the state, the sword, and the follower of Christ

I respect those who serve in the military, in fact I take my hats off to them, and to their families. It is a tremendous sacrifice which deserves not only recognition, but honor. These people are in harm’s way with the intent of doing good in securing justice in the world, and often in the most difficult places.

I can hear those who would critique a Christian pacifist stance say something like this: “I respect the pacifist Christian stand, and in life I want to live out that ethic in my relationships with others including enemies, but it is naive to suppose that there is no need to keep order with force in place, or even to have to use that force at times. Well meaning, even commendable, yet naive.”

My answer to that is simple: It is more complex than that. Yes, we’re in an area in which Christians disagree, and although there are probably more Christians than ever who hold to a pacifist Christian position (except per capita, in the earliest centuries of the church before the Constantinian shift), their numbers are still in the minority. There is no doubt that there is a justice that is secured oftentimes through both military and police force. It is inevitably imperfect in this life. But it does secure peace. In large part why I would think that Paul calls for prayer for rulers and all who are in authority. I think of the Roman empire in Paul’s time. Brutal and certainly not in the right always and surely never so perfectly. But keeping the peace and administering justice according to their rule of law and enforcement of that.

But the follower of Jesus is called to something higher, even to a higher form of justice, that no less than of the kingdom of God come in him. That calling is spelled out in detail in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. And Jesus lived out what he taught of course to the very end. He loved his enemies and prayed for them. And we are called to follow in his steps. It is the way of the cross in this life, looking to God for a salvation not only for ourselves, but for all in this world even now.

The ethics of God’s kingdom come in Jesus are meant for this life, but in terms of the life to come. It’s as simple as that. What ends up complex and mind boggling is how order is kept in the restraint of evil doers and is called good, while at the same time Christians are called to a higher calling. The way of the cross to the very end, not just for one’s own personal salvation, but in one’s way of life, in all of life. God seems to keep the lid on evil to some extent, through the state. But he calls us who are followers of Jesus to lay down our lives for Jesus and the gospel. As we pray for the day when wars will cease. When sin (including our own) will be gone. And the peace secured by the cross will be the rule. A peace which, however inevitably imperfect our practice of it is now, we are to pursue and live out as lights in this world in and through Jesus.

prayer for Tuesday in Easter week

O God, who by the glorious resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light: Grant that we, who have been raised with him, may abide in his presence and rejoice in the hope of eternal glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be dominion and praise for ever and ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

a life of prayer

There is nothing I like better than teaching, and I don’t mean writing a blog post, either. I by and large prefer to steer away from lecture, and much prefer guided interactive group sharing. Teaching is definitely a gift from God which I have. Although gifts can get rusty when not much in use, I suppose, though I would hardly know, lately. I love to preach as well. And I can do okay in that. But it seems like my forte is more in the line of teaching. I wish someone would have tapped me on the shoulder and told me that decades ago.

But life goes on. I hardly know where it has gone. And what teaching opportunities remain may be few and far between. What isn’t remote from possibility is an ongoing, growing life of prayer. To be in prayers of all kinds with worship, praise, confession, thanksgiving and petitions for others, along with different kinds of prayer in the Spirit is not removed from the possibility for any Christian. In fact, for example, praying in tongues is no big deal. Any one who has the Holy Spirit can do that. It is simply one of the many ways, I take it, to pray in the Holy Spirit. Though let me make this clear right now at this point. Those who don’t pray in tongues at all and never have are not necessarily less spiritual and less filled with the Holy Spirit. And neither are those who do pray in tongues necessarily spiritual at all, or filled with the Spirit. Take for example the Corinthian church, and many in that church. But that is an aside.

