Sunday, 19 February 2017

enemy love

These teachings of Jesus are among the most challenging words he ever spoke. He says, 
“Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. ‘You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, … Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

I suspect many of us hear those words, but then quietly reject them as not livable. It is anti-intuitive to love your enemy. Is it even possible? What do we mean by “love” in that context? We hear Jesus say to turn the other cheek when struck and we suspect that our fist would be halfway to the other person’s nose before we have really had a chance to start thinking at all. We hear Jesus saying give to everyone who asks and we suspect we could go broke quite easily following that command. So what many Christians do is politely and quietly put these teachings away as nice words, but don’t seriously consider them realistic and livable.

Now “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” we get. It is from Exodus 21:24. There we read 
“if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Exodus 21:23-24).
 We get that. Someone harms you so that you lose an eye, well you can’t kill them, but you can take their eye. The Old Testament is often about managing sin. It is about putting boundaries on the influence and damage of sin. So someone harms you and you lose a tooth, you can’t get revenge by killing the person. Otherwise, one sin could turn into many more. If you escalate by killing the person who knocked out your tooth, then their family retaliates against you and soon we have a feud. “Eye for eye and tooth for tooth” was meant to put limits on retaliation. It limits the effects of sin.

If you take away the context though and you just think about the act of taking a person’s eye, or tooth, we see that it is an act of destruction. One anonymous Church Father said, 
“If therefore we begin … to return evil for evil to everyone, we are all made evil.”
Jesus wants us to live in the kingdom right now. He wants us to behave as citizens of the kingdom now. So in everything we do we need to ask ourselves, is this the kind of act that we would find in God’s kingdom? Is a person who lives in the kingdom of God the kind of person that can gouge out a person’s eye in revenge? … Destructive actions like taking a person’s eye out do not have a place in that kingdom. Those acts of destruction belong outside the kingdom, so participating in them does something to us and our ability to live in the kingdom Jesus speaks about. We are suddenly acting like people of the world (that organizes itself apart from God), rather than kingdom people. It’s not about behavior as much as it is about our heart. It’s not about faking it. It is about the kind of person we are.

We shouldn’t think that Jesus’ words are just letting evil have its way, rather Jesus just knew that when we use fire to fight fire we are likely to have a giant fire. We need a different way of reacting in the kingdom. We need water, not more fire. … Put yourself in the attacker’s position if you hit someone and then they hit you back, you suddenly feel very justified in hitting them again. But if you hit someone and they don’t hit you back it is usually harder to feel justified in hitting them again.

Some, like Bishop NT Wright, believe that there is strategy behind Jesus’ words. If someone were to strike you on your right cheek it probably meant they struck you with the back of their hand. This was not only a violent act, but it was insulting as well. It was an action that declared you were an inferior. In that culture, it is the way someone might treat a slave, a child, or a woman. What Jesus says isn’t “run away”, nor is it “hit back”. Jesus says to face them and turn to them the other cheek. To hit you on the other cheek with their right hand means suddenly the person has to treat you as an equal, rather than as an inferior.

Gandhi was incredibly inspired by these words of Jesus. He believed that not hitting back and looking the attacker in the eye called out the deeper humanity of the attacker. Gandhi is probably the person that comes to mind for most people when we think about the reality of living these words out. It is ironic that a Hindu man has become iconic of living out these words of Jesus. The other famous example is The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was a Christian minister, but who also wrote that Gandhi’s teachings were “the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent social change”. It was a Hindu man who taught the Christian minister that the words of Christ could be lived. …

Moving to the next example, Jesus tells us that when a powerful enemy tries to sue us for our coat, then we should give him our cloak as well. Bishop Wright says that in a culture where people usually only had those two garments your nakedness would expose the shameful act of the person suing you. This powerful person is reducing the poor to a pitiful situation. It exposes what kind of a person they are- greedy and willing to take advantage of the poor. …

Bishop Wright also says that under Roman law a Roman soldier was allowed to force a person to carry a load, but they could only force them to carry it one mile. The law strictly forbade forcing someone to carry it further than a mile. So if you carried it two miles a couple things would happen. One, is that the soldier would begin wondering what kind of a person this is and why they are doing this. But secondly, the soldier might begin worrying that his superior officer might find out and punish him. So there is probably more to Jesus’ examples than meet the eye.

This reminds me a bit of Jigoro Kano, who was the founder of Judo. It has been said that wrestling him was like wrestling an empty jacket. He just went with whatever force was being used on him. If you wanted to push him, he could use that force. If you wanted to pull him, well, he can use that force too. He would just go with it, absorb it, and use it to his advantage. But he avoided meeting force with opposing force.

I don’t think Jesus meant these as rules to blindly follow, but examples of Kingdom living. The early church father Theodore of Heraclea (355ad) says, 
“he does not command to give to everyone who asks without exception, even if one has nothing to give, for that is impossible. Nor does he instruct us, if we have plenty, to give to someone who asks with a bad motive. For the donation then goes for evil things. … For why is it said [in Acts 4:35] concerning the apostles that ‘distribution was made to each as any had need’? This tells us that they gave not so much to those who simply asked but that they provided for others on the basis of need.” 
So the early church understood that these were complicated issues.

The examples Jesus gives are examples of the kinds of things we might do as children of God as we attempt to imitate the holiness and generosity of our heavenly Father. They show that our hope is not found in our earthly safety because we will all die. Our hope is not found in our possessions, because they can be easily stolen from us. These examples show our hope is in God.

