Sunday, May 29, 2011

Proof in the Pudding

John 14:15-21

Tragedies we face each day are the chaos of the fallen world we live in. Whether we are talking about the natural order which includes tornados and hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis, or the evil disorder in which lawlessness reigns supreme and survival of the fittest and looking out for #1 seems to be the order of the day; we are faced with these realities day in and day out. And as we are faced with these realities, we are also faced with decisions. We are compelled to respond. We must acknowledge what is happening because it is real enough, but we must decide each and every day what the Lord calls us to and how we will respond because, contrary to what some may believe, "the" decision we made upon our Confirmation into the Faith does not automatically or mindlessly drive what we do from that moment forward. We have to make mindful, willful decisions every single day.

A life of faith is not merely based on one decision we make to call the Lord our Savior but is based on many subsequent decisions whether or not to continue following the Great Shepherd. A life of faith is informed and transformed on a continuing basis by the decisions we make each day by our active engagement within the foundation of that faith. It is especially important because people are watching Christians; they notice what we do and say. We are under the social microscope perhaps like no other time since the very early days of the Church when it was all new and folks were wondering what the Church was all about. The same questions are being asked today, but the questions seem to be much more cynical and accusatory than inquisitive.

In the early days the Church was in direct conflict with the dominant religion - and culture - of the day. Today the Church is still inherently in direct conflict with the dominant culture - which has become a religion unto itself - but this dominant culture seems to be insisting that Christianity "get with the program". Christians and the Church are accused of being hopelessly out of touch with the contemporary reality (and this is one of the nicer accusations!), and the many churches seem to be scrambling to find a place within this dominant culture and its hedonist religion. Once the dominant culture begins to awaken to the fact that the Church in its desperation to be "culturally relevant" is finally on the ropes, the Church is no longer a voice of conscience. It can't be; and by conceding its principle tenets in a vain effort to "get along", the Church also surrenders its moral authority. Thus everything becomes socially and morally relative. When that happens, the Church becomes irrelevant altogether. And when the Church is irrelevant, so too is the Christ.

When Jesus speaks to His disciples about His commandments and the disciples' need to adhere to these commandments, He is not merely testing them to discover whether or not they "love" Him and will continue to love Him by their obedience. He is rather speaking in much broader terms as in how the Church as the Body of Christ will be identified by the dominant culture and focused in her mission within that culture. In such a statement Jesus is making it very clear that the Lord's commandments and our faithful adherence to these commandments will be the mark and measure of how we will be received - or rejected - by the dominant culture. This is the daily dilemma Christians face.

In faithful adherence to the principle tenets of faith in Christ, which is obedience to His commandments, we will then - and perhaps only then - be empowered by "The Advocate", the Holy Spirit of the Lord, who will lead us and guide us through this minefield we call "civilized society". It is this very same Advocate who will pick us up when we fall and will steady us when we falter. And make no mistake ... it will happen - often - because we are continually faced with the certain reality that we must choose each day Whom - or what - we will serve; ourselves or our Lord. And yes, they are in fact mutually exclusive because Jesus makes it clear that the "world cannot receive [the Advocate] because it neither sees Him nor knows Him"(John 14:17a). In other words, everything the world will come to know about Christ and His Church will not gel with the dominant culture.

It is a well-known adage that those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat history. We can clearly see the constant degradation of our society and we can clearly read of Israel's downward spiral after they took possession of the Promised Land after they - like we - got a little too "fat and happy" and full of themselves. The Lord had clearly spelled out for them that the dominant religion and culture that existed was to be obliterated and all remnants destroyed lest the people of Israel be tempted. The ultimate proof of their failure to adhere to the tenets of faith in Israel's God was the Exile, when they were finally driven from the Land the Lord had destined them to take possession of. They had proved to the Lord that they could not be trusted.

It is painful to see what is happening today within the context of what happened to ancient Israel because there seems to be a dangerous arrogance which refuses to believe that what happened to Israel can happen here. Yet the parallels are strikingly similar. The Church herself is becoming more and more politically active and, by that same token, less and less relevant. The Church - the Body of Christ - has been reduced to a Political Action Committee, just another group of people trying to get the ear of the Congress. We as the Church are no longer a moral or spiritual force to be reckoned with.

So when people begin to see the Church only in a political context and they see Christians pursuing a political agenda - regardless of the nature of that agenda - how can they see the Lord in our lives? How can they tell the difference between a generous "Uncle Sam" and a benevolent and gracious Holy God? Where is the "proof" unbelievers need to see that we absolutely, unequivocally, unapologetically trust our Holy Father? Where is the "proof" unbelievers need to see that the Lord God of all creation "so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son"?

Many suggest the Church of yesterday can no longer speak to social concerns, but I say to you this day that the Church of "yesterday" - IS - NOT - YOU! YOU and I are the Church TODAY, right here and right now. Whether we will still be the Body of Christ tomorrow remains to be seen and is entirely dependent on the decisions we will make from this moment forward! So we must choose to proclaim today and each day that "the Lord is [the Church's] Shepherd and that we are want for nothing". Let us sit at the Table and share the Banquet He has prepared for His own - by His Flesh and by His Blood.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Many among One

“As the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free – and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many.” - 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 NKJV

Everyone has an agenda. This is not ground-breaking news nor is it a derogatory statement. The simple fact is we all have a different way of believing and a different way of expression. While these attributes are influenced by our backgrounds, we should acknowledge that these attributes are also manifestations of the various spiritual gifts with which we have all been endowed. We are different because the Lord needs us to be different. The Body of Christ – the Holy Church – needs us to be different. But we must never allow these differences to become the means by which we cause divisions and create “cliques” among the One; that is, the singular Body of Christ, for it is by these divisions that the spiritually weak among us – particularly those who struggle with faith and Christian fellowship – are harmed or outright neglected. If we pursue our own personal agendas at the expense of others the unity of the Church falters, the mission of the Church becomes distorted, and the ministries of the Body of Christ fall flat. In other words, we become more and more like the secular world chasing its own tail for its own sake and its own pleasure; anarchy in which only the strong survive.

Christ came to us to strengthen the weak among us. He came to restore, not destroy. And when His time on this earth was up, He commissioned His Holy Church to carry on His work until the Day comes when the world as we know it is no more. Maybe this is the essence of so-called “rapture theology” that has been in the news lately. Maybe this is what doomsdays prophets have always tried to tell us: that it will be the Church – all the faithful who gather and work and worship as One – who will be raised up on the Last Day, not a bunch of individuals seeking their own.

