prayer for fourth Sunday of Epiphany

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

 

my take on politics and the politic which will stand

Allan R. Bevere has been formative in my understanding of politics, and his book, The Politics of Witness: The Character of the Church in the World spells out well what I think is the error of both the religious right and religious left: allegiance and commitment to entities which by their very nature, cannot be allied with what has been called, “the politics of Jesus.” God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus is not from this world, and in a sense is not of this world, when referring to what scripture calls, “the world” along with “the flesh” and “the devil.” Yet it is for this world.

The gospel meaning good news is as big as all creation in the new creation come in Jesus. It can be known only in and through Jesus as Lord and Savior. And in and through Jesus’ body, the church. King Jesus is the one through whom one politic will stand when all others have ended, think of the visions in Daniel depicting the end of worldly kingdoms by the kingdom of God. Through Jesus which in meaning includes all revealed in scripture about him, we find the answer to all of life, not only about forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God, but also the purpose for all creation realized in the new creation in him.

Going back to Genesis we find that humankind is unique in that it is created in God’s image: male and female. And as such, humankind is given the calling to rule over all the earth, essentially to be stewards of God’s good gifts for the good of all and to the glory of God. This is getting at the heart of what salvation is all about. It is not only saving us from our sins, but also for love to God and to others, and in accordance with God’s design for life in what will end up being the new heaven and new earth, in scripture that being a garden and a city. Jesus will be King of kings, so that in the government to come, humans will take their place in God’s order for all things, an order which will bring humans to their full potential as flourishing individuals living in community in a love from God which changes all: from the hearts of individuals, to every system in place. 

To the present: evil is very much at work in the world, and we’re told that it will be so to the end until King Jesus returns. The call for us now in King Jesus is to take the way of the cross, the way of death and resurrection, to enact along with proclamation, the gospel of King Jesus. With that, God has ordained the state (Romans 13) to bear the sword, as it says, against evil doers, yes. And also with responsibility to enact justice as best they can, with an emphasis we find in scripture to see that the needs of the poor and helpless are met.

What worldly governments do then, is important in God’s eyes. But while the church can hopefully influence such for good, simply by being faithful to its calling from God, the church of necessity, must beware emptying the good news of its power by looking to the power and prestige of worldly authorities. Our King over any other authority we may be under in this life is Jesus. Jesus is our Lord, and Caesar is not. We comply to Caesar insofar as that is the will of King Jesus. And that will seems to be one of living in an alternative kingdom, which can’t be aligned with earthly kingdoms, but brings heaven down to earth in and through Jesus.

This is something of my sketch at present for what is indeed important in this life as well as the life to come. Politics as in the ordering of society for the good of all in God’s good will in Jesus.

it’s more complicated than that

I used to be rather mocked when in gatherings I would point out the complexity of problems. And in keeping with that thought, I think there was some justification in the criticism, which I think I largely avoid now by being more or less silent, or accentuating my agreement with others.

I distrust easy answers, no matter where they come from, and find life more like an ongoing process, rather than an arrival in which one thinks they have their ducks lined up in a row for an easy killing.

Life lived tends this direction, I think, and the Bible read mirrors that. It tells a story which often leaves one with more questions than answers. Evidently that’s the way God wants it to be, so that, yes, we keep going back to the Bible as God’s word, day after day, but we become more dependent on God himself in and through Christ.

As we go on in life, year piling on year becoming decades, in a sense we know more, but in that knowledge, in another sense we know less. It’s a realization which more and more dawns on us. Along with the growing faith in God’s promise in Jesus, that all will be well in the end, that the one who does know, is the one to whom we can turn and entrust ourselves, our loved ones, even the world, completely.

keep on walking: faith

One of the key aspects of faith is its manner: in scripture it is likened to a walk. Of course, it’s not “a walk in the park,” as in an easy thing. Faith is a walk which we would never do left on our own. Essentially because the faith by which we’re walking is faith in another person: Christ. We can say also faith in God through Christ. We are not relying on ourselves, and that’s a hard sell for human nature, and certainly not a part of our culture. Self-reliance has been a staple of many a culture, and selling one’s self is a key part of ours.