The kingdom way that Jesus describes is also about our own spiritual health. Loving our enemy benefits our enemy, but it also benefits us. If we sit in our hatred of our enemy we are really only hurting ourselves. The same anonymous church father said, 
“I think that Christ ordered these things not so much for our enemies as for us: not because enemies are fit to be loved by others but because we are not fit to hate anyone. For hatred is the prodigy of dark places. Wherever it resides, it sullies the beauty of sound sense. Therefore not only does Christ order us to love our enemies for the sake of cherishing them but also for the sake of driving away from ourselves what is bad for us. … If you merely hate [your enemy], you have hurt yourself more in the spirit than you have hurt him in the flesh. Perhaps you don’t harm him at all by hating him. But you surely tear yourself apart. If then you are benevolent to an enemy, you have rather spared yourself than him”.[1]

One of my favorite teachers, Dallas Willard, once commented that if we think loving our enemies seems impossible we should look at the lives of those who hate their enemies. Perhaps we could look to Palestine and Israel, or the Hatfields and McCoys. Then we can ask ourselves which way of living seems more desirable- hating our enemies or loving them?

We should also remember that Jesus is not asking us to do anything he himself didn’t do. Jesus lived the kingdom life. Bishop Wright says, 
“When they mocked him, he didn’t respond. When they challenged him, he told quizzical, sometimes humorous, stories that forced them to think differently. When they struck him, he took the pain. When they put the worst bit of Roman equipment on his back- the heavy cross- piece on which he would be killed- he carried it out of the city to the place of his own execution. When he nailed him to the cross, he prayed for them”.
 Jesus asks his followers to live the way he did. And he promises that it will lead where it led him- to resurrection and new eternal life.

[1] Anonymous, Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 13- pg 56:702. 

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Anger- Mat 5

The Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) is where Jesus defines what it looks like to be his disciple. He is describing life in the Kingdom of God. He is describing the character of someone who belongs in that kingdom. In the Sermon Jesus describes a person who is not controlled by the divisive force of anger; who treats lust as seriously as adultery; who doesn’t abandon and leave vulnerable a person they have been married to; a person whose word can be trusted without extra oaths and contracts; who doesn’t seek revenge; who even loves their enemies; who gives to the needy secretly without needing to be recognized for it; by using money as a tool to be used rather than a master to be served; by the reality of God in our lives eclipsing the anxieties about the necessities of life; who doesn’t judge others when they still have so much wrong with their your own lives. What Jesus is describing in the Sermon is life as it was meant to be. He is describing the characteristics of someone living in the kingdom of God- a person as they were created to be.

The alternative starts to look hellish in comparison. The opposite of the Sermon on the Mount is a life controlled by anger, and filled with unbridled lust. It is a life of broken relationships and lies. It is a life full of the desire for revenge, the constant need for people’s approval and reassurance. It is a life of service to money, and full of anxiety about the necessities of life. It is a life full of judging, hoping we can ignore our own failings. That sounds like a hellish life. It is the opposite of the kingdom life Jesus describes.

To show how seriously Jesus takes this Kingdom character, at the end of the Sermon Jesus says, 
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matt 7:21-23).
 Jesus is saying that we can do miraculous things like cast out demons, or prophesy, or other miraculous works of power, but if we are not marked by these kingdom characteristics then it was as if we didn’t know Jesus as all, or worse, as if he didn’t know us. The Sermon on the Mount cannot be ignored if we want to consider ourselves followers of Christ.

For the last couple of weeks parts of the Sermon on the Mount have been read as the Gospel reading. This week the Sermon on the Mount continues as Jesus teaches about anger, lust, and lying. I want to focus on anger today. Lust is very pervasive in our culture and it is important to talk about, but there is still a sense of shame attached to it that causes us to resist lust to a degree. It is still embarrassing, at least for Christians. I should say that Jesus is not talking about a sexual thought that pops into your mind. It is about holding onto that thought rather than letting it go. Lying still has a sense of shame attached to it as well. We would be embarrassed to be caught in a lie. Generally we strive to be honest people. Anger doesn’t seem to have been given the same kind of attention in the church so we will look a bit more specifically at anger this morning.

Jesus says, 
"You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not murder'; and 'whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, 'You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matt 5:21-22).
 Jesus is getting to the heart of the Law about not murdering. How do you not murder? … How many murders would happen if people didn’t allow their anger to take control of them? … Very few if any. So the heart of the Law telling us to not murder has to do with anger and contempt.

Just to define what we are talking about, Anger is a natural emotion. Internally there isn’t anything wrong with anger that sparks up in us. It lets us know that something we value has been violated. Anger arises when something gets in the way of our will. Anger is often evidence of a wounded ego. There is often a self-righteousness that is part of Anger. Anger is self-justifying. No one feels angry and sees both sides clearly. In anger one side is right and the other side is wrong. Anger becomes sinful when we hold onto it and allow it space in our minds. We turn over the event that made us angry and allow ourselves to grow angrier and angrier. Anger that becomes normalized can become contempt and resentment. Contempt is the feeling that a person is worthless, or deserving of scorn. When this anger or contempt is turned outward in action or words it becomes wrath. Wrath is an act of destruction towards someone motivated by anger.

We can see an intensification in what Jesus teaches here. First, he says holding onto anger makes you liable for judgement. Then it gets a little stronger. If you insult someone by speaking contemptuously to them you will be liable to the council. Here he uses the word “raca”, which might come from the noise used to gather saliva before you spit on someone. Then it gets even more intense. If you say “you fool”, which in the ancient world was about the most demeaning, dismissing, contemptuous thing you could call someone, you are liable to the fire of hell (Matt 5:21-22). This isn’t about avoiding those exact words, “you fool” or “raca”. We completely miss the point if that’s what we think. This is about the outward and attacking expression of contempt and anger. You can see that the next step in his list here might be murder, and it all starts with holding onto anger. So hopefully we can begin to see why Jesus and his disciples and the many Christians who followed told us to beware of anger. In the letter to the Colossians it says, “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth” (Col 3:8). I could go through many examples of the early church fathers warning against anger here as well. With very few exceptions they thought outward expressions of anger were to be avoided. Those who left a little room were very selective about the circumstances where it might be okay.

