Wednesday, December 2, 2015

We Have Forgotten How to Lament

As I read the story unfolding before us of the mass shooting in San Bernadino, my heart aches.

First, because of the human loss of life and the human depravity that caused it. Second, because I know this is going to be instantly politicized. Third, because we are going to offer up shallow religious platitudes as a mask for our true, contrived, political feelings.

By now we know the drill. We have become so desensitized to the mass murder of innocent people that we don't even collectively mourn anymore. We don't even breathe together the profound sigh of sorrow and lament. Instead we leap into politicking, defense, and demonization.

We are so polarized that as we watch this event unfold, instead of sheer, knock-me-to-the-ground horror, our minds race to a vindictive hope that the shooters are not going to make our political standpoint look bad. "Please don't be a white guy." "Please don't be a refugee." "Please let's not blame mental illness." "Please be registered [insert those people's respective party]." "Please let that gun be bought on the black market." Our own hearts betray our lack of humanity. We are reduced to nothing in wanting only to be right, and in "being right" we think we have somehow "won" while the clear signs of mutual "losing" are all around.

And I am in no way surprised by the actions of the politicians who, time and again, use these events to further their own interests and the interests of their lobbying corporations. A myriad of talking points will come out of this, mostly to instill fear so we will listen more attentively. And all of our legislators will offer up tweetable condolences and prayers for the victims - as if God will not bring judgment and justice not only to the victims and their families but to those who help perpetuate and promulgate corrupt systems that polarize people collectively and in their own, divided hearts for the sake of vain-glory and power and wealth.

Not me. I will sit quietly this advent evening, the candle of hope lit on my dining room table. I will lament. I will sit in sorrow for a lost and hurting people. I will wrestle with the Lord over the presence of evil in our broken world and God's seeming absence therein. And I will do my dead-level best to refrain from blaming "them" or delighting in any perceived political victory.

No, broken and hurt human beings broke and hurt other human beings. There has to be more depth in this than just proving who is wrong and right in our culturally conceived political worldviews. There has be to be something more profound that strikes to the common, human core of us that cries out for revenge and anger and justice and peace and mercy and hope and, ultimately, love.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Moving on Purpose - what a privilege

Erin, the kids, and I are moving.

We are moving into some apartments in Thermalito that have always had a bad reputation while I was growing up. We are doing this on purpose in an attempt to live with and in the community we are hoping to minister to.

Our approach to church and ministry (service) is that we follow this incarnational model. In short, and in our limited understanding of theology, we want to follow Jesus and do what he did. The Gospel of John, chapter 1, tells us that Jesus, the Word of God revealed in a person, "The Word became flesh and made his home among us." Incarnation = Jesus became the flesh presence of God on Earth. Incarnational = to be the flesh presence God in a community. To be a real person living with and in the place. To experience what the people experience. To be in solidarity with the purpose of redemption. Usually when people talk about incarnational ministry they assume that the place is underserved, underprivileged, and marginalized.

That's what we're trying to do. 

And this is all coupled with John Perkins' "3 R's of community development" coming from his book With Justice for All. (1) Relocation, which for him often looks like someone moving away from home for education and then moving back. This is absolutely key. If World System's theory tells us anything about a capitalistic society it is that the core centers draw all the talent and resources, usually depleting the peripheral, satellite communities. Relocation is vital to communities of poverty. (2) Reconciliation - which breaks down barriers between neighbors with an emphasis on race, class, gender, and economic status. You know, the "Love your neighbor as yourself" stuff Jesus emphasized as the fulfillment of God's action in the world. I could go on, but this post isn't about community development. It is about moving in our privilege.

You see, that I have a "reason" for moving to the "wrong side" of the tracks and get to tell you or anyone about my reasons is privilege. Sure, there are some people in my family and friends who don't get it. They don't have the same theological convictions we do and that makes for awkward conversations about our "reasons." It is easier to tell people that we are moving because the apartments are cheaper - which they are - but that is not the reason we are moving. And that is privilege. I have choice. And there is dignity in that.

We are moving from a house in the more established neighborhood in Thermalito. We were able to have overlap between our last day in our house and the first day in our apartment. That is money. Money is choice. There is dignity in choice.

We had to pay a $200 deposit on the apartment without knowing we got the apartment while our credit was verified. We knew our credit was fine. We didn't give 30-day notice on our current place right away because we were unsure our application would be accepted. But what about folks struggling paycheck to paycheck? How do they move, giving 30-day notice, without a guaranteed place to live because applications are processing? How do they have money to pay first and last month's rent and deposit without getting their deposit back from their other house until 20 days after they move out?

Erin is on maternity leave and we have enough savings for me to take time off work so we can move. That is privilege. Let alone a community of loving people to help us move with multiple offers to borrow trucks and lend a hand and bring meals (for which I am eternally thankful). But how do people struggling to make ends meet balance work, children, and moving?

And with a growing housing market and economy, our rent in our current place and the apartments we are moving to is increasing by close to a $100 in each location. what do people do? What do people do who are working as hard as they can in a community that doesn't value education, has broken generations of cyclical poverty, few avenues for careers and living wages, and decades behind the times for equal rights?

So, it all seems nearly impossible to me. 

It seems possible for Erin and I because of our privilege. Yes we worked hard for what we have. We have sacrificed much and invested lots of time and energy, but we had LOTS of wonderful, gifted, capable, and talented people behind us encouraging us and expecting success from us. They served as a safety net for us to take risks and still do. Because I know that if everything we are trying to do blows up in our faces we will not go hungry. Our safety net is strong enough that we will always have a roof and a meal. And that is my privilege. That is how we have choice. And there is dignity in that. There is release in that.

