27 February 2012

Weekly Reflection - 26 February 2012

Mark 1.9-15; CEB. About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan river. While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.

After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and believe this good news!”

What is the Gospel?
This is a question that some people think has already been answered and canonized in the Nicene Creed. Others might say it’s, “Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures” (1Corinthians 15.3-4; CEB). But what does Jesus tell us in Mark’s Gospel? Jesus tells us that the “good news” is the arrival of God’s promised Realm. Not sometime in the future, but then. But what does that mean – God’s promised realm? I think Isaiah gives us a glimpse:

Isaiah 65.17-25; CEB. Look! I’m creating a new heaven and a new earth: past events won’t be remembered; they won’t come to mind. Be glad and rejoice forever in what I’m creating, because I’m creating Jerusalem as a joy and her people as a source of gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad about my people. No one will ever hear the sound of weeping or crying in it again. No more will babies live only a few days, or the old fail to live out their days. He one who dies at a hundred will be like a young person, and the one falling short of a hundred will seem cursed. They will build houses and live in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They won’t build for others to live in, nor plant for others to eat. Like the days of a tree will be the days of my people; my chosen will make full use of their handiwork. They won’t labor in vain, nor bear children to a world of horrors, because they will be people blessed by the LORD, they along with their descendants. Before they call, I will answer; while they are still speaking, I will hear. Wolf and lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but the snake – its food will be dust. They won’t hurt or destroy at any place on my holy mountain, says the LORD.

What Isaiah envisions is nothing short of the complete consummation of the original creation.

St John takes up this theme in the Revealing but adds a new component.

Revelation 21.1-4; CEB. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

But while these two passages show us what the ultimate future holds for our world, the Gospels give us a clue to John’s vision of God’s realm and our realm coming together. In Matthew’s version of the story, we see him interpret the birth of Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah 7.14, “Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will call him, Emmanuel. (Emmanuel means, ‘God with us.’)” (Matthew 1.23; CEB). Now we can finally see what Jesus meant when he said that God’s promised Realm had arrived. It would be made manifest in his life. He would be the embodiment of the Realm of God. But, like so much of Jesus’ life, those promises would not be fulfilled the way people thought they should be happen. It was and is a gradual process. We can see this in the stories he told about God’s Realm. For example:

Mark 6.26-29; CEB. The Jesus said, “This is what God’s kingdom is like. It’s as though someone scatter seed on the ground, then sleeps and wakes night and day. The seed sprouts and grows, but the farmer doesn’t know how. The earth produces crops all by itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full head of grain. Whenever the crop is ready, the farmer goes out to cut the grain because it’s harvest time.”

We see from this story that God’s Realm is the seed planted in the earth, but it doesn’t instantly become the full grown plant. It takes time and seasons to produce it. Jesus is telling us that he is the “seed” of God’s Realm. He tells us in another place, while explaining his coming death and resurrection, that he must be like a seed sown and die or the Realm of God won’t grow (see John 12.23-24; CEB).

Those of us who are followers of the Way of Jesus are the products of the Realm of God. We are the ones growing in to the “full head of grain.” But, also like grain we too must become like seeds of God’s Realm. We, too, must “hate our lives” to “keep them forever.” We must continue to bear the fruit of Christ in our world today. We do this by continuing to do the things Jesus did. We do this by continuing to say the things Jesus said. We do this by continuing to implement God’s Realm in the earth. We do this by continuing to be Jesus in the world.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br Jack+, LC

25 February 2012

Some thoughts from Malachi

Malachi 3.5, CEB:  I will draw near to you [with justice]. I will be quick to testify against the sorcerers, the adulterers, those swearing falsely, against those who cheat the day laborers out of their wages as well as oppress the widow and the orphan, and against those who brush aside the foreigner and do not revere me, says the LORD of heavenly forces.

I ran across this verse today while finishing up my studies for tomorrow's adult education class. What jumped off the page for me was the combination of the things God would judge. Other than the list itself, was the fleshing out of some of the complaints. I mean, we have "sorcerers" and "adulterers" given without really telling us what those things are. This leads me to see that perhaps it's we who have muddled those waters (although, I would like to have had "sorcerers" explained; I guess I'll have to do some digging on that word in the context of the Jewish Scriptures). But then the writers gets very specific about the other items. The seat of justice was not just against liars in general but against those who swore falsely. This seems a specific injustice. It seems to lead to a court system and sworn testimony.

Next we don't have the generic "cheaters" but those who specifically cheat "day laborers out of their wages" and "oppress the widow and orphan." Again, not a general ruling against cheaters but against those who take advantage of the "least among [us]." Furthermore, while this may be just the way I'm reading it, it seems an indictment against those who are already wealthy and have the power and resources to really make a difference in the lives of those people. However, selfishness and greed, like a dual-headed dragon, raises up and devours those in need all for the sake of more stuff.