To give ourselves permission, we sometimes want to turn to examples where we think Jesus or God are angry. My belief is that Jesus is able to hold anger in a way we are not. He has the character to use it in a way that isn’t sinful. Likewise God’s anger is not a human anger. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts (Is 55:8). So any time we talk about God’s anger it is really by analogy, but they aren’t necessarily the exact same.

We want to hang onto our anger for a variety of reasons. We feel very justified and righteous in our anger. The bad person needs to be dealt with. We feel like our anger is about justice. If I don’t hold onto my anger justice won’t be done, or they will get away with what they did. The problem is that scripture speaks directly against that. The letter of James says, “for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). So according to the Bible, whatever we think we are accomplishing with our anger we should ask ourselves if we can’t actually accomplish it better without anger. Anger turned outward is destructive. You can feel hurt just knowing someone is angry at you. You might even get angry at them for their anger towards you. Paul tells us in the letter to the Ephesians that holding onto anger is to give the devil a foothold in your life (Eph 4:26-27).

So what do we do? (really this could be a whole series of sermons) We don’t just repress it (that’s another way of holding onto it). We have to find ways of transforming it. Jesus teaches that our main motivation must be a strong and persistent love. It doesn’t mean we start there, but that is where Jesus wants us to get to. That is the destination. So maybe we start in small ways, dealing with minor annoyances as we prepare for the bigger causes of anger that come our way.

To transform our anger we can learn to stop when we feel that first burst of anger arise in us. We breathe, and recognize the anger. … Then, perhaps, we focus on the life of Jesus, especially his crucifixion, and we can see him forgiving his enemies from the cross. If, through prayer, we can really enter into that moment, then it might put into perspective our anger at the person who cut us off in traffic. Of course we build up from those trivial sources of anger to more intense and personal causes of anger. We might also recall times that we have done something careless, or offended someone, and others have been gentle and patient with us. We could ask what value our anger is adding to the situation. Might it be better to use this situation as an opportunity to practice patience? Is there any other way to learn patience? Are we assuming we know the motivations of the other person? Is there a possibility we are mistaken? We can practice surrendering our will to God when things don’t go our way. We can practice focusing on thanksgiving to God rather than complaining that things aren’t how we think they should be. Thomas Merton once said, 
"We are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves, and we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God."
 So dealing with anger is really about our whole lives with God. It is about dealing with who we are and who we think we are. It is about getting to the root of how we view other people, how we view God and how God runs things, and why we feel things should go the way we want them to.

When we learn to live in cooperation with God's Spirit living in us and working through us, then we can allow anger to be transformed. Like I said earlier, it's not wrong to feel that initial burst of anger, but our reaction to that initial burst is what matters. We can allow anger to rule us and we can throw things and yell and scream, or we can choose to breathe and slow down. We can recognize that we are feeling angry, but we don't have to let it rule us. We can allow it to float through our minds and leave us, but that takes practice and it takes a continual training our minds on God. It is about God's kingdom being established in our lives. Amen.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Salt and Light- Mat 5

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us who we are as his disciples. If we claim to be followers of Jesus then the Sermon on the Mount should be front and center in our lives. It is at the end of the Sermon that Jesus says:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matt 7:21-23)

It is a frightening warning that comes at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, which doesn’t talk about casting out demons, or prophesying. Those might be impressive (even important at times), but we should not be too concerned with those flashy ministries, when what really matters to Jesus is the character of the person he describes in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

In the Sermon Jesus describes a person who is not controlled by the divisive force of anger; who treats lust as seriously as adultery; who doesn’t abandon and leave vulnerable a person they have been married to; a person whose word can be trusted without extra oaths and contracts; who doesn’t seek revenge; who even loves their enemies; who gives to the needy secretly without needing to be recognized for it; who doesn’t serve money as the most important reality in life; who is not anxious about the necessities of life; who doesn’t judge others when they still have so much wrong with their own. These are not abstract characteristics. We can do miraculous things like cast out demons, or prophesy, or other miraculous works of power, but if we are not marked by these kingdom characteristics Jesus is talking about then it was as if we didn’t know Jesus as all, or worse, as if he didn’t know us.

So for Jesus, the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount describe his followers. If these characteristics are not present then these teachings also show who is not his follower even if they claim to be. It is a frightening thought because the Sermon on the Mount asks a lot of us. It is probably the Sermon that G.K. Chesterton was thinking about when he said, 
“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
 The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer thought the Sermon was the real hope for the future of the church, he says, 
“the renewal of the Church will come from a new type of monasticism which only has in common with the old an uncompromising allegiance to the Sermon on the Mount. It is high time people banded together to do this.” 
 The Sermon on the Mount cannot be ignored.

Our gospel reading last week began the Sermon and this week we are still at the very beginning of it. Jesus is speaking to his disciples. He is speaking to you because you are connected to him. 

He is telling you who you are- "You are the salt of the earth” (Matt 5:13). In the ancient world there were no refrigerators and salting meat was the way people preserved it from rotting. For Jesus to call you “salt” means you are a preservative- You are a force against decay. Salt also brings out flavor that is hidden in the food. For example, eggs taste very different with a dash of salt.

How does this apply to us though? The world was created to be a beautiful place. It was created to be good. We read that when God created, “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). Sin entered the world and had a decaying effect. If we are a preservative for the original creation then we are preserving that original goodness against the rot of sin. We are a preservative, but we are also to bring out the original flavors that are originally part of creation.

How that works is going to be described in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. It happens by not being controlled by anger, not allowing lust to fill our minds, but taking the breaking of relationships seriously, by speaking truthfully, by not seeking revenge, by loving enemies, by giving secretly, by using money as a tool to be used rather than a master to be served, by our focus on God preventing  us being taken over by anxieties about life, by recognizing we all have things to work on and not judging others for their part. What Jesus is describing in the Sermon is life as it was meant to be. The characteristics of someone living in the kingdom of God is a person as they were created to be.

