Beginnings

 

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by He Qi

January 8, 2012

Year B

The Baptism of Jesus

“Abba Poeman said regarding Abba Prin that every day he made a new beginning.” “My God, do not abandon me. I have done nothing good before Thee, but grant me, in Thy compassion, the power to make a start” (Arsenios, 5th century).

It is good to follow up New Year’s with this Sunday about beginnings. Have you already forgotten what it was you were going to remember to do this year?

Story of couple in their nineties are both having problems remembering things. During a check-up, the doctor tells them that they’re physically okay, but they might want to start writing things down to help them remember… Later that night, while watching TV, the old man gets up from his chair. ‘Want anything while I’m in the kitchen?’ he asks. ‘Will you get me a bowl of ice cream?’ ‘Sure..

”Don’t you think you should write it down so you can remember it?’ she asks. ‘No, I can remember it.’ ‘Well, I’d like some strawberries on top, too. Maybe you should write it down, so as not to forget it?’ He says, ‘I can remember that. You want a bowl of ice cream with strawberries.’ ‘I’d also like whipped cream. I’m certain you’ll forget that, write it down?’ she asks. Irritated, he says, ‘I don’t need to write it down, I can remember it! Ice cream with strawberries and whipped cream – I got it, for goodness sake!’ Then he toddles into the kitchen.

After about 20 minutes,The old man returns from the kitchen and hands his wife a plate of bacon and eggs.. She stares at the plate for a moment. ‘Where’s my toast ?

Have you forgotten your resolutions? Wife to husband: “I don’t want to brag, but here it is February, and I have kept every one of my New Year’s resolutions. I’ve kept them in a manila folder in the back of my desk!”

Mark’s gospel begins with baptism. I think this underscores how baptism is a beginning for us. But in a wider sense it underscores how God is into beginnings. The Jews who came to the Baptizer for their dip in the Jordan were confessing with their bodies, their whole selves, that they needed the fresh start that John was urging. The very notion that they could let go of the baggage of a tarnished past and start fresh with a commitment to live right was a chance they were not going to miss. Wade into the water they did.

As we have begun a new year, maybe the remembrance of our baptism helps set the right tone.

Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, writes in Token of Trust (2007):

The Church is the community of those who have been ‘immersed’ in Jesus’ life, overwhelmed by it. Those who are baptized have disappeared under the surface of Christ’s love and reappeared as different people. The waters close over their heads, and then, like the old world rising out of watery chaos in the first chapter of the Bible, out comes a new world. (112)

Mark says “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ Son of God”

If we had only Mark’s gospel we would have a very different Christmas. No shepherds or angels, Magi or swaddling cloths. For Mark it is enough to begin with the baptizing.

For Matthew that is not good enough. You need to back up and begin with the angel appearing to Joseph to tell him of the special birth of Jesus. But before that Matthew has to name Jesus ancestors all the way to Abraham. The beginning of the story goes all they way back to the call of Abraham.

Then Luke comes along and he tells of the angel telling Mary she is going to have a child by act of God’s creation then the story of shepherds coming. But before the life of Jesus you are told about the political corruption of Herod and domination by Rome and then Luke says you have to trace the story of Jesus all the way back to Adam. That is where it all begins.

Then John’s gospel comes along and says, “No, you have to look even further back: in the beginning when there was nothing but God and the Word of God was with God and was God before the Word became flesh in Jesus and we saw it.”

At the children’s retreat one of the perennial questions is “What was there before God? Who made God?” It is hard for us not to believe that you could keep pushing the beginning of beginnings back and back and back.

The Hebrew scriptures read literally “Beginning God created.” Whatever is is something God created. Go back as far as you will and God is already there. There is no before God.

There is something there before the beginning of any story. Every story begins in the middle of something older and longer.

The Odyssey, the Iliad, Paradise Lost, Star Wars, the Hobbit– all epics have a “prequel”.

When you and I made our entrance on the stage of human history we came in on the middle of something already going on. The love and tensions, the patterns and expectation, the confusion, the justice and the injustice of a family that was already there.

But although we carry the weight of that past, each birth is a new beginning.

I guess gazing into the face of my newest grandson I am struck again with the unpredictable possibilities ahead. Someone asked the British jazz trumpeter Humphrey Lyttleton where jazz was going, he replied, `If I knew, I’d be there already’.1 We don’t know where it is all going to end. It is a truly new beginning. And there will be many beginnings. The first step. The first day at school. The first time he falls in love. The first time his heart is truly broken. When does life begin? There are so many places we could start.

An Anglican priest, a Baptist pastor, and a Rabbi were discussing when life begins. The Anglican priest said that life began at the moment of conception. The Baptist disagreed and said that life began after 14 weeks. The Rabbi shook his head and said no. Life begins when the mortgage is paid up and the children have left home.

The first word of Jewish Scriptures is “beginning.” Chapter one of Genesis is not the oldest scripture. The story in chapter 2 was written much earlier, possibly during David’s reign. But there is a reason why our chapter one is first.

Most scholars agree that the majestic poem was written down during the Babylonian Exile. And some of the bits in the story reflect acquaintance with the Sumerian and Babylonian stories of creation, because the way Genesis puts it counters some of the positions of those old stories.

Oh I wish we had more time to explore it. More than this one day we read. But that one day bears a resemblance to modern physics. It says the first act of creation of the world was God’s calling forth light. “Let there be light and there was light.” Not a light– that comes later, but light.

Was there something before God created our universe? Well whatever it was it was something that depended on God for existence. But there is some allusion to a watery, confusion of darkness, like being in the middle of the deepest sea at dead midnight.

There came this wind which was the breath of God which is the Spirit of God sweeping over the watery chaos like the wing of a mother bird hovering over her chicks.

And the breath became a voice and the voice said, “Light” and what had not been anywhere before burst forth filling everything with fiery light. Call it the big bang, I won’t stop you.

God created from nothing, but sometimes God made with the stuff he had already made. Creation gets to join in on the unfolding of creation. God instructs the land to bring forth animals and plants. God tells animals in turn to be fruitful and multiply. Which is to say creation unfolds with the capacities God gives created things to diversify and continue life. Call it evolution, I won’t stop you. The text is capacious enough to include that account too.

And what we see is this great chain of firsts. This stream of new beginnings. All because God chooses to call for them.

And of it at each stage God says, “it is good.” which is what we say when we push away form a table after a wonderful feast: “That is good.” Or the way we feel after a moving symphony or a lovely solo.”That is wonderful. That was so right” Or when we finish a novel or film that has moved us– we cried, we laughed, we are satisfied with the ending– “That was good.”

God sees all this complicated diverse creation with creatures great and small and says of it all “It is good.” “It is beautiful.” Even though it is soon apparent that there are a lot of loose ends and these humans so wonderfully and fearfully made can sin and fall. God says of this freedom which is part of it all – it is good.

Now here is the thing. The Jews who were putting this poem down were in the middle of exile, where things most certainly were not so good. Thy had lost so much. There was chaos in their lives.

But this poem really is coming along about the time God is also speaking through a prophet we have in Isaiah. God recalls creation. My, look what God did. God reminds them of Exodus. Why you could never have become a nation if I had not opened the way out of Egypt.

And then God says through Isaiah, but now stop talking about what I did before, because I am going to do something new. I am going to forgive you your sins. i am going to come and take you out of exile and lead you home to the land I promised Abraham.

Just like God’s breath began to blow over chaos till beauty erupted, just like God’s breath blew over the Reed Sea till the waters parted for their escape to freedom, God is going to say “Let it be” one more time and there will be a new chance to be God’s people in the land of promise.

Now look at Mark and don’t you see the same thing? John the Baptizer was saying your lives are a mess. Your lives are without form and void, empty, you have to be willing to let go of the way things are. And they come to get baptized.

And Jesus comes and steps into the water with them, he walks right into the chaos, he steps into the muddy water kicked up by feet of sinners before him.

Did you see the picture of a young man sitting on some steps outside a school?The young man was bald, and all around him were his classmates, about 25 of them, some wearing school jackets, others in T-Shirts and regular jackets, their heads bowed towards the camera – and they too were bald.

The Headline next to the picture read: TRUE BLUE PALS and the caption said: Mark Busse, 16, of Reardon, Washington, poses with classmates from his high school in this eastern Washington state town. His friends shaved their heads to show support for Busse after his hair fell out  following chemotherapy for inoperable lung cancer. His buddies said  that they didn’t want him to stand out in the 180 student high school.

  • (Fairchild:) that this is so much like what God has done in Christ Jesus
  • – he has come among us – and identified with us
  • – he has taken on our flesh and our blood – our experience
  • – our joys and our concerns, our trials and tribulations
  • so that he might help us,
  • so that we may know that we are not alone,And it was exactly the way God wanted Jesus to go. For as he came out of those waters there is a breath that descends like a dove. And the breath whispers these words, “You are my servant, You are my child. I take delight in you.” God says, “Beautiful!”

God calls forth a beginning that will ripple out to change the world.

Jesus rises from the water like a child from the womb, knowing his existence brings delight to God and knowing that he is called as a servant for a mission.

But please don’t take these texts as interest of antiquarians. They are about us.

Jesus left instructions to go into all the world and baptize others into God the Father, Son and holy Spirit.

People whose lives may be chaotic, disordered, empty, dark and meaningless– can ent er the water and the Spirit of God the greath of God will blow over their surrendered lives and the breath will become a voice and the voice will claim them too as children and servants of the most high. They too will hear God say, “I take delight in you.” I call you to be servant. I name you as child.

It is a long process after the beginning we make. But God has even more beginnings to do in my life and your life. As we read inRevelation

God will say. It is finished. I am the start of it all and the goal of it all.

And behold.

The former things are passed away.

