Thursday, April 30, 2009

Life in abundance

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

- Luke 5:1-11

After rebuking the demons, Jesus continues preaching around the Galilee (Lake of Gennesaret, I'm told, is another name for the Sea of Galilee). He is by now famous for healings and casting out demons - for "rebuking" both fever and demons, according to yesterday's readings. Today's readings concern themselves with the topic of obedience, and what it means to follow what is from the Lord.

I think obedience is a rather tricky topic in the sense that it is so often confused with control. But there's a world of difference in following the commands of a person who has your best interest at heart, and those of someone who wishes to use or exploit you for selfish purposes. If our obedience is to the good, to that which knows better than we do what we can do to serve the good, then our choice to follow comes not from a slavish sort of obedience but of the impulse or intuition to follow the good, to bring it about, to show love and care for our world as we do so through the fruits of that obedience.

Simon recognizes Jesus as master and leader in this passage. His partners, John and James, will also become partners in "fishing for people." Jesus' command regarding where and when to lay their nets comes in a way to show Jesus' mastery of time - as has been discussed on this blog before. Jesus knows what to do and when to do it. There is nothing, to my mind, more symbolic of abundance than these nets full of fish. They remind me of Jesus' teachings about life in abundance - that this is the purpose for which he has come to us, so that we may have this life in abundance. But I also think of this abundance as symbolic of the values harvested through Jesus' life in the world and our obedience to his teachings and commandments.

There's a fascinating book by a man who was a professor of French literature at Stanford University, Rene Girard. It's called I See Satan Fall Like Lightning. Professor Girard was a literary critic quite famous for social theories developed through his work. I'd recommend any of his texts to those interested. In this particular book, however, he examined pagan mythologies side-by-side with religious scripture in the stories of the Bible. His most remarkable finding in examining these stories is in the difference in the nature of the victim of scapegoating. The pagan mythologies portray a victim that deserves treatment and status as scapegoat. We can see for ourselves that in the literature of the story of Jesus, the victim is innocent. Inherent in this story is the notion that not all victims deserve their punishment, and in my opinion, the seed of the development of legal systems protecting the rights of the innocent. This seed of thought, of notions of social good, has functioned in subsequent cultural development through the prevalence of this important "Myth." (I use the term "Myth" as Joseph Campbell would, as a story that is part of the fabric of prevalent culture.) Without this story, I doubt that cultural development of social ideas of protection of the innocent victims of the majority would have developed as they have. I bring up Professor Girard's studies to make a point about the abundance of values I see symbolized in those nets full of fish. I believe that, in obedience to the commands of the Good, we are to have life in abundance through the fruits of that labor - the values of good that are created in our world.

May we labor for what is good, and may we know the way to do so. I personally need to seek that which teaches me how to follow this path. I believe that this is what Jesus meant when he called himself the Way, the Truth and the Life. How do we know to serve that which will produce values of good we have not yet encountered nor understood?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Proclaiming the good news of the kingdom

After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her. Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them.

As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. Demons also came out of many, shouting, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah.

At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, ‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.’ So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.

- Luke 4:38-44

The first thing about this passage that struck me was the use of the word "rebuke." In this passage, Jesus rebukes a fever and he also rebukes demons. So, I looked up the word in Greek, and it seems to me to imply, more than anything else, Jesus' authority. There are various definitions for this Greek word so it gets a little confusing. But I think in the end this word is used in the sense of asserting authority, laying down the law, or more specifically to charge someone in a certain way. I think we can take it that Jesus here is seen to assert his command over all things: he can heal in any manner, whether it be to "rebuke" a fever, or to "rebuke" a demon.

In the case of the demons, he has charge over them, too, and commands them that they should not speak about Jesus' identity. In one commentary I read, it's noted that Jesus prohibits the demons to speak because what they say is not a confession of faith. For me personally, this notion of these demons coming out of people and recognizing Jesus as Son of God is intriguing in the sense that it opens up a concept of a world beyond this one (or rather at work in our world) that we know nothing about. What is this world where there are spiritual entities that recognize Jesus, and are subject to his authority, yet are somehow not of his faith? They must follow his commands, and yet they don't serve him. This is an indication of free will at work not just in us but also in realms that we don't necessarily perceive, and it tells me more about the nature of free will at work even under the authority of Christ. I am also curious to understand the nature of these different spiritual "entities" (for lack of a better word). We understand that God is love (see especially yesterday's readings), but in these demonic possessions which we can take as a form of ill health, we see human beings subject to something else, which is not practicing love. The people are freed by the healing action of Jesus.

So, we have a kind of hidden world of spirit in which one side is allied with God who is love, and the other, in its given free will, chooses to ally with that which is not God and not love. God gives us all free will to love God or not, but this "other side" is unloving - it is enslaving and punishing. It is terrifying and it does not respect nor desire free will in its victims but rather domination and control. If we are to look around us in the world I believe discerning these characteristic differences in any situation will perhaps help us to understand what is the nature of that with which we wish to be allied, or rather those characteristics we wish to follow or emulate. I am also reminded of characteristics of conditions of our modern world which need healing, such as addiction of all kinds.

Jesus here also goes into a deserted place - this Greek word can mean either "desert" or "wilderness." He seems continually to go off to be on his own to recollect himself and to recharge in some way. I personally need my "down time" spent alone in prayer or meditation, to "renew a right spirit in me." But always, Jesus' prime concern is with the mission from the Father: he must go to preach. This is what he is here for, to continue with his mission for the kingdom. The healings, and Jesus' choice to reveal himself or not, are all in service to this work, this spreading of his gospel.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

God is Love

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

- 1 John 4:7-21

Today I chose to focus on the epistle reading because it is one of the most remarkable passages I know of. John's epistle speaks of love, continuing the thoughts from John's gospel about love, relationship, and what it means to abide in God.