May we be mindful that we are only “one” among many, but there is only One whose agenda must prevail. And may we pray to be the instruments by which His Agenda – to reconcile all of humanity to the Holy God – is our singular pursuit.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The End is (still) Near

1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:6
Luke 17:31-36
Acts 1:7

The latest apocalyptic prediction has come and gone, and there are some dejected Christians somewhere in the USA wondering what went wrong. It really is very simple: we misunderstand the meaning of Scripture because we are inclined to read literally what we should understand theologically; that is, what connects humanity to the divine. And what I mean by this is that what we read in Holy Scripture can only be fully understood - especially given our human limitations - according to the words written on a page within an appropriate context. Often the theological implications get past us because we tend to apply what we read not to the whole Church Universal but only to our special and specific circumstances. We typically hear what we want to hear, and we typically believe what we have been oriented and taught to believe. Not insignificantly, we also tend to believe what we want to believe.

So there is (or was) a group of Christians willing to believe and follow one man to the ends of the earth to let it be known that according to this man's biblical (and perhaps mathematical) calculations, the Rapture was to have occurred May 21 at 6pm, and that 6pm was to have occurred not simultaneously but rather in each individual time zone. Now I am no biblical scholar and do not claim to know each and every syllable and nuance expressed in all the writings, but I do not recall that there is anything which comes close to suggesting that the Rapture - if that's what it is - will come in stages, specifically in this case at each hour in each time zone across the world. Such, however, is the limited mind of the human person regardless of the measure of one's faith. The trick is knowing where and when to jump off.

This man made a similar prediction back in 1994 but once that date had passed, he simply went back to the drawing board and apparently discovered a miscalculation. He stood by his initial claim, of course, because he also claims to have used similar biblical data to predict the 1948 emergence of the state of Israel. I've not seen his data or his calculations and have no concept of how he could have arrived at such conclusions - and I probably couldn't understand it if it were placed right in front of me, not if it involved algebra! - but there is that one troublesome spot of biblical knowledge I do have. Jesus said, and it is recorded more than once, that this time of certain prophecy is "not for you to know".

In that single yet profound statement is more than just a point of knowledge, however. I think perhaps Jesus is saying much more than just, "It's none of your business." There has to be more to it in order for it to mean something to us beyond mere words on a page, and the nuance or variation between what is written on a page and what is imparted by divine wisdom may be as broad as the difference between night and day. If Jesus is saying something, He is TEACHING something that cannot be overlooked. I think it is that teaching which got past this man and his crew who were willing to believe him so much so that they sold all they had and trekked around the country in their willingness to subject themselves to so much ridicule.

I admit I got caught up in the satire and sarcasm just as I have so often before whenever I encounter some doctrine that seems to have come from nowhere, but upon reflection I wonder if I have diminished what Jesus is teaching us by making fun of someone else's interpretation.

Though we are prohibited from passing judgment on others, we are equally charged with "testing the spirits" and judging what is being put forth by those who claim to be speaking on behalf of the Lord. It is a lot about what I offered in an earlier sermon as it pertains to our religious heritage. Just as we are forbidden to judge others, we are equally prohibited in making things up without at least an acknowledgment of our past. The Lord speaks plainly to Joshua in telling him that all he would need to know has already been revealed in Torah, the Law of Moses. Joshua was told in no uncertain terms that he was not to "turn to the left or to the right" (do not add to or take away from what has already been revealed). The Lord makes the same statement in the Revelation.

I do not know anyone personally who took this man's apocalyptic prediction seriously, and in all news accounts I am not aware of any others outside of his own circle who did believe him. What I do know is that even though a human's prediction based on his own scriptural interpretation was proved to be less than accurate, the Word of the Lord itself remains substantially intact. The Lord IS coming back. Exactly how He will return, whether Scripture can be taken literally, is anyone's guess. The matter and manner of His return is perhaps the ONLY thing we can quibble about because there are passages that describe His return.

It is not nearly as important HOW or WHEN He will return; only that He will; this is the theological implication. And those who will hear Him when He does return will be the "sheep" referred to in John 10, the ones who will recognize the Voice of the Shepherd and enter by the common Gate. And these will be the ones who have been listening all along the way, choosing not to stray from the Shepherd in search of greener pastures each to one's own pleasing and choosing.

But back to this person's prediction. It failed. He was wrong. Or was he? A Christian I am acquainted with commented that if this man had been correct, she would have preferred to have been left behind. It was then when I realized that our having made fun of this man perhaps went a little too far, not unlike his prediction. He was only wrong in timing and his theology is quite shaky in that he believes - or believed - there are "secret" clues or that Jesus was perhaps "wrong" in suggesting "no one is to know", but he is not incorrect in that the Day of the Lord will come and that this Day will be a day of great joy for the faithful! I never got any "gloom and doom" from his or his followers' nuances. They spread the word as eagerly as the apostles did in the early days of the Church. What does this say to us now?

I am not trying to vindicate this man - and I don't think I can - because he went too far in presenting himself as a (false) prophet with knowledge directly from the Lord which was in direct contradiction to what is written in Scripture. But there was a stark difference between his message of hope and deliverance and the messages spread by such persons as Terry Jones and Fred Phelps. They do not speak of eager anticipation except by their belief that some will be condemned. Their theology is more of a "believe it or else" because they both seem to take a very strange and perverse joy in the knowledge that some are destined for condemnation.

In the end, however, Jesus' message about the timing and whether we even need to know stands as a stark reminder of what we have been entrusted with, which is the Gospel. This is the Good News in which Christ invites all of humanity into an intimate relationship with the Holy Father. He came to reveal to us the reality of the Almighty who yearns for a relationship with His creation. And even though the Bible encourages us to work out our salvation with "fear and trembling", we are also called to so much more because it is not about saving one's own cheese. It is about bringing guests to the Heavenly Banquet when the Bridegroom returns for His Bride, the Holy Church. It's the Good Stuff, dear friends, for you and for me ... and for our unbelieving neighbors. To the Glory of the Holy God. Amen.

The Heritage

1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

I have always thought the murder of St. Stephen as recorded in Acts 7 to be rather troublesome for many reasons, not least of which is the authority by which he was killed. These were "righteous" men - or at least they thought themselves to be sufficiently pious - who believed in the Lord God and who believed in the Law of Moses and presumably the Ten Commandments, including the prohibition against "bearing false witness".

Yet we are told in the latter part of Acts 6 and leading into chapter 7 the stories of "setting up false witnesses" against Stephen (Acts 6:13). So this "righteous" council that presumed to be in charge of the spiritual well-being of the Lord's Chosen took deliberate steps to set up and murder an innocent man, an innocent man who was at one time one of their own. It bears a striking resemblance to the extraordinary measures taken not long before that led to the Crucifixion of the Christ.

