Where God Hangs Out

Luke 21:5-19

A group of church members were trying to outdo one another in praising their grand old church building. For them it was a place of beauty and the place where they could count on God’s presence. Yeshua happened upon them and said, “This building is just a temporary edifice, not destined to last forever.” They were shocked and asked, “How can this be? How do you know this?” Yeshua continued, “Don’t put your faith in buildings. They can lead you astray. They are like preachers who lead their flock to a mountain top to await the rapture. These are trying times – wars and rumors of war, earthquakes and hurricanes, famines and plagues, and much worse. You will find yourselves at odds with the civil authorities and probably at odds with others within the church. Let your witness in these circumstances be guided by wisdom and by your calling. That may not be satisfactory for your family and friends. Some may even hate you. But that is not the final word. If you can face this with abundant life, you will have your reward. Enjoy it, for you will have found the true temple where God hangs out!

Trust plus Justice generates Salvation

"Creative Commons 10th Birthday Celebration San Francisco" by tvol is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Creative Commons trust and create” by denise carbonell is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Romans 1:17 God’s righteousness is being revealed in the gospel, from faithfulness for faith, as it is written, The righteous person will live by faith. (CEB)

[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

On translating Romans 1:17

God’s righteousness” (dikaiosyne theou) is probably best translated, in Paul, as “the justice of God” – justice being the very character of God.

from faithfulness for faith” (ek pisteos eis pistin) is an interesting phrase which captures a thumbnail version of Paul’s history of salvation. Here “faith” is better translated as “trust.” The dilemma in translating “faith” from Greek to English is that we do not have a verbal form of faith, so “to faith” is often translated as “to believe.” Since the Reformation our understanding of faith has morphed from trustworthiness to believability, from relationship to cognitive ideas.

Herman Waetjen, (The Letter to the Romans) offers, in my estimation, a much better understanding of Paul’s intent with the following translation:

For the justice of God is being revealed in it [the gospel] out of trust into trust even as it is written, ‘The just will live out of trust’.”

In Romans Paul presents an extended argument (one might call it a “convoluted” or “labyrinthine” debate) on the relationship between law and trust (faith).

The foundational model for trust is Abraham. God trusted Abraham; in response, Abraham trusted God. Trust is a relationship of mutuality. While faith in today’s popular parlance is something one has, trust is something one must give. Trust is given and received.

As God’s promise to Abraham is being fulfilled (“you will be the ancestor of many nations”) the question becomes “How will the nations be governed?” Trust is a great concept for individuals, but society needs some structure. Hence the law was given.

The purpose of the law was to produce the justice of God which would actualize salvation – that is, the well-being of all in the society. Instead of producing justice, however, the law produced law-breakers (theologically defined as “sinners”). For Paul, the law introduced sinfulness (he hamartia) – an infection – into the human condition.

A new (second) foundational model for trust was now needed. Enter Jesus. Jesus taught and lived trust – even trusting God as he was sentenced and hung on the cross to die. His trust went beyond the law, in fact it often flew in the face of the law; but his trust actualizes justice for the poor and dispossessed of society. His trust is the solid base and the essence of salvation – that is, the well-being of all in society.

Luther and Calvin set us on a rabbit trail with their emphasis on individual salvation. For Paul, salvation is about the Commonwealth of God’s Peace and Justice (Kingdom of God), though his term for the collective is “Body of Christ.”

Put your trust in God. Model your trust in justice-seeking, out of trust into trust. Model your trust into the life of Jesus and the activity of the risen Christ (the body of Christ) as you “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12f  CEB)

Trust actualized by justice produces well-being (salvation) for all.

Original Sin or Original Blessing?

"Creative Commons Symphony of Love Be thankful for all the good and bad for each is a blessing from the Universe" by BK is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“Creative Commons Symphony of Love Be thankful for all the good and bad for each is a blessing from the Universe” by BK is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Original Sin or Original Blessing?

Which will it be?
Which best describes the you and the me?

Looking around I seem to notice
    that both are so.
Looking inside I have to admit
    I am a contradiction – both a “Yes!” and a “No!”

When “missing the mark” is the definition of sin
    I draw up a list that includes you in
I’m on the list, surely it’s so
    but way down the page – items ‘m,’ ‘n,’ and ‘o.’