Love itself is a difficult subject. We all seem to think we know what it is, but just try to define it with a set of rules and you will see how difficult it is to pin down just what love is. In this epistle reading, John declares to us that God is love. The first paragraph in this quoted passage alone is worth thousands of volumes of theology. Perhaps the first thing we could say is remarkable about it is the very notion that love itself is from God, and that those who love are born of God and know God; and those who don't love, therefore, don't know God. John goes on to say that we know God loves us because God sent his Son to us... and if that love is to be perfected in us believers, then it must be born in us among us and for one another.

I say that love is a puzzling subject because it can't be divorced from judgment and truth. It doesn't just mean indulgence, that everything we do is okay and that there is no correction, never a loving rebuke for bad behavior. But John distinguishes here between punishment and judgment. If we know God's love, then it will cast out fear of punishment, and we may have boldness on the day of judgment. So, I am reminded once again, that we must distinguish between a rebuke from a loving God or Savior, and the notion of fear of punishment. This establishes, in my mind, a whole host of differences between discipline, truth, and judgment made in love, and the enslavement and fear in sin.

To enslavement and fear I think we can add hatred, as John does here. I think it is one thing to call something wrong, to avoid it (or the person from whence bad behavior comes) or to deny that an action has merit - and it is another thing to hate. Hatred, violence, envy - all of those things so caught up with aspects of what we'd call evil in our world are things that don't belong with a just rebuke, or loving behavior between brothers and sisters.

How much we have to learn! What does it really mean for love to be perfected among us? What does it mean for me to be the loving person that John, following Jesus' words at the Last Supper, exhorts me to be?

Monday, April 27, 2009

A prophet is not without honor

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’ And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

- Luke 4:14-30

Jesus goes to his hometown and reads Isaiah's prophecy about the anointed one, the one who is to be anointed with Spirit. Luke's gospel has already described Jesus' anointing with the Holy Spirit at the baptism in the Jordan. So, we know that as Jesus tells the crowd at his synagogue, this prophecy has been fulfilled in him. They all marvel because they know him from their village. How could this be? He must prove himself.

But Jesus begins by telling them that he has anticipated their response, their disbelief, and that he will provide no such proof. He utters the now famous response that a prophet is not without honor save in his own country. Then he goes on to recount the stories of Elijah and Elisha, how their spiritual gifts were bestowed, not to those of their own country, but to a widow in Sidon and a leper from Syria. We know that these healings involved faith, and so it is with Jesus. Jesus is looking for those with faith, who will make this spiritual connection with him.

The most striking thing about this passage is Jesus' bold use of the truth. My first thought was simply a rather sarcastic one: "Jesus really knows how to win friends and influence people!" But he's there to teach, and his embrace of painful truth is complete. There were many widows and many lepers in the home country of Elijah and Elisha, but it was to outsiders that their spiritual gifts were bestowed. So it will be with Jesus - and he goes so far as to say this is the fate of prophets, to be honored not in their own country but elsewhere. He does not shy away from confrontation with those in his home country, who do not believe; he does not shy away from the rebuke that will enrage them.

Indeed their rage is so great they wish to kill him. But it's not yet his time and he eludes the crowd. I admire Jesus' fearlessness in speaking the truth. It is truth that is his number one priority. I can't help but reflect that when I've been outspoken, I've been made to regret it - and my prayer is to understand when it's worth the sacrifice, and when speaking the truth to please God is more important than maintaining peace. Even a rebuke from Jesus isn't necessarily going to be accepted peacefully! Do we know when it's the right time to speak? There were times Jesus chose not to speak, as well. God grant me the discernment to know what time is right for me, and the wisdom to accept truths that I need to accept.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Feed my lambs

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’ So the rumour spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’

This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

- John 21:15-25

This is one of my favorite readings of the Bible. There is first of all the questioning of Peter. Three times, Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me?" We could say that this question three times mirrors the three times Peter was questioned on the night Jesus was arrested, and his responses to deny Christ three times. Do you love me? Jesus' response to Peter's emphatic positive answer is Feed my sheep. Jesus' concern is now with the flock that is to come and its shepherding. He depends on the apostles to tend his flock in his stead. This is how they will show their love. And Peter, who is forgiven for his denials of Christ, will die a martyr's death for that love and that care. Tellingly, Jesus calls him by his given name, Simon, reminding us of the change in Peter, the Rock, that Jesus is counting on.

In parallel to this reading, lately we've also been given passages as part of the daily readings from the letters of both apostles John and Peter. These apostles repeatedly emphasize the love that must exist between believers. John declares that God is love. The apostles continue Jesus' words about love, and that it is through love that the world will know his followers. Love is the purpose of communion with (and hence knowledge of) God.

But my favorite part of this passage comes at its end, when Peter, so typically, told of his martyr's death, then turns and points to John. He asks Jesus, What about him? It's such a wonderful picture of our own human nature, that I absolutely love this passage. And Jesus' answer is even better, If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me! Jesus, in his loving rebuke, gives the starkest contrast possible to Peter's answer, and asks him "What's that to you?" It's a conversation we might hear every day about one subject or another. But Jesus also makes it clear that we serve him as individuals. Each of us has a relationship to maintain that will demand of us whatever it does, and our fulfilment of that love and commitment may be as individual as our characters.

John also goes on to point out here, regarding himself, that rumors get started that are wrongful interpretations of Jesus' words, so that we will understand the witty, emphatic, slightly sarcastic character of Jesus' rebuke - a characteristic of his human personality shown throughout this gospel, which I also love. And, characteristically of other scripture traditionally ascribed to the apostle John, he ends with the notion that this is testimony and that he is testifying.

