Revised Common Lectionary Reading: Psalm 107:17-22
A simple thought, but one that goes to the core of my Christian experience. Healing is part of God’s character, part of his “steadfast love” or chesed. Wherever the power called Sin has touched human life with destruction, it is always God’s will to set it right, always God’s will that we sing songs of joy for our deliverance. (Those same songs of joy, it seems, can set others free. This is one of the reasons we still sing this Psalm today!)
As a man who lives with Cerebral Palsy, I know that God wills my healing (and even my cure!) because this is the model I see in the person and ministry of Jesus. And the character and ministry of healing part of the mantle that the Church carries into every age and place.
O faithful, healing God:
Stretch forth your hand to heal,
and to cause your people to minister that healing with joy!
For the sake of Jesus, your Son,
we say: Amen.
Yikes. I have a big gap to fill when I’ve got the chance. But God is good, so let’s get started again…
Revised Common Lectionary Reading: Hebrews 9:23-28
But as it is, he [Jesus the Messiah] has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him (emphasis mine!).
I had never noticed this before: “not to deal with sin.” I suppose I believed it anyway, because I have learned from non-violent atonement theologians that Christ’s Cross is God’s decisive dealing with all sin. But (at least according to the author of Hebrews), the Second Coming of Christ is not for smacking sin around again, but to save/liberate (judge? set right?) those eagerly waiting for him–we will be adjusted so that we have the capacity to live in God’s re-creation. This is a staggering thought, to me.
I would just like to note, as an aside, that this passage is the reason why orthodox Christians do not affirm reincarnation; according to this author, human beings die once, and afterward face God, who longs to set us right through the ministry of Christ on the Cross.
I wonder what kind of freedom I would walk in if it rested in my body that Christ’s Second Coming is not about “dealing with sin.” Perhaps I (along with so many others!), would let go of the lie that God (the Father) is out to get us somehow, or needs to make sure we understand how lucky we are that He’s let us join his Kingdom. But O! speaking as a disabled man who has so many questions, may Jesus stir up in me, and in every human heart, an eagerness for his return, and for the liberation of all things!
Revised Common Lectionary Reading: Proverbs 30:1-9
5 Every word of God proves true;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
6 Do not add to his words,
or else he will rebuke you, and you will be found a liar.
I first learned these words of Scripture in an Evangelical counter-LDS pamphlet, as part of the reason why orthodox Christianity rejects Joseph Smith as a false prophet and sees LDS doctrine as heretical. The way I remember the context, the basis of the argument was that the canon of Scripture is closed, and the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrine and Covenants add to the canon, the word that God has proved true. Unfortunately, the canon is closed only on a technicality–the Christian tradition is so scattered in its expressions that we could no longer add to the canon even if it were possible to call a genuinely ecumenical council that would carry authority across the entire Christian world.
But as I read these words today, I recognize that they are saying something profound and dangerous about prophetic ministry: prophets and sages require deep humility and listening, so that they discern and speak what they hear from God, and no more. There is certainly room for God to speak new things–in Matthew 4:1-11 (another reading for today), Jesus says that “Humanity does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Please notice that the sentence is in the present, and not the past, tense.) But as the oracle who wrote Proverbs 30 knows, along with Jesus, there is a profound temptation to forget or add to God’s goodness in ways that fundamentally compromise the ministry that we are called to carry in the world.
7 Two things I ask of you;
do not deny them to me before I die:
8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that I need,
9 or I shall be full, and deny you,
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or I shall be poor, and steal,
and profane the name of my God.
Just as Jesus was tempted to forget God and supply his own needs by the Satan, I must admit that as a poor PhD student and disabled man, it is easy to justify taking (read: stealing because I didn’t ask permission) food that isn’t mine from the communal fridge because I run out of groceries and feel hungry. (Usually, this is poor planning on my part, not dire need.) Both literally and metaphorically, I will ask now for the food and daily materiel I need, so that my life will be in balance, full of gratitude. Those who have what they need, no more and no less, see more clearly the world in which they live and minister, and thus, it seems, are less likely to “deny” God or “add to his words.”
May He grant me the grace to repent, plan better, and discern the word He wants me to carry with balance, skill, gratitude, and clarity. Amen.
Revised Common Lectionary Reading: 1 Peter 3:18-22
This is one of the passages that some Christians turn to that suggests what some Jewish traditions call “the harrowing of hell,” which implies universal human salvation because of the ministry of Jesus. (That’s a much longer conversation!)
This passage also connects the Flood stories of Genesis to Baptism. I find it interesting that it doesn’t seem to have a typical idea of what “baptismal regeneration” means–almost as though God zaps the water and pow! a new Christian! But baptism is an “appeal to God for a good conscience through Jesus’ resurrection.” Baptism “saves” not because of a property of the water, but based on the authority of God’s faithfulness expressed in Jesus’ bodily resurrection. If God didn’t do that (raise Jesus), baptism as the efficacious sign of salvation doesn’t do anything for us.
There is an ethical dimension to baptism–it is an appeal to God for a “good conscience,” a heart and life shaped in such a way that we will consistently make the thousands of large and small choices that bring us to deep love of God and neighbour, and mature citizenship in the Kingdom/Commonwealth of God.
This Lent, if you want to follow Jesus, to whom his Father has subjected all things, please consider His call to be a baptised citizen of His realm, a visible member of his Church. Baptism is a primary way that we can deliberately make room for Jesus, and display to the world that we intend to give Him all the honour He is due.
Revised Common Lectionary Reading: Psalm 32
I just realised that this Psalm is the source for a line from one of my favourite worship choruses: No Longer Slaves, released by Bethel Music. “You surround me with a song of deliverance from my enemies.”
