BE a neighbor

*Consider the ugly-beautiful story of Sarah and Hagar.

First, the UGLY.

-Sarah, wife of the Jewish patriarch Abraham, has multiple hardships, most of them the result simply of the patriarchal system of her time and place:

  • She’s had to leave her home–twice–and wander for many years as a nomad.
  • One time during her and her husband’s wanderings, Abraham sold her into a king’s harem in order to protect his own skin (he actually did this twice, but the second time happened after the Sarah-Hagar story).
  • Sarah is barren, a mark of deep shame in the Ancient Near East. She is unable to bear her husband the son God has promised to him.

-Sarah, despite her shame and very limited power as a woman, DOES have the authority of being the “owner” of a slave maid named Hagar, and she uses this power to sexually exploit Hagar. She “gives” the slave woman to Abraham with the hope that Hagar will get pregnant and be a surrogate mother.

-Hagar does get pregnant and suddenly realizes she has an advantage over her barren mistress. Hagar, not Sarah, is bearing the master’s child. So Hagar uses her newfound power and lords it over Sarah.

-Sarah, who IS still the mistress, complains to Abraham, and he tells her she can do whatever she wants with Hagar. So Sarah mistreats Hagar to the point that pregnant Hagar runs away.

Now for the BEAUTIFUL!

-God protects both women in this story.

  • He rescued Sarah from the king’s harem (and God will do it again when Abraham “sells” her off a second time), and God eventually names Sarah as a co-partner in the promise of a son–meaning Abraham is no longer free to discard her.
  • God comes to Hagar in the wilderness after she runs away, gives her her own promise of many, many descendants, and tells her she’s carrying a son (a BIG power play card in her relationship with Abraham and Sarah). With this power play card, God sends her back to the safest place possible for a vulnerable, pregnant, unmarried woman. Hagar feels so known by God that she calls God “the God who sees her.”

-God, who is so often named as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, reveals himself to be most assuredly the God of Sarah and Hagar as well. He is well aware of the struggles of their lives. He sees them. He knows their point of view.

One of my favorite lines in To Kill a Mockingbird is a statement lawyer Atticus Finch makes to his young daughter, Scout: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.”

In the incarnation, God went beyond knowing people’s skins and souls as their Creator. He climbed into humanity’s skin, walked around in it, and considered things from humanity’s point of view. He became well acquainted with all the emotions, all the temptations, and all the struggles that come part and parcel with human skin.

But it’s important to consider the exact skin God put on. It wasn’t skin that would be protected by money or privilege. No. The Son of God put on the vulnerable flesh of the baby of two poor people who had to flee violence in their hometown and live as immigrants in a far-off country. And when he was grown and clearly had the power to control the weather and drive out demons and raise the dead back to life, he hung out not with cultured, authoritative people but with fishermen and tax collectors and women–some of them the lowest of the low. 

The skin God chose was bundled at birth into whatever cloth happened to be at hand.

Because Christ put on the flesh of the poor.

The skin God chose was nearly skewered when it was still infant soft.

Because Christ put on the flesh of the powerless.

The skin God chose was carried off into a foreign country.

Because Christ put on the flesh of the refugee and immigrant.

The skin God chose was shunned by the religious and those highly reputed.

Because Christ put on the flesh of the illegitimate.

The skin God chose grew rough and calloused.

Because Christ put on the flesh of the working poor.

The skin God chose often lay itself down on the ground to sleep at night and at times grew tight over ribs.

Because Christ put on the flesh of the homeless.

The skin God chose was bruised and torn by guards.

Because Christ put on the flesh of prisoners.

The skin God chose was naked in the sight of all.

Because Christ put on the flesh of all those forced to expose themselves to others. 

In the story of the Good Samaritan (which we heard today in our Gospel reading), the teacher of the law had spent plenty of time studying the Scripture. He knew what the Law said was the way to live eternally with God. But Jesus didn’t tell him to go around quoting the verse “Love your neighbor as yourself” or to spend more time praying. Jesus re-framed the definition of neighbor. He re-framed the teacher’s question. The teacher asked, “Who is MY neighbor; who am I required to love?” Jesus ignored that–because the answer is simple: it’s everyone. Instead, Jesus gave a charge, “Go and do as the Samaritan did. Go and love as a neighbor to all people.” 