I make all things new.

The God of beginning again.

The God who calls order out of chaos

Orders light to break the darkness

Lets life emerge from inert matter

The god who can make saints out of sinners

and raise Jesus from the dead.

Is there anything too great for God?

Let us enter the new year with the sense that every day is a new beginning and everywhere we look God is at work making things new.

AMEN

1“Dead-Ends and Through Roads in the Philosophy of Religion” by D.Z. Phillips.

Pacific Coast Theological Society, 2000 March 29

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Action and Contemplation

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by He Qi

2007 sermon: The Two Sisters

Luke 10:38-42

Year C 16th Sunday of the Year (Proper 11)

Mary and Martha of Bethany shared a friendship with Jesus, but they were very different sisters. Their difference comes through in the gospel of John as much as it does in the text today from Luke. Mary was more a muller; Martha a doer. Mary was an introvert who pondered things quietly; Martha the extravert who thinks out loud and expresses her passion through action.

As this story has been retold down the centuries most commentators have stressed how you need both capacities to be well-rounded spiritually. Mary and Martha are the “yang and yang” of the spirituality. The systole and diastole of the discipleship.

In a way this passage is a commentary on the previous one.

“How can I really live?” The lawyer asked Jesus a few verses earlier. “How can I have the life of heaven, life to the max?”

Jesus asks, “What does the Bible say?”

“Scripture instructs us to love God with every part of ourselves– body, mind, soul, heart…and love our neighbor as if we were that neighbor.”

Jesus said, “That’ it!” (Luke 10:25_37)

The systole and diastole of life, the vertical and horizontal of spirituality, is the upward and inward devotion to God and the outward devotion to fellow humans. If I understand Jesus here, these are really two sides of the same coin. When you try to separate the commands or put them over against one another you have really undermined both. Taking only one would be like only breathing in and never out, or always pumping blood but never getting it returned. It would be death.

James and the elder John wrote that if we say we love God and fail to love the person right in front of us we are mistaken about loving God. (James 2:14-18; I John 4:20-21)

Being finite we may have to alternate between focus devotion to God and attention to the person at our elbow. Maybe it is impossible for us to both simultaneously. You can focus on the book in your lap and that photograph on the wall will be blurry. You can look out the window at the children playing and the needle you are threading will become almost invisible. Both are real parts of your world and your life. You just can’t see both clearly simultaneously.

It is possible to see these three passages in Luke 10 and 11 as unpacking the love God’s law commands.

1.( Luke 10:25-37) The parable of the Good Samaritan focuses on loving our neighbor. It describes how two religious types with their mind on God missed the neighbor in need. And so, Jesus said, a man most Jews would have said didn’t really know God properly ended up keeping God’s law best. This story is about how loving neighbors is so important we ought not to excuse ourselves from action ministry on the grounds of loving God.

2. Luke 11 deals with this other pole of “eternal life”, when Jesus teaches his disciples to pray. (Luke 11:1-13)

3. Today’s story of Mary and Martha, coming between these two passages, can be seen as a story about balancing both concerns. In fact it may be an examination of how they connect.

Jesus ends the story of the good neighbor who happens to be a Samaritan by telling the lawyer, “go and do.” Martha illustrates that just “going and doing” can leave you worn out, irritable, frustrated. There has to be a time you also “come and sit.”

This week many members will put their devotion into action. Youth heading out to Passport; folks giving blood in the fellowship hall. There will be the Habitat work night. We know what to expect. As one youth said at the end of an exhausting day on a mission trip, “I’m tired, but it’s a good tired.” But if all we did was go, and give, rest up and work some more, we would be more than tired, we would lose focus and get depressed.

Martha is worried about the table linen and whether the pot roast will burn, or if they will run out of dessert. She has quit paying attention to Jesus. She only slows down to complain about what Mary is not doing.

Nobody in their right mind wants the Marthas of the world to stop preparing meals, repairing the plumping, washing the clothes, taking care of the legal forms, checking the supply cabinet. But should we not overlook the importance of what Mary is doing. In the midst of your doing don’t lose sight of why you are doing and for whom.

Richard Feynman was one of the most brilliant physicists of the last century, a Nobel Prize winner for particle physics, and by all accounts a remarkable teacher.

When he was a young graduate student he was picked to work on the Manhattan Project to build an atomic weapon. What convinced Feynman to join the research was knowing Nazi scientists were working on one too and the fearful implications if they got an atom bomb first.

Looking back on it later he said he forgot the reason for going into the research. When the Nazis were defeated before the bomb was completed, Feynman said the Manhattan project kept right on going. The work had taken on a life of its own. And he said he did not consider at the time the complicated moral question whether to finish a bomb and use it against a nation who was not working on nuclear weapons. The reason they had tackled the problem to start with no longer applied.

He said he learned that sometimes after you get into a job you forget why you took it. Sometimes you may have a valid moral reason for getting involved in a movement, but the movement becomes its own reason. (Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman, by Richard Feynman)

Sometimes the busyness of religion keeps us from true devotion. The priest and Levi were busy on that road to the Temple. Their mind may be on preparations for the worship service. We can assume the Samaritan was traveling on business too. He had things to tend to as well. The difference was whether they interrupted their agenda to look at the person God put in front of them.

Doctors can get so busy with charts they overlooks the patient.

Parents can keep kids on task, but never just chill out with them.

“Martha,” Jesus says, “You are sure busy and distracted by all the things you’ve got on your mind. And you think that everybody should be just a busy as you are. But Mary here is showing hospitality by just spending time conversing with me. She is focused on the guest. And after all the one thing needful when you have company is to actually connect with the guest. I am not going to deprive her of our time together to go off in your tail spin.”

Some long weeks I become negative and impatient about ministry. I get irritable even if I rein it in. When cynicism or depression rise, I have come to realize I need to step away from the job. I go pray on my knees in the yard, hands in the dirt or I may go exercise at the Y. Or a walk long will quieten me enough “to be still and know God.” Getting out of the harness is vital for sustained ministry and the renewal of compassion and mercy.

St. Benedict said monks ought to work and think and pray: five hours of work, three hours of study, two hours for prayer every day. Body, mind and soul.

God said “Six days shall you work (that is the therapy of doing). And the seventh day give it a rest. That day you are to share the joy of the Creator who knows how to rest too. In this sacrament of eternity look at the people who you live with, stop and savor blessings of creation.

Don’t wait till everything is finished to enjoy what already is done. Don’t postpone vacations till you retire. Don’t wait till all the house work is done to sit with the family. Hold to joy in the middle of life’s hurry. Punctuate mission action with stillness in the presence of God.

There are many things to do and so most weeks we have to multi-task. But somewhere at the center of our busy lives we need a still point around which everything else moves. An anchor that keeps us steady in the storm of life’s troubles and anxieties. A center that holds all the parts together.

We are commanded to love our neighbor, but the power that enables us to keep doing that without bitterness or exhaustion comes from the time we spend just being with them, from the times we steal away just to be with God.

Lord God we came aside to hear your word. May the peace of being in your presence linker as we leave this place and so steady us that we may impart your peace to others. Through Christ our Lord, AMEN.

 

Seeing the Glory

 

Exodus 33:12-23  (NRSV)

October,  2014

512uam9vhyl-_sx333_bo1204203200_Charles Taylor begins his recent tome, A Secular Age (2007)by pointing to a huge cultural shift. Five hundred years ago, he writes, belief in God (or the transcendent), was the cultural default. Not believing in God, was something you would have had to explain or justify. Now, in contrast, there are many places in the West, unbelief is the norm, and you may have to defend belief.

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Charles Taylor

As Taylor points out, secularism is not just one thing. There is a variety of secularism that is angry, but a more common variety of secularism is indifference to religion. Those who simply do not feel they need to take religious concerns into account.

This is like a climate change. It has been gradual, but it is real.

Carlyle Marney used the illustration from a story of two fellows who lived in a houseboat on the Mississippi. One night their boat came unmoored from the dock and all night they drifted downstream with the current. In the morning one of them looked out the window and shook his mate. “Clem, Clem! Wake up! We ain’t here anymore!”

We ain’t here anymore. Like those folks on the houseboat, Inside it may look the same, but look out the window.

The Pew researchers report the growth of “nones” as a portion of society. Not the Catholic sisters, but those folks who when asked about their religion choose “none of the above. – “none.” It is the fastest growing “faith” in America.1

We don’t feel it perhaps as much in the South, here in our corner of the Bible belt. But like global warming, there is no escape from the influence anti-religious sentiment has on novels and movies and op eds.

The time is coming, and now is, when people of Biblical faith had better stand ready as, Peter says, “to give account for the hope you have in you.” 2

philomena_posterI don’t know if you have seen the film Philomena with the amazing Judi Dench in the role of Philomena. It tells the true story of an Irish woman who as a young girl became pregnant out of wedlock and, as the custom in those days, was whisked out of sight to a convent where young women in her situation worked to earn their keep during pregnancy and after their children were born, while nuns looked after their children, and eventually gave them to couples, usually rich couples from America, for adoption.

Philomena, now an older woman, wants to find her son and gets the help of a journalist, Martin Sixsmith, who later wrote a book about the experience. But here is something that I think is telling: the journalist has little use for the Catholic church, or for God. At one point he says, “ I don’t believe in God, and I think He knows.” But Philomena, despite the injustices she has endured, does believe and is devout, though sometimes she struggles with belief, as all faithful people do.

The pivotal scene is when Philomena confronts the nun most responsible for the injustices and forgives her, while the journalist confronts them with angry condemnation. Philomena says.”But I don’t wanna hate people. I don’t wanna be like you. Look at you.”

Martin Sixsmith: I’m angry.

Philomena: Must be exhausting.

