29 December 2006

Today's Gospel

[The] creator God so desires to intimately relate with each of us that he became one of us so we could know and understand him. Further . . . this god-man was rejected by those who should have recognized him, was betrayed by those closest to him, was torture[d] and beaten and finally put to the most shameful death imaginable under the powers of the day. Yet somehow this constituted his victory over those very powers as was vindicated by his resurrection and is now Lord of Heaven and Earth.

Scot McKnight



 


I would add some things to this, namely that this creator God can (only) be seen by looking at the first-century Jew, Jesus of Nazareth. In other words, Jesus of Nazareth revealed Israel's God, YHWH, the creator God. That at his resurrection he inagurated the New Creation. At that moment, the world changed. And now, because he is the world's true King, he demands believing obedience from the cosmos (Acts 17.30; Romans 1.5). And those of us who do believe this story are called into a scary vocation -- to implement that New Creation, the ultimate future of the cosmos here and now. The call of Jesus is 'Follow me' (John 21.22). For us to understand what that means, we need to go back to the beginning of John's gospel and read it with our eyes open. We are to confront the powers of the world, both religious and secular; seen and unseen, not with the 'weapons of the world' but with the self-giving, self-sacrificing love of God in our hearts. We who believe this story are called to be the words of Jesus made flesh. So, I would put it all together like this . . .


The cosmos is the 'very good' creation from the creator God, YHWH, the God of Israel. The creator God desired so much to intimately relate with each of us that he became one of us so we could know him. YHWH, the creator God can be seen by looking at the first-century Jew, Jesus of Nazareth. In other words, Jesus of Nazareth revealed Israel's God, YHWH, the creator God. This god-man was (mostly) rejected by the very people who should have recognized him, was betrayed by those closest to him, was tortured and beaten and finally put to the most shameful death imaginable under the powers of the day. Yet somehow this constituted his victory over those very powers as was vindicated by his resurrection. Because of his resurrection, Jesus is now Lord of Heaven and Earth. At that moment, the world changed. At his resurrection, Jesus inaugurated the New Creation. And now, because he is the world's true King, he demands believing obedience from the cosmos (Acts 17.30; Romans 1.5). Those of us who do believe this story are called into a scary vocation -- to implement that New Creation, the ultimate future of the cosmos, here and now. The call of Jesus is 'Follow me' (John 21.22). We are to confront the powers of the world, both religious and secular; seen and unseen, not with the 'weapons of the world' but with the self-giving, self-sacrificing love of God in our hearts. We who believe this story are called to be the words of Jesus made flesh.

27 December 2006

Prayer for Today

Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated unto you; and then use us, we pray you, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

19 December 2006

Vegetarianism

I have decided to become a vegetarian.

When I brought this up with my wife (who has been an on-again-off-again vegetarian for a while) she asked me why the change of mind. What follows is a summary of my change of mind and heart on the matter.

I believe that YHWH, the creator God, is the good God who created a 'very good' world. If we look at the beginning we will see that people, as well as animals, were vegetarian:
Genesis 1.29-31. Then God said, "Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. And I have given every green plant as food for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—everything that has life.” And that is what happened.

Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!

So, that is how God's 'very good' creation started -- with everything eating plants. Therefore, because people rebelled and 'death entered the world', some of us (people and animals alike) became meat-eaters. How can I draw this conclusion? Simple. To eat 'meat' means something has to die. And death is part of the corruption of God's 'very good' creation.

But God is redeeming his creation. He is healing his creation. With the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, he has launched the 'New Creation Project.' That is, in the final consummation of the New Creation, there will be no more death (Revelation 21.4; see also 1Corinthians 15).

Isaiah described the New Creation this way:
Isaiah 11.6-7. In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all. The cow will graze near the bear. The cub and the calf will lie down together. The lion will eat hay like a cow.

The goal then is to take us 'back to the garden' as the song goes. One day, we will all again be eating only fruits and vegetables (and the products of those things).