I know that the status of immigrants coming into this country has become a political issue, but it is not primarily a political issue for the church. It is a neighbor issue. And I know that we can disagree on different political stances in the church in the United States, but I think we ignore this issue at our peril as followers of Jesus. I think we do damage to the neighbor heart God is planting and expanding within us. I am pretty sure Joseph and Mary didn’t have their papers in order when they entered Egypt, and Jesus doesn’t mention the strangers in Matthew 25 having to present the proper documents in order to be welcomed. I’m not advocating a particular stance; I don’t know enough to. What I do know is that there is no way I can preach on this passage without bringing up the current status of undocumented immigrants and refugees in this country. 

Friday night I was at a Lights for Liberty prayer vigil in Humboldt Park, praying for migrants in detention, for separated families, and for people in this country who are facing deportation. It was hosted by a church in Humboldt Park, and we gathered in a fenced-in parking lot next to the church. As I listened to local pastors and a state representative pray and speak, I noticed a sign attached to the fence next to me. It had this picture on it, the picture of Yazmin Juárez with her daughter, Mariee. The two left Guatemala and sought asylum in the U.S. and were held at a detention center in Texas. While there, Mariee became sick. After Yazmin and Mariee were released, Yazmin and her mother took Mariee to a pediatrician, and Mariee was immediately admitted to a nearby hospital and diagnosed with a lung infection. She died in the hospital. Yazmin blames improper medical care, “terrible and inadequate” living conditions, and a culture of neglect at the migrant holding facilities for her daughter’s health.

Yazmin testified before House lawmakers and said, “I am here today because the world needs to know what is going on in ICE detention centers.” 

 As I stood next to the picture and read the brief bio of Yazmin and Mariee, I immediately thought of Hagar–Hagar fleeing with her child in her womb. I knew that God saw Yazmin and Mariee, and I, a follower of God, didn’t have the choice, standing next to their picture on the fence, to not see them as well. God sees each and every person held in a detention center; he collects the tears of every parent and child separated from each other; he hears the whispered prayers of those fearing deportation. 

 Last night our family got food from our favorite taco joint. It’s straight up Laramie Avenue from us, in south Belmont Cragin. Right next to the register was a little stack of cards with a sign. The sign, in Spanish, read, “Know your rights. Take a card.”  The cards have instructions for what to do if ICE comes to the door. 

The student population at the school where my husband teaches is about 60% Latino. At times in the last couple years, the school has had to bring in grief counselors because the stress about deportation among students has spiked so high. People in our communities are afraid. No matter what their U.S. citizenship status is, Jesus calls them our neighbors. Jesus calls US their neighbors. 

 I’m not saying that the story of Hagar and Sarah or the parable of the Good Samaritan or Matthew 25 holds all the answers as to the stance each of us should take on immigration in this country. I know it’s very complex. But these passages reveal the heart and actions of our God, and they give us a charge as to what we are to DO. “Go be a neighbor!” Jesus tells us. And we’d better not be neighbors only to the Abrahams of the world or even to the Sarahs of the world. We are neighbors to the Hagars of the world, to the beat-up stranger on the side of the road, to the despised Samaritan, to the fleeing Josephs and Marys with infants in arms.

God’s tenderness for Hagar is breathtaking, especially when we remember that societies, by and large, have never valued people like Hagar. We still don’t. Hagar is merely one of those peripheral, powerless people who never become anyone “worth” knowing. Yet God sees her, knows her name, and speaks tenderly, personally, and directly to her.

“Which of the three,” Jesus asked, “was a neighbor to the man unseen by people but seen by God?” 

“The one who showed him mercy,” the teacher answered.

And Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.” 

*The post is part of a sermon I preached in our church’s Genesis: Stories of Redemption series. The poem in the middle of this post is a revision of a blog I wrote and posted a couple years ago. 

 

the gift of small,still,held

Gift—

to see life shortened, distilled to droplet,

one small dribble in the ocean of time & humanity:

important as all drip-drops are—unique & part of the whole.

