Monday, June 13, 2016

Psalm 83

Today, I resonate with verse one. "O God, do not remain silent, do not turn a deaf ear, do not stand aloof, O God."

The cry I have for God is for God to be never be aloof; to never stand unmoved by the sorrow, and tragedy of our world; to never be distant and far away when human hearts break and we are shaken.  I want a God who is with us when we cry, a God who acts when injustice abounds, a God who is here in our mess, tangible when we are breaking or are already broken.  My prayer is for a God to be a God of action, of intervention.

But that is where the Psalmist and I part.  I am not a person who can cry out for others, even other I believe to be consumed by fire, or perish, in disgrace or not. I do not cry out for the death of my enemies or the enemies of righteousness and justice.  I do not desire those whom I oppose to die. Or even any evil to befall those whose actions I condemn.  I wish them fail. I desire for their purposes to be like chaff, for their plans to blow away like tumbleweed.

I do not wish evil to prevail. I do not wish for injustice to rule. I want it to be thwarted at every turn.  I desire for the actions, the intent, the desire to do evil to be consume.  Let the fire rage, as flame through a forest.  Let every oak of murder.  Every beech of hatred.  All the pines of evil.  Let the great maples of mass destruction. Let them burn! Lord, let us watch them, hold the rains at bay, let the air be filled with smoke and let us see that they are no more!

Let all that is against goodness, righteousness and justice become a charred wasteland. And then, and then in the blackened forest-less field that remain, let new life grow. Let the saplings of justice begin to grow. Let the the forest be redeemed, let the world see beauty where there was once nothing but ugliness.  Let it grow, let if flourish build a new forest, a great forest where the trees are goodness, where righteous turns toward the light, where the underbrush whispers the glory of the Lord. Where the dew is the water of life, bringing wholeness and new lift.
Let us be the birds, the deer, the fox that come and live among these trees, walk among the ferns. Let us then thrive together for the glory of the Lord; praising the name of the Lord morning and night for the Lord is our rock and our salvation, for the Lord is our savior and our redeemer.  Redeeming even that which seems unable to be saved.

"O God, do not remain silent, do not turn a deaf ear, do not stand aloof, O God."
Be near us today, and let that which we dare dream come to be.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Appearance of Faith

