25 December 2013

Merry Christmas!

Around the time of Elizabeth’s amazing pregnancy and John’s birth, the emperor in Rome, Caesar Augustus, required everyone in the Roman Empire to participate in a massive census—the first census since Quirinius had become governor of Syria. Each person had to go to his or her ancestral city to be counted.

Mary’s fiancĂ© Joseph, from Nazareth in Galilee, had to participate in the census in the same way everyone else did. Because he was a descendant of King David, his ancestral city was Bethlehem, David’s birthplace. Mary, who was now late in her pregnancy that the messenger Gabriel had predicted, accompanied Joseph. While in Bethlehem, she went into labor and gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped the baby in a blanket and laid Him in a feeding trough because the inn had no room for them.

Nearby, in the fields outside of Bethlehem, a group of shepherds were guarding their flocks from predators in the darkness of night. Suddenly a messenger of the Lord stood in front of them, and the darkness was replaced by a glorious light—the shining light of God’s glory. They were terrified!

Messenger: Don’t be afraid! Listen! I bring good news, news of great joy, news that will affect all people everywhere.Today, in the city of David, a Liberator has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, the Supreme Authority! You will know you have found Him when you see a baby, wrapped in a blanket, lying in a feeding trough.

At that moment, the first heavenly messenger was joined by thousands of other messengers—a vast heavenly choir. They praised God.

Heavenly Choir: To the highest heights of the universe, glory to God!
And on earth, peace among all people who bring pleasure to God!

As soon as the heavenly messengers disappeared into heaven, the shepherds were buzzing with conversation.

Shepherds: Let’s rush down to Bethlehem right now! Let’s see what’s happening! Let’s experience what the Lord has told us about!

So they ran into town, and eventually they found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the feeding trough. After they saw the baby, they spread the story of what they had experienced and what had been said to them about this child. Everyone who heard their story couldn’t stop thinking about its meaning. Mary, too, pondered all of these events, treasuring each memory in her heart.