Believing in God enables her to rise above the all too human nuns and forgive them, while Sixsmith, having no God to believe in, is left with anger at unrightable wrongness of all that has gone on.

But the film depicts the clash. Sixsmtih is as devoted to unbelief as Philomena is to belief.3

Part of the atheist’s problem is a bad working definition of God to start with. Sometimes when I ask people who profess not to believe in God to describe the God whose existence they deny, I find myself agreeing with them. “Well, I don’t believe that such a God exists either.” It’s easy to dismiss a cartoon God.

The problem we have, then, is we concede to discuss God with popular pictures and images of God which are caricatures. J. B. Phillips whose paraphrase of the New Testament still is valuable, wrote a little volume Your God is Too Small, that catalogs some of those defective pictures people carry around in their heads of the Divine: God-in-a-box” ,”Resident Policeman,” “Grand Old Man,” “Meek-and-Mild,” and “Managing Director.” .

ex4-moses_burning_bush_bysantine_mosaicWe need a book “Meeting God again for the first time.” It is time we go back to Scripture to retrieve better way of talking about God and God’s activity in the world. the allusive, elusive, very present, very holy God.

Now such a project is too big for one sermon or even a series, but perhaps we can note a few things. The difficulty in believing God is active in the world is is a part of holy history. And how you know that God is doing something is not straightforward.

That is where I think I read today’s text. Moses would like for God to let him see the whole of God, to have a glimpse of glory. Wouldn’t that be reassuring?

Exodus is the second of the first five books of the Bible, which we used to call the Law books in my Sunday School. Jews call those books the Torah. Granted there are instructions on do’s and don’t’s that give credence to calling this laws. But a better translation of Torah is “The Way.” The texts tell a story. And the people of Israel come to understand this story as a revelation, not only of the way we should live, but a description of the way we have trouble following, and the way God delivers and judges and pushes and prods and invites the patriarchs, Israel, even creation, toward their redemption and fulfillment.

And the proper way to read this section of scripture is not scanning it for the rules we like, but reflecting on how the whole story may apply to our own journey to the promised blessing.

We need to read it the way some people read business reports and see through the numbers to larger trends and possibilities. See with them and through them. Or a historian reads the past carefully and sees in it as Barbara Tuckman put it “A Distant Mirror.” The Bible of all books warrants a close and meditative read. 4

And this is the way I come to the text today, primed by my perceptions of our time I am ready to hear God speak to me from the ancient text a word for such a time as this.

And what I find is that Exodus is story of people who vacillate between doubting God and taking a chance on God, Between making promises to God and messing around with a do-it-yourself idol.

This people alternate between calling out for help and skepticism about God’s benevolence. Between celebrating God’s deliverance and doubting his presence.

Exodus keeps coming back to the desire for God to reveal God’s self.

Now God does make self revelations in Exodus. The burning bush, the parted Sea, the plagues, Mt Sinai in cloud and thunder, the miracle of manna, and water from a rock. But none of these make faith inevitable or permanent.

So think about the flow of the story.

It begins 450 years after Joseph, who saved not only his father Jacob’s family, but the entire empire through his food saving plan. But now the Hebrews have multiplied, and the Egyptians feel threatened by this immigrant population. The new pharaoh exploits them as slave labor, then start on the slippery slope to genocide.

Where is God? Not on center stage. But it seems that a purpose greater than them leads people who have no power to speak of to buck the authority of pharaoh. A boy is spared, by quick witted mother, truth bending midwives, brave big sister, and compassion of a princess. Moses makes it. And he too grows up with this defiant sense of justice which gets him into trouble with the law and he becomes a runaway.

Still where is God? The writer remains silent.

The runaway Moses settles down in the wilderness far from Egypt, gets married, becomes a shepherd for his father in law. And then one day, at the ripe old age of 75, he has a close encounter of a strange kind. A bush burning without being burned up. What keeps that fire going? He draws nearer and here, for the first time in the book God steps on stage, or at least his voice. Whether Moses hears the voice out loud or in his head, it is all the same an encounter with the Other.

After being told he is on holy ground, the voice reveals that God has known all along what was happening to the Hebrews. Those verbs pile up describing a God who is not far off but close at hand: “I know,… I see…, I hear…, and I am coming to deliver.”

But once again God chooses to deliver through the agency of another– Moses. Moses does not like the idea and offers a number of reasons why he is all wrong for the job. God persists with the promise that he will be with Moses. “Who are you?” Moses asked. And God answers “I am I am,” which scholars tell us means among other things “I am …here, present, with you right now.” and God promises not only his Divine presence, but he will send along Aaron to be Moses’ front man. God is going to be present but several layers obscure that.

Now when Moses arrives back in Egypt he has to convince both the Hebrews and pharaoh that God has sent him. Both are skeptical that there is anything to this movement. Maybe it is a scheme originating with Moses. And sure enough the first results of the effort was pharaoh increased their hardship. Where is God in that?

Moses and Aaron put on a demonstration involving rod into snake into rod; pharaoh’s priests match it. The proof of God is left ambiguous. The plagues get his attention, but don’t amount to reason enough for the king to neglect his economic investment in the slave arrangement.

Till that awful 9th plague brings death to every Egyptian household. And even then pharaoh changed his mind in the cold light of a new day and sends out his troops to get back the Hebrew he had too quickly told to leave.

Moses and the Hebrews see the dust cloud of the chariots coming and the muddy expanse of water blocking their escape, and, not for the last time, the people whine that this whole Exodus has been a terrible mistake. Where is God? God got us into this mess.

Of course you know the story of how things turned out with a miraculous deliverance, and Miriam led the cheer praising God. Forty days later they are at Sinai, and God descends upon the mountain with smoke and thunder and earthquakes. And for the first and last time God speaks directly, giving his ten concise commands. It terrifies the people, and they ask Moses to kindly ask God to speak through him not directly. 5

But ever afterward God spoke indirectly through Moses. This turned out to be a triangulation in communication that ending up with Moses in the middle of the tensions between God’s purpose and the people’s waffling faith.

The episode of the golden calf (Exodus 32) is the paradigm.

Ironically in addition to hand inscribed copy of the ten commands God made and gave Moses, God was also giving instructions for a tabernacle and an altar. Exodus 25:  8 And have them make me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them.  But God cut it short. Something was amiss in the camp.

While Moses was out of their sigh, the people proceeded to break the first two commandments. They were impatient. They wanted a God that they could see. And Moses was off in a cloud of darkness. Goodness only knew when or if he would get back.

Not knowing that Moses was getting instructions about a place for worship, the Hebrews invent their own ritual, and make an image from gold they had brought from Egyptians. (The Egyptians had been eager to pay whatever to get them gone.) The Hebrews made an easier god that they could point to and talk about. A god that would let them do whatever they pleased. A fun god with an entertaining ritual.

And that was not the last time that people improvised their own version of god, convenient to their own purposes.

God had forbidden people substituting their own idea of God for God’s self revelation. In particular substituting a God that they could view for the God who asks to be heard. Or, put it this way, substituting a god you think about for the God you obey.

Where is God? Over there on the altar we built. A religious centerpiece to decorate our party. An “interest center.”

The first edition of the tablets of law are a casualty of this episode. God sends Moses scurrying back down the mountain and when he sees what is happening Moses breaks the tablets in disgust.

32:1As soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets from his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. 20 He took the calf that they had made, burned it with fire, ground it to powder, scattered it on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.

After the hysterical events that follow, about which God tells Moses to go ahead and take them to the land he had promised their ancestor Abraham and his descendants. Lead the people you brought out of Egypt. I will clear the land to receive them and send a angel to show the way, but I won’t go along “lest I consume them”

32:31 So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin; they have made for themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, if you will only forgive their sin―but if not, blot me out of the book that you have written.” 33 But the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. 

 33:Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, or I would consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

Moses builds a tent of meeting outside the camp (the tabernacle had been scheduled to be in the middle) and going to meet God there and the first conversation we hear about is Moses interceding asking that God not abandon them,

Well today’s text offers three prayers that Moses made to God. Three powerful requests.

I. First he asks that God will show him his ways. He prays for guidance.

“You have been telling me, `Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, `I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ 13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”

God you have given me responsibility; and you have said you will give me help. I don’t know who that is yet. You tell me that I am special to you. That You know me by name. Well, if it is true that I matter to you teach me your ways so that I can continue to please you. And by the way don’t forget these are your people that you have told me to lead.

God answers that prayer. “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” So God himself will go with Moses and guide him in the way he should go. And he promises that it will end up all right. With rest.

II. But Moses ups the ante. He doesn’t just want God’s guidance. He wants God’s presence and not just for himself but for all the people. “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

And amazingly for Moses sake, God agrees to be present with all the people.

17 And the LORD said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”

III. Then Moses makes a third petition there in the tent of meeting. 18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

Does it remind you of the scene in the movie Jerry Maguire, where Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s character demands of Tom Cruise’s character: “Show me the money.” Here it’s “show me your Glory.” Show me a physical or tangible manifestation of your presence. I need more.6

What are we to make of this last request? We can understand his request to know God’s way. To have information that will help us steer our lives in the right path. For this we consult scripture, pray for discernment, use our reason to assemble all the clues we have. Show us your ways.

And we do also understand the request that God give us his presence. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me – because they represent the abiding powerful presence of God who has his eye on us. You have known me. Now let me feel that watchful care in my heart. 

What does it meant to ask to see God’s glory? It was as if Moses wanted to strip away all the veils and behold the Lord directly and clearly. For all that God grants makes Moses hungry for more. What he knows about God whets his appetite for more. 7

Let me look at you.”

And that, God says, can not be. Not directly.