In spite of the Church's phenomenal growth from those days until now, our religious heritage has been somewhat inconsistent because exactly what may define our common heritage is hard to pin down. The New Covenant is humanity's common link to the Holy Father and to one another, of course, but our common religious heritage existed long before even the time of Jesus because Jesus is not, nor did He ever claim to be, an "alternate" God. He also did not "come to do away with the Law". By all accounts He was an observant and devout Jew.

"Heritage" is best defined as something which is passed from generation to generation, something we inherit from our forebears with the intent and design to preserve it, protect it, and then pass it on ... intact. It is what we receive and embrace for ourselves and call our own presumably only after we have come to understand what has been passed on and entrusted to our care. A "passing of the torch" is absolutely necessary, in my humble opinion, because nothing I know of comes from absolutely nothing. Everything has a root, and this includes Christianity. And considering how Christianity has evolved over the course of some 2000 years and considering how we are more inclined to simply make something up more pleasing to ourselves than to observe something much more enduring, I think we will have to reach back more than 2000 years to reclaim whatever heritage we have lost or outright surrendered.

Though we can and must teach our children about our religious heritage and tell the stories as Moses required of the people of Israel so that the heritage would not be lost, there is one thing we cannot hand off to our children. It is the one intangible that can be spoken of and witnessed to, but it cannot be passed along. It is the one thing which sustained Stephen - and Jesus - in their final hours. This one thing is, of course, faith.

We can and must teach faith principles and we can and must witness to what we believe and, more importantly perhaps, why we believe it, but it is difficult to pass on because of what I had spoken of previously. We are all geared somewhat differently even if we come from the same genetic pool. We have different experiences and environments which mean we will approach the same topic but probably in very different ways.

When it comes to an intangible like faith - a belief in what cannot be seen, a hope in what is to come - we must understand that no one, not even our own children, can have our faith because they do not have our experiences. They must be taught to develop their own faith, to ask their own questions, for that is the enduring faith which will serve them well. Grandma's faith will fail them because it is not their own, but grandma's heritage will give children the grounding and the foundation they will need to build their faith upon.

It may sound like I am splitting hairs because it is commonly understood that responsible Christian parents are to teach their faith to the little ones, but our common heritage is much bigger than what may be strictly personal. It would explain why the many who are outside the Body of Christ would defend themselves and their separation from the Church by suggesting that while they are fully prepared to believe and trust the Lord, they are just not willing to believe or trust US!

Such a stance is highly significant because it speaks of the disconnect that is often so prevalent when we talk about faith because we rarely tell the stories; we speak only of our own, personal experiences and then expect others to believe US. We are expecting them to start at nothing and build from a foundation which, for them, does not exist. We tell them what WE think they should believe, and we typically do not allow any variations as attested to when we try to "correct" them by telling them how "wrong" they are. We do not teach others HOW to think through the stories because we have forgotten the stories ourselves, unlike Peter who is "telling the stories", passing the torch of the Jewish heritage to help his predominantly Jewish audience to make the connection between their parents' past and their own spiritual future.

Jesus does not disconnect Himself from the Holy Father. He does not ask for faith for His own sake. Rather He seems to suggest that since they presumably already know the Holy God, they should then be prepared to believe in what the Holy Father can and will do for the sake of His own people and His own glory. What they are hearing and currently experiencing is very troubling for them and for their futures because of what they had been taught, probably from childhood, to believe. They want to believe that the Almighty would actually do such a thing as to humble Himself to share in our imperfect humanity and subject Himself to the same temptations, but what they know about the Lord from the dominant pharisaic religion disallows the concept of an infinite and Holy God as becoming a finite and intimate Human person.

Yet Jesus is the Law, and Jesus is the prophets (Mt 5:17-18). Jesus is also "the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6), but I would venture to suggest that what Jesus is talking about goes far beyond Jesus the human Person. Indeed it must! I would suggest to you that the "Way", the "Truth", and the "Life" in Christ existed long before Jesus the Man. John's Gospel begins with the testimony that Jesus is the Word that "in the beginning ... was God", and Jesus attests in His prayer to the Holy Father that His love preceded "the foundation of the world" (John 17:24). So Jesus the Man was born of a mortal woman, but Christ the Word has no beginning and certainly no ending.

Our common heritage is not - and cannot - be strictly limited only to personal experiences. By its very nature, a "personal" experience is unique only to that particular person. Would you care to share in St. Stephen's "personal" experience and be beaten to death with rocks? As fair as a parent would strive to be with all the children, it is reasonable to know that each child as an individual must be dealt with according to what is unique to that particular child but within the same household, the same rules, the same philosophy, and yes, the same religion. And to also remember that "what is good for the goose ..."

Our heritage - as is our future - is infinity. Our lives in Christ are eternal. Our hope is informed by our faith, and our faith is imparted to us by the One who created us, the One who sustains us, the One who has invested thousands of years in running us down and telling us in no uncertain terms that we are not alone, we are not forgotten, and we are never to be forsaken. The certainty of these promises is the heritage in the stories we have been told so that we may tell others "The Truth".

Monday, May 16, 2011

Values Voters

It is hard to blame Newt Gingrich, the former US House speaker and current presidential candidate, for insisting that he should be judged by his current life rather than his former one. Who among us would care to be judged by our past? Yet we are mindful that judging someone based on his or her present or future is impossible without at least being mindful of their past. For good or bad our past has helped to shape our present and will inform our future, but our past also reveals certain tendencies and fundamental values. We can change, of course, and wisdom is defined by how we learn from our mistakes, but how do we prove to others that we have finally managed to get beyond our less-than-honorable past?

Politicians, especially wanna-be's, have this dilemma hanging over their heads. There are few among us who can stand up to the judgment of our past, and there are fewer still who would even want their past to be revealed - especially not publicly and certainly not nationally! When we get married and start having children, we create the ones who would ultimately be hurt by a shameful past. These are the ones who would be doggedly pursued by a hungry and relentless press because of a scandalous past they had nothing to do with. I would venture to say there are a lot of well-qualified candidates out there who, if not for their past, would run for public office AND would serve well and honorably. They are simply not willing to expose themselves so intimately to the entire world, and they are certainly not willing to subject their loved ones to such intense scrutiny. The price would simply be too high. In the end, the nation is the poorer.

