Tuesday, January 30, 2018


Deuteronomy 18:15-20     Psalm 111   1 Corinthians 8:1-13   Mark 1:21-28

Mark does not tell us what Jesus said in that synagogue, but we know that people are astonished at His teaching because Jesus teaches "as one with authority" and not like the scribes. 

The Greek word for authority, exousia, is also translated as 'power.' Those two words occur one hundred times in the New Testament. Authority is defined in the Blueletter Bible as "the power to do as one pleases." [The Greek root exesti means "it is lawful"] The word exousia is a composite of the preposition ek, "out of or from," and ousia (from eimi) which is the verb "to be." Authority/power comes from the being of the person, or from who a person is. God use the verb "to be" to answer Moses' question "Who are you?" "I am" says God, "Tell them 'I am' sent you." [The Hebrew hayah is translated ego eimi in the Greek Bible, which is Jesus' preferred usage to refer to Himself in the Fourth Gospel] Quite literally, all power and authority come from God, and in Jesus, God become Human, the authority is palpable.

While palpable, I doubt the people could define what they experienced. They knew He was different from the religious leaders who taught them. They felt the power in His words---a power to reveal God, forgive sins, heal people and free them from demons. Jesus' speech has life giving, life changing power. It is divine speech.

Remember that in Genesis God speaks the heavens and the earth--God said "let there be" and "it was". The question* is, did creation end with the seventh day? In one sense, yes, but in a real sense, God is still in the process of (speaking creation) creating the world which He intended from the beginning. It is not done yet! So redemption may be seen as the process of recapturing what is gone astray, reshaping what is gone wrong, healing what is broken, and making constant improvements and adjustments. So Jesus' words continue God's creative work! The Father's goal is to make all things one in Him (e.g. Colossians 1:15ff) Theosis, that love-union, is the creative power of God's Holy Spirit at work within us. As we see in that synagogue, this power of God casts out the lies and demons which cripple us. It frees us from the sinful passions which rule and ruin us. The Holy Spirit completes our salvation.

Of key importance, though, is
Jesus also shares His power with us. The Trinity actually live within us. This union empowers and authorizes us as minister of salvation light to the world. God redeems us for the purpose of uniting us to Himself in love and authorizing us for the salvation of all creation. As the saving love of God is ever flowing into us, so it must constantly flow out of us as healing salvation for others. (Mt 10:8 Jesus said, "What you have received as a gift, you must give as a gift." see Agnes Sanford's "Healing Light") 

So, of course, we must see ourselves as parishioners in that synagogue hearing  Jesus' word and opening up to His power cleansing our minds and hearts of all that is unclean. We need constant healing of body, soul and spirit. We received His salvation, but that is the beginning, not the end. We are His Body, the church, so we must also see ourselves (in union with Jesus) proclaiming the message and casting out the evil which afflicts the lives of others. That is the faithful work of love and gratitude. That is where we usually drop the ball. We become disciples but fail to be apostles. We do not understand this theosis/union. 

We are the Word incarnate until Jesus returns in glory. We have the power and authority to do as we please in His Name--so let us choose to do what pleases Him. We are the Spirit-filled children of God--so let us live as true children of God. So whom will God amaze through you in the week to come?

*perhaps a clue in John 5:16-17 Jesus defends His miracles on the Sabbath saying, "My Father is working until now and so I am working''

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart (Ps 111:1)

Sunday, January 21, 2018

On God's Repentance and Other Mysteries of Incarnation

Jonah 3:1-5,10   1 Corinthians 7:29-31   Mark 1:14-20

In the Gospel, Jesus says, “Repent and believe.” He calls us to turn from a hell of our own making to embrace (theosis) union with God. Repentance is turning from sin and death and turning to the Father in trusting, obedient love; but Jesus will not force anyone to enter His Kingdom. We must all repent, but surprisingly the Bible says God repents, too.