We are made to be salt and to both preserve creation against the rot of sin and bring out the original flavors of creation. If we are not doing that then we are “no longer good for anything” (Matt 5:13) just like salt that has not its saltiness.

Jesus uses another metaphor. He says to his disciples, “You are the light of the world” (Matt 5:14). We might feel intimidated by this. Jesus seems to be putting a lot on us. We would perhaps prefer to turn back to Jesus and say he’s the light of the world, not us. In the Gospel of John he said as much, 
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). Jesus turns this back on us telling us that we are the light of the world. 

Some of us have been given a form of the Gospel that expects very little from us. We say, "don’t look at me, look at Jesus. I’m just a forgiven sinner." True as that is, the church should be different. St. Paul had the boldness to say, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). Most of us wouldn’t dare say that. And yet, Paul does. And Jesus tell us we are the light of the world. We are to be different. True, we can’t be the light of the world on our own. I was recently told a story about a little boy who was asked what a saint was and he pointed to a stained glass window of a saint and said, “it’s those people the sun shines through”. The pun is beautiful. Just as the sun shines through the window, so the Son of God shines through the lives of the saints. That is really the only way we can be who Jesus is asking us to be. And to hide that light makes us as useless as salt that has lost its saltiness.

We can’t be salt and light by just trying hard. It does require effort, there’s no doubt about that. However, our primary focus is on Christ. Being salt and light are side effects. We so focus ourselves on Jesus and his teaching that we become filled with awe. We become amazed by his love and the beauty of his life. When we have that vision of Jesus as the focus of our lives then everything else falls into place. When we realize how much Christ loves us and how he forgave those who were crucifying him it becomes natural to live a life of forgiveness. If Christ can do what he did, how dare I take offense or hold a grudge. Whatever enemy I think I have, they have not crucified me. The more we focus on Christ the more the kingdom character Jesus describes in the Sermon makes sense.

The alternative starts to look hellish in comparison. The alternative is a life controlled by anger, and filled with unbridled lust. It is a life of broken relationships and lies. It is a life full of the desire for revenge, the constant need for people’s approval and reassurance. It is a life of service to money, and full of anxiety about the necessities of life. It is a life full of judging others while hoping we can ignore our own failings. That sounds like a hellish life. It is the opposite of the kingdom life Jesus describes.

Those who live the Kingdom life Jesus describes are light to the world. Just as salt preserves against decay, light shines in the darkness. When we light a candle in the darkness we see the beauty of the flame itself, but that flame also allows us to see what is hidden in the darkness. We stub our toe more often in the darkness. We stumble and trip in the darkness. In the darkness we see a garden hose and we think it’s a snake. Light shining into the darkness removes illusions and shows us where to plant our feet as we walk.

Jesus tells us to let our light shine before others. What is our light? It is our “good works” that cause people to “give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16). It doesn’t mean showing off. In fact, if you are getting the glory for it, you probably aren’t doing it right. As we live the kingdom life Jesus describes people should become caught by the beauty of it. The world that seemed dark- uncaring, vicious, and meaningless- suddenly seems to be filled with beauty and there is a desire to live that way.

Jesus is not necessarily teaching anything new. Jesus is showing us what life was supposed to be like. This is the life described in the Old Testament Law, if properly understood. Jesus is recapturing the original creation. Jesus is showing you who you really are. When you hear Jesus teaching the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t your heart leap? Even just for a moment? Before you start critiquing it and wondering how you could possibly live like this, isn’t there a moment when you are caught by the beauty of it? That is you recognizing yourself as you are created to be. That is you recognizing the world you were made to live in. As your gaze rests on Christ may you find yourself and your true home as you become salt and light to a world that so desperately needs you. AMEN

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Power and the Way of the Cross

The Corinthian church was a mess. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is one of the earliest Christian writings (53-54AD) and isn’t it interesting that it is a letter written to a church full of problems. It is a church dealing with incest, lust, pride, greed, division, members dragging one another to court, church members visiting prostitutes, confusion about eating food dedicated to pagan idols, arguments about which spiritual gifts are more important, divisions based on which leader they wanted to follow, … among other issues.

Corinth was a busy boom town. People looking to make a buck flocked to the city from all over. It had a mixture of people from all kinds of backgrounds. It seemed to have the moral standards that often go with a boom town- lots of greed- lots of desire to buy pleasures. The city boasted a temple of Aphrodite that housed 1000 temple prostitutes. The issues we find in the city are dragged into the church with the people. … The church is always dealing with what is considered culturally normal. The church often has to confront what is acceptable in the broader culture and call the members to a higher standard.

In Corinth, some in the church seem to be using the old worldly ways of power. So Paul has to teach them that power works differently in the church:
1:18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1:19 For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart." 1:20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 1:21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 1:22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 1:23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 1:24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1:25 For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.

The world (Meaning, the world that tries to make it on its own ignoring God) is willing to manipulate, or play political power games, have popularity contests, and battle egos. It uses shouting matches where the angriest person wins. It uses threats of violence or manipulation of resources. … But the church isn’t supposed to be like that.

The temptations of Jesus to turn stones into bread, to lead an empire and an army, and to manipulate the leadership of the temple with a miraculous show of power was all arguably about a temptation to use power in a worldly way. Jesus wasn’t going to be the military Messiah he was expected to be. Paul highlights the way of Christ as being about the cross.

To Roman citizens Crucifixion was incredibly brutal and disgusting. It was a method that could never be used on a Roman Citizen. It was reserved for slaves and terrorists. Crucifixion was not to be mentioned in polite conversation. It was vulgar. It had a social stigma attached to it that we don’t understand. One scholar said “in the cross of Christ God affirmed nothings and nobodies”. Crucifixion was the lowest and vilest and so were those it was used on.

