Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Communion Reflection

The following is the communion reflection given on The Feast of Christ the King, 2007.

Colossians 1.15-20 reads like this:

[W]ho is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and unto him; and he is before all things, and in him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fullness dwell; and through him to reconcile all things unto himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; through him, I say, whether things upon the earth, or things in the heavens.

In these verses there are various points we can observe as part of our Supper observance. The first is found in the first verse of the selection. “Who is the image of the invisible God…” That word image, if memory serves me correctly, is eikon. Jesus is the visible representation of God. If we say we want to see God, we simply have to look at Jesus. At His life, at His death. If we are to live as God, our lives must be eikons as well. These eikons reveal the very being, the very character of God, and it is as eikons of God that Man was made to live. As we remember His body, we must own our obligation to live and die for others, rather than ourselves.

Another observation is in the middle verses. There are numerous mentions of being the creator, the sustainer, the beginning of life as we know it. In Jesus is life. Our very lives as we know them, and real life as it is meant to be lived. Paul will tell us elsewhere that life is in the blood, and so it is true here as well. The blood of Jesus cleanses us, returns us to life with and in God. When we drink the wine of remembrance, we must also remind ourselves that in receiving the life of God, we are called to give life to others. Our lives, our drives, our hopes are to lean toward giving and sustaining life rather than tearing down, and advantage.

Toward the end of the reading we read of peace, of reconciliation, made and given by Jesus’ life and death. In reconciling us to God, Jesus also reconciled us to one another. But not just to other believers, although that is a particularly true example. But even if at a different, perhaps not lesser, level, God reconciled His people to all people, to the Creation. In community we share with one another, and the same is true within the church. But that is not all. Through Jesus, God has sought to reconcile all people and the Creation to Him. We are called to be God’s hands, His servants, His blessing pots to the rest of the world. When we consider our calling to be reconcilers rather than wall builders, our hearts become open, our hands let go of “our stuff,” and all that we have is available for God’s use in this world.

Delivered at Albuquerque, on The Feast of Christ the King, 2007

God's Secret Service

During the sermon this past Sunday, our preacher used an illustration that I have heard numerous times. Oh, not word for word, but ones like it. It goes something like this:

“There was this Midwest preacher and his family who went to Washington D.C. and while there, they met a family friend. This friend it turns out was a member of the Secret Service detachment assigned to the President. The friend offered to give the family a tour of the Oval Office and the family readily accepted. The family was somewhat surprised, after expecting searches, and metal detectors galore, to be ushered around all the security because they were with the Secret Service officer.” The point of the illustration is that we gain entry past all the checks and defenses into God’s presence as people who know – or better yet, are known by the Son.

As part of the sermon, it made plenty of sense, following a discussion of Jesus’ promise to the one on the cross who asked to be remembered, and to whom Jesus said “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” The image of Jesus escorting the thief into Paradise is mostly appropriate. So far, so good.

The problem arises when we let the illustration say more than it does. If we aren’t astute, we may let the illustration give us, or support an already current notion, that God is in Heaven surrounded by traps, detectors, walls, gates, alarms, and guards through or around which we must negotiate our way to God at our peril. It is as though getting to God is a deliberate challenge designed to keep us out. Man apparently is so corrupted that God tries to keep us at arm’s length unless we can find the secret to get past the guards.

I guess it preaches, and many of us seem to have this idea of God and our challenge in finding Him. I don’t know though, that it is all that accurate. It seems to me that the path to God has been – and to a great degree always has been – wide open. Hasn’t God repeatedly called to us saying “return to Me, and I will be your God?” Or, if we prefer a New Testament version, “If we walk in the Light as He is in the Light, the blood of Jesus continuously cleanses us.” Man’s problem has not been that God has established obstacles to our return, but rather that we had lost sight of God and had little desire above our own enrichment, to return to Him.

We do not need an escort to protect us from God’s defenses but rather One who would remind us of God, of who He is, of what He is like, and our calling to live in concord with Him. When we recognize our creation and calling to be that of living with and in God, there are no obstacles around which we need a path.

The challenge is ours, not God’s. The obstacles we face are those we erect, not defenses that God has put up to keep us away. If we do not desire to live in concert with God, it is because we are blind and self-seeking. The obstacle is us, and no amount of escorting will change that basic fact.

God has open arms, not blocked hallways.

God is waiting. And calling.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Saved All Over Again?