Yahweh tells Moses that his face will remain forever hidden, for anyone who sees the face of Yahweh will not live. This statement is often cited as a universal description of the holy otherness and imperceptibility of God, but anyone familiar with other texts will hear the soft whisper of a reply, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8), or “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father!” (John 14:9). Our inability to see God or, even more, to know God is related to covenant infidelity and covenant betrayal. Yet we hope to live with a beatific vision of God and life even if we cannot see his blinding glory.8

The reason why this request is out of order is that God cannot be examined like a fossil or a fern.  God is never a thing, just one more thing in the catalog of things that exist. “Lets see: Goat, geese, germs, god…” Whenever God becomes an object to us, God will become a problem, a puzzle, something to prove or disprove, and discuss. But so far from God’s being something in our hands we can turn over and examine, “He’s got the whole world in his hand.” We can’t have God in our hand, because everything, including us, is in God’s hands.

martin_buber_and_rabbi_binyamin

Martin Buber

Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher, said God is an “I” that can never become an “it.” We can treat a lot of things and people as “its.” That is, we can treat them as if they were not persons, just unconscious objects. But God is always the one who beholds us. To the extent that you are thinking of God as an object, you are not thinking about God.

Moses seems to want to see God in a way in which he is not  acted upon by God. His requests amounts to wanting for a moment to just be an observer outside the relationship.

The problem with idols is just that they are objects that you can shift around, change, paint, dress up , put words in their mouth– they don’t care. They are your creation, not your theirs. But neither can they hear you, or help you, pray to them as you will.

Anything you know about God objectively falls short of knowing God personally. That is why knowing more about God is no guarantee you will be a better, or more spiritual person.

Notice God does not offer to be seen, he asks to be heard.

Moses met with God in face to face conversation. God came to Moses and they talked together. God becomes real to us in prayer.

Job was a pious, religious, moral man when his life fell out from underneath him. He had a crisis of faith. His wife even told him to go ahead and curse God and die since God did not seem inclined to help him out of his misery any other way. Job could not put God out of his life. He had done what he thought he was suppose to, and things were not working. it was not fair and he wanted a Divine explanation. He wants justice.

The climax comes in the poem when God does encounter Job. God takes Job on a whirlwind tour of creation from the moment it sprang into being and the morning stars sang together, to the depths of the ocean where a crazy big Leviathan cavorted for no other reason than God enjoyed its freedom. God creates a riotous plethora of creatures.

Job sees a world a lot bigger than himself, a world full of things God releases to run free, within limits (e.g.,God says to the sea, “this far and no farther”). But what really turns him around is not just the sweep and scope of God’s complicated creation, in which there is never an answer to Job’s question in Job’s terms. What enables Job to humble faith is just the fact that God has encountered to him. “I’ve hear about God with the hearing of the ears, but now I have met God, and I am speechless.”

knippersmoses-and-the-burning-bush

Moses and the Burning Bush by Edward Knippers

Moses can’t look at God’s glory face on. It would be more than he or anyone could take. Looking into the sun you go blind. But by the light of the sun you can see the world clearer.

All Isaiah could see of God was the Divine train filling the temple. Even the heavenly seraphim hid their bodies and faces while they sang “ HOLY HOLY, HOLY.” He just glimpsed the edge of the glory before which the seraphim cover themselves.

God tells Moses “You cannot see me “full on”– that is not permitted humans. But you shall see my goodness. You shall hear my name. I will hide you in a cleft in the rock while I pass by and then let you see the back of my glory. You will see the backside of my glory after it has passed by and is going away.”

I would like to submit that this is still the way it is. So much of what we see of God’s glory, we see afterward.

There is a trick astronomers know. If you look straight at a celestial object you will only get some of it, your eyes will get fatigued. But if you look at it slant. about 12 degrees to the side of center, you will be able to pick up more information. Sometimes we see more ‘slant.”

This is Jacob at Bethel, waking up from the vision of the stairway between heaven and earth, he exclaims, “Surely God was in this place and I did not know it.”

This is Joseph who no doubt had given up the youthful dreams of what his life would be. He had continued to do the most honorable thing he could whatever fix he was in. Sometimes doing his best had made things worse for him, but in the end he got to be the most important person in Egypt next to pharaoh.

joseph-has-been-recognized-by-his-brothers-1931large

by Marc Chagall

Then came the day that his brothers, who had sold him into slavery and, they assumed, to his death, come to beg to buy from Egypt’s storehouses. Joseph could have seen a chance to get back at them, but with amazing vision Joseph looks back and saw God in his twisty, messed up story. When he reveals himself to the brothers as the one whom they had sold into slavery, he tells them not to be alarmed. What they had meant for evil, God had used for salvation. Joseph had not seen God in the midst of his troubles, but looking back he could see where God had been. God had been in his whole life.

The story is not over till God ends it, my friends.

So Moses looks back in his farewell (Deuteronomy 33):

26 “There is none like God, O Jesh′urun9,
who rides through the heavens to your help,
and in his majesty through the skies.
27 The eternal God is your dwelling place,
and underneath are the everlasting arms.

Moses looks back and, as it were, can sing, “all the way my savior leads me/”     

And perhaps we are to understand it that way in our lives. We will only see what it all meant later. We don’t always see where God is coming to us, but if we are obedient to what we do know of God we discover later that God led us all the way and has become our dwelling place.

While God was saving the world on Good Friday it appeared that he was absent. “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’” (Mt. 27:43) And even in dying Jesus experiences the absence of God. “My God, my God . Why hast thou forsaken me.”

It was only in the light of Easter that people could look back in wonder. “Our Lord began his reign on a cross.”

The providence of God we know more from retrospect than from prospect.

Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort, Here by faith in Him to dwell!

For I know, whate’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well;

Frederick Buechner, the wonderful novelist, and preacher, tells his life’s story in two volumes so far. About losing his father to suicide, about growing up without church but being drawn to the preaching of George Buttrick and experiencing a conversion. About teaching and seminary and writing. And he says, “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”Now and Then: A Memoir of VocationFrederick Buechner, 

Even when we don’t see God and wish we could, the important thing is that God can see you. The psalmist said, “Where can I go from your presence? Where can I flee from your spirit? If I go to heaven you’re there. If I make my bed in hell, you’re there. If I take and go to outermost part of the sea, behold even there, your spirit will guide me. Even there your hand will direct me.”

We want to be sure. We might want to see God so plainly that we no longer could doubt. What God gives us instead are encounters with his goodness. Micky Anders writes, “Someone has said that faith is what you do between the last time you experienced God and the next time you experience God.’  Those who are honest about their faith admit that they are like Moses, seeing only the backside of God.

Surely the Lord is in this place—and in every place we go– whether we know it or not.

Even through the wilderness of secular times.

Even when the world asks “Where is their God?”

AMEN.

Psalm 115:

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.
Why should the nations say,    “Where is their God?”

Thomas Merton, one of the most spiritually wise men of the 20th century,wrote, How do we begin to know You are until we begin ourselves to be something of what you are? We receive enlightenment only in proportion as we give ourselves more and more completely to God in humble submission and love . We do not first see, then act; we act, then see…. And that is why the man who waits to see clearly before he will believe, never starts on the journey.”

1gIn the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. Adults.” 10.9.2012. http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/

2I Peter 3:14-15 And if it should happen that you suffer “for righteousness’ sake”, that is a privilege. You need neither fear their threats nor worry about them; simply concentrate on being completely devoted to Christ in your hearts. Be ready at any time to give a quiet and reverent answer to any man [sic] who wants a reason for the hope that you have within you. Make sure that your conscience is perfectly clear, so that if men [sic] should speak slanderously of you as rogues they may come to feel ashamed of themselves for libelling your good Christian behaviour. (Phillips)

3Or Cards of sympathy. I know others who have noticed, as I do, the absence of robust theological hope in the timid vague sentiments we find in sympathy cards. “Your loved one will live on in the memories you will cherish.” Pah, faith demands something more radical than that Resurrection. And about that hope we are as speechless as the women before the garden tomb. As Paul said, of this is just about our short time here and then its over, we are of all people most to be pitted, because we were deluded when we announced that God raised Jesus from the dead.”

4(Baptist minister Carlyle Marney – was teaching at the Ridgecrest Assembly once. Someone asked, “Where’s the Garden of Eden?” Marney replied, “128 Hill Street, Knoxville TN. That’s where I stole money from my mother’s purse and hid from her under the stairs.”)

5 20:18 When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”

7 “As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.” (Psalm 17:5)

“But because I have done what is right, I will see you. When I awake, I will be fully satisfied, for I will see you face to face.” (Psalm 17:5 NLT)

8by Martha Greene

9a “symbolical name for Israel in (32:1533:5,26Isaiah 44:2) It is most probably derived from a root signifying ‘to be blessed.’”

10Wayne E. Oates, Leadership, Vol. 9, no. 4.

11Skip Heitzig

 

No Other God

 October 16, 2011

Year A Proper 24

Exodus 33

I’m afraid that most Christians kind of whiz through the Old Testament hitting the high spots and not expecting to getting too much out of most of it. But here for the third Sunday in a row I have chosen to focus on Exodus.

Let’s put the reading in context. God delivers Israel from Egypt with signs and wonders, the final act being the parting of the Reed Sea to permit the Israelites to the other side and then the return of the sea to cover the pursuing Egyptians and their mud-mired, heavy chariots.

Then God gave them sweet water where only bitter could be found; and manna when they were hungry; and water gushing out of a rock when thirst made them desperate again. God was teaching them to trust God’s provision of their needs.

At last they arrived at Sinai near where Moses had seen the burning bush that had begun his mission to liberate them. After elaborate preparations they came near but not too near the mountain as a mighty cloud descended upon it and the earth shook and lightning flashed. And God spoke the 10 words, which most of us call “the 10 commandments.” It was God’s declaration of his union with them. They would be his people by remembering these words and living by them and he would be their God.

