Monday, November 30, 2015
Sunday, November 15, 2015
We are told that people are made in the image of God – you are that image of Divinity. Many theories of Christianity tell us that the image has been marred, in some cases beyond recognition or reclamation, but these theories are wrong. As the Genesis writer reminds us, the reason God requires life for life for any creature that murders a human is that people are the image of YHWH. We are told this in chapter nine, well after the description and affects of the Fall. Adam’s failure – and Eve’s – has not changed the reality that YHWH continues to see people as His image. We are then told over and over that even though people fail in their fidelity and trust of YHWH, He repeatedly returns to rescue them.
YHWH won’t give up on His initial desire to populate a planet with people who live as His image with each other, the rest of Creation, and Him. The glory of God can accurately be said to be His ability to accomplish that plan despite humanity’s intransigence. A similar argument is used by Moses when He suggests to YHWH that wiping out Israel and starting over would cause YHWH to be ridiculed by other nations, because He had brought Israel out of Egypt and couldn’t accomplish what He said He would. Isaiah puts these same sort of thoughts in YHWH’s mouth. It is He, and not some other god or idol that will accomplish what He has said He would. This we are told, will result in praises by those who see it.
The result of YHWH accomplishing His intent? He will be acknowledged as the God, rather than one among many, dumb idols. But this is not all; the enterprise isn’t about God glorifying himself for His own glorification. Rather, the intent is not complete unless the people that YHWH leads by the hand actually become His people. Individually and collectively, they are to become fully the image in which they are made.
These two aspects – YHWH being able to grow a people, and that people being fully His image are intimately woven together in YHWH’s mind. It would be easy for the God of existence to protect Israel against all comers, defeating all challengers and threats simply by declaring them to be nothing and wiping them out with a mere thought. But YHWH doesn’t do this in history. He does repeatedly do this but eventually Israel fails to live as His people. It is this failure that leads to YHWH withdrawing His protection. If YHWH will accomplish His intent and accept praise for it, the two must exist together. YHWH can cause one to happen, but He cannot force His people to truly be His people. This, they must desire to do and accomplish even in the face of impending doom at the hands of their enemies.
Do we see hints of this image life in Christian writings? This is precisely the reason we have lists like that in Galatians chapter five. Why are these characteristics or traits described as the fruit of the Spirit? Because those who live in step with the Spirit will – must – live those attributes. Those led by the Spirit live into the likeness of Jesus; they become fully the image in which they are made.
This is what will bring YHWH glory and praise – a people who live His Life; the life they are made to live. The glory of YHWH is truly humanity fully alive as His image. This is another way of describing salvation, or life with God. It is impossible to reject this life, this becoming, this trust in YHWH and at the same time be saved. Asserting that salvation is something other than joining with God in the Life He offers in this world, is naïve and reveals a misunderstanding of YHWH’s intent for humanity and the Creation itself.
You are called to be the very image of God in the world; there is no better honor and there is no better way to glorify YHWH. This is what He asks; this is what He has intended all along. Be all you can be.
Saturday, November 07, 2015
Saturday, October 31, 2015
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Next: On the Gospel - Love
Thursday, October 22, 2015
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
YHWH has come for those who would be His people. He has come to rescue, to recover, to reconcile first Israel and then all of humankind to Himself. He has done this more than once in the history of the world. YHWH has come for His people out of His own initiative, not because those He seeks to find are guiltless or morally deserve His rescue, but as an act of grace. This grace, freely offered by YHWH and arising from His steadfast love for Israel and all people, is freely exercised. Paul will tell us that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Before we had faith, before we repented, before we had come to our senses, YHWH effected the death of Jesus for the entire world.
The intent of this reconciliation offered first to Israel and then to the nations, is the same intent - to form and shape a people of YHWH who would be the name by which they are called. This people would both be faithful to YHWH and embody His character among the nations and each other. Their lives and message would be their calling, their burden, and their blessing for the world. These people would be a sort of incarnation; they would embody their God in this world. YHWH offers through His people, real life lived fully as images of Himself with and among each other. The glory of God is truly human beings fully alive.
