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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter Creation

I write this an hour before the Easter Vigil. It is saturday, also known as the seventh day. It is the sabbath.

If one reads John's Gospel, Jesus is crucified on Friday. That is the same day man is created in Genesis. The creation of man is the ultimate act of creative activity. What follows next is God's judgment that "it is very good" and the next day He rests. On Friday (called Good Friday) Jesus is brought before Pilate. Pilate, claiming Jesus is innocent, decides to have him beaten instead. There is a tortured logic in all this, an effort to please the crowds, on the one hand, balanced by the need to face the facts that this man does not deserve to die. So, why not beat Him? At any rate, when Jesus stumbles out Pilate utters the words , "ecce homo" (Latin for Behold the Man). It does not take much to hear an echo of Genesis in this: Adam/man and Jesus/man. In the Greek the word is anthropos which means both a man and human beings. Jesus is the New Adam.

On the Cross (tree), Jesus is hung to die. John makes a point that Jesus carried His own cross, negating the claim that Simon of Cyrene had helped (or done it for Jesus). Perhaps John is making a theological point here. I do not know. What I do know is John believes that Jesus is the Master of this process (recall the troops fall before Him in the Garden prior to the arrest). The cross, for John, is Glorification. There are no words of despair (My God, My God, why???). Thus a theological reading of John is true to his writings. The Lord Jesus is arrested in a Garden (see Eden) and is hung on a tree (see Eden 's trees). Jesus recapitulates our human history and successfully faces the temptation to disobey God (forbidden fruit) and embraces the tree of life (also in Eden). The tree of life, of course, is embraced by His death. It is the blood of Jesus which undoes the curse of Adam and unleashes life into the world.

As He dies, Jesus cries out, "It is finished" (Greek word, teleo also means to bring to a close, to execute, to complete, to fulfill). He has accomplished His task. He is done, in many senses of the word (just the way John likes it). Then Jesus gives up the ghost/spirit. This handing over the spirit can be seen at many levels, too. He is dying. It is also John's Pentecost event. Jesus gives His Spirit into the world when He dies. In His death God unleashes the fullness of life. The spirit (breath/wind) recalls Genesis and creation. The Spirit over the chaos is duplicated here, with Jesus's breath/spirit unleashed into a world of sin and chaos. (Which leads to the question, how awesome is salvation?!?!!)

Jesus lays dead. It is the sabbath. All is quiet and at rest. The eternal rest of God, the rest of His Son. The rest of death. The sabbath (in the tomb) is the seventh day. Death is the end of this creation. All will die eventually. Death is the last word. Quiet rest in death. But death is only the last word in this week. It is only the last word in creation. A new creation stands ready, a new creation where sin and sorrow and death are no more. A new creation, on a new day one.

So John begins the next chapter. Early on the morning of the first day and there is no need to be blind to what this says, the first day. So creation is made new. Jesus is the first fruit of the new creation. Jesus risen from the rest of the tomb on Sabbath, Jesus the first born of many. In the new creation it is The Man Who is created first. Human first, not last, and once the Man is created then all things can be made new. All creation moans for humanity to be recreated, and then it will burst from its curse in recreated glory.

That is our destiny. It is the promise of our God. In Jesus the new creation has begun. The Good News is it is already at work among us: to forgive and reconcile, to heal and renew, to free and make strong. Already we see God's new creation. The Great News, is the best is yet to come. We have every reason to trust God, look at Jesus risen and see God's faithfulness. Trusting, we can be happy and joyful. We can pause to think of someday, when King Jesus rules unopposed. May the light and life of resurrection be your hope and joy today and always. May it give you power to walk away from your sins and give up your fear and doubt. May it make you generous, merciful  and kind to others. May it bring you to your knees in worship. And may it make your mind and heart new!

Friday, March 29, 2013

What is truth and other Good Friday Thoughts

Reading the Passion of John today, so I pre-read it for my own reflection.

Some people do not like this day, it is too bleak for them. It makes them feel sad, so they do not think about it. I think that is called denial. Anyhow, I understand it. I saw a scene from the crucifixion this morning and burst into tears. Not so bad except I was on an exercise machine at the YMCA. Forutnately at 6:15 I was one of the few folks there, but who wants to be crying at the Y?

Weeping is not bad. Mary wept. Jesus wept. Weeping is part of the Gospel story. Probably, if contemporary Christians wept more for love of God and appreciation for Jesus the church would be a better place. Maybe not. I weep pretty often and I am not too hot a Christian. Either way, not sure the non-weepers are always hitting the mark either.

Certain verses jumped out during the reading of John 18 & 19.

One was Peter. 18:10 he lopped off the ear of the high priests servant Malchus. That little detail, a name, makes the story more reliable as history. Plus the story occurs in another Gospel as well. Think about it, a large group of armed men come upon Jesus and his friends and Peter goes on the attack. Plus he had a sword. The peace and justice crowd tends to ignore that little tidbit. Why did Peter have a sword? Gentle Jesus the man of peace is not the whole story it seems.

Peter had guts. I am not sure I would start a sword conflict with professionals who outnumber me. Yet, a few verses and some hours later Peter is telling a girl, "I do not know him." Furious courage and friend-denying cowardice. All in  the same guy on the same night. What a contradiction. Sounds like me, though, and you, too. Aren't we all a jumble of hit and miss?

Then Pilate says to Jesus, "What is truth?" The post-modern attitude seems driven by a similar attitude. We hear about your truth and my truth, his truth and her truth. There are so many truths and so many of them contradict one another. The Holy Spirit is (supposedly) flying around telling people all manner of things, most of them contradicting something the Holy Spirit apparently told other folks. In my denomination we are always discerning what new things the Spirit is saying and th best part (for them) is the Spirit is saying exactly what they were hoping He would!!!!  And what makes that so prevalent is the cultural reality that we don't believe in ultimate truth. [some of that critique is valid and accurate, of course, which makes it all the muddier]. Any how, Pilate is certainly the patron of cynicism. What is truth?

Jesus, of course, is Truth. He is the way, the truth and the life. Now that is pretty embarassing to many Progressives, who being much nicer than Jesus would never limit it all to Him, and being much wiser than God would explain that Jesus is A way, A truth and there is some life in Him but not exclusively.... Once again, the spirit of Pilate.

Lastly, the blood and water. A spear pierces Jesus' corpse. He is dead at that point. And out pour water and blood. Water and blood: eucharist and baptism. The blood of the lamb. The cleansing agent. From the cross. The power of God to give life from His death is mind boggling.

John said all the books in a library could not contain all that Jesus did and taught. I think a whole section of the library could be taken up with books on the death of Jesus. John said he told us what he did so that we would believe Jesus is the Son of God and find eternal life in Him. I blog for the same reason. I hope you think about Good Friday. I pray you will love Jesus and trust Him. I hope you open to the power of God on the cross. I hope you come back Sunday to  hear the rest of the story.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

"Jesus is Good, Church is Not"

Today is called Maundy Thursday, from the word 'mandate,' i.e., that we wash feet like Jesus. The Roman church calls it Holy Thursday. I prefer the latter term, "holy" resonates with me more than "maundy" does. In any case, it is so full of rich material of deep theological and spiritual import. I want to look at just one.

People claim that they like Jesus but do not like the church. I am a churchman and when I hear the complaints against the church I must admit that I understand the frustration. Truth be told, I am a perpetrator of some of that abuse. I am the guy people picture in their head when they are sharing a bad experience with the church. Literally, I have driven away dozens and dozens of folks because of things I have said, things I have done and things I have failed to do. In most cases I am very sorry for the damage done, and in many cases it was unintended; but it does not matter to the offended parties.

On the other hand, like most perps I am also a victim. Here is where it gets tricky. If I have said cruel things I have heard many more unkind words. If I have failed to give support I have also been cut off and left high and dry far more. If I have been short; I have also been berated, misrepresented and abused. So it goes both ways. And the wounds afflicting me have caused some of the wounds I have produced in others. Working in the church allows one to fully experience all its flaws!

Jesus is Good. He is Goodness itself. The church is not good in the same way. It is not flawless nor is it perfect. It is, in fact, composed of perpetrators and victims of all manner of sin and evil. The problem is, when you come to Jesus He is always surrounded by His church.

If you say, "I want to see Jesus" you will find Him in His church. If you say, "I want to eat with Jesus" you will sit at table with other disciples. At the last supper, which we remember this day, Jesus was at table with His closest friends. What happened?

Peter trumpeted his love and vowed to stay with Jesus through everything. Sounded good, sounded inspirational, sounds like the kind of guy I want to be with, make my mentor and imitate. Then Jesus drops the bomb, "You will deny you know me three times before tomorrow morning!"
Other apostles thought it was a grand time to debate their relative status. Jesus says, "I will die." They say, "I think I am greater than you." "No you aren't." "Yes, I am." So the orignal band of disciples sounds like they are on an ego trip.
One guy, the treasurer of the operation, checks out early to betray Jesus. But by this point we see all betrayal is relative. If Judas is worse than the others, and he is, it is only by degree. Every one betrays Him, each in his own way.

Pondering that gathering, the people Jesus called "friends" I wonder if any church is any worse than that group. I think not. Yes, this group of misfits and miscreants looks remarkably like us. And if you want to eat with Jesus it is a communal table. Jesus focuses on that group in an intentional way. He commands us to be foot-washing servants. He tells us to love one another as He loved us. He tells us to build each other back up after we repent of our failings. He tells us that He wants us (together) to remember Him and do this meal over and over. He tells us, and tells us, and tells us. It is always about the whole group for Him.

