Jesus’ freedom proclamation (Juneteenth in the United States)

When [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 4:16-19

Jesus’ ministry, the good news he brought was one of emancipation, proclamation of freedom to all who are captives. Too often we’ve just seen this in terms of freedom from the  penalty of sin, and hopefully we’ve seen it as freedom from sin’s power, as well. Even though Jesus was not about rescuing Israel from Roman occupation as Israel expected from the Messiah to come, he was about ushering in a kingdom which makes such entities as Rome essentially bystanders, the kingdom of God on the scene, someday to rule completely, but now in a subversive reign. God’s way of change now isn’t easy. It’s Jesus-like, which means cross-shaped. But it brings in the needed, lasting change. But do churches fully appreciate all that means?

Juneteenth is a new national holiday commemorating the day in 1865 when slavery in the United States officially ended. Unfortunately not all the slaves were set free that day, and we know the ugly aftermath which followed. Jesus and the good news in him includes freedom for all peoples to love and worship God, and to live as neighbors to love and be loved. It is not complicated, even though we often make it so. At the same time the web of deceit in refusing to follow through in the simplicity and power of what such freedom means to some extent sadly envelopes so many of us. We fail to see clearly, and therefore we don’t appreciate what others go through even to this day.

May the Lord help us, and lead us to see how we white folks can help people of color to live as equals among us, most importantly how people of color can help us in this. Beginning in the church, even through the church and God’s reign there. In and through Jesus.

a life which corresponds to the “no condemnation” given to us “in Christ Jesus”

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

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.

Romans 8:1-17

First of all, we need to hold on to the truth that “in Christ Jesus” there’s “now no condemnation.” This passage makes it clear why. It’s because of Christ and specifically Christ’s death. Sin is condemned in the flesh, it’s dealt with (see NRSV footnote there for other possible rendering: “and as a sin offering”). We see from the rest of this book, and from other parts of the New Testament that it’s through Christ’s death.

And yet we can live in ways which don’t correspond, don’t line up with this. Otherwise Paul wouldn’t have wrote (or have written since he evidently had trouble with his eyesight) this. We are to live lives with the realization that we’re not condemned because of what Christ did. But what we do and especially in relationship with others must line up with that. Christ cleared the way for us to live with no condemnation, which we enter into by simple faith. But our lives must follow suit. All too easily we can be careless, or we might allow ourselves to feel condemned when we should not (1 John 3:18-22 and 1 John 4:7-21).

That means that our intent should be to always live lives which cannot be justly condemned. I’m never talking about sinless perfection, which is impossible in this life. Based on that, everyone of us would be condemned even after we put our faith in Christ. I’m talking about the tenor of our lives, including making right what wrongs we do along the way.

We should be both intent in resting in Christ, and God’s verdict of justification through faith along with the no condemnation that brings and we should seek to live lives which correspond to that, we might say here justification by works (James). Not that we earn it, but that our lives correspond to our profession of faith.

Paul makes it clear here that this is possible only through the Holy Spirit. If it’s by the flesh, meaning anything apart from the Spirit, then we’ll fail to realize the freedom which is given and meant for us as God’s children. Because of Christ we end up free as a bird to simply live in the new truth that we’re not condemned. We’re to live as children, children of our heavenly Father, no longer as slaves with a sentence hanging over us. That is taken care of in Christ. But only by the Spirit is that possible. And if we’re in Christ Jesus by faith, we have that Spirit.

Something I’m working on, but all too easily for myself, I feel condemnation for reasons that are at least questionable. So I want to understand better what it means to depend on the Spirit, to live with reference to everything by the Spirit, to learn to better recognize and as is stated in the above passage even put to death the deeds of the body, whatever that precisely might mean in my case. Could it sometimes mean silencing an overactive mind, open to the enemies lies? At any rate again, something I’m working on. In and through Jesus.

don’t go there

Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.

Proverbs 4:25

This is applicable in oh so many ways, but whatever it is, good as it may seem, important, usually urgent, or whatever, we can learn what distracts us from God’s peace, indeed from God’s good will. This is part of training in godliness, not to go where we think we have to go, often with the sense of fixing something, maybe even panic over some perceived problem. Or it maybe something that we know is no good, like eating too much of the wrong food at the wrong time. Or something even worse. Often though it can be things that are not at all wrong in themselves in the proper place and space and time. We have to be responsible. We don’t just throw everything to the wind with the idea that the Lord will take care of it. God will, but we’re part of that so that we have to be engaged and responsible in life.