To trust in someone else, even in God in and through Jesus seems good on paper and in theory, and maybe in at least some token form is easily professed when times are good and everything is normal. But throw in a problem or two, and one begins to see just what kind of faith they really have, where one’s faith actually lies, and its depth.

Faith at its heart is a commitment. We are committed to following through in the faith we profess and better yet, confess. We do so one step at a time, through the most difficult places, as well as during the good times. We can be sure that trouble is just around the corner, and that we’re not above some major trial.

And so, whatever we are to encounter today, whatever needs to be done, let’s do it with a faith committed to God and God’s will in and through Jesus. Looking to God to direct our steps, and learning to rest in that, as we seek to keep our eyes focused on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

finding faith in the midst of doubt and despair

Yesterday in chapel at my work, Our Daily Bread Ministries, we were blessed to hear the story of Marissa who as a 14 year old girl, had a bout with cancer which left her life hanging in the balance. How her parents handled that, how she did herself, and how their doctor was impacted in his faith certainly made for a moving story she now tells some twelve years later.

It seems to me that either faith can take root, sprout and grow in the midst of worse case scenarios, or it can be lost altogether. Both have happened, including to those who once had faith, but abandoned it. In the case of Marissa, she was blessed by the support of wise parents who held on to faith and commitment throughout the ordeal, and a wonderful donor, through whom her life was spared.

For myself, I’ve noticed at times that when faith could have waned and perhaps have gone bust, yet through those trying times, faith has actually been strengthened. I don’t want to imagine faith not being a part of my life, but the most troubling times make it a struggle.

What can help us to understand the dynamics of what’s going on here is to contrast the difficult times with the good times when all seems well. We all need windows like that, of rest and refreshment, but the trials and troubles will come (Psalm 23). During good times we can more or less take for granted our faith, and then our faith could wane over time, and be gone. It happens.

But in the midst of trouble we can wrestle with God, so to speak, in the word and prayer, in our struggle. As we seek to hold on to our faith, or to find it in the midst of our doubt and despair. That is when it can especially be established and become a part of us, a part of who we are.

That is why we can and therefore should welcome the difficulties and trials that come into our lives as ways in which our faith can be strengthened and matured. Even while we look forward to the time when trouble will be no more.

prayer remembering Thomas Aquinas: Priest, Philosopher, Teacher of the Faith, 1274

Eternal God,
who enriched your Church with the learning and holiness
of your servant Thomas Aquinas:
give to all who seek you
a humble mind and a pure heart
that they may know your Son Jesus Christ
as the way, the truth and the life;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

 

keep on reading the entire Bible

I don’t think I’m good with titles. Yesterday to me (ha) the post was interesting. When I had my blog on BlogSpot (or was it Blogger?) for a good number of years before it was lost for a year and a half, I had no statistics, so I wasn’t sure how many hits and reads I would get in a day, and I didn’t want to know. But WordPress, to which I switched, automatically provides that. And though perhaps it doesn’t catch everything, my blog is quite humble even in comparison to blogs like mine, I think, and exponentially so in comparison to ministry blogs, or blogs by scholars. So I will try to do better on titles (knock on wood), but today, related to yesterday, I want to emphasize one thing:

Keep on reading the entire Bible.

We need to read (or listen, both are good) scripture through, over and over again. The end all of scripture is to lead us to Christ and see it in terms of the gospel, which means, the good news in him. And that good news will inevitably challenge us in our thinking, in our living. How do we measure things, what value do we place on this or that, and why? If nothing else, it will humble us into realizing that we simply don’t know on a host of matters, even while we try to hold on to what we are beginning to understand to what might be called core values of God’s kingdom come in Jesus.

The gospel is as big as all of life, since it’s God good news in Jesus, not only for the reconciliation of sinners to God, but also of all things to God. So that a new order ultimately is put in place, the beginnings of which are found humbly in the church, in and through Jesus.

