BLOG 1/16/18. THE KINGDOM OF GOD: LIFESTYLE AND LOVE … THEN WORDS

BLOG 1/16/18. KINGDOM OF GOD: LIFESTYLE AND LOVE, …  THEN WORDS

The overwhelmingly dominant theme of the New Testament is that of the kingdom of God. That being so, there are more garbled interpretations of that theme than are imaginable. People who regularly pray: “Thy kingdom come …” do it, almost rote, but never stopping to contemplate the radical and pragmatic implications of it. Jesus inaugurated his public ministry “… proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23), and then toward the end of his earthly ministry: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then will the end come” (Matthew 24:14).

So, what is the kingdom of God, and how is it to be proclaimed to every ethnic group/nation? Seems like a reasonable, even insistent, pair of questions that God’s people out to be continually searching into. Right?

That terminology: “the kingdom of God” would have been somewhat familiar in the Hebrew community, since there were all those prophesies in its history about God in the fullness of time “making all things new” and coming to inaugurate his everlasting kingdom. But when the gospel moved out of the Hebrew community and into the Grecian-Roman world it was translated by its proponents in various terms: eternal life, salvation, new creation, the gospel of peace, or sometimes as righteousness. These designations are all nuanced and synonymous with the kingdom of God.

Then, so much of the confusion comes when this is all looked at as totally future, as some expected return of Christ to set up a future kingdom, or as of having to do with going to heaven when we die … something of God’s design out there somewhere. Ah! But Jesus was insistent that in his coming the kingdom was present. His whole teaching is to the effect that in himself God kingdom, God’s new creation, God’s eschatological design for his creation was actually being inaugurated, and would be dynamically present as his Holy Spirit empowered its growing presence, until that Matthew 24:14 mission is fulfilled.

OK, so how is that to be accomplished? What does it mean to be born again into God’s kingdom? How is the proclamation to be carried out? How is this to be done in a context that is hostile from the beginning? What is role of the most humble, modestly gifted, lacking in status, believer in Christ in this mission? Look at what follows in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ coming and proclaiming the kingdom of God (4:23). The very next account (5:1 ff) tells of a large group gathered on a hillside, and Jesus spells out for them what is to be the contagious response to his message and it does not have to do with words—now note—but with a lifestyle of love and righteousness that people can see in them.

Just look at the beatitudes: blessed are those who identify with the helpless poor, and the mourning, and who are self-effacing. Yes, and blessed are those who are zealous proponent of justice/righteousness, who are filled with mercy for those in need. Blessed are those whose motivation toward serving God is without guile. And in this world of continual strife and hatred, blessed are those who are peacemakers, and are even willing to suffer for these causes. Jesus taught those hearers that these are the evidences of the New Creation lives that others could see, and know that God was at work in them (and maybe ask questions).

The proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom into all the earth, whether in the midst of our post-Christian culture of dismissive disinterest, or the Islamic culture where severe sharia laws are imposed … begins with our lifestyle and our love, not with argument or words. Our lives are to be the demonstration of God’s already-but-not-yet kingdom. They are the leaven that permeates cultures, quietly and beautifully. … and maybe make others curious? Stay tuned …

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BLOG 1/12/18. “I AM NOT SOME OTHER REAL OR IMAGINED SAINT …”

BLOG 1/12/18. “I AM NOT SOME OTHER REAL OR IMAGINED SAINT …”

Did you ever have some self-doubt about who you were, or what was your place in God’s design? I have. I was the little brother behind two very gifted older brothers, and was always being compared to them, which created in me something of an inferiority complex. I was also a dreamer, which caused my mind to wander in school classes. I am also an introvert, but as a pastor-teacher in the church for over half a century, that thrust me into an extrovert role. I am also something of futurist, which plays on my ‘dreamer’ proclivity. I was always dreaming about what I wanted to be and how far I fell short. I read of the lives of many of the renowned Christians, the saints, in the church’s history, and wondered what formed them and how I could, somehow, become a fruitful saint in my own right. All the while, I was journaling my prayers.