Is the church good? No, not really. It is made up of people and people, even at their best, are not always good. Even so, Jesus loves the church. Totally. Jesus believes in the church, it is His mission team. Jesus forgives and heals the church. Jesus forgives and heals through the church. And if the church is good enough for Jesus, then it should be good enough for us.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Foolish Demand for Justice

It is not uncommon to hear someone demand their rights. We are intoxicated with "our rights." I have a right to ..... Fill in the blank and someone has demanded a right to it. I do it. You do it. People we like do it. People we do not like do it (and we notice them more). As smarter folks than me have explained, the focus on rights is a "me" centered process. I see the world as beholden to me. I see other people as responsible to supply me with what I believe they have a responsibility to provide me. Duties of others are a function of "my rights." It works pretty well until our sense of entitlement gets out of whack.

The discussion of rights is a worthy pursuit but I am headed in a different direction today. Because of the rights based focus, we tend to think that each person should be free to identify and articulate his/her own rights. This mingles with some cultural assumptions (everyone has a right to their own opinion, all opinions are equally valid, no one has a right to tell someone else they are wrong, etc.) and produces a world where we tend to see each individual as ok supreme. Because we are reluctant to see ourselves as flawed (even grievously flawed) it is easy for us to see the demand for our rights as a question of justice. Now there is a whole subset of humans who think in justice terms all the time. For them every question is a justice question. Unfortunately, their definition of justice frequently includes disregarding all manner of rights for other people. The difficult challenge of living in a world with competing rights is replaced by the "correct" way of doing things (which tends to be their way).

I tend not to ask God for justice, at least for myself. Fundamentally, I think I am in sin and a sinner needs mercy, not justice. I have a more highly developed sense of sin than many people. I read the Bible alot. I pray alot. I read the spiritual masters alot. I think alot. And I meditate on myself (too much) and God's expectations. All I can say is what I am left with is a realization that all the good I have done pales in comparion to the evil I have done and the good I have left undone. In financial terms, I have a great sum of money, but my debt dwarves it. I am "upside down."

In our reading from Jeremiah today the proper response to God is effectively communicated. (Jer 17:14)
Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise." How does this healing and salvation come about?

(John 12:27 ff) It comes at a cost. Jesus said, "Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name" [side note, this is the meaning of the first petition of the Lord's prayer. Hallowed be your name, in passive voice, means God must make His name holy, or glorify His name!]

Then He declares, Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." There it is, not a demand for justice. Not a foolish demand that things go "my" way. Not a silly misunderstanding that how I see the world is how it truly is. Rather, it is a recogntion that the one true God has found a way. Jesus saw it coming before it happened. Lifted up means on the cross. Lifted up means resurrection from the dead. Lifted up means ascended to heaven, brought back in to God's presence in heaven. And we who realize we are sinners in need of mercy, freed from our demands for justice and our rights, will kneel in silence in the days ahead. We may not totally understand how Jesus saves us (more on that in days ahead). But really who among us totally understands the operation of the human body? We know enough.

"You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going."
So much of our demand for justice is the babbling of (wo)men stumbling in the darkness. We do not know where we are. We do not know where we are going. We have no map. And the Prince of this World mumbles his lies in vicious deceit, twisting truth (justice) into a distortion (my justice, my rights) with enough lie in it to be deadly. Let Jesus explain to you what it all means. Seek His mercy and forget about your rights. Seek Truth and forget your personal truths. Seek life, in His death, and stop clinging to worthless scraps of existence which never satisfy. Leave the darkness. Or at least cling to what light you can.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

We want to see Jesus

Tuesday of Holy Week is the oddest day. The week is rolling by now, yet still Wednesday looms ahead as the final day of Lenten preparation. Today is the penultimate day, a word which I delight in. We are almost there, but not so almost that we are done.

The readings this week are more chronologically oriented. Yesterday (John 12) Jesus rode in on an ass to the accolades of the people. John spells out the fulfillment of Scripture, Zechariah 9:9. We contemporary Christians are less interested in the political aspects of Jesus' work, but clearly Jesus cared. He actually made a very public, through symbol, statement by this act. When He is crucified as the King of the Jews, this donkey parade is one of the reasons for the charges brought against Him. Which raises the question, "Are You the King of the Jews?"

We also heard yesterday about the people's curiousity about Lazarus. Ancient people were no less surprised to hear a dead man was alive again then we are. In fact, the chief priests plot to kill him, too. Evidence of Jesus' powerful ministry must be wiped out, little do they know! One wonders if they did in fact do it. No other mention is made of Lazarus.

As we continue with John 12 today, Jesus' popularity leads to the despairing declaration by the Pharisees, "Look the world has gone after Him." And indeed the "world" is shown to be going after Him in the next verse. Some "Greeks" came to Philip and said, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." What follows does not indicate whether they got to see Him or not. The mention of the Greeks (representing the Gentile world) seems to be a trigger for Jesus. For Jesus, in response to the request declares, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified..." Son of Man is not used in John near as often as in the other Gospels. Its use here signals something to the reader. It is a deep and hugely important word.

When I hear those words I recall my own Madison, aged 2 or 3, making a similar request. "I want to see Jesus," she said, "not bread, eyeballs." In other words, receiving communion was not enough, she wanted a face to face encounter. I do not remember what I told her. I am sure it included, "Don't we all." Whatever I said was sufficient, she is still active in church and has a living faith. But I hope that hunger never goes away.

Sometimes we are tempted to dull the pain by filling our lives with other things. The frustration of wanting to see Jesus and the insufficiency of seeing Him "in and through" can be a burden. We find prayer only increases the longing. It does not calm us but aggitates us more. It sharpens the desire. We want to see Jesus.

Lent is God's gift to provide us the sweet pain of that hunger. Emptied of ourselves, for forty days we "fast and pray" and specially focus our lives in a way that allows us to be more desirous of Jesus. If we lived Lent right, today, we, like the Greeks, can say with increased urgency, "I want to see Jesus."

And the words of Jesus ring true for us as well.
"Now has the hour come..."
"Unless the grain of wheat die it is just a grain of wheat..."
"It is for this hour that I have come..."
"Father, glorify your name..."

It is good to meditate on Jesus' death. His final hours summarize His life, it reveals the heart of God (self-sacrifice). It demonstrates graphically the meaning of love and service. And it gives us a glimpse of that face. It is good to know His heart so when we finally look into His face, His eyes, we will know Whom we encounter.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Is Bruce Willis the Messiah?

Is Bruce Willis the Messiah?

Ironically, the answer is yes.
John Wayne, Gregory Peck, and Charles Bronson are, too. So are Harrison Ford, Sylvester Stallone, and Mel Gibson. Like Bruce Willis, all of them are messiahs, or at least movie stars playing the role. And the role is based on Jesus, though they may not know it.

In the 1998 movie “Armageddon,”  Bruce Willis played the leader of a group of men sent into space to destroy a planet-threatening asteroid. They are under sea drillers with equipment which can drill a hole and place an atomic bomb in the core of the asteroid. The plan is to blow it up and cause the two resulting pieces to by pass planet earth. The science in the movie was in error, the bomb would not be able to do it. The movie reviewers said it was awful, many included it among the worst movies of the year. So why was it the highest grossing film of the year? I think because it echoed the Jesus story. And people, even unbelievers, are hungry for that story.

In the film, Willis and his team encounter all manner of challenges until the climax when, just before he sacrifices his own life to save the world, he speaks with his daughter whose name is Grace. Was the name chosen on purpose? I do not know, but grace is what the Jesus story is about and grace finds its way into this echo of Jesus' story

Their conversation between father and daughter always destroys me emotionally. Any man with a daughter can connect on many levels with a father who is trying to do the best he can for a daughter whom he loves more than life itself. Any man who is a man also knows that the impulse to self-sacrifice for the greater good is even more important. While only a deluded fool thinks he is the messiah, any man worth his manhood knows we are still called to self sacrifice. Watching father and daughter tearfully interact is like Jesus’ heart wrenching Last Supper. It is easy to overlook the humanity of that night. Jesus faces death, alone, yet gathers with His dearest friends, His "family" the sons and daughters He has made. Jesus tells them (and us): Remember Me. Love one another. Do for others what I do for you.

Fiction reflects reality. In the real world, sometimes heroes die to save others. Firemen, police men, soldiers--they do it regularly. But any of us could find ourselves in a situation where we must lay down our own lives so others can live. 

Self sacrifice is at the heart of God. It is the core of the story of creation and redemption. In the movie, just like in the real world, few people know the truth. Only a few are privy to all the details. In our world, many people do not know Jesus. They do not know or understand His sacrifice. They just live each day oblivious to salvation. They have no clue what God has done in and through Him. Even we who do "know" only know it partially and incompletely.

And if we know, we know because we know The Hero. We love Him; Who first loved us. We see Him in every hero who gives his life to save others. Jesus is the authentic and true story which others imitate.

Jesus’ story gives us hope. It is light in darkness, life in death, and healing in brokenness. We have love, joy and peace from Him. We also have power and authority. We can tell His story and imitate His deeds. We can point to Him in a world hungry for The Hero: Jesus, Who gives His life to save the world.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Grandma, when is Easter?

