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.

the desire for the Christ-life

Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry but others from goodwill. These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true, and in that I rejoice.

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my salvation. It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way but that by my speaking with all boldness Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me, yet I cannot say which I will choose. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better, but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that, by my presence again with you, your boast might abound in Christ Jesus because of me.

Philippians 1:15-26

The book of Philippians catches an important connection, note, indeed song in God’s story: the proclamation of the good news of God in Christ, and the Christ-life or life of Christ that is in the middle of that. There was nothing more important to Paul than this, both on a personal level, and in ministry in service to others. This was the heart and passion of Paul. So much in Philippians is so powerful, helpful and good in our quest as individuals and in community to be followers of Christ.

Why do we want to live? As believers and followers of Christ it should be similar or related to what Paul was talking about. Christ is in the center of that, God’s good news in him. And it’s about Christ’s life existing and being lived out in us, God’s people in him. And it’s a life not only for eternity, but for the life of the world even now. If this Christ-life doesn’t result in good works and a passion for the world now, how can we really imagine that we care much if at all for the eternal good of all?

This is what we’re to be devoted to. Because of Christ, centered in him, God’s will and the good news in him. We want to be devoted and have our part both as individuals and together in community in that. That is why we want to live, even our very life.

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.

not so much an individual, but a part of community

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:12

We live in a time and for many of us a place where individuals and individual rights reign supreme. Although exactly what that means differs depending on who you’re talking to. But ever since the Enlightenment, and probably somewhat before that, the individual has taken center stage.

But humans are meant to live in community. We actually are not what we’re meant to be apart from the other, apart from each other. The individual aspect within that is important. Yes, we’re all unique and we all have our special contribution to make. And we are to be known and to know in relationship with God and others. So yes, the individual aspect is important, even vital and a gift. And to acknowledge that there is such a thing as individual rights I think is to echo in our own way the Prophets and Jesus. Everyone deserves respect and dignity at least in the sense of being made in the image of God, being human. Even though that image will be more or less distorted in each person.

But individuals are meant to live in community. And the greatest community according to scripture are those who are seeking to follow Christ as he is portrayed in the gospels. There are other communities we might become a part of, some good for what they’re about, others not necessarily good or bad, and others downright not good. But again, humans are meant for community and whatever tribe we belong to will influence us for good or ill. So on the one hand, it’s not good for any of us to be isolated and alone. But on the other hand, we need to take care what group we associate with and become a part of. A clear illustration is what is popularly called “cults” which can be dangerous when an authoritarian leader is followed blindly.

All of that said, we need to go back to Christ and as Paul pointed out above, back to the body of Christ, those who are committed to learning to follow Christ in all of life. Together finding our true selves in that.

putting on the whole armor of God: the breastplate of righteousness

…and put on the breastplate of righteousness

Ephesians 6:14b

Once upon a time, way back when I remember a pastor and teacher, Dr. Ted Rendall, comparing our calling in Christ to a three legged stool people used to sit on to milk cows. The first leg being children of God, then servants of God and others, and last but not least, soldiers in spiritual warfare. I think that’s apt from an individual standpoint.

We all have to live this out as individuals, but we’re to do so as those who are part of community in Jesus, the church. Yes, these words in what’s considered the classical spiritual warfare passage are to be applied by us in our individual lives, but first and foremost, I believe they’re addressed to the entire church. The fact of the matter is that the bulwark against the spiritual enemy is found not just in our own life in Christ, but primarily within the church itself. We are a part of that so that we find our strength and take our stand in the community of faith, the church, gathered regularly in which Christ is actively present in a certain special unique sense.

Having said that, we now go to the second piece of armor which we’re to put on: the breastplate of righteousness. Isaiah 11:5 and 59:17 tell how God’s servant and God God’s self wear such armory. And we’re to collectively do the same, from which we individually do so. We live not only in Christ, but in community in Christ. There’s an inherent protection there if the community is alive in Christ, seeking to be faithful.