The shepherds returned to their flocks, praising God for all they had seen and heard, and they glorified God for the way the experience had unfolded just as the heavenly messenger had predicted.

~~~

May the blessing of G_d be with you and all whom you love this holiday season!

Br. Jack+, LC

22 December 2013

Weekly Gospel Reflection—22 December 2013

Matthew 1:18-25: This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled:

Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,
       And they will call him, Emmanuel.
(Emmanuel means “God with us.”)

When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he didn’t have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. Joseph called him Jesus.

Many years ago, I wrote a monologue about Joseph and performed it for my family one Christmas. For years afterwards, my mother asked me to perform it again but I had lost the script and couldn’t remember it. It saddens me to think that I never got to perform it again for her.

On this last Sunday of Advent, the story before us is the birth of Jesus, but it’s really about Joseph. And it’s about how G_d disrupts one’s life to open one up for the new way in which G_d is coming into the world.

According to the story, Joseph is a “righteous man.” That means he followed the Law of Moses to the best of his ability. He was a good man. A noble man. As such, he didn’t want to get Mary into trouble by publicly calling off their engagement. Think about it. If he openly calls off their engagement, the reason would be discovered. And that reason, being pregnant without a husband, would’ve probably gotten her killed. So, he was going to do the honorable thing—the loving thing—and call it off quietly.

I mean, who would blame him? His fiancĂ© claimed to be impregnated by Yahweh! She tells him some cockamamie story about an angel appearing to her and telling her she’s going to become the Mother of G_d. The Mother of G_d! Have you ever heard of such a thing? Can you imagine hearing that story? How would you react? I don’t think he believed her (who would) but he obviously cared about her. I’m sure he needed time to think.

Mulling it over, he decides to call off the engagement quietly. But before he can tell Mary about his decision, he has his own visitation from a messenger of Yahweh. The messenger confirms Mary’s story and tells Joseph the child will “save his people from their sins.”

That’s a little different information than Mary got. Mary was told that her child would be a king and that there would be “no end to his kingdom” (Luke 1.26-38). I’m sure the two can be reconciled. I mean, a king is suppose to save his people. That’s one of his jobs. In the context of becoming a king in an occupied realm, though...that would be tricky. How would that happen?

But the messenger didn’t say that the child would save Israel from Roman oppression. No. The messenger said the child would save the people “from their sins.” What the heck is that supposed to mean? There we priests, the Law, and the Temple for that. What was this child going to do? I’m sure Joseph had a lot of questions. But one thing was sure—Mary was telling the truth. Waking from his dream, he runs to Mary and tells her everything that happened. The two were married and when the child was born, they named him “Jesus,” just as the messenger requested (or was that supposed to be “Emmanuel”?).

I know a lot of things have been written about Mary—the supposed eternal virgin (which the dogma clearly started because sex is seen as “dirty” or “earthly” and, G_d knows that Mary would never do anything like that. What rubbish.). But what about Joseph? We don’t much about him at all. What must it have been like raising a son that you knew was supposed to be (somehow) the “Son of G_d”? What kind of pressure would that have been? How would one deal with that? What did he do about it? What did he teach him?

All good questions but no real answers. Oh, there’ve been plenty of assumptions, but no one knows for certain. Both movies The Passion of the Christ and The Last Temptation of Christ shows Joseph teaching Jesus how to be a carpenter with the latter shows Jesus building crosses for the Romans. Again, though, this is speculation. because the writers of the Gospels aren’t telling that story so they didn’t collect them. They all, pretty much, jump from Jesus’ birth to his ministry with scant few details in between.

But, back to Joseph. His situation isn’t that much different than situations some men find themselves in today. We’ve seen the movies enough to know that sometimes, a guy marries a gal and finds out that she’s having someone else’s baby. Lesser men would leave at that moment but stronger men stay and raise that child and love that child like it was their own flesh and blood. I think in the story before us today, we see Joseph become just such a man. I wonder what I would do? What would you do?

Do we see disruptions in life, those things that change the course of our lives, as the coming of G_d? Do we recognize them as G_d coming to us in new and unimagined ways? Perhaps, in moments like that, like Joseph, we need to awaken from our dreams and embrace the new challenges G_d has in store for us.




~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

20 December 2013

Didache—Chapter 16

16 Watch Over Your Life


16:1 Watch over your life, that your lamps are never quenched, and that your loins are never unloosed. Be ready, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.


16:2 Come together often, seeking the things that are good for your souls. A life of faith will not profit you if you are not made perfect at the end of time.


16:3 For in the last days false prophets and corrupters will be plenty, and the sheep will be turned into wolves, and love will be turned into hate.


16:4 When lawlessness increases, they will hate and persecute and betray one another, and then the world-deceiver will appear claiming to be the Son of God, and he will do signs and wonders, and the earth will be delivered into his hands, and he will do iniquitous things that have not been seen since the beginning of the world.


16:5 Then humankind will enter into the fire of trial, and many will be made to stumble and many will perish; but those who endure in their faith will be saved from under the curse itself.


16:6 And then the signs of the truth will appear: the first sign, an opening of the heavens; the second sign, the sounding of the trumpet; and the third sign, the resurrection of the dead—


16:7 not of every one, but as it is said: “Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.”


16:8 Finally, “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven' with power and great glory.”