My love for this passage continues to its last words, that end in a sweet, wistful and poignant note from our witness: But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. After alerting us to get the facts straight, John lets us know that there is much, also, that we do not know. It's his book, his testimony, so we can assume that he's telling us, It's enough. And I suppose as Jesus told Peter, we can do what we know he has told us to do.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.” ’

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written,

“Worship the Lord your God,

and serve only him.” ’

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,

“He will command his angels concerning you,

to protect you”,


“On their hands they will bear you up,

so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’

Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’ When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

- Luke 4:1-13

I find it interesting that, in this gospel, Jesus' first act after his baptism in the Jordan, and the revelation of the Trinity (including Jesus' Sonship), is to go to the wilderness. In one commentary I read, this act of going to the wilderness is seen as a reflection of the Jewish Exodus into the wilderness following "baptism" in the Red Sea. So this Christian beginning of a "new people" starts after baptism and time spent in the wilderness (forty years for Exodus, forty days for Jesus). One presumes this is a time to be alone with God, and to face himself, to gather himself to the task at hand and the beginning of his public ministry, this birth of a new vine. What will that be like?

Luke's gospel says that it is at the end of this forty days in the wilderness that the devil brings these temptations. Interestingly, the temptations parallel three important aspects of Jesus' ministry. First there is the temptation for food (after forty days of fasting). Jesus' reply, One does not live by bread alone, causes me to remember the miracle of the distribution of loaves and fishes to a hungry crowd.

The devil tempts Jesus with power and earthly authority - and I remember that Jesus escaped to the mountaintop from that crowd that wanted to force him to become king after he'd fed them. Jesus will in fact be hailed as a public figure and offered great authority (as when the crowd wished to make him king and also when he was greeted and hailed at Passover Week with palm branches).

Finally, Jesus is taken to the pinnacle of the temple at Jerusalem, and told to prove himself by having the angels save him (and Satan quotes the scriptures in that temptation in order to sow doubt). This prefigures what will happen in Jerusalem, just outside its walls at Golgotha, when Jesus will also be taunted to save himself. In each answer to temptation, Jesus responds with service to God, to truth. He has a job to do, and the temptations - and the attempt to sow self-doubt - are obstacles that are attempted to be thrown in the way of doing what he is here to do, of throwing him off his mission. I remember that the meaning for Satan is "accuser."

I think it's important to understand that when we choose or are willing to follow the truth in our hearts, or are willing to do the right thing, we may also be beseiged by doubts. One can pray for guidance, and seek to know or to feel the right way to choose to go forward within a situation. Getting away alone and praying, one may come to realize a "right way." But often the doubts and fears will go to work on us at just that time: the "shoulds" and the "musts," for example; the world's expectations. You have to eat. You're crazy not to want a position of authority if you want to teach people the right thing. Don't you want to prove to people who you are by some great feat (or miracle)? How do we discern what is the right thing to choose? How do we know when self-doubt is self-delusion?

Friday, April 24, 2009


As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

- Luke 3:15-22

Luke's gospel continues with images of a judgment to come, and a just judge. This judgment is also correlated with the action of the Holy Spirit - the baptism of the one who is to come is with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand - to separate the wheat from the chaff - and with which he will clear the threshing floor. This is a time of clearing away the old, separating the true from the false, a reconciliation in truth and just judgment.

As is consistent with this idea of separation and judgment, we are given the actions of Herod - which become compounded and worse by his response to a just rebuke. He adds to his sins by imprisoning John the Baptist after Herod is rebuked. This is a pattern similar to that of Judas, who betrays Jesus after he is rebuked. A just rebuke is made in love, a correction from the just judge is truth to be embraced.

The immediate contrast to this persona of Herod, for whom truth is a matter of self-service, is Jesus himself. Jesus is baptized in the Jordan, and is immediately "crowned" with the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and the voice of the Father, You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased. So Luke sets out a clear image of judgment: separating the wheat from the chaff; the selfish nature of Herod for whom truth is irrelevant, and the holiness of Christ, whose recognition is through obedience and service to the Father.

Making the way straight for the Lord creates conditions for revelation. The first revelation is this scene at the Jordan of Father, Son and Spirit. We will see revealed what is just and what is unjust in response to truth: love of truth versus contempt for truth unless it is self-serving; self-aggrandizement versus the love and honor of the Father; and personal power against service to the world, and to a community, in the embrace of the Father's will. The advent of this reality coming into the world, this epiphany, is with us and the time is now for revealing truth in all aspects.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Prepare the way of the Lord

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

“Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight.

Every valley shall be filled,

and every mountain and hill shall be made low,

and the crooked shall be made straight,

and the rough ways made smooth;

and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’

And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’

- Luke 3:1-14

As we move into the gospel of Luke for the daily readings, we begin with the work of John the Baptist. I find it interesting, first of all, that the Baptist's mission is set via the word of God. This is not set out as John's personal holiness or grand idea, but that John is acting on the word of God. So, it is the right time for this work to begin. In notes and commentary I read that the details Luke has carefully set out here on the rulership of the region set the date of John's ministry sometime between A.D. 26-28.

Luke quotes the prophet Isaiah as prefiguring the work of John the Baptist. This is the awaited time; it is the advent of a new age that is to come. John's focus is on the just judgment of the One who is to come. In the quoted text from Isaiah, preparing the way for the Lord involves a great leveling. The mountains should be cut down into plains, the valleys filled, all roads made straight through wilderness or desert, in preparation for the Lord. To me this speaks of the great leveling before just judgment. We all stand on equal ground, and truth does not judge or stake its opinions on false pretenses.