As an aside, but an important aside, yesterday I saw a program on Animal Planet about a lioness who 'adopted' an antelope calf as he own. The calf was still too young to eat solid food and so, along with the lioness, they both were starving for neither one ate anything. This relationship lasted for 15 days. On the last day, a male lion attacked the calf, killed it, and ate it. This lioness 'adopted' 5 more calves throughout her life. Needless to say, the scientific world was shocked and stunned by this. They have never seen anything like it. The host of the program stated that this type of behaviour has never been recorded. I said, 'It has too. In the book of Isaiah.' (Of course, the TV couldn't respond, but I do that a lot -- talk to the TV.) Was this a hint of New Creation creeping out into the 'natural world'? Some would say no. This was a fluke. This lioness was a 'freak of nature'. Well, I would state that she was a 'freak of fallen nature'. But, maybe she is a kind of 'first fruits' of New Creation happening in throughout the rest of the world? Call me a dreamer, but I like to think so.

So, back to my point. The vocation of the church today is to live in anticipation of the consummation of the New Creation. The technical term for this is called 'inaugurated eschatology'. We are called to take some of God's future (if I can put it that way) and bring it into the present. Part of that is to put away death. And part of putting away death is to stop killing animals for food.

Now, I can already hear the arguments (alas, I have used them myself for a number of years), 'People are made to eat meat. Look at our teeth. You can't tell me that the teeth of a lion are made to eat grass. That's ridiculous.' Or 'Maybe someday, in the future, we will be eating only fruits and vegetables and the products thereof. But, we aren't in the future. In this life we are obviously supposed to eat meat. We aren't in heaven.'

Two things with these arguments (and I know that this is what is called a 'straw-man' argument. I create a false position and then knock it down): First, yes, because of the fall we are eating meat, we have eaten meat, and we will continue to eat meat. But again, this is because of the fall. But Jesus 'reversed the curse'. Jesus initiated a new way of being. He started a new people. He started a New Creation. And as St Paul put it, 'If anyone, in Christ, new creation' (That is what the Greek has). In other words, if a person is 'in Christ', they are not just themselves a 'new creation' but they are part of New Creation. If we do not see ourselves within that bigger picture I think we are missing a lot of what salvation actually means. Therefore we should be living like we belong to that New Creation.

Secondly, and I'm sure this will make some a little angry, people and animals have evolved. This is why their teeth look the way they do. Moreover, we are looking at those teeth 'from our fallen perspective'. That is, the lens we use to classify things is based on the only data we have and all of it is in the midst of a fallen world. It's like a friend of mine said regarding global warming, 'The problem with the data is that is only (at least) a hundred years old or so. In other words, there isn't enough evidence to be conclusive one way or the other. The world may do this within itself every few million years.' While I don't agree with his outcome, I think his initial point is spot on. We don't know (because we have never seen or have read) that animals with teeth like a lion can eat only vegetables. Maybe they can. Or maybe their teeth (and the rest of their digestive system) evolved to that. Maybe they will evolve back the other way. I don't know.

Lastly, if we someone came up to us and said, 'Yes, I know it's wrong to abuse women, but I'm not worried because I will be complete and free from that in the consummation of God's kingdom', if we truly loved that person, we would hit them with inaugurated eschatology! 'Sure, you will be holy at some future point. But that is why you strive to live holy now!' That dualist (gnostic) view is part of the problem within Western Christianity. No. We are not supposed to just go on living life like every one else. We are called to live in anticipation of God's final consummated world now. We pray for God's kingdom to come 'on earth' as in heaven. God is creating, through his Church, a New Heaven and New Earth. What we do in the now matters. It is part of the 'building material' for that consummated New Creation (again, look at 1Corinthians 15, especially the last verse).

And for me, part of living in anticipation of that is to not continue bringing death to God's 'very good' creation. In other words . . .

I have decided to become a vegetarian.

Seventy times seven

Daniel 9.24. 'A period of seventy sets of seven has been decreed for your people and your holy city to finish their rebellion, to put an end to their sin, to atone for their guilt, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to confirm the prophetic vision, and to anoint the Most Holy Place.'

This is the end of exile. The chapter starts with Daniel praying because he had read in the book of Jeremiah that the people of God would be in exile for seventy years (verse 2). The seventy years were almost up and he was praying for God's mercy (vv. 3-19).

