Archive for November, 2020

Grace

November 5, 2020

I had it all planned out. A quick phone call is all it would take. Sorry, I can’t make it for class this afternoon. It didn’t have to be any more than that. But of course I had to have the rationale settled in my mind. A busy weekend. Preparing for in-depth Bible study, a memorial service (and sermon) after that, and then of course Sunday morning sermon preparations. But I wouldn’t need to share any of that.

But for it to work I had to ignore the underlying motivations and challenges. This COVID situation has just worn me down. And half the time when I show up for class they aren’t responsive. They aren’t interested. They’re going through the motions. What difference does it make if I’m there to lead class or not? I don’t like those reasons as much. And in the end, I don’t make the call, and I show up for class at 12:30pm.

Yes, leading a Bible study/discussion class at a residential program for drug & alcohol recovery with a group of men directly after lunch. Motivation is about as high as you might expect. There’s at least one guy I can count on to have something he wants to talk about, something pertinent, Biblically based. But he leaves halfway through the class for one of his other counseling commitments. And then what?

Then he speaks up.

He’s probably been there a month. Maybe six weeks. Just starting. He hasn’t said anything, ever in class before. Sometimes he falls asleep. And hey, I’ve slept through more than my share of classes (as well as sermons) so I don’t take it personally but it is disheartening. But today he speaks. So quietly I can barely hear him. Jesus died for my sins. Christians say that but I don’t understand what it means.

The door opens for an exposition of all of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. The story of salvation and our place in it and the place of this man called Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to be nothing less than the incarnate Son of God, come to suffer and die on our behalf, in our place. His question was the perfect slow pitch and I cranked up and swung as hard as I could, connecting with that ball and trying to drive it out of the park.

And then he responds. Truly a miracle! I’ve never really heard any of this before. Never cared about it. Never needed it. It’s overwhelming. Yes, yes it is. You come to a program in hopes of recovery and change in your life, or maybe just to get off the streets for a while, or maybe to avoid a jail or prison sentence. You’ve heard about AA and the Twelve Steps but now you’re also confronted daily with the Christian faith and the Bible and all this insider talk about Jesus.

Another perfect, slow pitch and I crank up and talk about the questions the Bible and the Christian faith answer that other religions and philosophies don’t. Why is death a problem for us, even as we continue to try and treat it as just another part of life? Why are we shocked and hurt when natural disasters strike in various parts of the world, despite being brought up in a Western, materialist and evolutionary culture that presumes this is more or less how the world has always functioned? Why do I constantly maintain an internal baseline of who I ought to be, even though I never manage to meet that baseline? Why do I hold myself to a standard I have only ever imagined meeting? Why do I do the same things with others?

It was an amazing hour, and I know that at least some of the guys were really listening, really processing what I had to say which was, by the grace of God the Father, provided to and for me through God the Holy Spirit. An amazing opportunity to articulate the Gospel in response to a genuine curiosity. And a reminder that even when I am less than willing or interested the Holy Spirit is more than ready and capable to work in ways I could only dream of.

God is so very, very good, and I am so humbled and grateful to be an imperfect part of his work, throwing out seed and praying for him to raise up a harvest.

Sic Semper Tyrranis

November 4, 2020

Thus always to tyrants.

For Americans who know their history this phrase has always held special meaning (even more so for Virginians). America was forged in response to tyranny and we are proud to stand against tyranny in the world (at least when it suits our own interests or goals).

But there are many kinds of tyranny. Not simply one person insisting on wielding absolute control over a group of people, though that’s how we commonly imagine it. Ideologies can be tyrranical as well. Ideas can grow and those who hold those ideas can begin to see them as not just their ideas or hopes or wishes but the wishes and hopes and ideas of everyone.

So this election has been posited – on both sides – as a definitive moment. A choice for this or that ideology. A choice that goes well beyond a person or a personality. An opportunity to – perhaps once and for all – alter our society in one direction or another.

I’m frankly relieved by the closeness of this election. I’m relieved that we still don’t have a firm idea of who won just yet. Because whoever that winner turns out to be should know they don’t have anything close to a mandate. They don’t have license to drive their ideological tyranny forwards at any cost. They have an opportunity, and the biggest opportunity is to somehow work towards reconciling the division in this country that expresses itself in red and blue voting options.

I pray whomever the winner and the loser are will be gracious and grateful and will work together rather than vowing to continue the fight for an ideological tyrant. It isn’t nearly that simple. Perhaps it shouldn’t be that simple, regardless of how convenient it might be.

COVID Risks

November 3, 2020

A good reminder that the risks of COVID are not restricted to the physiological illness we are conditioned every day to fear, but also the psychological (and I would argue spiritual) side effects that prolonged isolation bring on. This article reminds us there are lots of risks, and many of them won’t show up in a mucus sample.