John tells the crowds who follow him that they can't rely on ancestry - that even the stones could be made children of Abraham (prefiguring the image of "living stones" which we read in Peter's epistle). Instead, he tells the crowds that repentance involves true change, justice and honesty, fair dealings with one another. To prepare for the Lord involves the equality of fair dealings, the great leveling between all people that is in the eyes of the just judge. This is the way to prepare for the judgment of the One who is to come, and the time is at hand for the beginning of this new time.

John also uses the imagery of the tree and bearing fruits - and tells them that every tree that does not bear fruits of repentence: honesty, fair dealing, equality - will be cut down and thrown into the fire. Christ's words about himself as "true vine" will hold with this same figure or image for us. It is a time of change, of transition. Are we prepared for it via repentence and fair dealings?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

So that the world may know

‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’

- John 17:20-26

As Jesus continues his prayer to the Father, he includes all believers - of all time - in his prayer. He prays that they all may be one, not only those who are gathered with him at the Last Supper, his apostles, but those who will believe through their word.

So, relationship is once more extended, not only to those present, but to those who will also be included in this oneness of relationship via the word of the apostles. Jesus says the Father is in him, and he is in the Father, and prays that we, believers, may also be in Them. This oneness of relationship with all believers is extended and enhanced: glory is in all, and he prays that love be in all and through all. In this way, Jesus prays, the world may know that He was sent by the Father. He prays for oneness of relationship, all in all, glory to all and love to all - and for the world's knowledge and understanding of this love. Jesus also prays that all believers be united with him in glory and love with the Father beyond this world, in the time of the eternal, that which was given before the foundation of the world.

In this prayer, Jesus extends his love and hopes not simply for all believers who are to come, but also for the world. He prays that through this faith and this oneness in love and glory and relationship, the world should come to understand that He was sent by the Father, loved by the Father, and so the world should come to be included in that love. He doesn't say this is a certain thing - but he prays for this eventuality.

Finally, he continues his prayer with a promise: that he has made the Father's name known to his apostles, that he will continue in future to make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. I take it, by inference, that it is through this love that the world may come to know this name, this love and this glory and believe this truth of relationship. I infer that the world should know God through the love we have in us, that we are capable of expressing, through this relationship. Are we doing our part in this love, to reflect this glory and this relationship in the world?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sanctify them in truth

While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

- John 17:12-19

To be sanctified is to be made holy, to be set apart. This is an indication of the action of Spirit in our lives: it is to set something apart so that it is consecrated in holiness, it is reserved for devotion to God. We, as Christians, if I interpret this passage correctly by understanding that Jesus' words which refer to the apostles will also apply to us, are also to be sanctified in some way. We are to be consecrated, devoted to a life in God.

But this life in God, this sanctification or setting apart, is not to be out of the world or separate from the world in a complete sense. At the same time, Jesus says he sends his apostles into the world. So they are in the world, yet at the same time sanctified, set apart, in truth so that they may be ambassadors of something into the world, as Jesus was. We are not separated from our fellow human beings but rather sent into the world.

Jesus asks specifically, therefore, for protection for the apostles from the evil one - not that they may be taken out of the world. He is careful to make this distinction in his prayer to the Father. Sanctification has a more profound meaning than simple separateness: it is rather that they are to be consecrated to something, for something. Apostolos means "sent" - they have a mission to do that involves going out into the world. For this they need protection, so that they remain in that sanctified place or state of being, that relationship that confers this position.

We remember that in the sentence previous to this passage, Jesus prayed to the Father for the maintenance of this state of relationship: so that they may be one, as we are one. In this reading, he continues a prayer for protection by mentioning the one that was lost, or Judas, and so Jesus makes clear that by protection he is praying that his apostles remain in that relationship. He is praying not necessarily for the physical protection we normally associate with this word, but rather that they remain in relationship, and not be lost in that sense. He will sanctify himself in truth, so that they may be sanctified in truth, as a kind of seal of protection on that relationship which confers truth.

As we go into the world, I believe we should consider what these words may mean for us. We who live so much later in history, after the work of these apostles was done and the word has spread, need to consider for ourselves what sanctification in truth means for us, and how we may invoke protection for that relationship. I think it is just as important for us to consider what truth is, how we may receive it, and be devoted to it in a world that is not perfect and is still in so much need of healing.

Monday, April 20, 2009

So that they may be one, as we are one

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

- John 17:1-11

Jesus continues his farewell discourse, but at this time he lapses into prayer, and addresses the Father. We are given these words in this passage as prayer. However, Jesus continues to extoll the basis of relationship, and there is a pattern here that continues from his farewell discourse to the apostles.

As before, he continues to expand on the relationship of Father and Son and includes mankind as deeply into the relationship of Father and Son as he can: the human beings for whom eternal life is knowledge of the Father through the Son. Jesus says here that the Father has given him authority over all people; as the Father has glorified Christ, so Christ glorifies the Father and makes him known to those people whom the Father has given to him. The depth of relationship goes beyond our usual understanding of notions of relationship: Jesus' work has retained, deepened and created relationship with those whom the Father has brought him. For us, it is knowledge of the Father through this work of Christ that is eternal life.

Moreover, the hour has come for glorification: Jesus prays to be restored to the fullness of relationship with the Father, as he has completed his mission of glorification, in that relationship he says he had with the Father before the world existed. We have differing notions of time here: Jesus' declaration that it is the hour of glorification just prior to his seizure and arrest and death; it is the end of Jesus' time spent in the world completing the mission of glorification given him by the Father and gathering into relationship all those given by the Father; and finally the restoration and completion of the eternal Divine Relationship of Father and Son as it was before the world existed. It is the right time (the hour has come), it is the end of Jesus' time in the world completing his mission of glorification of the Father for we human beings, it is time to return to eternal time and relationship. Jesus' relation to time and his mastery of time is important to take note of and to understand from our perspective as those who are bound by time.