I love this Psalm because I am someone who has needed real and serious forgiveness for many things. I’m not just talking the daily misunderstandings that usually get cleared away between friends, but serious, stupid, uninformed choices that brought serious harm to people. I love that David, responsible for rape and murder, among other things, was willing to be held accountable by his community, even though he was the king. And I’m glad that loving pastors, counselors, and friends held me accountable, and that somehow, I learned the grace of God’s steadfast covenant love–the kind that refuses to divorce me even when I have gone way wrong. It has been a delight to even feel forgiven by both God and those I’ve harmed.
With my elder brother David, I can say, “Since this was my experience, which was so terrible, so also will it be for anyone who is willing to acknowledge the times when we have culpably broken shalom!” This Psalm also reminds me of Paul, sitting in prison near the end of his ministry, writing to his crew at Phillipi: “This is a saying worthy of full acceptance: ‘Messiah Jesus came into the world to save sinners’–of whom I am the foremost!” There is something so joyful in being able to say, “I was a thus-and-so kind of person, and I remember that. But I’m not there anymore; I am free because Jesus has been kind to someone like me.”
I wish for you, dear faithful reader, the grace and joy of knowing both giving up your sin and taking up the forgiveness that will wash all your guilt away. May we all be eager to do everything we can to restore relationship with those we harm, and to celebrate when God, often through God’s people, rescues us from the floodwaters that we ourselves often provoke.
Revised Common Lectionary Reading: 2 Timothy 4:1-5
For me, this is one of my favourite texts in the New Testament; I’m also tempted to hate it, because it is one of my personal texts of terror.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.
Though I acknowledge that the Pastoral Epistles were probably not written by the historical Paul, I always appreciated that traditionally, Timothy was understood as a young pastor as young as 20, whose congregation was very difficult. Along comes “Paul” to urge his young charge to be faithful to the Gospel.
When I spend time with people in “progressive” mainline churches, I wonder if we proclaim the same message that the earliest Christians did–how much time to we spend persistently convincing, rebuking, and encouraging each other with the utmost patience? The idea that we should convince someone of the truth of the Gospel, never mind rebuke someone because of unchristlike behaviour or doctrinal error, seems very uncomfortable in a cultural context that prizes pluralism.
For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
This is the part, except for the last sentence, that makes this reading a “text of terror” for me (and, I imagine, many other queer Christians). You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve heard Christians use the second half of this reading to say: People who believe that they can be faithful Christians while being in sexually active same-gender/sex relationships are “gathering to themselves teachers to suit their unbiblical and perverse desires.” They believe myths about sexual orientation and gender that are not true.
I often wonder if people who say such things ever stop to consider that they may be equally guilty of the same procedures, not only about queerness but about many other areas in which they have not examined their privilege. For myself, the Gospel writ large is a much more interesting conversation than the much smaller debate about sexual morality; however, as someone who is theologically convicted that faithful queer relationships are part of God’s provision for joy and goodness in the world, I need to “always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of” someone who proclaims God’s good news, and “carry out [my] ministry fully.”
I know that I often fail, and I often feel an unfair level of scrutiny from those who do not agree with me. But I remember something my hero Peter Gomes said when the voices in his world said that he couldn’t be Black, gay, and Christian: “I offer my life as evidence to the contrary.” I would like to think that we queer Christians will be able to offer something serious and joyful to the Church and the world about the Good News we share: Messiah Jesus will put right everything and everyone, the living and the dead.
Revised Common Lectionary Reading: Daniel 9:1-14.
Sometimes, our repentance has more impact than we know. As I read the passage in Daniel, I remembered three things.
- Repentance is not just a ‘spiritual’ action, if by spiritual we mean individualistic, apolitical, and totally subjective. Repentance (choosing God’s agenda over our own) happens not just in our daily lives but in much wider social contexts. Daniel mentions his own: “the first year of Darius…a Mede, who became king over the realm of the Chaldeans.” Most Israelites (at least if they are of the upper class) are not living on their home soil anymore, but under the thumb of a dangerous Empire. How is the people of God going to admit their complicity in the situation and nevertheless experience God’s forgiveness and compassion?
- Wise individuals have a role to play in representing the community before God, and also calling the community to repentance. Daniel was the one who discerned that it time for God to act, but he didn’t distance himself from his people, their trials, or their sins–even though they were under judgement. He gets on his face and uses “we” language over and over. What does this look and sound like in 2018? Where and who are the prophets and sages who intercede for the people of God and do not deny complicity in the messy injustices of our current political and church climates? As Cindy Jacobs, a pentecostal teacher, says, “Not all intercessors are prophets, but all prophets are intercessors.”
- Though it isn’t in the reading, according to the book of Daniel, the repentance of the people and God’s action of restoration are worked out in the context of what many Christians would call spiritual warfare. It is easy, in the West, to think that injustices and blessings are only systemic, and thus, in some sense, only human. But I don’t think this is what the Scriptures teach. There is a realm of agency surrounding the human and biological that Christian tradition calls the angelic–and not all angelic forces are on God’s side. In Daniel, it’s almost as though the angelic force of the next political regime in the region has an impact on what Daniel, Israel, and God are able to do now! (Of course, if Daniel was written in the era of Roman occupation, the point still remains that the negative angelic weight being brought to bear on the situation is immense and dangerous.) When we truly receive the call to repent, we will often find that forces we barely understand make it a long and difficult road. As retired pastor Eugene Peterson writes, repentance, especially in the face of political and angelic principalities and powers, is “a long obedience in the same direction,” — and the direction is the heart of God made known in and as Jesus by the power of the Spirit. Only a people committed to deep love of the Trinity, and all that entails, will have the wherewithal to do effective living in the midst of spiritual battle.