Yet, sin, properly understood
    is more than being bad or being good;
it is being estranged,
    out of sync, not deranged.
It is alienation from that which grounds us
    creating fear, anxiety, and much that astounds us

So, what is my hope?
    Do I look to the past, while I plan my futurity –
    cling to the cross as a passport to eternity?
Nope!

I will live my life now
    contradictions and all
while I figure out how
    to listen for that call
        that comes as a whisper inside
        nudging me to move beyond pride
            and care for the poor, the lost, and the grieving
            while filling my life with abundant living.

Setting my footsteps in the path of the Way
    I’ll keep my focus here in today.
For I’m a human being through and through
    a lot of good, yet some bad in there, too.

Original Blessing; Original Sin –
    Yes and yes, they both figure in
        but not to shame us
        or to blame us;
    but simply to help us recognize
        that we are both shallow and wise
    and capable of becoming whole and true
        genuine me and genuine you!

Jubilee!

"Creative Commons 50" by Steve Bowbrick is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“Creative Commons 50” by Steve Bowbrick is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Pope Francis has proclaimed a Year of Mercy. Leviticus promotes a Year of Jubilee. Does theJubilee have any significance for us today?

Leviticus 25:8-10 Count off seven weeks of years—that is, seven times seven—so that the seven weeks of years totals forty-nine years. Then have the trumpet blown on the tenth day of the seventh month. Have the trumpet blown throughout your land on the Day of Reconciliation. 10 You will make the fiftieth year holy, proclaiming freedom throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It will be a Jubilee year for you: each of you must return to your family property and to your extended family.

[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Jubilee

50
…the year of Jubilee
…the year that never comes
…the year of freedom and restoration

freedom
…the memory of release from Egypt
…the memory of freedom from empire
…the memory of God’s great deliverance

restoration
…the promise of renewal
…the promise of faithfulness
…the promise of sacred response

50 – jubilee
…etched in the hearts and mind
…of the people of Israel

Commonwealth of Peace and Justice
…etched in the hearts and minds of
…the followers of Yeshua

Jubilee and Commonwealth
…the promise that this life
……bears a dimension of
……the divine mystery
…the affirmation that
……the full mastery of this life
……is always yet to come
…the covenant that
……the reality of abundant life
……is both affirmed and promised

Jubilee and Commonwealth
…remind us that life is lived
……in the mean-time
……in the in-between times

Holy Saturday
…life lived
……in the tension between memory and promise
……on the knife-edge between Good Friday and Easter
……with the past striving against the future
…compassionate attending to the suffering of this world
……infused with the impossible possibility
………of a tearless world to come
…solidarity with the poor
……united with the hope
………of a classless society
…befriending the least, lost, last, and left out
……in confident anticipation
………of steadfast justice that will
…………turn the world
…………inside-out and
…………upside-down

Jubilee and Commonwealth
…day dreaming?
…pious fantasy?
…pie in the sky?
……Perhaps!

Is love, that puts another first, a pipe dream?
Is compassion, that reaches across to heal a wound, wishful thinking?
Is justice, that sets right what was wrong, a figment of the imagination?

Choosing to live
…in the mean-time
…in the in-between times
…perpetually on Holy Saturday
……means commiting myself to
……a permanent Jubilee
………of freedom and restoration
………an enduring Commonwealth
…………of peace, justice, and wholeness
…quite simply
……it means
……choosing to live
………in abundance rather than privation
………in hope rather than fear
………in compassion and love rather than hate or apathy
……choosing to live
………fully!

I choose life!

Awaiting a Renaissance of Wonder

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 4.47.55 PM
“Creative Commons We Are Waiting for Godot to Come” by Aaron Davis is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I’m an in-betweener — waiting? How about you? What are you waiting for?

Romans 8:22, 26-30  22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. … 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. (NRSV)

[Scripture quotation from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

Ruminations on Romans 8:22, 26-30

Alright, I’ll admit it, I am an in-betweener. I struggle with living in the mean time, awaiting that clear call from God. Perhaps. There have been times when I knew with all clarity what I was called to do. I had been insisted upon — big time! But not now! And so I wait, with eager longing. When I look around me I can see that I am not the only in-betweener. The world itself is an in-betweener — in-between the Big Bang and the final Consummation when our sun collapses in upon itself and releases all its energy for continuing creation. Does the created order also yearn? Does creation follow an insistence. Of course there is human insistence — the creation is groaning as we humans continue to insist on raping and pillaging the environment. I’d like to think (I hope) that my anticipatory groaning and that of the created order are in sync — awaiting an insistent calling… not just from those in control of the human community, but from beyond… from God. Perhaps. The difficulty is that I know that such a call from God (perhaps) comes from within — a persistent nudging that will not let let me go. Unfortunately, those whose nudging comes from the desire to consolidate and control power and to amass economic treasure seem to have a stronger call than I do. Where is the “the Spirit [which] helps us in our weakness?” Where is the insistent unheard inner call? I wait! I want to be in sync with the Way Yeshua lived and taught. I want to know what’s next. I wait! Like Lawrence Ferlinghetti:

