The Lenten goal: Seeking Jesus (being open to Him).
Yesterday I identified a starting point, the breadth of God (and Jesus is God's self revelation). The main point was to keep in mind the twin poles which appear opposite (wrath/mercy, grace/works, transcendence/immanence) and remember that while we can only focus on one at a time, we must recall the other is also true. The twin poles remind us that God is bigger than we can know or understand. As we are His image we have two poles as well, including passive reception (it is all God) and active seeking (discipleship discipline)...
Yesterday our Thursday Bible Study group continued reading from the early Christian Writings (Penguin Classics). [Yes I know apocrypha and Fathers are not Scripture, but they are still worthy of reflective reading] The Epistle to Diognetus is thought to be from the second century (although some think it could date to 70AD because of the reference to the author being instructed by the Apostles) and was discovered at a fish market in Constantinople in 1435 in a pile of packing paper by an Italian student. [now we know why so many ancient books are lost!]. It is an apologetic work, which means it is a defense and explication of the Christian faith. Even a late date of 200AD would mean this work pre-dates the official canonization of the New Testament by more than a century! The earliest dates make it contemporary with the Gospels or at least the oldest works found in the New Testament.
Here is what we read (pp148-150) in the Practical Conclusions toward the letter's end:
10. Now, if you too desire to have this faith, knowledge of the Father must be your first lesson. God loved the race of men. It was for their sakes that He made the world; it was to them that He gave dominion over everything in it. On them He bestowed reason and understanding, and they alone received permission to lift up their eyes to Him. He formed them in His own image; He sent His only-begotten Son to them; He promised them the kingdom of heaven, and to those who love Him He will surely give it.
Once you have grasped these truths, think how your joy will overflow, and what love you will feel for Him who loved you so. And if you love Him, you will become an imitator of His goodness. Do not be surprised that a man should be an imitator of God; he can, since God has willed it so...But if a man will shoulder his neighbors burden; if he will be ready to supply another's need from his own abundance; if, by sharing the blessings he has received from God with those who are in want, he himself becomes a god to those who receive his bounty--such a man is indeed an imitator of God.
His closing exhortation: Let the heart of you, then, be knowledge, and let your life be true inward reception of the Word.
That Word is the revelation of God in The Book (the Jewish Bible and the varied collections of readings, the majority of which later were identified as the New Testament), but primarily, it refers to the Word Incarnate, Jesus the Christ.
How then to seek Jesus (and in and through Him God)? It is a bi-polar combination too: The Word&imitation, imitation&Word. One can only understand the Word if one imitates God, yet one cannot imitate God without instruction in the Word. This is the eternal circle: imitation begets knowledge, knowledge begets imitation. Which comes first? That is speculative and for some it is the former and for others the latter and what business do we have critiquing how the Holy Spirit works in the heart and mind of another?
In Lent, seek union with Jesus. You find it in prayerful reflection on the Word, but such reflection requires one is engaged in holy imitation of God. And that imitation looks like loving others, helping the poor and sharing in the struggles of others. So use your blessings (time, talent, treasure) to bless and support others. Being ridiculously generous, and as you do that read the Scripture and pray-pray-pray! Just like Jesus!
Thursday, March 6, 2014
One of the constant struggles of understanding revelation is the multiple “streams” or “currents” which run through the vast “ocean” that is God. [I have shared in the past that the experience of being in the ocean and experiencing the temperature differences as you take a step right or left led me to thinking about my understanding of God; which is the real ocean, the warm current here or the cold one there? The sea weed infested area here or the clear part there? The crashing surf at my feet or the depth a couple hundred yards further out?]
Obviously all metaphors limp (and perhaps some think this one is permanently disabled) but I do find it helpful in reading Scripture and experiencing God in regular life. There is not any single, all-encompassing sentence that completely explains all we need to know about God. As soon as we speak there is additional information that needs to be factored in.
God is merciful, slow to anger and rich in kindness. He is also quick to anger and His wrath burns against those who dishonor Him.
God richly blesses His loved ones with abundance and provides for them. But following Jesus requires that we sell it all and embrace a life of destitute discipleship relying on the kindnesses of strangers.
The yoke of Christ is easy to bare, but if you so much as have an impure or angry thought you have committed a damnable offense.
You are to live a life worthy of the calling of Christ, but all you have to offer is filthy rags.
Such ‘conflicting’ ideas are able to generate despair and unbelief. The warrior God and the Prince of Peace, friend of all and savior of a small segment, provider of only blessings yet creator of weal and woe… Our temptation is to embrace one pole, to focus on a particular stream. To declare that God is this or that and the Bible says it, I believe it and that settles it.
