Friday, April 28, 2017

We Would Kill Jesus Again Today

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You search the scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life. (John 5:39-40 NABRE)

This short passage from John's gospel shows us that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The verses come from a discourse Jesus offers after the Jews plot to kill him for breaking the Sabbath and for claiming to be the son of God. He tells them flat out that they think they can find their salvation through the scriptures, but are wrong.

The religious conservatives of the day knew the scriptures inside and out. They knew the predictions about the messiah and yet when he stood before them, they didn’t think he matched their scriptural understanding. They didn’t expect him to do things like violate Jewish law, or proclaim that Samaritans and Roman pagans had greater faith than they did, or interrupt the righteous stoning of a woman caught in adultery. This was not the kind of messiah they anticipated. They wanted the thing they did expect; a triumphant king who would kick the Romans out of Jerusalem and be a good and faithful Jew like David. The hyper-religious authorities were so outraged by the Jesus who stood in front of them that they decided he had to go. He had to die.

The reasons the gospel accounts are important is not only because they tell us what happened during the days in which Jesus walked the earth. They are also important because they show us that these things are still happening today. Hyper-religious Christians scour the Bible to sculpt a messiah which fits their own ideas of justice, despite the Jesus who sits before them in stories of outrageous, inclusive, love. They proclaim that an inclusive Jesus is a fiction, and that the real Jesus has eyes of fire and wields a sword of righteous damnation. And like the Jews who demanded the life of Christ, they demand that eternal life can only be found by and through the scriptures and all its accompanying law. Like them, they do not want to come to Jesus to have life. They want to come to the image of Jesus they construct from a subset of scriptural passages. The image that matches their view of what he should look and act like.

If Jesus were to walk around with us today, he would undoubtedly be killed again for not matching that image. Like the Jews Jesus describe in the John 5 passage, too many of us are not willing to look to the radical nature of love as the source for eternal life.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Worshiping in Spirit and Truth

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The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” (John 4:19-24 NABRE)

In today’s passage we find Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, where he’s stopped for a drink on his walk back from Judea to Galilee. They are nearing the end of their conversation, and she is seeking spiritual wisdom from him, not yet realizing that he is, in fact, the Messiah.
The woman is surprised that he would talk with her at all. Samaritans were despised by Jews for not following the customs of the law as the Jews believed they should. She brings up the issue of where sacrifices were to be offered; at the temple on Mt. Gerizim, or in Jerusalem. But despite her knowing that a Jewish man would disdain her, both for being a Samaritan and for her history with men, she seeks knowledge from him. She seeks truth. She wants to know what the right way to worship really is.

Jesus’ response is profound. He didn’t tell her which was the right place to worship. Quite the contrary; he talked about “true” worship. True worship is not about the rules of place and laws of behavior. Jesus points out that God is Spirit, and says that we are to worship in Spirit and truth.

Worshiping in Spirit is an action of union, in which the Holy Spirit implanted within us reaches up to join with the Spirit of the Trinity. It is experiential rather than cognitive. It is a matter of heart and will rather than of thought and reason. It is an act of opening and reaching rather than reading and preaching. When we worship in the Spirit we are erasing our own boundaries in order to better merge with God’s boundlessness.

This is not possible when we demand that worship take place on a particular site or be constrained by the pages of a book which sits in a guarded place on our nightstand, no matter how holy. To do so we have to acknowledge what Jesus told us; that the Father desires us to join with him, Spirit to Spirit.

Wordless, placeless, and without boundaries.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Be God Bearers, and Doers of Justice

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And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; as he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever. (Luke 1:46-55 KJV)

Today’s reading is called the Magnificat; Mary’s song in response to her relative Elizabeth’s proclamation that she is the mother of the Lord.

There are so many lovely things about Mary’s response. The first is this word “magnify.” The term connotes actions of enlarging, increasing, and enhancing. Through Mary’s yes God is literally magnified; grown from tiny, begotten deity to born baby, and eventually to crucified man. Like Mary, we are also called to be God-bearers, though differently than she was. We are called to take the tiny seeds of faith which are planted within us and grow them into their full fruits. To grow ourselves ever more into the image of Christ.

And periodically, perhaps, to be crucified.

Through our ongoing yeses, we are like Mary; magnifying God’s presence in the life of the world.

The second interesting thing about today’s passage is the message that Mary chooses to convey about the adventing of this child. She and John the Baptist are the final prophets before Jesus’ ministry is launched. This prophecy is her longest speech recorded in the Bible. Its message must be listened to. And in this prophetic message, Mary the God-bearer speaks not of sin, nor of judgement. She speaks of God’s mercy. She speaks about the scattering of the proud and arrogant, and of the conflation of their self-image. She promises that God—her father, son, and spouse—comes to exalt those who are lowly and degraded. Those who are hungry for food, love, and acceptance. She tells us that the days of being ruled by the iron fist of Moses’ books are done, and that the time of a simpler relationship, like the one God had with Abraham, has returned.

Rejoice in these promises. Embrace your role as God-bearer. Be doers of his loving mercy. Be like Mary, and magnify him.

The nativity mystery "conceived from the Holy Spirit and born from the Virgin Mary", means, that God became human, truly human out of his own grace. The miracle of the existence of Jesus , his “climbing down of God” is: Holy Spirit and Virgin Mary! Here is a human being, the Virgin Mary, and as he comes from God, Jesus comes also from this human being. Born of the Virgin Mary means a human origin for God. Jesus Christ is not only truly God, he is human like every one of us. He is human without limitation. He is not only similar to us, he is like us.
Karl Barth

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Repentance Means to Stop Judging and Bear Fruit

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Here's the gospel from today's Roman Catholic lectionary (Luke 13:1-9)
Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. He said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”
And he told them this parable: “There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil? ’He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’”
Along with most of our nation, I've been following the presidential debates and listening to the decisive and cataclysmic rhetoric being employed by Mr. Trump. Many of his followers embrace his inflammatory style and resort to derogatory terminology toward women, toward Secretary Clinton, and toward people who can't support his messages of degradation, stereotype, and fear. Recent political discussions online made me think about the concept of fruit, and how scripture tells us we are to judge according to it.

Now the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5 is  "love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." This seems to be the opposite of the fruit from Mr. Trump. He does not convey love, joy, peace or forbearance. He does not act kindly. His behaviors are hard to categorize as good. He has repeatedly demonstrated a lack of faithfulness. He is the opposite of gentle. And self-control is one of his weak points.

In light of the Galatians description, his fruit is small, bitter, and worm-riddled.

In today's gospel we see Jesus chastising those who clamor about the sinfulness of others, presumably claiming that a particular group of Galileans are so sinful that they deserved harsh forms of suffering. It reminds me of the claims of some fundamentalists who say that hurricanes are the result of homosexual behavior. It reminds me of the outlook of some of Trump's followers, proclaiming woe unto our nation and the dire destruction that is to follow if we don't change our ways.

How does Jesus respond? First, he tells them they are wrong about the premise. Then he tells them to repent. Then he describes what repentance looks like: the production of fruit.

Good fruit.

Today I pray that those producers of meager, bitter, rotten fruit listen to the call of Christ:

Repent. Stop assuming that the sins of others are greater than your own. Start producing the fruit of the Spirit.

And recognize the fruit of your chosen candidate.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Announcing: Where Love Is

God is Love and where true love is God Himself is there.

These lyrics were the inspiration for the title of a new devotional for LGBTQ individuals and their allies.

The book is being shopped with publishers now. Pray for it to become a reality very soon.