I am waiting for my number to be called
and I am waiting
for the Salvation Army to take over
and I am waiting
for the meek to be blessed
and inherit the earth
without taxes
and I am waiting
for forests and animals
to reclaim the earth as theirs
and I am waiting
for a way to be devised
to destroy all nationalisms
without killing anybody

and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder

Maybe (just maybe) I am not called upon to wait. Maybe waiting and patience are not the virtues they once were. Maybe it is time for a response, for action. Maybe the genius of that unheard inner call  is that it is perpetually “unheard.” Maybe “predestined” simply means that the calling is discovered in the doing, not in the hearing. Maybe “justified” means that the doing and the hearing  are in sync regardless of the order in which they occur. Maybe “glorified” is the fancy way of finally saying “Yes!” to insistent nudging that calls from within or without but keeps on calling, even when I don’t listen or hear.

Maybe I am to BE a renaissance of wonder!

Justice and Trust

“Creative Commons The Escape to the Unknown" by Andre Bohrer, used under CC BY 2.0
“Creative Commons Justice Gavel” by Tori Rector, used under CC BY 2.0

How does justice (God’s restorative justice) depend on trust?

16 I’m not ashamed of the gospel: it is God’s own power for salvation to all who have faith in God, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 God’s righteousness is being revealed in the gospel, from faithfulness for faith, as it is written, The righteous person will live by faith (CEB)

[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

16 For I am not ashamed of the Good News, since it is God’s powerful means of bringing salvation to everyone who keeps on trusting, to the Jew especially, but equally to the Gentile. 17 For in it is revealed how God makes people righteous in his sight; and from beginning to end it is through trust — as the Tanakh puts it, “But the person who is righteous will live his life by trust.” (CJB)

[Taken from the Complete Jewish Bible by David H. Stern. Copyright © 1998. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Messianic Jewish Publishers, 6120 Day Long Lane, Clarksville, MD 21029. www.messianicjewish.net.]

 

Reflections

I have just struggled through 25 pages of commentary (Waetjen’s The Letter to the Romans) on Romans 1:17. I won’t attempt to track through his argument; instead I will share a few nuggets that I gleaned and a conclusion (or two) which I have drawn.

Two definitions are crucial to gain a fresh understanding of Paul’s letter to the Romans – the Greek word dikaiosyne is usually translated as “righteousness.” Unfortunately, too much of Christian thought has tended toward understanding righteousness as a high moral character imputed to believers by God. Waetjen reminds us that dikaiosyne can also be translated as “justice” – that is, the restorative justice that is attributed to God.

The second New Testament word is pistis – usually translated as “faith” (noun) or “believe” (verb). Waetjen again reminds us that the alternate translation is “trust.” Colloquially, faith / belief is something that we possess while trust is something we do. Trust implies mutuality and interdependence. Belief is a cognitive function of the individual while trust only becomes actualized in a relationship of mutuality.

Restorative justice describes the very character of that which we name as God; trust describes the very character of human beings. There is no question about the focus of divine restorative justice – its locus is the whole of creation and, in particular, human community. The big question, however, is about the focus of our trust. Do we trust in ourselves?… in power and privilege?… in social status?… in ideological platforms?… in divine restorative justice?

As a person of religious/spiritual trust, I live on the knife-edge of promise and fulfillment – in the tension of the impossible possibility. The enigmatic phrase of Romans :17 (“out of trust, into trust”) is a challenge. What does it mean for me to live from trust into trust. My answer comes with a little assistance from John Caputo and Mark’s depiction of Jesus’ journey. I am grounded in an insistence / a calling (in the name of God) which comes as an unheard inner voice that trusts me as a discerning recipient. I measure my response to that calling by reference to the Way lived and taught by Jesus – namely the way of divine restorative justice which I deem to be trustworthy. 

