be human

For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5:14

I sometimes wonder if people’s ideology including their religion gets in the way of them being human. I should include myself in that, my ideology and religion too. Of course, there will be those who immediately counter with the point that it’s not about religion which they’ll say is wrong, but about a relationship. To which I might say that any practice of faith can be understood as religion, either empty or good (see end of James 1).

Paul is getting at what it means to be free in the redemption and life that follows in Christ. It’s about love, not about measuring up to some standard imposed by others or ourselves. Are we loving others face to face, just as they are? And are we doing that in spite of all our differences? Or are we judging them as somehow unworthy as if we are somehow worthy? I know people will say that they are made worthy by Christ and that others without faith have no such worth. But isn’t that sweeping by what is plainly taught in Scripture, that love of neighbor is not dependent on religious status (consider Jesus’s parable of the good Samaritan).

I think oftentimes atheists or agnostics might love better than religious folks who identify as Christians. It seems to me that our religion or ideology too easily becomes more important than what actually ought to be the point of it: love for all. I believe I know this firsthand. When you might point that out and try to help another see that their practice of religion may not really be helping them to love all and be loved, then they’ll see you perhaps as divisive, or questioning faith.

But isn’t the point of faith, love? And what does it mean to be human except to love? That sums up everything. To love through all of life in every situation. Just what that looks like can be challenging, and that’s where Scripture and faith can help. But to make love the priority is at the heart of what it means to be human, what we might say God’s intention for humanity is.

And Jesus is called the human one (instead of son of man) in one translation of Scripture (CEB). Humanity is restored in Jesus, and in true humanity nothing else matters at all if it is not animated by love. How that works out is sometimes most challenging in this life, and Scripture in major part is given to us to help us work through that. But make no mistake: God simply wants us to be human as human is meant to be. Which means we’re to love and be loved. Including loving our enemies, those who hate us.

As we seek to do this, we’ll begin to find our true humanity, atheists and the nonreligious included. And for us as followers of Christ, through the human one who loved as no one ever has though misunderstood and maligned by others, we will be in the process of recovering our true humanity, face to face with others, face to face with Christ. Our humanity and the humanity of the other will ultimately become the thing that matters and bonds us together in love. In and through Jesus.

Jesus’s invitation to the weary, heavy burdened ones

“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; NRSVue

Jesus gave an invitation during his earthly ministry which written here is still open to us today. It’s made possible through the ascended Christ’s presence everywhere by the Spirit.

And if we’ll just accept it and seek to enter in and remain in that, this will make the needed difference. It’s offered in grace to us, and it’s up to us to avail ourselves of it. We’ll be enabled to follow in the way of Christ. And as Jesus tells us here, we’ll find rest for our souls, since unlike our crushing, heavy burdens, the yoke we take with him will be easy, the burden light. As we learn from the one who is gentle and humble in heart. In and through Jesus.

the persecution we can expect

I have said this to you so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution, but take courage: I have conquered the world!”

John 16:33; NRSVue

Tradition tells us that all the apostles were martyred except John. They all faced persecution, and mostly from the Jewish religious authorities. You might as well say that all of Jesus’s confrontations were with them. There’s no doubt that given the principalities and powers at work in the world, that there’s always going to be resistance to Christ. And the Roman empire afterwards infamously persecuted Christians. But what ends up being maddening, but then becomes like par for the course is the spiritual enemy entrenching themselves into the Christian religious establishment. That was true in Jesus’s day, and became true after Constantine. To avoid persecution one had to adhere to what the church/state ordered. And that included taking up arms against enemies, even going on expeditions of conquest, though always considered holy since such had to have the sanction of the state with the church tied to it.

Persecution can come from anywhere as we’ve seen, continuing to come from atheistic totalitarian regimes today, as it did in the twentieth century. But it can come wittingly as well as unwittingly from the religious establishment, indeed the Christian establishment, not far removed from the old Christendom in that their view of faith is so tied to a Christian nationalism or the idea of some Christian empire in which Christianity is supposedly protected by the sword, as well as laws put in place.

