Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sabbath

In Luke 6, Jesus tells us that he is "Lord of the Sabbath." Now the purpose of the Sabbath is given as two seemingly different reasons. First, because God worked six days and rested on the seventh, so should we rest on the Sabbath. The second reason is that YHWH had brought Israel out of Egypt - they had been saved and had now been released. The Sabbath then, pictured rest and release from oppression. It is not a large stretch to say then that the Sabbath means life, healing, release for the people of God.

Jesus tells us that he is Lord of the Sabbath. What did he mean? A number of meanings have been suggested but, in it's simplest form, it means that he as the Son of Man can best interpret it; that he can illustrate what it means to observe the Sabbath.

He has to say this because he has been just accosted by those who objected to his followers "working" on the Sabbath by "harvesting grain," and walking through the fields. The Sabbath, they knew was to be free of work of any kind.

After this story of grain harvesting, Luke will tell us of healing of the man's withered hand. This latter story is an interesting setting. Jesus is teaching in a synagogue and this man is present. Some of the folks there are wondering what Jesus is going to do and so they are watching. Jesus knows what they're thinking and he invites the man to stand up, and Jesus asks the assembly, "is it good to do good on the Sabbath, or to do harm?" This is a rhetorical question and it receives no reply. Jesus looks around one more time and tells the man to stretch out his hand and wouldn't you know it, the hand is healed.

The folks who were watching to see what would happen, after being put in a corner by his question, and having him defy the Sabbath rules by "working" and healing this man, are furious and their opposition is almost sealed. These folks had majored in the details of keeping the Law and couldn't grasp the healing and blessing being offered by God through Jesus.

This brings us back to our first story - the one of the grain. In response to the religious leaders' objections, Jesus reminds them of another "rule breaker," David. David didn't just work on a Sabbath, but he violated the food restrictions of the bread of the presence. Only priests could eat that bread, but David received it and shared it with his followers. The details of the story aren't as important as the reality that David "broke the rules."

Jesus uses this story to teach the very point he is going to make in the next story - is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath, or harm? While Jesus' interlocutors won't answer this question, we know the answer is that it is always right to do good on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a gift of rest, of healing, of release and a reminder of God's work in the world and for Israel. The Sabbath isn't supposed to be a burden or a restriction, but one of refreshment for people. Because that is what it is to remember; because it is about life, healing, and release, it is logically and appropriately right to "bend the rules" to benefit people. As we are told other places, the Sabbath was made for man; not man for the Sabbath.

It is often said that in the Christian system there are no laws - the Law having been taken away. This is not however entirely true. There is at least one law required to be kept - the law of love. The details of that law are not spelled out in Scripture but they are illustrated by Jesus. There are other "rules," and we get some of them from Jesus, Paul, and John. Jesus will give us a set of rules in the Sermon on the Mount and in the Judgment Scene. Paul will give us directions about how to behave in the Christian community, and John will tell us that denying that Messiah came in the flesh is a problem for those who would be disciples.

There are rules but some are more important than others. The greatest? Love. If you have to break a rule, don't break this one. Rather, on the basis of this rule, it is acceptable to break the others. Love conquers everything else. Instructive here is that love itself cannot be seen; we only deduce it from someone's behavior toward others. If that's true, then each of us may express our love differently, based on how we perceive a situation, our relationship to it, and our own experiences. The measure is our motivation in doing what we do even if we might show it differently than someone else - even if we might get it wrong.

Love demands that if understand that about our behaviors, grounded in love, we must extend that same grace to others who seem to love is ways we might not; and even if we might consider their behavior "wrong," we bear with them in knowing that their motivation was love.

The Christian Sabbath is Jesus himself. When we come to God; when we enter Jesus, we enter his rest, his Sabbath. In Scripture though, the blessings we get from God are not for us exclusively. We are to pass on those blessings and in most cases we are to become those blessings. How might this apply to the Sabbath rest we enjoy and the reality that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. It is simply this: we are to become, and to extend life, healing, and release to others just as God does for us.

