Friday, November 30, 2018

Revelation Read-Along

Dear Bible Adventurer-

The written word of God, what we call the Bible, is a gift of the Holy Spirit to the faithful in the ages of scrolls, of parchment, of the printing press, and of digital technology. The Bible is not our God, but it is a manger in which Christ is laid. When we come to this manger like a shepherd, with humble hearts, and at heavenly urging, we will find our hope and our salvation. 

Why Revelation during Advent (or ever)? Advent is an in-between season that often gets overlooked in both church and secular society. The themes of anticipation, hope, peace, restoration, letting go, quietude, and discipleship can easily get lost in either frenetic Christmas preparation or in fear of the more dystopian themes of our news cycle and the biblical readings assigned for this time of year.

When Revelation was written, either very late in the first-century A.D./C.E. or early in the second, the people who followed the Way of Jesus find themselves outside of their society. If they lived in Roman-occupied areas, as did most of the people who received this letter, they were confronted with an emperor who had declared himself the son of the gods. Furthermore, both Jews (Christian or religiously Jewish) and Gentiles (Christians who were not ethnically Jewish or Judean) were being persecuted for their faith practices that put them at odds with the Roman culture.

Those who chose to live in imitation of Christ disregarded some of the social “norms” of their time. They shared what they had with one another and with those who struggled. They understood equality among men and women, slave and free, young and old to be a hallmark of their community. They did not give worship or undue honor to the emperor, especially not as a god. Their refusal to participate in the guilds that honored Roman gods and goddesses interfered with the Roman marketplace and finances.

Apocalypse means “unveiling”. So this unveiling or revelation to John is a Spirit-led interpretation of what it means to follow Jesus under the oppression of Rome and Rome’s leaders. The back and forth between Roman power and heavenly power described in the book was meant to give encouragement to Christians to continue in worship, discipleship, and trust in God. John’s writing involves a lot of Roman imagery, especially the symbols of the emperor and Roman power. 

When we read Revelation, it is important to understand what metaphor and symbolism mean in the book and then how the Spirit may lead us to understand these things in our own time. There is not always a direct correlation between a metaphor of Roman power and a way that power may be used well or abused in our own time.

The overarching theme of the book is to remember that God is the beginning and end of all things. When we are afraid, rather than seeking to clarify the signs around us, we are compelled by Christ to our knees and to our community in worship of the one true God and then driven back out, by the Spirit, to serve our neighbor-  be they Roman, Lutheran, Montanan, or other. 

I encourage you to take (at least) 10 minutes a day for this study. Give yourself time to read the Bible passage in your preferred translation. If you can read it out loud, do it. I often find that it is easier for me to understand difficult passages if I read them out loud to myself. Then read the devotional and the prayer. Let the words of the scripture and the meditation roll through your mind like water in a river over rocks. Allow the power of the Spirit in that rolling to smooth out the jagged edges of fear and to bring to you the consolation of God’s power and majesty.

In peace,

Pastor Julia

December 1
Revelation 1
December 2
Revelation 2:1-11
December 3
Revelation 2:12-29
December 4
Revelation 3
December 5
Revelation 4
December 6
Revelation 5
December 7
Revelation 6
December 8
Revelation 7
December 9
Revelation 8
December 10
Revelation 9:1-12
December 11
Revelation 9:13-21
December 12
Revelation 10
December 13
Revelation 11:1-14
December 14
Revelation 11:15- 12:6
December 15
Revelation 12:7-18
December 16
Revelation 13
December 17
Revelation 14
December 18
Revelation 15-16
December 19
Revelation 17
December 20
Revelation 18
December 21
Revelation 19
December 22
Revelation 20
December 23
Revelation 21
December 24
Revelation 22
December 25
Luke 1-2

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Sharper Image (Thoughts on Sanctification)

I've had this image floating around in my head and in my social media feeds for more than a week.

I even wrote a prayer around it here.

Lutherans famously are "weak on sanctification". I even have one colleague who had a t-shirt to that effect in seminary. I cringe.

The most significant theological aspect of Lutheran theology is justification. This "being made right with God by God's own work and not our own" is the whole basement of our belief system, built with the cornerstone of Jesus the Christ.

Lutheran theologian Gerhard Forde said here (in a really good article that I recommend!),
Sanctification, if it is to be spoken of as something other than justification is perhaps best defined as the art of getting used to the unconditional justification wrought by the grace of God for Jesus sake. It is what happens when we are grasped by the fact that God alone justifies. It is being made holy, and as such, it is not our work. It is the work of the Spirit who is called Holy. The fact that it is not our work puts the old Adam/Eve (our old self) to death and calls forth a new being in Christ. It is being saved from the sickness unto death and being called to new life…Sanctification is thus simply the art of getting used to justification. It is not something added to justification. It is not the final defense against a justification too liberally granted. It is the justified life. It is what happens when the old being comes up against the end of its self-justifying and self-gratifying ways, however pious. It is life lived in anticipation of the resurrection.

It takes nerves of steel to want to contradict or add to what Forde says because his pen was certainly often, if not always, guided by the Holy Spirit. Yet, I do think there is something not fully formed in this thought. Justification can be complete, through Jesus Christ, and we can be fully saved AND simul justus and peccator (simultaneously saint and sinner) AND still have growth in our life of faith and in our discipleship.

