repentance. This can be summarized by a negative (do not be greedy) and a positive (be generous). In other words, love your neighbor as one like your self. Lastly, John promises a coming Redeemer, who will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit.

The call to repentance this day is not meant to be joyless. Zephaniah and Paul both speak of rejoicing. However, the rest of the story includes the command to be righteous, to live as God would have us live.

In every age the human cultures are a deterrent to faith and fidelity. In this Christmas season, how many of us feel the pressure of buying gifts for people who need nothing? Yet there are so many who lack the bare essentials and we give them not a thought. If Zephaniah or John the Baptist were to come to your home tonight, what advice would they give you about your Christmas worries and concerns? Where do you find reason to rejoice and sing in this holiday time?

The prophetic voices reveal God to us in this Advent season. I think we hear them clearly. Now, it is up to us to simply respond in faith.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

KING Jesus

Book Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 93
Revelation to John 1:4b-8
Gospel of John 18:33-37

The Feast of Christ the King is not easy for contemporary Americans to embrace. Yes, we understand the idea of a King, but Moderns struggle to connect with the ancient and medieval imagery. In fairness, it has been rare that human kings have faithfully reflected the divine kingship. Even in the Bible only eight of the forty-two kings listed were called good. King David, the model king, is also an ambivalent figure, reminding us that the word "good" is relative. Human kings often abuse their power.

In Ancient Israel, a king was supposed to obey God's will so that the people could prosper. The king led the army, administered justice and sponsored the religious sacrifices. However, by the first century, Rome ruled their land and temple. There was no king in Israel as the Roman Emperor asserted his authority over every aspect of Jewish life.

Jesus had proclaimed, in word and deed, that He had been sent by the God of Israel, but standing before Pilate, He probably did not look like much of a king. In Rome's eyes, He was another revolutionary, fit only for crucifixion. When Jesus speaks of a spiritual Kingdom and the truth. Pilate will respond, "What is truth?" (or as we say "whatever").

Jesus is a Warrior King with no army, who battles sin, sickness and demons. His weapons are forgiveness, healing and exorcism. The Pilates of every age neither believe nor care about such things.

Jesus offers divine justice, a truth which transcends every human court. The world prefers power and perverts justice to its own ends. Self-interested humans promote their own group at the expense of others.

Jesus is the True Priest-King who offers Himself to die upon the cross. Worldly worship, in every age, tends toward idolatry, which is actually a twisted self-worship.

Modern people vote, we choose the leaders which please us. Jesus transcends the democratic process. He said "I chose you, you didn't choose Me." He said, "You must love Me more than possessions, family or your own life." A Crucified King, He demands that we pick up our own crosses as well." We are called to trust Him and submit to His Royal Authority. The Christian vocation consists of following Him and being sent in His Name. If Jesus is our King then we must declare that God is near at hand, as we teach, heal, exorcise and reconcile humans to one another and God in His Name.

There is much hostility toward Jesus--in the world, inside the church and within each of us. All of us have some Pilate within us. In these days of waiting for the king, it is easy to get discouraged and distracted. The darkest days will come before Jesus returns. Trusting in Him, we must be the light of the world until the True Light shines among us. He is our King and that is our duty and privilege.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

On temples and widows

First Kings 17:8-16
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

The context of the widow's donation is Mark 11 to 13. The conflict between Jesus and the religious/political authorities will culminate in a prophetic announcement that all will be leveled and destroyed. We are commanded to love God above all else and others as ourselves. As the scribe told Jesus, love is greater than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifice. Love is more important than the Temple. 

Too often we forget that no human institution is more important than the Lord: not family, not country, not church. Of course, the love of neighbor requires institutions—family, nation and church—because the world is sacramental; but when a sacrament ceases to function correctly it can become an idol. we cling to what we can see and touch, forgetting that the church, without Jesus, is just another human institution. Humans, without Jesus, are advanced primates driven by passions and self will. 

Jesus warns against the errors of the religious elite and their focus on status. We now call it "virtue signaling," speaking hollow words and doing empty things to appear righteous. He condemns them because they "devour widow's houses," abusing their power for personal gain. So there are feelings of ambivalence about the generous, poor widow. Yes, she is a model of sacrificial giving, but she is also a symbol of victimization. 

The sacred is not magic power at our disposal. We serve God, He does not serve us. When disobedient Israel marched the Ark of the Covenant into battle Israel, they lost the battle and the ark. Four hundred years later, ignoring Jeremiah's prophetic word, Judah was confident that Solomon’s temple would protect them, only to see it destroyed by the Babylonians and the ark disappeared. Now Jesus sits in the Second Temple, watching the leaders and the widow. We do not know what He was thinking, but in the next verse we will hear Him say, “Not one stone will be left on another, it will all be torn down.”

God does not dwell in buildings—He lives in the hearts of faithful people. Jesus is the true Temple where God lives, so if Jesus is in us then God dwells in us. Two thousand years ago scribes and priests failed to recognize that and all was lost because of their blindness. In our own time, perhaps, we are also blind, trusting the wrong things, some of them religious.

The Church, and other institutions, are sickly and in decline. But in a post-Christian world, God still dwells in the hearts of His faithful people, and so we must ask. Do I love and trust God? Am I faithful?

We live in a time of dramatic change, it is the end of an era. Trusting God can be more challenging. If the Temple was destroyed twice, we are foolish to think that the institutional church can not also be leveled. The Bible teaches of the holy remnant, those who remain faithful to God. Remnant spirituality does not rely on the success of institutions, it centers upon the Lord. It is prayerful and Scripture based, it proclaims God's Kingdom even to those who deride it. Remnant spirituality is neither optimistic nor pessimistic; it is hopeful. Remnant spirituality is more concerned with knowledge of self and repentance than it is with culture wars and passing judgment on others. 