As you go about your week, imagine yourself as a Sabbath bringer; someone who gives life, healing, and release to others. Make what you do and what you say communicate life, healing, and release for those you meet, those you work with, and even those who rub you the wrong way.

Be Sabbath.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

The Image of God

What does it mean to be the image of God? This question has been debated and still is in various quarters. Scripture doesn't give us a clear statement as to what this means for us. Some ideas that have been suggested include that we are spiritual beings, that we are persons, that we are creative, that we are a triune being, and that we have free will, among others.

Some have suggested that Adam was created in the image of God, but that after the Fall, he produced offspring in his own, presumably fallen and corrupted image. To be honest, Scripture does say that Adam produced children after his image, but it doesn't add that that image was corrupt or fallen. What are we to do with this; are people today the image of God or not? Do we even need to spend time on this question if Adam has so messed us up that any image we might bear is unrecognizable?

I don't know that Adam caused such a change in the image we bear and he likely didn't change it at all. It is interesting that Man is called the image of God three times in Scripture - and two of those are after the Fall. One of those two times is by God and the other is by an inspired writer. We are made in the image of God and we continue to be the image of God, whatever that is.

It is true that there is no plain statement in Scripture as to what it means that we are the image of God, but there are clues. The most important clue: Jesus is the icon of God.

If Jesus is the icon of God, what does that mean? How would you describe the man, Jesus of Nazareth? Jesus came to save us, yes, but that saving is richer and deeper than simply freedom from sin and a home in Heaven. Jesus didn't come just to die. Most importantly, he came to live - to live right in front of us as God would if God were us. Jesus, the icon of God took on flesh so that flesh could see itself as the image of God it is. Jesus didn't show us a new way to live; he showed us the only way to live as images of God - how we are designed and intended to live from the very begnning.

So how would you describe the man Jesus of Nazareth, his life, and his teaching? What is it about Jesus that we are to follow as his disciples?

Could we not sum it up as to live in the Spirit, as faithful lovers of others? Could it be that this is why the Fruit of the Spirit is described as it is? What does Jesus tell us are the guiding principles of all the Law and the prophets? Love. Love God, love your neighbor. Who is your neighbor? Anyone who needs you to be their neighbor.

Jesus will talk about love with his disciples almost ad nauseam. This is so important to him that he gives his disciples a new command - that they love one another. Jesus didn't mention love because it's so foreign to people or to make us feel bad. No, as the icon of God he revealed the image of God that is flesh - the image of God as it is intended.

Having love as your constituent essence, you are made to be a lover in the same sense God is. The image of God is love enfleshed.

Modern psychology, especially depth and positive psychology, confirm that the most well adjusted and contented humans are those who embody the fruit of the Spirit, whether they are "Christians" or not. Every major religion, furthermore, points in the same directions - compassion, peace, giving to and for others, self-seconding.

Why are these true and apparent in the world? Because you - and every human - are the image of God, your creator. This drive to love and be loved is your core essence and without it, we become psychologically ill, and destructive of others and ourselves.

The Eastern Orthodox call this becoming, "deification" or "theosis." It means to become like God, so embued with the likeness of God that you can say, as Paul urges, that you are becoming transformed into the likeness of Christ. Merton will call this transformation, "a journey back to where we have never been," which succinctly describes the reality of becoming who you are.

Of importance here is that in this process, we don't just mimic God in caring for others, we actually become love - it becomes most fully our nature, our full being as we already are. The Christian call is nothing more than to become most fully who you are made to be - who you are already. We are, and we become, the likeness of God, fully. This is what it means to be the image of God and this is the invitation of God for you and all people.

It is true that Scripture does not give us a plain, "thus sayeth the Lord" definition of what it means to be the image of God, but to those with discerning eyes, who can see God incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth, the import of our making becomes clear.

Go be the image you are.

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