The two Hebrew verbs for repentance, shuwb (turn around) and nacham (regret, feel sorry), are both applied to God. Today we hear that God changed His mind about the punishment upon Nineveh. The word nacham also occurs in Genesis 6:6-7. There we read that God regrets that He created man. He is so sorry that He undoes creation. While we prefer to think of God as always in control and all knowing; the Bible stories often describe a different kind of God. The ancient authors ask us to experience the Lord at a more human level.

Most of us know this story. God calls Jonah to be his prophet. Jonah rejects the offer and heads off in the other direction. A big storm and a big fish later, Jonah is spewed upon dry land. God tells him again, “Go tell Nineveh what I said.” So Jonah declares doom with no invitation to repent. Yet the entire city does just that, making him the most successful prophet in history. The people turn (shuwb) from their sin in the hope that God will also turn (3:9). Which is exactly what He does: God sees, God regrets, God relents. How can God do this?

The “incarnation” of God means that He enters human time and space. In order to do this, He empties Himself to reach us. In a real sense God dies to Himself for love of us. We see that in Jesus’ incarnation, but we must understand that God must empty Himself every time He interacts with creation: He loves us and calls us. He sees sin, He regrets that He made us. He is angry and just. He is merciful, patient and kind. He destroys and He saves. All of this very human language is used to describe God’s activity among us.

God reveals that He is very serious about union with us (theosis). God really offers us a choice, and God allows us to impact Him in time and space. We decide to walk away and we decide to turn back around. He does not cause it. He does respond, though. 

When Jesus says, “Repent and believe,” it is a real message. Biblically speaking, God has a desire that each one of us become His children. We are the joy of His heart, but we can also break His heart by turning away. We can sin and make Him regret He ever made us and He can hand us over to perdition. If we repent and turn back to Him, however, He will repent and turn back to us.

I understand why such talk offends. It seems to reduce God to one of us, a mere human…..but isn't that what incarnation means? God has reduced Himself to one of us, a mere human. There is more to the story, but that is at the heart of the story. God loves you enough to empty Himself of divinity in order to fill you up with divinity. So repent and believe the Good News.   

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Listen, Hear, Understand, Obey

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)     1 Corinthians 6:12-20     John 1:43-52   Psalm 139

The priest Eli has misgoverned Israel, allowing his sons to disdain the Lord. Their contempt for God is an unforgivable sin (1 Sam 2:25). Today we read that Eli's sight is dimming and he is going blind. We also read that 'the lamp of God had not yet gone out in the temple.' The sanctuary lamp that burns all night is almost out of oil, meaning the night is almost over. The symbolic meaning is that a new day is dawning upon a time of darkness and blindness.

In the Jewish ordering, the previous book is Judges. Seven times it records that "Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord" (2:11, 3:7, 3:12, 4:1, 6:1, 10:6, 13:1). The last judge, Samson, is a dismal failure who makes bad decisions based on pleasing his own eyes. He is not a leader, but a wild loaner who breaks his vows to God. His battles are motivated by personal vengeance, not serving the needs of Israel or serving God. He also ends up blind. In the Book of Judges it says (17:6, 21:25) that "there was no king in Israel so each man did what was right in his eyes." The Book of Samuel begins with the understanding that they are blind people led by blind leaders.

This darkness is expressed starkly in verse 1 "the word of the Lord was rare in those days, there were no frequent visions." No word. No visions. The blind priest Eli has failed as a "seer" for Israel. 

The Lord calls the boy in the darkness and three times he runs to Eli saying "Here I am." On the third time the old priest discerns that it is God and instructs his protégé in how to respond: "Speak Lord your servant is listening." Is it noteworthy that young Samuel fails to say "Lord" when he responds? As is so often the case in biblical narrative, we are not told.... I think it is important.

The name Samuel is a composite of the words shama= "hear" and el="God." The English translation of shama includes hearken, hear, listen, understand, obey. The creedal prayer of Dtn 6:4 "Shema Yisrael" (Hear Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is One) ties together Moses and Samuel. God has spoken His word who will listen? Who will interpret and speak the divine will?