To see this, for a snip of a moment:

life span compressed,

decades before-after storyboarded, laid out,

choices, big&small, flattened.

Sigh of release,

to know finitude-mortality held with-in Eternity.

Today-Tomorrow’s to-do’s, anxieties, decisions… demoted, settled.

Questions of Being & Purpose, examinations of Meaning… stilled,

Robbed of power to disturb, frighten, unmoor.

Breath in, breath out.

This moment important & encompassed.

Rest

 

I read. They teach.

The weather is nice—a rarity in Chicago this spring—so it’s a quiet morning at the women’s shelter at Breakthrough. Most women are gone for the day, out and about, but one regular, C, an older woman whose soft, gentle voice is rarely heard, is here. Kristine, a staff worker stationed at the desk in the common room, introduces me to J and tells me J, too, is coming. J is wiry and full of nervous energy. She’s an addict, she tells me in a spill of words, has been for years, but she found Breakthrough and has a bed there and wants to finally attack her addiction. She’s started going to AA meetings. “This,” she says, waving her hand at the three of us gathered to pray and read Scripture, “will help me. Prayer always helps me.”

I always begin our time together by asking if anyone has any passage or story in particular they would like to hear from Scripture. J says she wants to read about beginnings, since she herself is embarking on a new start. I read Genesis 1 and then I ask if they would like to hear the beginning of Jesus’ story here on earth. Both do, and I turn to Luke 2 and read. J has to leave for a meeting, so I ask C what she would like me to read next. She puts her finger on my Bible and points at the next chapter. “You want me to keep going?” I ask, and she nods.

So I read Luke 3. C whispers, “Keep going.” Luke 4. She smiles and gives a little nod of encouragement. Luke 5. Another smile-nod. Luke 6.

Luke 2-6! These are long chapters, covering (among other things) Jesus’ birth, baptism, and temptation; his calling the disciples; his healing people with demons and leprosy and paralysis and withered hands. The grand teachings of chapter 6 include “blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep…; love your enemies; be merciful; don’t judge; produce good fruit”… And all these teachings are followed by the parable that begins: “‘Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?’” Jesus talks about the house built on rock and the house built on sand. He ends by saying, “‘The one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.’”

I finish reading chapter 6 and check the time. It’s past 11. We’ve been reading for over an hour. “Sorry, Carol, we have to stop here,” I say. “Do you have anything particular you want to pray about today?”

She reaches over again and touches my Bible, pointing to that parable. “Let’s pray about that,” she says softly. “I don’t want to be that house that falls.”

“Me neither,” I tell her. “Me neither.” And we pray that we will be followers of Jesus who do what he tells us to do.

Every Monday, I read…

and they teach.

Hosanna… Save us, we pray

The word “Hosanna” features prominently in the Palm Sunday story. It’s shouted by the followers of Jesus who are heralding his entry into Jerusalem as the beginning of his triumphant reign, who were not expecting what was to come just a few days later. I’m sure those who’d shouted “Hosanna” at the sight of Jesus on the donkey’s colt probably looked back five days later–perhaps standing at the edge of a crowd shouting “Crucify him!”–and thought, “How hollow our ‘hosannas’ seem now.”

But, oddly enough, their “Hosannas” were very appropriate. I’d always known “hosanna” to be an exclamation used to express praise and joy and adoration, but I learned recently that its origins are quite different: “hosanna” comes from a Hebrew phrase that means “save us, we pray.” It’s the phrase found in Psalm 118:25, which reads, “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!”

This meaning makes it an appropriate cry for all of Holy Week, not just Palm Sunday or Easter morn. When I first began writing this blog post, I was thinking about this from a very personal point of view. I was tired going into Holy Week, but I knew that most of the young 20-somethings who would come to our parish’s marathon of services on Maundy Thursday/Good Friday/Holy Saturday/Easter morning were chomping at the bit to culminate Holy Week with singing, dancing, and rejoicing–while I just wanted to find a quiet place to be still and rest and cry out to God. “Hosanna,” I realized, was an appropriate cry for all of us, and my whispering it as “Lord, save us!” from a place of fatigue was no less a cry of praise than the exultant shouts uttered by the jumping, dancing younger people.