But we have become distracted and have built religious institutions, complete with structure, rules, and set liturgies and we have called these the church. When Jesus promised to build His church, it wasn't one of these Sunday morning institutions to which He referred. He was referring to the very thing YHWH has always been after namely, a people who would be the name by which they are called. A people faithful to YHWH as their God, their strength, their protector, their defense, their example and master. A people who would embody the very character and image of YHWH as a wise, merciful, just, and faithful God, and be His people.
This then, rightly is the people of God, a people and all people who are faithful to and disciples of YHWH and Jesus, who have rescued them and given them life right now. They are not defined primarily by religious doctrine, ecclesial structure or rules, historical institutional continuance, or a culture-bound denominational name. They are defined by how closely they reflect the character of their God. As YHWH has told us, His people will be known by their love - for each other and for the world. These people are the only true people of God and it is this people that YHWH has been after since the beginning.
Monday, October 19, 2015
Sunday, October 18, 2015
The Jewish Scriptures provide the history of the Christian gospel and it isn’t too much of a stretch to say that we cannot fully understand the gospel unless we appreciate the revelation contained in the Jewish Scriptures. The Jewish Scriptures provide the story, the narrative into which the Christian gospel fits. It is somewhat misleading to say the Christian gospel because the gospel is actually God’s gospel, effected by the incarnation and death of Jesus. Jesus’s life comes as the ultimate gospel, the ultimate Good News, but its core message hasn’t changed since Creation and is repeated and rehearsed throughout the Jewish Scriptures. In this sense, the gospel doesn’t represent a difference in God or His plan in the world. The book of Isaiah contains what is sometimes called the Gospel of Isaiah. This comes before the midpoint of the book when Isaiah reports that eventually YHWH will not only return Israel to Judea, but He will also welcome other nations into the people of God. The return of Israel will include the nations of the world. As ancient as Isaiah is however, it isn’t the first we have heard of God’s concern for either Israel or other nations. The founding promise of Israel, that to Abraham includes blessing for the whole world. Abraham was blessed, we’re told, to be a blessing for the world.
YHWH forms Israel from nothing, He retrieves her from Egypt and from Babylon. Throughout the Jewish narrative, YHWH pleads with Israel to be faithful to Him as He has been to her. Infidelity to YHWH is couched in two ways. The first is clearly when Israel insists on worshiping other gods, complete with household statuettes and idols placed in the high places. This infidelity is one of the categories YHWH complains about when withdrawing his protection from His people. The other category of infidelities too often listed by YHWH to be ignored by those who would be His people is the mistreatment of other Jews and even foreigners. Often, these two categories are listed in tandem as God pleads with Israel or presents His case against her to what is the entire creation.
Even so though, YHWH with every accusation, offers a way of return. YHWH even tells us that He will keep a remnant and will rescue that remnant, returning it to Himself in His time. YHWH will also tell us why these assurances of rescue are included. That answer also has two categories of reasons. The first is the faithfulness of God. The phrase comes to mind, if Man is faithless, YHWH is faithful. YHWH has chosen Abram and Israel to be His people and YHWH will remain faithful to that covenantal promise even if Israel rejects Him through infidelity. If we aren’t careful, that faithfulness might come to seem like a cold, dutiful burden that YHWH maintains because He has to. To make sure we don’t become jaded and cynically dismiss this divine faithfulness, the other category of reasons is also provided. Not only is God faithful, He is faithfully loving. YHWH’s steadfast love commits Him not just to fidelity, but loving fidelity to Israel no matter what.
When YHWH removes His protection from Israel, He always intends to restore her to Himself. It is important to understand here that when Israel cries out to YHWH, when YHWH decides she has suffered enough from affects of her own infidelity, YHWH comes to her. This even though she does not deserve this rescue; even though nothing can eliminate her past infidelity. Even so, YHWH remains faithful and He moves at His time to rescue and restore Israel because He loves her.
God loves you. Come home.
Friday, August 07, 2015
Oh we wouldn't have expected her to kill you herself. No, the idea of a woman choking the life out of a suckling child would have been and still is too barbaric for us. Rather, we would have provided specially trained medical professionals to kill you for her. We think it's cleaner, more antiseptic to have doctors crush your skull, suck your brain out of your head, or tear your body apart while your central nervous system screams in pain.
