Tuesday, March 03, 2015

A Thought for Tuesday 3 March 2015

“Remember the Sabbath Day, and keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to The Lord your God.  You shall do no work – you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.  For in six days The Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in the them, but rested the seventh day.  Therefore The Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.”  Exodus 20:8-11 NRSV

We have become a Sabbath-less nation; indeed we have become a Church that defies the Sabbath.  It occurs to me, however, that it is not strictly about defying a direct and specific commandment of The Lord. What reaches deeper is that we deliberately decline a profound gift.  Yet what we may call a Sabbath for ourselves such as in going out to eat, going to an amusement park, or doing any other thing that compels others to work, we deny them this extraordinary gift even the “livestock” are entitled to!

Some have said Sabbath will not mean the same from one to the other, while others might suggest the Sabbath does not necessarily have to be on a particular day.  The Word, however, does not allow this ambiguity and, in fact, goes a little deeper when Moses again emphasizes the deeper meaning of what Sabbath is about: “The Israelites shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.  It is a sign forever between Me and the people of Israel …” (Exodus 31:16-17)

In other words, it is not only the means by which we are permitted (commanded) to distance ourselves from the secular world; it is entirely about reconnecting to the Divine and Eternal world which is to come.  We are to “remember” the Sabbath, “keep” the Sabbath, and “observe” the Sabbath not only as a day of rest but also as the “perpetual covenant”; that is, we carve out an entire day to remember who we truly are “forever”.

Those six days are what we do, but the Sabbath Day reminds us of something much bigger and which goes much deeper: we are connecting not only to The Eternal One, we are also staying connected to our Eternity!  And we know too well how easily we forget.  This is why we are commanded to “remember”, then “keep”, and then “observe” in the way we order our lives on that day. 

Only when we practice this absolute commandment can we ever come to fully appreciate the Gift that is within.  It is not something to be taken lightly, for “whoever does any work on it shall be cut off from among the people” (Exodus 31:14).  And lest we forget, Jesus came “not to do away with The Law but to fulfill it” (Matthew 5:17) – to show us how to honor and observe and rejoice in what we’ve been given: the only real way we be constantly mindful of who we truly are beyond the grave!

Honor The Lord by “remembering”, “keeping”, and “observing” all that has been handed down to us by our faithful ancestors.  It meant enough to them to do all possible to help us to remember and to stay connected.  Like all commandments, it is more than an “order”; it is a Gift meant to be used and shared.  When we learn to use it properly, we will learn to share it generously.

Blessings,

Michael

Monday, March 02, 2015

A Thought for Monday 2 March 2015

The works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like … those who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God … those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”  Galatians 5:19-23a; 24 NKJV

In last night’s study of Joshua, we encountered the battle of Jericho.  The city and much of what was in the city was “devoted to destruction” (6:18).  The people of Israel were warned to leave those things “devoted to destruction” alone, tempting and harmless though they may seem.  One man, however, was so tempted; and having taken some of those things “devoted to destruction”, he became himself “devoted to destruction” because these forbidden things were in his possession.

So the question was posed: what are things in our lives “devoted to destruction”, yet we embrace without a thought or believe them to be harmless?  Those things we hold on to for any number of reasons and have taken for granted for so long that we hardly notice these things and their potential for spiritual destruction?  I dare say there may be more in our lives than we probably realize, and little has to do with ‘stuff’ though there is that as well.

When The Lord returns, that which is “devoted to destruction” will be finally and completely destroyed.  So we are compelled, especially in the discipline that is the season of Lent, to evaluate every facet of our lives, our homes, our being to determine what we embrace that is clearly “devoted to destruction”, and those practices or things that by our own doing lead us to destruction.  Of St. Paul’s list, little of it has to do with ‘stuff’.  It has more to do with attributes, or “works”, of the flesh; the things we do with hardly a thought.  Yet “those who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God”!  (Do you notice St. Paul does not mention “chocolate” at all??  Nor does he offer excuses or exceptions to those who claim to be “saved”.)

We must not make light of spiritual practices and put forth no effort to learn more about ourselves and our devotion to The Lord (or lack thereof).  Giving up chocolate or other such innocuous things for Lent means we do not take the spiritual practices seriously, and we fool only ourselves.  Those things that directly contribute to our spiritual destruction or those things that have potential to lead us and our children away from The Lord are those things which much be seriously evaluated and, if necessary, intentionally destroyed.  .

