Thursday, October 3, 2013

Series on Meeting Jesus, part 5

5) Jesus Shows Us the Path to Life

First-hand religion is what the Bible and Christian teaching point to, not second-hand or traditional. Jesus affirms this by teaching that the essence of the narrow way is “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength”; death is the path to life.

We can see this immediacy of relationship from the Old Testament in the stories of people talking with God: Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, Cain, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and so on.  These stories include direct relationship with God, the immediacy of a present God, not a God hidden behind or within creation or tradition.

Yet even tradition was set up to personalize relationship with God.  The three big stories of the Bible below are those identified by Marcus Borg in Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time.  He mentions there are others, such as illness to healing, becoming a disciple, and more.

Slavery to Freedom story
Deut 6:4-9 Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.  These words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart, and you will teach them to your children, talk of them in your house and on the road, when you lie down and when you rise up, wear them on your hand and on your forehead, write them on your doorposts and on your gates.

Re Passover: And you will show your son in that day, saying, This is done because of what the Lord did to me in bringing me out of Egypt.

Deut. 6: 20-23 And if your son asks you, What is the meaning of the rituals, rules, and laws God gave us? you tell him: We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Before our eyes the Lord sent miraculous signs and wonders—great and terrible—upon Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household.  But God brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land God promised to our ancestors.  The Lord commanded us to obey these commands and to reverence the Lord our God so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today.  And if we are careful to obey these commands before the Lord our God, who commanded us to do these things, that will be our righteousness.

Deut. 26:5-9 Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terrors and with miraculous signs and wonders. God brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O Lord, have given me.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 Behold, the days come, says the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, with the house of Judah, not the same as the covenant I made with their ancestors I brought out of Egypt, leading them by the hand, which covenant they broke, though I was a husband to them; but this shall be the covenant I will make with the house of Israel; I will put my law in their guts, I will write it on their hearts, and they shall no longer teach their neighbors, saying “Know the Lord” for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more.

Do you have a part of your spiritual journey that relates to being freed from enslavement and brought into the promised land? Can you say these things aloud and put into the place of these nations the story of how God has brought you and your community out of slavery, whether literal or figurative, and into freedom? Try this and perhaps you will want to share the story with someone else.

Exile and Return Home story

Isaiah 40
Be comforted, my people, speak compassionately to Jerusalem; tell her that the battle is over, her sins are pardoned, for she has received double purification for her sins. The voice cries in the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord, make a straight highway in the desert for our God.  Raise the valleys, level the mountains, straighten the winding, smooth out the rough.  God will reveal God’s glory, and all humanity shall see it at once.  This is what the Lord says.

Behold your God; The Lord comes with strength to rule, bringing along wages and reward. The Lord shall feed his flock like a shepherd, gathering the lambs up and carrying them up close, and gently leading the pregnant ones.

What do you say, Jacob; what are you speaking, Israel?  You say, My way is concealed from the Lord, and God passes by my judgment. Do you not know, have you not heard that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth never faints, never tires. No one can grasp God’s wisdom and understanding of human beings.  God gives energy to the faint, strength to the weak. Even young folks are faint and weary, and fall to the ground, but those who expect, who look for the Lord shall renew strength, soar with wings like eagles, run without wearying, walk without fainting.

Isaiah 42:16 I will bring the blind by a way they do not know; I will lead them in unfamiliar paths; I will make darkness light for them and straighten out what is crooked.  I will do these things, and I will not forsake them.

Isaiah 43: 1-20 This is what the Lord says, the Lord who created you, Jacob, and who shaped you, Israel. Fear not, for I have paid your ransom, I have called you by your name; you are mine. When you pass through deep water, I will be with you; rivers will not sweep you away; fire shall not burn you, nor shall flame kindle on you.  For I am the Lord your God, the Holy one of Israel, your Saviour…Fear not; for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and west, the north and south; I will say, Bring my sons from far and my daughters from the ends of the earth. You have not called upon me, Jacob, and you, Israel, have been weary of me; you have not worshiped me with offerings and sacrifices; instead you have made me part of your sins and wearied me with your iniquities.  I, even I, am the one who blots out your transgressions, your rebellions, for my own sake; for my own sake I will not remember your sins. Remember me; let us converse; tell me your story and explain your side of things.

Isaiah 40:20-21 Leave Babylon, flee from the Chaldeans, and sing this song, tell this story even to the ends of the earth: The Lord has redeemed, has ransomed Jacob, and has led them through deserts where they did not thirst because water sprang from the rocks for them.