I can't tell you the times I have wanted to assert myself as a "normal" person not on drugs, not creepy, well-educated. Riding my bike for exercise in my exercise clothes and people yell stuff at me or the 7-11 clerks get suspicious and unfriendly as I walk in profusely sweating to buy something for my pregnant wife (and me). It is during those times I want a shirt that says, "I have a masters degree." Or when people see me walking and I can feel the weight and stares I want a sign that says, "Just walking for exercise and reducing my carbon footprint - I swear I am not creepy." (Note: walking in my community is a statement about class - only those who have to do). But these are the things I cling to in trying to alleviate the awkwardness and social pressures. There are people who don't have that. They slowly get ground down. They often resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms. And the cycle continues.

For a lot of people they don't have the luxuries above. They don't have the loving community or the means to feel secure in their housing. They don't have the ability to take time off or know that their child can be watched by another trusted adult. They don't have the choice to live where they want to, and that deprives people of dignity.

So, we're moving in an attempt to be incarnational in our approach to this new church. But I know full well that our situation is not the same. We might live in the same place but we are not in the same place. You know what I mean? And these are some of the questions we have. This is the place we hope to serve. To see it transformed by the Gospel we seek to embody. And through it all we will be changed. We will encounter new depths of Gospel and God that we have never known. Henri Nouwen gives insight into this incarnational God when he writes, "The paradox of the ministry indeed is that we will find the God we want to give in the lives of the people to whom we want to give Him."

"God, we're here. We don't know what to do. It all seems a bit overwhelming and impossible. But we know that with you nothing is impossible. And we know that you are here. You have been here. We are not bringing you here, you have been here from the beginning. Help us to have eyes to see what you have been doing. Help us to live out what we already know of you and from you. Help us not to be overcome by the extremes - that we are here to save everyone or that we can't do anything. Ultimately, help us intertwine our stories with the stories of this place. That ours is a shared experience of seeking love and truth and peace for this place at this time."

Monday, August 31, 2015

On the Neutrality of Stuff and Guns

We live in this post-enlightenment age.
American Christians stereotypically fight the sciences.
But we are shaped by this nonetheless.

We look at stuff as neutral, having no value in an of itself.
But our parents in the faith viewed things differently.

Rich foods like dairy, meats, desserts were eaten during feasts
and abstained from during fasts.
They were thought to make us too comfortable here.
Making this earth our home and not the Kingdom.
They do.

Money always comes to mind.
We think it is a value-neutral object corrupting only corruptible people.
The saints always saw its potential for evil.
Even Jesus calls it "deceitful" and compares it to a false god.
"Get rid of it lest it find a way to my heart."

TV, technology, media
We consume to be consumed. Vegging out to "rest" (read: escape).
But to our forebearers, everything brings us closer to or pushes us further from Christ.
Neutral things and neutral time are not good.
they impede or worse.

So I think of guns
I see the way some/most American Christians defend guns
"They're only tools. No better or worse than the person holding it."
"Guns don't kill people. People kill people."

And I know why people defend in such a way.
They believe that "their rights" are being infringed upon.
That the government is trying to take away their constitutional freedom.

"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's."
I don't care if the government takes them all away or makes them all legal.
There is no room in the Kingdom for such violent things.
such violent tools.

No room at all.
It is not your business to defend.
It is not your business to promote.
I don't care what your granddad did or had or said.
there is no room in the Kingdom for such as these.

Things are not value-neutral.
Neither is time.
Not because stuff is good or bad, but because we are good and bad.
We are not removed from the equation of stuff. It does not exist on its own.

Choose good.
by the power of the Holy Spirit
choose good.

Friday, August 28, 2015

60 years ago today - The killing of Emmett Till on August 28, 1955

Sometimes you read a story that shakes you. One might read the story below and think, "look how barbaric our history was." What strikes me most about the story are the parallels to our modern day. Not only was this not that long ago, the actions and arguments now concerning racism and oppression are not far from what these were.

HERE is the story written then. (Warning: there is racist language throughout, not only from the testimony of the perpetrators, but the journalist as well).

Emmett Till was a 14 year old boy from Chicago visiting his family in Mississippi during 1955. He made a mistake about romantically approaching a married white woman that, a few days later, would cost him his life. (Note: the events of what happened in the store are disputed by different witnesses).

The husband of the offended and harassed woman (Roy) and his brother-in-law (Milam) went and found the boy sleeping. They took him to a shed and beat him with pistols. Emmett bravely asserted his own humanity, exclaiming "I'm as good as you are."

The brother-in-law later confessed [warning: extremely racist language and ideas], "Well, what else could we do? He was hopeless. I'm no bully; I never hurt a nigger in my life. I like niggers -- in their place -- I know how to work 'em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice. As long as I live and can do anything about it, niggers are gonna stay in their place. Niggers ain't gonna vote where I live. If they did, they'd control the government. They ain't gonna go to school with my kids. And when a nigger gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman, he's tired o' livin'. I'm likely to kill him. Me and my folks fought for this country, and we got some rights. I stood there in that shed and listened to that nigger throw that poison at me, and I just made up my mind. 'Chicago boy,' I said, 'I'm tired of 'em sending your kind down here to stir up trouble. Goddam you, I'm going to make an example of you -- just so everybody can know how me and my folks stand.'"

They tied a large fan around the boys neck with barbed-wire, shot him, which caused him to fall in the river.

They were found "not guilty" on insufficient evidence. They confessed after the trial knowing they wouldn't be retried - not least because most people in the area agreed with them.