Today, as I finish this blog post, I cry “Hosanna” with a broader focus, for I am thinking  of the nearly 300 people killed in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. I am thinking of the woman I met with just this morning who is 90 days clean and trying so hard to stay sober. I am thinking of her nephew who was jumped by gang members over the weekend and left with two broken legs. I am thinking of the violence in my neighborhood that is rising along with the temperature.

Hosanna–save us, we pray.

Is perhaps the highest form of praise not a shout of triumph and exultation, but rather a cry for help? a cry that acknowledges we are so deeply in need of saving, so lost in our forgotten, damaged humanity, so deeply confused, so much in need of renewal and redemption that we are helpless in and of ourselves? Is it perhaps highest praise to cry out from that place and express our need for God? to express faith–even the slimmest sliver of it?

Our hosannas–spoken from this place of need–find their hope not in Palm Sunday nor even solely in Easter morn. Our broken hosannas have no place to land in either of those places IF there is no Maundy Thursday and Good Friday in between. In these between days we see God willingly and fully identifying with victims of injustice by becoming one himself, and he did this NOT because he was some kind of masochist but because IN this he was somehow most deeply ONE with broken humanity and THROUGH it he was defeating the very death that has been killing us all.

Our whispered hosannas find their hope in this Suffering Servant-King who still bears scars in his risen body. They find their hope in Jesus the Christ.

Save us, we pray. Oh Lord, we beseech you, save us.

Hosanna

Person: body and soul

Steve-Prince_LivingEpistle_O

This is a print by artist Steve Prince. You can see and buy his beautiful art (including this piece) HERE.

I just finished taking a 10-week course on the Trinity. Early on in the course, the professor shared that she had recently received a question from one of her former students who is now a pastor. A couple of this pastor’s church’s members told her they’d been discussing the incarnation and had wondered if Jesus was still—right now–in his body. The church members told the pastor they had different viewpoints, but they did agree on one thing: it didn’t really matter that much.

The pastor was reaching out to her former professor for help in getting them to see that, yes, Jesus is right now in his body and, oh yes, it matters a GREAT deal!

I was reminded of that story very recently when I met with a young woman who has been sexual abused multiple times by different men. We were talking about false guilt, the sense that somehow she was at fault for this. “I know I need to reject that,” she said, “I know it’s not true.”

I nodded my head vigorously, and then she said something that made me stop. She said that maybe her body—because of the abuse—was not fit for anything better than abuse. And the way she said this and the way she pointed at her body as she said it gave me a clue. “What’s more important to who you are? I asked her. “Your body or your spirit?”

No hesitation. “My spirit. Of course.”

I held up my two, fisted hands in front of her, a few inches from each other. “So your body”—I wiggled my left hand—“and your spirit”—I wiggled my right hand—“are separate? The real you”—I lifted my right hand—“is your spirit? And this”—I lifted my left hand—“is just a shell, not important to who you are, not really you?”

She nodded.

I shook my head. “No,” I said, smiling at her. I clasped my hands together. “This is you, the full you. This is the ‘you’ who will be forever. This is the ‘you’ who will be with God forever.”

I went on to tell her that a big reason we know this is because of the incarnation of Jesus—the current incarnation of Jesus—the now-and-forever incarnation of Jesus. He didn’t just put on a shell for a period of 33 years and then shed it like a piece of worn-out luggage upon finishing a long journey. Jesus was and continues to be human, and being human means being a person: body and soul/spirit. He also didn’t get a new, unrecognizable body upon his resurrection, like a caterpillar sheds a cocoon upon becoming a butterfly. He was recognizable and he bore the scars of the wounds inflicted on his body before his death!*

I have found, in listening to women who have been sexually used and abused, that this last truth is SO important. Jesus still bears scars on his resurrected body, and these tell us that all that happens to us—body and spirit/soul is significant. The scars on the resurrected Jesus tell us that God values us as whole persons, that what happens to our bodies matters to God. The abuse of the body is not less significant to him than wounds to our souls (and is there any way to say that any deep wound—physical or emotional—does not affect ALL our being: body-and-spirit?). Jesus’ scars let us know he understands right now that harm done to one’s body is harm done to one’s very person, and it is seen and hated as violence against one of God’s beloveds. But the scars also offer hope, for Jesus’ scars are not signs of defeat but of healing, the healing of the entire world. So, too, can we know that the effects of sin on our bodies—both the visible effects and those hidden—will be transformed.