The people all agreed, but they also requested that inasmuch as God’s voice terrified them could God please no longer speak to them directly. Just pass it to Moses and then let Moses speak to them. God agreed.

And Moses was called up the mountain into the cloud and darkness that covered it and was there for 40 days and nights as God unfolded more of what it would mean to live out the ten commandments– how to treat other people and how to go about proper worship. It was while Moses was getting instructions for the Tabernacle that something terrible happened back in the camp. And toward the close of that time on the mountain, God cut out two tablets and God himself inscribed the commandments on them.

Last week we looked at that story. The story of the golden calf which Aaron built to satisfy the Israelites desire for some physical thing to center worship around. There are indications that Aaron really did not mean for things to get so out of control. While they were getting all pumped up he said, “Tomorrow will be a feast unto Yahweh.:” Maybe he realized that what they were doing now was not much about the God who had brought them to Sinai.

Well as we said last week that incident marked the breaking of the first two commandments in one act. They worshiped other gods and they made an image of that god to boot. The point is they had broken the commandments and to break any of them was to break the whole deal.

God tells Moses to go back down. Notice the way he put it, “The people you brought up out of Egypt…” And God threatens to destroy the whole lot. They are all stiff necked, hard headed lot. Let me just start all over. I will make of you a great people, Moses.”

But Moses intercedes for the people. He reminds God that it was God’s idea to liberate these people and bring them to the land he had promised Abraham and their other fore-parents. Besides it would give you a bad name among the nations. The Egyptians will say you brought them here to kill them.

God relents. Moses, however, is so undone with what he sees when he comes down the mountain side, he drops–or throws– the tablets of commandments and they break. What an appropriate symbol for the fact that Israel had broken the agreement. God had held back from wiping the sinners out, but Moses orders his own slaughter of the reprobates and makes the survivors drink the ashes of the idol they had danced around.

Down in Verse 30 of Chapter 32, it came to pass. “On the next day that Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sins so I will go up to the Lord. Perhaps, I can make atonement.” Literally if you remember a covering for your sin,” and then Moses return to the Lord and said, “Oh, these people have committed a great sin and that made for themselves a god of gold, yet now if you will forgive their sin but if not I pray, blot me out of your book which you have written.”

24 By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, 26 esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. (Hebrews 11)

When we come to today’s chapter we discover that God has agreed to get the people to the promised land, but his presence will not be in their midst. He will send an angel to do the leading instead.

1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ 2 I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 3 Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”

4 When the people heard these distressing words, they began to mourn and no one put on any ornaments. 5 For the LORD had said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you.

And perhaps as a reflection of God’s distance from the people the tent of meeting was removed from the middle of their camp to the extreme outskirts.

This is not the tabernacle. That comes later. This is just a tent where Moses went to spend time with God and the people who wanted to hear from God would come to it.

We read that when Moses went in to be with God, God’s presence like a cloud hovered around the tent. And inside Moses and God spoke “Face to face.” The meaning of that expression is they spoke like friends who get together for a heart to heart. Such intimacy. Such closeness. 1

What did they talk about?

Well today’s text offers three prayers that Moses made to God. Three powerful requests.

I. First he asks that God will show him his ways. He prays for guidance.

“You have been telling me, `Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, `I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ 13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”

God you have given me responsibility; and you have said you will give me help. I don’t know who that is yet. you tell me that I am special to you. You know me by name. Well, if it is true that I matter to you teach me your ways so that I can continue to please you. And by the way don’t forget these are your people that you have told me to lead.

God answers that prayer. “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” So God himself will go with Moses and guide him in the way he should go.

II. But Moses ups the ante. He doesn’t just want God’s guidance. He wants God’s presence and not just for himself but for all the people. “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

And amazingly, for Moses sake, God agrees to be present with all the people.

17 And the LORD said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”

III. Then Moses makes a third petition there in the tent of meeting. 18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

Yahweh tells Moses that his face will remain forever hidden, for anyone who sees the face of Yahweh will not live. This statement is often cited as a universal description of the holy otherness and imperceptibility of God, but anyone familiar with other texts will hear the soft whisper of a reply, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8), or “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father!” (John 14:9). Our inability to see God or, even more, to know God is related to covenant infidelity and covenant betrayal. Yet we hope to live with a beatific vision of God and life even if we cannot see his blinding glory.2

Finally, in a scene reminiscent of the scene in the movie Jerry Maguire, where Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s character demands of Tom Cruise’s character: “Show me the money.” Here it’s “show me your Glory.” Show me a physical or tangible manifestation of your presence. I need more.3

What are we to make of this last request? We can understand his request to know God’s way. To have information that will help us steer our lives in the right path. For this we consult scripture, pray for discernment, use our reason to assemble all the clues we have. Show us your ways.

And we do also understand the request that God give us his presence. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me – because they represent the abiding powerful presence of God who has his eye on us. You have known me. Now let me feel that watchful care in my heart. That gives us courage. That puts fuel into fainting hearts.

What does it meant to ask to see God’s glory? It was as if Moses wanted to strip away all the veils and behold the Lord directly and clearly. For all that God grants makes Moses hungry for more. What he knows about God whets his appetite for more. 4

When the Israelites built a golden calf they were inappropriately feeling this instinct for a clear vision of God.

Dr. Dick Furman. He said everyday after his surgery rounds when he was working in Africa, he would go to the cemetery. He loved to read gravestones. And he would write them down if there were scriptures and go home and look them up at night there was nothing else to do. So he would look up gravestone scriptures at night and get ready for surgery the next day.

One day he walked through a graveyard not knowing what it was and saw on a gravestone the word, “Satisfied” and underneath, Psalms 17:15. He went home, he looked at up and it dawned on him. The Psalmist said, “I’ll be satisfied when I see You face to face.” And on that gravestone it was written, “Satisfied.” Now, I’m satisfied. All my life I’ve been longing for this and now finally at death, I’m in God’s presence. I’m satisfied.5

I went searching commentators and translators notes and come back with this helpful information: the request Moses makes has this little twist to its verb form. Moses wants it to be possible for Moses to see God in much the same way a birdwatcher spots a songbird, or a scientist extracts DNA from a sample. Moses wants to be the active one doing the seeing and for God to lie there passively as an object to be looked at.

Let me look at you.”

And that God says can never be.

One reason is that God is never a thing, one more item in the catalog of things that exist.. “Goat, god, geese, germs…” Whenever God becomes an object to us, God will become a problem, a puzzle, something to prove or disprove, and discuss.

The reason why this attitude is wrong is that so far from God being something in our hands we can turn over and examine, “He’s got the whole world in his hand.” We can’t have God in our hand, because everything including us is in God’s hands.

Martin Buber the Jewish scholar said God is an “I” that can never become an “it.”

We can treat a lot of things and people as its, that is we can treat them as if they were not persons, just unconscious objects. But God is always the one who beholds us.

Moses seems to want to see God in a way in which he is not the one acted upon by God. He wanted for a moment to just be an observer outside a relationship.

The problem with idols is just that they are objects that you can move around, change, paint up, put words in their mouth– they don’t care. they are your creation. But neither can they hear you or help you, pray to them as you will.

Anything you know about God falls short of knowing God personally. That is why knowing more about God is no guarantee you will be a better person.

Moses met with God face to face. God came to Moses and they talked together.

Job was a pious religious moral man when his life fell out from underneath him. he had a crisis of faith. His wife even told him to go ahead and curse God and die since God did not seem inclined to help him out of his misery any other way. Job could not put God out of his life. he had done what he thought he was suppose to, and things were not working. it was not fair and he wanted a Divine explanation.

He wants justice.

The climax comes in the poem when God does encounter Job. God takes Job on a whirlwind tour of creation from the moment it sprang into being and the morning stars sang together, to the depths of the ocean where a crazy big Leviathan cavorted for no other reason than God enjoyed its freedom. God sets limits, but he lets so much run free.

Job sees a world a lot bigger than himself, but the thing that really turns him around is just the fact that God has spoken to him. “I’ve hear about God with the hearing of the ears, but now I have met God and I am speechless.”

Moses can’t look at God’s glory face on. It would be more than he or anyone could take. Looking into the sun you go blind. When Isaiah saw God was present in the temple all he could really see was that the Divine train filled the temple and there were these six winged creatures howling in heavenly voices the holiness and covering their bodies and their face with two pairs of wings while they flew with the other pair.

Years ago on television, there was a televised live circus act. I think it was a weekly program. You could see the circus live on television from some spot.

As part of the act, there was a Bengal tiger performance where there was a cage in the middle of the circus ring, middle of the floor, A large cage several tigers inside. The trainer would go in, in the middle of the act. The lights would flash onto the cage. The door would lock behind him and he would put the tigers through their paces.

One evening in the middle of the television show, in the middle of the program as it was being filmed, all of the lights went out, a power failure for the stage lighting. So it went out when the trainer had gone to the door and it locked behind him and all those tigers where inside and the door went –. And for 20 to 30 long, agonizingly long seconds, the trainer was in there, he didn’t move. He couldn’t see those tigers but he knew they could see him. They were cats. They can see in the dark. No problem, they could see him, their eyes were on him.

And then the lights went on eventually and he finished the performance and put those tigers to their paces. No matter where you go, no matter where you hang, no matter what company you hang out with, not the tiger but the lion of the tribe of Judah can see. He sees whether you see or feel or experience at that moment him or not isn’t the biggest issue, he sees you. He knows all about you.”6

God tells Moses he cannot see me “full on”– that is not permitted humans. But you shall see my goodness. You shall hear my name. I will hide you in a cleft in the rock while I pass by and then let you see the back of my glory. You will see my glory after it has gone by.