Luke 7:1-10
As I am trying to figure out what to do with this passage, I cannot help but get caught up in the societal inequities that are in place. The passage is ultimately about a Roman Centurion and a slave. The first being the physical manifestation of what it means for a country to be conquered and occupied. The Centurion was an Officer in the Roman army, which was serving as a peacekeeping force stationed in the region to keep the popular in order. He was an active emblem of the oppression of the Jewish people at the hands of the Romans. But not only that but the person in need of healing here, is his slave. Now we can parse the difference between the ancient Middle Eastern slave system in comparison to the chattel slavery of 16th-18th centuries in Europe and the US. But when we speak of slaves in the Roman Empire and its Providences, we are still speaking of person who is at the bottom of society, the person with the least ability to speak or act for him/herself. This is especially so since this person is powerless to do anything in the face of the deadly illness with which he is inflicted.
          So the two people we have to deal with are in and of themselves problematic. What do we with do with a Biblical story where our "Hero" is a willing participant in a in an oppressive system in not just one way sited by the text, but in two ways?  He is not only a member of the occupying forces of an oppressive regime but is also participating the oppression found in slavery of any form.
          And as easy as it is to say that we cannot hold ancient people accountable to our modern sensibilities, we cannot look at a passage like this without naming the injustices in the system at hand. Especially since the passage highlights concepts of power and authority.
          So although we can see the inherent issues this centurion’s position of power and authority have for the modern reader, he is none-the-less the "Hero" of our story. In his day and time, he is working to break down the barriers of his society, using his power and authority to benefit the people of God and to speak up on behalf of one who has no power and no voice in his cultural context. So although we may not be able to see the justice in this situation this man is bringing justice in the ways he know how and the ways in which he is able. He is doing his best to bring rightness to a situation in which there might otherwise be none; an ordinary person doing what he can, using the ways and means available to him to bring change in his world.
If we were following story of Jesus’ life and ministry as found in the book of Luke we would begin to notice several themes laid out for us. Things which Luke wants us to know about Jesus and his ministry here on earth. One of those themes would be the gentle opening of the Gospel, to all humanity. Luke is always careful to let us know that the salvation Jesus brings is for everyone, not just the Jews, not just the righteous, not just those who are deemed worthy by society but everyone, great and small, Jew and gentile. The theme begins, not so very subtly, I might add, at the very beginning of the book when Simeon the prophet takes Jesus in his arm and boldly declared Jesus to be, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.”  It continues with John the Baptist declaring that through Jesus, “All flesh will see the salvation of God.”
This is the first passage in which a Gentile is presented in a favorable light. Throughout the rest Luke’s gospel, we can see a theme of Jesus working to expand his reach of his ministry to all humans no matter who they are, rich or poor, righteous or unrighteous, Jew or Gentile. Jesus is an equal opportunity Savior, his salvation is for ANY and ALL who would come to him.
It is interesting to note that the Centurion actually never “comes” to Jesus. He begins by sending a group of Jewish elders to Jesus. As I mentioned before, Jesus has been previously received favorably in this town. For those of who have are familiar with the varying stories and episodes of Jesus’ life as found in the Gospels, we are not accustomed to the people in authority in any town or region, whether they be the elders, or the teachers of the Law, or the Sanhedrin, coming to Jesus with favorable words or intent. But here in Capernaum, Jesus is so well received that even the leaders and the elders think favorably of him. This is quite a phenomenal town; we should not be surprised that our Centurion is also quite amazing.
He is quite an interesting person. Since, we are not a part of Luke’s original audience; we entirely miss something this passage is telling us about this Centurion that is hinted at and between the lines. Beginning with God’s promise with Abraham that through him all nations would be blessed, it was always God’s intent that through the chosen people of Israel, others would come to believe. Whether the people of God did so intentionally or not is a question for another day, but whatever their intent there were always people who encountered the God of the Jews and through them and God’s work in and through them, they came to believe in God. Some of these believers would then choose to do all that was necessary to become a Jew. These people were commonly known as proselytes. There were others who believed in God, but when faced with the realities of all that it entailed to actually become a Jew, were unable to make the cut (so to speak). These people were known as God-fearers. The centurion with his good report with the Jewish elders and apparent concern with Jewish purity laws, working to dissuade Jesus from entering the house of not only a Gentile, and also encountering the diseased man who is near to death, is most definitely a God-fearer.
But it is his God-fearing piety which highlights the faith for which Jesus ultimately praises him. When he sees that Jesus is approaching his house he sends out his friends telling Jesus to merely speak the word and the slave will be healed. He makes a very interesting argument actually. He explains that he understand his own authority, if he wants something done, he calls one over whom he has authority to him, and commands the thing to be done and the person will then go carry out his will. Jesus, having greater authority than the centurion, need only speak the word and his will is accomplished. This man truly believes in Jesus Christ and has an astute understanding of Jesus’ authority in this world.