So what in our lives is already “devoted to destruction”?  Those things we must get rid of before The Lord gets rid of those things – and those who embrace them? 

Sorry to be a little heavy, but sometimes we make too much light of things that must be taken more seriously; and a life of faith is no joke nor a walk in the park with no thought and no effort and with only fairies and magic dust; and sin is no punch line.  Marriages fall apart every single day because one spouse took the other for granted for too long.  Why would we think the marriage between the Bridegroom (Christ) and the Bride (the Church) would be no different by serial neglect?

We must not redefine love in a vain effort to accommodate those things that clearly drive a wedge between us and our devotion to The Lord and to one another through the Church, and we must finally and completely reject the “bumper sticker theology” that has no biblical merit but makes us feel good about ourselves!  You want people to stop laughing at Christianity?  We must stop playing ourselves as fools and jesters to be laughed at.

And that is the plain truth.


Michael

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Thy Kingdom come ...

Genesis 17:1-7
Mark 8:31-38

“Do not pray like the hypocrites, but rather as the Lord commanded in the gospel: ‘Our Father in heaven, holy be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us enough bread day-by-day. And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. Do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one’.  Pray this three times each day.”  Didache 8:2-3 (2nd century)

Question: when we pray, ‘Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as in heaven’, are we really asking anything at all, or are we merely reciting the prayer because Jesus said to?  And only during worship (once per week) as opposed to the recommended three times daily as the early Church taught?

Of course this recommendation of the apostles was not simply for the sake of saying the Prayer.  They were encouraging the faithful to remember the essential components of the Prayer as well as to make the Prayer an essential part of discipleship, to help us to be mindful of the things of The Lord, to stay connected to Jesus, the Living Word.  This means we are not only required to recite the Prayer itself as Jesus commanded; we are to understand it and embrace it as our own desire.  To believe in its substance, however, is not coming to believe prayer solves our personal problems.  If we believe this, we miss the entire point of praying at all.

“In Gethsemane the holiest of all petitioners prayed three times that a certain cup might pass from Him. It did not.”  C.S. Lewis

Understanding that in the end Jesus fully understood and trusted that even that prayer in that moment would not yield personally pleasing results, means we can understand that a genuine yearning for The Lord’s will to be done – regardless of how we will be personally affected - will yield greater results than we can possible imagine.  That, dear friends, is the substance of real prayer.  It is the very heart of The Lord’s Prayer.

When we face death – and we always do – we will eventually succumb to the sorrow that accompanies death and the loss of a loved one even if we saw it coming.  Sometimes we are ok to attribute that death to Divine Will rather than to nature or to an accident or illness, but often doing so puts more blame than credit on the shoulders of the Most High.  Death seems so cruel; but following a long illness, death can seem merciful, welcome, the Final End of a long and tiring journey.

But where was The Lord in the ordeal?  Did He will the undue suffering and anguish?  Did He will the child to suffer leukemia before that child’s life even really began?  Did The Lord will that the drunk driver would cross that center line on that particular night on that particular stretch of road when someone was killed?  Was it The Lord’s will that the twenty-one Coptic Christians lose their lives so mercilessly and horrifically at the hands of cruel barbarians whose only intent is to terrorize others? 

Whatever the cause or timing of death, we are often left with such questions for which there are no human answers; only speculation.  And when we wait until the final hours to ask such questions, we discover we miss so much more in the interim and are thus unprepared for those final hours, unprepared to face those tragedies, unprepared to face the reality that people – young AND old - die every single day … even those we love. 

We forget Divine Will is not strictly an end-of-life issue.  We forget that Divine Will is the substance of our daily living, our daily work, our daily struggle.  And I will suggest to you that if there is no struggle with Divine Will in our daily living, we are not seeking Divine Will at all.

That may sound unfair, but the truth is we struggle against ourselves, our own flesh, our own hearts and being and desires because what we want has nothing to do with Divine Will.  What The Lord may want from us is ok … as long as we don’t have to go to much trouble to seek The Lord’s will – OR - it does not interfere with our own plans.   

But ultimately, what is the Will of The Lord?  What does The Lord want from us?  To love Him because He loves us?  To strictly obey Him?   To do unto others …?  To just be a “good person”?