Somewhere, about twenty years ago, some thoughts came together about who I was. It was provoked by a reflection by the space-traveler, Ransom, in C. S. Lewis’ science-fiction Perelandra, and which appears in the prayer that follows at the end of this reflection in a para-phrased form (in case some of you recognize Lewis fans recognize it). I am taking the liberty of sharing this with you, which I rehearse at least once a week. I hope it may help some of you.

I am not some other real or imagined saint, …

I am myself in Christ, unique child of the Father …

Not somehow, somewhere, not when or if,

Not there or then …

But here and now,

These circumstances,

These persons,

This place and this moment. 

This is when and where

I am to be the very glory of God,

His enchanted, truly human person,

This moment, then, is a sacred time and place,

This moment in which I find myself.

It will never return. Life is today.

Come Holy Spirit!

Hallowed be Thy Name.

I’m quite certain that I am not the only one of God’s children who has struggled, and does struggle with the mystery of one’s place in God’s design. Maybe some of you can comment on your response to this reflection. I would so appreciate it.

 

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BLOG 1/9/18. THE ENIGMA (TO ME) OF CLERGY

BLOG 1/9/18. THE ENIGMA (TO ME) OF CLERGY

Coming out of me, this may sound weird … but I have a lot of trouble with the whole notion of clergy, even though I have flown under this designation for over 60 years. I suppose the main reason is that, as it is popularly conceived, I simply don’t see it in scripture! In Christ’s church, his communities of the New Humanity, we all become a kingdom of priests, we are all called upon to “teach and admonish one another” (Colossians 3:16 ff.) and to be those in whom the Word of Christ is to dwell richly. There is no special class of God’s people who exist in some special spiritual category. All are to be being formed into the image of the Son of God (Romans 8:29 in loc).

Jesus, himself, did not come as a clergy, but as an itinerant peasant preacher, though with a divine calling unique to himself. He did not spend his time ‘hob-nobbing’ with the temple officials and with the priesthood. As a matter of fact, they were his worst critics. Jesus came into public in out of the way places, and when some got curious and ask leading questions, he invited them to come and be with him. So, for those many months he let his followers/disciples get close and know him, and to see his true humanity. Yes, he was always a mystery to them, but he also reproduced himself in them.

Paul, to prolific writer of most of the New Testament documents would write to the followers of Jesus in Philippi: What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God peace will be with you (Philippians 4:9). Or, to all of the community of Christ’s followers in Corinth: Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (I Corinthians 11:1). The word or concept of clergy never appears. Paul was something of lay missionary. He had a trade and could support himself. He could travel and make contacts and disciples in a multitude of places, but his only approbation was that the apostles in Jerusalem had declared him to be true to the mission of Christ.

But down the road (maybe with the reign of Constantine) there came the notion of a priestly class in the church who were set apart as clergy, who (maybe) dressed differently, and seemed to be other. I admit, that I was initially alerted to this aberration by the French theologian-sociologist Jacques Ellul in his book: The Subversion of Christianity. There he names the clergification of the church as a major subverting factor.

There were, of course, leaders (elders, or bishops/overseers) in all of the local communities of disciples, but they seemed to have been those who were the most mature and exemplary in their faith. The community chose those from among themselves who were the most trustworthy teachers and examples of God’s design (cf. I Peter 5:1-5).

But as things unfolded, and a clergy-class emerged, there also came the notion that an academic degree could constitute one equipped to be the leader of a congregation. So, I went to seminary, as all those who had a desire to become clergy did. There I took all kinds of good courses, and learned the demeanor of being clergy. We were all encouraged to take on a clergy persona. Then after gradation we tended to become something of a clergy-seminary sub-culture.

When got into the pastoral trenches, however, I learned that I only became authentic as I put away that persona, and proved myself as a skillful disciple-maker and engaged the folk on their turf and learned their lives, and became an authentic model. This took some doing. One of my mentors spoke of disciple-making as spending so much time with others that you reproduce yourself in them, and this would necessitate letting them get close. Not clergy, but disciple-makers, authentic New Humanity models formed by the word of Christ. To be continued …

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BLOG 1/5/18. ADORATION: A MIND-BOGGLING CONCEPT

BLOG 1/5/18. ADORATION: A MIND-BOGGLING CONCEPT

It is one thing to sit in the worshipping community and sing:

Beautiful Savior! Lord of the nations!

