rooting out bitterness

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Hebrews 12

We have all been hurt, sometimes in life-altering ways. And too often in ways we learn to live with in not such a good way. I think of those molested in childhood, others who have suffered physical or emotional abuse. Words inflict injury as well. James tells us that the tongue is a world of evil. Like a serpent, full of deadly poison (James 3). We carry around with us wounds, which hopefully are largely healed, or in the process of healing. But if not, can perpetuate a cycle of harm. “Hurt people hurt people.”

Oftentimes it seems that this root called bitterness plays out in people finding something wrong, something amiss and off, quick to judge others. And even when such judgments might be either largely or partially true, there is a poison in the air, which inflicts those around them. I think of what should be called gossip, or perhaps better, not putting the best construction on what’s being said or done. And unless we refuse to participate in such, we are taken in, and the problem can grow. It is sad when we can see that is where some people live. And yet we can have more of that in ourselves than we might imagine.

The text above tells us not just to look after ourselves, although that is surely where it must start. But we in Jesus, in the church need to look out for each other, as well. That means we have to guard our tongues to be sure, and work at guarding our hearts. We have to love others, including those who seem on a one track existence due to their bitterness. We all need help along the way, sometimes special help. The goal would be to root out the bitterness, get rid of that poisonous root. Otherwise it is sure to defile others, perhaps many.

Basics like prayer and loving counsel and repentance, and continuing to work against this, seem to be essential. And what is needed in all of this is an emphasis on grace (again, note the text above), no less than an air of grace in which we are careful to consider our actions, words, and what underlies that, our thoughts and attitudes. There is no other way of together following the way of Jesus.

 

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a living faith

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

Hebrews 11

Philosophical Nominalism is said to have plagued part of the church before and into the Reformation and beyond. Simplistically stated, it’s the idea that reality is in the words themselves apart from that actual realities themselves. And ends up actually putting a kibosh on the realities, even questioning their existence. This is said of those whose faith puts a priority on words, and precisely on the written word instead of the Word himself, Jesus. Those are the ones who deny the Real Presence in the Eucharist (Holy Communion) and count it merely symbolical.

Suffice it to say that I consider such a charge mistaken. Faith is in God’s word counting on the realities themselves to be true. So that we base our entire lives on them. One might partake of Holy Communion every week, believing that in doing so, they are partaking of the body and blood of Christ, of Christ himself. Others might partake of it once and awhile, and see it as only a rememberance, the wafers and juice being symbolic. But if they have faith, they will receive and even now have the result of what that ordinance represents, a new life in Jesus.

According to the passage, the beginning of which is quoted above, faith is the difference maker. And it comes down to faith in God’s word, ultimately God’s word about Jesus, faith in Jesus himself. That’s what the Bible clearly calls us to again and again. Specifically the Final/New Testament.

What we all need– regardless of our church, and where it stands on some of the theological debates and differences, and where we might stand on such issues– we all need faith. A living faith which takes God at his word, and receives Christ as God’s final Word. A faith which enables us to hear and obey that word, remembering the Pioneer and Perfecter of such faith, Jesus himself. Our confidence and assurance ultimately resting in him.

feet on the ground, experiencing God

Thomas Aquinas who surely had many wonderful things to say, his writings still benchmarks, late in life had a kind of vision of God, or more precisely an experience which led him to think of all of the writing as of no value at all. He had glimpsed, and had been taken in to something of the reality of God in which words seem to fail. Just the opposite is true though, about what he had written. His ability to think and put his thinking reflecting on philosophy and theology into words was a gift from God, surely a great gift, and end up amounting to helping others in the way of the Lord, and in catching a glimpse of the Divine in this life.

For the most part in my own life, I plod along with words. I am a word person. I can remember when we were part of what is called a charismatic church, we had a great group of quite artistic, creative people. They were kind of known as Spirit people I suppose, while I was considered a word person. I try to constantly be in my Bible, in a lot of places with a small New Testament/ Psalms and Proverbs. With that and my coffee, I feel pretty much okay, even at home, at least grounded, or attempting to be.

In the Great Tradition, the beatific vision, and theosis are held in high esteem, the former realized in the life to come, the latter beginning in this life. And actually both correlate to what scripture teaches, even if some of the descriptions given from church fathers might lend themselves to some misunderstanding. The point for us here is that we look forward to living in God, in the vision of God in the life to come, but in the meantime, we begin to experience something of that in this life through the word and the sacraments, so that we become more and more like God, by becoming more like Jesus through the Spirit, all of this in and through Jesus.

In this life we seek the Lord, we even seek his face (see the Psalms), while at the same time, we keep our feet on the ground, regardless of what we are, or are not experiencing. So much of life involves a groundedness in the midst of, and often in spite of the many details of life: the ins and outs, and ups and downs which come our way.

So for the most part, I’m quite happy to be plodding along, trying to understand, trying to follow. But to have those refreshing seasons when the water is turned into wine so to speak, and I have a strong sense of the divine, is quite helpful. But I am probably wary of receiving too much of that, because most of where life is lived will not be there. Life can seem not only austere, but even troubling, and difficult at best, one just trying to hold on.

That is why we need scripture, and to simply keep on keeping on. Thankful for the glimpses and experiences of divine glory, but not looking for that. Rather, hoping something of that more and more pervades our normal down to earth, feet on the ground experience, day after day, together with others, in and through Jesus.

Jesus’s word which only faith accepts

Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.

John 3

Jesus’s words to a religious leader of Israel still ring loud and clear and true for us today. Jesus spoke a word in words, from the Father. That is why they have a telling effect for all who believe. Jesus preached the gospel because he preached himself. He did it out of the utmost humility, having humbled himself in the Incarnation by becoming one of us, and taking that much further to the death of the cross for the worst from and of us. Jesus himself was a word from the Father, indeed the final Word, revealing God to us, “full of unfailing love and faithfulness” (John 1:14).