We have one week left of Mark, the harshest and most critical of the Gospels. We have been asked "have you no faith? do you not understand?" over and over. Now we face the judgement and the end of all which we rely on. Perhaps with nothing left, finally, we can turn to Father God? Trusting Him in the darkness as we wait for resurrection light. 

Sunday, November 4, 2018

On Law and Love

Deuteronomy 6:1-9
ps 119:1-8
Hebrews 9:11-14 (Christ perfect high priest and gift)
Mk 12:28-34 (Love God, Love Neighbor)

God says 'do the Law so that you will honor me and it will go well for you in the land.' The expression "it will go well for you" occurs nine times in Deuteronomy and three more in Jeremiah.  The Law is not the way to heaven, it is the means to honor God and open earth to heaven's presence among us. The Law is instruction for living as the covenant people. Israel was saved by trusting the Lord, the Law was never intended to serve as the way to salvation for Israel, it was a response to it. As Christians we must understand this, especially as Jesus declares that loving God and loving our neighbor are the great summary of the law.

For Israel, the Exodus is The Salvation Event and predates reception of the Law. God will save the nation, again and again. God heals the sick and rescues folks from trouble. God does this for those who love and trust Him. God is faithful to those in covenant relationship. Salvation is never earned, it is always a gift. The covenant relationship. however, was understood as a relationship of mutuality. God and Israel, a King and His people, a Father and His children, a husband and His wife, a master and His servants--every relationship is governed by expectations. If one upholds the promises then all will be well, but to break one's word is to undermine the bonds of love. Keeping the Law does not earn salvation, but breaking the Law does create the next crisis.

Breaking the Law is a rejection of God and drives His Presence out of the Land. Israel, both land and people are consecrated and holy. God's presence provides life and healing. God's absence leaves room for the destructive power of the world, the flesh and the devil.

The gentile church has never been under Israel's Law, it is for them not for us. But, the command to love God and love our neighbor belong to us as well. A loveless land is a godless land. But it is God who defines love, not us. Therein lies the danger and so we return, again, to the theme of theosis and the passions and the darkened nous.

The Hebrew word for keeping the law is shamar, which is the same word for keeping watch in the Garden of Eden. Keeping and watching are part of being human. We must keep watch over the gardens in our life--our nation, our community, our family and church--for God entrusts them to our care. But all our guarding and keeping is in vain unless we watch and keep our hearts and souls, our minds and spirits. Love is the medicine for our sickness, the love of God and our love for God. We must be saved, redeemed, healed and that is the work of repentant love. For if God dwells in us, each of us, then God dwells among us as well.

The Law can not save us, but rejecting God's instructions can destroy us. We are saved by faith, but we are lost by disobedience. When we obey it goes well for us in the land. Let us love God and one another.


Healing for Hard Hearts

Isaiah 53:4-12
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

In the center of existence lies the paschal mystery: the Cross of Jesus. The disciples, normal humans all, cannot understand this mystery. Every time Jesus tells them about His impending suffering and death, they bicker about who is the greatest, or chase off kids or (today) request a special status.
This is not simply a cognitive error, it's the manifestation of the "darkened nous" and "sick heart" which need to be healed, enlightened and sanctified. James and John ask Jesus for a place of glory, after He had just said He would suffer and die because humans are hard headed and hard hearted, we are all broken and weak.
The Good News is Hebrews 4:15 says “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” In Jesus, God embraces our humanity, looks us in the eye and says "I understand, I am with you in this human weakness." Weakness is the human dilemma. We know our power and strength hang by a thread. We can lose everything in the blink of an eye, so we pursue safety and security on our own terms, and deny we are afraid. 

But our solutions, like the apostles' desire for glory, are fueled by the blind “passions,” and lead to pain and further brokenness. The false self cannot find authentic salvation, because it looks in the wrong direction. The purpose of life is union with God and one another in love. The passions literally stir up chaos within us and around us. Isaiah says that God’s Servant will carry our sickness, pain and sadness. He will heal us by His suffering and carry out sins—the Passion (Jesus' cross) heals human heart's of the passions (sinful desires). Like Jesus, we must die to become our true self.
“Although [Jesus] was a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered; and having been made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who *obey Him.” Why is the path of suffering  the road to salvation? Only those who have faithfully walked it can explain. Why is obedience to Him required? Only those who have submitted to Him can understand. 

James and John want glory. Other apostles want power. Others want to not be disturbed. In each case, Jesus must bring them back to their true identity. Glory means suffering, power means service, the Kingdom is for children....and none of it makes any sense to our worldly egos, darkened minds or wounded hearts.  

It is only when we believe that He sympathizes with us, that the doubt and fear go away. When we know He suffers and dies for us, then we can obey, even if it means we suffer as well. When we know that by His wounds we are healed, we can turn to the crucified Messiah and open ourselves to receive healing. 

To love God and love one another, to be united with God in our humanity and experience theosis, is the purpose of life. Love looks up to God and opens its arms to others, so it looks like the cross. James and John had to learn that obedient love and self sacrifice are the only real seat of glory. So must we....

*Psalm 78, which uses the words trust, remember and obey interchangeably, is a biblical source which helps us understand this concept. Trusting faith is faithful, obedient trust.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Weakness and the Cross

Isaiah 53:4-12
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

In light of ongoing scandals in the church it is understandable why we have seen such drops in attendance and membership. Institutions, perhaps especially religious institutions, are prone to seek power and control. Churches are divinely guided, but remain human institutions. The Holy Spirit does not negate our humanity. We are uncomfortable with incarnation, believing that Jesus is fully divine and fully human, perhaps because we deny, to some extent, our own humanity? The readings today are central to the Christian message, and 'humanity' is at the core. When I reflect on the sins of the church, my own and others, the tragedy of sin and evil--since the apostles the church has been unfaithful--is ironically a source of consolation. We need saving and redeeming, we need healing and transformation. We always have.    

Like Jesus, the church is fully human.