Then Gabriel appeared to Daniel and gave him some instruction concerning his dream (vv. 20-23). The beginning of this instruction is found in verse 24, which I quoted above. Again, the idea here is that, first, it won't be at the end of the seventy years, but at the end of seventy sets of seven years, or four hundred-ninety years. That is when the 'end of exile' would actually take place. During that time, people will be returning to the land and start rebuilding the temple and city (v. 25). However, the exile won't be over. It will still be continuing. That is to say, the true exile won't be over. What is that exile? It is what Daniel was praying about -- the forgiveness of the sins of Israel.

Also, during this time, the 'Anointed One' would come to Jerusalem. But the 'Anointed One' would be 'killed, appearing to have accomplished nothing' (vv. 25-26a).

This is obviously a reference to the Messiah, as most scholars note. But what I want to focus in on is this idea of 'seventy sets of seven' or 'seventy times seven'. Gabriel said at the end of that time the exile of Israel would be over -- that her sins would be forgiven. And that during that time, the 'Anointed One' -- the Messiah -- would come. And this Messiah would bring about the Kingdom of God.

Fast forward to the time of Jesus. The expectation of the end of exile was electric in the air. We can catch glimpses of this within the Gospels. When the angel of the Lord came to Joseph, the angel told him that Jesus would 'save his people from their sins' (Matthew 1.21). And after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph brought him to the temple according to the Law of Moses. At that time, there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. The Lord had promised him that he would not die until he saw the Lord's Messiah. So, he was eagerly waiting for 'the Messiah to come and rescue Israel'. At that moment, when Mary and Joseph arrived with Jesus, the Holy Spirit 'led him to the Temple' (Luke 2.25-27). Once he saw Jesus, he took him and said, 'Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people.' (Luke 2.29-31).

Likewise, the prophet Anna was in the Temple. 'She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem' (Luke 2.38).

So, again, we see that the expectancy of Israel at the time of Jesus was one of salvation and rescue. People were 'expecting . . . God to rescue Jerusalem'. They were awaiting the return from exile -- the forgiveness of their sins.

Furthermore, according to this belief, in addition to this, they also believed that this would be when YHWH would come back to Israel. Not only would Israel 'return' from exile, but her God, YHWH would return to his people. But, as Malachi wrote, '[Who] will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears?' (Malachi 3.2).

.............

This isn't really where I was heading with this post. I was leading toward some of these elements but have gotten a little of course. My point was going to be this: The seventy times seven, the end of exile and the return of YHWH to Zion would usher in the Kingdom of God, the New Creation. Jesus shows up 'when the fullness of time had come'. That is, at the 'right time', the 'appointed time'. The time that was part of the plan of God all along. The climax of the story of Israel. It was at that time that Jesus came.

. . . hmm . . . interesting. I find it interesting that I am thinking about this during advent.

Anyway, what was Jesus doing? He was announcing the arrival of the long awaited Kingdom of God! He announced it by actions and words. He even gave rules (if you will) for the people living in the New Creation. One particular example is where I am going with this. In Matthew 18, we have this conversation:
Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!

“Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.

“But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.

“But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.

“His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.

“When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.

“That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”

Look again at the first few verses: 'Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?' 'No, not seven times,' Jesus said, 'but seventy times seven!' Why is this significant? Could it be that the reason we should always forgive is because we are now living in New Creation? That the return from exile has come and that Israel's sins (and, therefore the rest of the world's sins) have been forgiven? I think so. Furthermore I think that is why Jesus gave the story. Notice he said, 'Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven (or of God) can be compared to a king . . .' In other words, the reason we should forgive people of theirs sins is because that is what the Kingdom of God is all about! The exile is over!  All debts have been canceled. And since we have been forgiven, so we should forgive others. Period. I think this is a non-negotiable principle. This is why St Paul can write that if Jesus hasn't been raised from the dead we 'are still guilty of [our] sins'. With the resurrection of Jesus, the 'seventy times seven' of Daniel 9 has been fulfilled and the New Creation was inaugurated. If we are members of that kingdom, we must forgive 'seventy times seven'. In other words, we should be the people of forgiveness. That this is our vocation is hardly in question either. Jesus said, 'As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven' (John 20.21-23).

