20 January 2007

Orthopraxy

Most of us are familiar with the term 'orthodoxy' which means 'right knowing'. As you can see, therefore, orthopraxy (roughly translated) means, 'right living'. There are some people that emphasize one over the other but, being an good Episcopalian, I believe that we need both. And I think most of us would agree.

But, for this post, I want to emphasize orthopraxy. If you have been a reader of this blog for awhile, you may have noticed that I emphasize this a lot. There is a reason for that. Where I come from, there is an over emphasis on orthodoxy (right knowing). Of course knowing rightly about God, Jesus, etc. is important, but at what cost? To often, in my experience, the cost is separation from the people and creation that we are to be 'saving'. (I know that Jesus does this but more often than not he seems to work through his people to accomplish this task.)

It has become blindingly clear the last few years that the church is in serious need of reformation. And it is precisely because we are not 'being Jesus' in our world. When we are serious about what that means, we will read the Gospels with eyes wide open and see what Jesus did. More often than not, what he said was a result of something he did. If, while reading those stories, we ask the question, 'What would the world look like if God was running things?', we would have another eye opening experience. 'Well of course, the lame walk. Of course, there would be plenty of food for everyone. Of course the blind would see.' If God was ruling the world, it would look exactly like what Jesus did. In other words, orthopraxy.

In reading an article from Christianity Today about Emerging Church, I came across these statements:
Jesus declared that we will be judged according to how we treat the least of these (Matt. 25:31-46) and that the wise man is the one who practices the words of Jesus (Matt. 7:24-27). In addition, every judgment scene in the Bible is portrayed as a judgment based on works; no judgment scene looks like a theological articulation test.

'[E]very judgment scene in the Bible is portrayed as a judgment based on works.' Isn't that interesting? For so long we have asked the question, 'Are you saved?' or 'If you died right now, would you go to heaven?' as if those were the only things that mattered. Of course they matter, sure they do. But we are missing the big picture with that approach. When we ask those questions we are coming at it from orthodoxy -- of a right knowing about things like sin, death, atonement, etc. It can be very un-welcoming. We are quick to pass judgment on people. 'You don't believe such-and-such therefore I must reject you' all the while we are not doing anything for the kingdom of God. And let me make myself perfectly clear. Doing something for the kingdom is not just saving souls. Look what Jesus said:
“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

“And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

“And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

Where is orthodoxy in that scene? Where does Jesus ask them about their understanding of salvation? I'll tell you where. It is 'understood'. That is, the sole purpose of doing 'good works' -- of orthopraxy -- is because of our orthodoxy. It is the foundation for all that we do. If not, what would be the point? If we don't believe, if we don't trust, that 'Jesus died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said' and that God's New Creation Project began on that first Easter morning and that 'through [Jesus] God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of [Jesus’] blood on the cross.' -- if we don't believe that then what would be the point of doing anything for the good of the world? If those things are not trust worthy, then anything we do for the betterment of the world would be temporary. There would be no lasting value. It would only be for the moment.

Now, granted, that (temporary betterment of the world) is an admirable goal. But not for the follower of Jesus. We do 'good works' because of the things I mentioned above. We believe they will have lasting value. And that the reason for us doing something is based on that orthodoxy, that right knowing. It can't be based on anything else.

Furthermore, perhaps that scene in Matthew 25 is precisely the type of scene I am describing. In other words, perhaps the 'good we do' only matters if it is based on our trusting in Jesus. Notice what Jesus said, ' . . . you have done it to me.' If our actions are not based on that trust then I can see how someone would think that the one way of 'getting in' the family would be through 'good works'. But that is why you have to look at the whole Bible. The whole Bible is very clear that 'doing good' grows out of God's grace in us; of God revealing Jesus in us. It is from our gratitude that we do those things. We don't do 'good works' to get in the family.  We do 'good works' because we are already in the family and that is what family members in good standing do.  They do 'good works'.  It seems that if that is not present within us, i.e., God's grace revealed through Jesus, we won't be terribly concerned about 'doing good' for the world.

The point, then, is that quote from Christianity Today is right on target. What we do matters. It is so very important. Just as important as what we believe and why we believe it. It is time for the church, for the body of Jesus, to be going about and doing the things of Jesus. It is time for the church to balance out their orthodoxy with orthopraxy.

