Thursday, January 28, 2010

You can't always believe what you want

In light of my last two posts here and here, I thought it was a good time to discuss God's judgment. This is a difficult topic for many people. In many ways, the belief and hope of a loving and forgiving God has undercut the Biblical message of judgment. This brings up a few questions. Can there be mercy without judgment? Does judgment stem from anger? Are love and judgment mutually exclusive? Is God still planning to judge the world or did God's judgment occur in the sending of the Son and then in the cross and resurrection?

In order to talk about God's judgment, I'd like to broach a different, but related topic: universal salvation. Universal salvation is the idea or belief that God will ultimately save everyone. With this understanding, whatever happens at the end of time will ultimately result in all people being in the presence of God. The belief in universal salvation, then, eliminates the need for Hell, as a place opposite of Heaven.

Some verses that people believe point to universal salvation are:

John 12:30-33

Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

Romans 5:18-21

Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

1 John 2:1-2

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

John 15:12-17

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another."

Luke 19:9-10

Then Jesus said to [Zaccheus], ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’

Now in most cases, proof-texters (on all sides of an issue) use just one verse to prove their point. I don't like that kind of argumentation because I don't believe God intends for the Bible to be used that way- in its original context (as parts) or in its present context (as a whole). Therefore, I try to include surrounding verses, regardless of my viewpoint on the subject.

Many people look at these verses and says, "Jesus intends to bring everyone together. God is ultimately gracious and will forgive everyone. Jesus' death saves the world. Because God acts first and we can't earn grace, then it comes to everyone."

1) Jesus intends to bring everyone together. That's great. And I firmly believe Jesus can do it. However, there are some passages that indicate that some people are going to resist that to the end. (or End)

2) God is ultimately gracious and will forgive everyone. Also great. Also true. BUT forgiveness does not necessarily preclude punishment. Some would say that a life apart from God and the trials of this world are hell enough. Sounds good. But the Bible also points to eternal consequences. Since we know that this life ends and believe that there is a life afterwards- then the eternal situation must be as important to us as the temporal. (Even so, it is very important to remember that physical needs are NOT less important than spiritual ones.)

3) Jesus' death saves the world. Jesus' death is the result upsetting the political and religious apple cart. Jesus' resurrection is purely God's work that shows that death is not the end. It also shows that death is not the judgment, but the latter is something that will follow the former.

4) Because God acts first, and we can't earn grace, then it comes to everyone. It is most certainly true that God acts first. This is the first marker against "decision theology" (as in, "I have decided to follow Christ.). The implication is that God is waiting on you and that God's hands are tied until you make the right decision, say the right words, pray the right prayer, perform the right rite. God has already been acting since the beginning of time. Carl Sagan said, "If you want to make a cake from scratch, you have to start by creating the universe." No one can do that. No matter how you come to know Jesus, it's only possible because of all the work God has done before. Your questions were answered before you could think to ask. However, though grace is pre-existent, it does not eliminate our need for it. As Paul says, "We do not sin so that grace may abound." (Romans 6:1) Through Christ, we have all received "grace upon grace". (John 1:16) God's grace is for everyone, but that doesn't mean that everyone responds to it.

Luke 10:16-20

[ Jesus says to the seventy:] ‘Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’ The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’

Matthew 25:31-46

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats . . . And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

Revelation 9:3-6

Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given authority like the authority of the scorpions of the earth. They were told not to damage the grass of the earth or any green growth or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were allowed to torture them for five month, but not to kill them... And in those days, people will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them.

Luke 16:22-31

[Jesus spoke to them about the beggar, Lazarus, and the rich man:] The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” ’

Now, arguably, the gospel according to Luke is heavily concerned with equality and the radical nature of Jesus and the latter story is a parable within that context, however, I think you can see the point that judgment is not limited to Revelation and is spoken of by Jesus- not just John the Baptist. Is Jesus being intentionally inflammatory to provoke those who will not respond to the call of love to bring them into a relationship with God? Possibly. No matter what we think about judgment, we cannot ignore the words of Jesus to Thomas, according to John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me."

Inevitably, the Bible brings us to the conclusion that there will be some kind of judgment at some point- marking the beginning of eternal life. When we look at the Bible as a whole, we cannot definitely come to the conclusion that all will be saved. We also can yield (slightly) on the possibility that all will.

