the final healing

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”

“See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”

Revelation 22:1-7

Healing and salvation in Scripture are essentially one and the same. Yes, salvation involves a number of things, but in the New Testament the word σῴζω, translated “save” is also translated “heal.” That seems suggestive to me that salvation and healing go hand in hand. What I don’t mean is that everyone physically healed by Jesus was also forgiven of their sins, though we do find that pairing in the gospel, Jesus-healing accounts, as well as in James. What I do mean is that healing is a kind of salvation and salvation is a kind of healing. If when one is physically healed they experience a saving work, certainly healing in a total final sense is saving, and salvation in a total final sense is healing.

Who of us doesn’t need healing of one kind or another? While healing in Scripture primarily refers to physical healing, and that should never be belittled, it certainly refers to the totality of all creation, of each person through and through, and to creation as a whole. The leaves of the tree of life in the passage above referring to when God brings God’s will entirely to pass are said to be for the healing of the nations. God is not only concerned about personal healing, but also about corporate healing, healing in relationships. Healing is about making whole, bringing together what has been broken. There are relationships in this life which either can’t be restored for this or that reason, or are limited in such restoration. I would like to think that the church is a place where ideally, people experience a substantial healing which enables them to continue on in relationship with one another.

Whether you are married, in family, in close relationships with friends, or in the church, we all fail along the way so that there needs to be ongoing repentance, forgiveness and healing. That’s a given. There has to be a commitment to the Lord and to each other to live in whole relationships with each other. Cracks and even some brokenness are inevitable in all such relationships, but in Christ these can and must always be tended to wisely, not in some prescribed way, but according to each situation considering the people involved. We’re all to accept responsibility in this.

To the world at large, healing is important as well. Old grievances from past evils are perpetuated in cycles of violence: tit for tat, back and forth. But what God brings in Christ and Christ’s rule is an end to that. I admire the hard work of Christians who have sought to help warring factions come to an end in their conflict, but not just ending violence, but working through the difficult terrain of arriving to a mutual healing and wholeness that ultimately is meant to bring such factions together. Such is the intent of the gospel of Christ in its reconciling work.

Total healing not only can, but indeed does seem illusory, and as death reminds us, is not possible in this life. But through Christ it can begin now with each other and in our own lives. The power of salvation for the healing of the most broken relationships. A part of the gospel’s work now, to be completed.

what is needed today more than anything else

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist but others Elijah and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:13-19

God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Ephesians 1:20-23

Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

Ephesians 3:7-10

It doesn’t take long before one is reminded that it seems like people have lost their minds, and for a good variety of reasons. Yes, it’s complicated, and the world has always been challenged, with catastrophes added. It is a wondrous, beautiful, wild, threatening and broken world, all at the same time. But the God who created it is somehow present in all of this, and will make, in fact has begun to make all things new, bringing in a new existence. And that’s present now, and what is needed today more than anything else.

It is nothing more or less than the church, yes, the church. The church, which more than understandably has gotten a hard rap, and probably to some significant extent, richly deserves it. When the church buys into, or is bought into the principalities and powers, and is subsumed in them, then the church deserves critique, even scorn, and like some of the churches named in Revelation 2 and 3, is in danger of being church no longer. Yes, there’s a more than understandable saying that many love Christ, but not the church. I’m afraid that the church is often watered down and contaminated, not that any church that’s ever existed is without something of this problem.

But the church is Christ’s body on earth. And through the church, Christ somehow fills everything, whatever precisely that means. What could possibly be more important than that? It turns out, all kinds of things. Let’s make an inevitably partial list: an inerrant Bible with just the right theology and doctrine supposedly Spirit-led, nothing more than fiction; a supposed government/state, which is godly, even Christian; being “right”; everyone knowing their place and remaining there; (ab)using the earth for more and more profit; a large, powerful military; laws that supposedly facilitate justice, and we could go on and on and on.

At least something of the intent and some of what’s listed might have some grain of truth in it, even when still mistaken. In the world in which we live, faith and visions can’t be imposed on others, and there ought to be an appreciation of a common grace from God to all, so that everyone is involved when it comes to the state/government. You can see that I strongly support democracy, and am opposed to any kind of authoritarian government.