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

+OD

15 January 2007

Sign Post

The next day there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee.  Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration.  The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.”  “Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied.  “My time has not yet come.”  But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Standing nearby were six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washing.  Each could hold twenty to thirty gallons.  Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.”  When the jars had been filled, he said, “Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.”  So the servants followed his instructions.  When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over.  “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said.  “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine.  But you have kept the best until now!”  This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory.  And his disciples believed in him.

After the wedding he went to Capernaum for a few days with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples.


John 2.1-12



Besides the normal reading of this passage, I want to focus on a couple of often missed things.* Notice again verse 11, 'This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him.' This was a sign. What do signs do? They tell us information or point us to something else. When we go on a trip, we see road signs alerting us of the distance to our destination. How many times do we, upon seeing the first of these signs, pull over and take out our luggage? Never. We understand that the sign is not the destination. It is pointing away from itself to something else. So, let's move past the 'face value' of this passage and see if we can see something deeper here.

First of all, there is the 'wedding'. In the Old Testament, Israel and her land, are often referred to as God's bride -- that God has married Israel and the earth. For example, in Isaiah 62, God said,
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married.

Isaiah 62.1-4 (NRSV)


Again, we see that God is not just concerned about people, but all of his creation. What is significant about this passage is that it is a promise to Israel that YHWH would come and put everything to rights. And when he does that, it will be like God marrying Israel and her land. He will come and be their king and rule the whole creation from her.

Another 'sign' in the Johannine passage is that of the cisterns. These stone jars were used for purification rights among the Jewish people in the first century. When people would come into a house, they would use this water to wash their feet and hands. Now, the size of these jars tells us something else. This party had a lot of guests and was planned to last quite a long time. These jars contained 120 - 180 gallons (454.25 - 681.37 liters) of water! That is a lot of water! Then, Jesus takes that water and changes it into wine. Not grape juice. Sorry 'bout that. Jesus made wine. And not just any old wine. No. According to the passage, the wine was 'the best'. And the best is last!

A couple of things here. First, of course, is the changing of the water into wine. Notice that Jesus didn't destroy the jars or the water. No. He transformed them. This points, as I have stated again and again in this blog, to the fact that this creation is God's 'very good' creation and he will not destroy it. He will transform it into it's glorious future hope. That is what the prophets of old taught. That is what the apostles taught. And that is what this sign points to.

Furthermore, this points to something being done 'in the real world'. Not some 'pie in the sky' or just a 'spiritual' world. No. This points to the fact that God is concerned about the natural world, the created cosmos, and his goal, since at least Abraham, has been to redeem it. To bring it to completion. Not to destroy it and start over but to redeem it. To 'make all things new' -- not to make all new things! But to transform the old into the new creation.

Lastly, this new wine was the 'best'. This points out that the world, as it is now, is not the end. It has glimpses of what it can and should be, but it's not yet arrived. This passage points to a world of justice and beauty and relationships and worship that is not marred by sin and death. Where people love one another and respect one another. Where the lion and the lamb lie down together. Where the bear and the ox eat vegetation. That is what this sign points to.

To sum up. This passage speaks about New Creation. It points to the fact that God is concerned about the 'real world'. That one day, God will transform the cosmos into a New Creation. Yes, the world is a beautiful place. But, as we know too well, it is also a world in great pain, like a woman in travail, waiting for the new day to come. God has promised that this day will come. That he will come and make 'all things new'. And here is the great part -- this passage points to the fact that it has already begun! Within the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the time of waiting is over! The New Creation Project has begun. Each day, we are getting closer and closer to the Great Consummation. Every day when the people of God pray, 'You kingdom come . . . on earth as it is in heaven' we are one moment closer. Each moment when the people of God do acts of self-giving love, we are bringing the world one step closer to the time when God will do a fresh act of his grace and the New Creation will be consummated and God will be 'all in all'.

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

+OD

*BTW, this is mostly taken from Fr Dwight's sermon on Sunday morning. The bit about creating the new out of the old was my inclusion.

