impasse

Many of God’s people Israel, were back in the land (of course, many were not). The temple had been rebuilt and since that time wonderfully restored, though at a questionable cost. The priests running the temple were happy enough, and the Pharisees were gaining strength as the religious leaders of God’s people. Yet there was no king on David’s throne. Certainly Herod did not really fit that bill, even though he had funded the temple’s magnificent restoration.

All was at an impasse. God’s promises were there, and the beginning of them had come true, but it was a far cry from their completion. Meanwhile some of God’s people in various ways had been trying to take matters in their own hands, seeking to follow various paths of the tradition, all in hopes of God’s eventual deliverance from the heels of Roman oppression.

This had kept going for years, even decades. There was surely a desperate kind of silence in the air. The status quo seemed to have become the new reality. But God was at work.

Enter a young woman and an angel meeting her. Telling her that even though she had not known a man, she would become pregnant by the Power of the Most High through the Spirit. That she would bear a son and that he would rule on the throne of his father David. She would bear the one who would fulfill God’s promises to Israel and for the world.

God was with Mary, and gave her the grace to receive this good news, and in spite of the inevitable difficulty it brought. Would her Joseph really accept that she was pregnant and still a virgin? Surely not, neither he nor others. But God was at work, using the ordinary in the extraordinary way which only God can do.

We too, often live in relatively humble circumstances. Certain things need to be fixed in our worlds, and in the old world in which we live. But it seems like there is not fixing enough. We can trust God in and through Jesus to use the most ordinary in a most extraordinary way. God is at work through the Incarnation in incarnational ways in this world. To give in his love of himself fully, in Jesus. For us. God-with-us in Jesus, Immanuel.

So life is lived in hope, in spite of the impasse we all experience and are up against. In a hope which lives in all God is doing now, and anticipates all God will do in us and in all creation through and in Jesus. Nothing can stand in the way of this love in Jesus for us, meant to be at work in and in our midst and through us- for the world.

love risks rejection

Truth does not sell in this world. We see that in the world of politics which all too often can be poll driven, not that any politician or party should think that they have a corner on the truth, though all should want to pursue truth. On a number of fronts we may see danger. Or believe we see danger. What do we do? Especially when the ones we warn may think and live in ideological opposition to us.

Love risks rejection. But in doing so love seeks acceptance for the good of those being warned. How can we speak truth in Jesus, and truth in general in a manner in which it is received? So that those who hear it from us know that it is coming out of a heart of love? And what do we do if our message is rejected and we along with it? Love weeps, but love also risks. Love does not give up, either. Love is willing to risk rejection, though love does not give into rejection. There is always hope because of God’s grace in Jesus.

This Advent season, which began yesterday, we remember God risking all in becoming human, the Word made flesh in Jesus. God did this! Yes out of great love for the world. We in Jesus, how can we do anything less? But we do so as those ever dependent on the God through Jesus who continues to risk all in his love for us, and for the world.*

*I say God risks all in Jesus not as a Calvinist nor as an Open Theist, though I would not close the door to every thing Open Theism may be saying. Though I think sometimes it may actually not be something which hasn’t already been said within Christian orthodoxy. God risks all in at least being misunderstood. The cross of Jesus is folly and weakness to the world. But it is nothing less than God’s salvation for the world. God became a little helpless baby for us!

N.T. Wright on what Christianity is all about

Christianity is all about the belief that the living God, in fulfillment of his promises and as the climax of the story of Israel, has accomplished all this—the finding, the saving, the giving of new life—in Jesus. He has done it. With Jesus, God’s rescue operation has been put into effect once and for all. A great door has swung open in the cosmos which can never again be shut. It’s the door to the prison where we’ve been kept chained up. We are offered freedom: freedom to experience God’s rescue of ourselves, to go through the open door and explore the new world to which we now have access. In particular, we are all invited—summoned, actually—to discover, through following Jesus, that this new world is indeed a place of justice, spirituality, relationship, and beauty, and that we are not only to enjoy it as such but to work at bringing it to birth on earth as in heaven. In listening to Jesus, we discover whose voice it is that has echoed around the hearts and minds of the human race all along.