*NOTE: Not long after I wrote the above, I read a blog post by Mike Frost in which he eloquently wrote about the body of Christ as part of his Lenten blog series in which he is sharing what he is learning from contemplating a painting of the body of the dead Christ by Renaissance artist, Andrea Mantegnacon. I’ve pasted in part of Frost’s blog post below. If you want to read the entire post (I highly recommend it), here’s the link: “you can tell a lot about a society by the way it treats dead bodies.”

“The baffling miracle of the Incarnation is this: not that Christ’s spirit entered a human body, but that God was human in the initial mitosis, with the fusion of gametes, the splitting of cells, the condensing and compacting of chromosomes within the uterus. Christ was fully human from the beginning so that his death was the death of God, not the death of the body he had invaded or used for such a purpose.

So when I contemplate Mantegna’s depiction of Christ in that painting I try to be present to a terrifying concept: God the corpse. For if this corpse is not Christ what kind of death has he died? A proxy death?

Christ was fully human. He experienced all the limitations of human existence. He was captive to bodily needs and functions of being human. And so his death was truly his death, and his corpse is truly his body.

On Easter Sunday we will celebrate Christ’s resurrection, his victory over death, the triumph of grace, the glory of God. And a month later we will celebrate the most baffling miracle of all — the Ascension — in which a piece of this material world, Christ’s body, ascends into the heavenly realm. It’s all too great to imagine.”

Bringing her some Jesus

Each week I have the privilege of teaching several groups of children a story from the Bible, generally a story about Jesus. Not long ago I began a teaching session with a group of preschoolers, and a few of the kids wanted to start with singing. As we began, I noticed one of the girls looked mad and she wasn’t singing along. When we started a second song, she crossed her arms over her chest and began glaring at me. And when I said, “Let’s do one more,” she burst out, “When are you gonna’ bring me some Jesus, Ms. Jen?”

Well, the truth is that I’m not just bringing her Jesus. I’m bringing her the very best picture we have of God—seen (and touched and heard) in the person of Jesus, God the Son. “If you want to know who God is,” says theologian William Placher, “attend to these stories about Jesus Christ,” for Jesus is the “best clue to who God is.”* Daniel Migliore writes that there is no side of God “altogether different from what we know in the story of Jesus who befriended the poor and forgave sinners. God is self-expanding, other-affirming, community-building love.”** (p8 of Witvliet) So Jesus isn’t just giving us a picture of God the Son; Jesus is giving us a picture of the Triune God, the God who is three-in-one, one-in-three, three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit—fully equal, having one will but distinct in their persons.

So if (since) Jesus presents God to us and he interacts in beautiful, intimate, communal, harmonious ways with the other two persons of the Trinity, then we can know that “divine life consists most fundamentally in interpersonal communion. …God’s life is one of abundant communion, a kind of fellowship … that overflows to include us.”

Can we see those communal, harmonious ways of relation among the Father, Son, and Spirit in the Gospel stories? Yes! Let’s just take a super abbreviated gander through the Gospel of Mark and look at a few examples:

  • The Baptism of Jesus—this is how Mark begins! John the Baptist announces that Jesus will baptize the people with the Holy Spirit, and then, at Jesus’ own baptism, the Spirit hovers over him like a dove and the voice of the Father affirms him as his beloved Son—before he’s done any earthly ministry!
  • Jesus’ miracles. Scholar Gerald Hawthorne emphasized the point that Jesus “depended on the Spirit of God.” He wrote, “The Holy Spirit was the divine power by which Jesus overcame his human limitations, rose above his human weakness, and won out over his human mortality.”*** This means that every single time we see Jesus doing something no human would be able to do (cast out demons, heal the sick with a touch or word, feed great crowds to the full with a single lunch, control nature…), he was doing this through intimate communion with the Spirit.
  • Jesus referred to God the Father AS his Father. “So?” You may wonder, but this was NEW! The writers of the Old Testament Scriptures didn’t refer to God as their personal Father. Jesus does! Hilary of Poitiers, a bishop during the 300s, said this: “The work which the Lord came to do was not to enable you to recognize the omnipotence of God as Creator of all things, but to enable you to know him as the Father of the Son who addresses you.”

