Reading Ramblings – November 26, 2017

November 19, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Christ the King Sunday – November 26, 2017

Texts: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 95:1-7a; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Matthew 25:31-46

Context: The last Sunday of the Church year celebrates the reality of our Lord’s present and future reign. While this is often something that gets pushed to the peripheral of our Christian lives, it should be the centerpiece of how we interact with the world around us. We are not without hope! We are not reliant solely on our own efforts or the efforts of those around or above us. We have a Lord and a King who reigns now and will reign eternally! While this should not push us to disengage with the world, it frees us to engage in a more healthy manner. We are not to be slaves to pundits and talking heads, to statistics and demographics. We are not to live in fear, but in hope and anticipation.

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 – We receive a steady news diet from our Internet feeds, newspaper headlines and nightly news. We can choose media that either supports or is antagonistic to current leadership at all levels. While it is important to be informed, we should realign ourselves constantly to the promised king to come. This is where our hope lies. We must do the best with the institutions and leaders we have available to us. We should avail ourselves of whatever rights we may possess at the moment to sway the global and local tides in directions that honor God and are therefore a blessing to all of his creation. But we must never mistake our temporary measures for his final reckoning, and we should not expect those in power no matter how well-intentioned they are to do perfectly what only God can do. His judgment will be perfect and holy and righteous, and tempered with mercy in the perfect proportion. In that day those who have fattened themselves at the expense of others will be called to account for their selfishness, while those they deemed irrelevant and expendable will receive the Lord’s tender care and restoration.

Psalm 95:1-7a – What a beautiful song of praise to God the creator as well as God the great king of creation! In him is our salvation (as opposed to our own hands), and to him (rather than ourselves) should praise and honor be given. How is God greater than any other king or any other so-called God? God alone is creator of all things, master of the heights and depths of all creation. We might be inclined to fear before such a powerful God, but we know our God’s intentions towards his creation, his intentions to restore and offer life and salvation to all who will receive it. He makes his intentions ultimately known in his willingness to cause his eternal Son’s suffering and death on our behalf and in our place, that we might have the promise of forgiveness and grace and life. Such an action is truly a demonstration of a shepherd’s heart, a shepherd who cares for his people and seeks their good and restoration as only He can know these things perfectly.

1 Corinthians 15:20-28 – The Kingship of Christ comes at a particular cost – his life on the cross for us. This is not a theological musing. It isn’t philosophical whimsy. It isn’t a helpful construct to get us through the day. The Son of God died and was buried – according to his human nature. He rose from the dead, victorious over death and all the combined powers of hell and humanity that conspired to keep him in the grave. This was witnessed by hundreds of people. Christ’s Kingship is grounded in the historical and geographical reality of the empty tomb. His right to rule is won through his perfect obedience to God the Father’s plan to reconcile creation to himself, to save us from the evil within our hearts and that swirls around us aching to devour us eternally. It is not a matter of whether you want this King or not. He is. There is no vote because there is no one who can challenge him for this title.

And He’s coming back. In glory. With power. To cast down the pretenders to his throne that scrabble with one another like dogs under the table. He comes to claim what is his own, what came into being through him, and what Satan has sought to wrest from him since Eden. He comes to claim you. On that day no one will be forgotten or left out. No one will be too insignificant to stand before the Creator of the Universe in judgment, and to either receive the crown of life through faith in Jesus Christ, or to spit out their final blasphemies. Death and Satan and all who have opted to follow their crooked, rebellious and spiteful ways will be banished, and peace will once again be restored. The Triune God is perfectly unified in purpose and work. Heaven and earth will be reunited perfectly.

Matthew 25:31-46 – Through Matthew 24 and 25 we have considered how we spend our time waiting for our Lord’s return, actively waiting rather than paying lip service to this reality, and being about our Father’s business rather than spiting him out of fear and distrust. But on the day of his return judgment will come. God who knows our hearts and minds more perfectly than we ourselves will separate his own from those who are not. The dividing line may appear surprising, but none will be able to question God’s perfect and righteous judgment. None will be able to fault his division.