Choosing a president, a senator, or a representative is a very big deal and as much as these candidates might like to insist on a "hand's off" approach as it pertains to their personal lives, it is just not to be. Because of what these candidates will potentially be entrusted with, we have to know about them. We have to know how they will conduct themselves, and we have to know they can be trusted. In my humble opinion, a candidate who insists there is a segment of his or her life that is off limits is automatically off the ballot of serious consideration for one reason and one reason alone: they are asking me to "hire" them.

In the "hiring" process no candidate should make the mistake of telling the hiring authority how the cow ate the cabbage. That alone is a good indication that there is a rather dangerous level of arrogance that will only be made worse with the authority of the office to which they would aspire. And when it comes to the necessity of cooperation, there won't be any except where it is self-serving. These candidates are being allowed to enter into a domain in which the authority they hope to attain is the authority they will be granted not because they have earned it but because we have allowed it. It is by the "consent of the governed" these are allowed to govern. So we need to know, and they must always be reminded.

Christians are mindful of the biblical reality of Jesus' rather stern warning: Judge not, lest you be judged by the same manner and with the same measure. In other words, Christians are cautioned not to judge adulterers too harshly lest we be reminded that "lustful" glances, according to this same Jesus, are equally incriminating. Ouch. How many can escape that one?? Even former president Jimmy Carter acknowledged the reality of that sin in his own life, but he also allowed that the Lord's grace helped him to get beyond it. Fair enough. The Lord is a Good Sport. Humans, on the other hand, are not so much.

What are the values we seek in a candidate? What is it we want? For the most part, I think we are persistently disappointed in our selections because we are persistently unrealistic in our demands and expectations. And because of our unrealistic expectations, we impose unrealistic demands on candidates. We forget that we are not electing spiritual leaders; we are choosing representatives regardless of whether they will serve in the state legislatures, the US House, the US Senate, or the White House. These representatives must necessarily reflect who we really are as a people rather than who we wish we were. Expecting more will guarantee failure and disappointment because we cannot impose restrictions we will refuse to be subjected to, and we cannot scrutinize in a manner we would refuse to submit to.

The key to being a successful candidate, I think, has more to do with being a genuine reflection of the population rather than a unrealistic ideal of what we think we should be because who we really are is, truthfully, good enough. We can and should aspire to greater heights, of course, and there is nothing wrong with reaching higher, but there is also nothing wrong with knowing our limits. The mistakes we make are good indicators of our limits. The same is true of those who would represent us.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Gate

Acts 2:42-47 Psalm 23 1 Peter 2:19-25 John 10:1-10

• The Bible means different things to different people
• The Bible means different things at different times to the same people
• The Bible is ancient literature written for an ancient people of an ancient time
• The Bible is hopelessly out of touch with today's reality

Each of these statements is substantially true just as each of these statements is substantially incomplete. We all bring something different to the table, and we all walk away from that same table with different opinions but with a common knowledge. It does not make one "right" and the other "wrong". It is just an acknowledgment of the certain reality that we are all geared a little differently just as we are all spiritually gifted differently. At a core level, however, we all have the same basic need: to be loved and accepted - AND - to know we are safe.

Some have endured hardships many cannot even begin to understand, but we try to pretend we do. We mean well by trying to pretend we can speak to such hardships. When we do this, however, we tend to dismiss the past experiences of others by glibly suggesting they need to "move on" or "get over it" because, after all, we did - even though we should admit (at least to ourselves) we do not share the very same experiences. Our greatest failure in trying to pretend, however, has little to do with the way we were raised or how rough we think our lives had been. Our greatest failure is, generally speaking, a profound lack of acknowledgment and ignorance of the so-called "cultural divide", that which defines our differences.

Missionaries have the toughest job. It is a mistake, however, to restrict such thinking only to those missionaries who venture into the deepest, darkest jungles to try and bring the Gospel to a people who had no previous knowledge of Christ. They go to such primitive cultures whose practices are so strange to us so as to be inconceivable. Very generally speaking, we believe "they" need to be more like us, "they" need to think like we do, and "they" need to believe and practice exactly as we do. BUT - we tend to forget that one does not always need to travel to another continent to find people and practices that are polar opposites to our ways of thinking, believing, and living. We can simply go across town - or even right across the street.

It never occurs to such well-meaning missionaries, both foreign AND domestic, that to insist that the subjects of our missionary work need to disavow their own culture, their ancestral practices, and their traditions is an insult of the worst kind and immediately throws up a virtually insurmountable barrier. It would be like someone coming to any one of us and trying to tell us that our parents or grandparents - whom we believe to have taught us well, whom we admire and respect - were really just ignorant and that they taught us "wrong". How many of us would stand for this? Immediately the "cultural divide" becomes the Grand Canyon!

The very reason why missionary work is so difficult and clearly not for everyone is that missionaries - in order to be successful - must necessarily learn the language, customs, courtesies, and practices - and dangers! - of a culture they choose to enter into. It can be spiritually dangerous to enter into a foreign culture, but it is necessary if those within that culture are going to be spoken to and ministered to - rather than spoken "at" and ministered "at".

A good analogy would be the work of a firefighter who would selflessly enter into a burning home to rescue someone. The firefighter would not stand outside the house and yell at those who are trapped inside in the vain hope that they would come to their senses in that moment of desperation and panic. Rather, the firefighter - having been adequately trained and properly equipped - assumes that those trapped inside are really trapped and will need to be led out, maybe even carried out.

The important element of such an analogy, however, is not just the selflessness of the firefighter who would disregard his or her own safety for the sake of someone else. The important element is the burning house. The firefighter cannot pretend the burning house does not exist and the firefighter cannot wish away the fire, but must work from within that dangerous reality in order to save those who are trapped inside.

In much the same way, the Shepherd does not only stand at the gate and call the sheep, though Jesus does say that "He calls His own by name"; but He also "leads them out" (vs 3), clearly indicating He first had to go in to them. After He has "brought them out" He "leads" the way, as St. Peter points out, by "leaving you an example so that you should follow in His footsteps" (1 Peter 2:21).

Modern religion, especially the many different and seemingly conflicting Christian denominations, is very hard to embrace because with the best of intentions to "shepherd" a people and make disciples - as we all are commissioned to do - we have inadvertently created rules, regulations, processes, borderline superstitions, "magic potions", and "magic prayers" (ok, maybe a little over the top!); demands imposed on the unbelieving and unsuspecting to insist on a particular, acceptable behavior BEFORE we will accept them. I would like to believe our Wesleyan Methodist tradition has put up no such barriers and maybe "officially" we have not. Practically speaking, however, we have done so and still do according to regions and cultures.