It seems like some in Corinth were trying to move beyond the cross to a more power-centered spirituality (something like the Prosperity Gospel maybe). But Paul reminds them that the cross is right at the center of who they are. They owe everything to Christ and his cross and the cross is the model of how we are to be. The death of our ego is right at the center of what it means to be a Christian, so fighting to get our way is contrary to what we stand for at our very core. We see this all through Christ’s ministry.

Jesus’ first sermon is the Sermon on Mount and it starts with the Beatitudes (Matt 5:1-12). There we see the kind of power and wisdom Paul is talking about when he talks about the cross. 
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” 
Jesus begins with the poor, the mourning, and the meek. That is not who the world says are blessed. The world says, blessed are the confident, those who work hard, those who crush the competition, and those who take what they want. The beatitudes end with Jesus saying, 
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” 
This is a very different image of power. We see the way of the cross right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

Of course there are many (in and out of the church) who will scoff at this saying it’s impractical. It has always been so. People will try to use the world’s way of power in the church, but the church always becomes sick when that happens. … But there are many beautiful examples of those who embraced the way of the cross. One of my favorite saints is St. Francis of Assisi. He was born in the late 1100’s. The mediaeval church was powerful. The church and the state almost seemed identical in wealth and political power. Christian towns went to war with the city past the next hill over resources, or grudges, or just to get the upper hand politically. Francis was the son of a wealthy merchant and one of the who’s who of the towns youth. At first he thought he might want to seek his fame and fortune as a soldier. And no doubt his father hoped he could turn over his growing business to his son. … But Christ got a hold of him. Francis began giving everything away to the poor, even things that belonged to his father. … While praying in the dilapidated church of San Damiano he heard Christ tell him to rebuild his church which had fallen into disrepair. Francis always took Christ literally and so he started finding stones to repair the little church. Francis became filled with the life of Christ. He was full of joy and simplicity. One person commented that Francis didn’t seem so much a man praying as “prayer made man”. He became a beggar and a preacher of the gospel. Soon Francis had people following him and he was told to talk to the Pope. … The Pope at the time was Innocent the 3rd who was a man who was very much like a politician- even able to call on the power of an army. … This Pope had a dream. He saw the church falling apart. In many ways it was. People were suspicious of the church’s wealth and power in comparison with the people and the example of Christ in the Gospels. There were cracks forming in the church. All the world’s power was poisoning it. In the Pope’s dream he saw the church starting to collapse, then he saw this simple beggar catch it and hold it up. The Pope saw this as Francis. Francis’ simple (but challenging) way of following Christ turned the world upside down and the Franciscan movement had an incredibly reforming influence on the church at the time.

The way of the cross that Francis walked seemed like foolishness. It seemed weak. But it was God’s power to transform the world. As Paul says, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:27). Anyone looking at the church of the time probably would not have said it needs someone like Francis, but that is exactly what the church needed.

The church now is probably more in need of the way of the cross than it is in need of what we usually think we need. Maybe we just need a few more willing to walk the simple way of Francis, who was said to have prayed, 
“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”


Monday, 16 January 2017

The Revelation of the Lamb of God

We have entered into the season after Epiphany. It is a time of revelation. The sheet is drawn back and we see something we didn’t see before. It is revealed to John the Baptist that there is something deeper about Jesus. He says, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him”, which was the sign God told John to look for. This man would baptize with the Holy Spirit, which is the baptism John’s Baptism symbolized. John is convinced that this is the Son of God and the Lamb of God. … These are things that were revealed to John. They aren’t things he figured out. They are things God told him.

Unless God reveals Himself to us we are hopeless to really know much of anything about God. But revelation comes with a number of difficulties. One of them is, how can we really grasp God? The way many atheists get God wrong is when they think that God is a being like superman- just a really powerful human being. They often see God as a very powerful creature that exists within the universe. The Christian idea of God is much more vast. The Christian idea of God is that God underlies the fabric of all reality. God is a being beyond matter and beyond time. To ask a question like, “where did God come from? Or who created God?” is to show that the God you are thinking about is too small. This God doesn’t exist in time. This God created time itself and so isn’t subject to being “before” or “after”. Questions having to do with time don’t really apply to God. This God gives rise to the very fabric of existence- matter and time are His creations- He is not subject to them.

Imagine how huge the universe is. Allow your mind to drift above this town and into space. Allow yourself to see the sun and the little blue speck that is the earth. 1.3 million Earths would fit in our sun. And our sun isn’t even all that big when compared to some of the stars out there. For example, you can fit 9.3 billion of our suns into the star VY Canis Majoris. Then allow your mind to drift our of our solar system. Some estimates say that the edge of the universe is 46 billion light years away. Which means if you had a spaceship that could travel at the speed of light it would still take you 46 billion years to get to the edge. And the universe is always expanding, so it would be an edge that would always be retreating. Keep in mind that calculations say that our universe is just under 14 billion years old. So you would be traveling for longer than the universe has existed. … We know a tiny bit about our universe. So if our universe is so unimaginably vast, then what are we to say about the God that created it?

There are people who wonder what it would be like to meet an alien race, if there is one out there. Some people imagine that they might be so much more intellectually advanced that these aliens trying to talk to us might be like us trying to have a conversation with our pet dog. If that is true, then how much more is God beyond our comprehension? How could God communicate with us?

If God doesn’t reveal Himself in a way that we might begin knowing Him, then we are hopeless to know much, if anything, about God. No doubt this revelation will always be somewhat strange and difficult to wrap our minds around.

God gives John the Baptist a revelation, as He gave revelation to prophets before him. But John is just a finger pointing to the moon. The true revelation Is Jesus himself. The unknowable has made Himself known in Jesus. God, the creator, has become a creature.