Who we are is revealed in part by what we do, how we live our lives. The part we cannot see in others is the motivation, the rationale, the reasons for why they do what they do. We may appear to do the same things, but there is a critical difference in the why. Sometimes these motivations are unknown even to ourselves. Our knowledge – self and otherwise – is limited and imperfect but God will make all things plain in his judgment. Who we are is evident even when we ourselves are not aware of it, not aware of our motivations, not aware of the Holy Spirit within us that guides and leads and equips us. A great many – perhaps all of us – will be surprised on that day at what God sees that we didn’t see in ourselves. But we should never doubt for a moment that the critical thing to be found within us is faith in his Son, Jesus.

It is this faith that separates the faithful from the unfaithful, even if their works look identical on the outside. It is this faith that motivates the faithful both consciously and subconsciously, so that even the simplest and inconsequential acts of kindness and care are infused with holy and divine favor. This parable comes at the end of three other parables that give us better inklings into what God sees in us beyond our actions or inactions. It culminates his response to his disciples’ inquiries in 24:3. And it reinforces that the timing – what the disciples were curious about – is of least concern. When the final day comes is not nearly as important as how we wait for it, and how our moment-by-moment waiting shapes us for eternity. We do not look to our actions to save us. But we cannot reasonably claim to be waiting for our Lord’s return in glory without serving him as we are led and enabled to day by day.

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Nearby Paranoia

November 17, 2017

In case you found yesterday’s post about bombarding alien civilizations with unfettered communiques a bit on the paranoid side, here’s something that might be a little more disconcerting.

Robots are doing back-flips now.

While we can muse about whether artificial intelligence is equivalent to actually being human (as ludicrous as that conversation sounds), we can easily acknowledge that robots are increasingly capable of physical flexibility that puts the majority of the human population to shame.  And the little victory stance at the end did nothing to ease my anxiety.  Once again, the rush to see what we can do certainly seems to outpace our interest in discussing what we should do.

Historically speaking, this hasn’t always ended well.

Making Friends or Ending the World

November 16, 2017

While everyone has been preoccupied with the astounding news that people with power and money sometimes try to take advantage of people with less power and money, nobody has been paying any attention to the scientists.  Perhaps as their own attempt to deal with the sinful nature of our species, a group of scientists have taken it upon themselves to beam a message to a solar system they think might have planets capable of sustaining life.

I know this sounds all Star Trek-y wonderful and stuff.  And Lord knows, the hope for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe grows as we are continually reminded of our own stupidity.  But I can’t help but wonder who gets to make the decisions about who sends messages out to possible alien civilizations and who doesn’t?  Despite the enamor of some with a one-world government, nobody is apparently in charge of determining who speaks on behalf of humanity, or even what they’re going to say.

The problem is actually a lot more interesting than it appears on the surface because the expectation in the scientific community is that everyone can and will say whatever they want (and probably have started already).  Although these particular scientists showcased our intelligence, others might be broadcasting Gilligan’s Island reruns and nobody has any say about it.

It will take years for the message to be received, if there’s anybody on the other end capable and interested in receiving it.  And as uneasy as I am with the idea of people sending whatever they want into the vast reaches of space, I’m equally uncomfortable with the idea that we could be held hostage on our planet by whatever agencies of the state might wish to suppress such communications.  The concept of freedom of speech – even as battered and torn and abridged as it is today – is something I resonate pretty strongly with, and perhaps I’d prefer that we risk stirring up unpleasant and hostile alien interest in our little corner of the universe to being silenced completely.

I’m not the only one to think about this sort of thing, but perhaps it’s the sort of thing we want to focus more of our attention on.  Once we get over our mock indignation at human nature.

Machines in the Holy Ghost

November 14, 2017

This New Yorker article hypothesizes on whether one day human-like robots (though frankly, why need they be human-like, so long as they have artificial intelligence [AI] of some sort?) will be accepted as members in faith communities.  The author cites some interesting anecdotes from speculative Jewish and Muslim religious writers before moving on to a rather awkward and brief reinterpretation of Genesis 1 & 2.