Till's mother had an open casket and pictures taken by the media to expose the cruelty done to her 14 year old son. This helped spark the Civil Rights movement.

And if that isn't just profoundly sad enough, I decided to the read the letters to editor about the published article, which read like a modern day comments section. HERE it is, but if you read it, do so with an eye to arguments you hear people make about the killing of unarmed black folks now. Do so in light of the comments people make about immigrants. The respectability politics that are present in both. The justification of death over crimes and actions that don't actually warrant death sentences. The way white society tries to sweep these "unfortunate events" under the carpet because we don't want to see what we believe to be the justified dirty work of keeping people in check - "in their place."

Jesus, help us. forgive us. help us to die to ourselves and all those false identities we use to prop up our identity. Help us to be reconciled to one another as we are reconciled to you (Ephesians 2). That we can become ministers of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5) in your name, for your cause, to the people, for our own salvation and healing. Let us not read this and things like these and justify ourselves before them as though they are different than us. Help us realize they are us. We, too, have the capacity for the greatest of evil, each and everyone of us, but you have made us out of your divine image to follow after you for ultimate good.
- Zinn Education Project
- Wikipedia
- Original article referred to above
- CBS 60 Minutes

Sunday, February 1, 2015

I hate the word "stewardship"

I listen to Christian radio when I get tired of my albums. Don't judge, but it is necessary for me to listen to music to which I can let my guard down. I know it is not good, but I am not going to drive in silence. 

Well, tonight they were talking about stewardship and the Bible.

The mere sound of the word irked me. Why? What bugs me about it? Driving to the grocery story sans kids gave me some room for introspection. My answer is two-fold:

The idea of "stewardship" assumes that (1) there is some discernment that is needed on my part, and (2) that I get to keep some of the thing that is stewarded - which is 99% of the time talking about money/wealth.

Newsflash, we don't get to keep it and there is no decision to make. Jesus is pretty clear, "Sell your possessions, and give it to the poor. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven..." (Luke 12 - there are a bunch more, I just like this one. ok?).

"Jaymes, this is too idealistic," they will say. 
Or better yet, "you have stuff."
If they are really honest they will just admit, "that is too hard."

And they are right on all accounts.

Because, in reality, it is not impossible - just too hard. We can all sell our stuff and move to India and be like Mother Theresa. We just don't want to. We don't have the faith or desire.

My goal in life is to have nothing. To die with literally nothing. The only possessions I care about are my books and even then, I will donate them to my church's library and use them when I want (because let's be honest - church libraries are not used that often). Ok, ok, I also care about my musical instruments, and I have not thought of a way out of owning them yet. I am just hoping old age and maturity will kick in.

Maybe this is how I sleep at night. My intentions are noble. They are pure and good and aim at obeying wholly. And yet I get so frustrated with Christians who have no intention of even trying. They devise half-hearted theologies and economies to keep what they have. These ideas aren't even that convincing, but when we want what we want, we don't need much swaying. 

So, in ignorance or arrogance, brokenness and sin, I must maintain that stewardship is an idea that automatically assumes disobedience to Christ's commands. Don't be fooled. Start divesting now. At least make it your goal, if not actually giving up all your stuff except necessities. 

Finally, a word to myself as one who judges myself based on my intentions and not my actions, our measurement of success is Christ alone. Settle for nothing less. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

1/27/15 - St. John Chrysostom

Today is one of the days in the church calendar where we celebrate St. John the "Golden Mouth" Chrysostom.
His golden mouth led him to be a favorite of the people. Soon, he was whisked away from his church to become a bishop by political leaders based on his amazing speaking, but they were in for more than they bargained.
He began a series of reforms where, it is described, that "he swept the stairs from the top down." He called out political figures for corruption. He whipped his clergy into place. He refused to host the usual lavish banquets and preached against the wealthy as thieves of the poor. With the money he saved from a simple lifestyle, he opened a string of hospitals for the poor. Then he turned his sights to his congregation. The common people absolutely loved him. 
As you might suspect, this made him unpopular with the rich and powerful. Ultimately he was exiled from his position for some trumped up theological charges. But the support and love from the people continued, even past his death, to help make him one of the three most important figures in Eastern Christianity.
A couple quotes from the man on wealth and poverty:
“The rich are in possession of the goods of the poor, even if they have acquired them honestly or inherited them legally.” 
“Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours but theirs.” 
“When you are weary of praying and do not receive, consider how often you have heard a poor man calling, and have not listened to him.”
"Do you wish to honour the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clad. He who said: 'This is my body' is the same who said: 'You saw me hungry and you gave me no food,' and 'Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me'... What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices when your brother is dying of hunger? Start by satisfying his hunger and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well."

Monday, December 22, 2014

Mary's Song

Mother Mary, after reflecting on the coming birth of Jesus, sings this song. This is what the birth of Jesus means according to her:

"God has shown strength with his arm;
   the Lord has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
The Lord has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty" (Luke 1).

The social order before Jesus is one where the biggest, strongest, and richest are in power and most valued. The birth of Jesus, Christmas, begins the process of flipping that on its head where now the lowly are lifted up and the hungry are filled. God's economy, God's heart, will become the new norm - THIS is the promise of the Gospel. God's Kingdom, God's economy, is coming and it will be "without end."

Which economy are you supporting? Are we taken with confidence, power, and wealth? Or are we invested in the humble, meek, lowly, and hungry?