Friday on my way to the locker room at the local Y what appeared to be two grand parents were talking with two children. I was not privy to the whole conversation, but clearly something good was going to happen on Easter because as I walked up the girl was asking, "When is Easter?" As I continued to walk the grandmother obviously had no idea. "March 31st," I said as I walked by. I do not want to read too much into the transaction. Perhaps they were people of great devotion and she merely blanked for a moment. Perhaps they were people who have no idea when Easter is, but celebrate chocolate eggs and ham dinners as a family. What did strike me, though, was a text message received an hour or so later from a distressed parishioner who told me that she was so overwhelmed by the number of people who do not know what Lent and Easter are. Like many of my folks here, she grew up in a different time. For them, it is not always easy to see the increased secularism as a blessing. Seeing mission fields amidst the "ruins" of Christendom has a bite to it.

Moments before I walked into the Y, I had seen a big truck full of a well known soft drink. Advertising our local pro-basketball team, it had several large words written on it: Live for Now. (Being a joker, my first thought was the marketing department had accepted that drinking their product was not good for you, so by choosing to drink it you were giving up on the future and living for now.) Live for Now is certainly the opposite of the Holy Week spirituality which we are called by Jesus to embrace. To live for now and give no thought to the future is not good advice. Then again, if you are looking for wisdom to live by it is probably not best to peruse soft drink trucks for the truth that will set you free!

Tonight we celebrated the Palm/Passion Sunday Vigil mass. Our weather is dark, chilly and not at all spring-like. The setting of nature reflected the reading from Luke's Passion account. The story of Jesus' last days, His suffering and death. It is a story which people who "live for now" need to hear, especially when they wake up to find that "now" has become "later" (and later hurtling toward "too late"). It is especially important for people who do not have any idea when Easter is, or what it means. So I remind folks, over and over again, that it is important for us to share the story. If we believe it, too, of course, the telling can be life giving. For now and forever...

Friday, March 22, 2013

Total Loss of Control

At 9:30 on Wednesday night I was at my desk, making the next day's phone message. I had been here over fourteen hours and was long past ready to go home. As I packed up my things my cell phone rang. My son called to tell me that my evening plans had been obliterated by reality. The baby was sick and we were taking him in. It would be deep in the middle of the night before we finally returned home. Baby did not sleep, so we did not sleep. I called in to cancel my day; I had new plans and duties.

I came in today more keenly aware of the fluidity of life. I am a planner and will remain one until the end. I know the value of planning. I also know that plans get changed. That is why we need clarity of mission. We must be able to readjust and refocus when circumstances dictate.

Today I plan to lead a reflection on today's lectionary readings. The first comes from Jeremiah which carried me back to a time almost three years ago. Jeremiah 29 is a letter written by Jeremiah to the exiled Jews in Babylon. He had pleaded with the people to repent so God would relent. They decided "he must die." Chapter 29 comes much later, the collapse is over and the people have been taken from their homes. Everything has been changed. They are Adam and Eve--the Garden is lost, except for the memories.

Jeremiah's words are comforting in their mundaneness: "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters... Increase in number, do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city in which I have carried you into exile..." Powerful words indeed, and not wholly expected.

Jeremiah also tells them that the exile will last 70 years. He warns against those self designated prophets who come telling lies. "I did not send them!" declares the Lord. That verse echoed from a time when I lived in Whitehaven in 1980, my seminary days. I was assigned to St. Joseph's with Fr. Kirk that summer, preparing to head off to Belgium. Fr. Kirk preached a message of justice and often would repeat that verse in reference to the false preachers. "I did Not send them!" he would say, a wry smile on his face. [If only it was always clear whom He did send!]

There is another verse, "I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you  hope and a future." This is one of those "favorite" verses which show up frequently amongst Christians of a certain bent. I have heard it quoted many times by many a sincere believer. It resonates with hope and does calm the spirit! It is a source of comfort and hope in this present time of darkness and exile.

I was surprised to see so many verses which bring up memories, but I was still laser focused on the command to build and multiply. As long as my brain works, those verses will always jump out at me. I remember preaching on them, about two and a half years ago....

As my regular readers know, I am a traditional minded Christian in a decidedly progressive denomination. Torn apart by strife, the Episcopal church has hemorrhaged membership, most of it of an overtly traditionally orthodox nature. The Episcopal church is more progressive and, I think, also less tolerant of us. Living among hostile people is never far from my mind. And as a catholic I do not fit in with those who have left. With no where to turn, I turn to God and try to be faithful in my parish. [I have heard all the "prophetic declarations" about my future in teh Episcopal church. I fully expect it will not end well.] It helps to recall God has a plan as well, a plan to prosper, not harm.

Any how, preaching to a parish which is marginalized and can feel alienated, I reminded them how one lives in exile. Jeremiah spells it out: have babies, build up and work hard for prosperity. Pray for your overlords. We are all in it together. [One is reminded of Jesus' parable about wheat and weeds; the judging is in God's hands.] Now our parish is generally past the child bearing years. I said, as I laughed, while we old timers would not have literal babies, we still needed to be productive. Two days later I found out that we were going to have a baby (the little tyke who is sick now). I laughed for a couple days about it (then cried for months!).

Those words of Jeremiah and my homily are forever melded in my head. "Be fruitful and multiply. Even in a land of exile, make babies." As I expected his arrival has meant a total loss of control. I am doing many things which I had not "planned." [interestingly, the last two years there have been more babies born in our parish than any year since I arrived in 2001.]

So what is the point?

We have lost control, time and again, and we will continue to find ourselves pulling on reigns, only to find the horses unresponsive (sometimes because the reigns are attacked to nothing!). What to do? Stay focused on the plan. God made us to be fruitful and multiply. That is our  task. Whatever the situation, confortably at home or exiled in a strange land, we are to pray and work. The situation matters little, seek prosperity and the blessings of God. God is much less "pious" than we are prone to think. He is concerned with things like having families and making a life for yourself. We think He is only about "spiritual things" and find Him offputting. In reality, the prophets He sends (men like Jeremiah) remind us that wherever we are, the first task remains the first task. We are not always "at home," but the mission is the same. And having had the babies, we are to raise them to love and serve the Lord. Which is why, every day, since the day I heard we were going to have a baby, I have asked God to make Levi holy. Every day. And I plan to continue to do that until my brain does not work any more. He will need to be holy, as he grows in a world where he is frequently in a state of total loss of control.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Making the Turn

It is Wednesday evening, and in three days we will celebrate the Palm Sunday (vigil) Liturgy which marks the beginning of Holy Week. Today I find myself looking at what looms ahead. The lenten journey heats up and we make the final turn to Easter. For liturgical types, those Christians who live their faith in a more sacramental form, these are in truth the greatest days to be alive.

The assigned readings today continue the process of heightening our awareness of what Jesus meant in His day (and what He means today) by continuing to draw on the writings of Jeremiah. As I have said before, Jeremiah's time is eerily similar to Jesus' own day. Jerusalem and her temple was destroyed the first time with Jeremiah, the second time after Jesus. In addition, Jesus quotes from Jeremiah at key places in His ministry (the fishers of men line, for example, as well as the more familiar complaint that the temple is a den of thieves). Jeremiah 23 gives God's promise, "I will raise up shepherds over them...I will raise up for David a righteous branch," something which Jesus alluded to in today's Gospel from John 10 (I am the Good Shepherd). So today's bitter words from Jeremiah 25 were tough medicine in deed.

God promises that the Babylonians will conquer His people. There will be a season of severe punishment. Jeremiah declares that he has, for twenty three years, persistently spoken God's word; that God has persistently sent His messengers the prophets to call His people back, but the word has gone unheeded. "Turn from your evil ways and wicked doings" calls the Lord through his (frustrated) servant. Unfortunately, the people are intent on provoking God to anger and so they are told "I will utterly destroy them, and make of them an object of horror and of hissing, and an everlasting disgrace." There will be no sound of mirth or gladness....., well, it goes on and on and none of it is appealing.

Jeremiah's harsh judgment brought him personal turmoil and public opposition. Like Jesus, Who longed to save His people from the folly of their way, Jeremiah also had a heart for God's people.

Holy Week, the remembrance of the Last Supper, the crucifixion, and the final abandonment of Jesus are all meditations on this great mystery. The mystery of a Creator God Who becomes a human, to share in our misery & ministry. The mystery of great evil, an execution, a torturous execution, of an innocent man (The Innocent Man) which is incorporated into the Divine Man and made one with God. The mystery of sadness and tears, and faith in the the crucified, faith in spite of the tomb, faith in the face of untold horrors.

Somehow grace and judgment, mercy and wrath are all wrapped together. Jeremiah reminds us of the bitter taste of wrath, the horrors of spending one day too many in the "land of disobedience." Like Adam and Eve writ large, the exile is the story of people who tell God, "I will do it my way," giving up all claim to their place in the world. Like the prodigal son, it is the exile of a fool who squanders everything he has been given, even his position in the Father's household and lives in a far off land.

Holy Week expresses how God consumes this rejection, consumes it in the Body of Christ, embraces it all. That is the cross. That is the death of Jesus. That is the exile redeemed. It is a mystery to be experienced in story and liturgy, too deep for explanation. It is better suited for proclamation. And we are making the turn into the time of proclamation and celebration. It is time to wake up and focus your prayer and study. The tiem grows very short.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Wish God did this more often!

I intended to write about St. Patrick today. After all, it is his feast day and he was one of the greatest missionaries in church history, arguably the greatest.  However, walking into church early this morning a friend drove by in his truck and chatted with me a bit. He shared that his brother-in-law had died this week. While he was home for the funeral he heard a wonderful story which I want to share.