The author chooses to utilize Kierkegaard’s definition of passion vs. proof as a means for discussing this question. Kierkegaard argues that faith is not a matter of intellect, or at least solely so.  It must needs involve something deeper, the uniquely human aspect of passion or desire, with faith the highest form and expression of such passion.  Kierkegaard was reacting against a philosophical tradition that held reason and rationality to be the highest aptitude and defining characteristic of humanity.  The author of the article sees Kierkegaard’s definition as a strong argument against the ability of an AI creation to have faith.

The references to Jewish and Muslim speculation on the ability of non-humans to be part of a faith community is interesting.  It reminded me of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,  with the issue ultimately being less one of whether faith is possible to non-humans, but whether human community should belong to such creations or aberrations.

More problematic for me is the reinterpretation of Genesis 1 & 2.  The author asserts that Adam and Eve were designed to be learning machines.   But I would argue that both these terms are misleading and inaccurate, contextually.  Adam and Eve were capable of learning, but there is no insinuation that they did not possess, directly from their creator as part of being a creation, knowledge already – certainly enough knowledge to know how to respond appropriately when warned of something bad and dangerous.  And Adam and Eve were certainly not machines, but rather human beings.  Distinct in all of creation as bearers of the imago dei – the image of God.  Adam and Eve were not de facto fated to sin, either out of the necessity of learning or due to the inadequate ‘programming’ they received.  Were either of these to be the case, the issue of moral guilt before a righteous God, and therefore the need of salvation, would be eliminated.  Adam and Eve were created with the capability and the default mode of right relationship to God – they were proper creatures in every respect of the word.

Robots might gain consciousness and turn against their creators, but this would be the result of how we, as imperfect beings, created them imperfectly.  The Biblical account says something very different, and locates the source of the pain and misery and suffering that we inflict on one another and ourselves not in what we learned from God, but in the inevitable reality of being broken, improper creatures no longer in sync with anything or anyone else.

Just because a robot looks and acts human does not make it human.  Programmers and artists and engineers can gift a robot with many attributes to make it more acceptable as human companionship, but they cannot gift it with the spiritual essence.  The transmission of the imago dei is left to the realm of procreation rather than creation.  While the lines may become blurred as we dabble in the realms of human cloning, it is important to remember that God is both the creator of faith, and the creator of the spiritual apparatus – the soul – capable of receiving such faith.  Just because we can create something that looks like it is capable of faith does not mean that it is.

Carving

November 13, 2017

Never let it be said that my blogging is anything less than timely or, ultimately, intended as an aid to you, dear reader.  With that in mind, here is a video that shows the basics of how to carve a turkey.  Or a chicken.

It’s not the best video on this topic I’ve seen, but it’s hosted at a site called The Art of Manliness, so I couldn’t resist.   I have to say that teaching myself to carve a turkey/chicken properly several years ago was one of the best personal development investments I’ve ever made.  Definitely the most delicious, and probably the least expensive!

Reading Ramblings – November 19, 2017

November 12, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Twenty fourth Sunday after Pentecost – November 19, 2017

Texts: Zephaniah 1:7-16; Psalm 90:1-12; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

Context: The second to last Sunday of the Church year, and the readings continue to focus us on our hope in Christ’s return. As with last week the readings challenge God’s people to take seriously their relationship with him, particularly in light of the promised coming of his Son. This impending reality should infuse each of our moments, transforming who we are and what we do as we focus our eyes in anticipation rather than focusing them on the comforts and pursuits that the world promotes. This theme is capped with one of the most challenging of Jesus’ parables regarding the use we make of what God gives us.