I would like to submit that this is still the way it is. So much of what we see of God’s glory we see afterwards. As Jacob at Bethel waking up says, “Surely God was in this place and I did not know it.” We don’t often see where God in his righteousness and grace is at work until later when we see how it turned out.

The providence of God we know more from retrospect than from prospect.

Fanny Crosby wrote

All the way my Savior leads me;What have I to ask beside?

Can I doubt His tender mercy, Who through life has been my Guide?

Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort, Here by faith in Him to dwell!

For I know, whate’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well;

For I know, whate’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well.

The psalmist writes that Surely goodness and mercy shall come along with me. Sometime they are tracking us through the wilderness and we don’t even see them.

The most important point is that God can see you. David said, “Where can I go from your presence? Where can I plea from your spirit? If I go to heaven you’re there. If I make my bed in hell, you’re there. If I take and go to outermost part of the sea, behold even there, your spirit will guide me. Even there your hand will direct me.”

http://fbcs.sasktelwebsite.net/sermons/soct19.pdf

And after I’ve passed by, then – then you shall see me. Not full on. It will be a partial glimpse of my glory.”

Perhaps a partial glimpse of God is the best that any of us can hope for. We never know all there is to know of God. We can never plumb the depths of God’s greatness or the mystery of God’s love. But this God has chosen to reveal God’s self to us.

This is a God who chooses to be involved in our lives. A God who “con-descends”, who comes down to be with an enslaved people in the land of Egypt. A God who promises to journey with them through the wilderness and lead them to a promised land.

It’s not Moses who makes this happen. It’s God who chooses to be with this people, and through this action God’s glory is revealed.

God, are you with us on this journey?

The answer is yes! We don’t know every detail of the way that lies before us. And we cannot know everything about the God who travels with us. But we have seen God’s glory revealed to us in Jesus. As much of God as we can know. As much of God as we need – to lead us and guide us.

The writer of the Gospel of John says, “We have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” The God of heaven has come to live among us. The God of all power and majesty is revealed to us – in Jesus!

He is the image of the invisible God … ” says another writer in the New Testament. “In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” The fullness of God! As much of God as we can possibly comprehend. He who has seen me has seen the Father,” Jesus said.

God, are you with me on this journey?”

Oh yes! God is with us. This is as close to God as we can get: A glimpse of God’s glory in the One who came to live among us. God gives this vision to the whole world! And it’s enough. Enough to keep us going. Enough to give us hope. Enough for us to know God’s great and powerful presence in our lives. And more than that – God’s everlasting never-failing love.

Who could ask for anything more than that?

There is a trick astronomers know about. They know that if you look straight at a celestial object you will only get some of it, your eyes will get fatigued. But if you look at it slant. about 12 degrees to the side of center, you will be able to pick up more information.

The next chapter God renews the covenant. He forgives the sinful people and gives again the ten commandments to Moses. This time the commands are not on stone the Lord prepares but on tables Moses makes. God descends to the mountain and writes them.

So that in the ark there will be a perfect set made by God but broken, and a set made by collaboration of mortal Moses and the infinite God

And God renews his name with a slight variation. Not so much about punishment, but about grace. “My name means I will be gracious to whoever I will be gracious.”

Amen.

1“If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream. Not so with My servant Moses; He is faithful in all My house. I speak with him face to face, Even plainly, and not in dark sayings” (Numbers 12:6-8)

2by Martha Greene

4 “As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.” (Psalm 17:5)

“But because I have done what is right, I will see you. When I awake, I will be fully satisfied, for I will see you face to face.” (Psalm 17:5 NLT)

6Skip Heitzig

 

One Life to Live

every-new-beginning-comes-from-some-other-beginnings-end-mark-compton

every-new-beginning-comes-from-some-other-beginning’s end by Mark Compton

  New Year’s Day

 January 1, 2012

A couple of days before NYC hosts the New Year’s Eve bash, there has grown up another observance. This week the fifth “Good Riddance Day” saw crowds of people bringing emblems of things about 2011 that they wish to forget. One boy celebrated as he made his wish to forget “Childhood Blood Cancer” by disposing a “puke bucket that is no longer needed.” jilted girlfriends disposed of slips of paper with their ex-boyfriends names.

Katie Selman and her husband, Army Major Steve Selman. Katie’s brother spent a year in Iraq. Katie’s husband Steve was deployed several times. They have five kids between four and 12, so they shredded the deployment papers along with “All the sleepless nights, all the sending packages and emails, always worrying – it’s just going to be out the door when I shred these papers.”

There is something healthy about inventory at the end of the year. and “Out with the old and in with the new.” We don’t want to be hoarders of some of the bitter memories, or cling to grief or dwell on everything that went wrong.

New Year is a time for a fresh start.

Jews celebrate the New Year in the autumn. Rosh Hashanah which is celebration of Creation and also commemorates Man’s first sin. Begins 10 days of repentance. “On the first day of Rosh Hashanah after the afternoon prayer, we go to a lake, river or sea (preferably a body of water that has fish), and recite the Tashlich prayers, wherein we symbolically cast our sins into the water and leave our old shortcomings behind us, thus starting the new year with a clean slate.” The ten days culminates on Yom Kippur Day of Atonement. Among other things that day Jews are encouraged to get relationships where they need to be. To take responsibility for repairing broken or neglected relationships. “On Yom Kippur, we stand before God, hand on heart and say, “God: it’s not your fault.” We take responsibility. We are not who we should be, so life is not what it could be. We are the problem in the relationship, not You.” (Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt )

I think that there is something profoundly fitting about using the start of a new year to reset our lives and our relationships. To let go of some things that are holding us back and begin again.

“My God, do not abandon me. I have done nothing good before Thee, but grant me, in Thy compassion, the power to make a start” (Arsenios, 5th century).

First the letting go. We can all fall into a bad habit of clinging to the worst.

Perhaps you have seen the cartoon that pictures a middle-aged man, pot-bellied, with a frown on his face, wearing a T-shirt that reads “Please don’t ask me to have a nice day.” Or you may identify with W. C. Fields who said, “I start off each day with a smile, and get it over with.”

Some people are a jumble of anxiety and fear. Watch enough television and you would think that the world is coming apart and that the USA is doomed. Of course there is bad news, no denying it has been hard for a lot of folk. But sometimes the bad news drowns out any good news there is and we end up a nervous jim-jam. Don’t feast on a diet of fear and anger– it will make you sick.

Computer gurus a long time ago said if there is something wrong with the data you feed a computer the answers it spits out will be off key too. GIGO– Garbage in Garbage out.

That happens in our souls when we dwell more on the doom and gloom than the promises of God.

St. Paul encouraged the Philippians to think on beautiful, delightful, good things. That is certainly why he was able to escape depression and pessimism as he sat there in prison. He was even able to see a silver lining if it turned out he was executed. “For me to die is gain.”

Proverbs 23:7 reads, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” What you think today, you become tomorrow.

Throw away some of the “stinky thinking.”

Bill Urill: “What we think about a situation or event will determine feeling and emotions and later, behaviors and actions.”

Paul did not let the negative drown out all that is right with the world.

This I do not looking back I stretch toward the goal of Christ’s calling.

Not that I have attained but I lean toward the goal.

Paul advised that church to so fill their mind with the positive that the negative could not set up camp in their hearts.

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.

Starting new. If you are going to change anything, make small changes first. Sometimes a parent discourages a child from baptism saying they have not changed enough. I understand the impulse. We want to make sure that a person is sincere about wanting the new life in Christ. But the truth is becoming Christian is the start of the change, just as being born precedes growing up. God keeps transforming us after we become Christ followers; it isn’t all done before we enter that relationship. It is done by that relationship.

Start small. first it will be easier to keep growing if you don’t expect to start where you are going to end up.

A street musician in New York City. A well-dressed man rushes up to him, with concert tickets in hand, and says, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

The musician looks at him and says, “Practice, man. Practice.”

Advertisers will promise us instant weight loss. Won’t happen. Nothing significant is overnight. “Loose five pounds today.” Eat smaller portions of a nutritious meal slowly would be more realistic.

Potty train your toddler today” Nobody is going to be happy if you try that.

Set goal for where you want to be and then ask what one small thing could I do today or this week that would get me one step closer to that goal. You are more likely to keep with your goal if you

1. take baby steps– something easily within reach– and succeed

2. make a routine that includes those baby steps.

Read the Bible through? Start with reading a psalm a day for a week.

Start with reading a chapter a day for a week

To forgive that person who wronged you? Start by praying for that person, move on to asking God to do something good in that person’s life. Step by step.

But make a beginning.

Periodically ask where you are in relation to where you want to be– course corrections.

One of the most profound meanings of the incarnation for me is that it was enough for God to come in one human life, in one remote place, in a small town. What God can do with one life that is committed to him!

Ray Pritchard writes:

Dr. King frames the whole message of that last sermon of his in Memphis this way. Suppose God were to come to him and ask this question, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” He goes on to survey all of human history, starting with Egypt, going on to Greece and Rome, then skipping the centuries to the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation, then on to the days of Abraham Lincoln, then on to the very troubled times of 1968 when the whole fabric of the nation seemed about to unravel. Here is his imagined answer to the Almighty’s imagined question:

Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy.” Now that’s a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.

He goes on to talk about what it means to live at such a crucial moment of history and applies it to the situation with the sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis. As I read it this week, I could feel the power building to that final climax, the one where utters words both poignant and prophetic:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

A thousand years from now, we will still remember those words. I am always struck by this simple sentence in his final paragraph: “I just want to do God’s will.” Those seven words summarize how we all ought to face the future, understanding the fierce urgency of now, grateful for the privilege of being alive for such a time as this, wherever God has placed us:

Christians are both pessimists and optimists, but we are much more optimistic because though we see what is happening in the world around us, we know that Jesus Christ conquered the grave.

