Monday, April 22, 2019

God's Long Now

Easter Sunday
Luke 24:13-35
If God had a clock, what would it look like? What would God’s desk calendar look like? I’m not just  thinking about marking the passing of time; I’m thinking more about the scope of time. Most of us are familiar with a 24-hour clock. We’ve seen or we’ve been people with five-year-journals or planners. 2ndPeter says that for God, one thousand years is like a day and a day is like one thousand years. 

God’s concept of time is what I would call the “Long Now”. When humans talk about the Long Now, they are discussing time in ten thousand year increments. They work to think on a grand scale about time, about people, about medicine, about the care of the earth. The Long Now is a shift toward thinking that’s not just about investing or retirement, but for a reality that we cannot even imagine, for a time and a people or a planet, long after we are forgotten on this plane of existence.

I find the Long Now fascinating, but I’m even more intrigued by the idea of a Divine Long Now. It pulls at my spirit to think that God’s sense of time is so high, so deep, and so broad, that God’s sense of now puts us in the same time frame as Abraham and Sarah, as King David, as Jesus, at the women at the tomb, as Cleopas and his friend. God’s now already encompasses our own descendants, ten, twenty, and thirty generations out from us. God’s Long Now is a horizon we can barely grasp, and yet its scenery is so replete with holy grace and healing that we cannot ignore it.

Why am I thinking about God’s Long Now and God’s sense of time?

I think the Emmaus story contains what is possibly the most painful statement for humans to utter. We had hoped. Cleopas and his friend are probably drained. They witnessed the crucifixion. They stayed in Jerusalem until the sabbath was complete and then headed back to Emmaus. They heard the witness of the women, but were unsure how to understand it. 

So they say those words, “We had hoped.” I think “we had hoped” is exactly the opposite of the Long Now. We had hoped says we wanted to see this, we wanted to witness God’s glory in our lifetime, we had expectations that were not met, we do not know how to understand what has happened. We had hoped that the good old days would last forever. We had hoped that we would hold onto power. We had hoped that it would be our turn to be on top and maybe get to do a little oppressing of our own. 

We had hoped

Where people say, “We had hoped”, God says, “The story isn’t finished. In fact, we’ve only just begun. I’ve been keeping promises for generations. I’ve upheld every covenant I’ve made. I’ve worked to heal creation again and again and again. I’m pouring out love and mercy and grace, even to the extent of walking among you. And you think we’re finished?”

In my holy imagination, God sighs, with compassion, as Jesus walks down that road, explaining the scriptures, revealing God’s nature, character, and faithfulness… again. As this goes on, the Spirit is on the move- shoring up the witness of the women, bringing new life to bear in plants and animals, inspiring faith in people who were witnesses to the crucifixion at the margins of the story. Even as Jesus focuses on a pair of followers, God’s view of the Long Now is on the move.

God’s planner is eternal. And I don’t mean like our perpetual calendars, where you just shift the numbers to show a new date. I mean, God’s scope and plan for the on-going outpouring of love, the effort to bring us all into right relationship, the making of all things new (which is different than all new things)… God is always doing that work. As long as God is doing that, the only time that exists for the Divine is now.

When we think of first-century Palestine, when we think of the lie of Pax Romana, when we consider the other places or times that the incarnation could have taken place, that Jesus could have been born… we are only considering that from our own perspective in time. In God’s Long Now, Jesus life, death, and resurrection were but a minute ago and none too soon because people just seem(ed) unable to grasp the nuances of Divine control and power, revealing holy love. 

What happens to our understanding of time if we realize that we have been baptized into God’s Long Now? Our grief and pain over death remain very real. Our frustrations with the world remain true. We remain in compassionate disagreement with one another over many things.

And yet, we know that our trust in God, our generosity, our patience, our kindness, and our joy matter deeply because they bear witness to the reality that God is not made in our image, but that we are made in God’s. Our Easter joy is rooted in and grows out of the truth that God forgives and brings resurrection and restoration out of the worst that humans can do. When our hope in this truth bears fruit, the harvest is for justice and peace, for compassion and healing, for the little, the lost, and the least, for the prodigal son, his frustrated brother, his grieving father, and his unmentioned mother.

All creation lives for and leans toward this blessed alleluia-filled, glorious Easter blessing: that resurrection is always now. That God’s power was neither stronger then or is coming stronger in the future, but is now as it always has been. God’s Long Now means that Jesus breathed again just a second ago. He only just broke the bread at the table with Cleopas and his friend. It has only been a minute since Jesus inspired Augustine and Aquinas, since he strengthened Martin and Katie Luther, since he moved people to build Notre Dame cathedral the first time, since he stirred firmly those who worked to spread the good news in word and deed around the world, since he gave the inspiration to people to build this very church. Each of these people, these faithful, these witnesses could have looked at what they faced and said, “We had hoped.” Instead, they stepped out bravely in faith. And in God’s divine time, all of it happened right now.

And a right now resurrection includes, surrounds, and compels us to be people we never dreamed we could be, to do good that never previously occurred to us, to be present to one another, showing up, in ways new and old, but with timing that is always now.