But to the point of this post. No matter what the thought, now urgent it may seem, we will do well and find much help in simply refusing to go there. And a key issue here is distraction. Whatever might be distracting us from what we are doing at the time, the necessary and good thing we’re doing is a sign that God is not in the distraction. It has the mark and scent of the devil. The Lord will speak to our hearts with a strong sense at various times, but always with much freedom. It’s more like an invitation, and never with the sense of rush to throw us into panic. Though there may be directives from the Lord when we ought to act at the time in a specific way. We have to develop a sensitivity to what’s of God and what’s not.

The thought, again in all kinds of ways, just don’t go there, is helping me. We seek to be responsible in everything, in all of life, but always in the love, care and calm of our God. In and through Jesus.

letting the truth sink in and settle

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:31-32

Then Jesus turned to the Jews who had claimed to believe in him. “If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.”

John 8:31-32; MSG

The heart of the Christian message is about relationship and truth. The two go together in a number of ways. By faith in Christ we begin to understand not just the truth about God, but God himself, or God’s self (since, strictly speaking, God is neither male nor female, while at the same time, male and female human beings are made in God’s image). But as Jesus I think was suggesting to those who had believed him, it’s not enough just to have the light turned on, and truth dawn on us. We need to let that sink in and settle to make the needed difference in our lives. We need to keep the truth from and of Jesus front and center, and make it central to how we live. Nothing less than that will do.

If we do that, then we’ll begin to experience the freedom God wants to give us, not only from sin, but for what is right, good, of God, and truly human. As disciples/followers of Jesus. In and through Jesus.

the only way to fulfill God’s law

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Galatians 5:18

At this odd date in history, the thought could easily be mistranslated into if you are led by the same spirit that animates others in a common cause, then you can flout the law. Of course that is not even remotely related to what Paul is saying here. In Christ the law is fulfilled. It was never fulfilled by human understanding and effort, anyhow. There was a large prescribed way that became cumbersome because of all the add-ons by the religious leaders. But still, God intended the Law to be an important backdrop both for the life of Israel, and most importantly as a preparation for the fulfillment to come in Jesus. Of course the way that took place, Jesus’s actual fulfillment of the law and the prophets was unexpected, counterintuitive and contrary to those expectations. They began to see how this idea of embracing the cross, even dying on it was actually a fulfillment of the law. That is rather hidden in the First/Old Testament narrative, but you can see it after the fulfillment.

Being led by the Spirit as itself a fulfillment of the law (Romans 8:4 and context) is another way of saying that one is not under or subject to (NRSV) the law.  This is really about the law of Moses as it’s called, what was given by God through Moses at Mount Sinai. It was directives, really orders for their lives individually and as community. But it ended up being an important means of showing them their sin, and need for a Savior, indeed for the shedding of the blood of animals for forgiveness to be later fulfilled in Christ’s death on the cross.

Paul’s emphasis on being led by the Spirit, walking in the Spirit is contrary to our normal impulses. We want to do it ourselves, and in so doing, we automatically think of our efforts as fulfilling God’s law, what we understand God to be telling us as to what’s right and wrong. When we do that, we’re not living in the new life and the new freedom that new life brings us in Christ. We are either led by the Spirit, or we fall back into a practice that contradicts who we are as children of God. We are no longer in the flesh, according to Romans 8, so we need to live accordingly. Our desire and effort should be to walk in the Spirit, to be led by the Spirit. Out of that, the Spirit will bear the Spirit’s fruit in our lives:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

To be led by the Spirit doesn’t mean we’re above the law so that we can flout it. It is more related to Augustine’s words: “Love and do what you please.” What he meant is the love that comes from the Spirit through Christ.

But back to the main point: Being led by God’s Spirit means, as a friend said this morning to “have the grace of God allow us to walk in the Spirit’s guidance.” Paul’s letter to the Galatians here is all about living in God’s grace rather than under God’s law. And that’s done by the Holy Spirit. May God help us, help me to more fully enter into this reality and experience in and through Jesus.

the ultimate freedom

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Galatians 5

The ultimate and final freedom is found in Christ. It is the freedom to be in the process of becoming all God intended us to be as humans. And it is freeing in nature, away from the bondage that everything other than that imposes on us.