And as His body, someday we will become fully divine.

Union is a slow, often painful process. The False Self must die before it can be raised as the True Self in Jesus, but humans are reluctant to accept “the cross is salvation.”

That’s why every time Jesus says, “I am going to suffer and die,” the disciples display their lack of understanding (Mk 8:14-21). First Peter rebukes Jesus and says “no” (v33-3), later the twelve argue about who is the greatest (9:33-37), they keep a man from using Jesus’ name to cast out demons and angrily chase off babies seeking a blessing. Today, when Jesus says, “I will suffer and die;” James and John respond, “Can we sit next to you in the glory?”

Why? Why are the apostles so dense? How come every time He talks about suffering and dying they focus on power, glory and themselves? The short answer: they are sinful, wounded humans. They are young men—poor and powerless—crushed by the authority of Rome and the Jewish ruling class. They are first century MeToo# and “Jewish lives matter” protestors. They are victims of the daily tragedies of existence. Their minds are darkened so their thinking, feeling, perception and judgement are not aligned with Jesus—and they resist the way of the cross.

Like us, they don’t want to believe that the journey must be painful. Hebrews 4:14-16 says that Jesus can sympathize with our weakness because He was tempted and tested in every way that we have been without sinning. Jesus is the reason we come to God’s throne of mercy with boldness. Today’s reading from Hebrews 5 continues this instruction, declaring that Jesus can deal gently with those who are ignorant (malfunctioning nous) and go astray (deceived by the passions) because Jesus was subject to weakness and He understands our weakness. Jesus was the Son who learned obedience through what He suffered. Completing this task, Jesus became the source of salvation for everyone who obeys Him.

Pain, suffering, struggle, obedience—are all part of the fully human experience. Yes we do terrible things, but we are not just evil and horrible. We have hard heads and hard hearts, we are often oblivious, selfish and sinful. The passions rule us all, but we are also wounded and broken, misled and deceived. We are all victims saying “me too” about all manner of abuse and we all cry out “my life matters,” especially when we fear that maybe it doesn’t.

We are weak, so like Jesus we must have compassion for others, especially our foes, as they deny their weakness by seeking glory and power. Like Jesus we cannot let doubt and fear keep us from picking up the cross.

To be human is to sing and dance, to laugh and love, but to be fully human we must worship, obey, suffer and die. Jesus knows how hard it is to be fully human. We are not alone.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

marriage Jesus style

Genesis 2:18-24      Ps 8      Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12       Mk 10:2-16 

Reading His teachings, we realize that Jesus preached a very high moral standard. We can assume His adversaries know this, so when they ask Him about divorce, and Mark calls it a "test," it is likely because Herod had married a divorced woman. In Mark 6 we read "For John had been saying to Herod, "it is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." John the Baptist was executed for saying Herod sinned. Like the question on paying the Roman tax, this is an effort to get Jesus killed. Jesus outsmarts them by asking, "What did Moses say?" When they answer, 'Moses allowed divorce', Jesus accuses them: "because of your hardness of heart." 'Moses allowed it,' Jesus says, 'because humans are sinful.' God's law allows it, but God's original intent is one man, one woman, for life. So we need to be clear, Jesus says that God allows divorce, but that is not the goal and remarriage is adultery.

Jesus looks to Genesis 2. When God declares "it is not good that the man is alone," it is a judgement on loneliness. The Creator addresses the man's isolation by creating a "helper." Some think this a derogatory term, but the Hebrew word (ezer) is used almost exclusively of God in the Bible, so it may imply that she will be like the divine presence for the man. Adam's flesh becomes two people, and marriage makes two people one flesh. Marriage, therefore, is connected to creation.

What about the adultery issue? First of all, remarriage is the issue, but Jesus teaches that fundamentally (Mt 5:28) adultery is a matter of the heart. It is produced by the passions within us, most notably lust and coveting. What this means is adultery is secretly at work in the heart of almost everyone. We are all adulterers. So the reason why Jesus calls remarriage adultery is because He speaks the truth, what else can it be called? Let's ponder the question.

In our church the couple is asked "Will you love, comfort, honor, keep one another in sickness and in health, forsake all others, be faithful as long as you live?" What does this mean? Shouldn't we just say "Maybe" if the words have no real meaning?

The couple declares to each other: "I take you...for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until parted by death." What does that mean? We say these words before God and other people, yet, in the US, the average first marriage lasts eight years, and close to half of marriages fail.   

The effort to undo Christian civilization has included a focus on undermining the institution of marriage. It is working. The current marriage rate is at record lows and one third of Millenials will never marry. More and more couples opt to just live together, with society's blessing, but it is actually even less stable and worse for kids. And the human sexes (male and female) are replaced with Gender, the number of young people identifying as LGBTQ has dramatically increased the last five years and is now over 8%. Much of this is a function of hyper-individualism. Parents say that their child should choose what they are irrespective of biology. The individual "I," alone, decides what is right and true. Perhaps this is why God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone...."

What do you want Jesus to say about all this? 

Do you want Jesus to reject Genesis 2? 

Should He advocate for no fault divorce? 

Should He bless same sex unions?  

Should He embrace multiple new sexual identities? 

Should Jesus say "do whatever makes you happy"?

I cannot speak for Jesus, but I can tell you what He did say: God made us male and female. God's intent is for sexual intercourse to occur in a marriage between one man, one woman committed for life. It turns out that arrangement is better for everyone.

I understand this is very difficult, but if we fail it is a sin. Sin means to miss the mark. We sin all the time, failing to love God and neighbor as we should. The contemporary church has dealt with sin by pretending it doesn't exist. We don't want people to feel guilt and shame. Good News! We do not need to excuse or minimize sin, because Jesus loves and forgives sinners. We can face the truth because He is merciful, and repentance is only possible when we face the truth and trust in His mercy. Now, we should not condemn other people. We should not over-focus on particular sins, but neither must we pretend that everything is okay because society says so. Hollywood is a lousy moral teacher and the popular media is no friend of Jesus.