N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, 92.

prayer for the first Sunday of Advent

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

loneliness

When God created Adam there comes a point in the narrative where we read that God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable/corresponding to him.” We know the end result: the creation of Eve. And while this results in nothing less than the institution of marriage, it brings out another important point about our humanity: humans are made for relationships and communion.

I am grateful to God for a loving wife with whom I have unbroken communion, of course having to fix this and that along the way, mostly due to sin or weakness on my part.  And I’m grateful to God for the good friends he has given me: at church, at work, in other ways, and even those I’ve yet to meet in person but have come to appreciate through the internet.

But in the end what Augustine wrote is true: The human heart is restless and finds no rest until it rests in God. We were made for communion with each other, but not apart from communion with God. We need that communion with God first and foremost. Then out from that we need communion with others.

What do we do with our inevitable sense of loneliness? All kinds of things which in themselves may be good, but out of place are quite destructive. When the one thing we need, and need to cultivate is communion with God. Involving a drawing near to God. A mind to listen, so that we can have a heart to listen. An openness. And with that comes an utter dependence on God and on God’s grace, an increasing sense of our great need.

And then from there, like any relationship it needs cultivation. And time. Yes, we live in God’s Presence at all times, but we need those special times of drawing near. One time when I was a young Christian, years and years ago now, I decided to have a “date with God.” I still remember that day rather vividly. God in his love met me in a powerful way out at that park as I pored over some scripture passages on grace. Life goes on, and I failed to really make that fellowship the priority in my life it is to be. Yes, Christianity and my involvement in the faith was always a part of my life. But not nearly as much in this way as God wants it to be.

Loneliness in this life at least in the sense of longing for more can’t be avoided to be sure. But are we first and foremost seeking to cultivate a communion with God which extends to each other in Jesus? And not meant to stop there, but to spur us on in God’s love to reach out to the world in word and deed in Jesus. So that others would come to know this same love with us.

the problem of consumerism

Consumption is one thing, but consumerism is quite another. The first is a part of being human; we live by consuming, first the bread of the earth, and then of another life, the Bread of Life. Consumerism is the idea of consumption being the center of our existence. That is the first consuming, apart from the reason of our existence, therefore missing the point. Surely this was a factor in Jesus departing from the crowds when they wanted to make him their Bread King. They did not understand that he himself was to be their Bread, the Bread of Life.

Today is “Black Friday” here in the United States which used to be far and away the biggest shopping day of the year, but I think may be second now, but somewhere high on the list. This is the day to go out and get sales on hot items people want, especially with Christmas in view. And the economy of the United States is built in large part on people spending for items they don’t need. Not that there can’t be any spending like that, of course. It’s just that  something seems wrong when we are head over heels in debt both as individuals and a nation, living it up in comparison to the rest of the world. And not being in prime position to help others, though we should not despise what we can do, and we should do so sacrificially out of a loving heart.

This is not to say that being wealthy is bad in and of itself. Not so! In fact there are some significant Benefactors, as in those doing much good with the capital they have. This is rather all about what drives us, what motivates us, where our heart is.

Jesus had plenty to say on this. He said we can’t serve God and Mammon/money at the same time. That means money can become a lord over us, driving us to order our lives according to its demands. That afflicts the poor just as much as the rich, the rich susceptible to the sin of wanting more and more, and the poor wanting to get rich, struggling with envy, or going to desperate measures to survive. Jesus also teaches us that just as God takes care of the birds and the flowers, so he will take care of us. That we are to seek first God’s kingdom and his justice/righteousness, and he will add what we need.

Of course we’re to live responsibly. And to do so ever in faith, with the kingdom and all that means in view. Not an easy task, one that requires an ongoing dependence on God. And interdependence on others in Jesus. Paul emphasizes greed along with other sins as those that need to be marked out in the Body, the church. Are we there to help each other, and receive help when we’re caught up in greed,? Are we wanting more than God may be giving to us? We need accountability in areas, and surely for many, and in some measure for all of us, in this area as well.

