Sunday, July 22, 2018

Jesus the Shepherd

Jeremiah 23:1-6

Ephesians 2:11-22

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

In Numbers 27:12 Israel stands poised to enter the Promised Land. This is the completion of the salvation begun when He delivered them from Egypt. While the Exodus is about real people in a real place, the underlying revelation in the story is about a universal spiritual story. Salvation has two dimenions—freedom from sin and death (Kingdom of Darkness; metaphorical “Egypt”) and entry into God’s Kingdom where we become one with Him and each other (Promised Land= theosis).  Moses "knowing he was soon to die, Moses asked God to "appoint someone over the community... [to lead them]… so that that the Lord's community may not be like sheep that have no shepherd."" Why did Moses make such a prayer when God is faithful? Because God has given over the world to us. Our openness is a vital part of the Kingdom coming. This is why Jesus teaches us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come.” God heard Moses’ prayer and designated Joshua as the shepherd. There would be other shepherds as well, the Judges, the Kings, especially David, and, of course, the Messiah, Son of David.  

In Jeremiah’s day, the failures of David’s sons had reached its pinnacle. The King and leaders had failed the people. God was angry and spoke a word of judgement. First He condemns those in leadership for abusing their power. God says that He 'tend' to them, and then He will tend to the people. In every age those in power are accountable to God for abusing their power. In every age God speaks salvation to those who are victims of oppression and abuse. We will all be responsible to God for our abuse of power.

In the Gospel reading today we see Jesus fulfill the Word: Jesus is the perfect fulfillment both of Moses’ prayer and Jeremiah’s prophecy. Jesus is the True Shepherd who brings us into the Kingdom union for which we were made.

Mark shows how hard this type of Kingship was. Jesus gets no rest. Ever. The crowds seek Him out everywhere. Wherever He goes, they find them, so He teaches and heals, endlessly. He is fully human, and we sometimes gloss over this. We negate His humanity and say "He is God," ignoring that He is God Incarnate. No doubt exhausted beyond our imagining, Jesus is always the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. Every day He dies on the cross so we can live.

Believe this: Jesus is your Shepherd, too. You are His lamb, a sheep of His flock. You are precious and beloved. He wants to teach and heal you: body, heart and soul.  But we doubt it is true. We are afraid it won’t work. We look at the crowds and say “others are more needy or deserving." So we withdraw or  wander.

But, if we turn to Him, He will minister to us. But God said that He will raise up other shepherds, raise up others who will tend to the broken ones. Jesus empowers us to be shepherds in His name. The Church is Jesus present in the world. The world does not need our arguments and political wrangling. It needs truth and love. It needs to be taught God's word and be healed and set free. We, too, must believe and have the courage to act on our faith. We are to be the answer to Moses’ prayer and Jeremiah’s prophecy. Through us, Jesus continues to teach and heal. In us Jesus is God’s love incarnate, leading people from Egypt to The Promised Land. This, too, can be hard to believe and hard to do, but it is what God redeems us to be: One with Jesus. And Jesus sends us in His name for others. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

On Living Together Well

From Daily Office lectionary for today

Romans 12: 9-21

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 20 No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

I used bold to emphasize some of the verses. The verses where Paul is quoting Jesus' teaching (as found in the Jewish Scriptures) and is challenging us all to a way of living which is foreign to every impulse and desire of our hearts.

I recommend Orthodox Psychotherapy by Bishop Hierotheos, who has been a bishop the last twenty three years. It is a handbook on theosis as understood by the Ancient and Eastern church. Psychotherapy in Greek means soul/spirit healing. I have slowly read the book the last two years and am in my third read through. 

It calls us to pursue union with God. Until we are united with God, our values and efforts to do right are going to be fatally flawed. Our mind is "darkened" and we need the Light of Truth (Jesus) to heal us. Our heart is attached to the wrong things, or the right things in a wrong way; these 'passions' or hurtful, sinful desires need to be forgiven and healed. Until that happens, any efforts to bring justice will always be impacted by our selfishness and sinfulness. In other words, Christians will battle each other, even to the death, in the name of Jesus. We do not fully know the truth, but we still impose our faith on one another. 

In every conversation between people of good will, the first task is defining terms. What do I mean by justice, peace, racism, fairness, honesty, etc. This is not semantics, nor is it avoiding the issue. It is just clarifying things so we can engage in the hard work of living together. Many conflicts are the result of people using language in different ways, or coming to different conclusions based on faulty assumptions. Remember the biblical "mind/soul" or nous, includes the functions of perceiving, thinking, feeling, understanding and judging. None of these is totally trustworthy because we are all malfunctioning and we do not always know how. This produces dangerous conflicts. This why even good people do great damage, and why conflicts quickly escalate into uncontrolled rage.  

The renewal of our mind, for which Paul advocates, entails the sort of attitude and behaviors found in the reading today: Genuine love for the other, especially the other with whom I disagree. The unhealed mind and heart are incapable of it and none of us will achieve it on this planet, but we can begin each day to guard our thoughts and hold them to the light of Jesus. We can be aware of the movements within our own souls and the need for constant repentance. It is difficult to say the least, and few of us are inclined to do it, or good at it even when we choose to do it.