In solidarity with humanity, Jesus gets baptized. Jesus took on the sin of humanity as his own. I sometimes imagine the sin we have all washed off as then sticking to Jesus as he comes up out of the water. Jesus is truly in the mess with us. God did not stand far off waging his finger at us. He came to be one of us. And to deal with the sin that blinds us to the ultimate reality of God.

St. Paul had a couple of ways of thinking about sin. One is as sins, which are actions that are against how God created us and against His command. Sins are actions that violate our love for God and our neighbour. But Paul also thinks about a power that exists in the world called Sin. It is a state we live in, more than actions we do. Actually the sinful actions we do are mainly because of the state of Sin that oppresses us, as it oppresses all of humanity. Humanity is enslaved to this power and is powerless to free itself. When we think of being free from sin, I think we often think more of being freed from the guilt of our sinful actions, but the healing Jesus want to bring us is bigger. He wants to bring freedom from our slavery to Sin. Which means that we are not only freed from the guilt of our sin, but that we are set on the road to being free from sinning at all.

When John saw Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, "Look, here is the Lamb of God!" What went through their minds when they heard him say this?

The people of the time were expecting a messiah who would bringing God’s salvation. In the Bible the people of Israel are sometimes described, metaphorically, as a flock of sheep that need care and protection (Jeremiah 23:1-4; 50:6-19; Ezekiel 34; Zechariah 10-13). In the book of Enoch (a extra-biblical book), written shortly before the time of Jesus, one of the lambs from this flock rises up and becomes incredibly strong, symbolized by the growing of horns and being given a sword.[1] The enemies of the sheep are destroyed and the flock is protected. We see this symbolism in the book of Revelation as well- a wounded lamb against a great dragon.

So when these men heard John tell them that Jesus was the Lamb of God, this idea that one of their own would arise to defeat evil probably came to mind. But the image of the Lamb is an image with a few layers.

We read in the Book of Hebrews (9:22), that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Dealing with sin is the major goal behind the ritual sacrifice system in Ancient Israel. But it wasn’t just Israel that did this, blood sacrifice has been a part of almost all cultures of the world. For the Hebrews, Sin is something that separates us from relationship with God. And the bloody sacrifice of a particular animal was the way to deal with sin. As Anglicans we have a tradition of Morning and Evening Prayer. In ancient Israel they sacrificed a lamb every morning and every evening, every day of the year. The sacrifice of the lamb would have been basic and common.

The sacrifice of the Lamb also has a connection to the story that defined Israel’s identity, which is the Exodus story. The people are enslaved in Egypt and the Pharaoh is refusing to let the people go. Plagues are being released on the Egyptians, which are increasingly intense. The final plague is a destroyer that will sweep through the land. The only way for the Hebrews to protect themselves is to place the blood of a lamb on their doorways. The blood protects them from the destroyer. This is the final plague before the people are made freed from slavery (Ex 12:21-27). This sacrificed lamb becomes known as the Passover lamb.

We see this image again in the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. This suffering servant of God takes on the sin of others and goes like a lamb to the slaughter. Of course, as Christians later read this they couldn’t help but think of Jesus.

So the image of the “Lamb of God” would have brought many of these images to mind.

I’m not sure where our society stands with the concept of Sin anymore. Sin might be seen in the act of polluting, buying products produced in a sweat shop, or not recycling enough, or the size of our carbon footprint, or in the atrocities of the past (like the Residential Schools). Surely these are things to still be deal with seriously. But it seems like there is still a belief that we will somehow advance ourselves beyond these sins. ... Others are not so sure. 

Nazi Germany was one of the most “advanced” and progressive nations of its time. And we can hardly think of a more horrifying time. It has become an icon of horror and evil. With the advanced thinking about evolution came thinking about eugenics and the engineering of the human species, which included removing undesired humans from the gene pool.

As soon as we discovered a way to split the atom we made it into a bomb. By many historical accounts Japan was ready to give up in World War 2 when the atomic bomb was dropped by the USA on two cities killing over 200,000 non-military civilians of Japan.

It seems like the more we “advance” the more we find more advanced ways of committing atrocities. We cannot advance ourselves beyond our sin. In fact, our “advances” seem to give us new ways to dig ourselves deeper into Sin. We cannot get ourselves out of this. It’s beyond us. Hebrews 10:4 says, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Human ability will not get us out of it. Our sacrifices aren’t enough.

What is being revealed- the epiphany John receives- is that Jesus is the Lamb of God. God will provide the way out. It will be the work of God made man. He will be the conquering Lamb. He will offer his blood to atone for our sin. He will stand between us and the destroyer. As God seeks to build a relationship with us, God uses the symbols and metaphors around us. Filling them with new power. We will never wrap our heads completely around God. He’s too big. We cannot grasp God, but we can begin to abide in God. Just as we cannot grasp the whole universe, but we can live in it, so we can abide in God without fully grasping God. God will open a door and issue an invitation to enter in- to “come and see”. And there God will draw us out from under the power of Sin as we more and more live under His power and in his kingdom. AMEN

[1] Fleming Rutledge, The Undoing of Death, in the chapter entitled “The lamb of God”

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Epiphany- The Christmas Dragon

There's a little known Christmas story that I would like to share with you. It is from Revelation chapter 12.
“A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who 'will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.' And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.  The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.”

It is not the sentimental picture we are accustomed to seeing. We are not accustomed to associating so much danger with the birth of Jesus. However, danger is always looming. With the birth of Jesus power will shift. The messiah will bring with him a kingdom and that kingdom will push into enemy territory.

In this little known Christmas story the dragon is threatened by the power of Christ, and attempts to eliminate the child. The powers of this world are not comfortable with Jesus. The Pharisees are bothered by him. The priests, the Sadducees, and eventually the Roman Empire represented by Pontius Pilate are all disturbed by the presence of Jesus. Those who have power in this world do not want to give it up.