… Glory and honor, praise, adoration,

Now and for-evermore be Thine!

… but how to wrap one’s head around exactly what adoration is, how to define it, and then precisely how we put that into practice is a real stretch! Archbishop William Temple defined it as an essential component of worship when he wrote that worship is: “the surrender of will to His purpose … and all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.

Another theologian, P. T. Forsyth, wrote: “And if there were a higher stage than all it would be Adoration – when we do not think of favors or mercies to us or ours at all, but at the perfection and glory of the Lord. We feel to His Holy Name what the true artist feels towards any unspeakable beauty.  As Wordsworth says:

I gazed and gazed,

And did not wish her mine.”

We become so accustomed to our familiarity with the ‘language of Zion,’ i.e., the ‘churchy talk’ that we do not often stop and take time to reflect as to exactly what it is, or how it is to be incarnated in my/our life/lives. Where do we adore the Triune God, reflect deeply on Who God is, or what is God’s design by which we reflect his glory?

I am helped by Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of John 1:14, “And the Word (Jesus) became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. And we saw the glory with our own eyes …” Take that to the next step: When we embrace Jesus in our lives, receive him by faith, give him our lives as living sacrifices in order to prove his design … that means that we are to become the agents of adoration, of not only reflecting deeply into what a God-focused life looks like, but actually engaging in our ordinary 24/7 lives as those who radiate the divine image to our neighbors in all love and humility and service … in doing the will of the One we adore.

This is all so impossible in merely human terms, but that is why Jesus gave us the Spirit of glory and of God, so that we may live lives that are, actually, not humanly explainable, i.e., those God-focused lives, those lives “when we do not think of favors or mercies to us our ours at all, but at the perfection and glory of the Lord.”

Being formed in adoration is an on-going discipline, but is at the heart of our lives as true worshippers, … and our Sunday gatherings should always be to refresh and equip us in that calling.

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BLOG 1/2/18. WHAT IN THE WORLD IS THE PREACHING OF THE KINGDOM

BLOG 1/2/18. WHAT IN THE WORLD IS: THE PREACHING OF THE KINGDOM?

So, the New Year is upon us.  That being so, let me inaugurate it by tampering with your thinking a bit. I’ve long been an advocate of the centrality of the theme of: the gospel of the kingdom of God in the New Testament documents. Then, also, I am continually amazed at how little this is understood, and also about the disconnect between its centrality and the actual praxis of the church. Ready for this? What constitutes the preaching/proclaiming of the kingdom of God … and, whose responsibility is it?

First off, this anticipation of God’s invasion of the world with a messianic age, a New Creation, was deeply seated in the psyche of the Hebrew community of the first century, even though it was hardly comprehended. There was the promise given to Abraham about his seed becoming a blessing to all the earth, then there was the promise to David that his throne would be established forever. These promises seemed so dim in the cultural turmoil of Jesus birth, yet it was the angel’s word to Mary that the baby in her womb would sit on the throne of his father David, and of his kingdom there would be no end.

Skip down a few decades and, as Mark records it, Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying that the kingdom of God is at hand. How did he do that? Or, take his entry into public life as recorded in Luke. After his forty-day sojourn in the wilderness, he came to his home town, and was honored by being asked to read the scripture for the day, which was the Messianic prophecy from Isaiah, about the Spirit of God being upon the Messiah to bring good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, sight to the blind, etc. … and then announcing to the shocked synagogue folk that the prophecy was now fulfilled in himself.

Or, Matthew begins his description of Jesus going about proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom. Now then, dear friends, it would seem that such a clear focus on the message and intent of Jesus would be determinative of our understanding of the message. And, as if that were not enough, Matthew ends his account by Jesus teaching that “when this gospel of the kingdom shall have been preached in all the earth, then would the Lord come.”