Here's the thing, though. Within the Apostles Creed, we affirm that we believe Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead. We cannot ignore the fact that there will be (and has been) judgment. Through the Spirit and the Bible, we come to believe that those who do not come to God through Jesus will not come out favorably.

We do stand firmly on judgment as the privilege of God. And that judgment stems from God's love for the whole creation and God's desire for us, as created beings, to come into right relationship with our Creator.

("Bring it on home, Pastor!")

For those of us who are Christian, Christ is the solid rock on which we stand. All other ground is sinking sand. This means that we have to wrestle with, pray about, engage in and believe what is said in the Bible. We have to come to a place of tension with Scripture and accept that the tension will not be resolved in this life.

The most dangerous part of the idea of universal salvation is that it lets Christians off the hook. Jesus clearly calls us to ministry in the world- from sharing water in a cup to baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And Jesus says this work matters. In fact, it has eternal implications.

If we believe God will save everyone, then we can be content to allow our lives to devolve into faithful social ministry. If we believe that we are called to somehow, someway bring Jesus to the world, then we have a mission (yea verily, a great Commission) that we cannot ignore, that we ignore to our peril, that we ignore to the peril of the world.

When we ask for God to "return to us the joy of our salvation" (Psalm 51), we also ask for a "right and willing spirit". The joy of salvation isn't just the joyous knowledge of being right with God, it's also a wellspring that can't help but overflow in all you do.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now I'm found.

Was blind, but now I see.

When we've been there ten thousand years,

Bright shining as the sun,

We've no less days to sing God's praise

Than when we first begun.

But between here and there, there's a judgment. And we can't get around it. We can't get over it. We can't pass through it (on our own).

I want to believe that God will save everyone. And God certainly can. But from where I stand, I can't see that God will.

So I better get to work. Because the Holy Spirit is already sowing seeds and is at work. There are people who need Jesus. And where will He meet them?

In us.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Judgy Wudgy was a bear

Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today. Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, "Let me take the speck out of your eye, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye. [Jesus said, during the Sermon on the Mount], Matthew 6:33- 7:5

Jesus said to his disciples, "Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, 'I repent', you must forgive." Luke 17:1-4

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law, but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor? James 4:11-2

On the heels of my last post, I felt the need to comment a little bit more about judgment in the Christian life. (Which is different than judgment in the Christian afterlife- though one may affect the other.) I loathe proof-texting, which is takes portions of the Bible that prove one's point and disregarding texts that do not. In my own interpretive stance, I try to look at things through the lens of Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Frequently there is a struggle today in modern churches of all kind on judging and how we are to judge one another and one another's behaviors. If we lived in Calvin's Geneva, the laws of the land would echo the laws in the Bible and we would never be confused. Except that it seems that some people there were.

Whenever we take it upon ourselves to judge the theological soundness or spiritual health of our neighbor, we're into dangerous and deep waters. So how can we uphold what we believe to be the truth (Honor your father and mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12)) and what we know is sometimes reality (some parents do not treat their children well, to put it mildly)?

If we do know and believe that all sins are equal in the eyes of the Lord and that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of the Lord, then we know that we each persist in sin. (Except me.) We do things that we know are not in keeping with God's laws or the spirit of the laws or within the right behavior prescribed and described for us by Jesus.

How do we speak the truth in love, saying "I think what you're doing is wrong. I want to help." Who knows what is wrong? 1) Is the sin causing people to lose faith in Jesus? (Causing others to stumble) 2) Is the sin separating people from God, beyond by its definition and in reality interfering with their relationship of prayer, praise, confession and forgiveness and daily relationship?

Within history, there have been movements within the Christian community that caused rifts and still do. Some churches split on geographical lines during the Civil War. Some churches divided and remain divided over the ordination of women. Some churches don't allow women to wear pants. Some Christians don't drink caffeine or alcohol. Some churches reject people who are divorced.
When we can clearly see that someone's actions are hurting other people or themselves, we are called, through a Biblical pattern, to intervene. We stand against free will when we have an intervention for an alcoholic, when we call the police during a domestic dispute, when we sit on the jury during a murder trial. Through God's word and the laws of man, we are bound to stop things that hurt other people.