Your Savior is coming to you! He is the strength of God's arm. He will be wrapped in tattered cloth, lying in the filth of an animal feeding trough. He will be surrounded by lowly shepherds and a teenage girl, pregnant out of wedlock.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Parable of the Slave: the hardest one

Luke 17 contains one of the toughest parables. I have never heard a sermon on it. I did hear one theology professor mention it one time.
"Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here at once and take your place at the table?' Would you not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink?' Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"
Today's lection contains this passage - Luke 17:1-10. I haven't done any study on it, but the context gave me more than enough for my own meditation.

The slave parable is in the context of forgiving our kin disciples as many times as they are repentant. The disciples, who react accordingly to any one who takes Jesus seriously at his word, asks for more faith so they can do what he asks. Jesus promises them that even the tiniest amount of true faith will be enough. And then our passage about slaves. They do not come in and get served by their master after a long day, but, rather, come in and work harder.

What I felt the Spirit convicting me of today was: forgiveness should be basic to who we are as disciples. It should be the air we breath. There is no excuse for not forgiving. "Sorry Jesus, I was tired, hungry, upset, etc." The slave doesn't get a pass from his job because he worked all day. He works more because it is his identity. Forgiving the other is so required of us on a daily basis, even a minute-by-minute basis, that this is a thankless task ("Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?").

Slave:Work::Disciples:forgiving each other 

The slavery aspect of this parable is problematic. Slavery gives us a pause, as it should, because it is deplorable and evil. But Jesus tends to use this metaphor in many places to highlight our absolute dependence on the other - whether it be God or other people (Jesus uses this idea of himself, the apostles use it of themselves). What Jesus lands on in this passage is that forgiveness is the absolute, most basic command Jesus gives us ("So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!"). Obedience to anything Jesus has commanded means obedience to constant forgiveness.

But why forgiveness? The body of Christ cannot fully exist if it is in discord (cf. John 17:21). All of the letters in the New Testament were written to help their hearers overcome relational obstacles and live as one in the Lord. If community was easy, Paul wouldn't have written a dozen letters to help us do it right. Moreover, Jesus is instructing us that we cannot do this thing alone. We need each other. Without each other we are doomed. 

So, my mind soon wanders to the modernist question: what about on-going abusive relationships? Abusers often ask for forgiveness. Victims often feel as though they are doomed if they leave the relationship. My only conclusion to this question was that, certainly, Jesus wouldn't have asked anyone to stay in a unrepentant, abusive situation ("If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender"). We should physically remove ourselves from the situation. But does physical removal mean that we give up hope for a person's, even a constantly abusive person's, redemption and transformation. We may need to distant ourselves physically and emotionally, but never lovingly or spiritually. We are Christ-followers. We always have hope, especially for the hopeless.

Who have I pushed away that I need to forgive?
Who has sinned against me that I need to reconcile with?
Who have I sinned against and need to repent to?

Often we think of those who have hurt us, but who have we hurt? Who have we sinned against? In our pursuit of Christ, forgiving another is baby steps, confessing and repenting to another is a mile. Do both. All the time. This is your most basic command, the currency in God's new economy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Soldier Turned Bishop

One of my favorite artists'
rendition of Martin giving his
cloak - El Greco c. 1598
During the 4th century there lived a man, son of a soldier, who became a soldier at age 15 in Constantine's wars. He was considering being a Christian but wavered some.

One day a beggar, freezing in the cold, caught the eye of this young soldier. The soldier had compassion on the man and cut his cloak in half so that they each had relief from the cold. That night, as the soldier slept, Christ appeared to the soldier in a dream wearing the half cloak he had given to the beggar. The soldier immediately gave himself to a life of faith in pursuit of the Way of Jesus.

The soldier demanded that he be released from the military saying, "I have faithfully served Caesar. Let me now serve Christ" and "I am a soldier of Christ, I cannot fight." He was persecuted, thrown in prison, and somewhat threatened with death. When momentary peace came he was released.

This man became a Bishop of the Church after starting the first monastery in Gaul (France). We know him as Bishop Martin of Tours. But what does he have to do with today?

Martin is the patron saint of soldiers. His feast day, the day on which we believe he was buried, is November 11. On Nov. 11 we celebrate Armistice Day, the day World War I was ended by peace treaties signed in France in 1918. Many people saw the end of WWI on Martin's feast in Martin's land as divine providence. Armistice eventually turned into Veterans day.

Here is the prayer most commonly associated with Martin's feast:
"Lord God of hosts, who clothed your servant Martin the soldier with the spirit of sacrifice, and set him as a bishop in your Church to be a defender of the [universal] faith: Give us grace to follow in his holy steps, that at the last we may be found clothed with righteousness in the dwellings of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever."

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Arnika - Sufjan Stevens - Chords

This song is hauntingly good. I loved this song even before I dove deeper into the meaning. Incredibly sad, but it has stuck with me even if I don't feel the same way the author did when writing it.

There are no chords on the internet for it so I tabbed it out. Here you go internet Sufjan fans. At the bottom is a jpg for formatting assurance. It also has helpful tips like key and playing with a Capo:

Surfjan Stevens

C            Dm     Bb                  F                     C                      Bb
Arnika might take out the throes that I threw in my head
Bruno, your wife shakes her bedclothes as she makes up the bed

I’m tired of life; I’m tired of waiting for someone
I’m tired of prices; I’m tired of waiting for something

C             Dm               Bb       F          F/E         Eb(?)      G
Oo- ah’s

C             Dm       Bb                     F                        C                         Bb
I have a right to know what’s in store; to know what should be said
Could I have it all, could I have you for a night in the warmth of your bed?