Christ in his death, as the letter to the Galatians makes clear, is what liberates us, when we enter into that freedom by faith, baptism following. We are set free, again, to be in the process of becoming all we are intended to be in and through Christ. Individually, and together with others, since we are indeed meant to be individuals within community.

As Jesus said:

…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

And just prior to that:

“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:31-32, 36

This freedom does end up being systemic, affecting all things. Toward the love of God in Christ, in God’s grace and kingdom in him. Setting us free indeed.

So while we here in the United States thank God for the freedom we have in this nation, and hope for the same for others in dark places, we know there is one freedom that we need, regardless of whatever other freedom we may or may not have. Freedom from sin’s power and consequences to God’s good world to be completed in the resurrection, in and through Jesus.

 

 

following through

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1:23-25

Not sure the direct analogies we can draw that are intended. Certainly the word reveals ourselves, and our flaws in not conforming to God’s will, our sins. And that’s of vital importance. And when you consider not only the immediate context, but the entire letter, change in our lives is a major focus. But it’s not only change to get rid of vices, but also to develop virtues, particularly related to relationships, how we treat each other.

James wants us to look and keep looking, with all the intent and follow through of actually practicing or doing what “the word” tells us to do, God’s word no less. Called “the perfect law that gives freedom.”

And with our attempts to do so, as imperfect as they inevitably will be, we’re promised God’s blessing. A blessing we want not only for ourselves, but for others. In and through Jesus.

“we shall overcome”: Martin Luther King Jr. Day

We Shall Overcome” was a beautiful anthem of the American Civil Rights Movement. It was sung by the African-Americans of that time, and those who stood with them in their cause for justice in equal rights in the United States. It was more than a push back against the Jim Crow laws of the south (not to mention the segregation in the north), but a stand in saying, “We will accept, and take no more of this.” Rosa Parks was a key person in getting the movement started, and there was no more prominent leader in it, in fact he is considered the leader of that movement, today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The song expresses a stand rooted in God’s image within all humanity. That we are made for relationship and love, and an understanding that we are in this life together. And that we all have our part in it, both in relationships, and in vocation. And it’s a song of commitment to overcome injustice together, but not in a violent way, but with a commitment to nonviolence. Martin Luther King Jr. was impacted both by the life and example of Mahatma Gandhi, and preeminently by Jesus himself who taught his followers to love their enemies and turn the other cheek. King over and over again preached and spoke in these terms, and with the words of Jesus. And he and many others put those words into practice again and again.

We do need to stand up for what is right, particularly when it affects others. And we who in the United States live to this day in a privileged condition, especially compared with our African-American sisters and brothers need to be sensitive to how we might play in that ourselves without realizing it, as well as develop sensitivity to how society itself is bent in this direction. How we are all, each and everyone impacted by prejudice in prejudging others through some stereotypes, instead of really getting to know them, and becoming aware of their difficulties and plight.

And we need to remember what was done to them: They were stolen from their nations in Africa, and forced to be slaves with no possibility of freedom, at least not under the normal circumstances. And to this day are discriminated against in the criminal justice system, and before that, all of this lending itself to the fallout which would occur with any of us. And a deep wounding which can only be healed through much time, leaving its scars behind.

As in all things, and as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knew and preached, the one hope for all humankind and against all evil is found in the gospel of Christ. Through that good news we are reconciled to God and to each other. Sin is dealt with, and all the injustice with it through the atoning sacrificial death of Christ on the cross, the resurrection bringing the new life of love into the here and now, to break all the chains of injustice, and bring in nothing less than the freedom of God’s children.

We are all in this together. Today I celebrate and remember the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and of all those who stood with him in love against the hate of that time. And remember that though some most significant changes came through that movement, we have not yet arrived to the place where we fully love and accept each other, and have the best interest of the others in our hearts. We’re not there yet.

Laws of the land can help and actually are crucial against corrupt systems, but what is especially needed is the change of hearts through the gospel, and an acclimation toward justice which we find in scripture fulfilled in the gospel, as well as in other places where this ethic is taught on earth through God’s image within all humankind. But there is no place where it is so thoroughly taught with the hope of being fully realized as in the gospel of Christ, to begin in the church.