Sanctification does not have to be seen a completion of anything God has done, but instead the Spirit's on-going ordering of our internal chaos (as in the beginning of creation), so that we may more fully become the people God has made us to be.

Martin Luther himself understood that even when justification was complete (as it has been since the day of resurrection), we are still on a journey. He wrote in the snappily titled "An Argument- In Defense of All the Articles By Dr. Martin Luther Wrongly Condemned by the Roman Bull..."

This life, therefore, is not righteousness but growth in righteousness,
not health but healing,
not being but becoming,
not rest but exercise;
we are not yet what we shall be,
but we are growing toward it;
the process is not yet finished, but it is going on;
this is not the end, but it is the road;
all does not yet gleam with glory, but all is being purified

That sounds like sanctification to me- gleaming with the grace and power of Christ and yet becoming stronger in faith and discipleship, through the Spirit's power, day by day. Additionally, an enormous aspect of understanding the purpose of justification is that, through Christ's work, we have been freed so that we might more fully and purposefully love and serve our neighbors. It seems to me, then, that sanctification is, in part, coming to understand that our neighbors too have been justified by Christ.

It is one thing to believe that I have been made right with God. It is quite another to trust that the person whose motives I question, whose actions I despise, whose being I slander, has also been made right with God by the very same Jesus who has saved me! Surely we are all being moved along in our understanding of this.

Lastly, I think of Paul's words to the Philippians- his happy letter- wherein he is offering encouragement and words of promise to people whom he loved in Jesus.

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. -Philippians 1:3-6

Now, it is possible to say that this is a comment to a group of Christians, not about individual growth in righteousness, but I believe that kind of theological hair-splitting isn't necessary. Clearly, God's work in and among Christians is never completed, aside from their salvation, and we are constantly being shaped, molded, reformed, restored, stretched, compelled, halted, and burnished for the sake of Christ in the world. We must take this work on God's part seriously and take our own selves less seriously. None of us is presently so good that God's work in us is done.

What's the TL:DR (too long: didn't read)here? Sanctification is a real thing. It matters for our faith and it is apart from justification. Sanctification remains God's work in us, yet we are called and empowered by the Holy Spirit to take part in it, to perceive it, to celebrate it, and to know that God remains at work in us- from the beginning to the end.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Psalm 27 Revisited (Crosspost)

This was originally written for and posted at on 16 November 2018.

Psalm 27, Revised Julia Edition

God is my opening to life and my deliverance from evil—
who thinks they can scare me?
The Lord is a solid fence around me—
who will try and come through God’s defenses?

When those who oppose God’s will come at me
thinking they can do something,
it is all over for their evil plans-
Boom! Crash! Rubble.

Though they bring friends to gang up on me,
my heart will not panic;
though hostilities confront me at every turn,
even then I will be confident.

I do have one request for God, though, 
one thing that I really, really want:
that I may perceive the presence of the living God
every day of my life,
to gaze on the splendor of the Lord
and to find the Divine in every place I look.

For in times of trouble
God will keep me safe in the Divine dwelling;
God will hide me in the shelter of the sacred tent
and give me a perch upon the rock of ages.

Then I will look down on all those
who thought they could plan my destruction;
at the Divine tent I will offer my endless praise and thanksgiving;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I pray to you, O God;
be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Look for God!”
Your face, Lord, I will seek.

This is no time for holy hide and seek,
please do not frustrate me;
you have been the one thing I could count on.
Do not swipe left on me or unfriend me,
God my Savior.

Though the people closest to me leave and hurt me,
I know You will greet me at each turn.
Teach me the way of Divine love and mercy;
lead me in a life that brings honor to You,
so that no one can find fault with me.

Do not let those who oppose Your will for my life win,
for people lie about me and my motivations,
making up a lot of crap.

I know one thing is true:
I will see God’s goodness and provision
in this life; I don’t have to die first.

Wait for the Lord;
be faithful and brave
and wait for the Lord.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Both Sides Now

For over ten years, I unlocked this door to go to work. Not always the first person in the building, but usually. Not always the last person in the building, but usually. I unlocked this door to run in and grab my communion kit, a Bible, or an address. I unlocked the door to get ready for a funeral, for a wedding, for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost. I unlocked the door to come into God's House and I locked it behind me to go out into God's World. 

I accepted a call to serve a new congregation, which meant leaving my keys for the maroon and glass door behind. From what I learned on both sides of that door, I have come to a new place to serve new people, but the same God. For the first time the other day, I unlocked a new door. Eventually, I will unlock it for all the same reasons and then some new ones. 

Mostly, I think about how God remains the same. I do believe that God's character is immutable, but I also believe that God's actions, throughout history, happen in spite of and despite the actions of people. I think that the Divine Three in One has, on occasion, had to change course due to the reality of human self-centeredness, stubbornness, and desire for control. Even in the course change, God's own heart remains merciful, loving, and compassionate- even in correction. 

So, there are new doors, new faces, and new lessons. And I still love what we've left behind. 

But life is made in the little motions of daily living. The habits. The paths. The words. The keys, the doors, what we unlocked and hold open. What we lock and hold closed. 

And, in all of this, God remains on both sides of all doors.