God’s beloved

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Mark 1:9-11; NRSVue

Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax-collection station, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Mark 2:13-17; NRSVue

I think I would put The Cure somewhere on the top ten of the books which have most influenced me, or at least most intrigued me. It is a most interesting read, whether or not you agree with it entirely. It’s really not meant to be a book to convince you of this and that doctrine, in spite of somewhat copious although often helpful endnotes. It is a story of the difference between living in grace and religion*, the latter involving unrelenting standards to measure up to with necessary masking to hide the fact that inevitably no one does. The place of grace is entirely different, not only no mask wearing, but hair let down with many tears. People are real, themselves, and completely accepted. Unlike the place of religion where you are accepted on many conditions.

The difference is what the above passages are getting at: the love of God from the God who is love. God has God’s heart set on all humanity, really intent in restoring all of creation, and especially fallen and broken humanity. That is more than evidenced in God becoming flesh meaning human in the Son Jesus through the Incarnation. Completely identifying with us, right where we live with all of its challenges along with our (not his) failure, but with the laughter and joy as well. But it seems especially identifying with those who are mourning, the poor, the oppressed, the downcast, the marginalized. Bringing the healing that can only come from God, healing being synonymous with salvation in New Testament terminology.

If there’s one place I especially feel uncomfortable, it’s with religious folks. Unfortunately you have to add to that nowadays those who are caught up in the tribalism of this or that political persuasion. But lots of those folks are religious, which just becomes either a new rule added on, or understanding among them that it’s simply that way no questions asked.

In contrast to that, God accepts everyone warts and all, just the way we are with all of our blindness, failure and sin. And unlike religion, people are fully accepted in the beloved one, Christ. Christ came that we might through him find our true identity and ultimately our true selves in the reality we are included in with him through faith and baptism, so that we may come to realize that we too are indeed God’s beloved, God’s much-loved ones.

In the end we’re told that God will be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15) accomplished in and through Christ in his life and reconciling death, so that everyone will be included. It will be a most happy ending, even if it takes some time to get there. No one will be left behind, no one left out. Not even the sad religious folk who somehow imagine themselves better and look down on everyone else (see Gregory of Nyssa, George MacDonald, etc.). Not that judgment and severe judgment isn’t in the mix, because it most necessarily is, but not a rejecting, obliterating fire, but a purging, redeeming fire. But this is another subject entirely.

But the point is that we need to see that “in Christ” we are indeed God’s beloved. That we don’t have to measure up to this and that which other people, even churches might want to impose on us. No, we are not rejected, but God’s children.  In and through Jesus.

*Religion in the sense of something fabricated by humans rather than received from God and regularly practiced and lived out in response to that (example: James 1:26-27).

God’s beloved

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him….

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:12-17, 28-39

We in Christ are much loved by God. As Henry Nouwen put it: “God’s beloved.” I believe God loves all he has made, especially everyone made in God’s image. And there’s a special bond for all who are “in Christ,” in God’s beloved Son. We are taken up into that love by God’s grace through faith and baptism.

It is often hard for us to think good of ourselves. So much is conditioned against that. The push for more and more work, especially on the backs of the poor, but working its way right up to the top with those who want more and more. And then the negative conditioning we’ve received from someone always looking down on us with a critical eye, with never a thing we do measuring up, never quite good enough, and oftentimes no good at all. And we take that in, absorb it, at least many of us, and it leaves its indelible mark on our hearts and lives, so that we see ourselves in much the same way.

But God enters into this through Christ. Lifts us up as God’s beloved children. Yes, God sees the faults, but looks past that with delight to see the sincere desire to do better, to follow Christ, to do well, and improvements by God’s grace and the Spirit which follow.

Everyone in the human race is loved by God, and God desires to receive one and all into God’s special family through Christ. Those in that family are held dear by our God. This is true no matter what they’re going through, no matter what mistakes they’ve made, no matter what sins. God remains present eagerly waiting for, even anticipating their return.