The passage ends with Jesus praising this man to the crowd that has gathered. Jesus does not praise him for his generosity, his humility, or his consideration or even his astute understanding, all which are exemplified in this passage; no instead, Jesus praises him for his faith. Although, the way the passage is presented we are to understand that it is precisely because of his generosity, humility, his consideration of others, AND his astute understand of Jesus Christ highlight his great faith.
It would be easy to simply see that his understanding that Jesus does not need to physically come into the house, to see and touch the sick slave for the slave to be healed. It would be easy to simplify this man’s faith down his expression of trust in Jesus ability to heal from afar, but it is more than that. Jesus praises this man’s faith because of all the things we learn about him in this passage.
He is generous. He uses his wealth to better the people of God. He see they need a synagogue and since he has the money he generously gives to the community of faith to which we belongs so that they might have a place to gather,  to learn and to worship. He is renowned in the community because of his generosity. But is it more than money, it more than his financial assistance. His generosity is also cited as love. He loves the people of God. He has given generously not only of his means but of himself so much so that he is declared to love the people of God.
What a wonderful thing to be accused of; to love the people of God! When others look at your life and the things, you have done, your actions and your words, would they declare, “This person LOVES the people of God. Not just for it to be said that you love God, because it is implied in the statement (one of the ways we know this man to be a God fearer is because they declare that he loves God’s people) but to be known to love the people of God, without addendum, without clarification, but simply and beautifully to be love the people God loves!  What a way for one’s faith to be known.
This then leads us to see his consideration of others. This whole encounter occurs because he deeply cares for his slave, so much so that he does when he hears that Jesus is in town, he immediately seeks Jesus out. The text tells us that this whole affair happens as soon as he entered this town this man’s consideration and concern for his slave is apparent. But his consideration for others is also seen in how he preemptively works to keep Jesus from actually participating in any activity that would make him unclean. He sends Jewish people to approach Jesus and make his request. And then he further shows concern by stopping Jesus defiles himself by entering his house. The centurion is actively working to put the needs and concerns of others above his own. He is considerate of their feelings of their beliefs, of what would be an inconvenience to them. He is constantly working to further show his love through his consideration of those around him and those who might encounter him.
But there is more, this man’s faith is also made manifest in his humility and his understanding. Even more so in how he comes humbly to Jesus even as he completely understands Jesus’ power and authority. The whole way he approaches (or doesn’t approach) Jesus expresses his humility. He knows who he is in relation to Jesus. This is a man who is used to authority and being on the top. He orders troops around and orders slaves around, but he also knows his place. He knows that Jesus is greater than him. He knows that he does not have a right to approach the Jewish teacher.
He also knows, understands and accepts that Jesus has more power and more authority than he does. He expresses this understanding when he declares that Jesus need only say the word and his slave will be healed. He knows that Jesus has the power and authority to heal and to heal from afar, that Jesus is no bound by touch or proximity. He also understands that Jesus is under no obligation to hear or carry out anything which the he asks of Jesus. He asks, humbly and expressing his understanding of his place before Jesus and Jesus heals his slave.
This is a hard thing for us sometimes. We think we deserve things. We have a right!  We like to declare it loud and vehemently. But faith lived out is not only considerate of others putting them first, working to give voice to their concerns but it is humble realizing that we do not have a “right” to God, we do not “deserve” anything which God gives to us. Humble faith comes to God knowing and understanding God’s authority and power but also knowing and understanding that God is under no obligation to give us our request, all the things God gives to us, all the blessings, all the good things, all the wonderful things, we receive from God, are not our right, we do not deserve then God give them to us out of God’s goodness. Faith in exemplified by knowing God can, not demanding that God will; faith is seen in humility as well as understanding.
None of us would argue that it is by faith that we are saved. It is by faith we come to Jesus. But often times we just throw out the word without really thinking about what it means. What it looks like to live a life of faith. But hear in these ten short verses we have an excellent example of what faith lived out looks life. We see a centurion man who is generous and considerate, we see a man who is humble and has understanding of who Jesus is and what Jesus can do for him. We see a man who gives, of himself for the betterment of others, who thinks about how his actions affect those around then and works to create a situation where all are respected and their needs are accounted for. And not only does he understand who Jesus is and what Jesus can do, but he also knows who he is in relation to Jesus and displays his humility and his understanding through his thoughts and his words.
His actions and words not only display his understanding of Jesus but also his humility. He lives out his humility throughout this passage never over stepping never demanding or requesting more than he should. He clearly understands who Jesus is and who he is relationship to Jesus.
It is interesting that we often think about faith as something that happens in our head. It is a believe, something that goes on in our intellect but this man is praised for  his faith because of his actions, because of his words, because of how he lives and moves in relation to those around him. Faith is something that expresses itself in our lives. When we are generous people who love God and love the people whom God loves, that is seen in how we live, in how we speak. It is seen in how we talk about and act around others. We tell our children to be kind and considerate without thinking that what we are trying to instill in them that very actions of faith lived out.