13 January 2007

Coming Through Chaos Out Into New Creation

Matthew 8.23-27. Then Jesus got into the boat and started across the lake with his disciples. Suddenly, a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking into the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”Jesus responded, “Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!” Then he got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was a great calm.The disciples were amazed. “Who is this man?” they asked. “Even the winds and waves obey him!”

John 6.16-21. That evening Jesus’ disciples went down to the shore to wait for him. But as darkness fell and Jesus still hadn’t come back, they got into the boat and headed across the lake toward Capernaum. Soon a gale swept down upon them, and the sea grew very rough. They had rowed three or four miles when suddenly they saw Jesus walking on the water toward the boat. They were terrified, but he called out to them, “Don’t be afraid. I am here!” Then they were eager to let him in the boat, and immediately they arrived at their destination!

In the Bible, the seas are a symbol (most of the time) of the turmoil and chaos the world has become since the defacing impact of sin and death brought about by the rebellion of people. We see this primarily in Daniel 7 where, out of the seas, monsters come and attack the people of God.

But not only are the seas a symbol of creation, but of people. Inside people is a great turmoil; a great chaos. We know that things like justice, spirituality, relationships, and beauty are things that we should have figured out by now. But for some reason, they slip through our fingers like mercury.

For example, we know that we should be better at doing justice in our world, that is, in our little circle we travel day in and day out, but we seem to fail a lot when it comes to actually doing it. This is why news reports of someone acting kindly toward another person brings so much attention. It's like a wake-up call that, once in a while, someone actually does justice. They actually help one of their fellow humans by giving-up of themselves. And the rest of us step back in wonder. We know that we should be doing that but we often don't. We see a person in need and we just turn a 'blind eye' because we are too busy or late for something or, sadly, we just don't want to.

Another example would be what we consider beautiful today. The simple truth really is that 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder'. What people thought was beautiful during the height of the Roman Empire would hardly even get noticed by people today. Well, they might get noticed but we probably wouldn't call them beautiful.

And this is precisely my point. The chaos of the world is like the seas. At one moment, everything looks peaceful and then the next, tsunami. The sky grows black, the wind picks up, the lightning flashes, the thunder peals, the waves begin to toss us to and fro and the sea becomes more and more a powerful, deadly thing. The whole creation beings to groan like a woman in travail.

But look at the passages quoted above once more. Jesus 'calms the sea'. He walks on the water. It is when creation's true king appears that the world begins to calm. Creation recognizes her King. At the mere touch of her King, the groaning begins to subside. The pain begins to fade. Peace comes. That is the very thing that happens when we truly look to Jesus. We must first acknowledge him for who he is. Then we must trust him. Then we must follow him. We must keep our eyes on him. If, just for an instant, we look at something else, we begin to sink in the turmoil around us. But, if we call out to him, he is faithful to rescue us.

The stories of Jesus walking on the water, of calming the sea, is a picture of the New Creation coming into being. Not only within the cosmos but witin people themselves.

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

+OD

New Wineskins

Mark 2.18-22. Once when John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, some people came to Jesus and asked, “Why don’t your disciples fast like John’s disciples and the Pharisees do?”Jesus replied, “Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. They can’t fast while the groom is with them. But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.

“Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before.

“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the skins would both be lost. New wine calls for new wineskins.”

This passage has always stumped me. I never got what the parables meant. Oh, I've been told a couple of different things, but they never really rang true.

Until now.

This morning as I was going through the Morning Office, this passage was our Gospel reading. As I almost finished the passage, the interpretation of the parables came flooding in. The parable, like so many of Jesus' parables was a retelling of the story of Israel. Jesus' Kingdom announcement was that YHWH, Israel's God was doing a new thing through him and his ministry. Jesus was inaugurating the long awaited Kingdom of God, the Rule of God. But, it wasn't going to be like Israel expected. God was not going to just let Israel keep its old agenda. God would not allow Israel to continue doing things they were doing. He was doing a new thing and they needed to get on board with that. The new thing consisted of new clothes and new wine. It wouldn't do to put new patches of cloth on an old garment, because the garment was not going to be used any more. It wouldn't do any good to put new wine in old wine skins because those wine skins were not going to be used any more. What God was implementing would need new clothes and new wine skins.