I just want to do God’s will.

Time Out

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June 2, 1991

Year B Proper 4

Deuteronomy 5:6-21; Mark 2:23 – 3:6

Jesus told pharisees that Sabbath was made for man’s good: It is not just an ‘ought’ imposed on us; it is an ‘ought’ that our makeup requires.

Rhythms change at this time of the year. Schools let out. There is a rush for summer jobs, and a different rush to the beach . Summer rumors a change of pace. One we most all look forward to, a break from the usual routine, the usual surroundings. Something new.

A valuable lesson is in vacations. You learn a little of what it will be like if you retire someday and leave business in someone else’s hands. Sooner or later you will have to anyway, you know.

A vacation gives you a chance to learn to live today.

I know a lot of people who have plans to live someday. They are going to take that trip. They are going to take time to visit family and old friends. There are sights they plan to see. Someday. Someday I’m going to just spend the whole day sitting still and reading a book. But the routine gobbles up all the time, and they never get to their dream.

Vacations can be a way of ‘stopping the world’ and ‘getting off’ for a moment and doing the thing you always wished you could do―sight seeing . Playing, studying, building, planting, creating, feasting. A chance to reboot can give you a fresh attitude toward life, toward time, toward world, toward self.

And we all need it.

God teaches us that we do not just need time off once or twice a year. We need time out every week. The command about Sabbath is just this―to cease from all the work you regularly do to meet your own needs.

Work six days. Rest 1.

Work is also a command. A recognition of a basic need too. We ought not forget. Some people are parasites. They do not produce, only consume. They are willing for others to create, clean, build, cook, even think for them. They want to be entertain. They take no thought of how they could leave the world a better, more beautiful place than they found.

They are not stirred to action by injustice or moved by human need to do anything to help their brothers and sisters.

It is really tragic when someone looks for work a long time and can’t find it. It is demoralizing to graduates who sit idly wondering when an opportunity will open. Humans were meant to do, to contribute , expend effort, invest energy, passion and creativity in worthwhile endeavors. And if we don’t we will usually get cranky, suffer low self esteem, get weird.

I know a fellow who won the lottery and didn’t quit his job.”I need a reason to get up in the morning. Of course it is a relief not to have to work, but

work is really something I enjoy.” I think he was wise.

Work is part of being alive. But there is more to life than work. Our culture has people who never get started, and people who can’t stop.

It is as bad when your windows are stuck open as when they are stuck shut. There are people who cannot handle unstructured time. They cannot not have something to do. Wayne Oates was the one who coined the term “workaholism” for this disease, in which a person becomes dependent on work. Work becomes a substitute for relating to people. Work becomes the center of all their conversation, all their time . They may in fact waste a lot of time on bull sessions at work so that all the time that should be left for leisure is taken up with catching up.

Or they are the ‘organizational man’ who ‘sold his soul to the company store’ looking for a way to give more than 24 hours a day to the business. Finally there is the heart attack or the ulcer or the divorce or the delinquent child or some other break which reveals the disastrous results of misplaced priorities, the cost of allowing work to be the overwhelming focus of life.

There needs to be a rhythm I our life.

The writer of Ecclesiastes wrote “There is a time for everything.”

We wonder sometimes.

What ever happened to time? Our age with all the labor saving, time saving devices is more rushed than ever. Where is all the time we saved?

I can remember as a child what is was like to live in a neighborhood without phones or TVs– believe it or not.And actually I remember neighbors visiting and chatting. People driving wagons of corn to my grandfather’s mill to have it ground, joking as well as working. I can remember hours that were all about picking beans, and shelling them, and canning into the late hours, talking and begin there with each other is a way that is rare now. Sometime I believe we could have a lot more time if we unplugged for a while. Just had an electronics free time.

But we can feel so guilty resting, doing nothing. There are things that need to be done So many worthwhile projects, places to go. We can make vacations into a stressful “to do list.”

“A time to work. A time to refrain from working.”

I use not to take a day off. I worked 5 days in the office. The sixth day was for sermon writing and study. The seventh day was mostly at church. I didn’t think I could take a day off till I was finished with my work. Only after I started the discipline of taking a day off did I realize I would never finish my work. But I could leave it for a while.

First, it made me more efficient. The work I did had some sense of a deadline. There was an extra incentive to push to get the essential stuff taken care of by the day off.

Second,there was a great reduction in stress. I had been pushing to get through all my work before retirement, before I died. And now I discovered that every week I could have a little spot of retirement. A little taste of life outside work.

Third, I discovered that it did not all depend on me. One of the things that Sabbath does is to help us realize that we are not God. We are not the one sustaining the world on its course. The world will go on if we stop pushing and pulling it for a while.

There is something idolatrous about that if we worry with a situation, things are bound to get better. Or that if things are not going well, what we need to do is try harder.  I have begun to learn from Sabbath that sometimes letting go of my effort to control situations may be part of finding peace and giving the situation space to right itself.

One piece of advise I give to people under stress is to schedule their worrying. Not to worry over something all the time, but write it on a piece or paper, or list all the things bothering you even if you have to use both sides. But when you are finished and are sure you will not forget them, set a time to come back to think about the paper that night or the next morning.

And in the meantime by letting it go, giving it a break, and walking away we discover life is still bigger than those worries. There are more things going on, more meanings, more tasks, more causes for celebration than we can see if all we are looking at are our problems.

Now lastly, Sabbath is for worship. Not only do we learn we are not God. We have an opportunity on Sabbath to remember who is.

Sabbath is like pulling off on the side of the road and looking at the map to find out where you are. To get your bearing, to remember where we are going, where we have come from.

I don’t have trouble with people using Sabbath for recreation, for being lazy, or taking little excursions. But we will get into trouble if we stop using the Sabbath for worship. We would lose the very thing that supports the practice of Sabbath.

What could be more pressing than to remember that we are God’s people? To have an appointed time to gather intentionally together in the presence of God to sing about God’s greatness, and goodness, and mercy.

Listen it is not so much God needs it, as that we need to give God that worship. Not that we were made so God would get our worship, but more that worship fulfills something deep in our nature.

I realize that sometimes the ox gets in the ditch and people will miss gathering for church. Realize there are emergencies and that folks have to be available for folks who get sick or have an unplanned crisis. But we allow too many things to shove worship out of Sabbath use of Sunday.

In the Washington Post (4/27/1991)I read that rabbis, priests, and pastors in Cranston, Rhode Island had banded together to object to the growing custom of having recitals, practices, and games at time s when their congregations schedule worship. They have said, if the parents and members of the churches simply said, “We will not be able to be there. We are in worship and Bible study at that time.” The coaches and teachers would reschedule.

But even if they did not! There ought to be a recognition that the discipline of worship is part of spiritual life. The rabbis used to say (Solomon Goldman, The Ten Commandments, 124), use ½ of Sabbath devoted to the Torah, religious practice, spirituality; and ½ the day to “be of good cheer”

Sabbath was not meant to be a burden to the spirit; but neither was it meant to be free of spiritual significance.

“Rabbi Solomon Goldman extols the virtues of Sabbath, likening the day to a beautiful bride. Sabbath, he says, is to be a time of eating food “as rich and tasty as one’s pocket and digestion will allow. ” It should be a day of joy and delight, when friends and family gather for happy fellowship.” (A Guide to the Sabbath, (London: Jewish Chronicle Publications, 1971), 15. )

To be human means to know your life has significance greater than just what you do.

Before humans were given a job, they were created for relationship. Sabbath is meant to punctuate our lives with time out that, resting from our doing, we might learn to delight with God in all the goodness of what is.Entering a sanctuary in time.

Amen.

We Shall Be Like Him

risen christ

Resurrection by Piero della Francesca

a sermon from

April 22, 2012

Year B Easter 3

These Sundays after Easter we have a little time to unpack some of the impact of Christ’s resurrection. Today I want to focus on two implications of resurrection. Resurrection underscores the permanent importance of community and of creation.

Did you ever wonder why Jesus came back after he was raised from the dead? Once he was delivered from death and given victory over all that wicked and sinful forces had done, why did Jesus hang around at all? Why didn’t Jesus go directly to heaven and leave the earth altogether?

In Shawshank Redemption Andy digs an escape out of prison and sends a card back to his buddy Red. The card is postmarked Fort Hancock, Texas, with nothing written on it, but Red takes it as a sign that Andy is headed to that Mexican beach he always talked about. And the film ends when Red after parole is able to join him there.

Couldn’t Jesus just sent a kinda postcard from heaven, “Having fun. Wish you were here.” or just like Andy’s card just blank except for the postmark that says it all, “I made it.”

But no Jesus came back to his friends.

We recall ways Jesus said it. Luke 12:4: “And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.”

John 15:15 “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.”

Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” John 15:14

John 15:13 “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Every resurrection appearance implicated the community. Mary Magdalene has a one-on-one experience, but what does Jesus tell her? ‘Go to my brothers and say to them”.

The followers see Jesus in Emmaus as he breaks bread of fellowship and what do they do? Immediately they go and tell the other disciples who are still in Jerusalem and suddenly Jesus appears in their midst. “Last of all he appeared unto me,” Paul says. But as we read the story Christ directs him to the community of believers he had orginally planned to persecute. And the rest of his life Paul is all about creating new communities of believers.

People today have all sorts of gadgets and props to mimic self-sufficiency. And being self-reliant is a virtue. But there is deep down in all of us a need to be part of a circle of friends, comrades, peers.

Jesus came back to his friends. Maybe that signifies that even when we have no more dealings in this world, the associations we have begun in this world will continue to be important to us. We cannot run from them. We ought not neglect them.