How is that accomplished. Jesus commissioned his followers to, also, be proclaimers of this message. How were they to do that. It is a bit tantalizing to note that Mark tells of Jesus coming on to the scene proclaiming this, but then right away gives the account of several different healings. So, the proclamation was not just in spoken words, but in the works of the kingdom. Matthew, likewise, has Jesus announcing that the long-awaited Messianic moment has come in himself, but when a crowd follows to find out what it is all about, Jesus seats them on the hillside and gives them the guidelines for a radical different way of life and behavior, which good works would cause men to know and glorify God.

Somehow, then, proclaiming the gospel is not just the spoken word, the communicating of the data of the life and teachings of Jesus … but the praxis, the living-out of his teachings in the totality of life. Jesus hob-nobbed with publicans and sinners, initiated a conversation with a village’s shady-lady at the well by asking her to help him with a drink of water. Invited himself into the hospitality of the scandalous tax-collector Zacchaeus. Let me underscore my point here: proclaiming is the task given to every one of us who claims to be a follower of Christ, but it involves our total lifestyle of love and good works. In Paul’s description of the believer’s whole armor, the gospel of peace is on our feet, i.e., it is the doing the lifestyle of God’s peace/kingdom that incite curiosity and inquiry for which we are then to give answer to those who are curious.

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven.”  We are to be the practitioners of God’s New Creation which he inaugurated at his coming and which is not dynamically present. May love and good works typify all our lives as this new year unfolds. That’s what preaching is all about.

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BLOG 12/28/17. THE DARK SIDE OF THE NATIVITY OBSERVANCE

BLOG 12/28/17. THE DARK SIDE OF THE NATIVITY OBSERVANCE

Perhaps a brief, and more tragic and tearful reminder of one (too often ignored) piece of the Christmas celebration is in order before we move into 2018. It is provoked by the fact that in the church’s liturgical calendar, today is the Observance of The Massacre of the Innocents, (or as euphemistically rendered most of the time simply: Holy Innocents). After local churches and public displays of the nativity of Jesus and adoring parents, shepherds, and others, … one probably will never see any display of hysterically weeping parents holding slaughtered babies after a wicked king ordered them killed, … but such is a significant piece of the Biblical account.

When the astrologers, or wise men, from the East asked the jealous King Herod where they might find the one born king of the Jews, Herod consulted his own advisors and pointed the astrologers to the town of Bethlehem with the requirement that when they found this one born as a competitor king, they would report back to him. And when they didn’t do that, but returned to their homeland after worshiping the infant Jesus, and giving him gifts, … Herod panicked. He, thereupon, order the slaughtering of all male babies under two years of age. And so, great lamentation and weeping was heard in the land (Matthew 2:18).

That’s a very real part of the whole nativity observance that has been conveniently expunged. (Rather, we rush on into the New Year’s Day celebrations, bowl games, and end of the year sales in the stores.)

Ready for this? How is that much different from political policies, and governmental actions that today are enacted for political gain, which deprive the populace of programs of health, education, and the necessary accoutrements for the necessities required for the welfare for our children, as well as financial policies for their working parents … carried out in acts of pure political origin to assure that the dominant party remain dominant? Is that too much of a stretch? Or our nation’s use of foreign aid that seems to marginalize any concern for human rights, or the great host of children who are the unwitting victims, who on this winter of 2018 are refugees living in tents in below zero weather, victims of political programs that have no regard for human rights.

You’re going to say to me that I am a typical political progressive. That’s true. But I also run my own minor political position through my Sermon on the Mount ethical guidelines in order to discern who is concerned for peacemaking, mercy, identification with the poor (poor in spirit), justice, and those who mourn. Those are not Democratic or Republican in origin, but are the principles of the Kingdom of God, of God’s New Creation in Christ. Children and adults who are homeless, poor, refugees, sick, victims of unrighteous policies are a priority for Jesus, … and should be of those who are his followers.

I know, I’ve blogged this to you before. But the observance of the Massacre of the Innocents reminds me that the world, and our nation, are still the scene of political jealousy, and of policies that destroy humankind. “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.” Amen.