Over a decade ago his sister's son died. At the time there were some "strange" goings on which felt like a miracle (involving a rainbow). The family took comfort in this time of sad loss because the Lord seemed to be there. My friend told me today that there was more to the story which he only found out at the funeral Friday. His sister had put down her other child to nap and gone outside to weep where she would not be heard. It was something she apparently did regularly. Standing alone in the yard she heard someone call her name. She spun around and saw no one. This occurred three times, then the voice said to her, "As much as you loved him, I love you more." She related that there was a sense of peace which surrounded her which was inexpressable.

Hearing the story gave me goose bumps. It also brings to mind many other parents who have suffered great loss. I know of other cases where the communication of hope is just this strong and overt. People who are ordinary and not prone to such things relating (reluctantly) that a voice, or a vision, had provided them with contact with the divine realm. Like I said in the title, I wish God did this more. I wish He did it with me.

So, in taking it a step further, let me share what I have come to think about such things. First, because I heard this story when I did, first thing in the morning just before I write this blog, God has provided a venue to share this event (which, I might add, only happened because my baby woke up three hours earlier than normal, keeping me in the house for an extra hour). You and I may not hear His voice today as she did, but He speaks to us through the story. The message, "I love you more than any mother has loved her baby...shalom, peace," can provide us comfort. We can meditate on its truth and know what is said to her is said to us. Second, the Scriptures are full of such communication. "I have loved you with an everlasting love," "it is not you who chose Me, I chose you," or "as the Father has loved Me, so I have loved you, live in My love." Isaiah says that He has carved our name in the palm of His hand, that even if a mother could forget her child, He will never forget. These are but a few verses which convey the message. They are no less true for being found in the Holy Book rather than an experience of a voice. In prayer and openness God can comfort your heart through them. Third, prayer and meditation are the normal venue to receive into our mind, heart and soul God's self communication. In our church holy communion is an outward sign of it. So we embrace Him in word and sacrament. We let Him, perhaps silently, hold us close.

Patrick also heard a voice. Patrick was kidnapped and made a slave as a young boy. His lfe as he knew it ended and he became the possession of a pagan. Working as a shepherd in isolation in a desolate spot, Patrick began to pray to God. As time passed, he prayed more frequently until it became "perpetual prayer." Living in a constant state of loving awareness of God he escaped the burden of his slavery and the pain of his isolation. He was no longer alone, he was with God. One day, Patrick heard a voice. It said, "Go home." So the young man, his hair cut a give away of his slave status, somehow walked across the land unaccosted and found safe passage on a vessel, even though he had no money. God's hand at work.

Years later, now a priest, Patrick heard a call to return to these people, whom he loved. His former captors, for all their ferocity and lack of "civilization" (as Romans would measure it by the standard of their own culture), had captured his heart. Patrick was made a missionary bishop and returned with a small monastic band, including lay men and women. He went from place to place, setting up a prayer community outside of villages. Over time, their example of love and kindness couple with their works of mercy brought people into their circle. Having made connections they preached and taught the faith. Belonging preceeded believing. Utilizing the local customs and imagery from their world, Patrick was able to convey to them the faith in Jesus which was at the center of his life. Patrick assumed that the love  he had for these people was nothing compared to the love God had for them. Patrick believed that coming to Christ occurs in a community of faith (remember how Jesus had a band of apostles). Patrick is not the only saint who heard a voice from heaven. One recalls St. Francis' voice ("Francis, rebuild my church, which you can see is falling down") or the mystic Dame Julian of Norwich (the first female author in the history of the English language, she heard the words, "All will be well, and all will be well, and in all manner of things, all will be well").

God speaks, perhaps more than we realize. But he doesn't speak to those who demand signs and proof. Sorry, for such there is only eye (&ear) witness testimony. But that testimony is powerful. It is an open door for us to enter a more intimate experience of faith and trust and love. It is also a reminder that in the silence of our prayer, the God Who is not talking, is still loving us. Loving us more than any mother has ever loved her child. And that is alot.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Thoughts on God's Nature

Genesis 2 says that God decided that it was "not good for the man to be alone" so He created a helpmate, flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. The sacred text is mysterious. God is like a potter, or a small child on the beach. Scooping up the earth He forms a man, scooping out the side of the man, He forms a woman. In the Priestly account (Gen 1), God speaks and the humans spring into life. Here, however, there is more "manual labor" involved. It is less majestic and more intimate. The two creation accounts wonderfully reveal the two sides of God's nature: Transcendent and Immanent.

I have thought much about this tension lately in my own prayer life. Worship of God, liturgy and formal prayers, repetion prayers and quieting the soul in its poverty and obedience are the proper response to the Transcendent God. Such a God is unknowable, except by analogy. We point in the general direction of such a God. It is best expressed by the word God spoke to/through Isaiah: My thoughts are not your thoughts, My ways are not your ways; as the heavens are high above the earth so are my thoughts above your thoughts, so far are my ways above your ways.... In another place, "as far as East is from West" captures the sense of distance.

The Transcendent God, One and Three, is the God of philosophical reflection. Words like perfect, unchanging, all-powerful, all-knowing, etc. grasp at the unfathomable fullness and completeness (and unknowable-ness) of God. There is a branch of theology called "apophatic" which deals in negatives about God. God is not good, it says, meaning the word good is not able to capture God. Or, in another explanation, God is so far above good as you imagine it, that good is not suitable as a descriptor. And the same is true of any word we use. When we say things like "God can do anything" we are referring to Transcendence.

Immanence, on the other hand, has to do with God's self emptying. God, Who is everywhere, chooses to be in a place. God, metaphorically on His knees, gets His hands dirty forming the man, and gives a part of Himself away (breath/spirit) in order to make the dirt creation a living soul. Is there a more dramatic expression of the human mystery? Divine breath animating dirt? Yet, we are told, creation is the work of God in His self emptying. Here we see foretaste of incarnation. Here we see God time bound and space bound, among us, with us. Here springs forth the possibility of God "changing His mind" (which we see constantly in the Jewish Scriptures) because He has locked Himself into the flow of time. Here we see God disappointed by people, again and again, because He is in a real relationship with them in their context. Here we see a God Who hopes, Who gets angry, Who tears down and builds up, Who walks away and Who hears the cries of His people because each day, over and over, He is reaching out to them within the limits of worldly existence. God intimately involved (at great personal expense) with the little dirt-people He created.

Much of the debate on God ignores these two features. The invisible God above and outside of time Who chooses to enter time and place is confusing. After all, we like things clean and clear, and there is nothing but paradox and mystery. We are tempted to cry out, "Which one is GOD?" But if we silence our need to control, and move from 'know' to 'trust', we can begin to enter the mystery. We can worship formally and chat informally. We can see God as Creator and Brother. We can look far off in the distance where He reigns in perfection and we can enjoy the gentle touch of His healing hand in the confort of our own living room. We can ponder Him as imponderable, and we cuddle and giggle with Him as friend and ally. We can quake before His judgment in perfection and revel in His understanding and mercy in His nearness.

One without the other changes everything and causes us to leave the Christian faith. One option is Deism. Another is pantheism. Each of those two contains a partial truth. It is  the mystery of both together which produces Christian faith. The God Who speaks and "it was." The God Who shapes, forms,and breathes into and it becomes a living soul. The God of glory, might and majesty. The dust covered God seen in the face of Jesus, wantdering from town to town with Good News and healing power in love. Pondering God's self revelation is mindblowing!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Rest of the Story

Jesus is not a novelist. His story telling, as recorded in the Gospels, is more to illustrate a point or to open our minds to a new insight into reality than it is to engage us in a narrative. The "Prodigal Son" parable is longer and more detailed than most. The point Jesus is illustrating is that a father's love will lead him to do amazing things for his sons. One assumes, rightly, that this is intended as an illustration of God's relationship with us. As Luke has passed on  the story, it was told by Jesus to provide insight (into His vision of God) to His (judgmental) adversaries.

What follows is based on a meditation I led Sunday. I think it provides deeper insight into the point Jesus is making.

So imagine the scene. Music playing, laughter and talking in the background. An older man stands talking with a younger man. The older man is a bit stooped and looks worn out, yet happy. He is also concerned. His eyes bore into the younger man with care and concern. His manner is gentle. He is pleading, his worn hands extended before him like a beggar.

The younger man looks mad, his gestures wild and expressive. He juts his chin forward and makes glaring eye contact, then withdraws with arms folded across  his chest. He is obviously more intent on accusation than discussion. His loud tone and unfriendly facial expression convey his inner rage.

Finally, in desperation, the old man reaches out to grasp his shoulder. The young man pauses. The older man reaches for the other shoulder as well, his weary face dropping a bit as he slowly and softly talks. Somehow, for a moment, the son is drawn in. Perhaps he see he has pushed his father too far. Perhaps he has heard his own disrespect flowing out of his mouth. Perhaps a father's love has penetrated his anger, if only for a moment.

His dad looks at him, again and speaks.

"My son. My precious, first born, son. I have always loved you. You were the great joy of my life. At your birth I danced. I gave you my heart at that moment and you have had it ever since. Everything I have is yours. All of it.

Open your eyes, my boy. Look..... See.....

You say I have never given you a kid goat to celebrate with your friends? My son, I have given you the entire heard, old and young, each goat is already yours. All that is mine is yours!

You say you slave for me? Can't you see that it is yours already? Everything you do, all your efforts, all your work---it is not for me, it is for you. I have already given you everything. All mine is yours!

You are precious to me, my son. You have always been with me. With have been together, side by side, making a life together. Have I not told you of my love? shown you my love? Have I not given you everything?

Open your eyes, my son. Look.... See.....