To get back to the point here, we in Jesus are called to a life of prayer. We don’t have to think in terms of great, prolonged prayer, for example praying down mighty revivals or world changing events. Though we’re not necessarily excluded from those sort of possibilities. What I’m thinking of is a simple, ongoing life of interactive communion with God in prayer. Steeped in scripture, and I think now especially of the psalms. And pushing on through the hard places of our own darkness and spiritual deadness and insensitivity. Along with the necessity laid on us of spiritual warfare. So that along the way, prayer can be downright difficult, even hard work. While at the same time wanting prayer to become more and more for myself, as natural as breathing. And maybe the main conversation for myself each day (aside from that with my wife), if I can learn to think of and experience prayer more in that way. Both praying and listening so that we end up silent before God, toward something the Orthodox Christians speak about. I also think liturgical prayer can be not only helpful, but ought to be part of how we pray. We’re still learners in this life, we know in part and don’t see clearly. Prayers gathered from the centuries can help us immensely, as we pray them out loud (or in our minds) with others.

We do no better both to start and to continue every day, in fact several times a day with the prayer our Lord taught his disciples to pray. To both pray the words of this prayer, and to pray with this prayer informing our prayers. As we seek to go on and grow in a life of prayer:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one,
for yours is the kingdom and the power
and the glory forever.
Amen.’”

being quiet and still

I have probably always loved music. At one time I used to play my classic rock albums nonstop and not quiet, either; I think now of my poor parents. And since I’ve been a Christian, I have listened to scripture being read most years daily. Not to mention the many Christian music albums I have, along with almost as many classical music albums. And now I like to keep up on the news, listening mainly on NPR. As well as catching some other programs there. So I’m not exactly disposed to quiet.

And I want to be doing something. Usually reading, if not listening to the news. Or now being online. Plenty to read there, as well as wanting to interact some, socially. My wife Deb tends to be quiet, but once she is talking, I want to listen well to her. And I can fill her ears with more than what she wants to hear and more than what I should say.

And so being quiet and still are not strong suits of mine.

But practically by necessity, I am learning a bit to practice both. Not because I would have absolutely had to. For the first time since one other juncture I can recall, I’m not listening to scripture being read. I am getting into the Book much more now the normal way. And I am not listening at all to my classical CD’s except ones I burned for the car. That chosen necessity will come to an end, but I plan now not to revert to my old ways, but to remain and hopefully grow in what I’m doing now. Yes, I’ll enjoy listening to my classical music again. (I have been listening to some of that from a local FM station). But to get back to the point, I am starting for the first time to really value being quiet and still.

In seeking to practice these more, I am wanting to be more open to the Lord’s voice and moving. I want to avoid drowning that out with my own voice and activity. I do that, reading scripture, and along with that, more and more reading good liturgy. As well as interludes of nothing at all. As our Pastor Sharon has told us, such practice is not easy. It is hard for me to consider this as something I want to practice regularly. For me to learn to do anything regularly, I need, as a rule to do it daily. For me it is an achievement to have any silence at all, and along with that any stillness on my part. But I want to grow in that. I think extended periods of it at certain times can be most valuable. But it is best not to look for some big breakthrough from an extended time of this. It is better yet for this to become more and more a part of our regular, daily life. To become a habit. A part of us, of who we are. As we seek to draw near to God in and through Jesus. To seek God’s face even in our darkness.

Allan R. Bevere on “Jesus’ Resurrection and Why this World Matters”

I take the position, along with the historic church, that Jesus’ bodily resurrection is necessary for salvation. If Jesus was not physically raised, then the Christian faith is false and not worth salvaging.

Please consider the following:

The New Testament writers would not have known the concept of resurrection without the body. To be sure, there was the concept of the immaterial soul in Platonic philosophy, but the language of the New Testament is not Platonic in this respect. A superficial reading of the New Testament demonstrates this. The Gospels claim that the tomb was empty, which meant that Jesus’ body was not there. Now this claim in and of itself does not demonstrate that Jesus rose physically, but it does show what resurrection meant to the Gospel writers and their readers. Something had indeed physically happened to Jesus’ body. Years ago, the Jewish scholar, Geza Vermes stated that the evidence of the empty tomb of Jesus was incontrovertible. It is outside of the bounds of historical competence to imagine that the disciples knew Jesus was dead, but somehow started proclaiming his “resurrection” because his life and ministry changed their hearts. The Jewish leadership would have seen as no serious threat Christians running around Jerusalem proclaiming that a still dead Jesus had been spiritually raised within them.