As a church, we walk a fine line of showing love, of using repentant posturing, of praying for our neighbors and of offering corrective actions. In deciding how to handle any matter, we not only look to the Bible, which gives instruction and framework, we also pray and consider how God is leading us at this very time.

If we believe that we can only receive instruction through the Bible, the implication can be that God is no longer speaking. If we disregard the Bible, the implication can be that it has no authority and we may mistake our own desires for the will of God, because we do not recognize God's voice. If we disregard reason, the implication can be that God desires unthinking automatons. If we disregard faith, the implication is that God isn't using us, but that we are forging ahead through our own knowledge of what is right, wrong and true.

Surely, there is a better way.

But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 12:31- 13:13

Is that helpful? Maybe not. Is it easy? Definitely not.

But it's better than a millstone around the neck.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Give me a head with hair

Daniel 3:27

And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counsellors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunicswere not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them.

Matthew 10:28-31

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

1 Corinthians 11: 13- 16

Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. But if anyone is disposed to be contentious—we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.

I had my hair trimmed yesterday and I spend most of the time talking with the stylist about how frustrated I feel with my hair. My husband likes long hair (great, let him grow some!) and I don't mind it, but I think my hair looks better in the style it's in now. I hate to grow my hair, only to wear it up all the time. When I go to a new stylist, I always say I have three hair rules: 1) no big bangs, 2) no mullets and 3) nothing that requires more than five minutes or more than one product. I know myself and I know the amount of time I'll spend on my hair. None. (It probably looks like it, too.)

I do shampoo, condition, brush and occasionally blow dry. I ignore it for as much as I possibly can and then (about every 6 weeks) suddenly it's all I can think about. I'm not an impulsive person, but I will do impulsive things with my hair. Perm it. Color it. Grow it (a looooong impulse). Cut it off. All, of course, in accordance with the rules.

So, yesterday, I started think about the Bible and hair. (Which is very different than thinking about the Bible and Hair.) Hair appears many times in the Bible, from descriptions of someone's hair (Samson or the woman who washed Jesus' feet) to injunctions about hair (don't cut the corners) to God's thoughts about hair (He knows how many you've got).

In some ways, the amount of discussion about hair is comforting. When God was with the three men in the fiery furnace, they weren't smoking even a little. They came out with every hair in place. Since I've singed my own ends at least once lighting a gas grill, that's a miracle. It serves to show that God is not only interested in the details of our lives, but that God is present in the details.

Often we think that we have to issue an invitation to God to encourage his involvement in our life. In fact, God is already present, active and inviting us to be as involved in what we do as He is. Many times, we float through life, without regard until we're overwhelmed by life events. We wonder where God was, but God is with us all the time.

I'm not sure that it's really important to God how I wear my hair. I do think it's important to God, though, that I remember my hair is a visible portion of my body, which is a temple housing the Spirit. What I do with my hair reflects on me, which reflects on what people can or may think about a person who says they are a Christian.

There are many strong feelings about hair within Christianity. Ultimately, there's no prevailing custom and we're not called to judge one another on hair, but on... wait, how are we called to judge one another?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Epiphany v. Revelation

I was recently asked how epiphany differed from revelation. This excellent questions aims at the heart of our understanding of words and phrases in our everyday English and how they may have a different meaning within our life of faith.

Epiphany means manifestation. The season of Epiphany is when Jesus began to manifest his power on Earth as the Son of God. He was always the Son, but after his baptism- the power of the Spirit within him became more evident and particularly manifested (became visible) itself in the signs and miracles that Jesus did as he lived among us.

When we say, "I had an epiphany"- we often mean "Things suddenly became clear" or "All the pieces came together for me" or "I found the solution". What had previously been absent was seemingly revealed. Therefore what we usually mean when we use the word "epiphany" is revelation.

Revelation means revealing or unveiling. We have the book of Revelation because John uses the phrase "The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ". Apocalypse comes from a Greek word, apokalypsis, meaning to uncover. A revelation makes clear something that was previously unclear. We are suddenly able to see all the pieces fit together. The reason becomes clear. The solution becomes obvious. The plan is revealed. The end is revealed. (For some of you, the name of Revelation may seem ironic since for many people it seems to be anything but clear.)