Zephaniah 1:7-16 – We know no more about Zephaniah than what the beginning of his book tells us. He prophesied at the close of the seventh century, somewhere between 640 and 609 BC (the reign of Josiah). The unusually lengthy genealogy is also curious, and may indicate that Zephaniah is a descendant of king Hezekiah. If so, Zephaniah was likely rather young when he began his prophetic ministry. Scholars believe his name means something along the lines of YHWH is Zaphon. Zaphon was a Caananite deity, so that the name would mean something to the effect of YHWH is what Zaphon claims to be. Zephaniah is a short book (three chapters), divided into three major sections – judgment against God’s people Judea, judgment against the foreign nations, and a promise of restoration to a remnant of God’s people. Today’s excerpt once again focuses on the Day of the Lord as a day of reckoning and judgment that even those who consider themselves God’s people may be less than happy to experience.

Psalm 90:1-12 – If Zephaniah calls out the people of God for their following of false gods and reliance on unethical business practices for their sustenance, the psalmist recalls that once upon a time, God’s people knew that God was their original protection and provider. More than this, God is the one who determines times and seasons, and what seems like ages in our terms is practically nothing to God. We make much of the decades of our life, when to God a thousand years are like the passing of a single night! How necessary it is then, that we should have a heart of wisdom! And where else can such a heart be formed and shaped than in the study and discipleship of God? Surely if God is our teacher we will learn not to see things the way the world leads us to see them. We will learn to value things that the world frequently abandons in search of other riches. And in doing so, we may be preserved from the judgment reserved for those who abandon God and God’s ways to create their own values and ways.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 – We in Christ do not need to fear the Day of the Lord, however! Why? Because we are to be taught and to have learned in wisdom the words of Jesus regarding that day, how it will come unexpectedly, and therefore how we are to spend each day in preparation and readiness. We are to know better than to live in a false sense of ‘security’, presuming that the Day of the Lord won’t come in our lifetime. We know better. And as such, we are to live out that hope and knowledge. Paul speaks of this mainly in a protective or defensive way. Against the constant onslaught of the world’s ideas and values,we are to protect ourselves – both heart and head. Compare to Ephesians 6 and the emphasis on protecting ourselves from our spiritual enemies. Our greatest concern is not to be whether we are alive or dead when Christ returns, but whether or not we have remained steadfast in our faith despite the temptations and attacks of a world and spiritual forces intent on separating us from the love of Christ.

Matthew 25:14-30 – Last week’s parable dealt with wisdom in the role of a follower of Christ. This week’s reading deals solely with faithfulness. This parable – as the two before it – is given after the disciples inquire about the end times. Jesus, speaking to his disciples (rather than to his detractors or enemies) sketches in parable form the reality they will soon encounter – their master will depart, having entrusted to them various levels of gifts. How will they use these gifts in his absence? Towards what end are these gifts given?

The talents represent gifts. We can think of them as spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit but I think it not unreasonable to include also the natural gifts with which we are blessed by God the Father who created us. Our giftings are not identical. Some seem quite gifted and others seem not so gifted (though this is often only the case when trying to compare a single mutual gift rather than examining the broad canvas of gifts each person may have). These gifts are not truly our own, not to those who proclaim faith in a Creator God. They are just that, gifts. We possess them for some period of time which is not determined by us but by the God who created us. At issue is what we do with the gifts in the time we have.

It is expected that the gifts will be utilized proportionally. She with more produces more than she with less. But all are expected to produce something. What is it that they are producing? Jesus isn’t teaching on church finances! Rather, towards what end do we employ the good gifts of God? In fulfillment of the two great commands – to love God and to love our neighbor. We can’t truly love God if we don’t love our neighbor, and it is towards this end that our gifts are to be used. Likewise, we can’t properly love our neighbor unless we love God and receive his wisdom and insight into what love of neighbor properly looks like. What God gives me, I am to use to his glory as I serve my neighbor. That might be parents, classmates, siblings, spouse, children, grandchildren, neighbors, employers, employees – all of these are my neighbor!