But again, it’s not easy to really believe and come to accept this. We’re so conditioned otherwise. So easy for us to call ourselves something derogatory and curse ourselves for our latest mistake or sin. Instead, like God, we need to look past that, not neglecting confession of sin and repentance for sure. But see past that to who we really are in Christ. The Beloved children of God. Loved now and forever.

In and through Jesus.

the need for a social gospel

Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. He warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.”

Matthew 12:15-21

Christian scholarship in the past few decades has helped us see more clearly the ramifications of God’s kingdom comes to earth in Jesus, now seen primarily in the church. For example what resistance to the principalities and powers involves. It is not only about life in the hereafter, as if this life doesn’t matter. Though the promise of resurrection and new creation is central in this “hope” or as we followers of Christ might want to say, “blessed assurance.” It certainly involves feet on the ground, living in the real world, hands getting dirty, and we doing all we can to help in this life.

It’s probably something like when we get our vision tested. If need be the optometrist gives us a focus by which we can both read and see clearly afar. 20/20, or sometimes better. We need correct focus when we consider God’s kingdom come in this world, and salvation present in Jesus. It’s about following Jesus in relationship to him through faith and baptism. And it’s for advocating justice in God’s love for all in the here and now.

Back to the vision analogy, maybe it’s more easy to understand how we might be wrong if we consider God’s salvation in Christ to be only about the life to come after this life. It does begin now with God’s present working of salvation in us, working to change us more and more into the likeness of Jesus. And it also clearly exposes the darkness around us, wherever it might be, advocating for the good of others. And above all, helping others to find the true and perfect good which is found in and through Jesus.

no toleration for what’s wrong in ourselves

I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people….
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.

Psalm 116:14,18

“Life is hard.” Something my mother used to say, though she didn’t complain, and was indeed a hard worker. It is. Life is so full of challenges. And it doesn’t get easier as one gets older, although hopefully there’s more knowledge, wisdom and maturity so that one can handle the difficulties better.

The psalmist speaks of vows made to God, and how they would fulfill them in the presence of God’s people, that is in life, which for them at that time would likely involve offering the animal or other sacrifices required at the festivals in Jerusalem along with whatever extra they might do there.

For us today it seems to me to be a matter of living out our baptism into Christ, just as Romans 6 points out. So for me that means I need to put an end to all that is not in line with that. And right now it’s about struggling to accept the challenges, all of them together. And quit being down in the mouth about myself. Or any other wrong attitude.

We won’t arrive to any sinless perfection in this life. But we aren’t to excuse sin, either. We must go on confessing our sins to God, walk in the light as Christ is in the light (1 John 1-2). And simply not tolerate what we know is wrong. Toleration for sin in ourselves is not a virtue.

As we go on in real life in and through Jesus.

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.

The cords of death entangled me,
the anguish of the grave came over me;
I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
Lord, save me!”

The Lord is gracious and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the unwary;
when I was brought low, he saved me.

Return to your rest, my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.

For you, Lord, have delivered me from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.

I trusted in the Lord when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted”;
in my alarm I said,
“Everyone is a liar.”

What shall I return to the Lord
for all his goodness to me?

I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.

Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his faithful servants.
Truly I am your servant, Lord;
I serve you just as my mother did;
you have freed me from my chains.

I will sacrifice a thank offering to you
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord
in your midst, Jerusalem.

Praise the Lord.

accepting each other despite our differences

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
    I will sing the praises of your name.”

Again, it says,

“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”

And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
    let all the peoples extol him.”

And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.”

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:1-13

The problem was a Jewish-Gentile one, and specifically over the major change that had come, namely that one did not become a part of God’s people through conversion in becoming a “righteous proselyte.” Circumcision for males required for that. Now all were members of God’s people through faith in Christ, baptism being the circumcision for all as one in Christ.

Fast forward to today and you no longer find as much of this problem, but you still find all kinds of issues which threaten to undermine and displace our oneness in Christ. One huge example is political differences. Here in the United States one’s partisan loyalty has become like the major marker in evaluating and feeling at home with someone. The problem probably isn’t so much the differences in opinion, but the way such differences are held. And it may be true that this is more so on one side than another, especially if that side is the majority, or in the place of influence and power. But the attitude usually cuts across both ways, so that it’s no easier for one side than the other.