Jesus will deal with constant opposition from the powers in this world and we see the beginning of this in our Gospel reading. King Herod was a bit of a puppet king placed in power under the Roman Empire. One of the things rulers like Herod are most paranoid about is loss of their power. Herod even killed three of his own children for treason near the end of his life. We see this same sort of paranoia in Pharaoh in the Exodus story when he commands the killing of the Hebrew children for fear of a future slave revolt if their numbers were too large. In Herod we see a man with great power who is paranoid about the potential loss of it. He realizes how fragile his power actually is. And so, when he hears about the birth of a particular child, he is especially afraid.

Strangers arrive in Herod's kingdom. They are stargazers or magicians, and somehow from a distant land they noticed something that has happened right under Herod's nose. A new king of the Jews has been born. And of course where else would the king of the Jews be born but in the powerful city of Jerusalem, so that is where they go to look for the child. Herod, the present "king of the Jews" hears about the newly born ‘king of the Jews’ from strangers, who arrive from another land, and who are foreign Gentiles. When King Herod hears this news he is frightened. When you are ruled by a tyrant and your tyrant becomes afraid, you become afraid as well because you know what a fearful tyrant is capable of.

Herod gathers his scholars to find out where Scripture says the child would be born- that is where the Messiah was supposed to be born. His scholars report to him that the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem. Herod then secretly calls the magi to him to pass on the information. The last thing he wants is for the people to flood into Bethlehem and replace him with a mere child. So he secretly calls them to himself and after finding out how old the child would be according to when the star appeared to the magi, he sent them off saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." And when we hear Herod say this we should hear the hiss of the dragon in Revelation. He has no plans to pay homage. He sees the child as a threat and would have the messiah killed to protect his fragile throne. He would use the magi to find the child, but when the magi escape Herod's manipulative tactics he turns to violence, killing the children 2 years old and younger in and around Bethlehem.

And that is the kind of world Jesus is born into. Jesus is born into a world where a powerful king will kill children out of fear. Jesus is born into a world where children are killed to protect the power and control of tyrants. He is born into a world where the powerful get their way- regardless of right and wrong.

The bad news is that we still live in a world where the powerful get their way. Even killing children who threaten their power, control, and ideals. We look back to Nazi Germany and we see Jewish children being killed for the ideals of Naziism. More recently we can look back to the genocide in Rwanda where children were slaughtered over the ideals of an ethnic group. In China there have been strict and brutal policies set concerning who is allowed to have children and how many. If the child does not fit into the government's ideal of the 'one child policy', or the ideal of having sons rather than daughters, then the child may be sacrificed.

Herod lives inside us as well. We can abuse what power we have, overlooking the vulnerable. Our culture can sometimes place our ideals and sense of control over those that aren't deemed as productive members of society. Sometimes we put our ideals ahead of life, and sometimes people who are innocent suffer because of our desire to maintain a certain vision of our life. The homeless, those with mental illness, the elderly, those who are severely disabled, children, and the unborn are all potential victims when people try to hold onto a particular type of power. These individuals are often powerless to fight back when confronted with oppression or even abandonment. When we place ideals ahead of people that can't defend themselves this exposes the Herod within us. If we were to follow the Christian ideal of love, our ideals would always embrace the person that was created in God's image.

The good news is that there is someone to challenge those who use their power to get their way despite right and wrong. The child Jesus and the movement he starts will challenge the power of tyrants. Jesus is born into a world of violence and manipulation. Jesus is born into a world that needs his salvation. The dragon is very real, and it knows the power the little baby Jesus has. It will do everything it can in order to consume him. But within Jesus is a greater power. The power of Jesus breaks that law we live with that says that the powerful always get their way.

When the magi were searching for truth. God gave them a sign in the sky. King Herod tried to manipulate the magi to help him find the Messiah in order to kill the baby who is his competition. However, God used King Herod and his scholars to point the magi in the right direction using the Scriptures. It is God's will that prevails, not the tyrants. God then uses a dream to protect the wisemen. And then another dream is given to Joseph, the baby's father, which thwarts Herod's plans to kill the messiah. God's will prevails.

Eventually, the child is ready to face the dragon. Jesus chooses to stand before the dragon. The dragon pours on Jesus all the brutality it can muster. The powers of the world torture and kill Jesus on a cross. And when the dragon is tired and relieved that the threat of Jesus is behind him, three days after the battle Jesus comes out of the tomb, dusts himself off and asks, "Is that all you got?". And it is. It is all the dragon has. Jesus took it all on himself. Jesus went right to the limit of the dragon's strength- a humiliating tortured death on a Roman cross. And he came back standing and the dragon had nothing else to throw at him.

The power of tyrants has a limit. But the power of Jesus works differently. Jesus’ power is of a completely different order. His is the power that created the stars and keeps them in existence. Though, he was not born in a place of power like a palace in Jerusalem, it was more humble, in the less important city of Bethlehem, and he was placed in a manger used for feeding animals. He will eventually enter Jerusalem on a donkey, not a war horse. He will rule, but it will not be the rule of a Tyrant. Jesus will rule like a shepherd who loves his sheep. He will choose followers, but they will not be Herods, or Pharoahs, or Roman Emperors, each with an army; The followers he chooses will be fishermen, tax collectors, and ordinary people- like us. The kingdom Jesus sets up is an alternative power- its people work differently, its politics function differently. In the kingdom power is not used to crush the defenseless. Jesus even says that it is in the least that we find him and serve him.

Jesus's kingdom and his people cannot be destroyed because that kingdom is Jesus himself and the people are the Body of Christ, which though they may lay in the tomb briefly, will eventually rise again. We, as the followers of Christ, will stand against Tyrants who use their power to kill toddlers to protect their fragile throne.