A revelation reveals. What it reveals may yet be intangible or still difficult to understand. An epiphany makes tangible something that previously seemed ethereal or unreal. God seemed far away, but the promises of presence were fulfilled and made concrete in Jesus Christ. Hence, Epiphany. The early church (and the current church) struggle with right relationship, balance between right doctrine and right community spirit, and participation in the world- how will this play out, how do these things come together, what will happen- the answers to these questions are revelation(s).

Wining with Jesus

2 Epiphany (17 January 2010)

Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

Why does John’s gospel begin with the story of the wedding at Cana? That question has always fascinated me. Is it to show that Jesus was a relaxed guy and enjoy a good glass of wine? To show that he respected his mother? We often consider this a miracle- water that becomes wine, but the gospel writer considers this a sign- something that points to who and what Jesus is.

So, just to summarize, Jesus has gathered his disciples and they’ve traveled to a wedding. Perhaps that of a mutual friend. Perhaps a relative of Jesus’. It’s a big enough event that Jesus’ mother is also there. And the wine has run out. A wedding was likely a three-day event and this celebration may be occurring even before the marriage has taken place, but as the bride and bridegroom are being prepared. Men and women were mostly separated at events like these. Jesus’ mother is concerned enough about wine running out before things have even really gotten started to cross from where the women are, preparing the bride, to where the men are preparing the groom.

She probably had to hunt through the jostling men, laughing and then stepping back in surprise to see her among them. Finally she gets to Jesus and she pulls him aside. You can almost hear his friends, howling, “Oh, Jesus. What did you do? You’re in trouble now.”

Jesus’ mother pulls him aside and says, “Jesus, the family is out of wine.” I can only imagine him blinking at her and saying, “What does this have to do with me?” Why would his mother come to him in the first place? Surely she, of all people, would know if his “hour had not yet come”, if he was not yet fully exhibiting his power as the Son of God, as well as the Son of Man.

But His mother knew who he was. She knew whence he came. It wasn’t just that Jesus was her oldest boy, with the sense of responsibility that comes with that position. She knew he had power. She believed in him. And you can imagine her looking at him. The mother stare. You are the Son of God, but I am your mother. And then she smiles, turns to the servants, says, “Do whatever he tells you”, turns and walks back to the women’s area.

And Jesus is left standing there, her appeal ringing in his ears, several servants waiting and wondering what he will tell them to do. It’s likely that His mother might have expected that Jesus would move among the friends of the groom, take up a collection and get some more wine purchased. However, that’s not what God had in mind. Jesus orders the large clay purification jars filled with water and someway, somehow that water is transformed into wine. Abundant, wonderful, quality wine. This is the first of Jesus’ signs and his disciples witness it and have faith in him.

Why is this the first sign? Probably because it comes out of a need, but not a crucial need. It’s not a healing or a casting out of demons or a resurrection. It’s a simple sign that could have gone unnoticed by many, many people there. Yet it pointed to God’s abundant grace in Jesus Christ. It revealed God’s power in Jesus and fulfilled the statement in John 1 that through Christ, “we have all received grace upon grace”.

The abundance of this story, it’s graciousness, stands, for me, in stark contrast to the images of Haiti we have seen in the past week. Destruction, devastation and death. People who had very, very little have now lost everything. And many are crying out, “How could this happen? How could God do this to us? What can we do now?” And there are some people who have rushed to answer the question, “How could God let this happen?” That question is often well asked, but less often well answered.

When we read about 120 gallons or more of excellent wine provided at a wedding, I wonder where the relief is for the Haitians? Where is their grace upon grace? The sign they need is not only the outpouring of compassion now, but for this not to have happened in the first place.

It is the major struggle of faith, the questions of good and evil, the question of why do bad things, terrible things, happen to good people, to faithful people. When we hear of new cancer diagnoses, tragic deaths, natural disasters, manmade disasters… we wonder how can this happen? Where are the signs of Christ now?

