Monday, November 30, 2015

Advent 2015 - Hope

As the church year begins anew, Advent engulfs our thoughts, our imaginations, and our horizon. The first Sunday reminds us of hope. This sort of hope has various nuances including those of weariness, of questioning, of desire, of want. All these are expectable human responses to a God who seems not present, aloof, disengaged. We have heard the hecklers even in Scripture when they ask, “it’s been a long time; where is your God?” Those who would be the people of God may be excused for these feelings that border on despair and threaten their trust in the God they seek to follow. This hope though, also includes remnants of that trust and leads to stronger trust in a God who is not seen but who has demonstrated His presence and power in the past.
Advent hope, fully exercised leaves the negative nuances behind and chooses not to look at them. Rather, this hope recalls the promises, recalls the past faithfulness, and leans into it once again. God has promised a messiah, a savior, a redeemer and it is this hope that Advent leads His people toward. In the first century, Israel was waiting for her messiah. In the 21st century, disciples are faced with similar nuances during this season. The world is in turmoil, society seems to want to sideline any sort of faith, and even people of faith seem to go crazy on a regular basis.
Advent reminds us, especially on this first Sunday that we are people of faith and we are called to trust and rely on God, no matter what the world looks like; no matter what sorts of abuse or dismissing we might experience. This year, hope is an apropos theme to begin Advent; a reminder that we are called to trust God no matter what. Because we trust Him, we have assured hope that He will vindicate our faith.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

On The Gospel - Humanity

The glory of YHWH is humanity fully alive. This sentiment, ascribed to Irenaeus and echoed by Dallas Willard is a succinct statement of the greater enterprise. The Creator crafted human beings in His image and established them on the planet, in the midst of the greater creation on purpose. That purpose? Full life, right here, right now. The gracious God of creation loves to bless; loves to be gracious. Creation itself is the playing out of that essential goodness.

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 na├»ve 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

On The Gospel - Coming to God - The Response

Our coming to God - the opportunity and invitation is at the free and unencumbered will of YHWH. Sometimes this opportunity looks like an over-powering presence of God in the life of Israel - He leads them from Egypt, He raises Cyrus to release Israel from Babylon, He sends her Redeemer into her midst without asking. But, and this is key, every time YHWH inserts Himself directly into Israel's history, His action demands a response from Israel; from those who would be His people.

YHWH does lead Israel from Egypt, but is Israel who must walk; must not complain; must not shrink back. YHWH does raise Cyrus to facilitate Israel's return to Judah but is Israel who must once again walk and rebuild. YHWH does come to Israel as her savior in the first century, but is Israel who must recognize and follow Him. There is no coercion in absolute terms used by YHWH to who Israel back to Himself. Yes, being blinded while riding a donkey seems a bit overwhelming, but the rider was neither compelled to enter the city, pray for three days, or respond to the person sent to him.

Throughout Jewish and Christian Scripture there is a partnership proposed by YHWH. When He is prepared to redeem and restore, He offers His desire that He will be their God and they will be His people. This being His people is sometimes understood to be YHWH's possession, something owned by and treasured by YHWH; an object of desire and value that is crafted, shaped, and nurtured by YHWH. Being His people carries another implication related to but separate from a possession or object of attention. This is most readily understood as an enlargement of the Genesis declaration of being made in the image of YHWH. Adam is made in the image of God; he is the image of YHWH and Israel too is intended to His image. The people of God are each and corporately the image, expression, and demonstration of YHWH in the world. At least, they are supposed to be and this is also included in the desire that Israel would be the people of YHWH.

It is these two expectations - they would be His possession, and that they would reflect His image that routinely gets Israel in trouble. She worships other gods and her behavior better reflects that of Molech or Ba'al than YHWH. These equate to her sin, her adultery and her infidelity to YHWH.

And this describes the response expected from the invitation of YHWH - that those who would be His people would let Him be their God and would shape themselves to be like YHWH in their lives and corporate existence. They would carry and be the image of YHWH among the nations, drawing others to Him by their faithfulness to, and blessings from YHWH. This expected response has not changed either for Israel specifically or for those who would be His people from among the nations. The redemption of the world in Jesus is not coerced; it can be not accepted by Israel and others. If accepted, the expectation is shaping, transforming, and living as the image of God on earth - individually and collectively for communities of faith; for the church at large.

This response, to be a truly faithful response, is voluntarily demonstrated by those who would join with YHWH. God does not wrest your will and force compliance with arbitrary rules. Rather He declares the "year of the Lord's favor" and offers you return to Him, to being the very image in which you are made and intended to live. The best description of this image is seen in Jesus' faithful and self-giving life in the first century. It is best described in words as divine Love, embodied in humans and lived out as Jesus lived it among believers and non-believers in the world.

This is the response expected by YHWH - that we would (re-)join Him in His Life and His work in the world to bless and entice all persons into that same Life enjoyed by those who would be His people.

Next: On The Gospel - Humanity

On The Gospel - Coming To God

Throughout the Jewish Scriptures, and with echoes in the Christian writings there are direct statements, reminders, and urgings given to the people of God about YHWH's desire to have His people truly be His; reminders that YHWH would rescue, would redeem, would restore His people to Himself and greater blessing. This is always in the context of YHWH's prerogative and is based on two aspects of divine Love - steadfastness and mercy. There is nothing in the narrative that suggests either that YHWH is constrained by an outside force to remain faithful to or redeem Israel. His movement is both uncompelled and entirely willfully free. YHWH redeems Israel because He wants to; because of who He is and for no other reason.

YHWH often complains about Israel's unfaithfulness, depravity, and intransigence toward Him. The basis of these complaints is repeated as based upon Israel's very existence as a nation. It was YHWH who chose Abram, who uttered the promises, who had previously rescued, blessed and warned Israel. It was YHWH who selected and formed them into a nation, and enriched them as they left Egypt; it was He who calls them both His possession and stiff-necked and obstinate. The relationship, to say the least is somewhat conflicted.

And yet, YHWH wants to remain faithful and obligates Himself to be Israel's redeemer, her savior, her avenging angel against her enemies. In Isaiah 40-55 YHWH argues that He knows the future not because He has a crystal ball and is outside time, running up and down an imaginary timeline as He pleases. No, in these chapters, YHWH knows what will happen in the future - the things He promises and the things He warms about - because He is going to make them happen. In these same chapters YHWH contrasts Himself as God and Jewish idols. It is here that He uses a bit of sarcasm when He observes that a man cuts a log, burns half of it to make bread, and then sets the other half up on end and declares it a god. Israel had been worshiping "ashes." Or again, YHWH almost mocks those who have idols so large that to move them almost defeats their mules and donkeys laden with them - that the idols cannot move on their own and are a burden to Israel. The contrast then becomes that rather than Israel having to carry her idols, YHWH carries Israel.

Coming to YHWH is secondary in the larger scheme of things, possible only after YHWH has made Himself known, has created, has blessed, and has redeemed Israel. It is YHWH who moves first in the grand enterprise; it is He who offers the invitation to true, blessed Living. Because the invitation must come from YHWH that we are told that we cannot earn it; we are also told that it is given freely.

This invitation then, this redeeming is not so much from prison per se, but as a restoration. This is more a dusting off, a standing up, a washing, a blessing of oil. This is the work of a go'el, a family member who has the responsibility to redeem a relative from dire straits, from poverty, from hunger - because they are family and nothing more.

This is the work of YHWH in saving the world - faithfully redeeming no matter how many scrapes Israel gets herself into by her own unfaithfulness.

Next: On The Gospel - Coming to God - The Response

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