The dilemma is in the current unpleasantness people are going after each other in vicious ways. There is actual emotional and physical harm. People are destroying the lives of others, and often times feel morally superior in the process. The human reaction to such threats is to respond in kind. Can we learn from Paul (who was often beaten and died a martyr) who is preaching the Crucified Jesus? Can those who claim Christ also embrace His willingness to forgive all, to love all, even as He challenges each one to convert and believe?

My guess is the passions (fear, anger, resentment, greed, envy, etc.) make it difficult to even try. Today, reading Romans, I experienced my daily reminder that I have far to go in this journey of faith. I was reminded that the world will be a better place if I simply do what I am told to do in this reading. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Suffering for the Word and Discerning the Word

Amos 7:7-15
psalm 85:8-13
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

Amos is probably the first prophet whose preaching was complied as a written document. He lived during the reigns of the two kings Uzziah (783-742) of Judah and Jeroboam II (785-745) of Israel. It was a time of economic and military expansion. However, the material success did not reflect faithfulness to God.

Amos says that he was an ordinary man (working with flocks and trees) when the Lord sent him to bring the bad news to the Israel that their end was near. This judgement happened twenty five years later, in 722BC, when the capital of Samaria fell to the Assyrians and those tribes of Israel were lost forever.

Judgment is never pleasant and so we understand the Amaziah's of the world. We also prefer to hear that "all will be well." We, too, are inclined to "shoot the messenger." Amaziah told Amos "go home." Most of us would cheer the priest who stood up to the negative prophet. Amos stood steadfastly and declared Israel's end. In 7:16-17 (left out in today's reading) the prophet responds on a personal level: "your wife will be a prostitute, your children will die by the sword, your land will be divided out, and you will die in a foreign land; because Israel will be exiled." That is harsh. I can imagine the prophet confronting the politically connected priest and I can imagine that priests reaction to such words. No one wants to hear such words, but it doesn't really matter what we want to hear. The truth can be harsh.

John the Baptizer was also an unwelcome prophet. He confronted Herod and made enemies in high places. the man who lived in the desert under the stars spent his last days locked away in a dank prison. Then a soldier was dispatched with a sword. Did John wonder if God had forsaken him during that time? He was faithful to God and the cost of such loyalty to God is the way of the cross.

Because the world can be harsh, Jesus tells us, "Do not fear but believe." Courage and trust are at the heart of our Christian life. The struggles and challenges of Amos and John remind us why faith and courage are so important. When the powerful of the world turn against you, it is a temptation to edit the message and make it more pleasing. Faithfulness takes faith. Faithfulness takes courage. Living God's word has a price.

Please understand, this is not a call to pessimism or negativity. It is a call to reality. God's prophetic word is always judgement but that judgement is not only exile, death and punishment. It is also deliverance, healing and mercy. It is our task to discern what the Father is truly saying. Fr. Joseph and I read the word and preach it, but each of you, must prayerfully discern if you hear God speaks through us.

How can one know if Amos or John, Joseph or Jeff is speaking a true message from God? One ancient biblical criteria was confirmation--Amos warned and Israel was exiled--so are the warnings accurate, or the promises fulfilled? Another criteria is the Scripture and Tradition: is it consistent with God's Word in the Bible and His Church's teaching? On a personal level, the criteria is theosis. Does the message bring God into you and you into God? Does the message enlighten your mind? Does the message free you from the deadly passions? Does the message make you holy?

There are many voices and much that is new and innovative. We do not want to be Amaziah or Herod rejecting the ones whom God has sent us. Yet with some many conflicting voices it is hard to know what to believe, especially when many of those voices seem so confident. The hard task will probably only get harder in days ahead. And the opposition to God and His word will get worse. Much worse. Union with God is the only way to make it through the challenges we face ahead. Like Amos and John, we must be prepared to declare His word if He sends us.

Let us pray: Lord, the world, the flesh and the devil speak falsehood, send the Holy Spirit to guide us in all truth, to be filled with Jesus and serve you faithfully. Amen.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Jesus Couldn't

Mark 6:1-13

The Gospel today is a difficult one to process. we hear that Jesus "could do not deed of power there, except He laid His hands on a few sick people and cured them. And He was amazed at their unbelief." Mark's story has a parallel in Matthew 13:53-58. One wonders if this scandalized Christians so that later Matthew wrote Jesus 'did not do' many mighty works there (along with a couple other interesting edits). Did the later Gospels worry that Mark might be misunderstood and that the wrong conclusions might be drawn about Jesus?

The Scriptures are the revelation of God to us, but God uses human authors. How much autonomy they had is a matter of debate. What we do know is they are not always in complete agreement. The assumptions we bring to this collection of ancient books will dictate how we understand and interpret them. Mark clearly states that Jesus is amazed by their unbelief. What exactly does this mean? No one knows. We do not know the exact psychology of Jesus. We do not fully understand the flow of power from Jesus into others, what this power is, exactly. We do not know how human unbelief was a barrier to Jesus' ministry (after all He raised the dead and no one expected that). It seems important because it gives me reason to believe that not believing may well continue to thwart the saving ministry of Jesus in and through His church today.

