Tuesday, May 29, 2007

God's plan revealed: the Trinity. John 16:12-15

Jesus' had something to say; and his friends were keen to listen. They wanted to learn from their teacher and to be close to him.

John 16:12 "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now."
Much of what Jesus said went way beyond his hearers imaginations. No human could have understood what he was saying; until after the resurrection. When Jesus spoke to them before his death they heard him in a human context. His friends and his enemies knew him as a man; with a human history and identity like any other. He was a Galilean with a mother and a father. Sure Jesus was a teacher, a prophet, and a healer too, but he had a human history that predated his ministry. His ministry for God was clear; but the reality that he was the Son of God in action on earth remained hidden, in plain sight, before the resurrection.

Jesus ministry as prophet to the nation of Israel was clear for 3 years. He railed against injustice and ministered with compassion. He healed, forgave, and taught openly about the kingdom of God. All the things Jesus did in his ministry as a prophet were signs, not recognized before his death, that he was both son of man and son of God. God had a plan and the Son arrived in flesh. We still have much to learn about God that we can't yet bear. We still need to listen to Jesus as he speaks to get a glimpse into the relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit.

When Jesus spoke he spoke as God in flesh -- but the crowds reacted not as they would to God -- but as they would have reacted to any other human being. The people in need of a savior listened and came ready to be healed. The crowd who needed no savior heard Jesus and rejected what he had to teach. Jesus came to be prophet and the savior. He came to show us the face of God and to reveal mysteries that we now understand only in part. He came as part of God's plan to save what God had made in beginning.

God, Father, Son, and Spirit still has much to tell us that we can't understand, but the Spirit will work to reveal God to all flesh. There is still much about God's power that we can't bear, but just as Jesus promised the Spirit will reveal God to us in time.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

One Man's Opinion

In the search for courageous discussion that both challenge us to look at hard realities and invites further discussion I encourage people to listen and look at a fantastic presentation by Robert Newman called A Brief History of Oil. Newman's a comic but he's wrestling with some of the deepest questions that our culture and all of us as participants in the global economy need to face.

Economics, Newman proves, aren't voodoo science. His creative reading of military and economic history and the environmental effects of our consumer choices aren't mysteries; our actions have consequences. The tough part is that we might not want to listen until after we've run out of resources to deal with the after effects. Its sort of like a married couple with one partner who spends and spends and then wonders why their beloved can't rescue them anymore.

Monday, May 21, 2007

When God Keeps a Promiese Pentecost C John 14:8-27 Acts 2:1-21

There's a real difference between making a promise and delivering on that promise. In Acts 2 God carried through on his promise. He told his friends, before he died,

“If you love me, you will keepf my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,g to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be inh you.

18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.

f Other ancient authorities read me, keep g Or Helperh Or among The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version, John 14:15-18. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989.
In our day we are suspicious of promises; but faith in God means living on a promise. Jesus promised to be with his followers. He told them that they would never be alone, that help was on the way. Jesus comes into our lives over and over, just as he promised. He came in Holy Spirit at Pentecost and he comes today in Word, Sacrament, and Spirit into our lives.

Reading Acts 2 we can imagine the arrival of the Holy Spirit into the life of the early church. The believers were together. They had recently seen their Risen Lord or heard from other followers who had seen him in alive in the flesh even after death. They would have been in a state of awe and wonder to have seen him again. The Spirit flowed into and through that same group of believers. A noise like a violent wind πνοη̂ς βιαίας rushed in. Unimagined things started to happen. They were speaking in their own native languages and understanding everything spoken in other languages. And they asked a great question that has been wrestled with for 2000 years.
All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”Acts 2:12 (NRSV)