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BLOG 12/26/17. NO ONE EVER WANTS TO BELIEVE THAT …

BLOG 12/26/17. NO ONE EVER WANTS TO BELIEVE THAT …

It was Winston Churchill who said that “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Yet, still, no one wants to believe that his/her national leadership is wicked, alas! In the early 1930s, in one of the most enlightened nations in the world, Germany, there arose a charismatic figure who capitalized on the discontent of so much of the population, and promoted the vision of a whole new and prospering and dominant Germany: The Third Reich. Adolph Hitler was not, by any standard, a particularly gifted person, … except that he knew how to manipulate the masses, and to inflate their pride. In the course of his emergence, he also manipulated the Christian church and insisted that to be a true German Christian, one would be supportive of the Third Reich, and of Adolph Hitler.

Amazingly (horrifyingly?) too many of the masses ‘bit’ and passively went along as things became progressively more destructive. Very few Christian leaders stood up and opposed Hitler, and when they did it was at the risk of their lives. One who was most vocally opposed was the young Christian theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who designated those compliant with Hitler’s regime to be religious Christians vis-a-vie true Christian disciples. That small community of opponents had to operate underground, and voiced their opposition in the illuminating Barmen Declaration.  A French contemporary of Bonhoeffer was Jacques Ellul, who fought with the French underground forces, and later became a giant figure in sociology and theology. He wrote that it was the failure of those professing to be Christians in German to pray that was so distressing. When the wickedness of the leadership in German became inescapable, the church was too compromised, or captive to the dominant order to pray. Ellul attributes so much of Germany’s descent into national wickedness to the church’s failure to pray.

No one ever wants to believe that the leadership of their nation is wicked. Yet, here we are with a national leader who gives lip-service to the Christian faith and yet whose whole life contradicts the ethics of the Kingdom of God and the teachings of Christ. He is arrogant, proud, captive to mammon/wealth, careless with the truth, espousing policies that ignore the helpless poor, the sick, the strangers/refugees, the homeless, and the marginalized, … while living in lavish residences, and promoting those economic policies that favor the rich and powerful. And globally, he promotes what sounds frighteningly like the Third Reich: “America First.” He is untruthful, bullying, personally amoral, and totally without personal integrity, i.e., wicked.

Ah, so what is the alert believer to do? How to respond redemptively (other than voting for persons of peace and order and justice)? Good question. My own reflection takes me back to wondering who was praying for the wicked Saul of Tarsus when he was laying waste the infant church in Palestine and surrounding areas. How did they pray to be delivered from that menace in that brilliant, zealous Jewish prodigy? However, they prayed, one can only surmise that they never could have conceived for them to be delivered by Saul of Tarsus being dramatically and inescapably confronted by the risen and glorified Jesus. Saul was blinded, rendered helpless, made totally contrite, … and then fashioned into the diametrically opposite of what he had been. It wasn’t any minor alteration; it was a radical new life of humility and servitude that recreated his natural gifts to make him the giant proponent of the Christian faith that he was to become.

I don’t pray that our wicked leader will be removed (impeached?). I pray that he will have an encounter with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, humbled, made contrite, have all his arrogance stripped away, deprived of his wealth, and become a witness to the grace of God to the most wicked through a new life of obedience in whatever form God chooses. I pray for the unimaginable “Damascus Road” conversion of this wicked leader. Do you want to join me?

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BLOG 12/22/17. THE ENIGMA OF “PEACE ON EARTH”

BLOG 12/22/17. THE ENIGMA OF “PEACE ON EARTH”

Hey! On this weekend before the Christmas celebration, it might be worth looking at the enigma of the apparent contradiction that we pass over mindlessly, like “Peace on earth, good will to men,” vis-à-vis “Do not think not that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” The prophet foretold that the messiah to come would be called, among other things, the Prince of peace. So, what gives?

What gives is that both peace and also the sword are true. That said, you also have to realize that Jesus came to redefine our human existence. He came to inaugurate his eternal kingdom, his new creation, but his kingdom does not fit normal definition. It is a different kind of kingdom. He also came to bring peace, but a peace that is totally redefined. He also came to bring a sword, but it is a sword that exposes darkness and falsehood, discerns the thoughts and intents of the human heart.