This is the one word we in Jesus should speak, as well as by grace live and if need be die for. No other words, as important as they are, are on that same level. Though through that word, those lesser words might be shaped and perhaps could begin to share in its life and purpose, either directly or indirectly.

The world spoken by Jesus of Jesus is the word by which we in Jesus live, and which we should share with others, so that they too may come into this new life. The life who entered this world as a little baby boy so many years ago.

the basic importance of words

Does not the ear test words
    as the tongue tastes food?

Job 12:11

These words from Job himself, later echoed by Elihu, help underscore the importance of what we say, or more precisely the importance of words, and the signficance we give to them. We do weigh what is being said, or what we’re reading, whether we’re aware of that, or consciously trying to do so, or not.

Words are obviously important for us humans. They say that the most signficant factor for a child’s success in education is their ability to read. Words are crucial for us performing our work day after day. And important in helping us think through all kinds of matters.

Words are symbols corresponding to reality. They don’t determine reality, though they are important in helping us understand it. What is true and good, as well as real goes beyond words. And so words are pointers beyond themselves.

God gave us scripture as his word written, and meant to point us to his final Word, Jesus, who brings us into the life of the Trinity, and into the life of God’s grace and kingdom come in him. And so we have verfication from God of the importance of words. Such is not only an accomodation to humans, but indeed something which corresponds to God himself. We read from scripture that God spoke the world into being, and that God’s word continues to speak into what he has created.

And so with that in mind, I want to be all the more in the word, in scripture. So that everything else I come across can be tested by that measure. Scripture is far from just a bunch of rules or even principles for life. It is all about life, and not only about it, but participating in it. In other words, scripture gets into the nitty gritty, down into the dirt in which we live, not to leave us there, but to lift us up by God’s grace into God’s good will in Jesus.

We can take heart. We in Jesus are part of the royal priesthood of believers, who each have responsibility to weigh everything according to God’s word of scrripture and God’s Word in Jesus. We do that individually, but never apart from the rest of Christ’s body, the church. We contribute to the whole, as we are helped by others, all from God, from the one Lord by the same Spirit.

Words are the starting point, but not the end all. God is revealed and we participate in God’s very life and will through both word and sacrament. Through the bread and the cup of Holy Communion. God’s word directing us to that reality. And helping us live and rest in the truth, not just to know, but actually to experience, to “taste” in and through Jesus.

 

whether or not we should offend, and the offense of the cross

We live in a society and culture riddled with ridicule and lacking in honor and respect. And some Christians have played their hand, so to speak, right into it.

It is one thing to strongly disagree, and make that disagreement known in no uncertain terms with reference to the issues. It’s another thing entirely to join in the ridicle and innuendo which mark so much of the political speak and culture today. I don’t think Christians should have anything to do with that.

And yet there are even Christians who think that somehow the most disparaging remarks about the loathsomeness of this or that political candidate in terms of insult and character assassination are quite alright for them to engage in.

And yet we have God’s word to us Christians that we are to be quiet, to mind our own business, to work hard with our hands so as to gain the respect of unbelievers, to be ready to answer anyone who asks about the hope we have.

Some will appeal to some of the harsh words of Paul from scripture, for example against the Judaizers who ultimately were undermining the faith of the gospel. Or even Jesus had a few harsh or deragatory words for certain ones, for example calling King Herod a fox.

Well, I’m not Jesus, neither am I an apostle. Our lives in and like Jesus are to be marked with blessing even those who curse us. So when we do express disagreement in our democratic society, we should do so being careful not to disparage those we disagree with. That does present itself with a challenge. For example, recently a presidential candidate said something about another candidate which I found nauseating in terms of not only taste, but lack of commitment to truth telling. Slander seems to be almost the rule of the day. I let my thought be known on social media as far as my reaction to what was done, without lighting into the person. Their action in those words spoken, spoke for itself.

The gospel precisely in terms of the cross is by itself an offense to the world. It puts into question the power play of the world, as well as how the world thinks it can win the day. And that critique is devastating across the board. We simply need to be faithful to Christ, faithful to the gospel, and we will face trouble and suffering for our stand in this world, even if here in the United States our suffering is either mimimal or nothing at all.

We are to take a stand for the gospel and for what is right and just, both, and I think in that order, so that the stand for righteousness is taken with deference to the gospel, in other words with concern for our witness in reaching out to the marginalized and even despised. Certain battles are either not worth fighting, or can even be detrimental to the cause for which we live, at the very least, in the ways they are fought.

And so we need to be known both for what we don’t as well as actually do say. With the goal of making not ourselves, but Jesus known. And God’s salvation and good will in him.

 

when words fail

Sometimes the tragedies of life along with changes we would not ask for or want hit us in such a way that words fail us. We have nothing to say; we may only be able to grieve, remaining silent in our grief and sadness.  No words seem to be enough.

That is when it’s good to be silent, to listen so that maybe we could catch some thought that is fitting for the occasion. Being silent before God, praying in the Spirit with words, perhaps unknown words as well (see 1 Corinthians 14). But more than anything, being still.

Words will come, hopefully aptly spoken as apples of gold set in silver (Proverbs). But any words out of love will do.

We simply are being with others, somehow a part of their lives, even as they are a part of ours. Unlike others, we may have nothing fancy to say, perhaps nothing at all. But our hearts can say what our heads can’t. Words have their place, but they also have their limitations. The written word of God is not limited simply because it points us in the direction of God’s final Word, Jesus, which in and of itself, we can say himself, has no limitations, all of God’s good will being in that. The Word we need whether or not words fail us.