There will always be conflicts between us according to personalities, cultures, backgrounds, etc., and there should be no fear within these conflicts because there is still an overarching commonality among us: we are all mortal humans with the same basic flaws and weaknesses but with the same need to be loved and accepted - and to KNOW we are loved and accepted.

Let us be clear, however. No one is suggesting - nor should they suggest - that Jesus is "a" way. He is clearly "the" Way. He is "the" Gate through which we must enter, and He is "the" Shepherd who will lead us. Like the heroic firefighter He has already come to us in the "burning house" of our humanity; now it is up to us to follow Him in HIS Path, in HIS Righteousness, to HIS God and Father ... not our own path, not our own righteousness, and certainly not to a "god" of our own making.

There is only one "Gate" through which to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; there is only one "Gate" through which we will find the greener and more enduring pastures. Others will try to show us alternatives, choices more to their own liking, practices that divide a flock rather than unite. Practices that seek and promote individual comfort and personal satisfaction without regard for the well-being of the whole flock, and disregard the few among the flock who just don't see it "that" particular way but are nevertheless headed for the same Gate and following the Voice of the same Shepherd.

So let us put aside those things that define us as a denomination and instead embrace those things that define us as a people; a people ultimately being led to the same Gate by the same Shepherd to the same God. Precisely how we arrive at the Gate, by whatever practices or beliefs, is not nearly as important as that we do finally arrive at the ONE Gate by the gentle hand of the ONE Shepherd to the ONE Destiny that is of and for the people of the Lord.

In the name of the One Father, His Son, His Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Blinded to Blessings

Acts 2:14a, 36-41 Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19 1 Peter 1:17-23 Luke 24:13-35

Previously I had challenged us all to consider the unimpeachable truth of the Gospel - that YHWH sent His Son to call us to repentance and to everlasting life - in spite of the inevitable doubts we endure from time to time. In our lives we have had considerable reason to have doubts and misgivings - everyone, without exception! - and because of the nature of these doubts and the unfortunate experiences they sprang from, we have been unable to recognize the equally considerable blessings we have actually enjoyed. There are two reasons for our spiritual blindness: 1) we are too wrapped up in the moment, our own misery, and what we think we need; and 2) we don't recognize the difference between a genuine blessing and just plain dumb luck.

The psalmist expressed equal doubts in the midst of his "distress and anguish", when he felt surrounded and overwhelmed by the "snares of death" and the "pangs of Sheol", but he was able to draw from within himself the abiding faith that comes from a certain knowledge of the past as a promise for the future. The psalmist was obviously rescued from his despair so much so that in his gratitude for his deliverance, he was willing to be held accountable for his "vows"; those certain promises he made to the Lord in his distress; "vows" that, according to the Law of Moses, must be repaid immediately (Deuteronomy 23:21-23).

This is not unlike the vows made, as they say, by "former atheists in foxholes". Even made under extreme stress, these vows are taken seriously by the Lord. And because the psalmist was obviously delivered from whatever may have been his source of anguish, he was gushing with an eager willingness to be held accountable for the vows he had made. He did not walk away from his distress feeling as though "lady luck had finally smiled on him". He was expressing the certain knowledge that he had been delivered! He could obviously tell the difference.

I have often wondered if the way we think is determined by our moods, or if our moods are determined by the way we think; it's a chicken vs. egg thing. What I mean to say is that when our mood is somber or sad, we think in those directions. When we are happy, we think happy thoughts. If we feel blessed, we think blessings, and when we feel cursed we confirm that despair by our thoughts. And if what I suggest is true, it would help in explaining why these two disciples in Luke's account did not realize they had been walking and talking with the Resurrected Christ!

It was the Day of the Resurrection that found these two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus and by what is written by Luke, they were a little overwhelmed and perhaps even still somewhat shocked and disappointed about all that had taken place these past few days, just as they told the Lord: "we had hoped He was the one to redeem Israel" (vs 21). Previously "hoped". No longer "hoping". In spite of this, they were also dealing with "rumors" of the missing Body and visions of angels. That's a lot to deal with; and if it is true that the disciples felt it necessary to hide because of their association with Jesus, we may reasonably assume that all who were disciples might have felt equally compelled to hide.

So, wrapped up in their misery, perhaps fear, certainly confusion, they were walking and talking with Jesus. Of course Luke suggests the disciples were perhaps divinely blinded so as to be unable to recognize Jesus, but I think this is assuming quite a bit. I think perhaps all that Jesus had taught them while He was with them had simply escaped them. Think about all the lessons Jesus taught about His own divine calling, and remember Peter's very human and protective response to Jesus - right before Jesus called him "Satan".

What Jesus was talking about was beyond human comprehension. What happened on the Day of Resurrection is beyond our human capacity to comprehend. When we try to conceive of such, we get very glorious yet vague images in our minds about the tomb and what Jesus must have looked like. The disciples who were on the road to Emmaus presumably knew the human Jesus and what He had looked like, but it is suggested that the glorified appearance of Christ is beyond a human's ability to understand.

So what are we being told about these whose hearts should have been "burning" but who were nonetheless incapable of recognizing the Divine Blessing that was right before their very eyes? I think maybe a key is in their moment of recognition in verses 31-32: "When [Jesus] was at the table with them, He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him ..."

They - nor we - "need" to see the person of the Lord, though we would like to be able to "see" something more tangible a little more often. It sure would make faith a little less challenging especially when we are being encompassed by the "snares of death" or the "pangs of Sheol". To physically "see" Him, however, is not what we truly need. It is only our human desire, and this desire is not unlike the "signs" the Jews had constantly demanded of Him before they would be willing to believe. There is no faith in such a demand; only a sense of entitlement. In such demands we insist we are "owed" something which in itself denies the very nature of what is truly a "blessing".

It is about our "needs" against our "desires". If we are broke and cannot pay the phone bill, we think we need cash. To be sure, cash comes in pretty handy, but our truest need cannot be met with cash. When we are hungry we think in terms of what sort of food will excite us and be worth the trouble or expense, but it never occurs to us that just plain bread will give us the nourishment our bodies need. It may not be aesthetically pleasing to our senses, but it will sustain us.

When we don't get our human senses excited or tickled, we think we are being cheated. When we don't get what we want, we think life is unfair or someone is at fault. We rarely consider the incredible gift that life is in just being able to see and feel and taste, and we would never consider what an enormous blessing of doing without can actually be. The disciples and their human senses only thought they "needed" to see Jesus with their own eyes before they were willing to believe - like Thomas - but the "bread" Jesus offered to them is what opened their eyes. Being given what they truly needed - rather than what they wanted - is what opened their eyes to the Truth of the Resurrection and the promise and hope of Eternal Life.