In this final chapter from the Didache, the Teaching of the Twelve, the community emphasizes on the return of Jesus. As we’ve seen in our series on New Testament Eschatology (the study of last things), what has been misinterpreted as the end of the “world” has actually been about the end of the Jewish age (or “biblical judaism” as some scholars call it). That is, the end of the Temple, sacrifices, etc., from biblical times. The same thing is happening here. Since the Teaching is very early (possibly as early as 40CE), this warning about the “end” would fit quite well within the scope of the fall of Jerusalem in 70CE.


Notice, too, that some of the statements parallel those of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24. And, as we’ve seen there, that chapter is clearly teaching about the destruction of the Temple and city.


And yet, while most of this chapter points to that event, there are still a couple of things that stand out. Notably, the first two verses. The Teaching suggests that we must “watch over [our lives].” I take this to mean we need to be intentional about what we do and how we act. We need to realize that each moment is the only moment we have. We must intend to be Christ in every moment.


This can be (and is) overwhelming, to say the least. In fact, it’s easier to say it than do it. Believe me, I know. But that’s why intention is so important. Sure we may fall and we might even make things worse than if we hadn’t done anything at all, but what was our intention? That’s the key. We must “watch over our lives” and capture each moment, as best we can, and determine to be Christ in them.


Second is the idea of community. The Didache states that we should, “Come together often. Seeking the things that are good for [our] souls.” This is so important. Too many of us today are prisoners in the soul. And this soulish prison spills out into our daily lives. Many of us don’t even know our neighbors. We come home from work and shut the door to our homes. We don’t want to be bothered by anyone and we don’t bother anyone. We want to be left to ourselves. And in doing so, we imprison ourselves behind our doors, in front of our televisions or computers.


But the Teaching is showing us the true path — one of interconnectedness, of interdependence, of connection. For us to grow, we must grow together. A tree can’t grow without the soil and the water and the sun and the seasons. A mighty oak can’t be a mighty oak without all of those things; it depends on them to survive and grow. Likewise, we can’t grow into the person of Christ our worlds need us to be unless we’re in community with others.


I recently heard Nadia Bolz-Weber say about the Creed (paraphrased), “No body believes every line of the creed. Who could? But that’s why you need community. Because in community, someone believes what you don’t believe and you believe what she doesn’t believe. And so, in community, the whole creed is believed.”


I was talking to a fellow priest once about the need for community and he told he a story about a lady who was coming to confirmation classes. When it came time for confirmation, she met with my friend privately. She said she wasn’t going to be confirmed. When my friend asked her why she said because she just couldn’t believe all of it. He said, “That’s perfectly fine. And if you feel you can’t be confirmed now, that’s fine, too. But promise me something? Keep coming to church so we can believe for you.” And she did.


Real community, the kind like the Didache talks about, is much deeper than most of us have today. We’re always being pulled in various directions — office duties, kids soccer games, community events, home repair work, visiting a sick friend or relative, and on and on. There’s little time for much else. But what the Teaching means by community is where we live and move and have our being. It’s an all inclusive type of thing. As we’ve noted before, it wasn’t just a Sunday gathering, their entire lives were lived together. Today, that type of community is all but a dream.


Almost.


There are several intentional communities around the world — the Lindisfarne Community being one of them. The majority of us are spread around the world with people in Germany, Indonesia, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK and the US. Even in the US, for example, we have members scattered across the states — California, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, and Oklahoma. But what ties us together is our community rule. We’re intentional about living out the rule wherever we are. And I suspect that the community who came up with the Didache would have felt the same way. That is, they were in community with each other no matter where they found themselves. Because that’s the point, isn’t it? It’s very rare that one is called to life as a solitary. More times than not, we are called to serve in a community, to believe when others can’t, the stand when others fall, to be strong when others are weak. This type of life takes on a very scary way of being — transparency. Of letting the “real you” be seen. This can only happen when we’re in a place where we feel love and acceptance. There are places like this all over the world, my friends. May G_d the All-Loving guide you by the Spirit to find a community that can encourage you and strengthen you as you walk The Way of Jesus.




~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

18 December 2013

NT Eschatology—Gospels Part 03

Last time we gathered a bird’s eye view of Matthew 23 and the beginning of 24. To summarize, Jesus blasted the Religious Elite of his day and proclaimed that their Temple would be destroyed (Matthew 23). The disciples, hardly able to grasp this, pointed out the Temple and its buildings as they left it (Matthew 24.1). Jesus told them as plainly as possible, that yes, they had heard him correctly. The Temple would be completely demolished and “no stone” would be “left on another” (v.2). Still in shock by this, the disciples approached Jesus and asked him when that would happen (v.3). In this post we will examine part of Jesus’ response.

Matthew 24.4-14: Jesus replied, “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m the Christ.’ They will deceive many people. You will hear about wars and reports of wars. Don’t be alarmed. These things must happen, but this isn’t the end yet. Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other, and there will be famines and earthquakes in all sorts of places. But all these things are just the beginning of the sufferings associated with the end. They will arrest you, abuse you, and they will kill you. All nations will hate you on account of my name. At that time many will fall away. They will betray each other and hate each other. Many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because disobedience will expand, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be delivered. This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world as a testimony to all the nations. Then the end will come.