As I engage the gifts of God towards love and service to my neighbor, the Holy Spirit is at work in and through me. I don’t control the outcome, I merely apply my gifts to the best of my abilities. It is the Holy Spirit that produces the return. We might think of this in terms of another person coming to faith in Christ, and certainly that is a fine return on our gifts! But it could easily also mean the lessening of another’s burden or suffering, or modeling for another how best to use their own gifts. I suspect any interpretation of the text that wants to directly and solely focus on leading others to Christ has fallen prey to the idolatry of evangelism as the highest and most enviable of spiritual gifts. The point is that our time is short and unknown – how will we best serve our God by loving our fellow-creations?

Note that the first servant gets to work immediately. He doesn’t assume that he has lots of time to apply his gifts. He begins immediately. The one who received two talents does likewise. They don’t presume on the master’s timing. The third servant operates out of fear but also disinterest. When confronted he will attempt to defend himself by telling lies about his master – how he’s hard and unyielding when in fact the master has demonstrated quite another character by entrusting his possessions to his servants!

Good servants share the heart and mind of their master. What benefits the master benefits them. But the third servant does not see things this way. He has no interest in what the master has entrusted to him or how best to use it. He does not want to be bothered. He has other things he would rather attend to. He has no time to apply his master’s money in even the most rudimentary of ways. His punishment is appropriate – he has demonstrated he has no desire to truly be his master’s servant, and so his wish is granted and he is removed from the household.

Growing Community

November 10, 2017

This past Sunday’s Happy Hour was considerably less volatile than the previous week.  The young woman who walked out the week before did not come.  I hope that there will be a chance to talk about things soon.

My wife has found a growing curiosity in our home school community about our Sunday evening gathering.  One mother and her son have visited several times over the past few months.  This last Sunday she brought her husband with her as well.  She’s also told another family – a Christian family – about our gathering and they intend to come this Sunday.  The quest for community takes on many shapes and forms.

We’ve also now experienced the first additions to the gathering of potential dating partners.  One of the young men has brought a girl twice now that he has been on at least two dates with.  To me, that’s rather amazing.  I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to bring a potential (or actual) girlfriend with me to a gathering of this sort.  The potential fallout if things didn’t work out would have been intimidating to me.  So we’re glad he feels comfortable enough to bring her.  She’s a very nice young woman who teaches here in town.  My wife and I have both had the chance to talk with her somewhat one-on-one.  It will be interesting to see if things work out between the two of them!

 

As Time Goes By

November 9, 2017

My first computer was a TI-99, a gift from my engineering grandfather.  Data was stored on a magnetic cassette tape.  Through the years I’ve owned or worked on computers with a range of external data storage methods – various sized floppy disks, Bernoulli drives, CDs, DVDs, thumb drives, and various forms of flash drives.  As external data storage evolves, it orphans previous technologies, which also orphans the data you may have stored on them.

But orphaning as technology progresses can be software-based as well as hardware-based.  So it is that you might have such an old version of a file that current applications don’t recognize it and can’t open it.  Fortunately, there are sometimes work-arounds that can help you get back that prized, ancient file, like this one for MS-Word files.

ANF – The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians

November 9, 2017

Hard to believe it’s been eight months since I last read through part of the Ante-Nicene Fathers (those writers that are post-Apostolic, but prior to the Council of Nicaea).

Polycarp lived from roughly 65AD to 155AD.  He is said by Irenaeus to be a disciple of St. John the Apostle and was in touch with others (not apostles) who had direct experience and knowledge of Jesus.  He served as the Bishop of Smyrna, tradition has it that St. John himself conferred this position to him) and was martyred.  Tradition is that he was sentenced to burn at the stake, but the fire would not burn him so he was stabbed to death.  His Epistle to the Philippians is his only surviving work, copied by Irenaeus.

This short letter commends the faith of the Philippians and exhorts them to continued faithfulness and perseverance.  He speaks very highly of St. Paul, and quotes or paraphrases from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke as well as a majority of the Epistles.  He condemns what sounds like Docetism, and this might be the earliest reference to the heresy that claimed Jesus was not actually physical but rather purely spiritual and only appearing to be physical.  This heresy was undoubtedly influenced by Greek philosophy which held that only the spiritual could be perfect (and therefore divine), because matter is corruptible.