I could give many more examples from Mark alone, but this post is getting too long, so I’ll end with an idea for you:

Pick a Gospel to read through. Every time you encounter the word “God,” read “Father, Son, and Spirit” or “Triune God.” We generally tend to see the word “God” and automatically think of God the Father; see if this exercise affects how you see Jesus and the Spirit and how you view the Trinity.

 

*quoted in A More Profound Alleluia in “The Opening of Worship: Trinity” by John D Witvliet, page 7

** quoted in A More Profound Alleluia in “The Opening of Worship: Trinity” by John D Witvliet, page 8

***The Presence and the Power, p. 35

No Tug of Will

In fullness of time

the Spirit overshadows,

the love of the Father descends

and the Son becomes human,

for all to see, to touch, to hear, to know God:

Father, Son, Spirit.

Three-in-one; one-in-three.

Communion, diverse unity.

“My Beloved,” the Father says to the Son,

The Spirit’s wingbeat thrums love,

And the Son, close to the heart of God, fully lives,

As truly human

And truly God.

God-come-down

bears humanity up.

Re-union in the one human-divine person of the Son,

Who is filled by Spirit,

and Loved full by Father.

The redemption of humanity a trinitarian work:

One will

one love

one hope for all the throbbing world

In fullness of time fulfilled.

I wrote the above poem in response to all the readings on the Trinity I’ve done this quarter (I’m very, very grateful, Dr. Nordling). This past week I read part of A More Profound Alleluia. Here’s some great stuff from it (p. 7-8): “The doctrine of the Trinity means that God is not different from what we see in Jesus. …Jesus is a faithful witness, a transparent window into divine life. …Trinitiarian doctrine of God sturdily reinforces our understanding of God’s lavish grace … toward us. … The Triune God not only models salvation but accomplishes it. … Trinitarian theology stresses that God’s life is one of abundant communion, a kind of fellowship … that overflows to include us.”

 

Trinity poem

holy-trinity-icon2_2Our little lives and minds so naturally focus on the me-my- mine

Sometimes our interest expands to the we-us-ours, but we’re mostly prone to “other” others, to “they” them, to keep “them” at arm’s length, outside the inclusive circle.

At times we step closer with “you,” but we are most comfortable with its imperative and accusative forms.

Ultimately, the “me” trumps all.

And so our minds boggle and balk at the Holy Trinity, the unity of Father-Son-Spirit in mutual dance, at the distinction and oneness of I-You-We forever and always embraced.

It’s a glorious mystery that beckons us to deeper secrets, for this Holy Circle, without disruption to its perfect sphere, extends hands to us and sees no “they.”

We are pulled into the dance, into abiding, into embrace, into partaking the nature of God.

We are filled yet made wholly us, and we learn that what we thought merely a fairy-tale hope–that ALL could be family, that peace could encompass ALL–is True.

The hope is Real.

For this the Son put on flesh: that we might know Father, Son, Spirit, our beautifully dancing God; that we, drawn in, might see all as “we,” and paradoxically discover—in the giving of “I” to “us”—that the “me” is best known.

The above is a poem I wrote about a year ago that I revised last week after reading these words by Catherine Mowry LaCugna. She was describing Rublev’s icon of the Trinity (seen above): “…the position of the three figures is suggestive. Although they are arranged in a circle, the circle is not closed. One has the distinct sensation … that one is not only invited into this communion but, indeed, one already is part of it. A self-contained God, a closed divine society, would hardly be a fitting archetype of hospitality.” #trinityclassns

More thoughts on the Trinity

leaning tower

THOUGHT 1

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” (from the Nicene Creed)