In the biblical literature, God is not always present. When He is, He is usually  silently present. If He speaks to someone it is to call them to a leadership role; but these human instruments remain fallible people. By chapter 8, "Samuel became old." He had plans, setting up his sons as judges over Israel. Ironically, they are like the sons of Eli. They are not worthy to the task. As a result, Israel's elders will demand a king. The era of judges comes to a close and the era of kings begins. Samuel is the end of one and begins the other.

The story of Samuel is about this transition. It is a reminder that God saves by intervening in history, not controlling it. There are ups and downs and lots of twists and turns. God does not preserve people from the struggles of life. 

Is God silent and absent in our age? Some claim to hear Him, but they are also fallible and imperfect, and often times I doubt their claims. We do have the Scriptures, though, so as we wait for Jesus to return we can prayerfully search His Word to hear Him. We have the gift of the Holy Spirit. We have the voice of the church. We can say, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening." We can listen, hear, understand and obey. 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

baptism of the Lord 2018

Genesis1:15      Acts 19:1-7     Mark 1:4-11     Psalm 29

Most religious cultures have some type of ritual cleansing practice. Removing "impurity" and sin is a human need before entering the presence of the Holy. Such rituals are visible expressions of spiritual realities which are invisible. Insincerity can empty the ritual of its power. To just be "going through the motions" disconnects the person's heart from the liturgical behavior rendering it meaningless. This is also true of Christian sacraments.

Water is ambiguous. We cannot live without it, but can be destructive. Water is connected to life and death, blessing and curse. The great waters of Genesis 1 are described as chaos which God must put into order. These same waters return as the flood in Noah's story. In Exodus water saves Israel but destroys Pharaoh's army. In both cases, those who belong to God 'pass through the waters' and are saved, while those opposed to God are swept away and perish. Yet, the story indicates that Noah's family and Israel do not leave sin and struggle behind. We, like them, must constantly repent and return to God our Savior.

The symbolic waters of baptism are also ambiguous. We are plunged into these waters to die--die to self, die to sin. We often down play the death part of baptism. It is also true that we emerge, a new creation in Christ, with the promise of life everlasting. Baptism  cleanses us of sin and death; yet we continue to sin and we all die. The waters set us right with God, making us His holy children; yet too often we are alienated from God and one another.

Baptism is not magic. We still live in this world of light and darkness, a world where chaos is a constant threat and people, even good Christian people, are not perfect. Union with God is a work in progress. Repentance, confession and penance are the daily remedy for what is broken and incomplete. The Holy Spirit uses them to renew our baptismal purity. We are born again in baptism, but each day we battle to cling to the new life. We must pray, we must learn the Scriptures and we must love and serve the Lord and one another. This is the work of the Holy Spirit within us, but too many of us are like the people in Acts who had no experience of the Holy Spirit. The fullness of the Spirit's power is dormant within us, because we fail to understand and we do not believe. We cannot believe we are holy or that God is using us to save the world in Jesus Name. Perhaps, right now, we need to hear God say to each of us, "you are my beloved son, my beloved daughter." Hear it and believe. We need to trust that Abba Father is well pleased with us and loves us beyond our imaging. Hear it and believe it. We need to trust the Holy Spirit is already in us ready to do amazing things.

Baptism opens the door to eternity, but our baptism into Jesus happens in this finite world. We must cooperate with God as He divides the light from darkness in our own lives. As I said last week, we are in the process of becoming what we already are---one with the Triune God by grace.

The Father calls Jesus His beloved Son. Through faithful baptism, we receive the same designation. Beloved Son. Beloved daughters. So let us open our hearts to receive the power of baptism. Let us purify our minds and hearts, let us pray and study, so we can understand what God's Word and Spirit are telling us. Let us love and serve others as if creation depended upon it! Baptism is the beginning of an amazing journey deeper into the heart of God. It is not always an easy journey, it is actually very difficult, yet fear not, the journey's end is already within us, for God dwells in the heart of the baptized.