We all have desires and dreams and wishes and personal wants but because these desires are so strong within us, we often fail to realize we have within us at any given time all we ever really "need". The blessing that is the Resurrection - the sure hope that we will never taste death though we will all pass from this life - is all we really need. It is that certain hope which sustains us and feeds us and nourishes us when we are encompassed by the "snares of death" and the "pangs of Sheol". The Lord has given us every real and enduring thing we could ever need. The blessing will be to have our eyes finally opened to this reality.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Doomsday 101

"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night ..." 2 Peter 3:9-10

Translation? There will be no announcements prior to the Lord's coming beyond what is already written in Holy Scripture; that is, unless you know a thief who announces his arrival prior to his arrival.

There is a group traveling the country by caravan proclaiming that the Rapture will occur on May 21 and that end of the world "as we know it" will be in October. The name of this group or the group's leader or founder is not important. It may not even be important that he made a similar prediction in '94 but was profoundly disappointed in '95. Ever the optimist, however, this gentleman later claimed he had simply made a mathematical error in his calculations. I don't know; maybe he forgot to carry the 1.

I must also say I will be attending a clergy meeting on May 21. It will be rather embarrassing, to say the least, if we are all still present after the meeting if this prediction comes true and if the Rapture will literally look like what is portrayed in the popular movie, "Left Behind".

I will not try to convince anyone that this man and his group are crazy - not at all. They appear to be perfectly sane and completely convinced of what they claim to know. And in a significant way they are not completely wrong. The world "as we know it" will come to an end; but how, when, and precisely what it will look like cannot be determined or concluded by the human mind. The Bible is filled with images, confusing images that lead to the "Day of the Lord" but I think these images - if divinely inspired - are meant to be as incomprehensible as the very image of YHWH Himself. There absolutely is a message in these images; I'm just not convinced that humans are to be trusted with literal translations of these images strictly on human terms.

I am also not convinced that the essence of the Christian faith should be focused on how it will all end or how we will all "die". I think the whole purpose of Jesus' ministry on this earth was to show us how we should live so that when that times comes we will not have to worry about it because we will have lived according to what was taught us by Christ Himself. Who is hungry? Feed them. Who is thirsty? Give them a drink. Who is lonely? Visit with them. Who is sick? Pray for and with them. Who is in prison? Give them a reason to have hope. Do for others as you would have them do for you. Give until there is nothing left to give, and then give some more. This is faith in action. This is the essence of Christ and the Covenant. This is righteousness. This is witness to the goodness of the Lord and His desire that "all should come to repentance".

This group claims there is nothing to fear in what they say, that it is an occasion for rejoicing. Indeed. However, try explaining to a young child that her mother may no longer be with her come May 21. Try telling the child that she will be taken to a "better place" and that mom may not be able to go. I recall hearing similar messages as a child when I visited local Protestant churches with childhood friends (our priests did not harp on "end times" theology but on "here and now" theological practices), and I recall thinking this "promise" of Rapture did not sound so great to my juvenile mind though I never felt compelled to run to the preacher so he could "save" me (to which my Protestant friends would say, "So you're not saved, huh?").

There are, of course, "signs" spoken of throughout Scripture. Jesus speaks of "wars and rumors of wars", but human history is filled with actual wars. There are earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, tornados, and other natural disasters that have also occurred throughout human history. There are many whose "known world" came to a violent end as a result of these acts of humanity and forces of nature. When the entire world was at war, the "end" certainly seemed imminent, and for millions it was. Yet what was left of humanity rebuilt from those ashes of despair and utter destruction.

None of this is to say that the "end" will not come nor do I suggest the "end" is not immediately upon us, but this is exactly the point. The Lord Himself very pointedly tells us that it is not for us to know because this is not our task, our mission, our ministry to our neighbors and to the world. We were not commissioned to proclaim an "or else" theology of threats and intimidation. We were taught - and have often failed at - a theology of redemption and grace. We were offered an image of a benevolent and loving Holy Father who forgives, who heals and restores. Jesus did not teach us about an angry God who looks forward to the day when He can spiritual smack us around. Rather we were taught that He is the God who seeks to be reconciled with His beloved, His creation by faith, by trusting Him rather than by trying to figure Him out.

Do not be dismayed by the teachings of doomsday prophets, and do not be deceived by false prophets who make such messianic claims of having figured out "secret" biblical codes. These come dangerously close to claiming to have figured out the very mind of YHWH Himself. This is blasphemy in and of itself and is not worthy of our time and attention except to warn those who will listen that Jesus also taught us that such people would make these claims throughout the generations.

Have peace and peace of mind. Get to know the Lord of the Scriptures. Do not read too literally, but contemplate prayerfully. And let God be God.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

National Day of Prayer 2011

Isaiah 12

One need not look hard or far to see that the United States, once a beacon of hope to the entire world, has become a nation itself devoid of hope. We need only to look at the rhetoric of political elections to find that the essence of our hope, the source of our salvation, the fabric of our faith, the ones whom we are willing to put our complete faith and trust in, will be either Democrats or Republicans. Time and again we walk away disappointed, yet we never seem to learn.

With all the evil we face on an almost daily basis at home and abroad, we have mistakenly come to believe that the death of one man will somehow vindicate us in the world-wide war against terror and free us from the encumbrances and continued threat of evil. Yet our neighbors still ask: Where is the evidence of your religious faith and belief in something much bigger? Where is the evidence of your justification before Almighty God? Where is the evidence of your sanctification, your holiness, as St. Peter called you to holiness: "As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written: 'Be Holy, for I am Holy'" (1 Peter 1:15-16).

Yet we are actively witnessing a continuing decline in worship attendance. People are keeping the Church at a safe distance. The lone guardian and herald of the Gospel of the Lord, the "organized" Church, cannot seem to compete with organized sports. Faithfulness has been confused with convenience. Devotion has been replaced by consumerism. Our so-called "culture of death" has become the "new life". And yet as much as we are acclimated to these secular practices and philosophies, we bemoan the state of our nation and its moral decline. We curse those who lead us, both in and outside the Church, yet we fail to remember that the governed must consent to be governed. And we have so consented.

Dietrich Bonheoffer was the seemingly lone voice against the Nazi regime that so disdained the Church that it replaced the Bible with Mein Kampf and the cross with the swastika. And Bonheoffer recognized the primary reason why the Church was so silent and seemingly impotent during the rise of the Third Reich: the confusion that inevitably arises when the Christian faith becomes too closely related to a culture or to a national identity. When "we" become more like "them", we lose our sense of self, our sense of spiritual identity, the truest sense of who we really are conflicting with who we are called to be.