But regardless of how we parse anything and everything, as far as believers and followers of Christ should be concerned, there is one thing that makes everything else not only pale in comparison, but really not exist at all, since it’s not in that level or sphere. And that’s yes, the ordinary church. Simple people like myself, voluntarily joined together by baptism and faith, and in that entity and gathering by the Spirit, nothing less than the body of Christ.

To be present in the world, with God’s mysterious work in that. To be about doing good works in helping where help is needed. Being what the world needs, a light to expose all darkness, salt and light to influence all society for good. The church being Christ’s body on earth.

This certainly doesn’t answer all the questions, yet that is what we Christ-followers can and should settle into. Yes, we’re concerned, and there’s many things we could humbly suggest, and should do in reference to the problems of the world. But what is needed above and beyond anything else is the church, the good news of God in Christ for the world present in that church, shining out to all the world.

God meets us exactly where we’re at for the help we need

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1-2

“God helps those who help themselves.” Not really. God helps those who look to God for help. It’s not like God doesn’t help people who don’t call on God’s name. Yes, God does. But God honors those who do call out to God and seek to trust and be committed to God, seeking God and God’s will, wanting to live in God’s way.

But we have to settle into the mode that neither circumstances nor life itself depend on us for the needed answer. Instead we need to look to God for God’s help in giving us wisdom and direction and peace. No matter what the situation, even hard places, God will help. Yes, in the darkness, in the worst of times as well as in the best of times. We need only to look up in prayer, expectation and wonder.

let scripture be

These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come.

1 Corinthians 10:11

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have known sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the person of God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:14-17

Karl Barth’s 1917 address/sermon, “The Strange New World within the Bible” is definitely worth reading and rereading, at least certainly so for me. I was raised Mennonite, and while the Bible was an important book for us, from what I can recall and surmise from that time, we were not beholden to some kind of thought within which the Bible must fit, be it inerrant or otherwise. And now for me, given other influences that have entered in as well as my return to a Mennonite version of the Anabaptist faith, I am to some extent left wondering what to do or think about the Bible, even while I continue to read and ponder on it daily.

Don’t get me wrong. Even within that thought, I hold the Bible as somehow sacred scripture in some sort of exalted unique sense. While at the same time acknowledging that much of it was never meant to be read in some sort of literal, historical sense, that it’s often full of symbolic meaning, perhaps truth in some sense, but symbolic just the same. And that we simply don’t have to accept it at face value and stop there. Our perception will always be our perception, but what is needed just might be something beyond.

I find Barth’s words more than helpful, pointing us toward the something beyond the text which only God can give, even the very Word or word of God. I would say the Word is Christ no doubt, and the word is the message of God which comes across to us at least primarily through the words of scripture, the Bible. Barth says that the Bible is not the history of humanity, but of God, which may simply mean something like it tells us God’s story as recounted by humanity and for humanity so that we can enter into something of that same story through the pages of scripture but somehow for our own time and place.

And as Walter Brueggemann has said, in my own words: the Gospel, the good news in Christ is distinct from the Bible. We receive it through the pages of that scripture, but its message is a breakthrough that fulfills God’s intent through which the strange new world not encapsulated in words breaks into our old world destined to perish.

Let the Bible be, let scripture be. Let sacred scripture be what it is, and let’s quit making it what it is not. And instead of thinking we have to parse this and explain that, precisely what we mean, just maybe it would be better to acknowledge that we really don’t know. And that before God as faith communities and individuals, we simply commit ourselves to let scripture do whatever God would have it do for us. And that includes Genesis through Revelation including the most difficult, even appalling places along with the Apocrypha, which I consider at least helpful in the mix.

We especially together will find God’s will in love for us and for all in Christ, but not in some static, well defined way we’re then called to live up to, but instead in an ongoing dynamic, woven within the fabric of our lives and times as we continue especially together in that by faith.

revolutions/revolutionary change comes over time

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy,
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.

Psalm 51:1-2, 10

I’m not advocating for war of any kind and in fact am against that. To think through all of that as a committed Christ follower who because of that is committed to the way of nonviolence and peacemaking when considering the world at large is not easy. Surely apart from Christ followers, if there has to be violence of any kind, it ought to be only a last resort, and then as minimal as possible, and with the goal not of retributive, but restorative justice.