The question comes, concerning whether we must be re-saved everytime we sin. Must we live such a tight rope of behavior that we are in danger of separation from God if we misstep from time to time? While I was growing up, there were some who believed, even if they didn't say it out loud as one sentence, that we in fact were doomed if we died having unrepented sins.

It seems to me that God made Man in His image, to be the kinds of people who would live out of that image. God, through history has expected two primary things:

1) That Man honor God, YHWH, Jehovah, as God – as the God to whom Man is devoted, and
2) That Man’s life of dedication, of understanding, of living out of the image in which he was made, would reflect the values and the views of God

It has always been that God sought Man to be “His people and He would be their God.” When Man forgot God, failed to trust Him, and relied on themselves, or used the promises of God to excuse their own prideful behavior, God disciplined Man in order to have Man (either particularly, or generally) return to Man’s first love. Return to live with and in concert with, the God and His image that resides in all of us.

It also has been that Man (particularly and generally) has failed to remain with God, and God’s reaction has always been to cajole, to plead, to argue, and to discipline Man so that he would return to God. Man's repeated failures and final forgetting of God, not always in ritual, but always in effect, result in God rejecting Man – not all men, and not necessarily for all time. God's forsaking of Man comes after our rejection of God, the blinding of our eyes and the hardening of our hearts.

While Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah of God, has revealed God to Man anew, and has paid the sacrifice of a life unto death in obedience to God, and has made a way for forgetful, sinful, and prideful Man to return to God once again, God’s expectation has not changed. There is not any magic in the life or death of Messiah that seals forever any particular person’s standing with God despite that person’s living a life of selfish and neglectful (of God and others) pride.

Christians who taste the goodness of God and return to their pre-Christian-enlightened lives, are no different than Israelites, or even Adamic Man, who had tasted life with God and left His goodness to pursue their own desires. It has been, and remains possible for Man, and individuals, to taste the goodness of God, and return to our own vomit.

God has not called us, or caused us, to slavishly follow His will because we must, as though some force outside us makes us live in certain ways. He has called us to yield ourselves to Him, letting Him transform our lives through that submission and training, so that we grow over time to live from the image in which we were originally created. We come to a place where we “must” live for God from what becomes our very essence, flowering into the life we were made to live. Paul would say that those who have come to the fullness of God, have arrived not because God caused them to be made perfect, but because they have learned the will of God through practice, and have come to know it without thinking about it. They needn’t run to find their Bibles, or weigh the pros and cons of a question, or course of action – they come to know what is correct, what is most right, by living and experiencing the life of God. The motivation to live that life comes from within, from a yielding and a melding of the image of God with ourselves to such an extent that we can do nothing else. The "must" comes from within, not forced from without.

There is little in Scripture to support the idea that once we have yielded to God, we must continue in that path – as though we have lost our will or any susceptibility to temptation or sin. The parable of the soils, and Paul’s frequent exhortations to his children in the Faith to pursue, to not flag, to guard themselves, to ensure their salvation, provide ample evidence that there is some aspect of the Christian life that is open to failure, to misdirection, to burning out. To the abandonment of God.

None of this amounts to the idea however, that one sin, one misstep, means we must be saved all over again. The call, the admonition, is to live a life toward God, in submission to Him as a character of our life. If we live lives characterized by the image in which we were made, we remain in God. Often we act as though the only things written beforehand for our learning are the bad things the Israelites did. "Do this and God will get you!" We miss however, the grace of God evident in the early writings. The evidence is that God does not treat His people in such a arbitrary manner so as to push them aside for one or even several misdeeds as long as they remained committed to Him and lived out of His character. The same is true today. We sin, and yet there is no reason to believe that we must be “saved again.” John is clear that if we continue to live in God (in the direction He would have us go), the blood of Jesus [continuously] cleanses us from our sins.

The statement of John's is really no different than the Old Testament promise that if the Israelites would be God's people, He would be their God and bless them immeasurably - even though they may well sin from day to day. The promise God gave to those who would follow Him - from the very beginning - is still true today.

Oddly enough, God doesn’t look for perfection, He looks for commitment, for dedication, for submission, as characteristics of our lives, not punctiliar pass/fail tests. Imperfection is allowed. Abandonment is not.

So, no being saved all over again for every missing of the mark. Such a life would be anything but characteristic of loving and faithful acceptance by God. But there remains a balance, and an expectation that our missteps are lived within a life dedicated to God.

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