Many would say The Lord’s will is not going to be the same for you or for me, that The Lord wants different things from different persons according to one’s spiritual gifts.  Still others might suggest Divine Will cannot be so arbitrary; that what The Lord wants from one of us, The Lord wants from us all, because we are “branches of the same Vine” (John 15:5); we are The One Indivisible Body of Christ.  We as The Church are The Word Made Flesh in the world today.  If this much is true, then, it cannot be said The Lord wants different things from different persons to different ends because this would defy the unity of the Holy Church’s mission, the unity of the Holy Trinity.

Essentially it boils down to this: we as One Body are to make disciples of Christ, as Jesus Himself directed in His final moments on this earth.  More than this, we are to make disciples who are then equipped to make disciples themselves.  That is, there must be more than to simply invite someone to church.  They must be encouraged – and shown by example - to engage in worship AND in Bible study AND in fellowship – all essential components of discipleship.  These “potential” disciples must be led, encouraged, taught, and held accountable.

It’s a tall order, of course, but this is why we cannot allow this burden to fall on only a few shoulders.  Not one baptized soul is excused from this Holy Commission.  We can walk away, we can grant ourselves all kinds of excuses, but we do so at great spiritual risk and we fool only ourselves – and other fools! 

It is the charge, it is the privilege and the very Life of The Church to make disciples who are then able to make disciples themselves.  The next generation of discipleship is entirely on our shoulders, and everything we do must be toward this solitary end!  If we are not making disciples, we are not living in Christ.

Contrary to what many may suggest or demand, Divine Will is not a moving target nor is The Lord’s Will so arbitrary as to be only individually defined.  The reason we find Divine Will so difficult to understand is that we do not earnestly seek Divine Will; not really.  We want our own will to be done, and we want – we expect - The Lord to bless our chosen endeavors.  

Or maybe it is we don’t truly seek The Lord’s Will in our lives because we are more in tune with that old saying, “Be careful what you ask for” … you may find yourself a kidnapped Methodist missionary in Nigeria (Phyllis Sorter).  I submit, however, that the truth is we do not seek Divine Will because we do not care about His Will more than we care about our own lives.

We have made faith and faithfulness completely one-dimensional, and in this we have rendered prayer as strictly self-serving.  If we pray at all, it is in order to feel better about ourselves, but it is doubtful we pray solely to seek The Lord’s will.  If we did, churches and Sunday school classes would not be half or completely empty.  Marriages would not be failing, children would not be left to fend for themselves spiritually, abortion would not be considered a “right” but would be known as the scourge and curse on this nation it truly is, and the elderly would not be left to wallow in their loneliness. 

The discipline of Lent – and the context of The Lord’s Prayer – compels us to look closer and to go deeper than we ever have before, far beyond merely giving up chocolate for Lent.  The early Church took the apostles’ teachings very seriously (Acts 2:42) as the early Church grew by the thousands.  One writer recently observed that the reason the modern Church has no real power to transform lives is because we don’t try; and we don’t try because we are entirely disconnected from the discipline and the power of the early Church, the Church that was not so far removed from the Life of Christ and seemed to take nothing for granted. 

Let this become our reality.   Let our blinded eyes and self-serving hearts not continue to be our curse.  Let this disconnect we allow not be our death.  For we are called to Life everlasting – and real meaning and purpose in the life we face and share today.


Glory to You, Lord Jesus Christ; King of endless glory!  Reveal to us the Way and the Will of the Eternal Father as we are gathered, and as we pray, in Your Most Holy Name.  Amen.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Thought for Thursday 26 February 2015

“You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.  You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am The Lord.”  Leviticus 19:17-18 NRSV

Before Jesus defined our “neighbor” by raising the bar substantially to include anyone in distress whom we are in a position to help (Luke 10:25-37), Moses had decreed to the people of Israel that each person is responsible for, and accountable to, the other according to what The Lord had revealed to him.  That is, while there is certainly a personal component to our relationship with The Lord, that relationship falls flat if we do not allow our love for The Lord to manifest itself outwardly.  Indeed, “He who says, ‘I know Him’ and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4).

So how are we to answer the contemporary notion that the Commandments of The Lord have no meaning for New Testament or “saved” Christians?  How is being obedient and faithful to the One who “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:9) somehow being “legalistic”?  How can we say turning a blind eye to the despair many experience is ok as long as we’re “personally saved”?  “We deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

When we question the usefulness of The Law, we question the very Word itself which was manifested in Christ Himself.  And when we dismiss the usefulness of The Law in our daily living, we dismiss the doctrinal and covenantal reality that we are Christ in the world today; the Living Word in all its glory and in the full Light of Christ in a world filled with darkness!