That's legitimate, that's legal, that's acceptable.
Why we even call that "health care."
Friday, June 12, 2015
Perhaps one of the most unsettling realizations for disciples is that being a disciple does not require much of the trappings we have come to associate with being a disciple.
Structure and objective, concrete rules provide psychological safety and their stripping away causes confusion and anxiety. And so we cling to them and assign them value and gravity for their own sake, crafting intricate explanations for their existence and the critical places they fill in our personal and common lives.
We come to believe that these are constituent parts of being a disciple and so perpetuate their existence and necessity, defending them against detractors of all sorts.
If we could let go of them without going crazy, we could see and live the true simplicity of being a disciple. We could learn and experience life as a disciple, coming to realize that discipling is about life; real life lived day by day.
Saturday, June 06, 2015
Sunday, May 24, 2015
A day to remember.
To remember smiles, loves, lives.
To remember sacrifice.
To remember lives given for us.
Young men, mature men, and older men.
Sons, and dads, and granddads.
And daughters, and moms, and grandmoms.
Husbands and wives.
To remember lives given for us.
Flags, and flowers, and salutes.
Bagpipes and bugles.
Tears, and hugs.
And deep breaths.
To remember lives given for us.
To remember lives given to us.
To hold, to cherish, to love.
To release, to let go, to lose.
For something greater, something deeper.
For me, for you, for us all.
To remember lives given for us.
To remember sacrifice.
To remember smiles, loves, lives.
A day to honor.
A day to remember.
In the Western Christian tradition, Pentecost marks the reception of the Spirit by Jesus' disciples following His ascension. He had told them to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father, which would include power. Jesus had told them that He would go to the Father but that He would not leave them as orphans. Rather when He had gone, He would send the Spirit who would remind them, empower them, and give them words to say when they needed them.
Once they had received the Spirit, they were to be His witnesses and messengers to the entire world. This then is often considered the beginning of he church, but it isn't really. He church, or the called out people of God, had been in existence for sometime. Rather, this day is the empowering of the disciples to now fully and boldly proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God to all comers, and to take the message to all peoples.
Part of the church's mission is to tell the world of the Life God wants for them, secured and exampled by Jesus. This message is to be proclaimed not in a truncated, even if accurate, "Jesus died for you" message, but a message that includes the blessings available right now. This is no pie in the sky message but one that assets that God has broken into our reality not with just a message but with Life.
This message though must be proclaimed by people who are living that Life as the called out people of God. A people who are living the blessing they seek to lure others toward. Jesus will tell them that people will know that they and we are experiencing the Life we tout by our love for one another. It will be apparent to ourselves when we can look at ourselves and our group and find the fruit of the Spirit in ourselves and each other.
That empowering then is not just so we will know what to say when in front of magistrates, but so that we can become lovers of each other and of the same things that God loves. And what does God love, but the world. We are then charged with loving each other, which can be difficult on its own, but we are also called to love those outside our group as well - all those sinners our God loves but we try to avoid.
Pentecost reminds us then that God has empowered us to be lovers of people. We don't have the option of saying that we just can't love that person because off what they have done, or the Life they are living. We can't say that because God has empowered us to do just that - love them.
On this Pentecost then, let's remember the coming off the Spirit, yes, but let us admit that the Spirit is given for a reason. Let's accept our charge to both tell and live a life of love and so entice each other and outsiders to accept the Life God offers.
Thursday, March 26, 2015
Jeremiah 30-31 provides the hope – the promise that YHWH will come to claim Israel as His; He will call them and collect them from the far ends of the earth. Here, in this book of doom and certain destruction and exile – which Israel have to endure – are these chapters full of promises of redemption. In these two chapters it is clear that YHWH, despite bringing judgment on her, has every intention of gathering her back together.
Why? Because He has promised to be God, and He will be. He is steadfast in an eternal sense, never losing sight of her no matter what. If you’ve ever raised kids, you know this place. Sometimes the frustration and disappointment is such that in the moment you’re ready for the cops to come get this kid. But even then, underneath, and certainly after the smoke has settled, it’s OK. Having the kid with you is more important than focusing on the poor behavior. Good parents don’t give up on their kids, even when it might seem the parents aren’t paying attention right now.