Isaiah 51:11 Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; everlasting joy shall be upon their head; they shall have gladness and joy; sorrow and mourning will flee away. 

Do you have a part of your life that resonates with the exile and return home story? Can you witness to the faithfulness of God described above to rescue you from being strangers in a foreign land, whether literal or figurative, and bring you and your community back home? If so, you might consider sharing your story with someone else.

Sacrifice and Redemption story

This story describes human beings as marked by guilt, shame, experiential distance from God, and then through the intervention of Jesus’s death and resurrection, receiving forgiveness, grace, acceptance. The key is turning toward God and accepting what God has done independent of our own efforts to reconcile with us.

Psalm 51 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, and thee only have I sinned. Wash me, and I will be clean, purer than snow.  Create in me a clean heart, O God…

Matt 9:13, 12:7 Why does your Master eat with publicans and sinners?  Jesus heard this and said to them, Those who are well do not need a doctor, but those who are sick do.  Go and learn what it means when God says, I will have mercy and not sacrifice; for I came to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.

Why do your disciples break the Sabbath law? Jesus said, But if you had known what this means—I will have mercy and not sacrifice—you would not have condemned the guiltless.

Eph 5:2 Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Heb 7:27, 9:26, 10:12 Jesus was made the guarantee of a better testament…holy, guiltless, undefiled, separated from sinners, made higher than the heavens, who offered himself up once for all time.

Now he has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment; so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.

But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God…For by one offering he has perfected for ever those that are consecrated to God.

John 3:16, 17 For God so loved the world that God gave the only begotten Son, that all who believe in him will not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

Mark 10:45, Matthew 20:28
Whoever wants to be highly ranked among you shall wait on tables, and whoever wants to be the boss shall serve everyone.  For even the Son of man came not to receive service, but to do service, to give his life to ransom many.

Do you have part of your life that resonates with the sacrifice and redemption story? Have you turned around from alienation and estrangement from God, guilt, and shame to an awareness of God’s redemptive action on your behalf, grace, and acceptance?  If so, perhaps you will want to share this with another person.

Series on Meeting Jesus, part 4

4) Jesus Shows Us Wisdom, subversive and alternative

How we hear the word of God determines the path we walk; Jesus invites hearers to hear, and to hear imaginatively so that their perspective is transformed. These scriptures that follow are some of the puzzling, challenging, memorable things Jesus said that have the power to shake up our normal common sense approach to the world and let the light of God's wisdom in to change us.

Matthew 11:15
Jesus speaks about John the Baptist and says this:  Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptizer until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful people lay hold of it. … And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.  Whoever has ears, hear.

Matthew 13:9
Parable of the sower and the seed
Whoever has ears, hear. The disciples asked, Why do you speak to the people in parables.  He replied, The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even that will be taken from him.  This is why I speak to them in parables: though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

Matthew 13:43
Parable of the weeds
The world is full of good and bad, side by side. At the world’s end, angels will separate them, get rid of the bad, and the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, hear.

Mark 4:23
Do you place a lamp under a bowl or a bed? Instead don’t you place it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, hear.  Consider carefully what you hear. With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. (This last is also said in relationship to judging others, Matthew 7.)

Luke 14:35
Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. Whoever has ears, hear.

Matthew 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44

You have heard it said, “do not murder” and anyone who murders is subject to justice, to judgment; but I say to you, anyone who is enraged with another human will be subject to justice; anyone who calls another human “you emptyhead,” will be answerable to courts, and anyone who says “you fool” is in danger of being cast out for burning; therefore be reconciled right away, settle matters quickly.

You have heard it said, “do not commit adultery” but I say to you, anyone who ogles, who leers at, who carries around lust for another human has already willed to commit adultery; better to gouge out your eyes than be cast out for burning.

You have heard it said, anyone who divorces a wife must give her the document declaring the divorce; but I say to you, if you divorce casually rather than for a cause of unfaithfulness, you cause your wife to commit adultery and if you marry a divorced woman, you commit adultery.

You have heard it said, do not break your oath, keep the oaths you made to the Lord; but I say you, do not take oaths, whether you guarantee your word by heaven, by the earth, by Jerusalem, all of which are inhabited by God; nor by your own head, which you can’t stop from going gray; simply say yes or no and mean it; all else admits that sometimes you don’t keep your word just like the evil one.

You have heard it said, an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth. But I say to you, don’t resist the one who wants to harm you; present the other side when someone hits you on one side. If someone sues you for a tunic, throw in your coat; if someone makes you go one mile, go two; give to the one who asks, lend to the one who wants to borrow.