He does, indeed come, to bring his own peace on earth, but it is a peace that, first of all, brings us to wholeness, and satisfies the “haunting void” that inhabits the human breast (maybe the meta-consciousness?). But it is also such a recreation and re-definition that is disruptive of all that exists in opposition to such. It exposes falseness and vanity and pride and the arrogance of human principalities and powers, so that soon Christ’s people became the victims of that other sword, i.e., the sword of the kingdoms of this world.

How to define God’s “peace that passes all understanding”? God’s Shalom? It is a peace that comes from knowing that one is reconciled to God by the blood of Christ, and that one is called to be an agent of his new creation, living in a servant role, demonstrating love and good works even to enemies and hostile forces.

It is so tragic that so much of the ostensible Christian community continues to define itself in terms of human kingdoms and institutions, seeking power and influence. Even missionary philosophies so often define our mission as us against them, rather than as those who wear on their feet the shoes of the readiness of the gospel of peace, agents of God’s shalom. God’s people seem, so often, to hold other tribal religions in disdain, or as enemies, … but fail to realize that it is the fervent participants in those other tribal and cultural religions that Jesus came to seek and to save. He does want them to know and love him, but he also want then to know God’s love through us.

Where does one look to seek answers? To be sure, we are always (as the Apostle Peter reminds us) “aliens and exiles” in this human sojourn, but we are aliens and exiles who are agents of God’s peace. One might look again at the prayer of the gentle St. Francis: “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred … let me sow love. Where there is injury … pardon. Where is doubt … faith. Where there is despair … hope. Where there is darkness … light. Where there is sadness … joy. O Divine Master, grant that I many not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood, as to understand, to be loved as to love. …”

The human scene is tragic, with so much violence, heartbreak, hopelessness. On this Christmas celebration, it is a good time to renew our vows of true discipleship as those who wear on our feed the readiness of the gospel of peace, to be agents of God’s peace in what is so often a heartless existence. A different kind of peace. A different kind of sword. And a radically different kind of Kingdom, all inaugurated by Jesus. Such is just a beginning. The enigma is complex. Perhaps I could refer you to Stanley Haeurwas’ classic: The Peaceable Kingdom.

And so, Merry Christmas to my readers.

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BLOG 12/19/17. THE BIRTH OF JESUS AMIDST THE TRAGIC

BLOG 12/19/17. THE BIRTH OF JESUS TOOK PLACE AMIDST THE TRAGIC

There is a famous North American folk artist by the name of Thomas Kincaide, who became quite popular and prosperous painting idyllic rural and domestic scenes notable for their soft light, rich colors, and total absence of any conflicts or negative elements. On this week before Christmas, it is worth reminding ourselves of how prone we are to reduce and interpret the nativity of Jesus to something like a Kincaide painting, what with joy to the world, peace on earth, candlelight services at the church, warm manger scenes where all is devoid of any negative elements.

But it wasn’t like that at all. When “the Word was made flesh” and came into the human scene, it was into a cultural and political context that sounds all too familiar to our own, what with the tyranny of the Roman Empire that required a census and taxation, which caused Joseph and Mary to have to uproot and travel to the city of Bethlehem—no excuses, not even Mary’s advanced pregnancy was to prevent it. Not only was there the occupying Roman army, but there was the insecure, half-breed Jewish king Herod, who when learning from the Eastern astrologers that the promised messiah had been born in Bethlehem, decreed that all boys under two years of age should be slaughtered to prevent any such challenger to his throne.

That meant that Joseph and Mary, within weeks of Jesus’ birth, and being warned by an angel, fled as refugees to Egypt, where they lived in exile until Herod died. Then it was back to their peasant lives in Nazareth, where even the Jewish faithful were not ultimately able to comprehend the messianic claims that Jesus made when he went public in his young adulthood. The whole social-cultural-political-economic setting can only be described as tragic. No Thomas Kincaide interpretation fits that scene.

When the church, later on, began to designate certain days as feast days, by which to remember significant events in the unfolding history of Christ’s mission, it designated December 25th as Nativity, then the 26th as the Feast of St. John the Apostle, but then on the 27th, the Feast of St. Stephen the Martyr, followed by the observance of The Massacre of the Holy Innocents.