My preference would be such clarity. It is an organic aspect of my physical composition and my mental/emotional makeup. I like clear definitions and consistency. I like a God who is easy to understand, has communicated clearly (and briefly) everything we need to know. Yet, even as I pined for such a God I realized that any God who fits in a box, especially one so small, is nothing but a god/idol worthy of false pagan worship.
I would hasten to add that there is a difference between saying that the truth of God is intuited and discovered in the tension between two poles (He is Mystery even as He reveals Himself) versus saying “we cannot know God or His will, we are left to our own devices and intellects to construct the private realities we deem fit.”
The tensions in Scripture must be addressed, but only by a deeper, more faithful reading. The tension of pulls in different, even opposing directions, must be reconciled with the context of the ones to whom God reveals. In the end, when we have nothing God promises abundance and when we are satiated God reminds us that we do not live by bread alone. Many of the ‘contradictions and inconsistencies’ have to do with concrete, here and now, application of God’s will in a particular time and setting. They are also formulated through human authors with particular agendas (Jewish priest and prophets and scribes all had their own special concerns. Paul, James and John had unique styles. Even the Synoptic Gospels add their own personal flair as they address churches in different locales populated by different people: Jewish Christians or Gentiles for example)
Lent is a season to commit to going deeper with God. It is inherently a cross-carrying, self-denying, self-emptying process. Arrogant Christians are reminded that they are dust and will return to dust. Our temporary lives must be lived with humility. All we are is dust bags, yet…yet, He has made us little less than gods (as the psalmist said). We are nothing, yet John tells us, we are children of God. We are bi-polar as well, which is fitting for creatures made in the divine image.
So let go and entertain the truth present in the “other side.” (Make sure it is TRUTH and not just the other side though). Die to self and discover God.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
ASH WEDNESDAY 2014
I still remember when I figured out that I did not need to ‘brush my teeth’, I needed to clean them to prevent cavities. I had years of programming to do ‘what I was supposed to do’ and that usually meant an unenthusiastic level of compliance. (Going through the motions of brushing but not systematically cleaning) I remember being mad when the dentist said I had a cavity. “I brush my teeth,” I grumbled, “it is not fair.” But the way I brushed my teeth obviously was not good enough, was it?
- I know the difference between wanting to pass the test and desiring to learn a subject.
- I know the difference between sitting as you talk and listening to understand.
- I know the difference between ‘doing some exercises’ and working out to get stronger and healthier.
- I know the difference between spiritual disciplines and loving Jesus.
- So do you!
From the outside the behaviors may look the same, but inside they aren’t. When you do it wrong you finish and say, “got that out of the way” or “glad that is done.” When you do it right you say “love you Lord” or “thank you Jesus.” And you do not want it to end.
Lent is a season of metanoia (Gk) or sub (Hebrew). Greek means to take on a new mind. Hebrew means to turn around. Both mean a break from who I am and what I do. Both mean a reordering of my life focus on a new goal.
I want to know Jesus.
I want to love Jesus.
I want to follow Jesus, be with Him and work with Him and serve Him.
And the more I repeat that the more I will integrate it into my heart.
Like every relationship it requires time and effort. Jesus reveals Himself to the one who is obedient and sincere.
"I am Lord," He says, "if you will submit to me I will reveal myself to you."
As we begin the forty day journey into the heart of God Jesus is the key. We are not invited to disciplines for their own sake, but for relationship with the eternal God made present in the man Jesus. It is a journey we enter together, as church. We are yoked in the parish, but also with the billion Christians around the world.
Seeking Jesus means that we allow Jesus to find us.
It means listening for Him, longing for Him. And it means loving Him.
So it begins. I invite you to repeat this prayer, often and sincerely:
I love you Lord Jesus. I want to know you and love you.
You will spend eternity with Jesus. He is the only One whom I am 100% sure is there. Might as well get started improving that relationship today…
(below is an exercise to be repeated several times a day)
Coming to know Jesus this Lent
1. Take three deep breaths and quiet yourself. Pray for help from the Holy Spirit. Focus on the goal: I want to see Jesus, know Jesus, and love Jesus. Say these words out loud to the Lord. (there is a difference between thinking and talking. Verbalizing words makes them more real)
2. Thank the Lord for making you, calling you into covenant relationship, forgiving your infidelities, healing your wounds and blessing you. Pause to reflect on who He is and what He has done.