You have heard it said, love your neighbor and hate your enemy; but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who make your life miserable so that you can be children who resemble our Father who is all around us. God makes the sun to rise on evil and good people, the rain to fall on just and unjust people. 

Mark 7:16
Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside people can make them unclean by going into them. Rather it is what comes out of them that makes them unclean….For from within, out of human hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. [This is the point of all the “you have heard it said, but I say” passages above.]

Matt 11:22, 24

I say to you that in the day when Justice comes, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon than for the cities of Galilee where I have done wonders. ... I say to you that the justice that comes to Sodom will be more bearable than that which falls on Capernaum, where I have done miracles that would have convicted Sodom to repent.

Matt 12:6, 31, 36
I say to you, one greater than the temple is here; the Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath; you would not condemn the innocent if you understood what God means by this: I desire mercy, not sacrifice.

I say to you, Every violation of God’s law and slander of God will be forgiven, sent away, disregarded, except slander, detraction, injurious speech against the Holy Spirit; that will not ever be forgiven or ignored. [The context for this is attributing Jesus’s power to cast out demons to the devil.]

A good person brings forth good things out of the treasure of the whole self; an evil person out of an evil self brings forth evil things.  I say to you, that when justice arrives, people will have to make right every lazy, irresponsible, careless word they have spoken. Truly, out of their own words they will be shown to be just or unjust, right or wrong; out of their own words, they will be set free or found guilty.

Have any of these words of wisdom been enlightening for you, changed your perspective, helped you be more like Jesus at a particular time? If so, perhaps you might want to share that with someone else.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Series on Meeting Jesus, Part 3

3) Jesus Shows Compassion (and shows us God's compassion)

The Spirit of God moved him to an ethic of compassion rather than an ethic of purity, which characterized the most dedicated of the religious folks of his day, the Pharisees. 

Compassion in the following New Testament passages speaks of a deeply visceral response. Often the King James Version translates the Greek as bowels, which were thought to be the seat of love and pity. This KJV quotation does just that: But whoso hath this world’s good and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? (1 John 3:17) Or in modern parlance:  Whoever has the good things of life and sees another human being in need and shuts off compassion from that human being, how can the love of God be alive in him or her?

Jesus’s response to human lostness, human sorrow, human pain is that he moves to meet the needs around him.

As you read the following scriptures, think about how you have experienced the compassion of Jesus and how you have passed that on to someone else.

When he saw the multitudes he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted and were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd.

And Jesus went forth and saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.

Then Jesus called his disciples and said, I have compassion on the multitude because they have been here with me three days and have nothing to eat, and I will not send them away hungry and fasting.

So Jesus had compassion and touched their eyes; and immediately their eyes received sight and they followed him.

And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand and touched the leper and said to him, I will, be clean.

And when the Lord saw the mother of the dead boy, he had compassion on her and said unto her, weep not. And he raised the boy from death.

Then the Lord of the servant had compassion on him and freed him from his unpayable debt, forgiving him

A certain Samaritan came where he was and had compassion on him

His father saw him a long way off and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck, and kissed him

But compassion does not characterize only Jesus.  It is frequently attributed to God in the Old Testament, too. “Racham” (to be soft, primary idea cherishing, soothing, gentleness, to behold with tenderest affection) occurs 47 times, many of them describing God (Blue Letter Bible, available online, word number H7355). (I owe this awareness to Borg's book Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time.) 

Here are a few:

God said to Moses, I will make all my goodness, my true character, pass before you, and I will be gracious, I will be gracious; I will show compassion, I will show compassion.

The Lord God will turn your captivity and have compassion on you and will return and gather you from the nations to which the Lord scattered you.

As a father has compassion for his children, the Lord has compassion for those who revere him.

Gracious is the Lord, and just; yes, our God is compassionate.

One striking passage is in Isaiah 49: they shall not hunger nor thirst, neither shall the heat nor the sun smite them; for the one who has compassion on them shall lead them, shall guide them even by springs of water…sing, o heavens, be joyful, o earth; and break forth into singing, o mountains; for the Lord has comforted the people and will have compassion upon the afflicted…can a woman forget her nursing child and not have compassion on the child of her womb? Yes, she may forget, yet will I God not forget you.

A second form of the word Racham occurs 44 times (Blue Letter Bible, available online, word numer H7356); again many of these refer to God. This word refers to “womb” in the singular, and is used of the woman whose baby Solomon threatened to cut in half. She yearned compassionately from deep inside herself toward her son (1 Kings 3:26). The word means “compassion” or “tender mercies” in the plural, where it refers to very tender affection, love, familial love.