Jesus warned us with a story that followed that a person’s life does not consist of the abundance of their possessions. Only God through Jesus can meet the deepest need of our heart. And give to us the meaning for our existence in the here and now, both to understand that and to begin to live it out. So that our lives can count for what’s truly needed and fulfilled in and through God’s kingdom in Jesus.

eating with others

On Jesus Creed this morning there is a post which reminds me of the centrality of eating with others, which we find in scripture and practiced by Jesus. In many cultures eating a meal with others is a staple of day to day life. In such a meal one is sharing in a kind of feasting, or festival with others.

There are few things in life as enjoyable as a delicious meal. And life is meant to be shared with others. So there is something special about sharing meals with others, other loved ones- family and friends.

Such times are all the more special when we do so as if Jesus is at table with us. That doesn’t mean we have to omit the ordinary from our chatter during such times. In fact the ordinary then is indeed blessed by the presence of Jesus through the Spirit.

Here’s to a Blessed Thanksgiving to all! Including any whose culture may not include such a celebration; may your meals be so blessed, as well. In and through Jesus.

the hard work of love: injustice

N.T. Wright in his recent book on virtue which I’m rereading speaks of the hard work of love. Christian virtue is unique from classical and worldly virtue in that it exists only in community. Never apart from community. While Aristotle worked out his view of virtue within a framework of the city-state, it amounted to values individuals worked in and out themselves. Heroes came out of this. It was not about love in humility, which was considered a weakness. And in Paul’s writing, in the Christian framework it is love worked out in all its fruit within community in Jesus.

What about injustice, when we see or experience that? Indeed in Jesus we give up our supposed rights as servants of God. Yet at the same time love is not just about us. It is about all who are in Jesus. All need accountability, and not only through us. And of course we need it through others in Jesus. The hard work of love involves holding people to a love that is characterized by grace in forgiving and in accepting forgiveness. This is ongoing in the work of love.

This means we accept nothing less than this love first from ourselves*, and then from others. This is especially true when others sin against us, or when they do something that we consider wrong, and an affront against the unity that is ours in Jesus. Grace in Jesus must accompany this work. Anger should not characterize it, though indeed if anger is absent in the process, that seems less than human. This is a call to live out what we are in Jesus, reconciled. And from this we proclaim a gospel to the world calling for all to this same reconciliation from God through Jesus, which is inclusive, taking in the entire world and every inhabitant.

Christ’s redemption is not just sufficient for all, but offered to all. Grace from God accompanies that, so that through that reality of grace people are enabled to see and respond one way or another to God’s offer. Apart from that grace from God none of us would seek such reconciliation, because we are steeped in sin, and sinners with many idols in place. In such a state God might be added to our panoply of gods, and unity might be according to what works in our world. But not in accord with God’s call in Jesus and God’s kingdom come in him.

We each have our part in this hard work of love and how it applies to injustice. We know that this is a kingdom and family issue in Jesus. So that we work from that first with reference to ourselves and each other in Jesus, and then to the world. Noteworthy results have occurred from such work, South Africa in and after the downing of apartheid being a recent notable example of this.

God will help us through Jesus. A work we can’t do, nor are meant to do apart from God. A work we all need for ourselves and for the world.

*Late note (11-27): Of course its origins in God and his love. So that this love is a gift received and given through Jesus.

learning the new way in Jesus

In N.T. Wright’s recent book which I’m rereading, he is working through the meaning of virtue and how the Christian understanding from scripture differs from the classic understanding. One of the points N.T. Wright makes in the book is that virtue in Jesus while certainly a gift from God in Jesus becomes a part of our lives over time with hard work so that it becomes second nature to us. So that by and by we do certain things and shun others as a characteristic of who we are in Jesus. Of course “in Jesus” carries with it a community, and the book works through that fully along with much more.