Finally, Jesus prays for protection of all those who are the Father's, once again deepening and affirming more relationship. The apostles are those who have received Jesus' words - words given by the Father - and who understand that this word came from the Father. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you. Further, he prays for those in relationship who will remain in the world after Jesus has gone out of the world: All mine are yours, and yours are mine.

Jesus' final words in this passage are a prayer for the protection and sureness of this relationship: Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The living stones

Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture:

‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone,

a cornerstone chosen and precious;

and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’

To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,

‘The stone that the builders rejected

has become the very head of the corner’,


‘A stone that makes them stumble,

and a rock that makes them fall.’

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.

Once you were not a people,

but now you are God’s people;

once you had not received mercy,

but now you have received mercy.

- 1 Peter 2:2-10

St. Peter's letter is quite marvelous in its imagery of believers as "living stones." He calls upon all those who have tasted that the Lord is good to make themselves into "a holy priesthood" - to "offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." He also says that we should long for pure spiritual milk like newborn infants, so that we grow into salvation.

The imagery of the living stones - building a spiritual house based on that stone that the builders rejected, that becomes the head of the corner - becomes more poignant when we consider that it is Peter himself who was named "Rock" by Jesus. In this sense, Peter is sharing with us this naming of himself as rock. And we remember, also, that Jesus said in naming Peter, that it was the rock upon which His church would be built. So, by extension, St. Peter tells us here that we all share in that work of building this church. We are all to be living stones. Just as throughout the gospel of John we have seen expounded the theology of an increasing embrace of man through faith to Father, Son and Spirit, so St. Peter here is also offering us sharing. He is extending his own role as "rock" to each of us. He calls upon each of us to become living stones.

We are to build a spiritual temple, through spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God. I think it's significant that he speaks in the first verse about growing into salvation - like newborn babes drinking spiritual milk - because he indicates the nature of this "living" stone. We are not to be dead weight. We are to grow in salvation day by day. There is work and growth involved in being this living stone that can be a part of a spiritual house. If our salvation does not grow day by day, then we are not "living" any longer. So salvation here, and the building of the temple, is a daily, growing practice. To offer spiritual sacrifice is to offer the sacrifices acceptable to the Lord: this is the circumcision of the heart, in this case shaped and offered in faith, in order to grow in salvation.

Psalm 51 states:

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.

St. Peter is asking us here to grow as living stones, to become a people, a spiritual house, through salvation in this daily act of giving ourselves to faith, and allowing faith to shape who we are as we grow in salvation. We have been called through mercy to become a people, called out of the darkness into the light. A living stone grows daily through the practice of receiving that light, and allowing oneself to be shaped in it. Just as Peter himself would be transformed through Spirit and faith into the "Rock" as Jesus named him, so Peter calls upon each of us to undergo the same transformation as living stones called to the light, chosen and precious.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I have conquered the world

‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.’ Then some of his disciples said to one another, ‘What does he mean by saying to us, “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me”; and “Because I am going to the Father”?’ They said, ‘What does he mean by this “a little while”? We do not know what he is talking about.’ Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, ‘Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant when I said, “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me”? Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labour, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. On that day you will ask nothing of me. Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.

‘I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father. On that day you will ask in my name. I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.’

His disciples said, ‘Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!’

- John 16:16-33

I have conquered the world. Jesus leaves his disciples with these words as he prepares them for what is coming. He is forewarning them not only of Jesus' own death, but also of the persecution the disciples themselves will face after Jesus' return to the Father.

What does this mean, that Jesus has conquered the world? I think it means that Jesus' spiritual work, his battle with the evil of the world, or the "ruler of the world" has been won. Jesus has faced every test, and in that realm of the spirit where values are created that rust can't diminish and moths can't eat, he has conquered the world. He has met every test with victory. He has lived his life as the Father has asked him to, despite every human temptation to succumb to the message of that "ruler of the world." He has kept his faith and lived his life in order to conquer. By doing so, he has given us the joy of understanding that we too, can therefore follow. The "ruler of the world" does not have power over we human beings in the same way as before this time; Jesus' victory is also mankind's victory. We have his Spirit of truth with us to help us also to follow.

It's also important to note that Jesus tells his followers that the Father loves them. If they pray in Jesus' name, it does not mean that Jesus will ask the Father for them to grant their prayers, but rather the Father loves them directly because of their love for Jesus. Once again, and in completion of all of these teachings on the depth of relationship incurred in this faith, Jesus directly links mankind with God the Father, and this embrace or dance in which we are included comes full circle to its completion.

I am not alone because the Father is with me. I believe Jesus is also telling us that, as we love him, so is the Father also with us. In this Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit, we are not alone either. I read once in a book by Carl Jung an interpretation of the symbol of the cross. If I recall Jung's thoughts correctly, he stated that he saw the cross as a symbol of man's unity to God: the three points at the top half of the cross symbolizing Father, Son and Spirit, and the lower point of the cross mankind - God the Trinity reaching to us and we are joined thereby through the work of the Son. So the cross becomes a symbol for the new reality, the new time born into the world. I have conquered the world, and we are free to follow.

Friday, April 17, 2009

When the Spirit of truth comes

‘I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me. But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.

‘I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, “Where are you going?” But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

- John 16:1-15

So Jesus here continues his farewell to his apostles. He is explaining that as he is going out of the world, he is afraid he can no longer protect them for he will be with them no longer. Therefore, as Jesus himself will be treated, so will his apostles. There are people who believe they will be serving God by persecuting and killing them. This is a prefiguring of what is to come. So, he leaves them with sorrowful words that do not predict a perfect world, but rather a world in the process of judgment: where sin is revealed through response to his words and teachings, where righteousness is in the heart, and where the ruler of the world is condemned. By the ruler of the world, I assume Jesus is speaking of the "prince of this world" - evil, or the devil. For me this evil is exemplified by all that is contrary to his teachings: a belief in sheer materialism, efficacy, manipulation, a desire not to go with the heart and its yearning for depth of relationship and meaning, but for expediency and selfishness, self-centeredness in all its forms which includes rather paradoxically the narcissism that tells us that all we are is what is reflected back to us in the eyes of those around us, that image is all.