We look for … the life of the world to come. There is, obviously, a future sense to this, a final resolution brought about by Jesus’ return. There is a “not yet,” as our world now is not as it will be when the King has come. Right now our world operates at a tilt. The Cornerstone is present (Mark 12:10-11), but our world is shifted off-kilter, like the leaning tower of Pisa. Since the entire thing is at a slant, we don’t even realize we’ve adjusted to it. It feels natural, but this walking at a slant to the Cornerstone wears on us. We, the holy catholic and apostolic Church, baptized by and in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, can walk straight NOW, can walk and move and have our very being in the Cornerstone, made straight by the Cornerstone. We’ve been enlivened by the Spirit, moved from death to life. Even though the world around us lives at a slant to eternal reality, we can live eternal reality now—the eternal reality that says love is preeminent, that stuff and accolades and success won’t last, that says love of God and neighbor is the only measure that matters, that values community and mutual submission rather than individual accomplishment, that views all people as made in the image of God… Living eternal life now isn’t easy; everything around us is going to make us feel as if we are the ones walking through life tilted. But Jesus said that when we do what he told us and act on his words—loving our enemies, living with extreme generosity, refraining from judgment and condemnation…–we are like a man who has built his house on a rock (Luke 6:46-49). It’s straight and sturdy, and will not be shaken. Let’s look for and live the life of the world to come.

 

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Pair of ducks=paradox 🙂 

THOUGHT 2

The many paradoxes of Christianity (Triune God, hypostatic union of Jesus, free will and foreknowledge…) are not as paradoxical as they seem to us. In Trinity Matters, Dancause uses this illustration to picture our limited understanding. Imagine a cone passing through a 2-dimensional world. Though the cone is 3-dimensional, as it passes through this world, it will only be able to viewed as 2-dimensional. If the cone passes through vertically, it will be seen as a circle of varying sizes. But if it passes through on its side, it will be seen as a trying of varying sizes. It will appear to be two completely different things. Yet it is one, fully integrated shape. The issue is not the shape; it is the limited view of those who live in the 2-dimensional world. Same with us and God. The issue is not contradiction within God. The issue is our limited and broken viewpoint.

He writes of is as “’flat’ ways of looking at the same ‘extra dimensional’ thing. The circle and the triangle contradict each other at one level, but on a higher level, as with the example of the cone, they actually define each other as one entity.”

The more I study God and Scripture, the more I realize my world is one little piece on the edge of a vast puzzle that stretches far, far beyond in all directions! This relational, 3-in-one/1-in-3 God extending relationship to all he has created will blow my mind—and my heart—whenever I let him, and I think in Kingdom come I will constantly be saying “Wow!” (location 1958 in Kindle edition)

THOUGHT 3

I confess that I used to think of the Incarnation as the Son being sent off to a horrific kind of boot camp (or worse). It grieved the Father and the Spirit, but it was necessary. I also thought of the Son as experiencing this all alone and thus carrying, for all eternity afterward, this experience and trauma that the Father and Spirit couldn’t identify with. I was definitely believing in some subordination within the Trinity—along with some other unorthodox ideas (maybe tri-theism?).

Karl Barth helps me with this. “Barth describes incarnation as the Son of God’s journey into a far land. …the Son of God effects reconciliation since the journey is that of God himself revealed in the Son. ‘…the Son’s journey is God’s own journey and that the Son’s self-humiliation in birth, life, and death is an expression of God’s transcendence. God is exalted in the humility of the Son.’” (p. 128 of The Doctrine of God by Veli-Matti Karkkainen).

Are there any ways you’ve discovered you’ve thought wrongly about God?

 

And even more thoughts on the Trinity–clearly entire books have been written on this!

theosisandjustification

This painting goes with thought 2. It’s an Eastern Orthodox icon depicting the theosis of the saints. What is “theosis”? See THOUGHT 2 below.

THOUGHT 1: “To really live”

What does it mean to really live? A religious scholar asked Jesus a similar question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” If I were to put “eternal life” in my own words, I would think of it as life that is not bound by a particular time or season or set of circumstances but is forever life, full and rich and deep forever.

Well, Jesus turns the question back on this scholar and asks if he can find the answer in the Law of Moses. The man can. He answers, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus tells him he answered correctly and then says, “(D)o this, and you will live.”

So this is life, eternal life: loving God (with my entire being) and loving neighbor as myself. So simple, yet so terribly difficult for me to do. Impossible for me to do this.