In other words, YHWH, the God of Israel, the creator God, was creating a new Israel around Jesus. I guess it wasn't really a new Israel as more of identifying the faithful Israel that was always there. Jesus was going around saying that the 'old way' of being Israel wasn't going to make it in God's new world. To be part of that New Creation Project, people would have to put aside their way of being Israel and trust him in his way. And when that happened, they would become 'new' -- new clothing, new wineskins, new people, new creation.

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

+OD

07 January 2007

WDJD and Confirmation Class

For a little while now, our Sunday School class (is it just me or does there have to be a better name!) has been asking the question 'What does God care about?' This mornings class, Fr Dwight had WDJD -- What Did Jesus Do? -- on the board. In the past, we looked at what God had said through the prophets about what was important and this morning we turned to Jesus to see, not what he said, but what he did and how that lined up with what we read in the Old Testament. We started in Matthew 8.1 and we every section seemed to be about rebuilding community. From the various healings he did to the calming of the sea to the deliverance of people 'possessed be demons'. In each case, the 'symptom' was like a picture of what was going on in the world around him. It seemed like people couldn't do and be what they were longing to do and be because of their being separated from the community. And this is exactly what we were seeing in the prophecies of the Old Testament. In other words, what God seems to be concerned about, what God cares about, is restoring creation, including people.

You see, since the 'fall' all of creation has been out of joint. Sin and death now scar the 'very good' creation. And God is all about 'redeeming' creation -- of putting it back on track, of bringing justice and peace to the cosmos. For too long, we in the West have coluded with death as the way things 'just are'. But we see in Genesis that it wasn't always supposed to be that way. We see that because of people 'grasping' for their own gain, all of creation was set at odds -- people are at odds with each other (even with families) and the rest of the created order. And since that time, God has been 'at work' at reconciling all of creation (and if you haven't guessed it, I am including people when I state 'all creation'). And this is the cool part, he has been at work from within his creation. God started with Noah, then Abraham, then the entire nation of Israel to put the world to rights. But again and again, Israel kept messing it up; proving that God would have to (somehow) come into creation to fix the problem. This wasn't a surprise. He told Israel over and over again that he would do this. And then we come to Jesus in the New Testament. Jesus believed -- he knew -- that he had to do and be what the prophets said that God had to do and be. He understood that through him, through his life and ministry, God's 'New Creation Project' was taking place. The problem was that it did not look like what the people were expecting or wanting.

And that is exactly what we read about in the canonical Gospels. Jesus is actually doing what God cares about! He is giving sight to the blind (so they can be a restored part of the community ), he is making the lame walk (so they can be a restored part of the community), he is feeding the hungry (so they can be a restored part of the community), etc. Every thing we read about Jesus of Nazareth was about doing what God, the creator God, YHWH, cares about. And here is the point that Fr Dwight is driving, the point the Bible is driving -- if we are people within this community, if we have a right standing within the community, we too are supposed to be doing those things!

In the Gospel of John, that is, John's personal eye-witness testimony of the life of Jesus, he wrote that Jesus was the Word of YHWH made flesh. And then in the end of his Gospel, Jesus tell us, that is, again, his followers who are in right standing within the community, are supposed to be his word made flesh. We are to be Jesus to the world. We have been giving the ministery, the vocation, of reconcilation. We are to go out to where the world is in pain and help restore them back into community with God, with each other, and the whole cosmos. Allelujah!

This afternoon, I started the next part of my journey. As you may remember, I have answered the call of ministry. And the first step is to be confirmed within the Episcopal church. Well, today was the first Confirmation class. It was just an introduction really. There was some great testimony of how God has brought us to St John's. It is amazing to me that if you live in Oklahoma, you have at one time in your spiritual life been apart of the Baptist Church. I suppose that this is the most available Christian Church. I think everyone there (and there was about 10-12 of us) had at sometime been apart of the Baptist Church. I found that interesting.

Next we talked very briefly about what we will be discussing in the next eight weeks. We also were given a couple of books (one was actually a pamphlet) to read over. We were also encouraged to purchase our own copy of the Book of Common Prayers since we would be using it a lot.

One of the things said, in fact, it was part of the opening prayer, was 'Ask questions . . . and maybe we will find answers'. I love that! It establishes that there is mystery in this community with God. That there is mystery about being a part of God's family. I can't wait for this journey to continue.

Until next time . . .

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

+OD