The breastplate of righteousness, rightness, or justice (Common English Bible, link above) is one of the basics we’re to live in, actually given to us. Remember, this armor is not something we come up with ourselves, or a part of who we are. It is external to us, given to us, something we’re to receive and put on. So any justice, rightness, righteousness is not something we figure out ourselves, but given to us by God one could say as a revelation, and above all as something which is to become a part of who we are, or at least how we carry on in this life. It is a matter of God’s guiding, really from God entirely. We can’t come up with it on our own. Our sense of righteousness, rightness and justice will always be flawed and lacking.

Having said that, it’s not as if we simply toss our brains in the trash and become automatons. No. This “righteousness” is given to us as something we’re to seek to understand and apply and that will most certainly involve an ongoing endeavor on our part especially together as community and as individuals. But once again, always provided for us by God. In and through Jesus.

not backing down (from an unpopular position)

Then the LORD said to me: … I will utter my judgments against them for all their wickedness in forsaking me; they have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands. But you, gird up your loins; stand up and tell them everything that I command you. Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them. And I for my part have made you today a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the LORD, to deliver you.”

Jeremiah 1:14a, 16-19

I recently heard that somehow in our brain some of us at least can be quite opposite, like two different people. Somehow that might be something of the same for me. I like to make people happy, and especially dislike making people feel bad or even uncomfortable. Yet I’m all too willing to say the hard thing sometimes at inconvenient times. I wonder if something of the same was true of the one who is called the weeping prophet: Jeremiah.

We live in a time that seems fraught with danger locally, in states, nationally, and worldwide. It’s a precarious time during which one might well watch their step. Really nothing new, but just more so than at any point in my lifetime I think, or in recent history dating back to maybe the time before the American Civil War in our neck of the woods. Of course, other places have seen, and some continue to see terrible or difficult times right up to the present day.

It is hard to take a stand on a controversial hot button issue, especially when most people in your group are opposed to that. This is what Jeremiah was facing in his day. God was giving him a vision and message contrary to those around him, God’s people no less.

And God gives Jeremiah these hard words in bold letters in the quote above:

Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them.

That seems harsh, and it seems to go against the grace message as many Christians understand that. But we need to read it in context. God does call people to go through difficulties and persevere even when one does not at all feel like it, in fact may feel completely contrary to that.

I believe this is important today, not to back down for the sake of the truth; for the marginalized with whom we stand, and yes, for all the truth that is in Jesus as understood in the community of the faithful and which needs to be declared.

God’s call to Jeremiah continues today in Christ through the church. But sadly, just as in Jeremiah’s time, I believe it is God’s people, today the church which is actually most in need of hearing this message. And as we know from reading Jeremiah and the Prophets, the outcome will be good regardless of all the trouble before that.

a nation coming apart

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORDStand in the gate of the LORD’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah, you who enter these gates to worship the LORDThus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.”

For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave to your ancestors forever and ever.

Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail.

Jeremiah 7:1-8

We certainly live in a different day and nation. But I think, considering the Christian nationalization taking root and the fruit we’re seeing, I would suggest that judgment is practically on us already, and the worst of that is up ahead.

The false prophets of Israel were all too ready to pronounce their amen and blessing on the religious, civil leaders who maintained a status quo which favored the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor, the orphans and widows. You clearly see the same thing today, those celebrating political leaders and even guns in contrast to the true prophetic vision which clearly sees through them.

Violence is not only tolerated in our society, but even celebrated. Genesis 6 said God had had enough with humans because the earth was filled with violence. The way of Christ is completely the opposite, but frankly you would never know that with the “Christian” presence in America.

It’s alright because of the gospel and Jesus, they think. But God looks at the fruit, the heart, and the actions and inaction. What good is our profession of faith in Christ if we’re not living in the way of Christ? The gospel is reduced to empty words.

None of us are off the hook. We’re all accountable, yes to an entirely loving God who is love, a love which will not look past whatever violates that love.

We can’t do this by ourselves. We need to band with others, for us Christ-followers with other Christ-followers to better understand our times and what God’s people are called to do. God will help us. In and through Jesus.