Herod is dead. The Roman emperors are dead. The Roman Empire is no more. Jesus is alive. His followers are alive and active in the world. We are still confronted by powers that threaten the defenseless- greed for wealth and power are alive and kicking in this world. But, Jesus is still stronger. The power of his love is stronger. His love can transform the Herod we all have within us. His love knows no limits. His love reaches even to the Gentile star gazing magicians- to draw them to himself.

In a world where the powerful seem to always get their way, we can be assured that there is a power that is stronger. It is a power that identifies with the weak and defenseless rather than crushing them or ignoring them. Tyrants will come and go, but the presence of Christ will remain and his followers will remain. Christ and his people will outlast the dragon. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

the ordinary Christmas

I'm actually someone who really loves everything about this time of year. I love the decorations, even the cheesy ones. I love the lights and the music. I love the snow on the ground and just that general Christmassy feeling. However, in the midst of all the lights and decorations we can miss how ordinary that first Christmas actually was.

There was nothing special about when Jesus was born. Luke's biography of Jesus tells us that Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem because of a census that was being done by the Roman government. Nothing special was happening. It was just a bit of politics that I’m sure everyone was grumbling about. Imagine the Canadian government told everyone to return to the place of their birth for a particular day so they could count the citizens and figure out a calculation for taxes. That doesn’t sound like particularly holy timing for the birth of the Messiah.

Now if I was in charge, Jesus would have been born on Yom Kippur, which was the highest holy day in the Jewish year- the Day of Atonement. … Imagine, Joseph and Mary travel to Jerusalem for Yom Kippur. They stay with friends in Bethlehem, and then they can't make it to the temple services because Jesus (the one who will bring atonement- at-one-ment between us and God) is born just as the High priest is conducting the most holy ceremony on the Day of Atonement. But he wasn't, he was born on an ordinary day. The kind of day where you buy your groceries, go to work, clean the house, play with your kids, and have coffee with friends. That's the kind of day Jesus was born on.

Jesus was also born to an ordinary couple. He wasn't born to a king and queen. Or to a high priest and his wife. Mary was a young woman- a good Jewish girl. Joseph was a carpenter. Sure he has some royal blood, being from the family of King David. But perhaps that was relatively common in people whose families were from Bethlehem, the city of King David. Jesus was born to an ordinary couple. We wouldn't be able to pick them out of a crowd.

Jesus was born in an ordinary way. He wasn't transported down from heaven in a glowing beam of light. He was born… and there was pain, and pushing, and blood, and crying, and then hugging, and feeding, and then tears of joy when they realize he's healthy and that Mary will be okay. Jesus was born the way human babies are born.

Jesus was born in an ordinary kind of place. He wasn't born in a palace. He wasn't born in the temple. He wasn't born on Mt. Sinai where Moses received the law. … There is a long tradition about Jesus being born in a stable, but he was probably born in a one room home. There was no room for them in the guest room so they were welcomed to stay with the family in the one room where they lived. The animals had a space at the back of that room where they would stay at night. The family room would often have either a wooden manger or a dug out bowl in the floor which would be used to feed animals. Jesus was born in a place where people lived their lives- where they cooked, cleaned, ate, slept, and lived everyday life with those they loved. Jesus was born and swaddled and they placed him in an ordinary manger, a kind of feeding trough for the animals. The place of his birth was pretty ordinary.

There is a lot that is ordinary about the birth of Jesus. … But, there are some parts about his birth that are extraordinary. For one, there are angels. Angels are heavenly beings that are often messengers of heaven. Angels appear to tell about the birth of Jesus. … But who do they tell? The angels did not appear to the Roman Emperor. The angels didn't appear to King Herod. The angels didn't appear to the High Priest of the Temple. Who did the Angels appear to? Luke says (Lk 2:8-14),
"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”"

This amazing angelic visitation was to shepherds - ordinary, bottom of the social ladder, run of the mill, shepherds.

We have this strange pairing of the ordinary and the extraordinary. An ordinary girl with an extraordinary pregnancy. Ordinary shepherds are visited by extraordinary angelic beings. This extraordinary child who is called Jesus (which means God Saves), and Immanuel (which means God-with-us), savior, and Lord- this extraordinary child is born, on an ordinary day, in an ordinary home, to an ordinary couple, and placed in an ordinary straw-filled manger used to feed ordinary animals. … Most people in Bethlehem went on with their day unaware that anything special happened.

And, I think that is how God wanted it. That is how God planned it. Because God works through the ordinary. That's what the incarnation is about- God working in the ordinary. "The Incarnation" is really just a big word for what the author C.S. Lewis described as “the author writing himself into the script of the play". Through the ordinary events of life- through the play that is life- God brings it about that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem belonging to the family of King David- just as the prophets foretold about the expected Messiah. God worked in the ordinary to bring about the extraordinary. God wrote himself into the play.

Jesus, the Son of God, (and mysteriously, God Himself,) lived as one of us. An ordinary life. He scraped his knee as a boy. He had friends and played. He learned from his parents. He grew up to be a carpenter like his father. … He didn't start his public preaching ministry until he was 30. Most of Jesus' life was lived in an ordinary way. That is what the incarnation is about- God enters the everyday ordinary-ness of human life as one of us. … That is what God wanted.

The teachings Jesus gave us were for how to live our ordinary lives in an extraordinary way. He didn’t just come to be our savior to bring us to heaven when we die. He came to teach us how to live in a heavenly way right here and now. That is what it means to follow Jesus. That is what it means to be a Christian- to learn to live everyday filled with God’s love. Allowing God to once again take on flesh through us- to act through us- to love through us. Jesus came to save us, yes, but he also came to show what it means to live saved lives. Through our ordinary lives God will bring about the extraordinary.

Follow @RevChrisRoth