This is an essential part of the heart of our calling as witnesses of Christ and the good news in him. Something we wish to carry on in the love and compassion of Christ, in and through him.

*Bloom* by “Beauty Beyond Bones” –Caralyn

Anorexia. That may seem like a world removed from you, but maybe not. Trust me when I say that while it is deadly serious, indeed life threatening, there are a host of other issues which can take the life right out of us. And there are addictions which are destructive in keeping us from the abundant life that Christ offers.

Enter Caralyn, the young woman behind the popular BeautyBeyondBones blog. She has been free from her anorexia for over ten years now, and is on a mission to help others who find themselves in the same darkness into which she descended, all the light and color of her life so evident before, gone.

Both on her blog, and especially in this book, which is laid out so that it can be a daily journal, she shares with the reader how the light of Christ met her in her darkness and set her free. But don’t think for a moment that it was easy. Within the book enough of her story is told to let us know just how hard it was for her, yet how God helped her listen to his word, the good news in Christ, so that by God’s grace she was delivered from the deception which had completely claimed her life, a lie she had embraced which nearly cost her her life.

I found myself challenged and encouraged especially to understand and by faith live better in the manifold grace and depth of God’s love in Jesus through God’s good news in him.

This book is offered by a young woman as a witness to the mighty salvation that is in Jesus, and the power of God’s word through that salvation. So that no matter what you are facing, God can help you through it, and more than that, recover the beauty he created in you, so that he can radiate his glory in your humanity.  In and through Jesus.

Bloom

From her book: “Not only are we saved by grace, but we are healed by grace.”

 

believing lies

[The devil] was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

John 8

Lies are a dime of dozen, maybe simply more evident nowadays via the internet. There certainly was never any shortage of them. They can be blatant or subtle. And it can get to the place where it is hard to sort out truth from falsehood, fact from fiction. And it seems like we humans are bent and prone to error.

Oftentimes the lie is in the perception, failing to appreciate the intent, and often the complexity in what one is evaluating. That was true of the people in Jesus’s day who were failing to see him for who he really was: God become human, radical enough, but even more radical, God having become human to die even for them, for their sin, for the sin of the entire world. And to usher in a new world in which the truth would set people free.

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8

Falsehood and lies blind and bind us. And most of it is on a personal level deep inside of us. Handed down to us from well meaning and maybe not so well meaning people of our past. Words which have echoed in our brain for years and years, and shaped us more than we would like to admit. But part of knowing the truth is to begin to understand the lies.

Truth in life, in our world is devastating enough. One could well lament forever, given the seemingly bottomless pit of evil in our world. But to know the truth involves taking in the entire picture. God became flesh, fully human in Jesus the Son, and completed what God called Israel to do, in bringing in God’s kingdom to earth. Through the cross, yes, the cross. Through Jesus’s death no less. And then came the resurrection life, the new creation, in which all of God’s good intentions are fulfilled, and sin and death, endemic in the old creation, are gone.

I struggle with lies throughout the course of many days, many moments turned into hours, I suppose, of many days. That probably is especially true when I’m tired, and not into scripture as much as I need to be.

We need to reflect on God’s Word in Jesus and the gospel, which is expansive in its impact in all of life, as seen both in scripture and in our lives. We have to begin to sort out truth from error from there. And anytime we sniff and end up discerning falsehood, summarily dismiss it.

Lies want to hold on tenaciously, with tentacles which grip our very souls and imprison us in their dark shadows. But

…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

We all need that freedom. Certainly I need it. I can still, even after all of these years in Christ, become a victim of lies. Instead we need to receive the truth as it is in Jesus, accept that, and find in it a gracious, loving Father who forgives all our sins, and makes us his children in and through Jesus. We need to find the freedom in the light which comes from that. And begin to become shaped by that truth, which in essence is a person, Jesus. It is through him and his death that we are brought into this new light and life.

So today in the midst of the dim roar of life with all its demands and struggles, I want to better discern falsehood, and learn more and more to live in the truth. Knowing in all of that my own limitations and even failures, but accepting God’s word about Jesus, and even ourselves, as well as all of life- in him. And there is much more to say on that (the book of Ephesians is not a bad place to start).