Your brother smells unclean, he wreaks of pigs. What worse could  have befallen him? He is dead; dead to you, to our village, to our way of life. He is dead to himself. You should see the shame in his eyes. Would you keep him in exile, locked away in death, feeding pigs? A son of Israel, your own flesh and blood? Your brother lower than a pagan? Would you be content to see him live that way forever?

You have everything, dear boy. All mine is yours. His share is gone. He has nothing. If you have everything, can you not have compassion as well? Can you not welcom your brother home? Can you not love your father enough to allow me some joy in my old age? Can you not love me enough to be happy for me, because my son was dead and is alive, my son was lost and is found?

Must I lose you, too? Will you not open your eyes to see? All that is mine is yours. All of it. Can that not be enough? Can you not join me in celebration?

****I contend this parable may be the finest example of proclaiming the Gospel that there is. It reveals the heart of God. It makes clear the vocation of church. It calls to the lost and reminds the 'righteous' of their vocation to love, to reconcile, to embrace. But most of all, it gives us hope. Hope that no matter how we stray, there is a Father scanning the horizon, ready to run, scoop us into His arms, love us and celebrate with us. The Father's desire is that all of us will live. All of us. It has pleased Him to give us the Kingdom. All of His is ours, all of it!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Did The Son Repent?

No Bible story is self contained. It is helpful to remember that Jesus announced, "The Kingdom of God is at  hand, repent and believe the Good News." Repentance is a major component of Jewish and Christian religion. In today's Morning Prayer reading from Jeremiah 18 (The potter and clay),  God declares, "...but if the  nation...turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring upon it." This is an endless theme of the Scriptures of the Ancient Covenant (the New, too!) IF we turn back, then God will turn back. Repentance is the proper response to God's gracious mercy. It is also necessary. But believing the Good News is central, too. And the Prodigal Father is very good news...

In the Prodigal Son (or Father!) parable, the boy does not seem to 'repent' as much as figure out a way to get food. He has blown the money, about 1/3rd of his father's total holdings. (Deuteronomy 21:17 says the oldest son gets a double portion). The substantial financial blow to the estate, however, was nothing compared to the shame the son has brought on his father in this culture. The father was being told, "I wish you were dead, I cannot wait, give me mine." Such dishonor in Jesus' culture is unfathomable. We can not miss this and understand anything of Jesus' point. Neither can we overlook that both sons got their inheritance on the spot. For Jesus' listeners this would have been shameful folly and offensively uncharacteristic of the culture. (In reading we often overlook that the older son has also brought shame on the father in accepting his inheritance.)

The lad goes to a far off country. This, too, is shameful. He leaves the homeland to live among Gentiles, where his newfound wealth is eventually dissipated in the party lifestyle. The boy wakes up one day with nothing, a foreigner in a strange land without connections or family. He goes to work on the lowest level of the social order, a day laborer. Working with (ritually unclean) pigs makes him a total loss in Jewish eyes, probably ours as well. Jesus paints a picture of absolute desolation for His Jewish hearers. The villagers in his father's town would have viewed him as a pariah and may will have killed him given a chance. [This story would produce in Jesus' listeners the emotional equivalent to using the foulest language with church going grandma's; sheer horror.]

The boy does not voice any sense of repentance for shaming his father or the hurt he has casused. Self-centered to the end, he figures being a servant for his dad would be a better life for himself. He is all about "me." He rehearses his confession. What is not made clear: does what he "says" reflect an interior disposition? Or is he merely playing a role. Obviously, in that culture, he could not make any claims on the Father. By taking the inheritance he has renounced sonship and declared void his relationship with his father. (In our own day, long influenced by this story, we assume, even presum upon, the Father's mercy. We cannot feel the horror Jesus' listeners felt)

The boy does "turn back" and go home. Perhaps, this is enough conversion. Perhaps the return home (from exile), which is the central story of the Tanak (Jewish Bible), focuses as much on external behavior as interior disposition? Jesus does not make a comment, but it is noticable that the boy's integrity is never established. Any parent with a wayward child can testify, the "coming home" is usually only "partial" and is less likely to be motivated by a change of heart than it is a change in circumstances (for the worse). However, it seems to be enough for the dad, who runs to his returning son. This implies a few things. One, the boy is far off, so how does the father see him? Probably, the father scans the horizon regularly. He has lost his son and longs to have him back (remember the last post made issue of the context, the two previous parables about lost things). One gets a glimpse into the father's heart knowing he gazes each day hoping. Another significant point, men do not run in this culture. It is disrespectful, yet the father does run. In the Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptics (Malina & Rohrbaugh) we read that the father runs to save his son's life. In the village, the returning miscreant would have been viewed with violent disdain. (Wouldn't want his abhorable example around) By gathering the boy in his arms, and then throwing a party, the father made clear that this is his son. The identity as son has been restored. This restoration is, in fact, a model of Israel-God and echoes many a Bible story. Lost and restored sonship is a model for expressing what salvation really is.

Certainly, the focus is not on the son's repentance, it is on the father's reckless, socially intolerable, illogical and unwarranted grace. Jesus speaks hard words on a repenting life elsewhere. Here He shines the light on the father (and by extension, The Father). Here He makes clear that the reality of God's heart trumps our human sin and sinfulness. Being home (i.e., returning to the community; or church) is where the mercy is received and the process of reintegration begins. Jesus wants his listeners to know this. The older son (church leaders?) has also broken faith with the father. He took his inheritance. He was angry and sullen, considering himself a slave (while working on his own land). The listeners of Jesus saw themselves the same way. Slaves of God, while Jesus is offering sonship to all, even sinners (even sinners motivated by empty bellies and miserable lives). Such amazing grace is frightening to trust. Like the villagers of Jesus' day we know that it is dangerous. A graciousness so profound can be abused, allowing sons (and daughters) to waste everything, to make all manner of insult and insolent disrespect. It could lead to anarachy.

Perhaps we understand that we are not worthy of the name son/daughter. Perhaps we see ourselve in both boys, wasting our lives in heated dissolute living and cold-bearted anger and resentment. Perhaps, now, we are ready to understand that the true Older Brother (Jesus) does not begrudge our return nor our reception of status as son. In fact, like a good shepherd, our older brother, Jesus, goes in search of the lost sheep, not waiting for us to come to our senses. And this is the mission of the church: call people home to the Father.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Prodigal Dad

Today's Gospel, the Prodigal Son, is among the more well known parables of Jesus. It is probably a story which most of us connect to at some level. From the On-line dictionary I lifted this definition of the word prodigal as used as an adjective:
1. Rashly or wastefully extravagant: prodigal expenditures on unneeded weaponry; a prodigal life.
2. Giving or given in abundance; lavish or profuse: prodigal praise.
In the past, the focus had been on the younger son's wastefulness and, hence, thestory was called "The Prodigal Son." However, the second meaning is equally applicable to the Father, who abundantly gives and lavishly bestows his blessings. Both father and son are prodigal; though in very different ways.
The story itself is found only in Luke. One would think that a story of such depth, power and popularity would be found over and again in the various soruces. Luke has set the telling of this parable within a conflict with Pharisees and Scribes. This is no doubt reasonable, though one assumes it is a story which Jesus told more than once in a variety of settings. (I hope so, it is worth repeating!)
I firmly believe that one must always interpret a text in context. Luke has placed this parable as the culmination of three parables (the other two are about finding something which has been missing, too: Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin) The ultimate context, an address to His opponents (15:2), is the proper "lense" through which to interpret this story. What is Jesus trying to tell his accusers? (They are angry He spends time with sinners and tax collectors.) I think, clearly, that He is inviting them to a mission mentality. He is telling them how God operates.
Most "devout" people identify with the older brother. I must confess that I found Jesus' trreatment of sinners most confusing when I was in seminary and a young priest. While always aware of my sin (Guilt) I was also trying really hard to be faithful. It seemed to me that all my efforts, all that I was giving up and all that I was trying to do meant nothing to God. I felt like I was rejected by God because He was too interested in people who were not at all interested in Him. I was confused and thought that maybe I needed to just go sin so I could come back and God would like me more. Eventually, I kind of figured it out. I am more inclined to see myself as the wasteful son than I do the industrious one. I also have come to see that the Father is good and both boys are not. I have also passed from judging the prodigal son, through judging the older brother, to just revelling in the Father.
See, in church circles, we tend to judge. Usually, we judge the prodigals who like to spend their money on drinking, partying and loose living. It is, after all, offensive to our values. It is also a waste of life. People who squander everything and end up in dead end jobs (like feeding pigs) are a drain on society at large. Outside of church circles, however, judgment is just as common. Most people, therefore, who count themselves among the NON-churchy types see this parable as a condemnation of churchiness. And "the setting," Jesus addressing a bunch of grumpy, judgmental Pharisees and Scribes, seems to confirm that.
But look at the parable again. Jesus does not condemn anyone. He does not condemn either son. What He says is actually quite different. He provides a model for understanding God which focuses on His desire to draw everyone in. It also makes clear that all of us need to convert. The younger brother, who returns home for selfish reasons (to eat) and the older son (full of anger and resentment) are both blind to the father's kindness. There is no "rest of the story" from Jesus, but based on my experience dealing with "wayward" youth, the little brother probably found it difficult to adjust again to life in the big house. His nature had not changed, his situation did. The younger son  has no inheritance and he was going to need to make serious ammends with his older brother who, after all, had not blown his inheritance. The party life still beckons the younger man. My guess is there is a real good chance that this story would end in tragedy for him, as his lower desires tried to get control of him again. Meanwhile, the older boy has a choice to make as well. Will he acknowledge the love and grace of his father? His insult to his dad is a grave sin in the ancient world, punishable by death in some quarters. Can a man so full of anger and resentment ever find peace?
One could write a very long book on this parable. There is so much there. Clearly, we do well to read it for what is there (and what isn't) to hear the authentic voice of Jesus and to catch a glimpse of the God who saves.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Reading the Bible like a Church Father

Our church uses the Revised Common Lectionary. The readings for Lent can be found at this website here: (we are week four)

The first reading was short. I preached, sort of, the Prodigal Son but more on that tomorrow. Even so, I want to briefly share what I found in the first verse (Joshua 5:9)

Joshua 5:9-12The LORD said to Joshua, "Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt." And so that place is called Gilgal to this day. While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

As people familiar with the first Christians know, they loved allegorical and spiritual reading of Scripture. In fact, some of the Scriptures are actually written to be read as such (e.g. Paul). In ancient culture, the literal surface meaning was not held in the same high regard as we do. It was believed that if God is the ultimate author, then a deeper spiritual meaning must be sought and found. (Have you ever read the Gospel of John?) While not a Patristics scholar, I have read some and tried to gain insight into their approach to the Bible. While I am not claiming any Church Father would think I understand them, it is my meager attempt to read deeper.

The actual context is Joshua, Moses' successor, who has led the people into the land of Promise. The "future is now" as they say and the people of God (Israelites) have finally settled into their land. The time of slavery has been undone and the shame is rolled away. [Remember, this is an honor-shame culture, different from our own western understanding of things. Shame is a powerful motivation for these people.] Seems pretty straightforward and simple, doesn't it? So what would a church Father see in addition?

First of all, the Father always look for Jesus. Texts found in the Ancient Covenant (Old Testament) are 'fully filled up' in Jesus, so one can safely assume that Jesus can be found there in a "Spiritual" (vs. Literal) reading. It is like those hidden codes we hear about. God is communicating more than what it appears. And God's communication is all about salvation and understanding.

Joshua is the Hebrew for the Aramaic Ye'shua. That is what our Lord was called. In Greek it is Jesus. The Hebrew name is a composite of Yahweh + Salvation, so the name means the Lord Saves. In the Fathers, every mention of Joshua is seen to be a clear allegorical/spiritual reference to the Lord Jesus. We understand His ministry through the historical figure from Israel's conquest (as Jesus is the New Joshua making the New Conquest). So, reading that name made me say, "O, keep an eye out for Jesus here!"
"Rolled away" is what tipped my interpretation in another direction. In the Gospels the stone in Jesus' tomb is rolled away. Rolled away, therefore, reminds us of the rock and the resurrection. And the disgrace is the crucifixion (He humbled Himself to become a man, and demeaned Himself to die like a criminal). In Jesus' culture to die on the cross was shame upon shame. Remember (Paul certainly does) that the Law says anyone who is hung on a tree is cursed. So disgrace, or shame, or curse are all connected to the Cross. Egypt is the historical land of slavery. In much of the Tanak (Jewish Bible or OT) it is also a land to escape persecution (even in Matthew baby Jesus is taken there) or danger. So Egypt is double meaning: the land of slavery and the place of hiding. Jesus dies to take on our curse (sin and death). Jesus is sinless, but he "goes to Egypt" (He lives among us!) and lives in the human slavery to death (How can the author of life, the Creator die? He becomes a man and enters our shared 'slavery' in Egypt). The tomb is also the resting place of Jesus, hidden in the tomb/Egypt He awaits the proper time to come back (rise).

Today is of course that day for Joshua, but in the New Testament (Hebrews 3) there is a long reflection on Psalm 95 and the word today. Hebrews says we are living in "the today" (here and now in the post-resurrection, pre-Final Coming). So Today connotes Easter (as we live in the Easter Season until His return). Today is a word of address to the reader from God, a sacred reminder that time grows short to repent and believe.

So what did I see in the text (which no literal reading would provide)? Simply this, that when Joshua entered the Promised Land and enjoyed the fulfillment, that event pointed to an even greater day and even more important promise. It points to the day when the crucified Josuha/Jesus, having borne the shame of the cross and died as a slave (literally in Roman culture and figuratively as a human ensalved to death), now had the shame literally (rock rolled away) and figuratively (Risen He is no longer submissive to death) rolled away. So, it is, in a sense, a prophecy of Jesus' resurrection and a type of Christ. The mention of manna (a eucharistic type) connects it all the more to Passover/Last Supper/multiplication of loaves, in my mind, which only deepens the mystery and reveals more elegantly the glory.

So many of you may wonder what meds I am on to end up here, right? But perhaps those who lived closer to Jesus (in time and space) are aware of Divine revelation in ways we aren't. Maybe there is something there, when you look for Jesus in every book of the Bible. Maybe there is something there when you find Him in an unexpected place. Maybe the literal reading is not the point, maybe things are better deeper! (D-lay. this one is for you!)
Addendum About twelve hours after posting last night's blog, I was doing Morning Prayer (with its own lectionary readings) One of them was from Galatians 4, including verses 23-24 [All this is an allegory: the two women stand for two covenants.] Hagar, he says, is Mount Sinai while Sarah is Jerusalem. Further allegorizing as the two locations are also given symbolic meaning. I cannot help but say, "there YOU go again, Lord. Confirming through Scripture what I am learning and teaching.

Friday, March 8, 2013

From Faith to Trust

During Lent I have tried to hone in on prayer-study-(Kingdom) work.  My prayer has been utilizing insights from the Russian Pilgrim (Jesus Prayer) and Celtic Models which has simplified and focused it. I have also increased my volume of thanks and praise. As I told a friend, I am less and less inclined to tell God what I want and need and what I think He should do. It seems that I am drawn into gratitude because of another shift that is taking place within me.

While my Lenten commitment is to the book "The Way of the Pilgrim" I had originally intended to focus my Lenten prayer and study on healing. Having finished the Pilgrim (I am now re-reading it) my other desire led me to pick up a book I read some time ago, Agnes Sanford's "The Healing Light." I often read on my aerobic workout days, and this book was an ideal companion as it is pretty easy reading (though sublime in depth and meaning!). It begins with an Original Introduction, written by Glenn Clark in 1947. There he lays out three steps: Through the same meekness those that seek God can produce results by learning to conform to His laws of faith and love. that power, second...turn it on...third...believe that this power is coming into us and to accept it by faith.

These words resonate (and stung a bit) for I had to face (yet again!!!) that my faith is not so strong. My theological education probably has created as many problems for me as anything. I "know" so much and much of what I "know" is the wrong stuff. I have been trained to dissect texts and approach things of God critically. This is good, much naive and simple faith is destructive. Yet, in too many cases my questioning turns to doubt, my doubt to despair. I soldier on, as one should in the face of challenges, but I am also aware that my ministry would be better if I were better (i.e. closer to God's goals and desires for me).

Sanford's model is a simple one (and I think accurate). We, you and I, are piplines. God's healing light (she provides some insight into the literal meaning of Divine Light) is from God. Healing is not so much a gift or charism as it is being open to God is. As one opens the pipeline, Divine Light, the healing power of God's love, flows through us into the person in need. Assuming there is openness there, the results are wonderful. As a corollary of this unuderstanding, Sanford offers this model of praying for healing.

She assumes that one must be in close contact with God (the power) in a regular practice of prayer and meditation. She calls it "being with" God in a relaxed and loving way. [My prayer of quiet and repetition fits this model.] Next she says voice a concern, simply and directly. Then she says, thank God for what He is already doing. She goes on to negate the begging model where we constantly treat God as a reluctant giver of His blessings (and I thought, "Guilty as charged!"). Instead, she offers gratitude in response to the God Who promises and fulfills His promises. When things breakdown, she reminds, the problem is the pipeline, not God. (Her analogy is electricity and a lamp; if the lamp won't work the assumption is not that electricity has failed, rather it is the wiring).

But "faith" is a key in all of this. And faith generally focuses on "me." Do I have "faith"? Do I have enough faith? How is my lack of faith getting in the way? What can I do to increase my faith? (and on and on it goes). Having spent the better part of four decades trying to increase my "faith" I can testify that it is no easy task. However, in recent years I have had a growing awareness of other translations of the word  pistis (the Greek word translated as faith in the Bible). The most helpful, for me, is trust. Faith seems to have become a sort of "stuff" I possess (in my mind). Trust on the other hand focuses on God. (Perhaps not true for everyone, but for me this is how the words work). So when I think about trust, I think about God being trustworthy (and faithful). Somehow, the language shift has shifted my mindset as well.

If I trust God I do not spend so much time asking as I do thanking. If I have asked God for something, repeatedly, and for a long time, ought I not think He has responded? And if He has responded, ought I not spend more time thanking and less time praying like He never responds (and less time praying like it is the first time I ever asked)? So when I say to God, "Please make me a holy priest" or "Please fill me with the gifts of the Spirit" is it not possible that the pipeline is jammed up with the assumption that each new day I am asking for the things which He has already given me (since 1984)? And isn't it a sign of a lack of trust that I pray as one who has never received the gifts (perhaps in part motivated by distorted humility)?

So the new prayer: "Thank you and praise you, merciful, loving, Triune God. Thank you for blessing me with gifts for the Kingdom. Thank you for unleasing in me a power of holiness and sanctification. Thank you for setting me apart and setting me aside for Your pleasure and service. Thank you Lord that I am yours, beloved and cherished. Thank you that you care for me and keep me in your Care. Thank you. Praise you. You are a holy and good God and worthy of honor and praise!" That little prayer is both a self offering and a declaration (to me as well as God) of trust. Why should God not want to answer our prayers, if He is a God Who saves?

I do not want to follow a theological rabbit trail here and discuss the problems of saying our lack of faith thwart God's plans. I do not want to be distracted by numerous examples or special cases where this is not true. In the majority of cases, this prayer/life approach is most appropriate. [It is like breathing, I recommend regular inhaling and exhaling--what about under water, what about if there is toxic smoke, what about if????... can be set aside for now. In normal circumstances, breathe. In normal circumstances, pray in thanks and trust.]

The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are among us. We could enjoy greater richness of life if we open ourselves to it. If the imagery works, move from faith to trust. (If it doesn't, move on to what does) Pray thanks more often than please. Pray thanks in the awareness that Jesus said, "It has pleased the Father to give you the Kingdom." Pray in trust and joy!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Book Review on Revealing Heaven: The Christian Case for Near Death Experiences

I was asked to be part of virtual “book tour.” Mine is the last of a series of blogs which review the book “Revealing Heaven: The Christian Case for Near-Death Experiences” by John W. Price an Episcopal priest, former hospital chaplain and a member of The Near Death Experience Research Foundation. (it is abreviated as NDEs below)

Since reading Raymond Moody’s book in the 1970’s I have been very interested in this subject. I have also hoped to see a serious Christian theological assessment of the phenomenon. While this book is not it, that does not mean I did not find it useful. I would recommend it. And in fairness, Price’s experiences with theologians (skepticism bordering on disdain) is an indication of why we do not have a deeper theological work before us.

Unfortunately, the title is misleading. I did not find it to make a Christian case. However, he does succeed in his stated goal (in a private e-mail to me). He said there: My first reason for writing the book was to get clergy to take NDE’s seriously in order to help returnees sort it all out and share their precious insights with the world. I think Price makes a very strong case that something happens after death; something that ministers should take seriously. There is value in that.

The problem is that (p97) included in a list of things that really do not matter in judgment are baptism, being a Christian and being active in church. I am hard pressed to see how these three can be optional in any “Christian Case” for anything. While “love and forgiveness” are without question vital components of the faith, it seems that what is being advocated here is closer to a generic spirituality. The Bible, especially prophetic literature, is full of the demands for justice. Apparently, in the experiences people related God is loving and merciful and much more centered on personal relationships. Justice demands are not important. Jesus’ teaching on sexual morality, wealth and His claim to be “The Way” to the Father is not either. One is tempted to say this is very good news. If you are basically a nice person then most of the demands and disciplines of Jesus following are not important, including Jesus following!

The statement (p157) “I find that there are only two religions in the world: a religion of love and a religion of fear” which “cuts across all religions” ignores that “Fear of the Lord” is certainly as much a Biblical mandate as “Love the Lord.” In my daily readings I find love, while always central, is one of many elements constitutive of the faithful life. None of those others appear to matter in the final judgment.

 I think Price provides a very fine general introduction to NDE’s rather than a theological argument. Price indicates he is a “seeing is believing” kind of person who wants proof. He is satisfied, based on what he has seen (dozens of survivors of NDE), that these experiences are true. He makes a reasonable argument that "they are real." If this were to be more than another pop book on NDE I think it needs to analyze from a deeper theological viewpoint. The question, “are the experiences real?” is important, but only as a beginning. There are others questions as well. What about the reliability of eye witness testimony? How does one discern the source of such spiritual experiences? If love and kindness are all that matter; what do we do with sacraments, Scripture, the church and the myriad practices of Biblical faith? Should we preach Jesus as Lord and Savior if He is optional? What are the implications of the "fact" people regularly die “before their time” and have to be sent back? Is the universe so ineptly run? It is not enough to advocate for more love without facing these (and other) implications of the book.

In the end, I have come to my own answers on these questions. I believe NDEs are real, but I do not think they are definitive. I am not sure that they are all God-given. I do believe that they must be dealt with seriously within the context of a more robust (and orthodox) Christian understanding. I think NDEs are best understood as a special case of what is called “visions and revelations,” that is, spiritual experiences which provide insight into the other side of reality. I am still waiting for the book which makes a Christian Case for NDE.

So I recommend this book with the cautionary reminder that NDE is not revelation. It should be treated like all experience, seriously but with an open mind. But in the end, everything must be interpreted in light of the authority of Scripture and the teachings of the Church, with Jesus as the Center of Divine Revelation and the source of salvation. Fr. Price's sweet book strongly advocates for a position, the centrality of love in God's judgment, but it fails to address too much to call it a Christian Case for NDE.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

God's Broken Heart Revealed

My goal in Lent is to emphasize the place of prayer, study and (Kingdom) work in service of God. My primary focus has been on prayer, I think, in large part because I have begun use of repetitive prayer in an effort to simplify and focus my prayer time, and to provide for "praying at all times" (or at least much more time). With that in mind I want to share from my own start of day prayer time.

Each day at 9:00 we pray Morning Prayer in our church. Some 3-8 people typically attend, but Wednesdays include eucharist (and Bible study at 10) so we see around 15. There is a daily cycle of readings assigned for each day and we are currently reading Jeremiah, Romans and John. The givenness of the lectionary means I am confronted by the Word rather than choosing what I want to read. I pray over the assigned texts in my prayer time. Thanking God over and over. Seeking mercy over and over. Speaking the Sacred Name, over and over. Resting in the Lord and in His word.

The words of Jeremiah 8:18 to 9:6 were very heavy and a reminder of God's nature and our need to repent. Reading these poetic utterances one sees the broader context is several chaprters (8:4-10:25). Commentaries remind us that the words of Jeremiah are prophetic words, uttered and declared to the people as a message from God. Commentators also remind us that the exact time and context of the words is unknown. As such, they lose some of their historical setting and have a more universal application. As a general word, about God and life on the planet, they are also more susceptible to our own shaping and forming.  As is always the case, we hear the Other speak, but in the hearing we are at risk of transforming it to make sure we hear what we want to hear.

The first thing I noticed in this section was how hard it is to figure out who is speaking, God or Jeremiah. Thinking back on Heschel's book on the prophets I think it is fair to say, both. The relationship of prophet to God is more unified than most of us know. Prophets share in God's mind and heart (remember this is analogy). There is sense in which they are privy to the inner workings of God beyond what most of us are. Like mystics, prophets have a special experience of God. And lest we be jealous, we are reminded that what they experience is far from pleasant. Hear Jeremiah,
My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick... The broken heart of Jeremiah, of God, of Jeremiah, of God... The broken heart is an insight into the Lord's relationship to us. It is The Cross, at the heart of the Creator/Redeemer/King's relationship with His people. For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, there is no Victory here. There is no Mighty God, here. There is no Awesome and Awful God here. Only the heartbroken Father rejected by His children. And yet, it is also Jeremiah's experience as he sees the doom (probably the invasion of Babylonian troops). Unlike so many "Christians" today, who revel in the thought of God's judgment falling upon the sinners, Jeremiah has no delight. He is at one in love with his people and feels their suffering as his own.

Jeremiah/God criticizes the assumption that all is well. The people are confident (God is with us, we  have a king) but for no good reason (they embrace foreign idols). That is always the sin, the perceived self righteousness of the people of God. In that generation, no less than our own, people assume that all is well. "Repentance is for others," we tend to think, "God and I are good." For the hurt of my people I am hurt, I mourn , and dismay has taken hold of me" The lament of God, the lament of His prophet. Can we not hear here the words of Jesus crying out to Jerusalem (600 years later) to gather under His loving wings?

And the bad relationships between people and God are manifest between people and people. Jeremiah speaks of the desire to go off to the desert to be far from the folks. So speaks God, as well. The abandonment of Israel by God is a recurring theme in the Ancient Covenant texts. Judgment, in the Torah and later writigns, can be the visitation of some plague or invasion, but it is also the withdrawal of God. The hand of protection, once removed, leaves people prey to a godless (God-free) environment. It turns out that God may be irritating (with all that obedience and service talk) but the alternative (freed of the Law) has a dark side (free of divine order means chaos and death). Jeremiah sees (either prophetically of the pending future or actually of the literal invasion and destruction) and he shares God's view point as well.

A world of lies, slander, and misdeeds, where no one can trust anyone. A world where everyone is a supplanter (the word appears first in Genesis 27:36 where Essau accuses Jacob as a thief of the birthright). A world where each one takes care of him/herself. As Jeremiah summarizes it, "Oppression upon oppresion, deceit upon deceit, They refuse to know Me, says the Lord."

In the end, there are no good guys. All of us are part of that sad mass of deceit and malfeasance. No one  has clean hands and no one has a pure heart. We are only 'relatively' better than others, but never truly good in ourselves. Lent is a time to recall that. My own awareness of sin is heightened by the encounter with God, in and through his prophet. I gain insight into Jesus through Jeremiah. Jesus is The Prophet (read that in John today!) even if He is more than a prophet (Son Incarnate).  And the sorry state of our nation (yes, that is right, doom is coming) is reflective of the insolence and infidelity of Judah (though America is not the Chosen People, God still tends to work with people as a whole). Is there hope? yes, but it is found in the nature of God. A God Who mourns His people, Who suffers with His people, Who loves and cherishes His people--even if that people is unfaithful and full of all manner of sin and wickedness. And that is the mysteryof the Incarnation, Passion, Death of Jesus. It is the way God saves, at great personal cost. We are invited, in Lent, to undergo our own freely chosen passion and time of renewal in repentance. We are invited and warned to respond before it is too late. We are reminded that we are like office workers New York City's Twin Towers on the morning of September 1, 2001. We begin another day, with all manner of plans. On the horizon it is flying toward us, this pending season of destruction, and God weeps. He weeps for us. He weeps with and in and through His prophets. He weeps with and in and through His Son. And He cries out, "return to me! turn and live!" And too many of us are deaf. And the plane flies nearer and nearer.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Who to blame?

We shared yesterday about a near-miss tragedy. I saw a connection with the first reading on Sunday (from the Revised Common Lectionary). I also saw one with the Gospel which I want to touch on today.

Tragedy evokes many emotions. It also stirs in us the need to "make sense" of what happens. One key component of that making sense is the blame game. We like to identify someone(s) who can be held responsible. This is why we say that someone should not have done this, or should not have said that, should not have gone there, should not have stayed here, should not  have trusted him, should not have crossed her, etc. etc. The ultimate explanation is "God," and generally there is a drive in many of us to assume that bad things happen as a punishment. Really terrible things happen as a really terrible punishment. So we often wonder, what did I do to deserve this?

I am in no way claiming that we do not have responsibility for our actions, nor am I saying people have no part to play in the tragedies of this world. It is just that we sometimes need to face the truth; we can not explain everything.  And God is not a machine where you input this sin and output that punishment. It is far more complex than all that.

Jesus, on Sunday, was quoted as saying that "the people whose blood Pilate mixed with their sacrifices" were not the greatest sinners in Judah. First off, I think what he is referring to is a recent event in the temple, perhaps connected to a riot of some sort, when Roman soldiers slew some Jews who were making their sacrifices. In other words, the blood shed (theirs) was in the same place (mixed) as the ritual cleansing sacrifices. One can only imagine it was a double tragedy. The family who lost their men wondered how God could let it happen in that place at that time? And no doubt Jesus was aware that the popular assumption was that these men had certainly done some awful sin to warrant such a horrible end. Jesus says different. They weren't the worst sinners. Wrong place. Wrong time. In a sinful world holy places are desecrated. There is no magic in Temples.

Jesus also talks about a misshap at the pool of Siloam, probably a construction accident. Again the question, special punishment for especially bad men? again the answer. No. Now in both cases Jesus adds a warning, REPENT, so nothing worse befalls you. Clearly Jesus believes in wrath and punishment. Yet, I think He also believes that it is a future judgment. In the present time we do reap and sow, but there is inconsistency. The faithful people of God do not always prosper here and now. The sinners do not always pay for their sins. Sometimes, there is unfairness, in the here and now---which is why we are waiting for the Justice and Redempion in the Kingdom.

It is hard for me to let go of the blame game and just trust. It is hard for me to see tragedy as nothing but a warning and reminder that in the End, we will all be judged. It is hard to accept a degree of randomness in the world; difficult to accept that sometimes cancer strikes non-smokers and heart attacks fell athletes. Jesus does not seem to be taken up with reflections on the why of life. Instead He focuses on trees, manure and fruit. He is about our duties to labor in the Kingdom now, to serve and obey God now. And He sees all the tragedies today as a reminder that something worse is coming for those who do not produce the Kingdom fruits. Love. Justice. Peace. You know the drill. So lets get on it. Now.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Mom is Dead

Our daughter had her last basketball game yesterday. She has participated for three years so it was another milestone of Senior year. Yesterday was her best game ever. We missed her first basket however, she got a second basket right in front of us. Baby Boy, who loves basketball in a way unfathomable to me (he is not yet two), was in seventh heaven as the girls played some ten feet away from his little chair.

With two minutes to go in the game I got a text from our older son to pick him up from baseball practice (about three miles across town). I ran out to get him, knowing that the girls would mill around after the game. Son was delayed for a few minutes so I waited then we headed back to pick up Mom and baby.

When I called my wife she was obviously shaken. She explained on the phone that everything was okay, but that something horrible had happened. A couple minutes later we arrived in the lot. When she got into the car and began to tell us her eyes got teary. Here is what she said. After the game the girls were in a typically giddy, celebratory mood. One of the girls picked up her cell phone and a moment later let out a piecing scream as she fell to the floor. There was a great deal of chaos as the poor girl cried uncontrollably. One of the mothers got her phone and read the message. It was from the girl's father. You mom's dead.

My wife  had trouble saying the words, even as I do typing them. And like most of you reading them, there is something about the message which does not make sense. Why would anyone text such a thing to an unsuspecting child? The adults tried to reassure the sobbing child that it must be a terrible prank, that someone had hacked the phone. A mother directed another girl to make calls to the father, and the horror gave way to relief soon after. The message was that your mom's cell phone is dead. The father had inadvertantly sent a message which did not clearly communicate what he intended to say. As we left the parking lot my wife pointed to three girls and indicated that the middle one had been the unfortunate recipient of the sad text. We watched as the girl and her mother (who had just arrived) embraced. An hour or so later my own daughter arrived home, and her words to me reinforced what my wife had said, "Dad that was the worst thing I have ever seen, I am still shaken up."

Obviously what happened was real. One of their guy friends said he was going to go home and hug his mom. Yet the reality was based on a misconception so it was unreal. In truth her mother was not dead at all, a cell phone was. So it is strange that I find myself emotionally moved by something which did not really happen (and which I did not witness) and yet the reality of this fictive moment is powerful.

Two nights ago I was watching more episodes of Downton Abbey. A young man, wounded in the war, lay dying. My wife came in and asked, "are you crying." Embarassed, but honest, I said, "this is so sad." And it is sad even if it is a tv show. It is sad because in real life World War I did massacre a generation of Englishmen. Young men cut down in the prime of life, men like this boy who served at tables in a great house, whose last tortured breaths were caused by the pain and suffering of human folly, violence and destruction. Fiction is based on real life after all. Real moms can and do die. Someone's mom died as I began to write this, and other moms have died as I continued to write. I am touched by tragedy almost daily. Sometimes in the news, or closer to home, the losses of parishioners. Sometimes it is a parishioner. Or a friend. Or, me.... And sometimes it is in a fictional account. Perhaps the real losses are what we mourn when we are touched by fiction.

As we drove home, a police officer signalled us over. Not to worry, he is a former parishioner. In Junior high when we first came to St. Andrews, he is now in his mid-twenties and expecting his first baby in the Fall. His mother was my wife's best friend in the parish. A few days ago was the anniversary of her passing. She dropped dead at her husband's birthday party. It was the worst loss we have suffered together as a family. Talking with him about the event a few minutes earlier at the basketball game made it a bit more difficult. After all, we were part of the moment when he learned that his mom was dead. And there was no clearing up any misconceptions or miscommunications for him.

The reality is moms die. So do dads. And children, sometimes very young children. And sometimes it is a relief. Many times it is a horror. Some death is drawn out and painful. Other is unexpected and sudden. Death is always death. Our sorrows are real. Yet there is reason to hope. Today, many of us will hear Exodus 3 as the first reading at our church service. It is the burning bush text. God appears to Moses. It conveys one of my favorite messages in the Ancient Covenant texts. (I have about thirty favorite verses!) Moses is shepherding sheep (allusion: King David). God appears in the fire which consumes but does not destroy (the mystery of God--power and danger).A voice speaks, "Moses, you are on HOLY ground, get your shoes off." (A reminder that God is holy and we aren't. A reminder that the Loving God is still God. Proceed with great respect). Moses responds "Here I [am]." The verb "to be" can often be missing in written texts, it is understood. I noticed the back and forth of "I am" as both Moses and God use the phrase repeatedly. What God says to Moses, though, is key for understanding His identity. I have seen their oppression, I have heard their cries, I know their sorrows. When we cry out "Mom is dead!" the same is true. God sees, He hears and He knows. What follows is the two fold movement, God declares "I have come down to deliver them... to bring them up to the good (Promised) land." "Down" and "Up" are the directions of salvation. God descends so we ascend. And there is good reason to hear "raised up" in these words and there is good reason to discern resurrection here. In the end, resurrection is God's greatest redemptive act. It is the only act that makes the words "mom is dead" null and void. Mom is dead, but she will rise again. God has seen, He hears, He knows, and He comes down to bring us up.

However, the salvation of God, His mighty act to save, in this case (and most other, almost all other pen-ultimate acts of salvation) is mediated. In the end God does it all, prior to the final resurrection, however He saves sacramentally. God tells Moses, I have come down to rescue my people, so I am sending you. You, Moses, in and through you, God saves. Jesus is the perfection of that mediated, in and through, activity of God. But He is unique in being perfect, not in being a mediator... Moses was too. Same can be said for you and I.

"Where is God?," they ask. Sometimes with unbelieving disdain. Sometimes with intellectual curiosity. Sometimes in anguish and pain. "Where is God?" The answer is "Here I [I is you or me] am" and I [you or me] am the one sent by "I am Who I am [God]." Fortunately, that girl's mom was not dead, a cell phone battery was. Fortunately, it was a case of poorly composed text messaging. But in either case, God saw, heard and knew. And God came down to bring her up. And the way He acted was through people whom He sent [sent ones=apostles!]. People like you and me, literally, you and me. Sent by the God Who saves. The same friends who gathered around to comfort her, and celebrate with her the good news that her mom was not dead but very much alive would have gathered with her and loved and supported her had the text been accurate. It is what we do. We hold each other up in such times. I know. I have seen it, over and over again. God is among us, in and through us.

 And a weary, battered world full of people suffering real losses need God to hear, to see, to know and to respond in and through His people. And we respond again and again, until His kingdom wipes away every tear.