Posts Tagged ‘gospel’

I’m no prophet…

July 12, 2015

Amos was neither a prophet, nor a prophet’s son; just a shepherd and part-time tree farmer.  He would not ordinarily draw the attention of the powerful…except that he insists on speaking out.  He can’t help himself.  Amos is more than just another concerned citizen – he is an interested, engaged person who takes seriously God’s invitation to be in relationship… and who finds himself compelled to challenge the way things are in his time.

Trouble is coming – and Amos thinks he knows why.  God’s people and their neighbours have neglected justice and mercy for their own reasons.  These are empires built as testimony to human triumph – God’s part in all this has been disguised by human pride, and God will have no more of it; so says Amos, whose every speech ends with “says the Lord”(‘amar ‘adonai)

On six of Israel’s nearest neighbours, Amos pronounces doom (in the name of the Lord, of course).  Exile – disaster – destruction – fire (especially fire); the wrath of God will be unleashed (for these are wicked people, beyond God’s covenant protection).  And since Amos is a subject of Israel’s king, there was expected to be an omen against Judah as well – so that Israel might finally say; “See, I told you we were the favourite.”

Sure enough, Judah is treated like all the others – and so God will send fire, to devour the strongholds – Israel must have rejoiced…but only briefly.  The worst, it seems is saved for them.  It will be like escaping a lion and running into a bear, Amos says – try as they might, there is no escaping what will come.

Chapters 2 through 6 outline Israel’s failures – – the nation has  claimed God’s gifts as their own creation; they have acted as though the Lord depended on them, rather than the other way around.  They have ignored what the writer and Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggeman calls “the perfect freedom of God”  –

freedom to act (or not act) in an infinite variety of ways towards an infinite variety of people.  There is trouble coming, for Israel; for her leaders; for her people.

When we encounter Amos in this morning’s reading, he is at the point of bargaining on behalf of this wayward people.  Once again, he can’t help himself.  No one who is interested in the way the world works and who, like Amos, desires to honour God by their living and their engagement with current events, can stand apart from the consequences of judgement.  Amos’ plea for change, (or repentance in this case) is moved by his sense of justice – and his hope that God is also just – so Amos is a compassionate prophet.  Having experienced the visions God gives him, Amos responds in horror, and out of love for his people, begs God to forgive.  Twice, God relents.  The third time, however, seems to be the end of God’s mercy.

‘See, I am setting a plumb-line

in the midst of my people Israel;

I will never again pass them by;

9 the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,

and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,

and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.’

Desolation and exile is their lot, and the king (along with his whole house) shall die.

Now this is not an unusual path for a prophet to take; indeed, this is the prophets meat and drink – but Amos doesn’t want the job (doesn’t that sound familiar…).  Instead, he claims that he had no choice but to condemn (in the name of the Lord); he can connect the dots – he has seen the powerful take their power to dangerous extremes. And as a person of integrity, as one of God’s covenant people, he cannot remain silent when confronted by the events of the day.  Amos is assured that God cares enough to warn – and to threaten – those whom God claims under the covenant.

This is a much different picture of a prophet.  Too often, we equate prophecy with wild-eyed pessimism, or violent fanaticism – though neither of these is an accurate description of the prophets we know from Scripture.

Sure, some of them carried on a little – Jeremiah was prone to dramatic public demonstrations (lying half naked at the city gates – smashing pottery); Isaiah and Ezekiel recorded graphic hallucinations (that we charitably call ‘visions’); in later years there was John the Baptizer – eating bugs, dressed in rags, preaching repentance and goading the powerful (that cost him his head…).  But we need a more broad-minded picture, for we are called – even now – to call the world’s attention to the justice and mercy and yes, even judgement of God.

In a world that is flying apart – over developed in the name of commerce, and under-achieving where equity and justice are concerned, God’s people cannot help but notice; God’s people are compelled to speak out and speak up; those who claim to follow Christ must plead and warn and beg and weep for this world ravaged by the work of our own hands.  God has promised good to all – abundant life is at the core of the gospel.  yet we have taken a world that has the ability to feed and house every person, and created a place of such inequality (economically, socially) that justice has become a foreign idea.  We must, without fear for ourselves, speak the truth to those in power.  We must speak – though we are neither prophets nor the children of prophets – because God is free to act, and God has acted in grace through Jesus – and we recognize that there are consequences to this great act of grace.