We must not worry ourselves about whether we “have to” do this or that.  Rather we must acknowledge this certain reality: the Word means nothing if that Word is left in the Book itself.  The Word is not a list of things we must do or “shalt not” do; the Word is who we become when we are baptized into the Covenant and strive toward perfection, becoming sanctified in the Word.  “Each person is imbued with the divine spirit of The Word; the words we speak and the actions we undertake are all manifestations of the Word, commandments in motion” (Dr. Eitan Fishbane).

“Do not be deceived; The Lord is not mocked.  Whatever one sows, that will one reap” (Galatians 6:7) … and the Word we are entrusted with becomes, by our own actions or lack of faithfulness, meaningless … not only to ourselves but also to those we are called to bless and to bear witness to.

We have a lot of living to do between now and the time of our death; so let us live fully and faithfully!  Not in the darkness of despair and the lies we create for ourselves, but in the full Light of Christ who beckons us to live fully and faithfully!  For He is the Law and the prophets fulfilled – so must we be.

Blessings,

Michael

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Thought for Tuesday 24 February 2015

“What shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh?  For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before The Lord.  For what does the Scripture say?  ‘Abraham believed The Lord, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’  To him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.”  Romans 4:1-4 NKJV

What can we suppose to have happened had Abraham only “believed” The Lord but did nothing?  Sometimes we make too much of “works” as if doing for The Lord in response to The Lord’s mercy somehow brings a curse.  Or the “works” we do through and in the Church can somehow be perceived as a futile effort to gain Divine favor. 

To be sure, The Lord cannot be bought nor can The Lord be impressed by the “works” we may choose to do only to justify ourselves as a “good person”.  However, the gift of Life requires much more than an intellectual acknowledgment – as to simply “believe” something.  Trust is the issue, and a solid response is required.  Abraham was already long gone from his homeland before this moment St. Paul quotes from (Genesis 15).  The Lord issued a proclamation to Abraham and, yes, an order; and Abraham responded in faith by leaving behind everything he had become accustomed to and comfortable with.  Not being exactly sure what was in store for him, Abraham nevertheless packed up and ventured out in faith.  It can be easily said Abraham clearly “believed” The Lord, but that belief manifested itself in something more tangible than simply believing.

We must not get so caught up in a false or misleading notion of “works” to the point that nothing ever gets done.  The very foundation of our faith is through Abraham’s willingness to follow The Lord wherever The Lord would lead him; “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1).  Abraham did not simply “believe”; Abraham trusted The Lord.  There is a profound difference.

Pray we may learn the difference before The Church disappears altogether from the spiritual wasteland our country seems to have become.  The Lord is counting on His people to trust Him enough to follow Him.  Do we?  Shall we?  Indeed we must.

Blessings,

Michael

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Getting ready for Lent 2015

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent.  It is a time of prayer, fasting, reflection, and repentance.  We are called to consider the past year, our service to the Church, and the testimony (and perhaps the strength) of our faith.  Like Advent which precedes Christmas, Lent does not allow us to simply count down the days until Easter.  That is, the practices and the life of a disciple cannot be defined by a limited number of days as if we can end them when we tire of these practices.

Lent commands our attention and demands more from us than we are often willing to give.  And because we often give so little to the opportunity presented, we derive very little spiritual satisfaction from it.  It is just a season, a spot on the Christian calendar – all because we are willfully short-sighted.  We know Messiah is already risen – so the Holy Day of Easter seems … redundant.  In actual practice, it is just a “thing” we do only once a year.

The Sermon on the Mount from Matthew’s Gospel is important for us as we prepare for the Season because Jesus is not merely recommending things we ought to do.  Rather He presumes the practices already to be a significant part of the life of the faithful; that is, if we are actually “faith-filled”.  Fasting and prayer are not strictly New Testament ideas.