One can see in the foments of history that revolutions (American Revolutionary War) and revolutionary change doesn’t occur overnight. Although because of the fallout of all the harm done often measures have been put in place out of necessity, such as universal healthcare in Europe after the ravages of World War II, a needed sudden revolutionary change. But one more thing on violence: The only real needed revolution in any such scenario is that of ending it just as Christ did at the cross, God forgiving all the violence against Christ so that all violence would come to an end. Otherwise there will be cycles of violence (“Violence breeds violence.”), one group sore and seeking revenge years or even generations later because of the violence suffered at the hands of another group. When will the world at large quit justifying war and bloodshed? Surely the insanity of using weapons of mass destruction ought to awaken the world to the need of settling differences in a nonviolent way, the truly needed revolution. But alas! A mixed record.

But away from that overextended analogy, in our own lives, maybe say within our communities of faith during certain times, we may well become aware of the need for change, a revolution in becoming someone or something totally different than what we are. That is not going to occur overnight, though it actually will happen if we take the necessary steps and keep going through God’s grace and help.

But to get there we need to not sweep under the rug in some way by rationalizations or whatever, what wrong or deficiency has come to light. We need to cringe, confess it to God either ourselves if it’s personal, or together if it’s a sin or shortcoming within our community. The first turn around may seem small and inconsequential, but if we continue on the change over time, it will indeed become revolutionary.

In a penitent (“penance” so to speak), committed way, we continue on, come what may, through trials, temptations, set backs, yes even when we slip and fall in the same way as individuals or as community. We get up, brush ourselves off, acknowledge our wrong, and continue on the new path. Never seeing ourselves as anything less than sinners only in the sense that we are in the process of recovery from that. But committed to the new in what amounts to no less than the new creation in community and within ourselves, in formation in and through Jesus.

distractions

But Martha was distracted by her many tasks

Luke 10:40a

Distractions can be a blessing. We get caught up in them, usually one at a time, and we can’t see straight or clear as a result. We’re caught up in fear or whatever else. I speak from experience. But again, distractions can be a blessing because we see the fruit or lack thereof: our own lack of peace, our own lack period, how the commitment we have to the Lord in reality is just in our heads and nowhere else.

That’s when we can see what’s distracting us for what it really is, yes a pure and out and out distraction. Turning our attention elsewhere. Distracting us from sitting at Christ’s feet and hearing him. Distracting us from settling into and doing all the will of God as we understand it. Distracting us from becoming what God wants us to become through the Spirit’s working.

I know about this all too well. But to simply recognize and acknowledge the problem can help us on our way to truly following Christ.

getting rid of useless old yokes

“Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matthew 11:28-30; The Message

A yoke is the wood on the shoulders of two oxen side by side with more wood or something else in between them attached to the yoke to pull a simple plow. Metaphorically they can be either good or bad. Simply speaking this refers to a discipline, one could say a discipling or commitment to following so as to not only learn from, but as in Jesus’s day imitate a rabbi. There’s the yoke of Torah which in the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament is a delight. There’s the yoke of application of Torah, which under many religious rules losing sight of the spirit and heart of the law was something other than a delight.

Many of us could go on for hours and hours on the yokes we’ve carried much of our lives. Some of them have been self-imposed, or put on us by others. Others we might come to enjoy, hopefully good coming out of them. In a sense it becomes a part of who we are, at least influencing that, for better or for worse.

Jesus’s invitation to take up his yoke is an inference to leave many other yokes behind, often burdensome and unhelpful things we’re under. Commitment in this way Jesus says is easy and brings rest. Just the opposite of what we’re accustomed to living with day after day, and year after year.

What we’re talking about is the most basic commitment of life which encompasses all other commitments. The yoke Jesus invites us to for example is meant to enhance other commitments that are good, such as the yoke of marriage. But we do so ironically as those who are under no other yoke but Jesus’s.

I just want to settle by faith into Jesus’s yoke, and by doing so leave the unhelpful yokes I’m so accustomed to behind. Something I’m focused on right now.

the voluntariness of faith

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea, for they were fishers. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

Mark 1:16-20

Within Christendom it was a given that all citizens of the state were members of the church as well, so that everyone underwent infant baptism. In Post-Christendom, while many still undergo that rite, it is no longer required nor assumed. While one can make a case from scripture for infant baptism, we find over and over again in the witness of the New Testament, particularly in the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John along with Acts that faith carries with it a voluntary aspect.