Ours should be a call to repent, but not just because we believe that ‘we are right and they are wrong’.  Amos had no training, no credentials, no standing in the circles of influence – he had only his faith, which told him that God was being ignored (or mocked, or made subservient to human desires) and his faith compelled him to speak.  The doom he proclaimed was no more than the logical outcome of having broken covenant with God.

The conclusion of Amos indicates that God is determined to maintain covenant.  Israel will be restored, but not before the whole world recognizes God is free, both to tear down AND to build up.  That promise of restoration must be part of our message if we are going to be true to the gospel of Christ.

Yes, the world is free to ignore us – and yes, a little freedom goes a long way in this day and age.  But praise God that even in times of great distress and danger, the word of truth – the spirit of God’s righteous judgement – the gospel that is entrusted to us – will always be a word of grace and peace.  Amen

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The power of the cross.

July 20, 2014

1 Corinthians is a letter that sees Paul wander from the depth of his disappointment to the pinnacle of his piety – Spiritual gifts and human failings – this is a vivid snapshot of the state of the early church through the lens of one of the giants of the Christian faith. Paul is personally responsible for the content of nearly half of the New Testament, and is the subject of much of the book of Acts – yes, it’s about Jesus, but it is Jesus as described by the activities of Paul; faith articulated by Paul – he is an important figure of faith (and doubt) – he shapes much of our theology…but he is a difficult character to understand.

He offers interesting, (and to modern ears, derogatory) advice on the role of women in the church, but acknowledges female companions and sponsors (and even leaders!) in his letters. He is a single man who helped define marital relationships. He is the “Hebrew of Hebrews” – perfect in observation and zealous in application of the code of behaviour defined by Mosaic law – who takes as his mission/call the proclamation of the gospel to the gentiles; indeed he becomes (in his own words) “…all things to all people…”1 for the sake of the gospel. Paul is a puzzle, but he does offer us a way to encounter the gospel at a distance (from the person of Jesus). That was Paul’s mission, after all – to acquaint people outside the story – outside the Jewish faith – with the open invitation of Jesus.

We can’t do without Paul’s brutal honesty. We could use some of Paul’s boundless enthusiasm. He is willing to move quickly from giving thanks for their faithfulness to chastising his “friends” for their foolishness. Paul – whatever else you think of his approach, or his rhetoric – Paul keeps us honest.

First Corinthians opens with a problem in the church. Some claim to follow Paul; others Apollo; still others Cephas (Peter). Some even claim to follow Christ. There are pockets of power developing in the Corinthian ‘church’, and Paul means to put an end to that sort of foolishness…[unfortunately, he doesn’t do it – divisions = power problems to this day] Paul reminds them of the real power in this new relationship that Christ has offered the world.

Divisions around personalities are not yet so uncommon. The history (and the present mode) of church behaviour, denominational squabbling and so on offer plenty of evidence that the problem Paul sought to correct in Corinth is still a problem. Some say “I follow Luther”; others “I follow the Bishop of Rome”; still others follow “the movement of the Spirit as THEY understand it”; and then, there are Presbyterians – who follow the leading of the Spirit, but only when the Spirit speaks in committee, and then only if there is room in the budget.

Paul speaks to all of us as he slaps his forehead in frustration and points to the Cross.

It is quite a dramatic opening.

Paul, the seasoned public speaker, declares that wisdom and eloquence are nothing compared to the power of God found at the cross. He speaks to the heart of a hundred generations of preachers when he says that the words we use must not divert attention to the real wisdom and absolute power revealed in the crucifixion – our boasting in the abundance of life and love and acceptance we have found in Christ is useless without first admitting the truth about power that confronts us at the cross of Christ. It is hard to write anything – harder still to preach – if somehow the power has been vested in a person, or a denominational body, or a doctrine of the church. You can write about persons, or denominations or doctrines, but you will not be preaching the gospel. Not Paul, nor Apollos, not even Christ offers comfort without pointing to the real power of God

Paul brings attention (in all his writing) to the power of God to create and re-create; the power to heal and reveal – and realizes that if God has power to repair or remake what is broken, it is only because God first had the power to make it all – and with that comes the power to make it all go away (to destroy) Much is made of this power in the Christian religion – it is the darker side of the street; the place we don’t want to go, for if God can destroy, (and would do so in response to our faithless bumbling through the millenia) then we are left to wonder, WHY ARE WE STILL HERE ?