It is the advent of the Holy Spirit that Jesus here proclaims is the great illuminator - the great thing for which he must perish so that he can go to the Father and the Father can send this Spirit of truth to us, to the world. He does not promise a future life of rainbows and goodness and great material reward. He promises that they now have a job to do, that they will follow in his footsteps. Jesus promises a Spirit of truth that will baptise the world into the work of judgment and of illumination - but we should remember, in my opinion, that illumination also shines its light on that which is less than perfect, where before it may have been hidden. We are in a time of heightened understanding and contradiction and even conflict, the sword he proclaimed he would send.

And yet, the Church has declared, and the gospels tell us, that this period of the advent of the Spirit is what human beings have been waiting for. This great illumination period - in which we apparently still find ourselves - is that which the world has awaited. It's like the earth has held its breath waiting for this time. It's our time, and therefore still a time for us to see what we make of this time, of this Spirit that is here with us, and every day we should ask ourselves how we walk hand in hand with it. What do we do with it?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Love one another as I have loved you

‘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.

‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin. But now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. It was to fulfil the word that is written in their law, “They hated me without a cause.”

‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

- John 15:12-27

In today's passage from John, Jesus speaks further about relationship and relatedness. We have heard and read through this gospel, and especially most intensely in this discourse at the Last Supper, about relationship, especially the relatedness of Father, Son and Spirit to man through faith and through the ministry of Jesus. But here Jesus elaborates on other aspects of relationship: of love and hatred.

He begins with the new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you. And he reminds them what this means: he will lay down his life for them. He calls them friends, not servants (although he is Lord and they call him "Teacher" and "Master"). He says that they will be his friends if they keep his commandments. He has made them his friends because he has shared with them everything he has heard from the Father - nothing is held back. A master doesn't share what he's doing with a servant, but Jesus has given us all a total revelation of what he has been about, and what the Father has told him.

Furthermore Jesus tells them that he is the one who chose them. He chose them to bear fruit - to abide in the vine, in the depth of relationship with the word that lives in them, so that they act in his name. Thereby, the Father will give to them what is asked in Jesus' name. These are the commands he leaves with them, so that they may love one another.

Jesus also speaks of hatred, of that which will remain an enemy and not embrace the apostles in relationship. This is the world of rejection. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. That which does not choose to remain in or to accept such a relationship will persecute them. Sin comes upon those who know and understand and yet reject: this is Judgment. But the servant is not greater than the master - therefore the rejection and hatred that is in those who cannot accept this "name" and this word and this relationship will also belong to the apostles. If the Father has been rejected through rejection of the Son - so also will that rejection carry over to those who remain in relationship, in the name.

And finally, Jesus speaks of testimony: that the Advocate who will be sent by the Father will testify in them and through them. The apostles themselves are witnesses to his physical ministry - they have been "with him from the beginning." But those of us who can receive this Spirit of truth will also, by inference, receive His testimony.

So, before his crucifixion, Jesus leaves us with an established order of relationship: mankind to Trinity, through his ministry and through the work of the Spirit that is to come. And then there is the world that rejects such relationship and seeks to persecute him (including its works and fruits) - for these Jesus uses the word "hatred" and says there will also be hatred for his followers. And finally, testimony, witnessing. He will ask the Father to send the Spirit who will testify on Jesus' behalf. Witnessing, testimony, friendship and hatred: the stage is set for a different evolution of understanding, of what it means to serve and to share in this work for the kingdom.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Abide in my love

‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

- John 15:1-11

As Jesus continues his discourse to the apostles at the Last Supper, he invokes the great image of vine and branches. We are the branches, he says, and he is the vine. As branches cannot bear fruit unless they rest in the vine, so must we bear fruit only through rest in Christ. This is once again a reflection of the depth of communion to be experienced via Christianity. It is a reflection of the depth of communion both through Father and Son and through disciples, believers.

Jesus says that his Father is the vine-grower. It is the Father who prunes the branches that bear no fruit, and tends the tree. In this metaphor to pruning a tree, we understand that the health of a tree and its growth depends on this pruning. So, we are told, that the worth of the branch is in its abiding in the love - and in the name - of Christ, of the words and commandments we are given. I think this is more than a statement about Jesus' teachings in the flesh. As it comes after the teaching on the gift of the Holy Spirit, I believe Jesus is referring to something living and alive, the word that lives in us via Spirit. Through this remaining in relationship, we are united with Father, Son and Spirit as they dwell within us - as he made clear in the passage from yesterday's reading.

Why is it important that we dwell in this vine? Why is it important that our branches bear fruit by doing so? Jesus claims here that he is the true vine, and we cannot ignore these words and their relationship to notions of truth. There is the deepest sense here in this allegory of vine, branches, and vine-grower that to bear fruit it is necessary to abide in love and relationship: and it is this love and relationship that is the conveyor of truth, it is where we find truth, reality. It is where we find love and joy, the fulfillment of the joy which Jesus wishes to leave with us.

I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Come Holy Spirit

‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’ Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way.

- John 14:15-31

Powerful words with much to say are the things that Jesus speaks as he prepares to physically leave his disciples. It is no longer a time when they can take comfort in his physical presence around them. It is a time when he is going out of the world - but yet not out of the world. He is sending his spirit - the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, the Advocate. Jesus will ask his Father and the Father will send this Spirit of truth - so that all may be revealed to the apostles and that he and the Father may dwell with them. Ultimately, in this speech, all goes back to the Father and all is done so that human beings can experience this dwelling together even with the Father and in the love of the Father, Son and Spirit.

