Faith


When Job’s life is about to be taken away from him, he can say one of two things. He can curse God, as he is tempted to do, and say, “God, why not fifty-one years of life?” Or he can surrender to love and say, “God, why even fifty years?” Why did I deserve life at all? When we take on that attitude, we’ve made a decision for grace.

“Naked I came into the world, and naked I will leave,” Job says (Job 1:21). What do we have, brothers and sisters, that has not been given to us? All is grace. All is given. Who gave me this hand? Who wiggles these fingers? Who created these eyes which I cannot explain or understand? I cannot even make this hair grow. It is all gift.

From beginning to end, everything is grace, everything is given. There is nothing that we have a right to or that we deserve.
– Richard Rohr

I read this Richard Rohr quote last night on Facebook.  It was both what I wanted to read and what I didn’t want to read.  It was probably what I needed to read. In the midst of a difficult week, month, year, I needed to be reminded that my life is full of gift, full of grace.  That is the beautiful reality that all of us live in.

So I enter Thanksgiving this year with both an honest recognition of the difficulties in life, and a renewed realization that my life is full of grace. My life itself is a grace. I have a tremendous amount to be thankful for … far more than I deserve. It is all gift.

Thank you.

The past nine months I have been attempting the ancient practice of the divine office. While it may take various forms, I am utilizing a liturgy of prayers, readings and songs six times a day. There is an Ap for that. Seriously, I practice the divine office on an iPhone application which is helpful!

Today’s office of morning readings included the homily that I posted below. It is about Jesus descent into hell.  To be honest, while Jesus descending into hell is a part of church tradition and even found in the Apostles Creed, I have not been convinced that there is strong biblical support for the idea. Regardless of what exactly happened on Holy Saturday, this homily beautifully describes much of what happened for humanity in the death and resurrection of Jesus. I pray that you find it encouraging.

An Ancient Homily on Holy Saturday: The Lord descends into hell

Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.
He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.
For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.
See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.
I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.
Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

When Jesus taught his followers how to speak to the God he said, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

We often miss the power in that phrase. We simply recite the line without thinking. We view it as merely a request for Jesus to “come back.” We remove any meaning from God’s Kingdom and God’s will by treating them as unknowns. We make this into a prayer that we say with nothing to do with how we live.

But Jesus did not intended for this to be a throw away line. Jesus wanted this prayer to mold and guide us.

God has given us the Scriptures to reveal God’s character and God’s will. We have been given teachings on the Kingdom of God, and creative writing on what God’s Kingdom will look like when fully established on Earth. God’s will and Kingdom are not completely fuzzy concepts. Scripture reveals enough about God’s will and Kingdom for us to recognize when they are being realized in the world.

In addition to the Scriptures, the Spirit of God guides us in our understanding of God’s will and provides relational knowledge of God. The more that we know God, the more we will know what God wills in the world.

When we pray we are not just asking God to take care of everything, though there are situations when that is all that we feel we can do.  When we pray we are both asking for God’s intervention and aligning ourselves with God. As beings created in the image of God we have the ability, and responsibility, to act in a manner consistent with the will of God. While there are some glorious times of supernatural intervention, the answer to prayer normally comes in the form of a person. In other words, when we pray for God’s will to be done and Kingdom to come on Earth – our actions need to join with our request.

That brings us to a cup of water…  a fitting case study on World Water Day.

Chances are if you are reading this blog, you can easily get a cup of water in the next 10 minutes. That is not the reality for many people in our world. In fact, somewhere around one in three people alive today do not have access to safe drinking water. I do not mean that they have to wait in a line for it – I mean it is not an option for them. That reality translates into several tragedies, including around 4,000 children dying each day.

Does that look like the will of the God that is revealed in Jesus and the Spirit? Is that the Kingdom of God that we see revealed in the Scriptures? I think not.

When this currently reality does not fit the Kingdom of God we are called to pray for God’s will to be done, for there to be a new reality which reflects the Kingdom of God. We need to pray for God to intervene on behalf of people without water.

In addition to praying for the Kingdom, we are called to act according to the Kingdom. We are called to discern what direct actions we can take for the sake of God’s will being done on Earth.  There are other times when we are called to take a supportive role for those who are taking direct action. We need to intervene on behalf of people without water.