Back to the time this was written: Paul at length here (click above link) tells both Gentile along with what we might call enlightened believers, and Jewish believers not to look down on each other. Those “strong” in their faith could break the old kosher rules. But those “weak” in their faith could not. Paul warned those who were strong neither to look down on their brothers and sisters who wouldn’t join them, nor to cause them to stumble by boldly doing what they themselves in good conscience could not do. At the same time Paul was working on helping those “weak” in their faith to accept the strong. Perhaps their weakness of faith was not so much if at all in their own practice of circumcision and abiding by the food laws, etc. But actually in not accepting those who had faith in Christ, but didn’t join them in their practice. They may have had good reason to continue in their Jewishness, as long as they didn’t consider that necessary for others. Some certainly could not do what they themselves with their weak conscience would not permit themselves to do.

Back to today, I believe we have to be careful not to look down on each other, even to the point sadly sometimes of actually despising each other. Instead we’re to accept each other, just as Christ accepted us in order to bring glory and praise to God. That means we accept our differences. We don’t try to change the other to our “enlightened” point of view. We make necessary distinctions between what is absolutely essential and the many things which are not. And we try to understand the differences, something we won’t arrive at overnight, and in some ways in this life, never. But we seek to be open to better understanding not only of our differences, but also to help us see better ourselves to a necessary Christ-like change. In and through Jesus.

Jesus’s teaching is personal, private, public, and political

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Matthew 4:17

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:1-3

Under the influence of Enlightenment Modernism, which definitely has impacted us all, Christianity, the dominant religion in such places took on a personal, private emphasis. Faith became something that was for you, and impacted anything else indirectly through the impact it made on you. An emphasis was on the personal and private. God’s kingdom through Jesus was inside of you, in your heart, hopefully transforming your life, but more or less only indirectly influencing anything else. I’m sure there are many exceptions to this, and variations, but I think it’s safe to say that this was the general rule.

The separation of church and state fitted comfortably into that, but with the reality that while the church helped the state through its religion, the religion itself became more or less a civil religion, no longer tethered to the teaching of Jesus, adrift from that, at least in Jesus’s intentions.

Yes, Jesus’s teaching is personal and private, but it’s also public and political. And what’s political will be in stark difference to the politics of this world, even if on occasion it might influence the politics of the world for good.

There’s no escape from politics. Some might do so for awhile, but when they return, it is again in their face, a factor and fact of life. It can be certainly overblown for sure. But those who might see Jesus’s teaching as essentially personal and private, except perhaps to spread that teaching to others, will nearly invariably be involved in politics.

The missing element is the simple teaching of Jesus, which is again- personal, private, but also public and political. Public through repentance and baptism. Political in that it is steeped in God’s kingdom present here and now in Jesus, and lived out in communities of faith, in the church. Supporting each other. Loving enemies, doing good to others, especially the poor, oppressed and disenfranchised.

All of this is part of Jesus’s teaching and what follows in the New Testament. Our way is different than anything of this world. Down to earth, meant for the world, but counter to it. God’s kingdom now present in and through Jesus.

 

holding on to faith in the midst of a pandemic

Christians are not afraid of death, even though it remains an “enemy,” the last enemy that will be done away with. We realize it’s both inevitable, and that through Jesus’s resurrection, it is not the end. Through faith and baptism (Romans 6) we participate in that resurrection so that in and through Christ death is not the end for us.

When considering the COVID-19 pandemic, for some reason the book of Job comes to my mind. Everyone has an opinion, and often the opinions are at variance with each other, indeed in opposition. Everyone has their say along with Job, who questions God and finds no easy answers. Job’s faith is tattered, maybe one might say shaken, yet is not in ruins. It remains, as he continues to answer those who have all the right answers from their ivory tower position. We know that God steps in and points Job to his creation, things well beyond Job, and somehow in that, Job is able to find peace in realizing that he simply doesn’t know, and in accepting that.