Then we have a charge against those people who "brush aside the foreigner." What must be pointed out here is that "foreigner" is someone who is not a "legal citizen" of Israel. Some foreigners would even be considered illegal aliens, to use our understanding. I take this complaint to mean several things. First, it could easily be wrapped up in the previous accusation against the "cheaters." If an employer cheated a foreigner who was hired as a day laborer, to whom would the foreigner turn to set things right? But I think this accusation actually goes deeper than this. That is, this charge seems to be about the intent or the foundational feelings or understandings people have toward the "foreigner." They're "brushed aside" like garbage. Some see the "foreigner" as a leech sucking life from the nation; that they shouldn't even be allowed to be in the country, let alone recognized as a human being. This indictment comes really hard against the Jewish people of that time. Over and over again we have God telling them to be kind to foreigners because they, too, were foreigners when they were in Egypt and know how it feels to be "brushed aside" and disregarded as trash.

This verse, I think, says a lot about our country right now. It seems that some people, people with money and power, only care about themselves; like they got to where they are on their own merit. Hogwash! All of us had someone helping us along the way. All of us had people who taught us various things like reading, writing, responsibility, etc. Those things didn't just pop into our brains one day. It took others to lead us, teach us. Everyone who ever made something of their lives had help; they didn't do it on their own.

Now, granted, the actually work, they study and practice to read and write were accomplished individually. No one else can do those things for you. But, to hear some people talk about others, they seem to think that the others want people to do all the work for them. Rubbish! They want an opportunity to make something of their lives, too. They want to be treated fairly. They want to be treated with dignity and respect. God is saying that justice is determined by how we treat others.

Lastly, justice is also determined in how we treat God. This passage seems to flesh out the meaning of "Love God with all of your heart, with all your being, and all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself." To me, those two sentences are connected. That is, how we treat God is how we treat our neighbors; and how we treat our neighbors is how we treat God. The passage from Malachi shows us what that looks like in a very practical way.

This is how the Celtic Christians saw it. In the face of people was the face of God. With every new born babe, was a new expression of God coming into the world. They were not limited to just people, however. God was seen in all of life. Indeed, God was the Light and Life within all creation. May we capture this same was of seeing today! How different would our relationships be within our families, our communities, and nations, and with our planet. May we use this passage from Malachi as a guide into helping us "flesh out" the meaning of the Gospel today.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br Jack+, LC

20 February 2012

Weekly Reflection - 19 February 2012

Mark 9.2-9

The Transfiguration. Like last weeks story, this is a story we are most familiar with. Jesus takes James, John, and Peter up a mountain to pray (Luke 9). While there, Jesus' countenance "shown like the sun, and his clothes became white as light" (Matthew 17). The suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared and they started talking to him "about his departure, which he would achieve in Jerusalem" (Luke 9).

Terrified, Peter blurts out, "It's great that we're here! I know, to keep this monumental place, let's make a temple. No, better yet, let's make three temples - one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah! This way we can always come back here to worship and remember."

Suddenly God shows up like in olden times - in the form of a cloud and tells the men to shut up and listen to Jesus, but in a nicer way. Filled with awe, the three men fell on their faces (Matthew 17). When Jesus came to them and aroused them telling them not to be frightened. They stood up and Moses and Elijah was gone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus told them not to tell anyone about what they had seen until after his resurrection.

There are several very cool points here. First, there is a definite parallel here. The mountain, the shining face, the voice from the cloud - all of this would have instantly brought to the disciples minds Moses receiving the Law. However, there are noticeable differences. The disciples actually experienced this first hand - they didn't wait at the bottom of the mountain like their ancestors. Secondly, the appearance of Moses and Elijah. There is nothing within the old story that suggests that there was anyone other than Moses on the mountain with God. Then there's the duration. Moses was on the mountain for over a month while this appears to have been just a few moments.

Another stark difference is in the disappearance of Moses and Elijah. Now, those two obviously point to the "Law and the Prophets." That is, the Jewish dispensation or what Rabbi's call "biblical Judaism." Some scholars have noted that their disappearance points to the removal of the Old Covenantal system. Between the time of the ascension and the war with Rome, Judaism and the Way were dwelling in the same space, the same time. However, when the war ended, the temple and city were destroyed, and biblical Judaism was no more. Some scholars interpret this vision as pointing to that time. (See the previous few verses were some scholars see Jesus teaching about this.)

All of this seems to point to a "thin place" - a place where our world and, what the Celtic Christians called the "Otherworld" is extremely weak; where the two worlds blend together. While the Celtic Christians saw all of life connected to the Otherworld, there were places where the space between was extremely sparce. These places were often marked by standing stones and high standing crosses. There were also entire islands that were deemed thin places.