Reading Ramblings – November 8, 2020

November 1, 2020

Date: 23rd Sunday after Pentecost – November 8, 2020

Texts: Amos 5:18-24; Psalm 70; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

Context: The final three Sundays of the Church year are all part of Ordinary Time, but traditionally they make up their own mini-liturgical season, culminating on the last Sunday of the Church year, known as Christ the King Sunday. These three Sundays focus on Jesus’ return, and provide a transitional period into Advent, which is an anticipation of Jesus’ return based on his Incarnation. God the Father fulfilled his promise to send the Messiah, therefore we trust his promise this Messiah will return. This dual focus on what all Christians are called to actively wait and look for and anticipate is particularly helpful and necessary when we are so easily distracted both by the mundanities of everyday life and the long elapsed period of time since Christ’s ascension.

Amos 5:18-24 – For those in Christ, we await our Lord’s return in joyful expectation. But for evil, the return of our Lord holds dark promise. Is there anywhere evil will be able to hide on that day? Any place where sin will not be pulled into the light and judged? God’s judgment will be final and absolute. And in light of this, his people here and now should be sources of justice and righteousness, an imperfect foretaste of the perfect justice and righteousness of God. Those in Christ need not fear that justice and righteousness for we have the mercy of Christ in faith, the forgiveness of God the Father in the propitiation of his Son, as St. Paul asserts in Romans 3:21-25. There is no place for fear in Christ, but rather an opportunity to reflect his grace and glory to those around us, allowing the Holy Spirit to create opportunities thereby for sharing our hope and peace in Christ, despite the uncertainty and disquiet of the rest of the world around us.

Psalm 70 – Our hope is in God the Father at all times and in all circumstances. We seek his continued sustenance and favor each day, while also keeping our eyes fixed on the horizon in anticipation of the glorious return of his Son and our Lord. We pray for his protection against those who would prey on us or take advantage of us, even as we affirm our God as a source of joy and comfort for those who trust in him. And we can and should pray for the return of our Lord. The refrain of the Church for centuries, Come Lord Jesus, Come! remains true today. We should pray for that return, trusting in the grace and mercy and peace of God to execute his righteous judgment perfectly and without error.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 – We didn’t get much of 1 Thessalonians because of the intervening celebrations of Reformation Sunday and All Saints Day, which is unfortunate as Paul has some very wise counsel on how to deal with people who seek to take advantage of the Body of Christ for their personal ease and comfort. But this passage is one of the most detailed we have about the events of the Last Day, the Day of our Lord’s return, and the condition of those who die before that Day. This is apparently an area of concern for the Thessalonians, prompting Paul (guided by the Holy Spirit) to provide this response.

Paul provides comfort for those who have already lost loved ones. Grief is natural but for the Christian grief is tempered with hope. Just as Jesus was raised from the dead, so all people will be raised from the dead, and those who died with faith in Jesus Christ will be raised to join him. Paul reiterates this is not speculation, but divine inspiration. Perhaps Paul also means to say that Jesus himself taught this – either to his disciples or directly to Paul as part of his conversion, but this is speculative. Paul speaks God’s Word not his own. The faithful dead will not miss out on Christ’s return. The Thessalonians undoubtedly understood the dead would be raised, but were perhaps worried this would occur after Christ’s return and they would miss out on his glorious arrival. Not the case. The dead in Christ will be brought to meet him in the air, just as the faithful living will be caught up with him as well. Our communion in Christ – which we remembered last Sunday on All Saints Day – will be experienced directly not first in judgment but in reunion with our Lord and one another. Nobody will miss out on anything! The celebration will begin in earnest with everyone at the party right on time – nobody will be late because of missed directions or even death itself! This should be our encouragement. Death is a hard thing – whether we are the one dying or whether we are burying a loved one. But death is only a temporary separation. It is not a final condition or state.

Matthew 25:1-13 – Our Lord is returning, and his instructions to us are to wait and be prepared. We could be foolish, assuming He is returning very soon and so no thought needs to be made for tomorrow or next week or next year. We might also be foolish to assume He won’t come in our lifetime, so we have time to live our lives the way we’d prefer to (or the way the world tellls us to) presuming we’ll have time to come to Jesus before we die. Both are foolish assumptions. Both are actually not waiting at all, an assumption there is no need to wait because either Jesus will return quickly or not at all.

The Christian life is properly one of waiting, and this means making provision for today and tomorrow without losing sight of the approaching horizon. Making our decisions today in light of what we believe could happen tomorrow. This parable leads us towards this understanding while itself being full of perplexities without explanation – there’s no bride in this parable and no clear understanding of what the oil in the lamps is supposed to stand for.

It likely might vary from person to person. The point of the parable is to be ready, and the fact that when Jesus does return, not everyone will be, including those we presume to be Christian and part of his Church. If the ten virgins represent God’s people, it’s a rather stunning assertion that half of them might not be ready when Christ returns, and therefore will miss out on an eternity of joy and bliss! It should serve as a call to self-examination for every member of the Church. Do I really believe all of this? Does my life reflect it? Am I indeed waiting for my Lord’s return, and is there a difference in how I live my life if I am? What tangible steps would indicate I am waiting for him?

The goal of such examination should not be despair and doubt, but rather a more confident clinging to the promises of Christ rather than the conventions of the world.