For me, I am questioning the faith of others who seem to deny science, and want to carry on as if everything is normal, and much of that with the view I suppose of trusting in God. Of course nowadays there are all kinds of political stuff thrown in, so that your views and how you think are often mostly partisan, determined by your political party and its platform or general view, or what it holds to. Not really dependent on faith, and I would say a well thought out faith.

Science is in the crosshairs and crossfire of all of this, being the bogeyman for too many. There is no way we can understand what to do about a virus by opening up our Bibles and praying. Yes, we need to do that always, every day. But to understand natural phenomena, we have to study it on its own terms. I won’t understand a whole lot about a flower except by learning from those who have studied it, how it takes hold from being a seed in the soil, how it grows, how it thrives and passes on not only its beauty, but provision to nature. So it is with the virus: We have to listen and take seriously science, or pay the consequences.

To think about science would require another post and much more. Modern science is simply the discipline of observation, hypothesis, testing, verification, and on and on. It is not closed, so that it doesn’t purport to have final answers. And indeed it can’t speak in matters in which faith speaks, like why the flower exists beyond the scientific reasons given.

All of that to say this: In the way of Jesus, we hold on to faith in God, but an intelligent or thoughtful faith. Refusing to give in to fear, but not acting foolhardy, either. Not jumping off the cliff like Satan suggested the Lord should do, who promptly quoted him Scripture in context, that we’re not to put the Lord our God to the test.

This can test us, how we see others expressing their faith, not unlike Job’s struggle, I suppose. In the end we have to do our best, but wait on God. Only with God’s help and through his word will we eventually come to more and more of the perspective we need. In and through Jesus.

the power of the cross in its weakness is not only about salvation

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.

2 Corinthians 13:4

The way of the cross in Jesus didn’t stop when Jesus was resurrected, nor after his ascension. It seems too often, at least to me that the cross is viewed only with reference to salvation. And there’s no doubt that it’s central in that. But that salvation is not only through the cross, but into a cruciform, cross-formed life.

Our life in Christ is an in-Christ life. In the power of Christ’s resurrection insofar as it’s grounded and established in his death. That is the power for how we live the life of the cross. Paradoxically the power of Christ’s resurrection enables us to live out the reality and meaning of his death in this life (Philippians 3:10). And we won’t have to look hard in the gospels, or the letters to find directives which comport with that.

This is the one and only way in Jesus, not only for our salvation, but for all of life.

Jesus was not about being nice, or everyone getting along

“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Luke 12:49-53

Seems like a popular view of Jesus is a soft, sentimental kind of like, “Why don’t we all just get along?” Jesus. Not the real Jesus found in the Bible.

That Jesus was about love is no doubt, more than anyone ever. But real love is also about truth. And that’s where the problem lies for the world, for society, for each one of us. We don’t want to face it, indeed on our own, we can’t.

That’s where Jesus’s redemption comes in, the baptism he speaks of, that of the cross. Through that, we can indeed accept the difference he makes with the division that brings. As we seek to follow him in a world in which we’ll no longer fit. But part of the new world now breaking in. In and through Jesus.

make disciples

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-20

The command Jesus gave is to the apostles. Most agree that this command extends to the church today. It’s what the church is to be about, and what we’re to become. Not just believers, but followers of Christ.

This is done in a number of ways, but relationships seem much more important than many of us have imagined. Baptizing and teaching are clearly important, as the text indicates. We can’t minimize that for a moment. When one looks at Jesus’s life one finds that he spent a good majority of his time interacting with people, especially with his twelve disciples, called apostles.

To be a disciple is to follow Christ’s teachings, to follow Christ himself, to follow the teachings of those designated to be his apostles as given to them by Christ through the Spirit. For us today that essentially means what we call “the New Testament.” We’re to be well versed in that, and if we are, then we’ll have respect for “the Old Testament,” in being foundational to the fulfillment in Christ.

To be a disciple is to be a learner, but it’s not just head knowledge, but a way of life. The heart of which is love to God and to one’s neighbor.

This is what the church is to be about. Nothing more, nothing less. In and through Jesus.