When you are praying”, our Lord says (6:7).  Not “if”.  As John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, once observed, if Jesus as The Word Made Flesh, The Almighty Himself Incarnate, speaks, His words have the force of “commandment”, as sure and as certain as “You shall not kill”.  As when Jesus, during the Last Supper, “commanded” His disciples to “do this and remember Me”, the words spoken by our Lord not only assess our commitment to Him but they also challenge us to reach beyond ourselves.  As one preacher once said, “Get over yourself; it ain’t about you!”

And “when you fast” (6:16).  That is, “when” we deny ourselves one thing for something greater.  This is the BIG ONE because we have likely spent the last 2000 years trying to figure out exactly how much we need to give up – and for how long.  Many give up sweets or chocolate or tobacco or TV – but ONLY for the 40-day period and ONLY for as long as it is not too uncomfortable.  The commitment to something greater is lacking because we also give up these innocuous things strictly for self-improvement rather than spiritual enlightenment or fulfillment. 

Still, these can be a good start, but simply giving something up only for a finite period misses the point of the season devoted to genuine spiritual reflection.  Is chocolate getting in the way of our devotion to our Lord as it may get in the way of us seeing our toes?  Are sweets preventing us from spending more time in The Word?  Does TV prevent us from attending worship?  Does tobacco deny our needed time in fellowship with other Christians?  Do these things – or any other thing – inhibit our life as disciples in any way?

These are the questions we must ask ourselves, for this is what the season of Lent to be entirely about.  It is not simply a “test” to see if we are willing to give up a “thing”; it is a practice and a discipline that calls us into something much greater.  We will never know what “greater” thing there can be, however, if we never take part.

Divine Mercy (as “grace”) has come to be a marketable product that can be packaged and sold with clever advertising that promises something for nothing.  It pleases the senses in the false promise that we do not have to do anything or give up anything for spiritual gain. 

Mercy that cleanses, however, Mercy that purifies often by “fire”, Mercy that is never comfortable but is always comforting is not so easy – and not at all marketable.

For, you see, we cannot package “mercy”.  It can never be “new and improved” although genuine Mercy from the very heart of our Holy Father will seem new to us if we are willing to draw so near, if we are willing to get rid of the excess baggage we’ve taken on for the sake of “personal comfort” or in trying to live the “good life” or to claim our share of the so-called “American Dream” which has become, for too many, a nightmare when trying to “keep up with the Jones’”.

Lent is hard.  Pure and simple, if Lent is practiced for all it can actually do for the Holy Church, regardless of denomination, if we are mindful of our genuine need for Christ and our own part in the Life of the Church which is the Body of Christ, Lent will be the single, most difficult thing we will ever do.  And here’s the real challenge to it: it will not end on Easter!

So Jesus is not merely commanding us in such a way as to see whether or not we are serious as disciples.  Rather these means of grace are offered to us as Gifts; sacramental moments when we are truly and fully touched from Above and from deep within. 

Like a parent who knows what is best for our children, Our Lord is seeing to our well-being by requiring of us to “take a nap”, to “go into your room and shut the door” from the noise of a world that draws us away from – rather than toward – our very Source of Life.  And like a child who must eat vegetables instead of sweets, a child who must be denied some things that will do more harm than good, we are those very children whose well-being is sought after.

Regardless of your denominational tradition, let the season of Lent be for you all it is intended to be.  Do not be misled by those who insist such practices are no longer necessary or are “made up” by the Church as “works”.  Rather the Church as the Body of Christ takes up the very practices our Savior took up for Himself and for those who dare to follow Him to the Resurrection! 


Prepare to be blessed, dear friends, but do not believe it will “just happen” in a void.  Know that it will be given to those who prove their trustworthiness, their faithfulness, those who truly love The Lord our God.  Amen.

A Thought for Tuesday 17 February 2015

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’.  But I say to you, Love you enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in Heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.  For if you love only those who love you, what reward do you have?”  Matthew 5:43-46 NRSV

I must admit I have been tossing this portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount around in my head since the latest ISIS video came out showing the beheading of Coptic Christians.  I was extremely disturbed at the video released earlier showing the captured Jordanian pilot being burned alive while trapped in a cage, and I have seen other videos of the mass beheadings of so many others.  Maybe I am a glutton for punishment, but I simply cannot wrap my mind around such brutality.  Even in my former life I could easily hate someone with a red-hot passion, but I never experienced such a level of hatred that I could even imagine physically brutalizing someone so mercilessly.