Christ said he would build his church, and nothing would prevail against it. But oddly enough that very same church can be subsumed into something else so that the light of Christ eventually is snuffed out.

There is nothing more dangerous than persecution that comes from the religious or has some sort of religious justification attached to it. I think today we need to be ready for that along with the backlash it will bring. A significant quarter of the church has lost its mind, which will eventually result in a loss of heart and soul. We’ll have to watch our step in days to come from the very ones who profess the same faith we do, but are infected by principalities and powers which make them callous to, even to some extent complicit in resisting what God is doing in the world especially in faithful churches that are set in following only our Lord.

prayer and then whatever else (all in love in Christ)

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.

Colossians 4:2; NRSVue

There’s a critique out there which has a point, criticizing “thoughts and prayers.” But honestly for the follower of Christ in God’s love, that’s generally where all the good begins. Otherwise we’re prone to want to do everything on our own and actually we can do that. But the needed change in us and in the world can only come from God. And prayer is a prime vehicle of that change.

Prayer is communication to God, deeper: communion with God. Through God’s word coming to us from scripture and in answer to prayer, our lives will take on a life and light that they otherwise wouldn’t have, from Christ himself. And there’s nothing greater we can actually do then pray.

Of course all of this has to be in God’s love in Jesus and by the Spirit. Otherwise it will ultimately be empty (1 Corinthians 13). But that doesn’t mean that when we’re upset and angry or struggling with loving someone that we shouldn’t pray. There’s no time prayer isn’t important. Good times, bad times, and every time in between.

And the word above from Paul is addressed to the church. We’re in this together. The more we join together in prayers, the more powerful prayer can be. Potent in God’s love cutting through into our lives and through us into the lives of others. And simply for those in whatever need, while we open up ourselves to be the answer to our prayers in whatever way God might put on our hearts. In and through Jesus.

when the Bible is made boring (a mortal error)

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

Luke 24:13-32; NRSVue

There are few things worse, if anything than making the Bible boring. But I fear it’s all too regular an event. Though at the same time I’m confident that most of the time most of the churches avoid the worst of this. Yet I fear that what our Lord reprimanded and corrected here is all too common with us.

When the Bible becomes an end in itself, it becomes a dead letter. Yes, there is much wisdom in the Bible which is helpful, even if one stops there. Beautiful sayings and poetry as well, especially from the King James Version. But unfortunately the way the Bible is taught in even some major circles is “as boring as hell.” Hell understood as an existence in which people have their way apart from God really ends up boring in that all goodness and love are gone, since everything is turned in upon itself and becomes something other, even antithetical to love for God and neighbor. There’s nothing worse than understanding or being taught the Bible in such a way that it is boring.

The Bible becomes completely alive when we realize what it is for. It is to point us to Christ and the good news in him. And all of it is to be read in that glorious light. That is what Jesus was pointing out to these two disciples who were befuddled over what had happened when Jesus had been crucified, the one who they thought was the Messiah. And here he was, standing before them, though they did not recognize him until later when he broke bread in their home. But Jesus pointed out to them that scripture was written in such a way as to find its fulfillment and might I say even correction in him.

Scripture is alive. Avoid like the plague pressing whatever theology you have into it. The best theology worthy of the name comes out of letting scripture be what it is, rather than making scripture conform to it. The latter is dangerous, even deadly. And I wish people would quit thinking that expository preaching is the only way to go. It’s not only not the only way to go but I think often (not always) lends itself toward a misreading of scripture. Scripture is all about where we live and the life to be found in Christ. Again, not to say that we shouldn’t comb every corner of it for insight. But even when doing that, we should try to see every detail in light of God’s revelation in Jesus.

the joy of meditating on (even memorizing) Scripture

Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Psalm 1

Meditating on Scripture is given to us from God to help us begin to see God’s will revealed to us in Jesus. The word translated “meditate” means to recite (see CEB in above link) to oneself. This may seem wooden, dead, and without God it would be. But the words somehow become alive, at least in many parts of Scripture, really in every part as we read, ponder, pray, and study, and keep doing that.