I understand this is hard, and I am not minimizing the struggles we face. I have walked with people through the heartbreak of life. I know that one person can destroy a marriage. I have seen that sometimes people can't stay together and work it out. I understand that people aren't always wired to fit neatly into one man, one woman, forever. I know that a number of people find Jesus' teachings hurtful. These realities, however, support my belief that we are all hard-hearted. We are all broken, wounded, and sinful people living in an imperfect world. We all need to be saved. Good News, that's why Jesus came!

Most importantly, marriage is a sacrament--a sign of the union of Christ and His Church. Marriage is a sacrament of theosis: covenant love between a man and a woman reflects the salvation unity of God and humanity. Yes, we often do a lousy job of it. We sometimes fail, and our failures cause real damage to our children and to our society. Yes, we sin, but Jesus Christ redeems our failures and saves our children and our world. So let's be sorry for sin and failure and let's have hope in the power of Abba Father to save. Jesus tells us what marriage is, I do not believe we should tell Him He is wrong. Neither should we be ashamed and despair because of our failures. Rather we should pray with hope and even joy, "Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." Over and over. And know that He does.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Power of Prayer

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Psalm 19:7-14
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

"Shalom" is a Kingdom of God word. It means "peace," including health, welfare and prosperity. When God is King, all will be well. We will be well. We pray, “Thy Kingdom Come, Father."

Until that day, we serve God by proclaiming His coming kingdom in word and deed. This is Ancient Christian faith. James tell us to pray and praise; constant prayer in every circumstance. James says go to the church leaders for healing. James tells us to "confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed." Sin and sickness overlap. Jesus want to heal us: body and soul, mind, heart and spirit. Jesus also sends us to do the same for others. Prayer is the door which opens us to Him.  James has great trust in the power of prayer and so must we. He begins the letter (1:5) by saying "ask in faith, never doubting--for the doubter must not expect to receive anything form the Lord." Doubt and fear are drain prayer of its life.

This is our crisis; can we pray with faith? Can we see ourselves and repent of our sins? It is not enough to just 'say' the creed and confession; we must trust and repent. We must let the Holy Spirit heal and transform us by making us one with God in theosis.

The church today is in deep trouble across the board. It is tempting to give in to despair. But the Book of Numbers reminds us that this is nothing new. The unbelief and rebellion of Israel is a template for our own troubled times. We read from Numbers 11:1 "now the people became like those who complain." If we are complainers (and we are), we are not the first generation to be so... However, verse 4 further identifies a "collection" of people which is probably best translated as "riff-raff." These people have a "strong craving." In Genesis this word is used for Eve’s desire for the forbidden fruit. It is the same “sinful passion” which wounds our hearts and cut us off from God. We read that Israel disdains the manna pining after worldly foods, but the church does the same. We, too, take the Eucharist for granted while craving all that world has to offer instead. People skip church without a second thought, while others would distribute eucharist to anyone who walks in the door. We deceive ourselves that we are different, better than those Israelites, but we are not.

James says confess your sins to one another to be healed. We do confess our sins together each week, but we must go deeper to receive the healing. We must face ourselves and uncover the passions and secret sin at work within us. If you do not like the Enneagram find another tool or a spiritual guide, to hep with this vital work. Jesus offers healing, let us bring to Him our maladies.

However, the church in every age struggles with sin. Moses gets mad at God and asks to die. The apostles stop someone from exorcising demons in Jesus’ name because he did not follow them. We each, in our own way, despair of the ministry or become an obstacle to it. We are all prone to forget that God is not in our service, we are in His. Our nous is truly darkened. We are prone to sin.

Jesus warns us not to sin. Jesus says pluck out the sinful eye, cut off the sinful hand, avoid sin whatever the cost. Sin is an obstacle to God’s mercy; especially when it leads the little ones astray. How can we confront this evil within the church? Only by first repenting ourselves. Only by being a people of faithful prayer first. We must pray “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!" We embrace a discipleship focused on repenting and being healed—and the apostolic ministry of healing others and reconciling them with God.

Prayer of faith can do great things. Focus on Jesus and pray expecting great things.
addendum. Expectant prayer envisions the outcome and trusts God is able and willing to make it happen. An illustration. Long ago a minister in a rural community called together the area farmers during a brutal drought. He invited them to come together one afternoon and to pray for God to provide rain to the dry land. At the appointed time the farmers began to arrive, and all encircled the minister as they waited to begin. He looked around at the assembly and then sadly said, "Go home, there is no use in us praying." The people were shocked and began to ask him, "Why? Why cancel? We came a long way, shouldn't we pray?" The minister listened to them all for a moment and then answered them with these words. "You have come together, today, to ask God to open the heavens and pour forth rain upon the earth.... Yet not a single one of you brought an umbrella."

The prayer of faith can do amazing things.
prayer of faith is expectant.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Road to Messiah Identity

Isaiah 50:4-9     Psalm 116:1-8      James 3:1-12      Mark 8:27-36

Jesus asks the disciples, "who do you say I am?" because personal identity matters even to Jesus. Colossians 1:15 says that Jesus "is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation." The Ancient Fathers say that the divine image is within us, but we have lost the likeness. This means we are no longer our true self. The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us, so that the Word can become our flesh to unite us with God. This is theosis.

Ephesians 4 explains the human predicament: "They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart." The Greek word literally means a callus, and refers to the heart being covered by a hardened barrier. What is this callus on our heart?