Polycarp (Greek for “much or abundant fruit”) references two early martyrs, Rufus and Zosimus, who have statues of themselves over St. Peter’s Square in Rome since the 18th century.  They are said to have died under Emperor Trajan’s persecution in 107 AD, martyred in the arena by wild animals.

He has instructions for leaders of congregations (presbyters) and laments for a former presbyter no longer in his position, perhaps due to some sort of sexual sin or failure to chastity with his wife.

Where Was God?

November 8, 2017

The news reports of the shooting in Sutherland Springs Texas Sunday morning are horrific.  People around the country and world are trying to deal with the ramifications of what happened.  Much time and energy is already being devoted to trying to understand why Devin Kelley at 26 years of age would be motivated to such terrible actions.  Debate is focused on his relationship to his estranged wife and his mother-in-law.  It won’t surprise me in the least if some sort of familial struggle is credited with motivating him to violence.  Whether such is the conclusion or not won’t bring back the dead, won’t turn back time, won’t heal hearts, and won’t answer the ultimate question often posed at times like this – where was God when this happened?

Certain people have already demonstrated their profound lack of understanding of the Christian faith and profound insensitivity to the suffering as they push their ideological agendas of gun control.  The debates will continue to rage.  Laws and rights will be enacted or repealed, but the basic question remains – where was God?

First off, I’d like to point out the crassness of such a question that implies that a God of love of mercy would or should protect a certain minimum threshold of people from violence and evil, but isn’t necessarily held culpable for smaller-scale atrocities.  Why is this question asked when dozens are killed but not one or two?  Is there a categorical difference between the evil of dozens slain in Christian worship and a husband abusing his wife, or a mother neglecting her child, or a neighbor stealing, or a stranger shooting an irritating driver on the freeway?  Is one more evil than the other, or are they all the same evil affecting varying numbers of people?

As a Christian I decry the evil in all of these situations and incidents.  Whatever psychological motivations can be detected or inferred, I know that the deeper underlying issue is the sin that is in all of us.  Sometimes that sin drives people to violence or cruelty in actions.  Other times it prompts them to violence or cruelty with what they say.  Other times, perhaps most of the time, it prompts people to violence or cruelty only in their thoughts and feelings.  But Jesus makes it clear in his teachings in Matthew 5:21-30 that sin is sin is sin, whether it affects one person or one thousand, whether it works itself out in murder or adultery or remains locked in our thoughts and feelings.

So the evil of Mr. Kelley’s murderous rampage is terrible in scope, but no more morally reprehensible – by Biblical standards – than the evil I hold in my heart for the person who cuts me off in traffic.  We as a society must deem certain offenses greater than others.  But the moral guilt of the thought, word, or deed is identical before God.

If we doubted God’s power or presence any time an act of evil was engaged in – even just outwardly manifested evil in word or deed – there wouldn’t be a lot of room left for God to be active at any given moment.  It’s only because certain moments and actions are highlighted for their scale that this question surfaces with us.  But if it’s valid to ask this question for a massacre, it’s valid to ask it for a case of child abuse, or a case of sexual assault, or a case of theft.  Where is a loving, omniscient and all-powerful God when evil occurs?

Biblically, God is where He always has been, always is, and has promised to always be.

God the Father who created all things in Genesis 1 & 2 continues to sustain them still today.  He hasn’t simply wound the clock and nipped out for a nap or a bite to eat.  The fact that Sutherland Springs and the rest of the cosmos as we know it and are accustomed to experience it existed at all on Sunday morning is evidence of God the Father’s divine care and mercy and power.  It was that power that the parishioners gathered to profess and celebrate before they were cruelly shot to death.  Their deaths do not invalidate the reality that they professed when they still had breath.  God the Father/Creator was present and accounted for.