So, the disciples experienced an extremely thin place. They walked right into the Otherworld and didn't even notice at first. This is so true even today. Particularly in the West, we have lost this sense of connection; of everything being intertwined. We think it's just us, that what we do only affects ourselves. But that view is changing. More and more, people are seeing that we are all connected to each other in ways that we never thought before. And I thoroughly believe that God's dream for our world is that it becomes a thin place. That the entire planet becomes a place where heaven and earth overlap and interlock; where they blend together. That it's not just regulated to certain spots like churches or circular clearings in oak groves. We see in the Revealing that God's Realm comes down to our realm and the two become one (Revelation 21). We, the followers of the Way of Jesus, are given the task of helping bridge that divide, of bringing in God's Realm just like we pray it every day. The "old way" of doing things is continuing to be removed and God's "new way" - the way of Christ - is slowly transforming this world.

Where are areas were we can see this taking place?
Where are the areas were we can help make this more of a reality?
What ways can we imagine that will bring about this change?
What things can we do to help reveal God's Realm?

I recently heard a story where a Jewish synagoge had out grown its current location. One day he was having lunch with his friend, a Muslim Imam (teacher), the Rabbi told him about his dilemma. "We've out grown our building and have purchased some land just outside of town. But we're torn about moving. We are so invested in acts of social justice in the community that we really don't want to move so far away." His friend said the same thing. And then they both had the same thought, "What if we do it together?" However tbey quickly realized that they would need to get Christians involved as well. Their first attempt didn't work out but they found the Episcopal diocese very willing to participate. They now are in the process of building three separate worship centers with a community center in the middle joining them all together where they can teach, learn, have community meals, etc.; where all three groups can come together on common ground.

How can something like this be a sign of God's Realm being revealed?
What would it take for something similar to happen in our communities?
What would it mean for our communities if something like this was started by the "normal" people, the laity of different faith traditions?

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br Jack+, LC

Weekly Reflection - 12 February 2012

2 Kings 5:1–14

This is a very familiar story. We've heard it all before. But, is there anything that stood our? Anything that surprised you?

God uses "common" people
There are a couple of things that stand out to me. First, God did not go through the "leadership" to get this done. This is a pattern we see over and over both in Scripture and history. And for some reason we still don't get it. We still think that God must work through those in charge to get things accomplished. But, as we can see in this lesson, a lot of times, those in charge may actually hinder what God wants to do. God worked through the servants to guide others to reconciliation. Each servant spoke God's word to their "masters" or for their "masters." And, on more than one occasion, those in power didn't see the working of God - first the king of Israel and then Naaman himself.

Participatory reconciliation
Second, there is participatory reconciliation. That is, God uses the same means to heal the issue as to what caused the issue. Ecological issues, familial concerns, economic problems, etc., usually are not fixed by some great instant miracle. The healing and forgiving and reconciliation takes time. And, God does all of this through people.

We hear this in the stories Jesus tells about the Realm (or Kingdom) of God. Each story - the yeast in the dough, the mustard seed, etc. - show that God's part has been done (the coming of Christ) and now it takes work to make that seed grow or that yeast to spread. It takes people working the land, pruning the tree, watering the plant, protecting is against the extreme elements for it to grow and mature. It takes people kneeding the dough, adding the other ingrediants, preparing the oven, watching the bread so it doesn't burn. All of this is done through the participation of people. God doesn't just snap God's fingers or wiggles God's nose to fix things. God works through people, most of the time, through ordinary "lowly" people, to bring about the reconciliation of all life.

  • What relationships need to be healed, individually, as a community of faith, in our neighborhoods, in our nations?
  • Do we put too much emphasis on those in power to "fix" these issues - to "heal" these hurts?
  • How is God leading us to be the healing agents in bringing in God's Realm?
  • How can we be involved in the reconciliation of all things?
  • Do we even believe that this is our responsibility; our calling; our vocation?

Valentine's Day
Valentine's day is on Tuesday. It's usually a time of cards, flowers, candy, and perhaps even jewelry. But the story of St Valentine is more about a Christian person standing up against those in power even to the point of torture and death. He lived Christ's command to "Love each other as I have loved you" (John 15.12; CEB). The story says that he helped all who came to him, whether Christian or not. He saw no difference. He simply loved as Christ loved. He didn't wait for someone else to do it. He didn't look to the leaders of the church for permission. He just did it; he helped everyone. And he did this during a time when it was unlawful to do so. His love for Christ compelled him to love all people; to help all people. Can we do the same? Can we dare to love Christ with our actions and help everyone - even those who don't agree with us? Even those who aren't followers of Christ? Can we stand up to the powers that be - whether government or church - and bring God's Realm to the hurting places in our world?

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br Jack+, LC