Friday, July 28, 2017
Life is hard. No one understood this better than the authors of the New Testament. They betrayed their Lord, were driven into hiding, and spent most of their careers in and out of prison until they were rounded up and executed. Moreover, they lived in a world of rampant injustice, violence, hunger, and incurable disease, where life was short and cheap. And yet, despite all this, these men and women bequeathed to us the most powerful words of hope ever penned, words we still cling to today in far more benevolent times.
They share with us hope because that is precisely what they received. Inside of failure and loss, within the pain and despair, they discovered that they were not alone in their suffering. Inside even death itself, they found that they were found, they were held, they were loved. This assurance was so overwhelming that they started to use a method of capital punishment as their chief sign and symbol because the cross itself served as a reminder for all who would follow of where and how they could find God.
Suffering is hard, but it need not be meaningless. Suffering interrupts our life and rudely pushes all our plans and hopes to one side. Suffering marginalizes the ego and sometimes kills us. But if it does not, then it can do something else. In forcibly shifting the “I” from the center of our lives it can open us, perhaps for the first time, to simply be and in simply being, to be prayed, found, loved, and saved. Because insider of suffering is not healing, but homecoming.
Friday, July 21, 2017
|You cannot judge a book until you read its final chapter. The ending of a story gives meaning to everything that came before. So it is with our lives. So it is with our world.
Jesus’ parables in the Gospel of Matthew tend to have a bit of a sting. They are hopeful, but not always comfortable. Jesus teaches his followers that the Kingdom of God is like a garden in which the devil planted weeds among all the good crops. The problem is that you cannot always tell the difference between a weed and the plant you want to cultivate. So, what do you do? Do you go in with your garden trowel and root out the covert dandelions, crabgrass, pigweed, and buckthorn? No, says Jesus, you leave them alone. Let the weeds and the wheat grow together because you cannot always tell the difference.
The first part of Jesus’ parable tells a comforting story about tolerance: leave the weeds alone. And that is the ethical conclusion of Jesus’ teaching. But the parable does not end with a tidy ethical moral.
You leave the weeds alone because in the final harvest the master gardener will come along and harvest the wheat and bring it into the household of his Kingdom, but the weeds will be burned into ash with wailing and gnashing of teeth. Ouch!
Jesus balances his ethics with his endings and vice versa. How we are supposed to treat others (non-judgment and non-violence) are interwoven with the ultimate destiny of every weed and stalk of wheat, every woman and man. What belongs to God and God’s intention will be redeemed and glorified and what does not belong to God will be destroyed utterly. While we are called to be patient with sin and evil, Jesus will not be.
Teachings and parables about judgment and its aftermath are hard to hear. But without judgment there can be no justice and without justice then this life has little meaning. So our ethics today–how and what we choose to do–are shaped by the end of the story: God wins. The ending gives meaning, purpose, and hope to the middle of the story. God’s ultimate victory gives us the hope to what is hard in the here and now: to love the world and everyone in it without judgment knowing that it may break our hearts. Jesus did, and asks us to do nothing less.
Friday, June 7, 2017
Into the Word:
| The first and perhaps the most famous of all the teaching analogies used to describe God’s life in Trinity is that the Trinity is like a dance (thank you Gregory of Nyssa). Not the dance steps. Not the dancers. Trinity is like the dance itself–whirling, blurring, ecstatic, joyous, and alive.
Jesus invites the crowds, the disciples, and us to join the dance. Curiously, Jesus never asks us to worship or believe certain facts about him. Instead he asks us to follow him, participate with him, and join the dance.
Religious people both then and now–folks more concerned with believing the right things and behaving the right way–refuse the invitation. Jesus warns such folks that while the invitation to the dance will last forever, we mortals will not. So how we choose matters.
Through Jesus every human being is now invited into direct friendship, encounter, and participation with God. To live into that invitation and follow Jesus changes who we are, not merely our opinion but our core identity. To live into that invitation begins to reshape the pattern and practice of our lives as we take on new values, new commitments, new relationships, and a new destiny. We were made for this new pattern of living and through it we begin to discover in this life exactly who we were really meant to be.