Years back (not as many as I’d like, but quite a few now) I grew so sick of an ongoing struggle I had, probably over anxiety. Maybe over sin in general. I can’t recall. Or maybe I’m getting two episodes in my life confused or conflated. At any rate I decided never to sin again, I guess my theology did not include 1 John 1 at that point in time as I acted on my frustration. Or hopefully more accurate I purposed that I would never be anxious again. After all we are told in scripture as an imperative (command) not to be anxious about anything, and instead what we’re to do about it. And indeed again that is a plain command. I take it as an imperative from a loving Father.

The desire never to be anxious, or never to fall into what plagues us  can be a good desire. And one given and used by God. But it needs with it a filling in more and more of the entire counsel of God found in scripture and in Jesus. So that we are learning the new way in Jesus to be human.

We are so enmeshed in our old ways, they indeed are a part of who we are. If something happens, or we find out something, we are troubled, period. And we practice certain things, some perhaps good in themselves to a point and others not so good. What we’re called to in Jesus is a new way of life by the Spirit and through the community of God in Jesus. We need to work at a new orientation which brings with it the new dynamic in Jesus so that we are unlearning the old way we’ve lived, and putting on the new way in Jesus.

This is not a certain number step program. Not filling in the blanks from scripture. It is much more like the Spirit leading us to think through how we live in light of scripture in Jesus. Not just with ourselves, but with trusted spiritual companions and directors. And refusing to go in certain old directions, while seeking to adhere completely to new directions. This won’t be easy. We will be sorely tempted and at times will likely fail. But we need to resist the old way and practice the new way more and more. So that over time with effort by the grace of God we have changed, having learned a new way that is becoming ingrained in us. So that we no longer are a prisoner to an anxiety which is contrary to God’s good, pleasing and perfect will in Jesus.

I’ve worked through a sketch of how one might deal with anxiety. Whatever it is that might be your besetting sin you’ll need to work through in the same way as well. Of course putting on Jesus means a new way of life which deals with all of our old ways in Adam. We clothe ourselves with Christ so that all of life is lived out in that light and power, even in our weakness and maybe even especially so paradoxically, with others in Jesus before and for the world.

perfect love driving out fear

Yesterday as we remembered “Christ the King Sunday,” Pastor Jack mentioned the passage where John writes that perfect love drives out fear. While that was not one of the passages we dwelled on (not from the lectionary), my mind came back to this passage, because fear has been an off and on plague for me much of my Christian life. That passage goes on to say that the one who fears is not made perfect in love. And that we do love, because he first loved us. Key in that 1 John passage is the reality that judgment has been taken care of in Jesus. We in Jesus have no need of fearing final punishment. Jesus took that punishment on himself in his death. God is our Father and will lead us in his love in Jesus.

Just the same we often have good reasons to fear. Living in a world in which there are problems everywhere. And where we need to learn to be responsible to people, but not responsible for all that is occurring, as our Pastor Sharon pointed out to me yesterday. What that means in each case is something that has to be worked out at the time, depending on God giving us needed wisdom.

A good brother at work, now retired, Jerry, used to say, “Do your best and hang the rest.” There’s wisdom in that as well. Just how that works out particularly in some situations can be tricky. We need wisdom from God to understand how we should proceed.

Wisdom from God comes through prayer; being in the word; counsel from wise, godly friends; more prayer. And there can come that time when we just have to make the best judgment we can, and then move on. Entrusting all in God’s hands.

Faith plays a key part in this. Knowing the perfect love is based on the truth in Jesus. We live in that reality by faith. And in that reality God’s perfect love is operative, indeed active and poured out on all his own.

There comes a point in which it is up to us in a sense. On the one hand God watches over his own in spite of them. He will find us when we are lost, his lost sheep (and I say that as one who does not hold to “eternal security,” but certainly to “assurance for the believer,” a whole other subject). On the other hand we can live as if we are not one of his sheep. As if it all depends on us. Sad plight for us and for those around us, if all really did depend on us. No, this is God’s world, and our own worlds are a part of God’s world. God is in charge, not us. Actually good news, because while we do have responsibility in that world, God is the one who ends up being responsible beyond that, God the one who alone can make all things right in Jesus. The God who is love.