In summary: Daniel was told that the end of exile would not be at the end of 'seventy years' but at the end of 'seventy times seven' years. At that time, all sin would be forgiven. And the Messiah would come. One of the things the Messiah would do is inaugurate the Kingdom of God. We see in the New Testament, that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel. Through his ministry he was ushering in the Kingdom of God. He was forgiving the sins of the people. When asked specifically about forgiving someone, Jesus said that we, as the people of God, we are to forgive 'seventy times seven'. Why? Because the exile is over! Because the Kingdom of God is the fulfillment of the 'seventy times seven' of Daniel 9.  If we are 'in the Messiah' then we are 'in' the Kingdom of God.  Our vocation is to continue giving the same forgiveness that God gave when he began New Creation.  God has forgiven the sins of the world. Therefore we should do likewise.

07 December 2006

Prayer for Today

Merciful God, you made all people, and you hate nothing that you have made; you do not desire the death of a sinner, but rather that he or she should be converted and live. Have mercy on your ancient people, the Jews, and upon all who have not known you and your love in your son, the King of the Jews, or who deny or oppose the faith of the crucified Messiah; take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt for your word, and fetch them home to your fold, that they may be made one flock under one shepherd: through the same Jesus, the Messiah, our Lord and King. Amen.

06 December 2006

Thoughts from Sunday School

I have been thinking a lot about our Sunday School class last Sunday. In closing, Fr Dwight made a statement that I think most people, well, here in American anyway, can't quite grasp. The idea of national judgment.

When we look at the over-arching story of the Bible it is not entirely concerned with individuals. Okay, sure, there are smaller stories that are about God and an individual. But those stories are about what God will do through that person for God's people, and ultimately the whole world. I think about the judgement of God upon Israel in the 500s where they were taken off into exile by the Babylonians. Surely there were righteous Israelites living at that time. Surely the entire nation was not corrupt. And yet they all were taken in to captivity. Or, like the Maccabees, they were tortured and killed (but none the less, that happened while they were still in exile). I think we Americans are living in this false hope, because of how we were presented the Gospel of personal salvation. That is, it was all very individualized. 'Where will you go when you die?' 'Is Jesus your personal Saviour?' The only indication that we have of anything corporate or nationalistic is that we were told that Jesus died for the 'sins of the world'. Our false hope is that, 'Yes, God may judge America, but I will be spared from this judgment.' Again, look at the nation of Israel. In other words, look at our history, as God's people. How many times have we been carried off into captivity -- righteous and unrighteous alike? And yet, for some reason, we have this false hope that the righteous (and by this we mean that we ourselves as individuals, of course) will be spared. But we won't. And that is the message that needs to be proclaimed like the prophets of old! We need people of courage (or delusion, take your pick) to stand up and say, 'Repent for the judgment of God is coming.' That's the message I'm seeing anyway. If not now, soon.

And not just America, but pretty much the whole Western world. The rest of the world, the poor, are crying out for economic justice and the Western rich are debating sex! What is wrong with this picture! I'm not trying to say that sexual issues are not important, they are. But, and God help us see this, they are not the main issue. The main issue of the day is the enormous problem of Third World Debt. And every minute that the rich West does nothing about it hundreds of people (mostly children) die from starvation. Don't get me wrong. I know that a lot of people in the Western world are doing well for others. But we are part of a nation that, on the whole, is not. America is putting band aids on cancer sores and never changing the laws that put the cancer there in the first place. Why? Mostly because of a twisted eschatology that is a deadly mix of Christianity and platonistic, gnostic dualism that believes this world is trash and will be destroyed and that the goal is to escape it for the 'real world' 'heaven'. Woe betide us if we think that we, i.e., the Western world, can continue on like this without paying for our sins.

Anyway...

I'll get off of my soapbox now.

I just wanted to let you know that I have been thinking a lot about what was said in Sunday School class. In fact, that was the point of the passages we read, actually. And we, me included, quickly moved from the unfamiliarity of national judgment to individual judgment. And the whole time, we missed what God was telling us.

May mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance.

+OD

05 December 2006

Prayer for Today...

God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus the King our Lord. Amen.