In conclusion, I offer my re-working of Romans 1:16-17 –

16 I am not ashamed of the Good News which announces the powerful way that wholeness comes to those who build their lives on trust – to everyone, both Jew and Gentile. 17 It reveals that human beings who trust themselves to divine justice will live lives which actualize that justice, as it is written, “The person who is righteous and just will live his/her life by trust.”

Commandment or Calling?

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 6.43.25 PM
“Creative Commons Commandment Of The Day” by Jon-Eric Melsæter is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Fear, anger,and hatred abound?  What if one instance of hatred were transformed by love? Or five angry people learned to love? Or ten fearful  circumstances were overcome by love?

John 15:12-17    12 This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last. As a result, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. 17 I give you these commandments so that you can love each other. (CEB)

[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

In Other Words

This is what I hear as an insistence in the name of God. Perhaps. I pass it on to you. Let the love shown by Yeshua be the polestar that guides your behavior. He gave his life in order to stay faithful to the internal calling he heard in the name of God. Perhaps. You should be prepared to give away your life audaciously. When you act in this manner, you show yourselves to be true friends of Yeshua, followers of the Way that leads to the Commonwealth of God’s Peace and Justice. When you act in this manner, it is more accurate to call you friends of Yeshua, rather than servants of God. When you hear that inner voice of insistence and then respond by following in the Way of Yeshua, you have shown yourselves to have been chosen in the name of God. Perhaps. As the chosen ones, you are participants in the insurrection that is a foretaste of the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice. As insurrectionists let love and mutual respect govern all that you do together.

Maybe God Got it Wrong!

"Creative Commons 10th Birthday Celebration San Francisco" by tvol is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“Creative Commons Sometimes when things seem to be going wrong, they are going right for reasons you are yet to understand” by BK is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Mark 8:27-33

27 Jesus and his disciples went into the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 They told him, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” 30 Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 31 Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.” 32 He said this plainly. But Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him. 33 Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”

[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Musings

In a reflection on “Integrating Human and Divine Love” Richard Rohr muses, “sometimes other religious traditions seem to bow before this mystery better than Christians do.”

The Christian tradition has made ‘incarnation’ an article of belief and the focus of salvation. The sense of awe before the mystery is replaced by creed and dogma. Intimacy is superceded by doctrine. Instead of looking inwardly, attending to the flow of spirit / mystery / God, we look outward to determine who is a friend (a true believer) or an enemy (an unbeliever, heretic, atheist).

Perhaps the incarnation makes everything too plain and straight-forward, too simple, for the complexities of the human brain. Perhaps God got it wrong, made a mistake. Perchance, God might have kept divinity cloaked in mystery. Jesus tried – reminding the disciples to tell no one that they thought he was the Messiah. That certainly didn’t work!

Mystery requires us to tread lightly and to keep searching. Incarnation has occasioned the Inquisition, the Crusades, burnings at the stake, religious intolerance, and more. Whether or not God got it wrong, we continue to do so.

 

God — Homeless and Unemployed

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 11.31.32 PMWhat happens if we change our whole understanding of God’s locality and function?

John 12:8 “You will always have the poor among you, but you won’t always have me.” (CEB)

[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]
[Image: “Creative Commons” by rgouveia is  CC0 Public Domain]

Pope Francis (Evangelii gaudium) states that “Without the preferential option for the poor, ‘the proclamation of the Gospel … risks being misunderstood or submerged’.”

As a Presbyterian, I am firmly committed to the preferential option for the poor, the marginalized, the dispossed. I can’t help but wonder, however, how an all-powerful (omnipotent) Supreme Being can be the source of anything other than a preferential option for the rich and powerful. Indeed, any close reading of history would suggest that God is always being interpreted as being on the side of the winners, the powerful ones – e.g., the divine right of kings; the hierarchic structures of religious bodies; the preferential status of clergy over laity.

What kind of God would give preference to the poor? What is it, in our understanding of God, that would suggest that justice requires leveling the playing field for the disadvantaged and including at the very center of society those who have been marginalized?

In 63 BCE Pompey entered the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple and suggested that, according to Tacitus (Book V of The Histories), “the Sanctuary was empty and the Holy of Holies untenanted.”

The early Christian movement relocated the tenancy (residence) of God, the all powerful One, to Heaven. Galileo’s scientific inquiry and support of Copernicus, served an eviction notice on the Heavenly abode.