Scripture has all we need for every part of life. It is not exhaustive in actual needed information, like how to build an house, etc., etc., etc. But it does give us all we need to know how to approach such projects, along with problems and all of life.

We need to be in Scripture all the time, day after day, in the words of this psalm: “day and night.” It is what we practice: whatever we’re doing, whatever we’re going through, whatever we’re experiencing. We continue on, and find that while the words are often instructive in themselves, they ultimately lead us to Jesus, who is God’s most important Word, and in whom all the words of Scripture find their true meaning and fulfillment, even if in some cases setting them aside for the better which Jesus brings.

Memorizing chunks of Scripture can be quite helpful in this endeavor. Not just a verse here and there, though that might be helpful, too. But much better, understand the context, and memorize that too. This can help us meditate, recite to ourselves so that God can get through to us.

And so we’re to remain in Scripture: meditating, reciting, indeed finding ourselves somehow in that story from God. In and through Jesus.

they will be what they are (except for God’s grace)

“Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”

Revelation 22:11

Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.

2 Corinthians 11:14b

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

John 10:10

I think it’s most helpful in differentiating between God and Satan along with the demonic, just to realize who we’re considering. God is God. And to begin to try to get a handle on that, we need to go to Scripture, though God makes God’s Self known in other ways as well. Scripture reveals that God dwells in darkness, that God’s light is too much for us humans to comprehend, even to contemplate. But God is revealed in Jesus, God’s Son. So that to understand what God is like, we have to look at God’s supreme revelation of God’s Self, who is himself all that God is, as well as being human: Jesus.

God is great, whose greatness has no bounds. God is good, whose goodness has no bounds. God is for us as shown in Jesus (Romans 8). God does not condemn us, but loves us, and wants to lift us up and help us. On the other hand, the spiritual enemy wants to make us think that it is right and that we can never measure up. That we ought to do this, that, something else, and always so much more. And that gives what the enemy sends us an appearance of goodness, even godliness. But that entire scenario is not God-like at all. In the end it only results in our condemnation, since we can never measure up. But after all, that’s what our spiritual enemy, the enemy of humankind does. And what God does is completely opposite. God loves, redeems, reconciles, befriends, etc.

The same is true of us humans. Why are we the way we are? Except for the grace of God, I would be just as lost as the next person. And actually, truthfully, I feel a sense of lostness right along. But that helps me to continue to look to God, be open to continual correction and direction along the way. This also helps us understand others, including our sisters and brothers in Christ who might be influenced in a bad way. So that we can find the good, but discern what is not. But first we need to look at ourselves. We have to be sure to take the log out of own eye before we can ever begin to really see the splinter in anyone else’s eye.

Just to know who we’re dealing with makes all the difference. Yes, I know I’m going to be harassed by Satan, rather his minion on a regular basis, because that’s what it does. But I’m going to be loved, understood in all my limitations, and helped by God. That God gives and sends all the help we need as we continue on, as wobbly as we might be, looking to God in faith.

In and through Jesus.

the one constant

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8

Scripture points us to Jesus, and God’s fulfillment of all things in and through him. One might want to say that Scripture is the constant, and it’s certainly central in all traditions of the Christian faith, of the faith itself, as we might put it. But it points beyond itself to Jesus.

This doesn’t mean for a moment that we shouldn’t pay close attention to all the details in Scripture, because indeed we should. Pre-Christ, during his time on earth, and post-Christ we might say, meaning after his ascension. Jesus made that clear:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter,[a] not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”

Matthew 5:17-18

And what is accomplished includes everything. The church should be the light in Jesus which both exemplifies the beginning of that, as well as speaking out on it by those who are pastors and theologians and lay people who learn from such and are so gifted.