I’m tired of life; I’m tired of waiting for someone
I’m tired of prices; I’m tired of waiting for something
I’m tired of life; I’m tired of life, \
I’m tired of life; I’m tired of life,   ] – (I’m going….)
I’m tired of life; I’m tired of life, /

F                               Bb    Ab     Db     Cm                  Bbm             Am
Oh be patient with me; for the night weighs on my chest with a terrible storm
Though we may disagree on how things should be done on how crisis is born

F                            Bb     Ab     Db     Cm        Bbm                   Am
Don’t consider it done, wait until Leviathan lovingly creeps in your sill
            Gm                                          Dm                               Bb
For he waits in the dark, brooding magically; mustering paperback feelings

F                   Bb          Ab       Db          Cm      Bbm           Am
No I’m not afraid of death or strife or injury, accidents, they are my friends…

Monday, August 18, 2014

Jesus is God's Work most fully revealed

[Jesus lifts Adam and Eve (and you) from their graves in the Resurrection]
the text: John 5:19-29
Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished. Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomsoever he wishes. The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.

‘Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

the ideas
Father – Saturday’s text was about Jesus working on the Sabbath and calling it good because the Father is still working. This caused the Jewish leaders to move towards killing Jesus because he called God his own Father and this was equating himself with God.

The Son – Here, on Jesus’ lips, John is fleshing out who Jesus is and why he does what he does. Namely, Jesus is from heaven and does what he is seeing the Father do. Also, the Father has given Jesus specific duties, privileges, and powers.

… only what he sees… - Jesus is the fullest picture of who God is and what God does. Jesus reveals the Father to us.

Jewish Customs  - in previous stories we have seen Jesus talk to Samaritan women, heal on the Sabbath, and predict the destruction of the temple while claiming that he is the temple. How does Jesus, a Jewish carpenter/rabbi, get away with minimizing or breaking proper Jewish customs and laws? John tells us here – Jesus is from the Father, from Heaven, doing only what he sees the Father doing. Not to mention that Jesus has been placed as the judge over all things righteous and unrighteous (as opposed to the Law or Moses). Jesus gets both to the heart of and trumps anything that has come before.

The Father loves… - in classic John style, love is the motivation and goal of all that is being done. More than that, just as Jesus is the fullest picture of who God is, Jesus is the fullest understanding of God’s love. Jesus uncovers for us the heart of the Trinity.

Death and Life – Death and life are major themes in this section. There are two forms that are related but seemingly separate. The last references are about the actual resurrection at the end of time, but more on that later. It is helpful to know that for Jesus, in the book of John, eternal life is the mission. Jesus is inviting us into what he calls eternal life. This doesn’t begin after we die, but right now. In Jesus, there is both eternal life and a literal resurrected life. The dead, then, are not those who are biologically not alive, but those who have not truly walked into eternal life. Jesus is the door to that new reality called eternal life.

Resurrection – many people believe that the end goal of Christianity is for the faithful to live a spiritual existence in heaven. While the saints who are currently asleep (dead) might be in heaven, the goal of God’s work is the transformation of old creation into new creation. That means that we will not ultimately end up as spirit in heaven, but we will have physical, resurrected bodies like Jesus in the merge of heaven and earth known as new creation. According to this passage and others, our options are resurrection to life or condemnation. Again, the way we determine this is by placing faith in Christ as the one who lives and brings true (eternal) life.

the stuff
What does it mean that this humble, compassionate person fully reveals to us the invisible life, love, and work of God the Father?

Even more mind-blowing, what does it mean that this person invites into that life and mission of God?

You are a child of God who dwells in the eternal life of Christ present and available to you now. Live boldly. Live lovely. Live generously.

Who do you need to reconcile with? Who is that person who needs your boldest, most generous love? Maybe it is a friend who you got separated from because of time, distance, or old drama? Maybe you have family, a son, who you haven’t spoken to in 20 years?  Imitate Christ who imitates the Father and humbly invite that person back into your life.

Daily Office Readings, Year 2 - Week of the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15) - (August 17, 2014)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Royal Official: Second Miracle in Cana

Healing the royal official's son 
by Joseph-Marie Vien, 1752 (Wiki)
the text: John 4:43-54
When the two days were over, he went from that place to Galilee (for Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in the prophet’s own country). When he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, since they had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the festival; for they too had gone to the festival.

Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.’ The official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my little boy dies.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive. So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.’ The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ So he himself believed, along with his whole household. Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.

the ideas
two days - two days with the Samaritans

Prophet without honor - Matthew 13, Mark 6

Galilean welcome - they welcome him, but because he did miracles at the festival.

Remember - Cana, the wine place.

Capernaum to Galilee - 20 miles.

Unless "you"/y'all - The "you" here is plural. It is directed to the official and the Galileans. 

Works - Jesus does not like to do miracles, or, at least, he distrusts the human nature that requires miracles for faith. See chapter 2:23-25. little boy - how could anyone's heart keep from breaking at such a request? Moreover, this is Jesus' first run-in with death in this gospel. How Jesus matches up with the ultimate enemy of humans and God tells us quite a bit about who Jesus is.

Go; your son will live(s) - This is the present tense. Jesus, who is the Word that brings Life to all people, brings that life to this young boy now, here, in the present. To get that point across, there is a caravan of servants who meet the official and confirm the time he was healed.

The man believed/trusted/placed confidence in the Word - two times we are told he believed. And he did not believe after seeing a sign; he believed after Jesus spoke. This belief led to salvation coming to his whole household (just like the city of Samaritans all coming to faith).

the stuff
There is a pattern going on here. The last time we were in Cana, Jesus' mother wanted Jesus to make wine and he refused her, but did it anyway. Here, the official wants his son to be healed, and Jesus seemingly refuses. But the man's persistence pays off, his son is healed, and his family is brought into Jesus' Kingdom.

As is consistent with other Gospels, Jesus asks us to be persistent in prayer. This isn't a sign that God doesn't care. No, persistence demonstrates deep faith. We have all had those times where we have prayed and nothing happens. I could out atheist any atheist on this point alone. But it is the movement of God to deep cries of faith that reward the type of life Jesus desires for us as we seek entry into eternity.

I do not pretend to understand the mystery of prayer. But I know that Jesus calls the faithful to be in communication with their Father. How is your prayer life? Sporadic? Do you only pray when you need something? Or is it a cultivated habit of a disciplined life that is the source of power and joy in your life? Spend some time in meditative prayer today. Bring your concerns to Jesus. Speak from the heart. Listen for a response. Let it be a time that increases your faith.

Daily Office Readings, Year 2 - Week of the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14) - August 15, 2014

This Thing is Contagious: Woman at the well invites her townsfolk into her journey

the text: John 4:27-42
Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ They left the city and were on their way to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest”? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labor.’

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.’

the ideas
Astonished Disciples - could not believe he was talking to a Samaritan woman, but they didn't question the rabbi.

The woman left her water jar - First of all, you see that Jesus never drank. He was "thirsty," in yesterday's passage, to start a conversation. Now, you see this little detail about leaving her water-jar. She has found the living water that Jesus offers. She doesn't need her jar any more. Even more exciting, the word for "Jar" or "water-jar" is the same word used when Jesus turned water into wine in chapter 2 with those huge jars. The first miracle of Kingdom abundance is spilling over into these individual lives. Her water-jar, instead of turning into wine, is empty because the river of life in her soul is flowing.

"Come and see" - Another come and see. Though Jesus speaks about spiritual things, what he offers is very tangible. The Spirit is tangible - it is something you experience. You should expect to feel and experience the Holy Spirit in your life working for your transformation, quenching your thirst in faith, and confirming that you are God's child. This is not a grin and bear it kind of faith, this is a "come and see," experience first hand, taste of the living water kind of life.

Remember - sometimes it is easy for us to remember that this woman was a social outcast, even in her own community. That she would be running to these people at all is a thing of mystery. Is she wanting to show them she found the Messiah because that might make up for all her previous failings? Is she proud that the Messiah reveals himself to her first and has come to rub it in their faces? It is probably nothing more than the wild, contagious joy one exudes when finding that one thing missing from your life - all our lives - and, in the spirit of bold love and grace received, boldly offering it to others.

They left... - lots of people want to point out that this woman evangelized, or shared the good news, with her people. Yes and no. She didn't memorize some good points and talk to people, she lived out an experience with Christ and invited others into her journey. There is difference here between asking someone about whether they think they will go to heaven or hell if they died tonight and contagiously radiating Gospel life. Moreover, again "come and see" must be answered in faith with a "left and saw" if we are to encounter Jesus. This is a major theme in John

Jesus isn't hungry or thirsty - doing the will of God is his food. This is soooo like John's Jesus.
Traditional Samaritan clothing

"the fields are ripe WHITE for harvesting" - Many versions  have "ripe" when the word is actually "white." There are a lot people who will talk about some grain turning almost white close to harvest. And this may be true. But there is a deeper meaning here. Remember, the Samaritans, in their traditional garb, are on their way to see Jesus. Imagine this with me: as Jesus is talking about the fields being white/ripe for harvest, the disciples turn around and see a group of Samaritans walking towards them, all wearing their traditional white robes (see the image to the right). There is a multitude of thirsty people who need divine quenching coming towards them. That is the harvest awaiting to be reaped - to offer God's living water to a people without.

from Word to Experience  - from the "come and see" invitation they entered in with faith. From the experience of drinking the living water they experienced for themselves who Jesus is.

the Savior of the world - remember, Jesus does not belong in tribalism. In fact, he comes to bust God out of the boxes, both literal (the temple) and cultural. He comes for the whole world. The Samaritans are the first to experience Jesus stepping outside of Judaism proper. They are the first to recognize this global salvation. Notice, it is no longer about which mountain and which well and which people with them - this is for all.

the stuff
I am an evangelical. This term often brings with it negative connotations from the rest of the world, and probably not without good reason. "Evangelical" has been so strangled and coerced into people's political agendas that the term has become a caricature of what it once was.

Evangelicalism begins roughly in the early 1700's. The movement emphasizes conversion and personal relationship with God through faith, inviting others to experience the new life of that personal relationship, a high view of scripture, and active service for the cause. 

What this has turned into for some is a group that emphasizes conversion by threatening exclusion, inviting others into the faith through debate (apologetics), a fundamentalist/literal view of scripture, and active service in American right-wing politics. I assure you, though this may be one form of evangelicalism, this is only one form.

What does this matter? In this passage, Jesus invites us to be on mission with him in bringing living, spiritual water to broken and thirsty people. Sometimes the church calls this evangelism. But evangelism can be a really scary term and often misused in churches today. 

Instead, consider what Jesus does above. Consider your participation in what Jesus is doing in his mission. He associates himself with broken people who the world sees a "less than." He enters into a relationship with vulnerable people by becoming vulnerable like them (he is thirsty, tired, hungry too). He enters into the lives of the people, lives in their city, serves them, and speaks love and truth into their lives after being invited to do so. He teaches us that we are not alone in this and it is not our job to save any one. There is a sower who has generously been working in the lives of people and communities before we even showed up. Jesus is the savior of the world, we round up the plants that haven been planted. Our job is to be with them, and, like the woman, invite people into the contagious joy and transformation we have and are currently experiencing.

Are you currently experiencing the fruit of a Spirit-filled life? Are you on mission with Jesus? 

Year 2 - Week of the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14) - (August 14, 2014)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Jesus Breaks All the Rules

the text: John 4:1-26
Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, ‘Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John’— although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’

Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’

the ideas
Samaritans worshiping
Jesus doesn't baptize with water - because he baptizes with the Holy Spirit. This doesn't undermine water baptism, which is very important. Jesus is just being set up to be something so much more - living water.

Samaria and Samaritan - Samaritans live in Samaria, which is just outside of Jewish land. These people are racially mixed (Jewish and other races) and proper Jewish people did not associate with these folks. In Harry Potter language, these are the Mud-bloods. Their religion is Judaism mixed with other elements, but they claim to be the true Jewish lineage and worshippers. They traditionally wear all white.

Jacob's stuff - The well and name-dropping of Jacob seem, in my perspective, to give some legitimacy to the situation that is going to take place. Jesus, who was in the land of Judea, now is going to a people who have a connection to Jewish practice, but are usually considered outside the blessed people.

Wells - In the Old Testament, scenes with wells in them usually had sexual connotations and involved women getting married. Something is afoot here, for sure, especially with this morally questionable woman.

Jesus is tired and hungry - While John is adamant that Jesus comes from heaven, he is careful to preserve Jesus' humanity. This whole situation, the one where Jesus breaks all the rules, comes about because Jesus is tired, hungry, and thirsty. He is human.

Samaritan Woman - From an ancient Jewish perspective, this woman has three strikes against her. She is the wrong race, she is the wrong sex, and she is morally reprehensible (the multiple husbands + live in boyfriend = not so good). There is a lot of speculation about why she comes to the well at noon whereas most women traditionally got water earlier in the day. Mostly the speculation settles on her being a social outcast because of her moral state (those pesky husbands). There may be a lot of truth to this historically, but the text doesn't say. 

Unholy, improper boldness - this woman knows the rules. "Our kind does not associate with your kind, and your kind is usually more arrogant about this whole mess" (paraphrase). In case his audience didn't catch the heavy social awkwardness, John adds a parenthetical about Jews and Samaritans. As a subjected person, she reminds Jesus that he is walking into a social faux pas. She may even be coming off as holier than Jesus, at this point, because she is the one maintaing proper social customs.

Jesus epiphany - Remember what we said earlier, when Jesus is in a conversation he tries to bring the conversation to a point where he reveals who he truly is and invites people into his mission to live into eternal life now. Here, Jesus cuts through the awkwardness and gets to the business at hand. With Nicodemus in ch. 3 Jesus gets real confusing. With this woman, he gets to the point. This, to me, is grace on the part of Jesus. With the people, whom he loves, he gives them grace and love. He makes it easier. He comes closer and reveals himself in a fuller way.

"Are you greater..." - Jesus points to the well and says that this well, the one from Jacob, only deters thirst. Jesus has a water that is eternally quenching. Her interest is high. But she asks a question that also gets to the heart of the matter - "are you greater than Jacob? Not only Jacob, but my whole people and tradition, which we think is handed down from Jacob and his God?" - Jesus' answer: Yep, but only if you think everlasting water is better than regular water.

Living Water - Jesus is not offering literal water, but everlasting spiritual nourishment that quenches the thirst for something that we are without. A quenching of that desire for God that all humans possess, which we now find in the closeness of Christ. Blaise Pascal, a famous French scientist, philosopher, theologian, says, "What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him... this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself” (Pensees).

Husband(s) - Just as she is buying what Jesus is selling, he brings up her marital situation. A lot of people and scholars look at this as Jesus cutting her to the quick to bring out her sin so that she can repent and believe the good news. This may be true, but I disagree. She already wants something new. To me, Jesus brings up her marital situation because it is symptomatic of her thirst. She wants love. She wants to be known. She wants to be safe and happy and in relationship with someone who values her, loves her, respects her, and honors her - just as all humans do. But her situation seems more desperate as there are so many publicly failed attempts. Jesus never condemns. Jesus never even says, "Go and sin no more" as he has a million times before. This isn't to say she is wrong or right, but, more importantly, Jesus dives into her desire and lack of being quenched. He is addressing her, and offering her eternal-life fulfillment in the Kingdom of God. 

This is too awkward, let's change the conversation - she acknowledges that Jesus is totally right and then moves the conversation from a personal level to an ancient theological debate (this is my kind of gal). My mountain or your mountain? My people or yours? "Mountain" - Probably Mount Gerizim, but it doesn't matter to Jesus or John. 

More spiritual stuff, Jesus? - Jesus gives a nod to the Jews, but ultimately salvation comes from the Jews because Jesus is Jewish. On the whole, mountains and people groups are not determining factors for who is right. Jesus ushers in the new point of human history ("is coming and now here") where racial and religious barriers are broken down. God is not bound to any people group, and this even means the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. No, God's new realm, the Kingdom, has come and everyone is invited to enter through Jesus Christ.

I AM the Messiah - Again, usually Jesus isn't this transparent. After giving in to her changing of the subject, he comes right out and says that he is the Messiah that was to come. More than that, there are a number of "I AM" sayings in John. These are very important. Many scholars believe that Jesus is reclaiming the divine name that God gave to God's-self when he was talking to Moses and Moses asks "who should I say sent me?" "God said to Moses, ‘I AM who I AM.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, "I AM has sent me to you"'" (Exodus 3). When Jesus makes an I AM statement, it is believed that he is associating himself with God in such a way that God is now present with the people in him - present with the people in a Exodus sense who leads them out of darkness (currently religious and political darkness) into the light of the Promised land ("light" being Jesus and "Promised Land" being the Kingdom of God). 

the ideas
There is so much here. Worship could be emphasized. Go and worship in spirit and truth. 

Jesus breaks down social barriers that impede people from experiencing the Good News of freedom, justice, and love - this should not be missed. Assess your prejudices and destroy them. African Americans? Illegal immigrants? Middle Easterners? Or have you given up on someone closer to home? A lazy sister? A hard-hearted mother? A failed son? Don't give up on someone being able to come in, or you may be the one in danger of missing out. 

Assess whether or not you are living a life the keeps people out of the kingdom by your comfort, clothes, wealth, jewelry, politics, habits, hobbies, etc. Do you live in such a way that creates walls for someone entering into the church?

Find your lingering thirsts and admit you are thirsty like Jesus, the Son of God from heaven. Find your quenching in Jesus. Do not let them fester underneath. Secrecy is as dangerous as giving in to them. Get help. Lean into the everlasting water. There is healing and wholeness here in this well.

But, if there is one thing I could have you do, it would be to watch this sermon from a beloved professor of mine who is a national, if not global, expert on gospel reconciliation:

I've Got A River of Life: Brenda Salter-McNeil

Week of the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14, Aug. 13, 2014)

More isn't Less: August 12, 2014

the text: John 3:22-36

After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized— John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison.

Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. They came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.’ John answered, ‘No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, “I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.” He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.’

The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony. Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true. He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.

the ideas
Baptized - How cool would it be to be baptized by Jesus? Oh the grace and blessing. Two things of note about this. Though this passage makes it seem like Jesus was baptizing people, the first two verses of chapter 4 tell us that it wasn't actually Jesus who baptized but his disciples. I imagine if Jesus did baptize someone, we humans would mess that up. 1 Cor. 1 Paul talks a little about all that. The good news, Jesus does baptize with something more than water - he baptizes with the Spirit, which he pours out generously.

Judea and Aenon near Salim - the greek for "Judean countryside" is actually the "Land of Judea." The towns where John the Baptist (JtB) are translated "Springs" and "Peace." There may be something here. The author may be showing that Jesus has come to Judea - Judea meaning Jewish or "of the Jews." Jesus, a Jewish man, has come to the Jewish nation, but he has something else in mind than being a tribal religious leader. JtB on the other hand baptizes with Springs of Peace, but I see this contrasted with chapter 4 where Jesus offers living water of eternal life. This makes sense when we see JtB bend over backwards affirming the importance of Jesus and not himself.

JtB; the best man - JtB realizes this is not his wedding, but he is thrilled to play second fiddle to the groom, Jesus. He is from the Earth (below) and recognizes that Jesus is from above ("above" being the same word as the earlier passage about being "born from above"). Again, JtB spends a lot of time falling all over himself about he being lesser than Jesus. This climaxes in the famous, "He must increase, I must decrease."

Where is Jesus from? - Again, John's Gospel wants us to be very clear that Jesus comes from heaven. This remains in open tension that he is a Jewish man in the land of Judea. What I find most interesting about JtB's imagery "from the earth," "from above," and "from heaven" is that traditionally Christians have affirmed that Jesus comes from all these places. He comes from below and above, from earth and from heaven. Though he is above all, he serves as if he were the slave of all. Again, this is going to have the religious and governmental leaders all messed up.

the stuff
There is an contemporary atmosphere of wanting to be greater. We think, "if only I had more, did more, lived more, earned more, achieved more, I could do so much more - I could do so much more for Jesus." More than that we fight for power and authority and position in our families, jobs, and national politics. We think more power will mean more influence for God. Rarely does this pan out. We are to become less so that Christ can become more.

The greatest thing we can do is, according to this passage, trust in Christ. And that gives us eternal life and the Spirit. There is no promise of influence or blessing or political power. John the Baptist is going to jail for political crimes and he will not make it out alive. No, our influence resides in the Kingdom of God, our boldness comes from our eternal horizon, and our power comes in being able to pour out self-denying, self-giving love. This isn't to spiritualize the blessings of Christ. No, they are real and tangible, but they do not play by the rules of this earth. They fly in the face of these powers and riches and comforts. But they bring hope, and joy, and love, and encouragment. And these are the tools to live an beautiful, eternal life in the coming Kingdom of God.

One of the surest signs that we breathe of the atmosphere of "more is better" is if we are concerned with making everything else "Christian" besides our selves. If we think the answer involves having Christian children or Christian schools or a Christian nation, and, yet, neglect our own spiritual well-being we will surely miss out. Our desire to have more impedes our ability to see Christ as more than us. Our hope to have more influence deters our ability to feel Christ's transforming influence in us. Our striving for more power over others, even for good, makes us grow cold to the godly power Christ offers us to conquer our selves. 

Consider your life's goal and ambition today. What is your definition of success? What are you willing to do to get it? Does your life, as a Christian, lead to the fulfillment of the American dream? Or, by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit in seeking to be less, do you hope to be more like Christ? Your patterns and work and hopes will lead you where you want to go. You just need to make sure you want be where you end up. 

Instead, consider the life that leads to truth, and beauty, and love - consider the life of Christ. Believing or trusting in Christ does not mean that we believe Christ existed. Trusting in Christ means that we believe the life Christ lives - self-denying, self-giving, Spirit-filled, Joyously bold, Cross destined  - is the good and beautiful life that God offers us, Jesus came to model for us, and the Spirit has come to empower us towards.