It's important to remember this gift of the Spirit, and that Jesus' words tell us that not only the Spirit, the Advocate, the Spirit of truth, will dwell within us but that Father, Son and Spirit make their homes with us - if we love them. It is this word that comes from the Father and through the Son and is illumined by the Spirit of truth that we must love in order to find this indwelling, this depth of relationship. Our love kindles this great union and growth of relationship that can take shape within us, guide our lives. The Advocate will make known and understood to us these words.

Jesus says that he leaves his apostles with his peace. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. I am told that Peace (Shalom in Hebrew) was the common Jewish word for both greeting and farewell at the time. But this peace is a special one. It is the promise of an indwelling presence, a gift of friend, advocate, comforter, a promise of love and union with Father, Son and Spirit. It is a promise of illumination and understanding and especially of life to come - a life enriched by this presence and this indwelling.

Personally, I experience something I can only call love at times when I call on this indwelling for guidance. It is so loving I question that I am just inventing it because it is such a comfort. It is a love unlike that which the world gives - only that which one would experience from a true love. Even when it involves correction. So, come Holy Spirit, Advocate, Friend. In this union we are invited in to relationship with All. May it shape and define us and give us life in abundance.

Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth,
Who art everywhere present and filleth all things,
Treasury of all good and giver of life,
Come and dwell within us;
Cleanse us from all unrighteousness,
And of thy goodness, save our souls.

Monday, April 13, 2009

In the Name

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’

Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

- John 14:1-14

In this passage, which is the continuance of Jesus' talk to his disciples at the Last Supper, there are many things for consideration. One consistent theme that runs through this passage is Jesus' union with the Father - his essential one-ness with God the Father. This is an important reality that runs like a thread through all of these teachings. Believe in God, believe also in me, the passage begins.

Jesus first reassures his apostles that there are many dwelling places in the place where Jesus is going, in his Father's house. There is room for everyone, all who believe, and they will follow him. He is reassuring his followers that not only is he going to prepare a place for them, but they know the way there. How? He himself is the way, the truth and the life. If they know Jesus, they know the Father - and no one comes to the Father except through the Son. This is the way of salvation: faith, recognition, knowing - as we know a person, as we live in relationship, in knowing.

Once again, as so often in this gospel of John, Jesus goes even further in explaining and elaborating on this relationship. Whoever has seen me has seen the Father - there is no need to "show" anyone the Father because the recognition is in the person of Christ already, of the Son. And Jesus goes even further: if they wish to believe Jesus that is the way, but if not then believe in the works he has done. All that Jesus has done is in the name of the Father, as an extension of the person of the Father, because the Father dwells in him. Moreoever those who believe will be called to do even greater works because Jesus is going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. After Pentecost, we shall see what changes come over the apostles, what works are done, and especially the tremendous work of spreading the gospel much further than did Jesus himself.

But it is important to my mind to clarify this notion of the name, of what is asked in the name of Jesus. We must remember that this is not an act of magic, hocus-pocus, say the magic words, "in Jesus' name" and all will be done. This is not a sort of begging for magic tricks that Jesus is talking about here. To act in the name of someone is to act in extension of that person, of the will of that person. For example, to act in the name of a president, a king, or an emperor is not to be that person but rather to act as representative, as an extension - and what is done or said to the representative is as good as done or said to the emperor or king or president. So what Jesus is describing here is not a formula for prayer or for the granting of wishes, it is the act of living the life of "the way, the truth and the life." It is the lifelong commitment to seeking to do this will, to finding that Spirit within that teaches us what we must do to follow the will, to live that life, to become shaped as we go forward in this likeness and this image. To pray and act in the name, therefore, is a way of becoming like Christ, of giving over our own images and ideals and notions to this higher power, this more knowledgeable source of Good, and shaping our lives in that kind of prayer and devotion. Most importantly, Jesus is once more inviting his apostles - and by inference all believers - into deeper and deeper relationship.

This is a tall order - but we have ample help to do it, as we will see when we read further and especially through the bestowal of the Spirit. St. Paul says, "the Spirit prays in us." We would do well to think of those words when we read this passage about asking in the name of Christ.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Light of the World

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.”’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

- John 1:1-18

As we enter into Easter and resurrection, the reading I am given for today is this beginning of John's gospel. The light came into the world and the world knew it not. We have to remember that although this light is now known throughout the world - at least the gospel is proclaimed seemingly everywhere and there is scarcely a place left in the world where people have not heard Jesus' name - that the light is still what is important. It is the grace and truth of which John here speaks that is still what is important. And that will always, in my opinion, have a place of struggle with the darkness in the world.

The other day I was sitting in church at the Good Friday services. In the service I attended there were several periods of quiet meditation. I practice the Jesus Prayer and so I took opportunity to do so during these periods. Sometimes in my prayer (contrary to the usual directions for contemplative prayer) I, through no wish of my own, encounter insistent images. These are like deep internal messages - they don't go away when I ignore them and continue the prayer, but are vivid and insistent. You can make of these experiences what you may, but I will share this one. On Good Friday I understood the image of death, the crucifixion. And then this insistent image came into my mind of the smokestacks of the death camps, of Auschwitz. The night before I'd seen a documentary on the women's camps. In the image in my mind, the smokestacks from the ovens blew and blew distributing its ash on everything and everyone. Death blanketed everyone.