But I am not asked to do this and then left powerless to actually do it.

The Nicene Creed refers to the Spirit of God as the “giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son…” Jesus, immediately after he was resurrected and reunited with his followers, breathed on them. This is the same breathing found in Genesis, when God “breathed” into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life and in Ezekiel when the breath of God causes the bleached bones to live again!

I sometimes feel like a clod of dirt or like a pile of dry, dusty bones. I am not enlivened with the love of God and neighbor. I find myself, like the religious scholar, asking, “And who is my neighbor?” and then shaking my head at my inability to love the person God points out to me.

But I have been breathed on! I have been given the gift of the Spirit by the Father and the Son, and the Spirit “gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6) to me—fills me with love for God and neighbor! New Testament scholar Gerald Hawthorne wrote, “The significance of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus extends to his followers in all of the little and the big things of their existences. … Jesus has freely and lavishly given (the Spirit) to those who would be his disciples today!”*

To live eternal life right here, right now—to live like Jesus among and with all people! Give us life, Holy Spirit, to live like that!

*The Presence and the Power by Gerald Hawthorne, p. 242. Also found on Amazon.com.

 

THOUGHT 2: “Justification by faith AND becoming like God”

Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen describes the differences between the Eastern and Western wings of the church in the third century in this way: “The Eastern tradition expressed itself in Greek, and its distinctive doctrine of salvation was conveyed in the terms of deification or divinization (from the Greek term theosis, “denoting God”), which means “becoming like God.” The Western wing of the church, with its center in Antioch, used Latin and focused primarily on moral obedience and justification by faith.”*

That fascinates me! I was raised in a church culture that was very focused on justification by faith and moral obedience, so the idea of having my Christian faith expressed as “becoming like God”—that through Christ’s work and the Father’s love and the Spirit’s presence/power, I am being made more and more like God (2 Peter 1:4)—this still feels like a very strange thing but also a beautiful thing! Does anyone else identify with this?

*The Doctrine of God: A Global Introduction, p.72

I found a couple of helpful blog posts when I was googling “theosis.” I’m including the links here in case anyone would want to explore further. Both are very readable.

https://www.orthodoxroad.com/understanding-theosis/

https://interruptingthesilence.com/2011/07/09/theosis-the-human-vocation/

 

THOUGHT 3: Three reading suggestions on the Trinity

I am reading Trinity Matters: In Faith, Work, & Love (…and even theology) by Steve Dancause right now. If you are at all interested in reading about the Trinity, I highly recommend Dancause’s book, along with Darrell Johnson’s Experiencing the Trinity and Michael Reeves’ Delighting in the Trinity. All are readable, filled with joy, and concerned with concrete implications and applications for followers of Jesus—both individually and corporately.

Here are just a few quotes from the first few pages of Dancause’s book to whet your appetite.

“If we don’t deep down trust that Jesus is God alongside the Father, then why would we obey his commands? For example, why would we love our enemies—an extremely difficult thing to do—when it is easier to model our treatment of enemies on Old Testament passages that we find easier? And if we don’t believe that the Holy Spirit is God alongside the Father and the Son, then why would we submit to the Spirit’s desire to transform us?”(230/3415, Kindle edition)

“The Church faces catastrophic decline in the developed West. Even in areas where some churches seem to be thriving, our general reputation is woeful. Why? Because we (the Church in Western society as a whole) don’t follow the teachings of Jesus as paramount. We prefer sectarian politics, sacred tribalism, legalism, academic philosophy, or a health-and-wealth gospel over a radical faith in Jesus who is God and perfectly reveals God’s character. We have settled for weak views of the Trinity.” (238/3415)

“If we have seen the Father, it is because we have seen him through the Son, and if we have received the Holy Spirit, it is through the faith of, and our faith in, the Son. There is simply no better place to find God than in Jesus. In Jesus, we are invited into the life of the triune God who exists as an eternal act of perfect love. In Jesus we see clearly not only what God looks like, but also what true humanity looks like. Since Jesus is fully human, sin, separation, and death no longer define human nature for those who are in Christ. Jesus is indeed more human than we are opening the way for us to live into our own human fullness.” (292)

 

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