Monday, February 18, 2019

Beatitudes and Thriving Trees

Sixth Sunday of Epiphany
Jeremiah  17:5-10     Psalm 1     1 Corinthians 15:12-20      Luke 6:17-26

A remarkably common feature of the biblical revelation is the dyads of blessing and curse, beatitudes and woes. The either/or nature of our membership in the people of God cannot be overstated. Today we are confronted with three such sets.  Psalm 1 proclaims a beatitude for those who desire God’s teaching (torah), but it begins with a negative: we must not walk, linger and sit with sinners and those who reject God. As we all sin, it cannot mean avoiding every person, but it does mean not to embrace their unbelief or share in their way of life. That is the way of death, doomed by God, reduced to dusty lifelessness. Those who embrace God are like a tree planted near a stream. In the arid Middle East water is appreciated as the source of life and never taken for granted. God's goal for us is abundance.

Salvation is often compared to life giving water in the Bible. Pondering God’s torah (literally instruction or teaching) is like fresh water for those who love God, because it is a way to encounter the Lord. This is why God's people were commanded to constantly read the Scriptures. In Joshua 1:8, god says, ”This book of the torah shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success.”

The covenant bond of Israel to God makes them prosperous. Note that the focus is here not the afterlife. It is a blessing when God reigns among us (The Kingdom is near) and blessed are those who are faithful to their promises to God. Sadly, Jeremiah says that Israel failed to do this. Instead they have embraced idols—the work of human hands. They have become accursed, like bushes in a desert wilderness, drying out and dying. Those who embrace God, as in Psalm 1, are planted near the stream of life. The problem, Jeremiah explains, is within them—the human heart is devious. Conversion can only happen when we see that it is "me" that is at fault. It is my heart that needs to be healed and sanctified by God. The heart is most devious in how it deceives us. We are blind to our own waywardness. I have also found the enneagram+++ to be a very helpful tool in unveiling the deceit. Remember, some of our deepest sin masquerades as virtue. 

So, “What is the state of our hearts?” Do we meditate on Scripture, speak His word and do what He has spoken? Are we planted beside the waters of God? Or are we as distracted and deceived as the ancient Jews were? Do we busy ourselves with the creation of contemporary idols; trusting in human ingenuity to solve all our problems? In every age people are threatened by uncertainty and ask, “Who will deliver us from day of trouble?” Jeremiah’s answer is his own beatitude, “Blessed is he who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord alone.” Saved by faith and fidelity! 

Jesus also declares beatitudes and woes today. In that culture there was no middle class nor upward mobility. The rich and powerful had no regard for the masses, the poor were considered to be nobodies. Yet Jesus spoke directly to each of them, saying: "You are blessed. You who are poor, hungry, weeping, and hated. You are blessed, not because misery is a blessing, but because my Father sends me to deliver you." But woe to you rich, woe to you fat, happy and popular. Woe to you, because you are focused on yourself instead of your God. 

Such a message is unnerving! It makes one ponder: Am I the righteous one who ponders God’s word and lives it, or do I walk with the wicked, stand with the sinners and sit with the scornful? Am I the blessed one who trusts God, or the fool who trusts in himself and the man-made saviors of this world? Am I one of the suffering poor, or am I counted with the indolent rich? I wonder—do I bring good news and salvation to the poor and broken? 

In truth, everyone's heart is deceitful and deceived. Our sins, wounds and fears thwart every effort to provide our own security. We are victim and perpetrators at the same time. We build our own kingdoms ignoring God's Kingdom, and we harm others and ourselves. Yet we can embrace the living waters. We can cry out to Jesus. We can repent of sin and trust Him. There is a way of love and a path of holiness. Blessed are those who find this way and walk this path.

+++This is a very useful website, providing insightful and informative articles and explanations. I especially liked the brief reflection on the error of "typism," which is the attempt to over simplify the complexity of human being and simply see people as a number.

In addition, Beatrice Chestnut has written The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge. In it she looks at the nine basic ways people experience the worl , and then the three ways each type engages the world. (preferring one on one relations, to fit into the group, or a focus on self-preservation).

This is not a pleasant process, uncovering the deceitful heart. But if our roots are ever to be in the living waters of God we must remove them from the dry earth of the false self...

Monday, February 4, 2019

Four Epiphany: Salvation and Love 2-3-19

Fourth Epiphany: Jeremiah 1:4—10 ;  Psalm71:1—6;   1 Corinthians 13:1—13;   Luke 4:21—30

God created us for union with Himself--but because unitive love requires freedom, God gives us free choice, so this holy union is very slow. The ‘world, flesh and devil’ resist God’s salvation, so our primary task is spiritual warfare within our own hearts. The problem is within us, even if we see it around us. 

God usually interacts with us through human intermediaries. Messianic faith includes the human dimension in the divine salvation. The role of prophets is to communicate His message. The powers of this world reject God’s word, so the prophet often suffers. Perhaps no prophet suffered more than Jeremiah. When God called him, he was likely a teenager, and he was reluctant: “I am not able, I am too young” he said. It is a heavy load to stand before people and declare God’s word—made all the more terrifying because one cannot always be sure that the word is God’s and not one’s own… “Do not be afraid of them. You will be my prophet. You will tear down and raise up.” God’s prophet must be faithful—acting in trust. We must guard our souls from fear. Jesus also walked this same path. From the beginning there were those who sought to kill Him, and if He passes through the crowd at Capernaum, Calvary still awaits.

The Kingdom clash between Satan and God is present in our world and within each of us. Either we submit to God or something else will rule us. The dark passions within us are manifest in societal struggles. When we want to make the world the way we think it should be, we forget he unconscious evil which motivates us. We can only assume that our adversaries sincerely see the world differently from us and that they are as shocked by our interpretation as we are by theirs. Too often we project evil on our adversaries--using harsh language or descriptors. Blaming others for the troubles of the world works in securing political power, but Christians are called to conversion. It is the converted prophets who speak with integrity.

We can only repent of our own sin and Sin can be subtle—we do not openly embrace the Prince of Darkness, but we abide his presence. If we do not persecute God’s prophets, we do ignore them. When they suffer and die, we blame them for not staying quiet. Holiness, after all, must be tempered by the popular culture.

Paul offers us a solution. Choices made in anger, frustration, selfishness and pride cannot save us from the Evil. Love can, for love is of God. Every human needs to be loved and accepted—but this need for genuine love gets twisted by our doubts and fears. The failure to love is the cause of many of our problems. We lash out because we do not get enough of it, we withhold it and do not give it. We build a wall around our hearts to protect them from the pain, which also keeps out the love of God which would set us free. We wrongly define love as sentimentality, unconditional affirmation, or physical pleasure—stealing its power to save.  

Real love is crucified love. The struggle to embrace the love of God is the same in every age. Only those who love can be faithful prophets—and if we are not prophets then our lives are of no value.  His message to Jeremiah is true for us: Do not be afraid of them—whoever or whatever they may be, I am with you.