We choose to become followers of Christ. It is a choice on our part. Though Jesus did tell his disciples that they had not chosen him, but that he had chosen them to bear much fruit, how that works out is a response in which each person not only receives but accepts such a calling. It’s a choice we must make, not simply something we’re born into.

There’s certainly a beginning to this as we see in the case in the scripture quoted above. But it’s also ongoing. Day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year we continue to choose to follow Jesus. An individual, yes autonomous choice. But a commitment into community as followers of Christ, committed together and in this commitment to Christ, to each other as well. In and through Jesus.

you can’t separate Christ from his teachings and commands

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you who behave lawlessly.’

“Everyone, then, who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

Matthew 7:21-27

If you consider what is actually taught and practiced, there seems to be centuries and centuries of mainstream Christian teaching focusing on Christ and Christ’s self-sacrificial death on the cross as being the basis for salvation and what it means to be a Christian and in the faith. Many will go to the book of Hebrews to underscore that. What Christ did accomplish on the cross is unique, redemptive, and universal as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. No one or nothing else can replicate that. It’s done, completely accomplished.

But what follows from that is a faith which receives and gives. If we are not active in our faith, as James tells us, whatever faith we think we have in Christ and Christ’s death for sins is null and void for us. It is dead. Faith that doesn’t make a difference in our lives is not the faith Jesus talks about in Scripture. Even though there’s truth in it, it’s not good enough to say, “I’m not perfect, just forgiven” (bumper sticker). There has to be cleansing of sin in a regenerative process symbolized as a marker and witness in water baptism with the baptism of the Spirit which effects the change.

What that brings is nothing less than a following of Christ which takes seriously all of Christ’s teachings and commands. Unless Jesus in “the great commission” at the end of Matthew’s gospel is mistaken when he told his disciples to teach new disciples of every nation to obey all he had commanded them, and that he would be with them in this, to the very end of the age, meaning up to the time of his return.

A good place to start in this is Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). This will become a life-long project for us, and we’ll never get it perfectly. But unless we’re dead set and fully committed to both listen, listen and listen some more and keep listening, as well as put into practice everything, every day, then we’re not really followers of Christ. And we’re not really “in Christ.” No matter what we say about resting in Christ’s once for all sacrifice on the cross. Unless Jesus didn’t really mean what he said at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, as quoted above.

get ready to suffer

Since, therefore, Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), so as to live for the rest of your time in the flesh no longer by human desires but by the will of God. You have already spent enough time in doing what the gentiles like to do, living in debauchery, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry. They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme. But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.

1 Peter 4:1-6

Peter’s first letter was to a suffering church, to persecuted believers or those about to undergo persecution for their faith. We know the story well, Christians thrown to the lions, burned at the stake. And then centuries following. Although ever since Constantine changed the Roman empire into a so-called Christian one in which for example only professing Christians could serve in the Roman military, Christians and what is from that, Christendom has sought to take matters into its own hands and that in significant part in order to avoid persecution, and effectively nullify the way of the cross, the path of following Christ.

Today we have another rise of a new push for a Christendom which as someone has said involves Christo-fascist overlords. It is the push away from democracy to an authoritarian rule in which Christian appointed leaders call the shots. And that isn’t just metaphorical, because in all such so-called Christian rule, which is not really Christian at all in any way, shape or form, there will be force and violence. Instead of depending on the good news of Christ in which people choose to follow and living bodies of Christ are formed, you have a rule of the land which forces its view on everyone.

We can expect, just as Jesus experienced, to receive the most trouble from the religious over us, namely those who name the name of Christ. These are the most dangerous, because they are the most self-assured, and are steeped in a kind of Christendom which they feel and somehow think needs to be imposed on the world. It amounts to a white Christian nationalism which is cultic in the sense that it has people in its grip with the works of the flesh (Galatians 5) needed to ensure its existence as opposed to the true fruit of love for God and neighbor in the works of Christ along with the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5). And above all again, it nullifies the way of the cross, the true and only path of following Christ.

We are facing difficult times. So as followers of Christ, let’s seek to be wise as serpents while being harmless as doves. Let’s attempt to see clearly who our enemies are along with those who back them and thus amount to enemies as well. Let’s call what is wrong, wrong. And let us love all in the midst of this. And get ready to suffer as Peter instructs us in the passage above. In and through Jesus.