C.S. Lewis said that the one thing we know in this world that will be with us forever is other people. 1

In one sense this is comforting, to know that we are not done with people in our lives when death parts us. The separation is temporary. Now what if you have serious problems with that ex-spouse or the boss who mistreated you or the fellow down the pew who said that heartless thing you can’t forget?

The only way that the prospect of never being without those souls could fill you with anything like hope is if forgiveness is real, and reconciliation possible. I can imagine that some of the disciples may have been a little shamefaced at the idea of seeing their friend. Hadn’t one friend been the betrayer. Had not Peter the outspoken one, denied and put distance between himself and Jesus? Had not all but a few women run and hid while he was suffering on the cross?

Sin is not the main thing about us. God’s forgiveness reassures us that when we have let God down, failed in our intentions to be faithful, managed to hurt those closest to us, that sin does not get to be the last word.

Forgiveness must be the hardest thing we are called to do as followers of this Jesus. We nurse old hurts and find justification for our anger in recalling the ways we’ve been betrayed and lied to. None of these are things we lightly ignore.

One of the first things Jesus says to those disciples in the upper room both in John and Luke is “Peace.” Peace is overarching blessing of which forgiveness is a part. Forgiveness means that healing of the fractures in relationships is possible. The love Jesus has for his friends is larger than their failings. And for the sake of the future, we are released from our past mistakes.

I John reads: if we sin – literally keep on sinning– we have no part in Christ. But to be in Christ means that God grants us the opportunity to have a different future, one in which we grow more like Jesus.

But notice that in giving us his peace, Jesus is at the same time bidding us to give peace, to preach and practice forgiveness.

I John reads that those who are in Christ will keep growing until we are finally like Jesus. And he uses two words to describe what God is like. He is righteous– that is he works for justice. That includes liberating the oppressed and feeding the hungry and giving the poor a way to live and offering hospitality to mistreated and shunned.

God is at work to bring right and blessing to all.

The other thing that God is is pure. We ought to be pure as God is pure. Or maybe your Bible translates it holy. Which is to say that any attitude of meanness is missing. Any taint of exclusive self-serving is not there. We are “unspotted by the world.” as James puts it.

Any one who hope one day to see Jesus and at that moment be like him will go ahead right now and live a good life.

The focus of forgiveness is not on what you have been but on what by God’s grace and power you can become.

John Claypool tells a story that sums up the spirit of forgiveness:

Arthur Gordon was a southern lad who went to Yale and made good. …he was so outstanding …that he was awarded a Rhodes scholarship on his graduation and went for two fabled years to study at Oxford….

He came back and fulfilled a long-term dream by organizing or founding an avant-garde literary journal which he hoped would be a vehicle of his own and several other young writers’ careers. However, after two years it turned out that he was a better student than he was an entrepreneur and editor. In fact, through many foolish decisions, after two years the magazine folded, he found himself out of work and heavily in debt. It was his first encounter with failure.

A very significant right of passage for a bright young achiever. It turned out that he knew how to succeed; he did not know how to cope with failure. So he became very depressed, even suicidal. His family down in Savannah, Georgia, became quite disturbed about him. They were successful in getting him to an important counselor, a friend of the family, an old gentleman who practiced [on Manhattan Island.] in NY

Young Gordon went and poured out to the counselor his tale of lament and woe, all the self-recrimination that he was feeling for his failure. When he finished, the old counselor said, “I think your story is very similar to several others that I’ve worked with. Would you be willing to spend some time and listen to some recorded stories that I’ve got permission from these patients to share with others? I think there is similarity between their plight and yours.”

So he put on a cassette and there was a man’s voice. It was a father who had made several mistakes with a son in an earlier period. He had a great deal of regret for the pain that that was now causing.

The second voice was that of a woman. She made a very poor choice of a marriage partner. She had not handled the difficulties that ensued. She too was regretting all the things that were happening.

The next voice was that of a man, a high-placed business executive, who had made some unfortunate decisions earlier, and now was having to pay for them in terms of financial loss. He too was lamenting what he had done.

When the third voice ended, the counselor said to young Gordon, “Did you pick up a theme that was common through all three of those interviews? In their own way each was looking to the past and saying ‘if only, if only I had done differently, if only I hadn’t made certain mistakes.’ I don’t mean to brag by sharing with you that I was successful in helping all three of those people. They are today much more productive in their living. The secret to turning them around was taking them to substitute two different words for the words ‘if only.’ I was able to get each one of those persons to learn to say ‘next time’ instead of ‘if only.’

…And the good news of Jesus Christ is that we are given second chances on the same terms that we were given our first chance. God is not a perfectionist, but a loving father. Life is not a spelling bee, one mistake and down you go. It is rather like a potter’s shop where a patient artist takes a lump of clay and works with it, and works with it, and works with it until at last he gets it to the way he wants it to be. There is something bigger in the world than our sin, and that something is a merciful God.2

Grace/forgiveness is in some way the heart of Jesus ministry. His healing is a demonstration of grace. The disciples saw a man blind from birth and began speculating whether his parents’s sin was the cause of his condition or if somehow he had done something to merit it. Jesus dismisses their blame game. The important thing was what God was going to make of this situation.

When the paralytic was lowered through the ripped up roof, Jesus first word to him was “Your sins are forgiven.” before he said “rise up and walk.”

People who were healed felt they had been admitted back into community. The lepers could go home. The demoniac was sent back to his family. The woman caught in adultery was told “neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.”

The resurrection hope has within it a hope that sins can be forgiven and a forgiving community can come into being. A church characterized by grace and dwelling in the peace of Christ.

The story about a little boy who traveled to Yellowstone National Park with his parents. As he was standing near the railing at Old Faithful the geyser erupted in all its glory. Awed the shear majesty of the pulsating column of steaming water, the boy turned to a park ranger and said, “I want to buy it.” The ranger bent down and asked, “How much do you have?” The boy dug deep in his pocket and pulled out three crumpled dollar bills. The ranger shook his head and said, “That’s not enough.” The boy replied, “I thought you’d say that.” So digging deeply into another pocket, he counted out a quarter, a dime, a nickel, and three pennies—forty-three cents. The ranger looked at the boy and said, “You need to understand two things. First, $3.43 is not enough. In fact, $343 million is not enough to buy Old Faithful, because Old Faithful is not for sale. And second, if you are an American citizen, Old Faithful already belongs to you.”3

Jesus’s return underscores one meaning of the resurrection is we are forgiven. And resurrection speaks to us of a recreation of our future. We can become something more than we have been.

A second thing that resurrection should alert us to is the importance of creation. It is hard to miss the way Jesus demonstrates that he has a real body in these encounters. He ate with the disciples. He showed his wounds in his hand and feet.

The more I think about that the more I wonder. Resurrection does not take us away from bodily being. Resurrection does not mean the end of all desires, as some Hindus have tried to portray it. Jesus said, “I am hungry.” Desire is an integral part of what it is to be human.

Our bodies teach us that we are not self-sufficient. We cannot supply all our own needs. “I hunger.” “blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.” “As the deer pants for the water brook, even so my soul pants after thee, O Lord.”

The resurrection is the opposite of denial of the body– it is the confirmation that having a body is our destiny, that creation will not be snuffed out but transformed. that we will forever have yearning, experience delight, and feel with bodied selves.

So we read of the final end that God will take away the hurt, death, disability, sorrow, the pain, but God will not eliminate “need.” We will always yearn for the gifts that God would bestow. Even as now we can eat everyday and yet find ourselves hungry tomorrow. This is an image of bodily resurrection.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.The Confessions of St Augustine.

The resurrection means that God is serious about creation. When he said that the physical world of atoms and stars, amoebas and oceans, birds and little children, all was good. God meant it for keeps. It may not stay the same. Caterpillars become butterflies, stars become super novae, Transformation goes on but creation is not destined for destruction. Resurrection means what God meant in creation will not be lost.

Resurrection urges us to listen again for the first time to the story of our creation. Wendell Berry sums it nicely:

God did not make a body and put a soul into it, like a letter into an envelope. He formed man of dust; then, by breathing His breath into it, He made the dust live. The dust, formed as a man and made to live, did not embody a soul; it became a soul. “Soul” here refers to the whole creature. Humanity is thus presented to us, in Adam, not as a creature of two discreet parts temporarily glued together but as a single mystery. (SEFC 106)

I John says we are called children of God and we are that right now. And it does not yet appear what we shall be. But when we see Jesus we shall be like him. Not just morally. But in the most intimate and basic way our risen humanity will resemble the risen Lord.

In attitudes, bodily being, spirit, life.

Resurrection means that the way to God will not be by detouring around the physical world but by finding God by created stuff, the means of the Spirit. Baptized in real water, eating real bread, drinking the fruit of real vines, touching real bodies with caring hands, embracing real people. And caring for the real world at our doorsteps.

The world is not some deposit on which we can draw till it is gone. It was our commission to nurture it in renewable ways, and pray for its redemption.

Love all God’s creation, the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light! Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will comprehend it ceaselessly, more and more every day. And you will at last come to love the whole world with an abiding, universal love.” – Dostoevsky

Christ comes back embodied and embodies ascends to the Father. We shall find him as we are the body called church, life of grace and forgiveness by which we know as first John says, that we are in Christ.

And just as much Christ bids us take up life in this world, the bodies that hunger and thirst; the body that delights in vision and sound, the body that tastes and understands and gives thanks.

We are on a journey toward Christ-likeness. Filled with assurance and good hope by the resurrection of our Lord. Confident that this journey shall lead us home.

1“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.” Weight of Glory.

2“If Only to Next Time” by John Claypool, 30 Good Minutes, 1983.

3Easter Surprises, Easter Grace by Skip Jackson, Indianola Presbyterian Chruch, 2010