Israel had the same problem which led to the Exile. They by their acts chose to assimilate themselves into cultures that were not necessarily "foreign" to them but were, in fact, desirable. To this end, then, the Lord simply turned them over to the desires of their hearts and allowed them to be overrun by the Assyrians and the Babylonians. The Lord wept for His people, yet He was also strangely silent.

The prophets foretold, however, of a day when Israel would finally come to its senses, and perhaps the words of all the prophets are as relevant for us today as they were for Israel and Judah then. We too are in a sort of "exile", strangers in a strange land yet called to plant and to build, to pray and to worship, until that time comes when our "exile" will finally come to an end, that glorious day when we will no longer be "pilgrims" and "sojourners" in a foreign land - but "citizens" who are finally home. "'Return to Me, and I will return to you', says the Lord of Hosts" (Malachi 3:7b).

So this evening, Holy Father, I ask your blessing on this gathering and for the many other gatherings around our community, our state, and our nation as people of faith are lifting up their voices and praying as one. We lift up our prayers to You, Holy Lord our God, for the many who were unwilling to put aside the shackles of their exile and come before You. We offer our prayers to You, our Rock and our Redeemer, for the many who are unable to get out and about, the many who are physically incapacited, the many who are trapped in spiritual and emotional bondage who feel the pain of loneliness and alienation each and every day.

We pray as one this evening for our nation and for Your Holy Church. Restore to both the luster and the glory of the Beacon that once shone brightly for all to see. Find in us the image of Your Beloved Son who came not to be served but to serve. Entrust to us once again the majesty of Your grace so that we may work and pray with strength and with confidence as the ministers of Your Holy Word we have all been called to be. Teach us to once again be Light in a dark world so that those who cannot find their way will be encouraged and led by our faith and our example.

You alone are the God and Father of all nations from whose mighty hand all good things come. Help us to remember that it is You and You alone who has set us free. Grant to us the grace to remember that as unworthy as we are, You by Your Holy Word, the Word made Flesh who dwelt among us, have declared us worthy to share in the inheritance of Your eternal Kingdom. Let it be so, Holy and Heavenly King, as we come before You in and by the name of Your Holy Son who is Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, One Lord forever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

What we have become

The death of Osama bin Laden is being used by some to proclaim the greatness of the current US president who may be struggling for political legitimacy; and by others as the greatness of a former US president who may be struggling for a legacy. Bin Laden's demise is also being heralded as some great moral victory with cheers and dances and chants. I suppose if these crowds had been allowed, they would have tied bin Laden's body to the bumper of a truck and dragged him through town rather than bury him at sea. How Mogadishu-ish.

Our president is considering releasing photos of bin Laden's corpse. Why? As for "antagonizing" terrorists, they are already hell-bent on the destruction of innocent human lives as their preferred target. How can we care about antagonizing them further? They cannot be appeased; they will not be appeased, so withholding the photos out of consideration for these mad dogs and what they may do is a wash either way. But how would releasing such macabre photos distinguish us from the many around the world who have taken perverse joy in desecrating the body of an enemy as a sign of "victory"? What will we teach our children who do not understand what is happening now but will internalize our words and deeds and save the lessons for another day?

Not to take anything away from the planning and the execution of what was obviously a successful military operation, but do we honestly believe we are somehow better than those in other countries who desecrated the body of a US service member in Somalia or those in the streets of so many Middle Eastern countries after the 9/11 attacks when these animals celebrated the extraordinary loss of life? Somehow I thought we really were better than these who chant "Death to America" and who seem to take some strange delight in the slaughter of other human beings. Exactly how are we "better" than these?

Bin Laden is owed nothing. In Islamist circles he is already considered a martyr by those who believe he really was killed by US forces. Would not displaying his dead body, even digitally, not galvanize these who are already committed to his war? Bin Laden is just another dead criminal. Putting his image on display would grant to him much more status than he is entitled to, and would do nothing to enhance America's image. It would only liken us to our enemies. Is this what we really want as a nation? Is this really who we have become?

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

What if it's all true?

Acts 2:14a, 22-32 1 Peter 1:3-9 John 20:19-31

Thomas (the twin) apparently missed out the first time around with the resurrected Christ. In spite of what were likely very strong and excited words from his fellow apostles about Jesus' appearance, Thomas was not willing (or maybe not able) to believe it except with his own eyes and by his own touch. He may have even felt a little left out and was wishing he could have seen what they claimed to have seen. You and I could probably appreciate Thomas' cynicism much more than we can appreciate what the disciples were feeling as they huddled together in fear behind a locked door because I doubt there are many among us who have felt so threatened for having "followed" Jesus.

Doubt is part of the faith process and journey, I think, and is nothing to be afraid of because when we have doubts, we are inclined to ask questions and seek answers. We need to address those doubts because there is nothing more unsettling than uncertainty. The problems come when we are not careful about the sources we go to in search of these answers. If we do not question our sources, we run the risk of getting at the very least an incomplete answer; at worst, we will get misinformation, personal opinions, and outright lies that will better suit the selfish and perhaps prideful purposes of the source rather than our quest for truth.

A case in point: Vilonia AR was recently hammered by a tornado in which four persons (as of this writing) were killed. Initial reports on the night of the storm said the tornado itself was a half-mile wide and that as many as 80 homes were "destroyed". The next morning's news reports were saying the tornado was three-and-a-half miles wide but only about 20 homes were "damaged". Photos showed some homes destroyed and others with substantial roof and structural damage that would hardly qualify as "destroyed". Obviously we now know more, but this is not the point.

Tornados are fickle and treacherous beasts that cannot be pinned down and are even harder to predict with any certainty. Often it is hard to tell whether the damage was caused by a tornado or straight-line winds. Especially because these speculations were made in the dark, reason might suggest we would be much better informed of the extent of the damage "in the light" when the sun finally comes up. Then we can avoid unnecessary stress and anxiety, more accurately assess the damage, and determine a more appropriate course of action. When something is revealed in the light of day, it can be better appreciated for what it really is - even if we do not like what we are seeing. We should know by now that darkness by its very nature conceals. Only in the light can the truth be finally and fully revealed.

To appreciate the setting of John's reading, we must remember that the One they called "Lord" only days before had been crucified. The One whom they had proclaimed as "Messiah" and "Son of God" lay dead in a tomb as far as they knew. And surely Peter had by now shared his story of his own close call (though he might have left out that part about having denied knowing Jesus at all!). It is little wonder, then, that they had the doors closed and locked. All their hopes for themselves as well as for Israel had been nailed to a cross and killed. These gathered may have even considered the last three years of their lives "wasted" following this Man around, hearing Him teach, and even witnessing with their own eyes some pretty amazing things. And now they would have to spend the rest of their lives running and hiding? Not much of a life.