I think it includes the 'persona, or 'mask' which is our "ego." While the ego flows from the True Self, it is not the image of God. An ego is necessary to survive in the world. It is impossible to simply be completely open. But the ego, who we are in the world, is not our true self. Our "personal identity" is a co-creation, including what others imposed upon us and what we fashion in order to live in this fallen world. The ego includes the "roles" we play in order to survive and thrive. Like an actor, we sometimes forget that we are not the roles we play, and we have all lost ourselves in the roles we play. Over time the ego identity hardens, covering the image of God in our heart with a callus which separates us from God, each other and even ourselves. "Who am I?" is the hardest question to answer because we spend much of our life avoiding the answer. Even if Jesus knew who He was, He still shares in our complicated human situation of keeping the ego from replacing the Self.

Jesus is the Messiah. Today we sing: "Crown Him with many crowns," but clearly are many crowns and different types of people have their own preference [+see below]:

A Messiah who is a righteous teacher of impeccable perfection, or the Shepherd who feeds the flock and heals the sheep. A successful King to rival Rome, or a Special Man like no others. A Wisdom Messiah who is the source esoteric information, a King who makes us safe and secure. A Messiah who saves us from pain, defeats oppressors on behalf of the poor and needy and reigns as Prince of Peace. Each is part of Jesus' Messianic identity--but however authentic they were part of His ego, not His True Self.

While we would crown Him with many crowns, He remains faithful to the Father's will and  His true identity, so He takes up the crown of thorns. The Cross: suffering, death and resurrection is the authentic, holy path of the Messiah Jesus.

Hebrews 5:8-9 says "Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered; and having been made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him." The Scriptures sometime say things which we might not ever realize are true. I always thought that the Jesus was perfect, I never thought he had to learn obedience, I never thought that suffering perfected Him. I guess I never thought through the implications of the Incarnation--that Jesus is really human.  

Jesus had to defeat the Passions and the False Identities which sought to control Him, and ultimately destroy Him. Jesus had to rebuke Satan's lies and human thinking. Jesus had to struggle to hear His Father's voice through the cacophony of false voices everywhere.

On the cross, Jesus does perfectly what He says we also must do. We must carry a cross and let the ego be crucified. The ego, that hardened callus on our heart that keeps the image of God hidden within us and separates us from God. The cross does not appeal, so, we prefer what is false and turn from holiness because the cost is too great. We are seduced by the same half truths and deceived like everyone else. We prefer to play a character which we know is "not me" to simply make it through another day.

Messianic pretenders perish. The crucifixion frees Jesus from becoming anti-Christ, a counterfeit Messiah who does the good things people want, but turns His back on God in the process.

We are called to be holy--to become what we already are, Children of God. Only the Holy Spirit can achieve this miracle of making us the image and likeness of God. The cross is the process. Hear Romans 6:5ff "For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we will certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. We know that our old self was crucified with Him so the body of sin might be destroyed and we might no longer be enslaved by sin."

+The Enneagram's Nine Paths might be a helpful model to look at the basic types of "persona".  https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/type-descriptions/
Each one has its strengths and special challenges. These different types would each have a particular vision of Messiah, and what He should be doing. Each view is partial, limited and therefore contains truth but not the whole truth. God's perspective would not only include, but also transcend each one, and this is Jesus' point. To be Messiah is beyond our understanding--so He says "tell no one" as He begins to school them in the godly definition of Messiah. Definitions matter.  Death and weakness as the expression of God's power is beyond the grasp of human beings....
Family Systems are another model for understanding the ego image and roles we play.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Job, Jesus and Preparation for Sunday

This Sunday we will be reading from the 8 chapter of Mark. It is the climax of the Gospel, the moment where, at Caesarea-Philippi, Jesus is declared to be the Messiah. The setting is a ripe context, being located near the springs which become the River Jordan and Mount Hermon (the Tribe of Dan had an ancient cult site there, 1 Enoch 13 associates it with Enoch's vision) it is an ancient pagan sanctuary to the god Pan and is a city built by a son of Herod, which he named for the Roman Emperor and himself. The archaeologists have discovered an ancient temple, to the Emperor?, as well. The demonic and world powers stand, lurking, as Jesus asks the question: Who am I? 

The Daily Cycle of Prayer has included chapters of The Book of Job for three weeks now. Job is a familiar story even if few have actually read the whole book. It presents the dilemma of an innocent man suffering and accusing God of injustice, while his pious friends insist that "all things happen for a reason" and that he must have sinned. Job had lost all his children and all his wealth, covered with sores he begged to die, while asserting his innocence and God's injustice.  This year, though, I realized that Job's situation is the Christian call. Jesus says that He takes precedence over our family, our wealth, and our very self... He says this many times and in many ways, but nothing is more stark as His words in Mark 8: "If you would be my disciple, pick up your cross and follow me." However horrific the story of Job appears to us, the Lord Jesus makes it the criteria for following Him.

The answer to the book of Job is Jesus.
In Jesus, God redeems innocent suffering as He embraces it in the human flesh of the Divine Man, His Son, Jesus. Every accusation of Job must be reframed as God responds, "I am with you in this." Job's question (Job 14:14), "Can a man die and live again?" is also answered in Jesus. The hopeless human condition of suffering and then death is redeemed in Jesus. The complaint that God is above it all, untouched by His creation, is proven, in Jesus, to be a false accusation.

The mystery of innocent suffering (and God rebukes the friends of Job who declare that no one is innocent and no suffering is undeserved) remains a mystery. Humans cannot philosophize it away, and for those in torment the wise words ring empty. We do well to recognize, as the Book of Job seems to imply, that it is beyond us to understand. Perhaps there is something intrinsic to the nature of God? Perhaps there is more to be revealed which will make sense of it all? Whatever else might be said about human suffering, the suffering Messiah, God become Man and literally holding our hand and walking with us as we enter the crucible, means that our pain is not meaningless. It matters to God. 