The "God can do anything" assumption from which many of us operate, is not be the whole story. It appears that unbelief can block God's power. Perhaps, unbelief is sufficient to insure suffering and death are untouched by His healing love. It often seems to be the case in my life and ministry. I think this sheds light on the meaning of "saved by faith."

It is interesting that the crowds are amazed at Jesus, and He is amazed at unbelief in His home town. Jesus could be amazed, an important datum for understanding His humanity. The Gospel also reminds us that we cannot assume we totally know "the familiar." Jesus was familiar to them, but they did not know Him. The same is true of us. Sometimes the world is not what we think it is. There is a mystery at work in our ordinary lives. Believe and unbelief present God with opportunities to do mighty works, or thwart His efforts to save.

Mark 6 is not the whole story. There are other angles on this, for example in Matthew, but we do well to process all the information. All of it. Especially the parts of revelation which do not neatly fit into our theologies. And the Gospel raises the question: Are people amazed that the power of Jesus is manifest in me to heal, deliver and instruct them? Or is Jesus amazed at my lack of belief?

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Role of trust and courage in Healing Salvation

Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24   Psalm 30   2Corinthians  8:7-15   Mark 5:21-43

Middle Eastern culture in the Ancient Near East was honor/sham based. When Jairus, the synagogue leader, publicly falls at Jesus' feet it is a stunning act of  subservience to Jesus. Jairus does not care about honor or his status. Death had sunk its claws into his beloved child and threatens to take her away. His request is straightforward: "Come, lay your hands on her so that she may be made well and live." The Greek term translated as "made well" can mean: healing, rescue, victory and salvation> The Greek word for life includes physical, biological life as well as abundant life, eternal life. Jesus rescues body, soul and spirit from every form of death and provides the fullness of life.

Jairus, we can be sure, was in a hurry. We can imagine him wanting to part the crowd like Moses parted the Red Sea. We can feel his desire to cry out, "Move away, let us pass through, we have no time to waste!" The crowds pressed in on Jesus slowing His progress. Then, suddenly Jesus stops in His tracks, looking around and asking, "Who touched my clothes?" The disciples state the obvious, "Lord, everyone is touching you!" It must have been bedlam. Jairus must have been losing his mind. And then, suddenly, she falls before Jesus to the ground.

She has no name, we only know she suffered for twelve years. The endless bleeding made her unclean and cut her off from human contact. She went to the doctors, but twelve years of searching  left her broke, but no better. She is so desperate that she breaks the rules and touches Jesus, because He was her only hope. She believed and it saved her.

"Daughter your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease." Shalom peace and salvation. Of course, now Jesus is ritually unclean, but her exile is ended.
By His wounds we are healed.

Then the messengers arrive, it is too late. It is pointless to bother Jesus any more, the little girl is dead. Jesus, however, does not live in a world without hope. Jesus came to Heal and Save: "Do not fear, only believe." Doubt and fear are from The Enemy. Doubt and Fear are barriers to Kingdom health and salvation. How else can Jesus tell the man "do not be afraid, believe?" How else can He call death sleep?

Jesus is undeterred. He goes to the girl. Mark actually quotes the Aramaic words, which NT Wright says, are a typical morning expression to a sleeping child, "wake up little girl." Once again Jesus is made unclean, this time by her dead body, but that is the cost of making her alive. Once again, He takes upon Himself our condition and redeems it. By His wounds we are healed. (By our healing He is wounded.)

Healing is at the heart of Jesus' ministry. So is the message, "stop fearing and start trusting."

Here are the facts:
Each of us has open wounds which no doctor can heal.
None of us has the power within us to keep our loved ones alive.
All of us are unclean, sick and dying--each in our own way.

Jesus offers us healing salvation and abundant life right now, but faith is the open door to receive it. We are still learning what faith is. We are still learning to believe. We are in the process of becoming brave and trusting. The Lord is faithful and we are slowly being united with the Holy Three God. This is theosis, united with God and healed into salvation. However, once we have the faith to receive this healing, will we also believe enough to minister in His Name? Can we simply do what His clothing did, remain so close to Jesus that His power flows through us?

If the healing light of God can flow into us, then it can also flow out of us and heal others. Many people are not interested in Jesus or His church today. Perhaps because we are too moralistic and political? Personal morality and social justice cannot address the brokenness in each human. They need more than we are giving. Jesus stopped the bleeding and raised the dead. That is why the crowds claw at Him. If we bring healing then people can hear about how to live moral, just lives. If we are healed, perhaps, then we can teach them what to do. Otherwise, morality and social justice easily become very political and often devolve into projection and blaming others.

If we are willing to be brave and trust, the healing light of Jesus will be manifest among us.
It is our doubt and fear which keep it from happening. People need so much more from the church. We have so much more to give, we have Jesus!

Let us pray
Forgive us Lord our doubt and fear, free us to receive your healing light and saving love. Empower us to heal others in Your Name. And thank you, Lord, for trusting us with this task. Amen.