David said, I am in trouble; let us fall into the hand of the Lord for his tender mercies are great; let me not fall into the hand of man.

The word occurs often in the Psalms:

Remember, O Lord, your tender mercies and your lovingkindnesses for they have been present from ancient times.

Withhold not your tender mercies from me, O Lord; let your lovingkindness and your truth continually preserve me.

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to your lovingkindness; according unto the multitude of your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.

God redeems your life from destruction and crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies.

Let your tender mercies come to me, so that I may live, for your instruction is my delight; great are your tender mercies, O Lord; make me live according to your justice.

The Lord is good to all; and God’s tender mercies are over all God’s works.

It is because of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because God’s tender mercies never fail.

To the Lord our God belong tender mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against him

We do not present our supplications before you because of our righteousnesses but because of your great tender mercies.

Thus speaks the Lord of hosts, saying, Execute true justice and show mercy and tender mercies every one to each other.

Take a moment to think back over your life. How have you experienced the tender mercies of the Lord over the past 40 years?  How have you passed tender mercies on to others on behalf of the Lord? Perhaps you will find this useful to share with someone else.

Series on Meeting Jesus, part 2

2) Jesus Shows Us the Father

The next step in the book was to explore Jesus’s relationship with God.  At the center of Jesus’s life was a profound and continuous relationship with the Spirit of God.  Nothing was more important to Jesus than this relationship.  By living it in front of us, Jesus taught us to think of God as our Father—the way a Father ought to be—and to enter ourselves into a transforming relationship with an immediately present God.

As Dallas Willard puts it, our Father in heaven means that God is immediately with us in the space that surrounds us, the first heaven—God in whom we live and move and have our being, as Paul says (Conspiracy, p. 57; Acts 17:28).

In the following scriptures (and it is all scripture, except the last paragraph), be open to noticing which ones you most connect with.

Love your enemies, bless them who curse you, do good to them that hate you and pray for them who are lie about you and bully you so that you may be children of our Father who makes the sun rise on the evil and the good and rains on the just and the unjust.

Be your best self, just as God is God’s best self, merciful as God is merciful.

Be merciful, give alms without showing off; be private, and let your Father who is with you be your witness and give you whatever reward he chooses.

Pray inwardly to your Father, who is also inwardly with you, and don’t think of prayer as a means of controlling God but instead trust God to know your needs.

Pray to our Father, absolutely near to us, asking that God’s character will be venerated and respected, that God will rule and be obeyed here and now by humans as by the invisible servants of God. Ask for the needs of the day. Ask for what we owe God and our neighbor to be forgiven and to forgive those who owe us. Ask God to lead us around trials that invite us to mistrust or miss the mark, and ask God to draw us close and rescue us from the power of evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory belong to our Father forever.

Know that forgiving others their moral lapses makes it possible for our Father to forgive yours.  Not forgiving keeps you in the power of tormenters, so forgive from your heart.  This is how our Father’s universe works. Father, forgive them, for they do not see or know what they are doing.

Fast privately, not obviously, and your intimately present Father will see and reward you.

Our Father who is immediately present with us knows you need food and clothing and will take care of you, so you don’t need to give all your energy and desires to those things.  Instead, give your energy to craving for God, to pursuing God as King, to doing things God’s way. Even flawed earthly parents give gifts to their children that are healthful rather than harmful, and how much more will our good Father give good things to those that ask?

It’s not enough to call Jesus “Lord,” or even to do powerful deeds in Jesus’s name; what is important is to do the will of our immediately present Father.

It isn’t what a person eats and excretes that defiles the person. It is ignoring what God says to do in favor of human tradition.  Every plant which our Father who is right here hasn’t planted will be rooted up.

Our Father wants not one of the little children to perish.

When we are in conflict with another person, whether that person is offended by us or he or she offends us, keep it private, or at most two or three persons go with you to talk.  But if you two can agree on what to ask for from God, who is right there with you, God will do it.

We follow Jesus, drinking his cup and baptized with his baptism, but our Father decides how to distribute reward; likewise only our Father knows our last day and hour.

When our Father does reward, it is because we imitate God’s actions: we give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, companionship to the sick and imprisoned.

Recognize that really only God is our true Father.

Pray like Jesus to our Father when we face suffering: Papa, Daddy, You can do anything, so please let me avoid this; nonetheless, not what I want, but what you want for me. Father, I entrust my spirit to you.

Write down one or two experiences in which you have experienced the immediate presence of God.  If this is not your experience, feel free to say so.  Perhaps you will have opportunity to share your experience with someone else.