Why is the loss of all part of discipleship? Does it mean that we must literally leave our family and possessions, embracing extreme poverty as the only venue to our savior? What does such suffering mean? Sunday we will broach this sublime subject. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Healing Works: Faith in Action

Isaiah 35:4-7   James 2:1-17   Mark 7:24-37

Isaiah says to the fearful, "Be strong, do not fear...God will come and save you." This is a direct address to each of us, for fear is that deadliest passion which cuts us off from God and ourselves. Isaiah speaks of YHWH's promise to heal the blind, deaf, lame and mute and renew us with living waters. We are called to believe.

When James' asks, "What good is it if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?" He is saying that faith is more than an intellectual process; it is 'trust in action.' Mark 7 illustrates this dynamic, working trust. If you believe Jesus heals, then go to Him. That is the work of faith.

The Gentile woman believed and she worked extra hard to find Jesus as He hid. It is an awkward situation on many levels, but this mother's love for her daughter emboldened her to desperate measures. Jesus responded to her humble trust by saving the girl. Some undefined "they" brought the deaf-mute to Jesus. They too believed and acted. So what "work of faith" are we called to today?

Do you know someone who is broken physically or spiritually? Do you believe Jesus heals? Then Take them to Him.

Are you being asked to take the demonic* seriously. Jesus believe they were real. In the NT it comes up a lot [demon (63), satan (36) and devil (35)] with eight  stories of exorcism, plus summary references to Jesus casting out demons or giving His apostles that power. Demons aren't the cause of everything, but is pretending they don't exist a suitable strategy?

Maybe we need to bring the little girl--the child within each of us--to get freed of Satan's power. Fr Francis MacNutt, a healer and exorcist, teaches that wounds, sins and unforgiveness are fertile ground for the work of the demonic. Satan first laid hands on us as children. Almost as an affirmation of this insight, two adults came to my office and spontaneously shared the ongoing impact of their childhood experiences. Redemption is a hard work of faith and we must cooperate. Jesus saves, but we must face our inner self and go to Him.

Or perhaps we must see how we are the deaf mute. We each have our own nous--our soul or personality which is the way we function in the world (think, feel, perceive, judge, act). We are each  deaf, or hard of hearing, in particular ways. We are deaf to some of  God's word. We are also deaf to others, especially those who are different from us. To not listen to God is to sin. Sin can deafen our nous more and more. Speech can mean more than just talking. We are called to witness to Jesus' Kingdom, but most of us are mute on the subject. Some types of personalities find it very hard to say things like "I need help," or "I am wrong," or "I am sorry." If repentance includes confession, how can we be saved by our silence? Speech is gift--when we verbalize inner issues we are open to healing. Jesus heals us and gives us voice; so we must speak.

Perhaps you found another invitation in the Gospel today. Whatever you heard, remember to hear and act on it, to believe and do the work of faith. Jesus want to save us and He stands ready.

MacNutt's book is excellent   https://www.amazon.com.au/Deliverance-Evil-Spirits-Practical-Manual-ebook/dp/B00B8564WE

Sunday, September 2, 2018

On Law

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Deuteronomy is structured as a series of "speeches" by Moses, providing historical context for the Law/Instruction received from God and providing a framework (blessings/curses) for all that is to follow leading up to the Exile.

Our reading today begins: Israel, "shama" (Listen/hear/obey/pay attention/give heed) to the choq and mishpat . The first of these is translated laws, decrees, limits, statute. It comes from the root to cut or hack, and includes the idea of engraving (making a permanent decree), while mishpat means to pass judgement and can also mean law or rule, expectations of justice. The command to do the Lord's will is connected to a specific promise: "so that you may live to enter and occupy the land the Lord is giving you." Note the mundane and temporal connection to the Law--it is not so that one can "die and go to heaven" but rather that one "can live and enter the Land." Both verses 2 and 5 declare this same promise. The Torah as part of the gift of God's loving nearness is expressed eloquently in v 7&8 "For what great nation is there that has a god so close at hand as is the Lord our God whenever we call upon Him? Or what great nation has law and rules as perfect as this Teaching that I set before you this day?"

James picks up in the first chapter of his letter. having warned his readers that sin comes not from God's temptations but from the epithymia (desire, longing, craving, lust = the passions) within. We pick up today with the declaration that every good and perfect gift is from above; the Judeo-Christian recognition of God's initiative in the face of our struggle with sin. As the passions give birth to sin, so God's word of truth gives birth to His people--the first fruits of His creatures. This implanted word has the power to save our lives, but only if we "do the word.'' The ancient teachers all understood the difference between hearing as a passive exercise and an empty cognitive process as opposed to integrating what is heard and acting upon it. It's like looking at yourself in the mirror and then forgetting what you see. This will be at the heart of next week's famous verse--"faith without works is dead." Torah is the Law of Freedom, not freedom from obedience and doing good, but the freedom to believe, trust and obey in word and action.

How better to understand our excerpts from Mark 7 on clean and unclean? The Jewish Bible contains much on ritual purity which is not the same as moral purity. A poor analogy might be a dress code, where someone is barred entrance to a particular place because they are not wearing a tie. They are not in an "appropriate" condition to enter. The ritual purity laws were concerned with people in good moral standing who were otherwise off limits or barred entrance to the holy places. Mark 7, in the extended version, mixes two discussions, ritual purity and Jewish dietary practices, culminating with Jesus' declaration on moral purity, that is, what makes someone impure is what comes from their heart (and He lists some of the deadly passions, or sinful desires, which lurk within each of us.

Jesus lists a series of sins and one notes that they appear prominently in the Nine Paths literature as well. Jesus clearly contrasts sins with the pious practices of religious groups, in this case the Pharisees. In our own time, we are familiar with debates about eating meat on Friday, dancing or drinking, and more recently recycling and various hot social topics are fodder for argument. Jesus' point is that one can not raise these to the level of the deadly passions. One cannot negate God's word and replace it with "our group's particular worries and concerns."