Jesus is the one forever constant, and God’s will fulfilled in him. To bring us into the fullness of God the Source of All Being, the Eternal Word, and the Holy Spirit. To right all wrongs and make all things new.

And the church is central to the beginning of this now. In and through Jesus.

we need each other

And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25

In our individualistic culture in which everyone is supposed to look out for and take care of themselves, the idea that we need each other, that we’re our brother and sister’s keeper is all but lost on us. That is not something enmeshed in my white, western culture, at least not where I’ve lived. In fact, I’m pretty certain we don’t believe this at all. We rarely even pay lip service to it. How many times have I heard the thought that the best church is out in nature somewhere by one’s self? And when people do gather together for church, it’s often just to get something out of the message for one’s self, maybe say hi to the few along the way or just the greeters, then head back home.

But Scripture calls us to something else, something we not only fail to practice, but that we’re not acclimated to in the first place, out of our comfort zone for sure. A commitment to each other in Jesus which plays itself out in regularly meeting together, and being ready at least potentially in our spirits to give and to receive. God actually wants to help us through each other no less. Not just directly, but through others.

If we’re followers of Christ and thus Christians not in name only, then we can’t escape God’s call to us to come together since after all we’re one body in Christ. There may be unusual times such as the past year with COVID-19 when we can’t gather in person in the same way as before. But technology did allow us to meet virtually. Yes, not a great substitute for meeting in person, but better than nothing, and some of us we’re able to talk face to face with people we otherwise never would have. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. At the same time, mercifully, such times are only temporary. We need to find the good in them and that can come out of them, and go on.

But we need to be committed to what alas seems more than a stretch to many: gathering together to worship, pray, and just be with each other. In that dynamic Jesus is present yes in and through each other, and there’s not a one of us who doesn’t need that.

the black sheep along with the black or “every human” Christ (Messiah)

Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Hebrews 2:14-18

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested[a] as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:14-16

I love depictions of images of Christ on stained glass windows, perhaps as the good shepherd carrying a little lamb with sheep trustingly following, or as Christ knocking on a door, along with other pictures. Usually what is depicted is a white Caucasian with mostly medieval or late medieval, a later culture imagery. That may have served in some ways well for its time, and to some extent even today. But it leaves behind so much of Scripture which Jesus is said to fulfill. Add to that, it also leaves behind many of us along with many of our struggles which simply are not taken into account within what we might call the privileged experience of so many of the rest of us.

This is not to attack those of us who love or have loved such pictures, probably having old Bible story books for children filled with such. But intended rather to give us a head’s up to more, what is beyond that, all that’s included in the great salvation Jesus brings.

We read in the above passages that Jesus went through all of the testing and temptations which befall all of us as a human family, being fully human himself. He knew what it was like to be marginalized as a Jew from Nazareth with Galilean, Gentile influence, as one of those who was not considered a fully pure descendant of Abraham. To live on the edges where he was not seen as legitimate since many did not understand his birth. Likely he lived with his needs met most of the time, but he did not live in the lap of luxury. And the way he taught us to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread,” suggests a daily dependence on God, rather than having all of that more than taken care of by one’s own efforts.

Jesus and the good news he brought has more than resonated not only to all in the slavery of sin, but to all who are in any kind of bondage imposed at all. The salvation the Lord brings won’t be complete and final in human experience until he returns, but it includes now care for the human experience in it entirety. Not just thinking one cares about them if they can get them to have assurance of eternal life for after this life. But caring for them in every way just as Jesus does. Being in this together as Christ’s body so that we care for each other in practical, down to earth ways, as well as through prayer. And to everyone else in the world, including our enemies. With a particular eye out for those marginalized, looked down and often falsely frowned upon. Realizing too that really we’re all in need of God’s mercy and grace. Remembering too that what we might often take for granted is something others can’t imagine.

So we need new images of Jesus given to us by the Spirit for the real world. Yes in painting but especially in lives, lives together in this world. The Jesus who wants to live that both for us, and in and through us individually, and especially as his body. In large part why we’re here. In and through Jesus.