Such individuals as Bishop John Spong, who proclaim belief in miracles, including the resurrection of corpses, as somehow out of date, are themselves not espousing new, enlightened ideas in their rejection of such things. Such disbelief has been around for centuries, and their divorce of body from spirit is more primitive and older than the claim of bodily resurrection.

Moreover, the Apostle Paul bears witness to the necessity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, not only in 1 Corinthians, but also as he, prior to his conversion, persecuted the first Christians. Ellis Rivkin, another Jewish scholar, asks what would have set Paul (Saul) off against those early believers sending him off to Damascus to incarcerate Christians. He concludes that it had to be the claim of a bodily raised Jesus. As a Pharisee, Paul would have believed that only the righteous were raised. The claim of Jesus’ resurrection meant, therefore, that this Jesus was indeed God’s man and God’s favor rested upon him. The implications for Paul (Saul) were clear. Once he became convinced of Jesus’ resurrection, he had no option but to accept him as God’s Anointed.

If indeed the first Christians had non-corporeal visions of Jesus, they would not have used the language of resurrection. In Jewish literature we read of such visions. The Jews had language to describe such visions; it was not the language of resurrection.

I  could go on and on, but just one last point: It mystifies me that many whose theology tends to be more “liberal” (sorry about the label; I hate labels) reject the necessity of a bodily raised Jesus, yet they place so much importance on social justice in this world, caring for the poor in this world, and being good stewards of the environment in this world. The bodily resurrection of Jesus is God’s affirmation that this world matters, that God intends to save this world, and so it is critically important to seek justice in this life, to feed the poor in this life, and to care for the environment in this life.

An early Christological argument for the full humanity of Jesus was “that which he has not become he has not saved.” In like fashion, that which Jesus has not overcome he has not defeated. If Jesus’ body remains lifeless, death is still in control and stalks us with no hope for victory. If Jesus’ resurrection is simply a metaphor for his spirit rising to be with God, then salvation is nothing more than pie-in-the-sky in the sweet by-and-by. Such faith becomes other-worldly, divorced from the real problems of human existence that God desires to eliminate. When faith is divorced from history, it is divorced from the reality of this world, and when it is divorced from the reality of this world, all that matters is going to heaven when we die. We do not need to be concerned that the poor are fed; after all, they will die soon enough and go to be with God. Those who care so much about justice in this world need to embrace the bodily raised Jesus; it is the most powerful affirmation that the work of social justice matters.

In conclusion, allow me to quote Tom Wright, bishop of Durham:

“Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project, not to snatch people away from earth to heaven, but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about.

When Paul wrote his great resurrection chapter, 1 Corinthians 15, he didn’t end by saying, “So let’s celebrate the great future life that awaits us.” He ended by saying, “So get on with your work, because you know that in the Lord it won’t go to waste.” When the final resurrection occurs, as the centerpiece of God’s new creation, we will discover that everything done in the present world in the power of Jesus’ own resurrection will be celebrated and included, appropriately transformed” (Surprised by Hope).

We sing during Easter, “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.” Well, that is nice, but it is not good enough. The Jesus who “lives” within my heart is not sufficient to renew all of creation. More is necessary.

A reductionist faith that minimizes Jesus’ resurrection to nothing more than spiritual niceties cannot meet the challenges of a world in desperate need of resurrection, in desperate need of new life.

He is risen indeed!

Allan R. Bevere, All Is Not As It Seems: Random Reflections on Faith, Ethics, and Politics, 159-162.