I questioned this image, this internal message. I don't know why it was there. But on this Good Friday and on this Easter where we celebrate the light coming into the world (and defeating death), I feel that it's as equally important to remember that grace and truth teaches us how we must act toward unbelievers just as it teaches us how we must act as believers. One message Jesus gave to his disciples regarding behavior toward unbelievers was to shake the dust off their feet in towns where they were not received as a rebuke, and to move on. Nowhere did he teach persecution of those who do not share our beliefs but rather taught clearly that Judgment was from God - that he would send the Spirit and all would be tested in light of the Word and Spirit at work in all of us. Our job is merely to spread the gospel and to live it, and as followers to love one another as He has loved us. Unfortunately world events (such as those smokestacks) teach us that death and darkness are still all around us in this world, and the world still needs the light.

The Nazis at least understood this about the message of Christ and as He was too "weak" for them, they invented their own blood and soil pagan religion - so this man voluntarily on the cross, this one who preached praying for enemies and turning the other cheek could not interfere with their notions of the ubermensch. But it is we who must also remember that which we worship, or claim to worship - and most especially we must remember that it is still our job to help to bring the light and to celebrate the light in the world. This light is grace and truth. It is the word that is written on our hearts, and whose spirit is bestowed upon us. May we pray that light illumines us as we continue to meet our challenges in a world that still has darkness and death to overcome, and that needs this light. Let us remember that Jesus reserved his harshest words for religious hypocrites.

Last night I dreamt of painting my grandmother's house a bright spring yellow, which I associate with Easter. My Armenian grandparents were survivors of genocide based on their religion and race, one which inspired Hitler to think he could get away with his own plans for the Jews. My grandmother was a witness to murder and torture of her immediate family members, as were so many other survivors. Let us remember that resurrection lives for us in grace and truth, and in the light of His word.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Throne of grace

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For indeed the good news came to us just as to them; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,

‘As in my anger I swore,

“They shall not enter my rest” ’,

though his works were finished at the foundation of the world. For in one place it speaks about the seventh day as follows: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.’ And again in this place it says, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’ Since therefore it remains open for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he sets a certain day—‘today’—saying through David much later, in the words already quoted,

‘Today, if you hear his voice,

do not harden your hearts.’

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later about another day. So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labours as God did from his. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

- Hebrews 4:1-16

What does it mean to enter into God's rest? I read that for this Greek word 'sabbatismos' or Sabbath rest, there were three types of rest understood in the Jewish faith: one is the Sabbath rest - the day on which God rested from His works; the second is the rest from Egyptian bondage, which the Israelites coming out of Egypt experienced in Canaan; the third is the rest in the Kingdom, the ultimate Sabbath rest found in heaven established by Messiah. But it seems that in this reference to rest in the epistle to the Hebrews, Paul is addressing Christians as those who are able to enter into rest now, 'today', through worship and faith.

And then there are these words, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. Paul reminds us that we worship the living word. Our faith is in this living word that has knowledge of the deepest parts of ourselves, that searches us out - and that His truth is that which pierces everything. In other words, our deepest responses to this word are what is revealed and known in this kingdom. This is a kingdom of the depth of the heart, so faith plays a much greater role in this rest than in the past.

And further, we are told that this "piercing sword" sits upon the throne of grace. Although discernment is all and enters into our depths, we must remember also that our Messiah by whom we enter into this rest is known for grace and mercy. This discerner of all things has been tempted in the same ways we are, by all that we are. He has passed through our experiences and shared our lives - and even more importantly is there for us when we need help. This is the Christ who has passed through the test of all that the world can throw at him, and our rest is in him, his discernment and his grace and mercy.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Rock

Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterwards.’ Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.

- John 13:36-38

Peter is in some ways the most fascinating apostle. As a character in literature, he interests me because of his vacillating character and his emotional and volatile nature. When Jesus, earlier in this scene in the Last Supper, begins to wash the feet of his apostles, Peter at first declares that he will not stand for the Lord to do such a lowly thing. Then, when Jesus explains that he must do this thing, Peter exclaims that Jesus must therefore wash not only his feet but also his hands and his head. Of all the contradictions and opposites that abound in the gospels, we must also take note of Simon Peter, whom Jesus has called "Rock."

This particular passage however goes far beyond merely Peter's volatile and emotional nature, because this passage foretells a betrayal in the form of denial. We can put it down to cowardice and weakness - again the product of someone whose emotions are easily given into. Peter is the one who asked Jesus to command him also to walk on water (in Matthew's gospel version of the story) and who immediately sank in fear. But Peter is, as all of the gospels and their characters seem to be, a metaphor for us - for our own volatile and emotional natures and also for the transformation that comes through Spirit and through faith. Just as Christ's presence enabled him to regain his peace of mind in the story of the boat and the rough seas in Matthew, so we have a metaphor for the peace of Christ and our own emotional natures.

Jesus himself says his soul is troubled at his fate - but that he nevertheless has chosen to follow the will of his Father and meet the fate set out as that which is best for his ministry. But Peter, although he swears his great allegiance to the death, not only denies Jesus but does so after he attempts to follow him, outside the door to the Palace of the high priest. And yet, Jesus has predicted as well that Peter will follow him eventually. We know both the fate of Peter (crucifixion) and his tremendous transformation into leadership of the apostles via Spirit. And so, both Peter's nature as "Rock" and his following in Christ's footsteps are real and become eventualities in this story of this volatile and emotional man. Furthermore we can read into Jesus' prediction the idea that Peter will follow to where Jesus is in the afterlife with the Father as well.

This denial is within all of us. We all hold the potential for cowardice before "the world" (even before a servant girl). I consider it one of the greatest gifts of scripture that we have this example of Peter, our Rock, who is all too human and who becomes the Rock as was predicted. Do we rely on faith and the Spirit for courage to face life, despite our trials and our emotions? We should accept that we as humans will always have our emotional natures, but we also have a Friend to help us through them - to guide us despite our fears. And to forgive us for our failings.

In his first epistle, Peter quotes from Leviticus:

'Be holy, for I am holy'