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.