John Shelby Spong put it this way, “Once the credibility of God’s invasive, miraculous power was called into question, the entire theistic framework of religion began its accelerated decline. The deity, defined theistically, who had been rendered “homeless” by Galileo, was now rendered “unemployed” for all practicable purposes by Isaac Newton.”

I find the idea that God is homeless and unemployed to be intriguing, compelling. It actually solid footing for Israel’s concern for widows, orphans, and strangers; and for Yeshua’s penchant for the poor, the marginalized, and the disempowered.

Caputo’s dictum (“God doesn’t exist; God insists.”) is a logical extension of God’s status as homeless and unemployed. Instead of a Being resident in Heaven, or in a religious building or shrine… instead of powerful force that interferes in history to “fix” things and bend circumstances and people to fit His [sic] divine plan… instead, we sense an inner urging, a nudge, a prodding, an elbow poking our passions and priorities, a calling to be open to new possibilities – including the possibility that we have much to learn from Native Americans, women, Blacks, Asians, LGBTs, immigrants, homeless veterans, and people with disabling conditions, if only we given them access that doesn’t disadvantage them (which also disadvantages us, as well).

Isn’t it strange, that princes and kings,
and clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
and common-folk like you and me,
are builders for eternity?


To each is given a bag of tools,
a shapeless mass and a Book of Rules;
and each must make ‘ere time has flown,
a stumbling block or a stepping stone.

 R.L. Sharpe, “A bag of tools,” circa 1809

 

Transfused!

Blood transfusion
Blood transfusion

Ephesians 1:7-9       We have been ransomed through his Son’s blood, and we have forgiveness for our failures based on his overflowing grace, which he poured over us with wisdom and understanding. God revealed his hidden design to us, which is according to his goodwill and the plan that he intended to accomplish through his Son. 

[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]
[Image:  ©www.tOrange.us This work is licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.]

Ephesians 1:7-9   In Other Words
It is as if we have had a transfusion of divine energy, that opens the possibility that we can move beyond our shortcomings and grow gracefully into wisdom and understanding. In the Human One we begin to grasp the divine invitation that lures us beyond ourselves – so that our passions and priorities are shaped by greater (may I even say ‘divine’) values.

Musings
I don’t remember his name. All I remember is that he was a British physician, a conservative charismatic. He suggested a rather striking interpretation of the phrase “washed in the blood of Christ.” He recognized the metaphoric import of the phrase and suggested that a modern equivalent would be “transfused with the blood of Christ.” Striking! I would suggest, however, one addition – namely, transfused (or, even, infused) with divine energy. The first responders who rushed into the twin towers on 9/11 were doing their job, infused with divine energy. The teacher who spends extra time to help an autistic child is elevating her skills because of an infusion of divine energy. The Muslim woman who appeared on Fox news wearing a hijab fashioned from an American flag was infused with divine energy. Those who stand up and support the equitable enforcement of civil rights in the face of homophobic hatred are infused with divine energy. Those who don old clothes, boots, rubber gloves, and masks to help clean up after flood water recede from a community have been infused with divine energy.

Divine energy (the “blood of Christ”) is the direct result of responding to an inner dynamic – an insistence, a lure, a nudge, an invitation that comes to us, as it were, in the name of God. Perhaps. It doesn’t matter what we call God – YHWH, Allah, Mystery, my Highest Power, Karma, …; it doesn’t even matter whether we recognize God or not. There is within each of us the capacity to reach beyond ourselves – to encounter a moral imperative (Kant) or moral indicative (Lehmann); to hear the voice of conscience (Jimminy Cricket) or the collective unconscious (Jung). That inner encounter often broadens our perspective and connection with the world around us and infuses us with an energy that enables us to move in new directions and/or with new resolve.

For those of us who identify with the Christian tribe, we focus on the life, mission, and teachings of a poor carpenter named Yeshua who lived a couple of millenia ago. In him we encounter a human life fully infused with divine energy. For us, he is the first-fruit of a new humanity, a new way of being present in the world. He models a life lived in the exuberance of compassion and the joy of distributive justice. So, we call him the Prince of Peace. As a follower, to call him by such an epithet, requires a like response from me. Hence that inner nudge, that divine lure, that mysterious invitation that infuses with divine energy and opens the possibility that we can move beyond our shortcomings and grow gracefully into wisdom and understanding – into compassion, peace, and justice.