Well, Paul argues that it is because of the power of the cross. An artifact that stood for senseless destruction has become the icon of salvation – only because God has the power to shame the strong with weakness, and reduce the powerful with humility. For Paul, crucifixion is everything – the death of Jesus, in such horrible fashion, gives purpose to everything that follows; our preaching, our service, our sacraments – all take their power from the power of God revealed in the cross of Christ. Since God has redeemed so senseless an act as crucifixion; surely such power is sufficient to save us.

This gospel is the foundation of all of Paul’s work – It was the power that drew him from persecution of the church to proclamation in the first place – and that same power is at work whenever we gather at the font, or the table. The church depends on the power of God, revealed at the cross, for our future – reminded by Paul that it is “…by grace we are saved, through faith – and this is not our own doing, but the gift of God2…; And that is good news indeed. Thanks be to God, for this gift of power and grace that meets us in the cross of Christ. Amen.

11 Cor 9: 22 (NRSV)

2Ephesians 2: 8

“…it’s a miracle…! Really!”

July 22, 2012

Jesus greets his friends who have just returned from their first mission trip.

He declares that they need to get away from the curious crowds

for some rest (and reflection, no doubt).

So it’s everybody into the boat and off across the lake…

where they are met by a curious crowd.

Jesus, in his compassion, begins to teach them and then…

the folks who put the reading together take a page out of Film editing 101:

smash cut to another boat ride; another part of the waterfront;

another crowd eager to experience Jesus’ charisma, Jesus’ power…

Never a hint of the drama that comes between these two very different crowd scenes.

Nothing to suggest the generous grace that fed 5000 men

(and who knows how many women and children).

No hint of the disciples’ horror as they struggled against the wind on a storm-tossed sea

(not to mention the sight of their teacher and friend coming across the water’s surface like a ghost…)

These are the kinds of things that allow us to imagine the terrific and terrible glory of God,

but in this mornings reading, we are detoured from these things

things we would likely consider to be the heart of the story.

We are, instead, swept along with the crowds –

caught up in the excitement of “this newest prophet and miracle worker”.

This is the ancient middle eastern version of Beatle-mania / Truedeau-mania / (dare I say Beiber-mania?)

and the lectionary treatment of the gospel asks us to consider what it means.

Treating the gospel in this manner is unfair.

Understanding these stories of Jesus is hard enough without leaving parts out –

and today we have left out the miraculous!

What is left, if you ignore the miracles?

What happens to Jesus  (more importantly, what happens to us)

when there is nothing left but expectant crowds and a weary (but compassionate) teacher and his friends…?

What does it mean to us, to hear only the buzz of the crowd after the fact?

We make our own sense of the missing pieces –

tell ourselves that Jesus himself was (and is) simply irresistible – he could not help but draw a crowd –

but the truth is lurking in the missing miracles.

God at work (in through and all around) – that’s what draws a crowd.

The sense that, at any moment, something amazing will happen.

That is what draws us still.

Even those who dismiss the idea of a miracle still yearn to be amazed,

and our faith assures us that God is still capable of taking our breath away.

 

the reality of this is illustrated by a story that Richard Lischer tells in his book “Open Secrets”:

A young lady in his first congregation (Amy) with a debilitating disease comes to her minister –

she wants to visit a traveling faith healer -she’s looking for a miracle.

Lischer tries to prepare her for what he considers will be the inevitable disappointment.

She is not deterred.

Amy returns from the crusade,  still wheelchair bound – no healing.

But Lischer soon discovers that no healing doesn’t mean no miracle.

His young friend has been changed –

she encourages a committee to build a wheelchair ramp into the church.

She makes plans to become a physiotherapist –she begins to live life in spite of her illness –

Amy found her life’s purpose while looking for a cure –

and Lischer rediscovered the miraculous.

Our lives are lived in denial of the miraculous.

We have explained away the miracles of Jesus as being “for that time and place”

and we rob them of their power.

We have become content with “ordinary miracles” like life and the beauty of nature

(neither of which are ordinary at all…) – and have stopped expecting extraordinary things.

But what made Jesus special (among many things)

was his absolute certainty that God was, not only capable of the extraordinary, but constantly revealing it –

offering humanity the chance to experience and participate in the miraculous.

Jesus instills in us a fresh sense of wonder at what is possible if we submit to God’s sovereignty –

Jesus invites us, not just to believe in miracles, but to expect them.

It is that expectation that changes us –

that anticipation of something amazing at the hand of God is what fuels Faith –

and enables us, like Lischer’s wheelchair-bound friend – to find purpose in our lives.

We have lived so long in denial, it will be hard to regain that sense of wonder that Jesus offers.