The compelling question, which must be asked of just about any book throughout the Bible, is: what is the writer/narrator trying to tell us? What is being conveyed by a story that was written some 40-50 years after the fact? Well, John tells us why: "so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in His name."

What if it is all true? Is this not the challenge most of us face in our daily living; that is, if we think about it at all? When we encounter someone who disputes the Bible and its admittedly incredible stories, isn't our fall-back answer usually along the lines of, "What do you have to lose by believing?" I have long maintained that even if we removed all divine references in the Bible, it would still be a good way to live. It still teaches some valuable lessons, is incredibly insightful and intuitive about human nature, and is rather graphic about consequences that come as a result of less-than-wholesome living.

Still, many of us can think of someone, young or old, who has had such bad luck and experiences that it is difficult - if impossible - for them to understand such a notion as a "loving" God who will not directly and immediately intervene in human events. How could such a "loving" God have allowed the Holocaust? How could a "loving" God allow children to be kidnapped, abused, and sold as slaves for unimaginable and unconscionable purposes? How could a "loving" God have allowed these awful storms we have endured these past few days in which innocent persons lost loved ones AND perhaps even their homes and everything they have ever owned? How could a "loving" God even conceive of such an unthinkable thing as "hell"? And for many, this question burns in the forefront of their minds: What has God ever done for me?

This is part of the reason why I cringe at the notion of a "personal" Lord, a "personal" Savior, and the concept of "personal" salvation. To be sure, our individual encounters and experiences with the Lord, in whatever form, are intensely personal when we are directly affected. "Look what He has done for ME", some exclaim. "Listen to what He told ME", some preachers proclaim. And then there are those who have lacked such an intimate experience and have not "felt" any such thing. How is the witness of such individuals useful for those who desire such an experience but have not felt anything like it? What do we say to them? How do we explain to and convince these many - and there are many - that the Lord's desire is that ALL of humanity should prosper and live? That ALL of humanity should be reconciled to Him and live in certainty and hope rather than in doubt and despair?

The truth is there are no easy answers. To blithely state that "God's will" is what it is does nothing for the human soul who has not been so unmistakably touched. We have a perpetual generation of "Doubting Thomases" who want to believe and are willing to believe ... but not by faith and certainly not by the word of a witness or even a preacher. These doubters - and it would be hard to define them as "agnostic" or "atheist" - have as acute a need to believe in something greater than themselves as you and I do, but they struggle with human doctrine and fond notions we are inclined to "make up" for ourselves, notions that are often lacking in biblical foundation or basis.

We try to make the Bible read and apply in such a way that fits more appropriately and uniquely to our own lives. It works for us as individuals but like inaccurate tornado damage reports, they only confuse. The "real" story is not being conveyed, and there are a lot of gaps that cannot be adequately accounted for. So we fill in the gaps ourselves, and we make stuff up that works for us. We deny the sovereignty of the Lord and instead turn Him into some sort of cosmic "play thing" that suits our individual purposes. It may make us feel better, but these ideas and ideals lack the necessary universal element by which the Lord can be equally applied across the board. We create "in our own image" a God more pleasing to ourselves. And by doing so we then lock the "doubters" out of the room.

Thomas had been absent from the group. We don't know why. Maybe he was tending to family business. Maybe he was still hiding out. Maybe he had intentionally segregated himself from that group because of all that had transpired in the last few days. Maybe he was chief among those who had determined that following Jesus had been a complete waste of time. After all, what had Jesus done for ME besides confuse me and put me, and perhaps my loved ones, in grave danger? Why SHOULD I believe?? In light of the events of the last few days, what could I possibly gain from continuing to follow a dead man?

So Thomas finally has his own moment with the Lord. He is shown the marks and is encouraged to reach out and touch these marks so that he may finally believe. I don't think, however, that this can be construed as a "personal" moment exclusively reserved for Thomas. The purpose for which Thomas is being shown the truth of the Resurrection is for the Church which will soon be called forth. This is testified by Jesus having "breathed on them" to impart the Holy Spirit, and it is further testified to by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles on the Day of Pentecost. This is the reason why Scripture study of the WHOLE Bible is encouraged as a means of grace. Memorizing Bible verses can be useful, but we often forget that individual verses cannot stand outside of their given contexts.

Something great is about to come forth, something greater than anyone then - or now - could possibly conceive of. Throughout the Bible, the Lord has never revealed Himself exclusively to suit any individual human purposes. There is no reason to believe He will now. The purposes for which we are called forth and individually gifted are to strengthen the whole Church, the Body of Christ. It is all true for the proclamation of the Gospel, which is the sole purpose of the Church's entire existence, and the purpose is clearly Divine - not human.

It is true because Life comes from Truth. It is true because Truth comes by Light, and it is by the Light of Christ Himself that the fullness of the Lord is revealed - in us and through us by the power of the Holy Spirit and in His Holy Name. For His sake, not our own.

In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Just a Thought

“When he is judged, let him be found guilty, and let his prayer become sin. Let his days be few, and let another take his office.” Psalm 109:7-8

Osama bin Laden, the so-called “face of terror”, was killed recently in a military operation, and in some parts of this country there was chanting and dancing in the street as if evil itself had been overcome. By the prayer of the psalmist, we might hope another will take his place who might not be so bad, who might see the futility of this world-wide fight. However, it will more likely be someone with a mind toward vengeance.

It is a mistake to worship any one man as a “savior” as so many of us have seemingly invested in one, single US president throughout our history, just as it is a mistake to believe only one man could heap so much evil on this world by his own hand. Evil has not been defeated nor can any man “save” us. The evil we face is much more powerful, and there will be many others hoping to continue this one man’s work.

Evil is alive and well and is actually flourishing, but not exclusively by the hand of terrorists.

Evil exists in a hungry child. Evil exists in poverty. Evil exists in the lives of those shut-ins who are utterly alone and without hope. Evil exists in the lives of those falsely accused as well as in the lives of those who suffer persecution for their faith. Evil exists in malicious gossip. Evil takes many forms and can even be found in the midst of Christians who ignore the call of the Holy Lord to “feed My sheep” and “tend My lambs”.

Do not give too much credit to one person to be the cause or the face of all evil, and let no one person stand as the cause or the face of salvation. There is only One who is the source of our hope, the source of our salvation; He alone is the Lord.