Jews are no more apt to embrace rules to justify themselves than any other group, and they were certainly not the worst offenders in the time of Jesus. If our religious practices are one way of asserting our identity and making sense of life, they are not the only way. Any parent who has shopped for clothing in the wrong store quickly learns that there are dress codes in school--one the official school code and the other the "word of mouth/traditions" of the children--and it is often the latter which brings down the greater pain. Humans create their own laws of unfreedom all the time. It is part of the fallen condition. Religion is but one place to do this.

In summary, we are confronted today with reflections on the place of law (Torah instruction) in the time of Jesus and in our own day. It requires courage to look in that mirror James speaks of and see our face, to discover the particular passions within our souls. It takes hard work to remember what we saw there and battle against it. And it takes the grace of the Holy Spirit to transform us into Children of God. In the mean time, Jesus warns, we must be aware of our tendency to emphasize the wrong things--our own 'traditions and practices'--while losing touch with the real evil at work within us. The Torah and Tradition of Israel, like the Gospel and Tradition of Ancient Christianity, are at the heart of the journey from enslavement to the passions into children of God, embracing His instruction and acting on it. No one is saved in a moment, it is always a long, challenging process of turning hearing into doing. If the road seems overlong, do not despair. It is God who will accomplish within you the new birth in Jesus.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Where to go?

John 6:56-69

Today I will share the Gospel with 3-8 year olds. How does one explain the deep meaning of Jesus' preaching in a synagogue, saying very strange things which sound like cannibalism? It is beyond the grasp of adults, how much more the concrete, simple minds of the young. It was certainly offensive to Jewish ears, even more than it offends our own. Jews had a law not to eat blood. The words "eat my flesh" and "drink my blood" are such graphic images that baffled and confused both Jesus' friends and foes.

The reaction of some followers, paraphrasing here--"This is rough stuff," they say, "too hard to handle!"--caused them to leave Him. Jesus asks too much. Is it any different today, when often times, we are tempted to tone Jesus down, to manage Him by softening His message and conforming it to our views--theologically, politically, socially.... Yes, we call Him a great teacher, a wise man who preaches love and acceptance, but always garbed in robes which do not offend our sensibilities and keep Him under our control. Yet here, baffling our expectations, He confronts the discomfort of His listeners by upping the ante. "You think this is hard, what about me returning to the Father in heaven?"

Jesus is so much more than a teacher or rabbi, so much more than a healer of bodies and forgiver of sins. At the heart of His message today is the idea that communion with Him (eating and drinking) is abiding in Him. To abide, literally to stay in or live in, in Jesus is to share in His life. If our image of heaven is a place where we go to enjoy the after-life, it is possible to see eucharist and communion as tools to achieve eternal bliss, boxes to be checked off. We do this in memory of Him to assure our place--whether we take the eating/drinking literally (catholic) or not (protestant). Perhaps there is more to it. In John 1:36 when the first disciples come to Him, they ask Jesus, "where do you abide?" Five chapters later we read one of the answers, Jesus says, "I abide in those who eat my flesh and drink my blood."

This is theosis. I was recently asked by a young child, "What does you are what you eat mean?" In eucharistic terms it means we eat Jesus and we become Jesus. Our bodies become temples of His presence. The incarnation extends to our very person and we become one with God--divinized. The nine paths of sin provide insight into how we are particularly inclined to see the world and twist things to meet our fears, needs, and desires. Unity with Jesus--His abiding presence within and through us--saves us from our own efforts to be "good" (or helpful, successful, special, knowledgeable, peaceful, strong, right, etc.--we each have our particular favorite). It's not simply a legal fiction where God says "innocent" because Jesus took our sins upon Him (although that is an angle). The words of Jesus today remind us that the Father sees Jesus when He looks at us because we are, in fact, one with Jesus. We are Him and He is us. Food really becomes us when we eat and digest, just so spiritual food becomes us as well.

Jesus uses other analogies, Lord/servant, Husband/wife, Father/child, Vine/branch, Shepherd/sheep. All shed light on a mystery, a mystery too deep for adult minds, but hopefully one which resonates with a child's heart.

If Jesus is "too much," and He is in a sense, then we must answer His question: "will you leave Me, too?" Worldly wise are leaving in large numbers. Jesus has been rejected by most--whether overtly (in unbelief) or covertly (in wrong believing and unconverted minds and hearts; perhaps my own?). In the end, Peter speaks for us all. "Where would we go? You have the words of eternal life."

Some, those afflicted with acedia, despair of the enterprise. Jesus requires too much, so they embrace agnostic or atheistic rejection of His demands. Some, afflicted with hubris and self-deceit, construct a religious bulwark (and sometimes cleverly declare it 'not religion') adopting a creed and practice which provides surety and comfort in the face of life's travails. Some, Jesus says "few," eat Him and drink Him, these are in the process of becoming Him.

Where do you go for the words of eternal life? Are you aware of the foolish voices within? the idolatrous constructs which you have embraced? The false self which encompasses your heart keeping Jesus at bay? Will you be brave and trust Him, doing the work of the journey?

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood, I will abide in him, and he will live forever....

Friday, August 24, 2018

Cry Baby?

The "white middle class," like all demographic groups, tends to have a particular lense through which it sees things. Arguably, 'being a success and looking good' are shared values for many of us. Hence, the church is often understood to be a place for people who look good and are successful (measured in various ways) to gather as "good Christians" to pray and fellowship. This is a big a problem when it is an unconscious rule for behavior. "Are you saved?" means did you complete the prescribed process and are you now a good person. Salvation, understood as union with God, like Jesus' incarnation, is a process which is far more complex than joining the church, or making a confession of faith, or receiving imputed righteousness. 

A group of women shared with me their experience of crying at church sometimes, and having people ask them, "What is wrong?" Sadly, few Christians are trained in the spiritual way of the Ancient Church which spoke of tears as part of the salvation process. 

We weren't trained in a model of salvation as union with God. Rather, we saw our duty as checking the boxes to insure eternal bliss in Heaven and tried to maintain a lifestyle which kept God from getting too close without making Him mad at us. Sort of like our parents when we were teenagers.