God has declared a covenant and He will remain faithful to it even if Israel isn’t. He will always accept her back when she wants to come back. We often emphasize that last part – “when she wants to come back,” but in these chapters, that isn’t the criteria. God wants her back and will come get her in His timing, not hers.
In these chapters, the actor is God, not Israel. Things will happen to Israel – bad and finally good things – but neither of them are dependent on her wants or behavior. When God is ready, He will come and find her.
It is in this context that YHWH says He will forget her iniquity, her sin. But the order isn’t, cleansing first and then finding, but gathering first and the forgiveness is a consequence of having been gathered. There aren’t any hoops for Israel to jump through. This is YHWH who wants her, and to have her He will forget her iniquity. Much like a parent does. The child is your child and has a place with you.
This has always been the arrangement, actually. God has chosen, built, nurtured, and protected Israel simply because He decided He would and promised to do just that. Israel does receive punishment for idols and abuse of each other; and Korah’s folks get swallowed up for disobedience. Even so, YHWH remains faithful to His covenant.
Jesus will come to Israel to collect her, to return her to YHWH without worrying about her status. Yes, there are some expectations of her – as there always have been as the people of YHWH. Living in conformance to His image, faithful trusting in YHWH rather than other countries and powers, even being satisfied as having YHWH as her king. But – and this is important – these are consequences not prerequisites of God coming for her.
That’s the point of knocking on the door, of being ready when the bridegroom comes, and even of a fruitless fig tree. YHWH has come for us! Let’s be His people! This is Jesus’ message. Not, fix yourselves first and then maybe YHWH will accept you; no, He has come and wants you back. Do you want Him?
For Israel, this is where John’s repentance comes in. Not as a prerequisite for God’s desire for you, but the result of your wanting to be with God. God won’t compel you, but He does want you. Do you want Him?
Monday, March 16, 2015
God's response is a rather benign, "OK, pick yourself some helpers and let them help."
So YHWH relents.
And so they complain.
Moses is one guy you want praying for you when you need prayer.
Monday, March 09, 2015
Sunday, March 01, 2015
Second sunday in Lent -- we are a quarter of the way through this period of reflection and reorientation. How are you doing?
The text for this Sunday from the Jewish Scriptures comes from Genesis 17, YHWH's reiteration of His promise to Abram. Abram and Sarai have been waiting for a quarter century and have made at least two mistakes along this journey. So YHWH decides the time has come despite these less than faithful episodes and He is prepared with three new names. Abram will be called Abraham and Sarai will be called Sarah. He doesn't ask them to try on these new names to see if they like them. He just announces them.
The third new name? God's. Maybe because of their doubting, God here says his name is El Shaddai - God Almighty. Usually we think of a mighty god at the head of an army, or causing earthquakes, or striking people with plagues. Not here. Here, this mighty God is going to use His might to keep His promise and grant a child to an old man and a barren old woman. El Shaddai will demonstrate His might by being able to keep His promise.
Abraham is told he will be the father of nations, of kings, of decendants like the stars and the sand. In fact, YHWH uses the past tense - I have made you the father of a multitude. When YHWH says something, it's as good as done. There is no doubt because He is El Shaddai. Abraham is not the only one to receive a blessing this day. Sarah receives a similar blessing. From her will come princes and kings and nations. YHWH specifically mentions and blesses this old barren woman in the same language He has blessed Abraham. Sarah will be a full participant in this endeavor,
God is faithful. Would you like proof? Look in the mirror and what do you see? The fulfillment and ongoing fulfillment of that promise. You are the result of that promise -- you are one of those stars, one of those grains of sand. And what more, you are part of the blessing for the world. Carriers of news of the kingdom of God, dispensers of grace, lovers of all.
Not only are you the issue or result of the promise, but as a blessing for the world, you are that promise. During Lent is a good time to remember that and to put ourselves back on track. Give it a shot.
Friday, February 20, 2015
Thursday, February 19, 2015
Sunday, January 11, 2015
Welcome and legal mumbojumbo
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