So what does it mean, to have the Spirit come into the church. It means God is present. Some call Pentecost the birthday of the church. It was, but it wasn't the only moment of the Spirit's activity. The experience of God, active in Word and Spirit was not completed on Pentecost, God was just getting started. The challenge of our day is to give credit to the Spirit for all the gifts that we receive from God. There are numerous gifts of the Spirit but we mustn't over look faith and hope. Luther wrote
... if I have the Holy Spirit, I have faith, by which I cling to God. And if I believe in God, then I also have his love and I love God, foe, and friend. That is why Paul says: I can do all things through the Spirit of God [Phil. 4:13]. The Spirit does not come through fasting, praying, pilgrimages, running to and fro around the country; no, only through faith. So Christ bestows his gifts upon you without any merit whatsoever and what he did for him [i.e., Paul], he does for you also.
Luther, Martin. Vol. 51, Luther's Works, Vol. 51 : Sermons I. Edited by Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann. Luther's Works. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1959.
Jesus came to save. The Spirit comes to give life by revealing to is the promise made in the Word of God. Praise God for a Spirit who shows us light and life.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Praying with Jesus in John 17:20-26 Easter 7C

Jesus' prayer in John 17 stands out revealing some of his relationship with God the Father and some of his hopes and dreams for those who would follow him. We in the church try to live out his teachings and follow his example. Prayer was a key part of Jesus' life. He went away from his friends to pray, he taught them to pray, he prayed deep into the night before his death. Prayer was as much a part of Jesus life as eating and drinking.

A couple years ago there were bracelets with the letters WWJD popping up all around reminding people to ask the big question, "What Would Jesus Do?" It's a great question to wrestle with; not only in moments of moral or ethical decision but also in the little decisions about how we live and how we treat people around us. The question WWJD? is one way to think about prayer. There's no question that Jesus prayed.

Reading John 17 I am amazed by how focussed Jesus was in his prayer and how unfocused I am in my own prayer. Jesus prayed for his friends and for all who would come to believe in him. He prayed for the safety of his friends in the face of the enemy. Jesus asked for unity among believers and opportunity to reveal even more of God's love to the world. His prayer astounds me as I read it.

One thing I wrestle with as I read this prayer is my own prayer life. I've learned that I can't pray like Jesus. I am not a god. I am a man who comes to God in prayer and finds distractions and challenges all around me. We aren't gods. Yes, Jesus prayed deep into the night after supper but Luke tells us that his disciples fell asleep as he prayed. Yes Jesus prayed deep into the night for his followers, yes he prayed deep into the night for those who would come to know him through them, but sometimes we will be like the disciples, our prayers will fall short. Jesus is a model of how prayer can work. And yes we can follow his model; but we are still in need of a savior.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Following God's Lead to Macedonia Acts 16:9-15

In Acts 16:6-15 we see one of the heroes of the New Testament at moment of decision. The Apostle Paul was on a mission. He was taking a message of hope to the world. He was proclaiming new life in Jesus to everyone he encountered. Some loved what they heard and others burned with rage. He would know many troubles because of this message; but the troubles from chains to shipwrecks to beatings wouldn't stop him. He was inspired. He knew that this message wasn't just a fable. He personally knew the power of God. It's critical that we remember God's activity in Paul's life in Acts 9. Paul had first hand experience both of God's anger and frustration and of God's mercy and forgiveness. He carried this message with fervor. He personally knew the love and the power of God who he now served as a messenger.

Paul's travels brought him further and further away from the church in Jerusalem. Sitting in Galatia and he was at a cross roads and he started planning where to go next with the story. He had to pick a new direction. Either cross over to Europe or head east and go further in Asia. Paul decided his way. He planned to go on ahead and go east into Asia with the message of Jesus Christ. But somehow the Holy Spirit stopped him. At night in a dream he saw a man from Macedonia calling to him to come over across the water and to start sharing the Good News. Macedonia wasn't in Asia. Macedonia was part of the European mainland.

The call that Paul heard from Macedonia in that one dream changed everything. His plans were put aside for the sake of journey further on. There's mystery in God's plans. There's uncertainty and unpredictability; at least from the human perspective. God's up to something in the world. We might reasonably and rationally decide on one course of action and God might very well call us to do something very different. The Acts of the Apostles is filled with these moments of God redirecting Jesus' followers.