In Orthodox Psychotherapy, Bishop Hierotheos provides the science of the Fathers. Psycho (Greek for soul) and Therapy (Greek for healing) are understood spiritually as the fullness of salvation--including repentance in response to grace, discipline in conjunction with the working of the Holy Spirit, and the embrace of a new mind and new heart as (slowly) given us by God.

When our mind (Greek is nous, basically our personality=thinking, feeling, perceiving, judging) is fallen it is in darkness.  The essence of our identity, our real self, lies deep within the heart (I call this the Image of God). As one's nous (understood as our 'ego' or constructed identity) is healed by divine light, it becomes one with our deepest heart and true self. When we are no longer divided (torn between allegiance to God and the 'world, flesh, devil'), our "personality/mind" and deep heart (true self) become one. The heart is freed of sinful passions, or deadly desires and is transformed to seek Abba Father and union with the Holy Three. Bishop Hierotheos writes (143) "This union is confirmed by tears of compunction and a sweet sense of the love of God.' He continues that tears are a sign of that healing process and that the ascetic rank tears very highly.  A bit later the Bishop says (183) "The value of tears is great...Tears are a sign of a man reborn...if we realize our sinfulness...if we have acquired the gift of self-knowledge and self-reproach, then we spontaneously begin to weep....Tears open the eyes of the soul...St. Symeon the New Theologian, who with others can be characterized as a theologian of tears, says that tears are a sign of life." He concludes that tears are as necessary for the soul as food and drink are for the body.

Weeping in public in "our world" is embarrassing. It is considered weak by many, and it leads people to ask, "What is wrong with you?" There is much teaching from Ancient Fathers (and Mothers) about the importance of tears. We are talking about the work of the Holy Spirit within us, no one should generate emotions to appear to be crying. Anything false does not give life. However, as the Ancient Tradition understands the Scriptures, the process of becoming one with the Lord is intimately tied to facing the personality/self which we currently are and mourning about the gap (from what God created us to be) as we walk the wrong path/miss the target. As we honestly and courageously do this, we simultaneously see God more clearly--His love and mercy also produce tears of gratitude and joy.

The Bible is filled with stories of tears. Jesus Himself wept on more than one occasion. You and I, if we are growing closer to the Holy Three God will find that we cry more and more. It is what happens. The road to salvation is watered by many tears. The question is, if church is not a safe place for people to cry as they grow closer to the Lord, where then shall they go? 

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Come Home to Abba

Book of Proverbs 9:1-6
Psalm 34
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

Proverbs 9 is an image of the celebration feast when finally we come home to Abba Father. Jesus is the meal, the Bread of Life, feeding anyone, even the poor and outcasts. These people, looked down upon by the "proper folks" of Jesus' day are marginalized. In Wisdom they are called the foolish—immature, na├»ve, and easily led astray—and we are included… So Ephesians warns us: "Look diligently how you walk, not as fools but as wise."

we know that Jesus is the wise path, but we are not always exactly sure how to walk in Him. There are so many foolish paths in the world and the signage is not always clear. Because humans instinctively avoid pain and seek pleasure, the sinful passions lead us to choose the false paths. We wander in falsehood with hungry souls, while in God’s Kingdom the table of real food and fellowship untouched. 

Remember the commercial, “What’s in your wallet?” Wisdom asks, “What’s in your heart?” Hear this: The Image of God is in your heart. At your core you are beautiful and beloved, but the Image is covered by the “self” you have created in response to the pain of life and to avoid your greatest fear: the fear of—being bad, being unloved, being worthless, being insignificant, being helpless, being unsupported, being trapped, being hurt, or being lost—pick one or many, whatever it is, doubt and fear are the rich soil for your rebellion and sin. The Holy Spirit is in your heart, too, we are not alone or hopeless, but we sometimes we do turn in the wrong direction.

“Sin” is often called “walking the wrong path.” It is easy to get lost. There are many paths to Jesus, but they are narrow and hard. There are many more paths, easier and wider, headed away from home. We get wrong directions, we don’t read maps, we want to do our own thing and sometimes we hurt so bad that we just run away without paying attention to where we are going. So, the most important question of life is, “How do I find the way home to Father God and myself?”

We are all different, but there are similar patterns which people adopt in thinking, feeling, perceiving, and judging. God is saving us, even now, so we must cooperate by becoming more aware of which foolish paths appeal to us. The most dangerous path—trying to heal ourselves—takes many forms and we unconsciously cling to. We prefer distractions rather than face the Lie at work within us. We reject the way of the cross and death, but understand, the self which dies on the cross is a usurper, our own creation, and until it is gone, God’s Image remains hidden within us. The Christian life style open us to Jesus’ healing light. We cannot fix ourselves, but God will not save us against our will. We must work to remove the obstacles to union with God. We must get on the wise path. We must see ourselves for what we are, but we can only face ourselves if we look to the Lord and see our face reflected in His eyes. Abba sees what you are, but also what you shall be when united with Jesus you are fully a child of God. Jesus heals. Come home to Abba Father.

The Enneagram comes from ancient wisdom traditions and can be helpful in discerning the ways we are unconsciously led astray. Here are three tests to help you begin your personal discernment process 


For an overview of the types: 

The three books I've read (there are many more)
"The Road Back to You" Ian Cron & Suzanne Stabile (they have podcasts too)
"The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective" Richard Rohr & Andreas Ebert (Check Rohr's website)
"The Sacred Enneagram" Christopher Heuertz 

I value the Enneagram as a supplementary tool to Orthodox Psychotherapy. It makes the concept of "the passions" concrete and helps us see how they are at work in the "nous" (mind/soul) and how the heart is made inhospitable for God. Discerning your type takes time and effort, and each one of us has our own particular way of living it out. Trust God, be patient, and begin the journey!