What can we do when we have those questions? Where do we take our fear and our grief? To whom shall we go? When you have those questions, when I have those fears and frustrations, it is time to consider Jesus’ mother. Not to ponder these things in our heart. We must be like in her in taking what we know about Jesus and showing it to him. We must grab onto the power we believe he has and demand that it be used. We must dare to leave comfort and fear and stretch out our hand and grasp his robe, claiming his healing.

First Corinthians says that within the Body of Christ there are many gifts, but it is God who grants those gifts and who uses them. No matter what our individual gifts are, together we are the Body of Christ and we know that other parts of the body are hurting, are wounded, are in need of healing.

When we are given the Lord’s Prayer, we aren’t granted the permission to prayer with timidness and nervousness, to mumble “Thy will be done” and hope it happens. We are given words through the Spirit and called into action by those words, through those words, with the Spirit. If we believe in Jesus, like his mother did, we are called to go to him, to implore him to do something, to bring the needs before him. We both say to him, “Something must be done” and “I will do whatever you ask of me.”

Faithful living doesn’t just keep a pew occupied or dutifully sing hymns. Faithful living means bellowing questions, like Job, stepping out of the boat like Peter, going to a strange land like Ruth, being like Jesus’ mother and saying, “I believe that you can do more.” It’s messy, frightening, breathtaking, sweaty and miraculous.

We do not believe that we have to act first. God always, always acts first. But we’re not waiting for that action. God has sent the Spirit so that we are able to say, “Jesus is Lord.” God turned the cross into a statement about truth and life. God feeds us, in the midst of fears and doubts, at His table.

And we’re called to respond to that movement with energy, with strength and with all our heart and soul and mind. Isaiah says, “For Zion’s sake, I will not be silent and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest.” So his voice challenges us to take up our call. For Haiti’s sake I will not be silent. For the sake of those with cancer, I will not rest.

Wrestle, wrestle, like Jacob wrestled. Say to your Savior, children of God, say to your Savior. They are out of wine. There is fear. There is pain. Fix it. I will do whatever you tell me. I will not let go until you bless me.

And do not expect anything less than grace upon grace.

For that is what has been promised.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Miep Gies: Hider, not Heroine

Yesterday (Monday, 11 January 2010) Miep Gies died.

She was the last person remaining of the small group of people who hid the Frank family and others in an attic in Amsterdam during World War 2. We know of her, the Franks and the others through her discovery Anne Frank's diary. She preserved the loose pages of the diary until Otto Frank, the lone survivor of the family and Anne's father, returned after the war, claimed then and eventually published one of the best known books in the world.

Gies never particularly thought of herself as heroic. Yet when we read about her or Corrie Ten Boom (or the many others who hid Jews and other persecuted peoples at other times in history), we often think of them as heroes. And we ask ourselves, "Could I do that?" Would I risk my family's health and safety, much less my own, to save someone else?

It's a question worth asking. Yet in the asking- it's always distant. Aren't there people now, causes now, who could use your help? What are you willing to risk, to do without, to take a stand for- for them?

Matthew 25:31-45

31 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”44Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” 45Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Star is Born

Matthew 2:1-12 (NRSV) In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Today marks the celebration of Epiphany, the festival wherein we celebrate the magi or wise men coming to see and honor Jesus. (Read that passage again carefully: how many were there?)

One of the catchphrases that became popular a few years ago (after "Jesus is the reason for the season") was "Wise men still seek him". It's a catchy phrase, makes a nice bumper sticker and serves as a reminder that looking for Christ is a journey that the faithful must undertake.

However, there is an implication that we, as people, (like the Wise Men), must do all the seeking. It's important to remember that God acted first (in several ways). Jesus coming to earth was an act of God. A star to guide them was an act of God. The scribes understanding of the prophet Micah (5:2) was an act of God. The giving of wisdom, the understanding of travel, the beauty of the night sky... God, God, God.

In the season, our Epiphany must be that God always acts first, last and best. As the Alpha and Omega, God is the initiator of baptism, of wisdom, of life. When we realize that, our light bulb of faith burns more brightly and we're able to seek God more truly and more fully. We're able to recognize the face of Christ of those around us. We're better able to live into our callings, vocations and avocations. We're wise enough to know what we don't know and what we can't do.

Because we can see.

And because we have learned what we are looking for.