We are dealing with an enemy that has changed all the rules of warfare (as if war itself can somehow be humane or civilized).  In order for these terrorists to be successful, they need to horrify and thus attempt to weaken the resolve of those who would oppose them.  “Terrorism” counts on such horror because they know it often works.  Many would much rather attempt to appease such men than to risk the possibility of a loved one falling into their hands.

The fact remains, however, that these people cannot be appeased – frankly, I’m not even sure they wish to be appeased.  Peace cannot be negotiated because it does not seem to be peace terrorists are seeking.  In fact it seems the only thing they will be satisfied with is if the western powers leave the Middle East entirely so they can obliterate Israel (or so they think).  

They are clearly “enemies”, and they are perfectly happy in that role.  So how do we deal with someone who does not incidentally fall into the role of “enemy” but rather seems to take some perverse pleasure in their purposeful and brutal treatment of their own “enemies”? 

The people of Israel were dealing with a rather brutal enemy during the time of Jesus.  The Roman Empire often dealt harshly with them as a means to control the masses, so it would seem Jesus was speaking within this context.  “Do not resist an evildoer” (vs 39). 

And this, I think, is where we find out where our allegiances are.  If we demand an “eye for an eye”, what are we really seeking; revenge or justice?  This is important for the faithful to discern because the “eye for an eye” is, in fact, written in The Law (Exodus 21:24); but it has nothing to do with vengeance.  It is part of an evolving legal system in which it is required that the punishment must fit the crime.  Those who would impose a sentence must be as impartial as they can possibly be.  Those who would hand down a sentence must contain their passion, and those who have been harmed must allow the legal system to work as it can.

So “eye for an eye” is a legitimate requirement within the Law, and Jesus is not dismissing the Law!  He is speaking to something that goes much deeper, for we are also reminded (assured?) that “Vengeance is Mine, says The Lord; I will repay!”  (Deuteronomy 32:35)

The bottom line is, in a word, trust.  Do we trust The Lord?  Do we believe He “will repay”?  Or do we somehow believe we can see something or know something The Lord does not know or cannot see?  For faith (which is profound trust) requires much more than to simply believe we will be “saved” on the Last Day.  Faith demands our unqualified trust in the Word of The Lord in our daily living.  Jesus never said it would be easy! 

But those who live by their own brutal treatment of their fellow human beings will be judged.  This we must trust; this we must believe in, for it is also written, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword”.  This applies to everyone, including those who would seek vengeance and not true justice.

None of this is to suggest our own government must “turn the other cheek”, for a legitimate government “wields the sword” for a Divine purpose: to keep order and to protect those who cannot protect themselves.  Yet come what may, Jesus challenges us to trust Him regardless of how things may play out. 

Do we?

Blessings,

Michael

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Lord's Prayer, Part 2: The Holy Name

Exodus 3:13-15
Exodus 20:1-7
Luke 11:1-8

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say, The Lord … has sent me to you’.  This is My Name forever, and this My title for all generations.”  Exodus 3:15

Language is everything.  Lack of effective communication has led to more conspiracy theories and misunderstandings than anything else I can think of.  The secret nature of the Masons and the Scientologists, for instance, means we are left to guess exactly what it is they actually do or believe, and most of what we read about these organizations is not favorable.  I’m not comparing Masons to Scientologists, by the way!  That is not the point.

It seems if we do not know what we think we need to know, we’ll often just make something up based on what few tidbits of information we may have without going to any real trouble.  Before we can hang our hats, a full – and very often untrue – story has evolved.  Because it satisfies our curiosity, makes any sort of sense, or belittles and slanders someone we don’t like or something we don’t understand, we leave it standing.  The matter is settled.

But not really.  It is what we do not know that more often causes problems – especially in the Church and in the Holy Scriptures – regarding the Holy Name.  Ancient Hebrew did not have vowels, so the actual pronunciation of The Lord’s personal Name – if there is one - is not known.  The Name was not used maybe because other designations such as “the God of our fathers”, “the God of all creation”, or “the God of our redemption” were – and still should be – used to understand our very being as contingent upon The Lord’s very being, the essence of His Nature, the fullness of Himself.  That is, if there is no Creator God, there is no creation. If there is no God of our redemption, there is no redemption.  Everything about us stems from Him, and none of it has to do with a simple “name”.