Again, this isn’t going to be an exposition of the Olivet Discourse, but I do want to point out a couple of things. First is the pronoun “you.” Jesus answered the disciples question specifically. In fact, his first thought was of them. “Watch out that no one deceives you.” Jesus used the word “you” six times in these verses. The disciples would no doubt conclude that Jesus was talking to them about things they would experience.

Matthew 24.15-22: “When you see the disgusting and destructive thing that Daniel talked about standing in the holy place (the reader should understand this), then those in Judea must escape to the mountains. Those on the roof shouldn’t come down to grab things from their houses. Those in the field shouldn’t come back to grab their clothes. How terrible it will be at that time for women who are pregnant and for women who are nursing their children. Pray that it doesn’t happen in winter or on the Sabbath day. There will be great suffering such as the world has never before seen and will never again see. If that time weren’t shortened, nobody would be rescued. But for the sake of the ones whom God chose, that time will be cut short.

Here again, Jesus refers to the disciples specifically (“When you see…”) but extends the warnings to other people within the same generation. This is crucial because we see that Jesus isn’t mixing up different times, different eras different ages. He is still talking about his (and by extension, the disciples) own generation. It is that generation that will experience what Jesus is talking about here (see Matthew 23.36).

A key piece to this is the reference to Daniel and the “the disgusting and destructive thing...standing in the holy place” (cf. Daniel 9.7; 11.31; 12.11). In the book of Daniel, Daniel is told that “your people,” i.e., Israel (Daniel 12.1), would experience the things seen in the visions. This wasn’t some “end of time” scenario but a “time of the end” scenario (Daniel 12.4). However we want to interpret Daniel, one thing is certain, Jesus ties it to the destruction of the very Temple that he and the disciples just left.

Furthermore, the suddenness of this desolation would be so quick that people wouldn’t even be able to gather their stuff. If they were in Judea, they must drop everything and get out right away. People outside the city shouldn’t even return to get a coat. The abruptness is so emphatic here. And the uncertainty is also a factor. Jesus told the disciples that he wasn’t even sure exactly when it was going to happen (it might be in Winter or on the Sabbath—another indicator that Jesus was speaking about his contemporaries) but it was going to happen to them nonetheless.

So, think about this for a minute. The disciples are sitting with Jesus on a hillside overlooking their city and Temple. Jesus is telling them a rather scary story about the complete and utter destruction of their beloved city—the city of G_d, the place that G_d promised to dwell, the place where “heaven” and “earth” overlapped and interlocked. Jesus is painting a picture that would leave some of them gasping in horror. I’m sure they’re imagining the smoke rising from the ruins. I’m certain some of them are hearing the wailing of the wounded and dying. I’m sure some of them were weeping. Jesus is telling them that he doesn’t exactly know when it will happen, but that it will happen and they will experience it. Because of his love for them, he starts giving them clues to help them as the time approaches. Can you feel the cloud of darkness forming around the disciples? Can you feel their despair?

Next time, we will continue with Matthew 24. Click here for the next post in this series.



~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

15 December 2013

Weekly Gospel Reflection—15 December 2013


Matthew 11:2-11 (CEB): Now when John heard in prison about the things the Christ was doing, he sent word by his disciples to Jesus, asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”

Jesus responded, “Go, report to John what you hear and see. Those who were blind are able to see. Those who were crippled are walking. People with skin diseases are cleansed. Those who were deaf now hear. Those who were dead are raised up. The poor have good news proclaimed to them. Happy are those who don’t stumble and fall because of me.”

When John’s disciples had gone, Jesus spoke to the crowds about John: “What did you go out to the wilderness to see? A stalk blowing in the wind? What did you go out to see? A man dressed up in refined clothes? Look, those who wear refined clothes are in royal palaces. What did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. He is the one of whom it is written: Look, I’m sending my messenger before you, who will prepare your way before you.

“I assure you that no one who has ever been born is greater than John the Baptist. Yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

As we noted last week, the coming of G_d’s Realm brings justice. And the Gospel reading for this third Sunday of Advent continues this theme.

What I find interesting about this passage is that John’s not second-guessing himself; his ministry. He’s second guessing Jesus! He’s just wondering if he picked the wrong person. John didn’t tell his followers to ask Jesus if he was wrong about his calling and ministry. He asked if he was wrong about Jesus!

Why?

I mean, why would John ask that question? Because, as we’ve seen time and time again, Jesus wasn’t doing the things that John (or any of their contemporaries) thought the Messiah was supposed to do. But Jesus’ answer points to the very fulfillment of G_d’s long promised return.

The justice that G_d’s Realm brings isn’t only about righting the wrongs of society. It isn’t about starting a holy war with Rome — like so many of them wanted (and eventually got but didn’t go like they thought). G_d’s Realm is about restorative justice. That is, as Jesus says above, “Those who were blind are able to see. Those who were crippled are walking. People with skin diseases are cleansed. Those who were deaf now hear. Those who were dead are raised up. The poor have good news proclaimed to them.” In other words, the coming of G_d’s Realm meant more than overthrowing the pagans. Much more. The return of G_d and the establishment of G_d’s Realm meant humanity is restored.

This, my dear sisters and brothers, is what Advent means — the restoration of humanity. And not only humanity, but all creation. And, like the people of Jesus’ day, this restoration happens in ways we won’t be expecting. Like we saw last week, the Realm of G_d and Presence of Christ are everywhere. In places we don’t anticipate. In people we don’t expect. As we continue through this Advent season, let’s remember that we, as followers of The Way of Jesus, are called to bring this restoration to everyone we meet.

And it must start within ourselves.




~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC