Total Pageviews

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

On Visiting Grandma, Fragility and Passing Moments

[I will be away from the blog until July 9th.]

The last week has been an overload. Lately that is the norm, or so it seems. We are discerning candidates for the position of Associate here and I have chosen to involve the entire parish in the process. We are blessed with many good candidates, which means I am going to disappoint many good people. I wish my parish was bigger so I could hire several. One thing I am keenly aware of is how limited I am. I realize that I am making choices which affect the lives of many people and I am not sure that I know what is best. It is hard to predict the future. I take comfort in prayer and trusting God, but I know that that does not mean everything will be fine.

Last week Grandma K was in town. She got to do lots of time with our youngest, who is a remarkable mix of delays and advances. Watching her delight in his amazing abilities was a joy. Watching her attentiveness to his serious limits was heart warming. He really took to her and provided lots of laughs. Her presence is always a reminder of my dad, who died Memorial Day weekend in 1999. Suddenly, he is dead a very long time. We shared stories of him, and one I recall was his sense of being "worried" as he aged. I remember it because I seem to have the same feeling more and more myself the last few years. It is not rational. It just is. I guess the fragility of human beings becomes clearer as we pass the half century mark.

My mother died several years before my dad, so my parents are both dead. She never saw any of my kids (in the flesh). [Yet God provides and so there is a Grandma.] Fragility of health was something both of my parents exhibited since I was young. Numerous times death made itself a house guest, only to leave without reaping. St. Benedict says to keep death always before you. That was no problem in a home where we were regularly told one parent or the other may die soon. Funny, when it finally happened I was surprised. I got used to 'almost dying' as a perpetual condition.

Life passes quickly. Sort of like summer is flying by. We visit and then get on a plane and in a couple hours are hundreds of miles away reoriented to a new place with new folks. As I sit typing this I know that July 9, so far off in the future will be here in a snap of a finger. Each day is added to the memories pile (and most of these days disappear in the mist of days gone by). We recall so little of what happens. I look forward to finding out what the purpose of it all is (some day).

Praying and reading the Bible, I constantly remind myself that the salvation history (culminating in the incarnation and mission of  Jesus) consists of the same "stuff" as my life. Births and deaths, meals and work, sleeping, crying, laughing. Momentary encounters which are unremarkable and instantly forgotten unless actively called to mind. People connections which are so real only to disappear with a kiss good bye and a "see you next time!" And endless important decisions and hours of "worry" (which people worried about their own concerns tell you 'not to worry about') which morph into new problems and opportunities.

It all passes. Our task is to fill each day with "a life worthy of our calling" focused first on Jesus and His kingdom. We must fill our heart with the reminder that we are all a mixed bag of delayed development and advanced. We are all a contradictory composition of self centered and God centered living. We are all fragile and temporary. And God loves us all. And our destiny is in the heart and hands of God; so enjoy the ride...

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Choose Well

Mt 10:24-39

The Gospel message has a sharp edge today, with its talk of persecution, family conflict and death. I want to briefly consider all of chapter 10 before focusing in on today's verses.

We covered this passage some months ago in my Bible study on the parallel Gospels. When we did this we saw that Luke has some of the same material spread out over three different chapters in his Gospel. This leads us to think that perhaps Matthew has crafted together an "apostles guidebook" from his sources of Jesus' words.As such, it is not simply remembering what Jesus said, but reminding the church in his age (and ours) of the deadly implications of discipleship. This makes it more important in our own consideration of church mission. What if following Jesus is really a life or death decision? How enthusiastic are we about our loved ones perishing for their faith in and love for Christ?

Mt 10 is introduced by 9:35-38 where Jesus is teaching, proclaiming the Good News and healing. His heart is moved with compassion for the crowds--which look to Him like sheep without a shepherd. {sheep/shepherd are code words for King and Israel, so this is a loaded analogy, just like 'harvest' is an apocalyptic, final judgment image). They are wandering about lost and needy, and Jesus sees that need. He sends His disciples, empowering them with the words and work which He has begun. "Proclaim the Kingdom" He enjoins them, "Raise the dead..."

This is to be an apostolic ministry of trusting faith. "Take nothing for the journey" is probably meant as an illustration of deep faith. Surely, it is not a Law. St. Francis and his jolly band actually did it for a while, but we know that within his lifetime the Franciscan Order adopted a more "practical" approach to evangelism. The key is the "ideal" Jesus offers us: a constant reminder that we are not to worry about our physical needs or let them take ascendency over the Kingdom. This is important in light of what comes next.

Matthew's narrative takes a decided shift (from v5 to v15). Jesus tells them (and us) that there will be a mixed reaction to the message, and the response, acceptance or rejection, will determine the eternal destiny of those who hear these words. Make no mistake, Jesus says, we are being sent out like sheep (again!) among wolves. We will be hated. We will be saved by enduring to the end (is there a better definition of faith?). [This is why the apostles were told to bring nothing with, if that is your focus then how can you stand up to resistance or threats?]

The words we hear today continue this theme. Jesus was rejected and crucified. Why would His followers expect an easier way? If Jesus is hated the followers of Jesus should not be surprised to feel the world's hatred. In a world ruled by the Deceiver, truth is offensive. In a world enamored with "many ways" to God and diversity for its own sake, the One Way, Who is Jesus, brings offense.

Yet our battle is not just with flesh and blood. There is one among us, Satan, who would draw us into the gaping jaws of Hell. Humans kill the body, yes, but all of us die eventually. Such a death may be unpleasant but it is unavoidable. The second death, eternal fires, are the warm welcome that the Evil One has prepared for those who renounce the Christ and embrace the Father of Falsehood. It is this demonic kingdom which Jesus warns us to fear and flee. There are two Princes who would rule this world---choose with care whom you will follow!

The battle lines are drawn, and have been for centuries and centuries. Jesus calls us, you and I, to be participants in His mission of salvation. We who respond can be assured of the Father's mercy and love. We are beloved in His sight. Yet, can we rest in peace and joy knowing others are swept along by the deceit and deadly power of the world, the flesh and the devil? Can we ignore our mission given us by Jesus and joyfully bask in the safety of a socially acceptable faith which demands little of us and offends no one?

Jesus sees a world of sheep in need of shepherding. We are also sheep, armed with His word (the sword which divides family is the word of God) and protected, ultimately, by His promise. There can be no room in our heart for divided loyalty. Satan twists even the good and the beautiful---things like reputation, citizenship and even family love---to evoke blasphemy and infidelity. Elsewhere Jesus makes the same demands with different language:
Seek First the Kingdom.
Give to God what is God's.
If you do not love me more than family, friend and even your own life then you cannot belong to me.

Such phrases are a challenge to translate this faith of ours into daily actions. It is clear, there are two paths stretched out before us: One is Jesus (the way, the truth and the life) and His Kingdom. The other is everything and everyone else. The first requires an active, committed decision; the second is an auto-response which happens if we do nothing.

This leads to a question. Can any man make such a demand? Does Jesus have a right to demand such a thing of us? Can He claim our first allegiance over everything, even those we love most? Can Jesus tell us not to worry about all the things that make life possible?

No man has the right to claim that, but Jesus is no mere man. He is god Incarnate, the Word made Flesh. He is Creator and King; so, yes, He can make such a demand. [Even the best people we know are not worthy of worship before God.... this is about worship and first loyalty]

Jesus has made the demand. The bigger question now is, knowing that He has made such a demand.... how will we respond in word and deed?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Interracial Marriage and Direct Communication from God

Yesterday we looked at the reading from Numbers 11. One detail that jumped out at me that I left out was the Spirit//Wind interplay. A strong wind blew in the birds and the Spirit of prophecy fell on the seventy. That interplay of word (ruah) is a common feature of Scripture, in particular the Hebrew writings. I have mentioned this before and usually include that in contemporary American English we are not prone to such word play. Reading today into chapter 12, I picked up several rabbinic commentaries on Torah. Apparently much of the text in these two chapters feature an on-going play on the root SP, which is the verb 'gather.' One term which is a negative term for a gathering of problem people (sort of like "riff-raff") starts us off, but that verb is also present at the end of today's reading when Miriam is 'gathered back' to the people, showing that the 'rebellion' is across the people from the social misfits all the way to the inner family circle of Moses.

Chapter 12 begins with Miriam and Aaron speaking out against Moses. It is noteworthy that in Hebrew the verb is feminine and singular, implying Miriam is the primary and Aaron is her passive partner.They speak out against Moses because he married a "Cushite" woman. Herein lies the key. The Cushites are Ethiopians, so Moses has taken on a second wife who is Black. Note that Miriam's punishment is a "leprosy" which turns her "white as snow." As several commented, it seems that her problem with black skin is punished by turning her skin totally white.(Although some say this type racism is a more recent phenomenon) Aaron, the high priest, pleads to Moses on her behalf, confessing his share in the sin, and Moses makes a simple plea for God to heal.

There is not much in the Bible about racism as we understand it today. However, I found myself taking note of the foreign wife of Moses because there is another stream in the Jewish Bible which strongly opposes intermarriage with foreigners. In fact, the Israelites are strongly warned to avoid such marriages. The two streams, in many ways in tension with one another, are a reminded that the authority of Scripture means the whole "Book" and not simply verses here or there. The Ezra/Nehemiah approach to intermarriage must be read with this story, the story of Ruth and, perhaps, the short story of Jonah as a corrective. These are meant to remind us that while there are hard and fast rules, the application of the 'instruction' in a particular time and place is always affected by context.

There is not much about Moses personal life, and this small snippet is a reminder that sibling rivalry and intermarriage and God at work in and through human agents is fraught with sin and grace. What I read today did not make all things clear for me. Like the rabbis of old, the more I read the more I wonder. Perhaps, part of the answer is found in God's words to Miriam and Aaron about Moses.

When there are prophets among you, I the Lord make myself known to them in visions; I speak to them in dreams. Not so with my servant Moses...with him I speak face to face--clearly, not in riddles and he beholds the form of the Lord

One is reminded of Jesus' use of parables and the head scratching bewildering quality of much of revelation. We are not given "The Answers" as much as invited into a relationship of trust. He is in charge, not us. He leads with little explanation and without giving us all the details which we love to have (so as to control things). So we do well not to overstep our place and we do well to listen to God's servants. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Prophets and Bad Meat

I have not been in a position to blog much of anything the last couple of weeks. It is probably going to be this way for much of the summer. However I wanted briefly to reflect on the Morning Prayer reading today from Numbers 11. It is an interesting narrative because it literally seems to be two stories intertwined. One is the centered on the people of Israel, griping yet again. They are hungry for meat. (I am reminded of a scene in the Lord of the Rings movie where the hideous Orcs are complaining that they are sick of the bread and "wants some meats") Complaining about food seems to be reasonable in a desert, especially when you are hungry. This reading is frightful for griping middle class types....

Meanwhile, Moses calls out to God for help, so the Lord invites him to gather 70 elders (there is one of those magic Bible numbers) upon whom He will pour out some of Moses' spirit. Today we read of the event itself, sort of a prelude to Pentecost. I can only imagine that the Jewish disciples of Jesus, who would have been very familiar with Number, must have seen some parallels themselves. Two of the men (Medad and Eldad) remained in the camp, but as they had been identified as one of the 70 they, too, received the gift and began prophesying in the camp. Joshua asked Moses to command them to stop and then I thought of a similar story in Jesus' life.

The apostles had seen men healing in the name of Jesus, "but they do not belong to us so we told them to stop." Jesus' response, like Moses', had to do with the abundance of God. "Would that all of Israel were prophets," said the first Moses. "Do not stop them, those who are not against Me are for Me," declared the Second (and One greater than) Moses.

Mission and power. Too often we fall in love with the latter and lose sight of the former. How can we best set the world afire for God and His Kingdom? How best to seek His glory and honor and obey His will?

Instead we engage in mindless name calling and institutional limitations. We chase after one another to upbraid and correct (me included) and lose sight of the mission itself. So I was reminded of the niggardly spirit which wants to parcel out God's grace 1/4 teaspoon at a time. And I prayed for an open heart and open spirit to be more like Moses (the Lord's servant), and more like Jesus (the Lord)

By the way, the Lord sent meat. Lots and lots of meat. And then a plague went through the group and killed many. There is no explanation of whether all that meat went bad and caused the deaths and illness. It is summarized as God's wrath. There is an interesting turn of phrase to end it all: they buried the people who had the craving. Quite a reminder that the craving, and do we not all know what that is, is deadly. The Other Kingdom, a kingdom of meat and drink and pleasure always beckons. But the meat is not good....

Jesus is the Bread of Life, the true food come down from heaven. He is the fullness and true Manna. Yet we pine for meat. Not much has changed, has it?

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Mission To Forgive

Receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you forgive are forgiven, whose sins you retain are retained.

These words in John 20 are scandalous.They state that Jesus gives a power to His disciples which is reserved for God. [Recall, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?"]. Many Christians deny the sacrament of Reconciliation for this reason. However, last week we said that since the Ascension, in a real sense, we can say that Jesus "has left the office." In His prayer He told the Father, "I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world." As such, and this is an amazing grace, you and I, the church, are empowered to continue the work of Jesus and until He returns.

However, this power does not flow out of us. the Gospel today reveals that the Holy Spirit is the force and power which will make this ministry possible. But what exactly is "the Spirit"? Spiritual things are, after all, notoriously difficult to describe. It may help that the two alternative translation of the Greek word pneuma (and Hebrew ruah) are Breath and Wind. In fact, both of those words are present in today's readings.

Jesus breathes on the apostles and gives them the (scandalously unbelieveable) gift to forgive sins. This breathing no doubt includes a theological reference to the creation account (Gen 2) where God breathes life into the 'clay man' and he becomes a nefesh (a living spirit). Spirit is life. It is animation. The living body is different; a mannequin or statue has the form of a man, but it is 'spirit' (breath) which makes it alive. At Pentecost (in Acts) there was a sound of a strong wind. The power of wind is also part of the creation account (Gen 1; a divine wind hovers over the chaotic darkness) and so both accounts have echoes to creation. In a real sense, the day of Pentecost is the new creation promised in the prophets. It is the fulfillment of God's pledge to not leave us in sin and death after the first parent's sin.

Forgiveness and re-creation are God's antidote for sin. In Greek, the word tranlated as "forgive" in John 20 is literally, "to send away." This is reflective of the usage in the Jewish Bible (it is an Old Testament word), and we do well to understand Jesus' words in the context of Second Temple Judaism. The Jewish mode of dealing with sins was Biblical:  Temple centered and based on grace, sacrifice and repentance. What happened on Pentecost was a dramatic reordering of the Jewish religion.

The heart of human relationship has always been GRACE and covenant. Grace! God created, in love, all that is. God graciously chose (in love) a people to Himself. He made covenant with Abraham and made a new covenant with all of Israel through Moses. The covenant is a RELATIONSHIP, with mutuality and expectations.

In grace (the Old Testament) God forgives sins. "Forgiveness" is part of God's offer of salvation to Jewish (and other human) sinners. Mercy bridges the gap created by sin, it tears down and sends away the barrier of sin. In response to His mercy Israel was called to sorrow, confession  and repentance.  Israel was saved by its faith in God and trust in His mercy. In response to forgiveness and as an expression of repentance, the Jew would go to Temple and offer a sacrifice. The animal sacrifice was an outward sign, it represented the person's gift of self to God. In the meal that followed the sacrifice, the repentant sinner was in renewed "communion" or fellowship with God. Now, throughout history, prophets were sent to remind the people that the liturgy and ritual were not magic.They had to be accompanied by a faithful and righteous life. Those who simply engaged in rituals were not reconciled if they failed to amend their lives. The prophets were clear on this. However, the Temple remained the center of forgiveness. Sacrifice was not negated; empty sacrifice was!

In the incarnation, the mediated presence of God (His Name or Glory resided in the Temple) is encountered in the man Jesus. He is the TRUE temple and the perfect abiding place of God. In His ministry, Jesus took on the priest/Temple's role and forgave sins directly (though He also sent folks to make the sacrifice). With the resurrection of Jesus, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus is made complete. He is the fulfillment of the Temple. He is the source of reconciliation for repentant sinners. But, more amazing, since His ascension we, the church, are His ambassadors of mercy. The world is hungry for forgiveness and we are empowered for the job. We are told we can send away sin (or retain it).

This work has its dangers. We all know power corrupts, and greater power corrupts more! The God-given power to forgive sins and the temptation to withhold forgiveness from those we deem unworthy is a Jesus declared reality. Human sin, in us, in the Church leads to abuses. Yet Matthew 5:14-15 provide another angle on this: for if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive you. Some day there will be judgement and all will be set aright. Until then, as His Body, we (the Church) rule as the King's vicar and each of us is an individual ambassador.

The world, so sinful, is hungry for mercy. Forgiveness is an invitation to repentance and conversion. If we say "I forgive" we make it possible for the other to say, "I am sorry." If we mean it, if we mean that we love and forgive, even if we have been hurt, we embody the crucified one's mission: To Forgive the Unforgivable.

No one deserves it, it is always a grace.(Many of us have been victim of crimes which we "cannot" forgive). But forgiveness is the hope for reconciliation and the invitation to repentance and conversion. Forgiveness does not complete the process, it initiates it. Forgiveness does not let anyone off the hook; reconciliation demands repentance, restitution and amendment of life. Forgiveness merely provides hope that the repentance/conversion process is not in vain. You and I are the ministers of this amazing grace. It is a hard task to carry such mercy into the world. It invites suffering. It is, however, the way of God.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Devils at work?

At Morning Prayer today one of the readings, from Ephesians, includes the famous "put on the armor of Christ" line. It goes on to discuss our conflictual situation with principalities and powers in this present darkness. That last phrase was the title of a novel on spiritual warfare written many years ago. It was an attempt, from a particular type of Christian perspective, to illustrate what the unseen realms of angels and demons.

The idea that we live in "this present darkness" is a popular idea in traditional Christianity. In such a view we are "fallen humanity" and sin and death are powerful agents of evil. In contemporary society and "Liberal/Progressive" manifestations of Christianity, darkness is more a function of prejudice or unenlightened thinking. In many cases, the Progressive would seem to say that the only darkness is the cloudy presence of the out-of-touch Christian and his/her outdated world view.

It is hard, in a world of technology and materialism (philosophically), to not fall prey to a certain one dimensionality to it all. "What you see is what you get." "The real is the tangible." Who needs a devil when we have human evil, nature and meaningless coincidence to blame for everything? And the ever ready explanations of some devil believers do seem to be naively simplistic at times (and flat out wrong at others). After all, the psychological process of projection is obvious and blaming 'the devil' can sometimes be little more than a theological version of projection...

On the other hand, what if it is true? What if there really are spiritual forces at work on us (and through us) to undo the goodness and beauty of the world and mar the relationships of humans? What if there are times when an unseen force is at work (demonic) which is interacting with our mind and generating real temptations? What if life is warfare and "what you see" is complemented by "what you don't see"; so that "what you get" is a more mysteriously arrived at process?

There was a time when not being able to explain how unseen forces were at work seemed an embarrassing admission that my traditional faith about the demonic was simplistic and misguided. But the longer I am around the more I realize there are so many things that I cannot explain. [like typing these keys and pushing a button allows these musings to be accessed around the world instantly] I cannot explain personalities, the unconscious or social pressures without pointing to 'invisible' realms. Our world is full of things that we cannot see (radio waves, magnetism and electricity) which are real. Our world is full of physical phenomena which physicists readily acknowledge are beyond human understanding. Enough for me....

The problem is, if we fail to see the present darkness is a time of spiritual warfare, we may be simply taken captive by other forces. Nothing so glamorous as a full blown Hollywood possession, actually something much more mundane and more sinister. So the admonition to put on the full armor of Christ is no less pressing today than it was in the First Century. It just may be a bit more difficult because we have a harder time conceiving.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Against Gnostics

The last two weeks I have been reflecting quite a bit on the 'absence/presence' of Jesus which has led me to a deeper appreciation of "Church." The Scriptural understanding of Church is multifaceted. There may be "one, Lord, one faith,, one baptism, one God and Father of all and one name given for salvation" but that Oneness is expressed in multiplicity as we move out from the center. One area that Christians disagree on is church, its place and its role. There are different emphases and competing/complementary models of church. However, there is a limit to diversity. At one end, going off the rails, is the idea that one is "born into the people" and that is all there is to it. So if you get baptized "you are in" and one's personal life doesn't matter. (Wrong) We see that manifest in Israel repeatedly in the Bible (hence to prophet's warnings and threats). On the other end is the Gnostic (heresy) idea which has had much influence in Christianity over the years. It emphasizes salvation through "knowledge" (the Greek word gnosis means knowledge). It often times negates the body and emphasizes the "spiritual." (ever hear that one?) It negates the community and emphasizes direct access to God within one's own soul. It rejects the material manifestations of God (like sacraments) and it is prone to see the humanity of Jesus as a negative. The doctrine of the Incarnation is rejected. (So Jesus is God, and His presence among us is to provide saving knowledge and help us escape the world and human enfleshed existence). The appeal of Gnosticism cannot be overstated. It is in many ways simpler than the Truth.

The Bible is not Gnostic and it is not especially "spiritual." The Jewish Scriptures are especially incarnational and earthly. (Early heretics rejected the "Old Testament" and today we see that manifest in pocket New Testaments devoid of the Old) Some even called the God of the Old Testament a different or inferior God. (A God of Law not Love and Grace). What Jesus called the Scripture is that very collection that we call the Old Testament (or Jewish Scriptures) The New Testament certainly makes changes, and the 'next stage' of development is sometimes a radical shift. However, it is clear that the expectation remains the same at some core level. God is among us, in and through concrete reality.

In days gone by He spoke through prophets and the institutions of Israel. In these last days He spoke through a Son. However, the writer of Hebrews wrote at a time when that appearance was relatively recent. We do well to remember that Jesus is coming back, but He has not hurried. We do well to take seriously the role of the church as Jesus' ongoing presence  here and now. The Holy Spirit is at work, but Jesus is not walking on planet earth. The Church is the Body of Christ, it is the Temple. It is empowered as an Ambassador to mediate God's Kingdom on planet earth here and now. What is yet to be revealed is the perfection of the Kingdom, but while we wait we must also work. "Men of Galilee why do you stand there looking up at the sky?" Sky gazing is a metaphor for Gnosticism and its overly spiritual disengagement and disdain for the created material world.

If atheist and agnostics and materialists (of all stripes) ignore the spiritual depth and over-embrace created reality as "all there is" or "all that matters" then the Church must proclaim the other dimensions of creation. But too often, in an effort to reject their errors, we create our own. It is how things work. The Scripture says that we, humans, His Church, are the tools for evangelizing, healing, feeding and reconciling. The Church has the Holy Spirit and the power/authority and DUTY to represent Jesus to the world. We forgive sins (at His command) and we tell people the mind of God (as revealed in Scripture and through the Church). It is a remarkable mystery, but apparently God made the world for that purpose.

Gnostics don't like it, but that is fine. Heretics are notoriously unreliable in doctrine!!! The truth, as found in revelation, is much more concrete and physical. Keep that in mind next time you want to call Church "man" and your spiritual ideas "God."

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Jesus is Out of the Office

John 17:1-11
You know it is summertime when you call an office and get the recording, "sorry to miss your call, but I am out of the office the next two weeks. I will contact you when I return. If you need immediate assistance please contact my assistant..."

Today we hear similar words in a prayer from Jesus: and now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. This means that Jesus is out of the office. He says He will return, though He does not give us a return date. The church is office workers who scurry about trying to continue the family business until His return.

This past Thursday was Ascension Day. It is a  major Feast of the church. The message that day is similar to the one we read today. "Jesus is no longer in the world" is probably the definition of the word "Ascension." It describes our world. It is the reason why being a church matters; matters very, very much.

Jesus calls Satan "the prince of this world" which means the Master of chaos and division is calling the shots. If the Devil is running things "the World" has a scent of Hell and it is at enmity with God. In a sense, Jesus must defeat the world. The only escape from the world is God's grace and our conversion. We are 'in the dark' (the Fourth Gospel makes that clear) but Jesus was sent as the Light of the World. Where sin reigns death abides. Having seen death numerous times this week, up close and personal, it is clear that death is still around. Yet, God has sent Jesus to unmask Satan as a false king and usurper.

In Jesus, God has won a grand victory. Sin and Evil are real, but mercy, forgiveness and resurrection are more real. Death is real, but resurrection and life are more real. This time, here and now is real, but eternal life is more real. We know the dark prince and his world, but now we know the Father God is more real.

Jesus' words, "I am no longer in the world" are bitter sweet. Since He told Mary in the Garden on Easter morning, "Stop holding Me,  I must return to the Father'" we have known that the time of His earthly visitation was drawing to a close. no longer tangibly and wonderfully present among us. He is among us now as a Ghost (a Holy Ghost, or Spirit). It is sometimes less than satisfying.

Thursday I used the term "real absence" to describe our current situation with Jesus. His presence among us is mediated. I think we are often in denial about this, talking about Jesus as if the resurrection appearances continued to this day. He is present, in an "absent" sort of way:
  • In and Through Scripture.
  •  In and Through sacraments
  •  In and Through the church.
But church, sacrament and scripture are the helpers, the associates of Jesus who are happy to help until He gets back in the office. We hear His voice, whether in prayer or Bible study, but He dose not speak as clearly as we want or need. We catch a glimpse of Him, in the person in need or the one helping us, but more often than not we do not see Him at all. Jesus abides with us, reaching to us from the Father's right hand, but that presence stirs up in us a longing for more.

Jesus is focused on the apostles in His prayer, the followers He left behind in the world. Lesslie Newbigin, writes eloquently about this in his commentary (The Light Has Come, p228). (on Jn 17:6ff). The work of Jesus is the communication of the name of God to a community. He does not bequeath to posterity a body of teaching preserved in a book--like the Qur'an. He does not leave behind an ideal or a program. He leaves behind a community--the Church... These disciples have received and believed this communication of the name.

We are part of that group. Our role is to reveal the Name, the true name of God, to a world which will hate us. [Jesus said: the world hates me so it will hate you].

Jesus offers admission to another Kingdom, so Satan and the World take offense. The human heart is the battlefield; eternal life and death are the options. And the Church, sinful men and women all, are the vehicle God has chosen to carry on the mission. Jesus is out of the office, but He will be back. If you need immediate assistance contact the church.

It is tempting for the church to be useful: teaching citizenship, helping the needy or organizing events to creaye a sense of community. Such things are part of our identity but they are the fruit of something deeper. First and most fully we are, in our current limited and fallible condition, to embody not just the teachings of Jesus, but the Lord Himself. He abides in and through us, WE (the church) are THE SACRAMENT of God has sanctified to reveal His name, until Jesus returns. Filled with the Holy Spirit, we are the presence of Jesus in the world because He wills it so. He demands that we be unified and  love one another.

It is sad to ponder such a vocation from within the church. Our failures as an institution are depressing. We all contribute to those failures by our own personal infidelity. However, Jesus does not call the church to be a super society of superior beings. He calls us to witnesses to the Name. If our lives do not fully reflect the truth, our mouths can still verbalize it. In Jesus you find God!

Jesus is no longer in the world. We are. In and through us He is active. Our decision to faithfully carry out our vocation will determine if the people in our day and time hear Him. If Jesus has left the building then we, who are still in it, must take up the challenge.