I am often left wondering what the original languages reference to in place of simply “God”, if there is some language commonality by which translators and interpreters have “settled” for the easiest and most convenient term rather than to acknowledge, understand, and properly convey this immutable fact: we do not know The Lord’s name as we know “Billy’s” or “Sally’s” name – AND – it may even be better for us not to know. 

We also live in a time in which “Father” and “Lord” and “King” have been largely dismissed by too many only because of the uniquely masculine reference.  So to be politically correct, to strive for full inclusion, and in deference to those who perhaps had an unhappy childhood at the hands of a brutal and sadistic father, we are encouraged (if not outright required, as at some seminaries) to simply go “God”.  After all, it is a very general term by which everyone knows and understands whom we are talking about – AND - without “offending” anyone.  Right?

Not so fast.

I submit if “God” has become so “general” a term we’ve simply settled for, then something has gone wrong and we have rendered a “name” (which actually is not a name) - referring to the Holy One - as common as dirt.  It is little wonder that even in the Church, The Name does not evoke reverence.  “God” has become a word as common and as misunderstood (and perhaps as misapplied) as “grace” (which has come to mean “excused”) or “love” (which is better understood as a “good feeling” about something or someone as long as they suit us). 

The “name” we have designated for the Creator has no impact and virtually no real meaning.  It should therefore be no surprise to us that those who are outside of the Church have no more respect or reverence for the Holy Name than we of the Church who consider ourselves “children” of the Most High – and yet are afraid or ashamed to call Him “Father”.

In Hebrew and throughout much of the Tanakh (First Testament), the common designation for The Name are the Hebrew letters “YHVH” which the English language had rendered “YHWH” and reduced to “Yahweh” (or Jehovah).  This designation comes from Exodus 3 in which The Lord makes Himself known to Moses.  We read “I Am Who I Am”. 

In Judaism, then, “YHVH” is rendered as “Hashem” (The Name which is ineffable {too magnificent for human comprehension} and unutterable {not only without a proper known pronunciation – perhaps for good reason! - but also not to be spoken carelessly or casually}).  That is, the Holy Name should be treated with the utmost respect – even there is “just a name”. 

Moses was left with, “The Lord … has sent you; this is My Name forever, and My title for all generations” (Exodus 3:15).  The Lord is “the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob” … that is, THE God of the Covenant, The Big Boss, His “title”, but we are not told His name is simply “God”.

We must also not overlook the essence of the first few Commandments which deal exclusively with Israel’s and the Church’s relationship to The Lord, not least of which is the prohibition against making “wrongful use of the Name of The Lord your God” (Exodus 20:7a).  And although it is not generally thought to be so, it is interesting that the language in the rest of the passage comes as close to identifying the “unpardonable sin” as anything else: “The Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses His Name” (Exodus 20:7b).  The sin of “wrongful use” of The Holy Name is not strictly the vulgar word we know too well, or “OMG”.  Using The Holy Name to justify our own personal actions and self-serving choices that clearly violate biblical precepts are examples of “wrongful use”.  The Bible defines such as “blasphemy”.

So Jesus teaches us to first address the Holy Father not by any designated “name” (as if The Lord will not know we are talking to Him) but by a title which offers to us the assurance of His relationship to us (“our Father”).  We acknowledge His “place above all places” (Heaven), and then we are reminded of the reverence due The Holy Name by its “hallowed” nature; holy, sacred, sanctified, honored, divine, ineffable – in other words, above and beyond human comprehension – but, in a word, “wonderful” ... not common at all. 

Jesus teaches us, encourages us, invites us to come to “our Father” with and in this Prayer, this remarkable Gift our Savior has entrusted to the Church – not strictly to be memorized and merely recited as part of the worship liturgy, but to be “internalized” so as to become as much a part of our being as disciples of Christ as our lungs and our hearts – that which is intended and designed to keep us alive!

Old habits die hard, of course, and this old habit of simply “God” should be seriously reconsidered.  I am not going to suggest to you that saying “God” in our prayers is sinful or disrespectful; rather I am going to submit to you that any form by which we choose to refer to or address The Almighty must be with all due respect and reverence.  For I will also submit that it is our very lack of reverence and respect that is at the core of the contemporary Church’s problems – not lack of advertising nor lack of proper “family values”.


Let us through our prayers and worship and devotions rediscover the wonder of The Holy Name, for the essence of Our Father cannot – must not - be contained in a single word.  And for this we may be eternally thankful.  Amen.