Act today! Follow this link to bring water to thousands of people by repairing existing water wells: The Adventure Project

It is easy to see the impact of greed on a culture when the economy falters. We forget that greed was often embraced, even encouraged during the boom days of the past.

During both our economic ups and downs the scriptures have given us consistent warnings of the high price greed. The ancient book of Amos proclaims that our love of money and stuff will destroy our core relationships.

Relationship with Others:

Amos 2:6-8

This is what the Lord says:

“The people of Israel have sinned again and again,

and I will not let them go unpunished!

They sell honorable people for silver

and poor people for a pair of sandals.

They trample helpless people in the dust

and shove the oppressed out of the way.

Both father and son sleep with the same woman,

corrupting my holy name.

At their religious festivals,

they lounge in clothing their debtors put up as security.

In the house of their god,

they drink wine bought with unjust fines.

When we love stuff, we begin reducing other people to either a means to or an obstacle to getting more stuff. We can continue de-humanizing others to the point that we begin viewing people as just stuff, good stuff and bad stuff. We see this today in everything from neglected children, to work conflict, to sex and labor slavery.

Relationship with God:

Amos 5:21-24

“I hate all your show and pretense—the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.

I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings.

I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings.

Away with your noisy hymns of praise!

I will not listen to the music of your harps.

Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice,

an endless river of righteous living.

Our loves direct out lives. When we love stuff we pattern our lives around stuff, not around God. As a result, our religious worship is empty. God is not interested in religious pomp and circumstance if our lives are not right. I am afraid that this is at the root of much of the superficial spirituality of our modern religions culture.

Relationship with Self:

Amos 4:1-3

Listen to me, you fat cows living in Samaria,

you women who oppress the poor

and crush the needy,

and who are always calling to your husbands,

“Bring us another drink!”

The Sovereign Lord has sworn this by his holiness:

“The time will come when you will be led away

with hooks in your noses.

Every last one of you will be dragged away

like a fish on a hook!

You will be led out through the ruins of the wall;

you will be thrown from your fortresses,”

says the Lord.

We become less than human when our lives revolve around stuff. While there will be divine judgment for greed, much of the punishment is self-imposed by living life outside of the design of the universe. We see this today in the empty eyes of teens who have every item that they want and in rampant chemical abuse found in wealthy communities.

While money and material goods are important, we must always keep them in right perspective. We can not allow the love of stuff to stifle our greatest calling to love God and to love others as we love ourselves.

Should we treat the church like our favorite restaurant?
Only if you are working in the kitchen!

(Sorry! I am having trouble getting the video to show up on RSS feeds and iPhones. I will try to correct the problem, but until then you can view the 4 minute video on my blog or at vimeo.)

Thanks to Robyn Vining, Tony Templeton, Sarah DePriest, the Impact Community, and The Original Pancake House for their crucial roles in this video!
(Filmed August 2009 at The Original Pancake House in Brookfield, WI.)

The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963.

In sixth grade, I noticed that two of my classmates drew large crowds by break dancing at football games. I decided that I would get in on the action, and I bought a book on “how to break dance.”

Yeah … that did not really work. I was not a break dancer.
We often fail when we focus on what other people instead of being who we are. This happens even, maybe especially, within Christianity.

We see an example of this in John 21:20-22

Peter and Jesus had just finished a remarkable conversation clarifying their relationship and Peter’s role in the mission.
Peter turned around and saw behind them the disciple John.
Peter asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?”
Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.”

Most of us can relate to Peter in this story. We have taken our focus off of Jesus and our calling, and become consumed with looking at and evaluating others. Focusing on other people’s walk with God and their calling takes a few different expressions:
We Compare Ourselves to Others
We Copy Others
We Criticize Others

All of these expressions of  looking to others do damage to our calling and relationship with God.

I suspect that when we ask Jesus, “What about that person?”
Jesus still responds as he did to Peter, “What is that person’s calling and relationship with me calling to you? I will take care of them. You are called to follow me. Stay focused on me.”

May we be people who keep our focus upon Jesus and who he calls us to be.

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