Hard, but not impossible.

The day to day work of sustaining our faith – supporting the work of the church – spreading the good news

these things seem an exercise in futility in the current climate.

But that is because we presume the work is entirely on our shoulders.

We forget that God is working alongside – ready to show us something amazing –

if only we believed in miracles…

Turn and attend this good news…

February 25, 2012

So, there’s this thing that Jesus does…

 

Following in his cousin’s footsteps,

Jesus steps into the prophetic void

created by John’s arrest,

and calls attention to God’s victory.

 

This is not how you are used to hearing it – but here it is;

repent, and believe in the evan-ge-lion

we typically read “good news”, aka gospel –

but I have been asked to consider in the course of this week’s preparation

another way to translate (and therefore, understand) this Greek term.

 

Proclamation, says this translator[1], as in “Victory announcement;

of the sort that follows triumph over an oppressor, or the overthrow of a despot.

 

Now, let’s remember that this is (according to Mark), the BEGINNING of the good news – the proclamation – of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.   So says CH 1 v 1.

And that proclamation this declaration of good news,

gives us little indication of what that news is…or why it might be considered good;

so what is this evan-ge-lion ?

 

When we call attention to the “good news” (the gospel), what are we talking about?

Crucifixion – resurrection – salvation – grace – stuff like that, yes?

We make the gospel about Jesus, and only Jesus –

and that is a seriously short-sighted approach.

The good news is (believe it or not) so much more, according to Jesus.

 

 

The gospel – the proclamation that Jesus offers –

both at the beginning of his prophetic vocation,

and throughout his teaching/preaching career –

is about nothing less than the redemption of creation.

 

Jesus proclaims, from the beginning, the far-reaching, overwhelming,

absolutely grace-full work of God’s reclamation of all that God set in motion.

Our other lessons this morning suggest that this has been God’s work from the beginning of God’s interaction with humanity.

 

Good news suddenly seems like an understatement.

 

We are quite good at this –

understating / underestimating the extent of the evangelion of Jesus –

which IS good news for every inch of God’s creation.

 

We are content to reduce it to specific doctrines (important though they may seem).

It has become good news for us; an inside joke; a secret password to prosperity –

Gospel has become a commodity for the chosen; the faithful; the orthodox;

those willing to sign the pledge and take a seat –

but this has become our downfall.

 

Such thinking spawned an institutional church

that is now widely thought to be self-serving,

and ignorant of the need in its own neighbourhood.

 

This packaged, institutional interpretation of what ‘gospel’ could be

resigns us to ignorance of the bigger picture –

We are apt to loose sight of the vision of God that Jesus came to relate and the spirit helps us capture –

and that makes light of the good news;

that ignorance robs the gospel of its real power…

 

If you doubt this, consider that at this crucial season in the church calendar,

God’s people have, in many cases,

been reduced to a series of tension-filled meetings

which consider the future through accountant’s lenses.

 

We worry about numbers.  We count people, we assess assets, and we look to the past as a way to assure the future – but if we would be honest, our past is marked by problems of its own; our calculations are often flawed – our accounting leaves something to be desired.

 

Should I mention that we are urged by Jesus to live for today (for tomorrow has worries enough) even as we look to the future that is opened to us by our covenantal God.

 

So back to that thing that Jesus does…

Powerfully prophetic; full of hope (and brazenly challenging the status quo)

Jesus jumps into the public debate and announces God’s triumph – God’s concern that stretches beyond regular time (chronos) and evokes specific time (kairos).

 

Promises are ours – so goes Jesus’ proclamation (evangelion) – the kingdom is come.

A kingdom that acknowledges one power – one hope – and one passion.

It is a passion for peace; for fellowship; for justice; for truth

and none of these things can be measured, counted, possessed or purveyed.

 

 

 

 

Good news?

Only if we are more inclined to trust in God’s promises than our resourcefulness…

 

Good news?

Only because the promise has carried God’s people through positions of vulnerability and uncertainty for generations – against all odds – against common wisdom and our natural inclinations.

 

Let us Repent of our short-sightedness and believe this good news as Easter approaches. Look for the comfort and compassion of God’s promised kingdom – revealed to us through Jesus (the) Christ.

May we celebrate God’s victory in those battles not yet fought;

and to God be glory, honour and praise, for all we might discover in faith. Amen.

 


[1] The Anchor Bible, vol. 27:  “Mark: a new translation with introduction and commentary by C. S. Mann,  Doubleday (New York) 1986.