“Lament and mourn and weep.”

Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection.

James 4:9

The lamentation James calls for here is about getting one’s own house in order. The words are addressed to Christians in community, as well as individually. James’s words aren’t just addressed to individuals, but to all. The entire community is involved and so it is the community together which must respond.

Leadership within the community should help by setting the example themselves. One has to read or hear as they did originally to better understand what James was getting at. The immediate context helps us see what James was immediately addressing:

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it, so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it, so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that the scripture speaks to no purpose? Does the spirit that God caused to dwell in us desire envy? But God gives all the more grace; therefore it says,

“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

James 4:1-10

The beauty of the Lord will not come from the joviality and mirth of the world. But only through a heart set on change, and on understanding the emptiness and even danger of all apart from that. As well as beginning to realize the true life of love in works of faith. In and through Jesus.

remaining “centered”

Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace,
in peace because they trust in you.

Isaiah 26:3

Isaiah 26 (of course just as an imposed chapter division) is a passage of faith and travail, with justice proclaimed for the poor and needy. And toward the beginning of it is a passage often used as a “precious promise,” perhaps for a nation, but I take it that individuals can receive it as well, and especially together in community.

There is nothing more basic and important to me for remaining in what it is that God is about and doing in my life and even through it, then seeking to remain centered, so to speak. In the words of the above passage: of steadfast mind in trusting God, and because of that, kept by God in peace, peace. The Hebrew repeats the word transliterated shalom, for emphasis (hence translated “perfect peace” in some translations). The meaning is a peace that is more than inward tranquility. And far more than the absence of physical conflict, in its worst case, out and out war. It has to do with human flourishing, growing toward the being God intended for us in our creation, of course all through Christ in the new creation.

I long for inner, tranquil peace, regardless of what else happens in this transient life in which we’re called to follow Christ together through thick and thin, conundrums, perhaps even persecution and death itself. And we are promised something like that through petitionary prayers and thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6-7).

But make no mistake about it, we are in a struggle even while we trust in God. And what we experience of the shalom translated peace in the passage in Isaiah, is not complete in this present life, even as was the case when this was first written (and perhaps edited). We long for that finality now, something in “hope” which we look forward to.

In the meantime, we seek to trust in God, to have a steadfast mind in doing so, and to be kept in God’s blessing. A key for me in this:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Something which seems very contingent, precarious, yet close at hand. Providing stability through the storms of life and helping us stay and get back on track. In and through Jesus.

God neither wants nor needs any superstars

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

1 Corinthians 12:27

I’m not sure what it is, maybe an American thing, partly a western idea from the heritage of the emphasis on the individual, but it seems like there’s a premium put on “great” leaders whether they be in government, the church, or elsewhere. Everyone wants to hear the powerful or effective speaker/preacher. Or they want the (usually) man who can get it done in Washington or elsewhere. Superstars.

While God does give special gifts to Peter, Paul and Mary’s, etc., we have to remember that each of the originals, while in a formative time and situation were still part, albeit a prominently seen part, of the whole. Fastforward to our time, and we can think of leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., who certainly are wonderfully gifted. Women more often than not have been the leaders, such as Maya Angelou and many others. So it’s not like God doesn’t pick some to do work that is seen and noted.

But none of that would work apart from the body large. We are in this together, and dependent on each other. In Christ it is as his body of which he is the head, an ongoing healthy interdependence going on between each part of the body: the hands needing the feet, the feet needing the eyes, the eyes needing the mouth, and on and on. The entire body actually dependent on each part.

The impulse in us is so strong to think that we have to do it, a bunch of outstanding, rugged individuals. Maybe a kind of John Wayne mentality. “We can and will take care of it.” Instead in Christ we’re told to settle into our place and do well there doing what we’re called to do, along with others doing what they’re called to do, all together in love.

God neither needs nor wants superstars, but humble servants, always ready to serve with the help that Christ gives them. All of us together in this. In and through Jesus.