3. Repetitive Prayer: Speak some short phrase to the effect “Lord Jesus I want to see you/be with you/know you/love you.” Repeat it over and over (at least fifty or one hundred times). It will not be easy. When you drift refocus. You are re-shaping the desire of your heart. Every day we voice hundreds of desires (I wish it was warmer, I wish it was lunch time, I wish my kids would obey me, etc.). We are trying to balance all the "I wants" of our life with wanting Jesus! The volume needed to do that is immense!
4. if possible: Reflect on a Gospel passage (e.g., Sunday Gospel or daily readings). Ask Jesus to reveal Himself to you in what you read. Ask Him to connect your heart with His, your mind with His, your goals with His. If you want it He will do it. If you don’t want it yet, then pray that He will help you want to want it.
Two prayers to serve as models:
Come Holy Spirit, fill my mind with the Light of Wisdom, Truth and Understanding; fill my heart with the fire of Faith, Hope and Love; conform my will to Jesus in perfect obedience to the Father: in worship and ministry.
Surround me Holy Triune God. Encircle me to guard and guide me. Encircle me with your mercy and love. Encircle me with your Light and truth. Encircle me and fill me with Jesus. Drive out all sin. Let Jesus rule me, fill me up and overflow out of me to bless others. Amen.
Sunday, March 2, 2014
This is the final Sunday of the Epiphany Season, a turning in the church year.
On Wednesday we enter a new season: Lent. The “spring” of the church
begins, ironically, in the cold darkness of winter and culminates in Good
Friday in mid-April, a time of increasing light and warmth. Easter season
will then reach its penultimate expression in Pentecost and the work of the
Holy Spirit in God’s church.
For many people, the church seasons are either an unwelcome distraction or ignored altogether. We prefer to be guided by our own lights, perhaps invoking the 'freedom in Christ' and 'freedom from Law and the expectations of others.' We have our own hearts to guide us and liturgical seasons can be a nuisance and out of step with our own life cycles.
However, there may be another angle from which to view the purple, green and white of our communal worship relationship to God. Perhaps, our connectedness with God is far richer than we can imagine. Perhaps, we do well to listen to the wisdom of the church which provides us with seasons. Perhaps seasons really exist for our own benefit. A time for manifestation, a time for penance, a time for resurrection, a time for the Spirit. What if the church seasons are not limiting us, but deepening us? What if we need to go deeper to grow into Jesus?
One insight of psychology is that it takes about six weeks to transition. I think this is why the liturgical seasons usually last about 40 days or so. It gives us sufficient time to delve into the heart of the realities of our faith. Rome was not built in a day and neither is a spiritual life.
Epiphany season reflects on the manifestation of Messiah, who was born on Christmas. Throughout the past two months we have read about this unveiling in various Gospels passages: Jesus’ baptism, John the Baptist declaring Jesus is The Lamb of God, Jesus presented at the Temple and declared to be the promised one, Jesus calling His disciples and Jesus preaching the Sermon on the Mount. Each time we are called to encounter JESUS, the human face of God. Jesus is the Light of God shining in a dark world, the Light of God shining as teacher and friend.The grand finale of that Epiphany is today. Transfiguration Sunday always is the last Sunday of the season. It marks the end and the beginning. We see the Light manifest in Jesus which leaves no doubt who this is; now we turn with Him to His destiny. When next we meet on Ash Wednesday, Jesus will call us to repent. We will gather up our courage for the long trek with Jesus to His destiny in Jerusalem.
What then shall we do?
Shall we follow Peter’s advice and remain high on the mountain, avoiding life’s troubles dwelling in the mystical sweetness?
Will we obey God who said Jesus is the Beloved Son and listen to Him?
If we obey God and listen to Jesus, then His first commandment is to not be afraid! [such an exhortation seems to imply scarey days ahead!] Will we be brave and trust the Lord, trudging down the mountain to the hostile world below? Will we stay with Him to the bitter end, including garden and cross? Will we be among the handful at the foot of the cross and before the empty tomb?
The last two months Jesus has been manifest to us. It began with the Baptism and now ends with Transfiguration. Both times a voice from heaven declares: This is my Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased!This Lent let us resolve to Seek Jesus; to spend ourselves knowing Him, loving Him, seeking Him: Jesus, the Beloved Son who pleases God. Let us pray to that goal and study to that goal. Let us love and serve others to seek His face. Jesus reveals Himself to those who sincerely desire to love, follow and obey Him. Will you be such a one? Will you spend forty days saying, "Lord Jesus I seek your face, reveal yourself to me!"