Interesting! The church gave itself the reminder that one can get hurt, even killed, being a follower of Jesus. Jesus, also, warned people off who sought to follow him for the benefits he could bring to their lives … if they were not willing to suffer violent death, i.e. take up their cross, pay the price.

The late Oswald Chamber, whose devotional book My Utmost for His Highest is a composition of talks he gave at the Bible college in England before the 1st World War, became a chaplain to the British army in Egypt during that war. He wrote that he liked it there in Egypt with the troops because they were “real men with real problems”. He continued to explain that his memories of the church in his Scottish homeland before the war was that it was “all twilight and unreality, …  very nice people sitting in very nice parlors, drinking very weak tea, and eating very thin cucumber sandwiches.”

No, the nativity of Jesus is not in a setting of twilight and unreality. It is the inauguration of the age to come, of the in-breaking Kingdom of God, God’s new creation. It comes into all of the broken-ness, inhumanity, indifference to human need, political ambition, economic greed, prejudices, racism, moral cowardice, and endless cultural icons.

But, … it is also the advent of God’s message of true hope and joy and God’s infinite love – right in the midst of the tragic, in the context of the humanly impossible. Merry Christmas!

[If you find these blogs provocative, recommend them to your friends. Then don’t forget that I love hearing your comments.]

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BLOG 12/15/17. “HEAVEN … EVERYBODY TALKING ABOUT IT …”

BLOG 12/15/17. “HEAVEN … EVERYBODY TALKING ABOUT IT . . .”

With all the ‘Bible-thumping’ politics taking place in these recent days, and when the proponents to all kinds of prejudices expropriate the designate the once noble word evangelical to give legitimacy to their misogyny, racism, animosity toward immigrants, economic injustices, not to mention often obscene behavior, … it reminds me of an old slave song that cut through the hypocrisy brilliantly:

Heav’n, Heav’n,
Ev’rybody talking ’bout heav’n ain’t going there,
Heav’n, Heav’n, …

There is something wonderfully insightful about those spirituals. There were the slaves in an enforced servitude to white owners, who so often professed to be Christian, who attended churches, and yet saw no contradiction in the inhumane treatment of fellow human beings, . . . didn’t even consider them human often. But the message of Jesus that they professed to believe was understood by the slaves, and the contradictions thereof. So, the slaves came up with their own musical protests, often not very subtle.

In more recent generations it was the black community that engaged the nation in the civil rights movement, and when the white politicians objected that what they were doing was unlawful, it was the eloquent Martin Luther King, Jr. who protested that: “I appeal to a higher law …”  We are taught in the Biblical records that God’s purpose in Christ is to create a new race of men and women in the image of Christ, i.e., recreated in knowledge, true righteousness, and holiness. The calling to righteousness is a calling to the patterns of behavior of God’s new creation in Christ, and that true righteousness encompasses God’s love for the whole of humanity.

It is obscene for those who seek to use their ostensible Christian identification as a reason to obtain votes, those who can probably quote John 3:16 in their sleep, and yet whose lives are contradictory to Christ’s compassion for humankind, Christ’s act of reconciliation by his blood shed, and his calling of all who are his to become ministers of that reconciliation, … to appropriate the designation of Christian or evangelical.

It is equally obscene for those in places of local and national leadership, and yet whose lives are captive to the vast control of mammon, of the forces of greed and self-interest to identify themselves as servants of God, what with their indifference to the helpless poor, the homeless, the sick, the immigrants and refugees, and those with whom Christ’s identifies himself.

Jesus taught that the human community/the world would know that men and women were his true disciples by their love and good works, by their new creation behavior. And when ostensible leadership is egregiously ignoring such, all their religious talk takes us back to the slave song:

Heav’n, Heav’n,
Ev’rybody talking ’bout heav’n ain’t going there,
Heav’n, Heav’n,
Goin’ to shout all over God’s Heav’n.

Our calling is to that of servant leadership. It is a calling to incarnate Christ’s words: “He who would be great among you, must be servant of all” … Our calling is to be the sweet aroma of Christ unto God, … not in church gatherings primarily, but in the “stink and stuff” of daily life, which includes the responsibility of civic and political engagement and leadership. Stay tuned …

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