Discerning God's call apart from our own desires isn't easy in an age when self-fulfillment and self-actualization has become part of the popular religion of the day. In our individualistic age Paul's bold willingness to let God make the plans isn't easy concept to explain; but his model of faith is clear; sometimes we've got to take the detour.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

What happened in LA's MacCarthur Park May 1?

One thing about our age of information and disinformation is the chance that we have to review stories from many different perspectives only hours and days after they happen. One question that that needs to be answered after some serious debate is, what happened in MacArthur Park on May 1, 2007?

I live in a small town in the middle west. There are many peace officers who are members of my congregation who I know to be thoughtful and responsible in their actions and who reflect about what they've done trying to learn how to better work with the people they encounter in their work. Knowing the character of some peace officers I am honored to call neighbors I was disturbed as I watched from over 2000 miles away and I would appreciate an honest explanation for what happened. The video clearly shows police officers forcefully moving a crowd. I'd like to know why.

The people in the crowd each individually had a right to assemble and had lawfully obtained permits for their gathering. Something happened and power and force overran any personal rights or collective rights to assemble or to protest. See for yourself.

Fox 11 in LA

or watch this CNN national report

Or read the story in the LA Times about the police chief's request for an investigation.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Loving like Jesus John 13:31-35 Easter 5c

Keep your eyes on Jesus if you want to learn how he wants you to love.

Reading the Gospel for this week there's a new addition to an old commandment. Jesus is calling us to do something that was part of the law long before Jesus, when he says in John 13:34, “I give you a new command; that you love one another.” This command isn't new. But what he says next to give us a model for how to follow the old law is new...

Augustine wrote a millennium and a half ago,

But was not this already commanded in the ancient law of God, where it is written, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself (Leviticus 19:18”? Why, then, is it called a new one by the Lord, when it is proved to be so old? Is it on this account a new commandment, because He hath divested us of the old, and clothed us with the new man? For it is not indeed every kind of love that renews him that listens to it, or rather yields it obedience, but that love regarding which the Lord, in order to distinguish it from all carnal affection, added, “as I have loved you.” Schaff, Philip. The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Vol. VII. St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John Soliloquies. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997. Page 317 Logos Index ECF or its online at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1701065.htm

If we only stop at the first part of the commandment we miss the model that Jesus has set for us. We are invited to follow him in loving others as he has loved. If we only catch the first part of the commandment we aren't hearing a new commandment at all.

How long will it take for us to fulfill this new commandment?

What Jesus models for us is a self-giving kind of love. English only has one word for love but Greek has four words that we translate into the one word love. Affectionate love (gk. storge, στοργη); love found in friendship and brotherhood (gk. philia, φιλια); romantic and sexual love (gk. eros, έρως) and finally the word that is translated as love from this section from the Gospel of John self-giving love (gk. agapē, αγαπη). C.S. Lewis has a wonderful description of the differences in the book The Four Loves.

Jesus spoke boldly in this new commandment agapē, αγαπη. It is a commandment for a lifetime. Love as Christ loved. Love as the one who healed lepers, love as the one who stood in the way of the stoning of a woman accused of adultery. Love as the one who died on a cross. John 13:34 is Jesus' plan for a whole life following God. “A new command I give you: continually love (ἀγαπα̂τε) one another. As I have loved and continue to love (ἠγάπησα) you, so you must continually love (ἀγαπα̂τε) one another.”

The Latin I've seen used for αγαπη (agape) is caritas the root both of cardiac or heart and charity. I think that charity in the contemporary sense, where most in our culture give only on occasion because of an emotional impulse to tragedy, doesn't carry the full weight of Jesus command. He wants us to love and to keep on loving. Whatever we say about this type of love being different from the other loves that we know I think that we also need to recognize that Jesus is inviting us into a new life shaped by love that doesn't stop but continues for the rest of our days.