Which for us ought to put in bold relief the lie of the power of this world, and how even the best of it will fall short and fail. That doesn’t mean such doesn’t have its place and value, but that our hope is in King Jesus, and the good news in him, a good news at its heart- for the poor, which is to be expected by those who keep reading their Bibles (Matthew 11:4-5). Helping us look forward to a time we can hardly imagine now, even if we begin to see inklings of it both in actual life changes, and in our imaginations, and in what is on our hearts to pray.

remaining in the word

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

John 15:7

I would have done well to have quoted the following verse to begin this post:

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

John 15:8

After all, we’re centered on Christ, not strictly speaking on scripture itself, though it is scripture which brings us to that. In the past, when the 2011 edition of the NIV came out, I bought one at a good price, but with that (like most NIV Bibles, due to popular demand), the words of Jesus are printed in red. They are called, “red letter Bibles,” and it seems like they constitute the majority of Bibles sold to Bible readers. It took me awhile, but I finally made peace with that part of my Bible, and although I prefer all black letter, I don’t seem to be bothered in the least by that now.

The passage above is about keeping Jesus’ words in our hearts and minds. I remember one of Rich Mullins’ lines:

Well, I memorized every word that You said

Hard to Get

Yes. Bible memorization, I might argue, surely would be better, if we started out by memorizing all the words of our Lord, most of which we find in the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. What I’m referring to, even though it is Christ-centered, is an emphasis on being in the word, all of scripture. That ends up, again, being Christ-centered for us who are followers of Jesus, because that is in significant part, the end goal of scripture.

Last week (and we’re still just as challenged, in a way) I was inundated with this and that, and coupled with some lack of discipline, and surely not enough sleep, I was behind in my regimen of Bible reading, in fact I wasn’t getting much read at all. Although it may be good to take some short breaks from that, and simply be in silence, or at least to read less for a time, I found it telling on me. We had an important meeting at our church, and I felt out of it insofar as how I normally am plugged in, so to speak, so that the kind of contribution I might make seemed largely if not completely lacking.

And so I renewed myself, at the beginning of the week, to be devoted to being in the word, and hopefully along with that, prayer. I find for myself, it must start in the word, and that prayer comes from that in the ordinary course and order of things for me.

There is much in the word, so much. We do well to remain in it from Genesis through Revelation, certainly in all of Jesus’ words, seeking to grow in our understanding and practice of such, and therefore to grow in our faith. Together in Jesus in his life and mission in the world.

the members of the body of Christ for the love of each other and of the world

Yesterday Father Michael in his stirring, indepth sermon pointed out that the gifts given by the Spirit to the church are not for show, but for love. This is the best succinct way I’ve heard in understanding 1 Corinthians 13 in the context of 1 Corinthians 12-14. And that it’s the church, not unusually gifted individuals in the church, which together is the body of Christ. The church together manifests Christ. Instead, we often read scripture as if it has to do with indviduals. I think it can be speaking as to individuals, but that’s always in a larger context, namely as members together of Christ and his body, the church. It’s never only about us, strictly speaking. Though the Lord deals with us individually, as well as together, and I think our relationship to God is both personal and in community.

And Father Michael, among other good things he shared, also helped us see that the gifts of the Spirit should never be placed against the fruit of the Spirit, as if the two are practically opposed to each other. Some, because of how gifts are often talked about and seemingly practiced would downplay the spiritual gifts and talk more or less completely about the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:13-26). But both are needed in the church, of course the gifts being nothing apart from love. But love being expressed through the humble use of what we are given.

I can see what Father Michael is saying. Though our church plant at this point is small, yet even in this handful of people I can see Christ in us together, and in the various gifts that we have as a church. And the love among us is quite evident. Father Michael leads the way in this, his wife Amy also being an example to us of what members of Christ’s body are to be like, and how that works among the members together. And the emphasis at our church has always been that we’re on mission. It’s never just about us, but about sharing Christ and the gospel to the world, not only in the proclamation of the gospel, but in works of love.

And so we not only follow Christ as individuals, but we do so together as his body in love, in and for the world.