We are God’s people by God’s call, God’s faithfulness, and God’s use of us in the world. We are resurrection people- serving a God who renews, restores, and reforms life and lives through grace upon grace. We are Easter people.

And because of God’s divine plan of time, Easter is always now. Jesus breathes again, in us, now. The earth is relieved, now. Our alleluias ring out now. We respond to grace now.

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. He is with us, between us, in the breaking of the bread, out in the world forever, but also and always right now.

Amen.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Credo

I've recently been working with confirmands on the Apostle's Creed. The culmination of our learning
was to write a statement of faith of our own. I was asked, of course, about how long it needed to be. I replied that it didn't matter how long it was, so much as that it covered the person's understanding of God. I said it could be a haiku, for that matter, as long as it did the job.

Thus, I challenged myself to write my own faith statement in 17 syllables.

Here it is:

Source of all being
Bringing forth life in season
Theopneustos: all grace. 

Theopneustos= God-breathed.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Inspired by the Breath of God

Dear Pastor-

At our next Bible study, could you say a little something about your understanding of "God-breathed" and the relationship of that phrase to scripture?

- Inquiring Minds Want to Know


Dear IMWTK-

Firstly, it's unlikely that I'll ever say a "little" something regarding anything related to the Bible, but I will try to contain myself.

When I look to the word theopneustos, I find the word and the concept awe-inspiring. Theo for God and pneustos for breathed means a vision of how God moves and exists that includes bringing creation into existence. Theopneustos makes me think of the Spirit, as the Breath of God, moving over the void at the beginning of all things. Out of disorder and emptiness, creation was birthed and shaped. God's whole self poured out in breath (Spirit) and then in Word ("Let there be..."). Thus, the reality of theopneustos has existed since before any human was present to interpret it.

That being said, what does it mean for Breath and Word to come to a prophet (or an apostle)? In Geraldine Brooks's The Secret Chord, the prophet Nathan experiences near blackout states when he is called upon to speak to David. His body and his speech are overtaken and his voice becomes not his own. In this depiction, his prophecies are clearly God-breathed. Given some of the things that Nathan is called upon to address with David, surely the strength and the words needed to come from outside himself. Did they always? I don't know.

In writing for preaching, I sometimes have a strong bodily awareness of what I meant to say. I describe it as a piercing of my heart. I have a sense of what is meant to be said and, in the best times, the words come in close connection to the piercing. Sometimes the idea comes, but I have to wait for the words. When I have to deliver a sermon that has come in this way, I tremble before delivery because I know the concept is not mine. I don't want to mess up or try to take credit for what God is trying to do or what I have perceived that God is trying to do.

In these two examples, Nathan and me (never heretofore mentioned in the same sentence), God is delivering a word. There is a revelation of what the Spirit wants to be communicated and it is in keeping with who Jesus is and God's on-going self-revelation. Nothing a prophet or preacher is called to say, if it is truly of God, will contradict the nature of God- even the most intense and life-changing revelation.

That being said, neither Nathan nor I can testify to something we are unable to perceive. So, it is true that God inspires and gives revelation, but said revelation and inspiration, in my opinion, is likely only half-steps ahead of where we are as people. Thus, it seems unlikely that Nathan would have received inspiration for where the capital of England should be or that I will receive inspiration for how to terraform Saturn. Those are not revelations that are meaningful or relevant to the situations to which we have been called.

When scribes were writing Judges or Paul was writing to the Philippians or Revelation was being written for the encouragement of the early church, it does seem likely that theopneustos was at work. God breathed words and guidance for the authors to offer to their audiences. While it is with God's nature to know how long Paul's letters would last, it was not within Paul's capabilities to write for the ages. So God gave him words that were true for the time being and would be useful, alongside the Holy Spirit, for generations to come.

Of course, when we think of scripture, we think of the editors, the redactors, the translators, the scribes, and the church fathers and mothers who prayed about what to keep in the canon and what to reject. While the Spirit certainly guided all this work, human fallibility is unavoidable. In the best of circumstances, small unintended mistakes were made. In the worst of circumstances, intentional errors were made or kept for the purposes of preserving this or that human understanding or institution.

Therefore, in its initial imprint, the scripture was breathed by God for teaching, admonition, correction, and training in righteousness all toward the end of instructing us toward understanding salvation and living lives which demonstrate that we belong to God (2 Timothy 3:16).

Since that initial writing or prophesying, however, many people have entered the process. Most people have had good intentions toward sharing the word of God, but others have been less pure in heart. It is true that God is still speaking. The Word has not retired nor has the Spirit stopped moving. We are led constantly into relationship with the written word for the purposes of teaching, admonition, etc. to the same ends as those who receive guidance from the author of 2 Timothy. We use the Bible as a tool to understand God, to know God's history, and to be pointed to where and how God is still at work in the world and leading the faithful to participation in that work.

In my opinion, when and where it is argued that the written word is infallible, such arguments attempt to steal the air out of theopneustos. The written word can be inspired, useful, important, and necessary, but it is not and never will be God. Furthermore, God is bigger than our translation mistakes, printing errors, and personal whims tied to time and place. God's desires for creation are truth and the truth will out. And it will set us free. Theopneustos cannot be contained.