God the Son was present in the forgiveness that was hopefully requested and received in Confession and Absolution.  The sacrifice of God the Son on the cross 2000 years ago, his miraculous resurrection three days later, his ascension to heaven with promises to return just a few short weeks later, none of these realities are altered by what happened in Texas this past weekend.  The forgiveness his death opened up to us through faith in his resurrection was there for every person in that church.  It was there for Mr. Kelley as well, inviting him to repent his evil intentions prior to carrying them out, and even promising forgiveness with his repentance as he lay wounded and preparing to kill himself in his car.  I don’t know whether he accepted that invitation in his final seconds, though I pray he did.  In which case he would have found a God far more gracious and merciful and forgiving than Mr. Kelley had just shown himself to be behind the muzzle of his gun.  That is the kind of gracious and merciful God such a man needs, the kind of God I need if I am to truly trust his promise of grace and forgiveness.  It was the incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return of the Son of God that the people of that congregation gathered to profess and celebrate as truth before the bullets ushered them into eternity.  The bullets don’t alter that truth in silencing those particular faithful.  God the Son/Redeemer was present and accounted for.

God the Holy Spirit, who had worked faith in the hearts of those parishioners and spurred them to worship that morning to celebrate the good gifts of God was present.  This is the work of God the Holy Spirit in creation, turning hearts to faith, leading people towards repentance and the acceptance of forgiveness, enlightening through the Word of God, and the existence of that small congregation was proof of the Holy Spirit’s power and presence.  I pray that the Holy Spirit’s work of healing, forgiveness, and peace will be powerfully felt and demonstrated and received by those who lost loved ones, family, friends.  The assault rifle did not dispel the Holy Spirit’s presence or purpose.  God the Holy Spirit/Sanctifier was present and accounted for.

God was fully present.  And God did not intervene to miraculously protect his people in Sutherland Springs.  Could He have?  Of course, and the Bible as well as history is chock full of people who credit God with protecting them and delivering them from bodily harm and danger.  But God told Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that sin brings death.  And while God has a plan to save us from the evil of our sin and has revealed that plan in his Son’s death and resurrection, He has never promised us carte blanche immunity to the effects of our own sin or the sin of those around us.  In fact, He has told us that we will suffer.  We will die.  And He has shown us that our hope is not in avoiding these things but coming through them.

The God in Sutherland Springs Sunday morning is also the God at Calvary 2000 years ago.  The God who did not rescue his own Son from the evil and murderous intentions of humanity, but rather absorbed that hatred and misunderstanding and evil into the wounds of his Son, into the blood that poured from his body, into his very death and burial.  God the Father – through the incarnation of God the Son – knows the suffering that sin causes.  The pain of losing a loved one.  The agony of watching evil at work.  But rather than simply promising to help us avoid these things for the span of a few decades, God the Father clued Eve into the fact that his plan was nothing short than the undoing of sin from the inside out.  To the redemption of creation – inasmuch as creation would accept such redemption.

These are the things those people in Texas gathered to hear, affirm, take strength and hope in for the coming week.  Those are the very things they needed to have on their hearts and minds when brutal violence changed their worship.  It did indeed change their worship, but it didn’t end it.  Those who died continue their worship in heaven, in the presence of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And those who are left behind are called to continue their worship as well, assured that their worship is in unity with, at one with the worship of their beloved family and friends who now worship in heaven.  This is what Christian worship is – the most obvious point at which the veil between heaven and earth is thinnest, where our praise unites with the praise of the faithful in heaven until that promised day of our Lord’s return, a theme that traditionally occupies the last three weeks of the liturgical church year and start this Sunday.

Others have already pointed out that the seventh petition of the Lord’s Prayer – deliver us from evil – is a prayer not only for temporal safety but that the Lord would ultimately maintain us in the faith against the temptations within ourselves, in the world around us, and from our enemy Satan, so that we might (in God’s perfect timing) enter through death into eternal life and eternity with our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.  God did that Sunday morning, in spite of whatever hateful and spiteful intentions Mr. Kelley may have intended.

So we should continue to pray.  I don’t put much stock in sending thoughts out to those affected, but I trust with all my heart and soul in the efficacy and beauty and importance of prayer.  At all times, and in all places and situations, not simply those that are of a sufficiently horrible nature to grab headline status.