Means and Ends

Means and Ends

Temptations-of-Jesus-2.jpgOoops, thought I had published this days ago…

After Jesus was baptized, he then was led by the spirit into the wilderness of prayer and fasting.  Jesus about to begin his ministry of announcing and enacting the kingdom of god.  During this forty days, Jesus is contemplating the nature of both his ministry and the nature of the Kingdom of God he’d be establishing.    While contemplating his ministry which would soon begin, Jesus faces three temptations.  In these temptations, Jesus was tempted to go about his ministry in the wrong way, to establish the kingdom of god on the wrong foundation.  Remember what he taught about foundations – “”Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”” Matthew 7:24-27 ESV

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The first temptation Jesus faced was the temptation to base the kingdom on bread.  The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”   You might say this is the liberal temptation, to merely address the material needs of mankind.  It’s a temptation to reduce the faith to a socioeconomic agenda.  These things need to be addressed, but Jesus saw it as a temptation to simply address the material needs of man.  Bread is good, bread is necessary.  But people will sell their very souls for a piece of bread.  But this still leaves that God shaped hole in the middle of our soul.  With the word of god he resisted that temptation.  And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.'”

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The second temptation was the temptation to spectacle.   And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'”   Just do a sign, prove who you are!!   This is the empiricist temptation, to persuade by empirical proof, to do away with faith by simply proving everything.  Jesus resisted that because he realized that was to put God to the test, And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”   He resisted that and left room for faith.

Jesus would later tell of the sign he would give – “When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.”  Luke 11:29 ESV.  But in the end, even the resurrection would not be enough if a man does not want to see.  “He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'”” Luke 16:31 ESV

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The third temptation was to base the kingdom upon force, to compromise with the devil that he might become the world’s new emperor the way all the old emperors become emperors.  And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”  This is the conservative temptation, to rule the world by violence.  To continue to do it the same way Caesar was doing it.  But Jesus resists this temptation as well.  “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'”   Jesus could have been the conquering Messiah the people were waiting for.  They couldn’t wait to join his army and really strike back at those Romans.  Jesus would have used his power for good, he would have been a more righteous king.  He could have bypassed being the suffering servant and grabbed the throne through the will to power, the power to kill.  But he still would have just another king in the line of kings of the world.

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Notice all these temptations were based on a desire for a good end.  Jesus was not tempted with evil but he was tempted for good.  Jesus was tempted to have this as his end – to eliminate poverty, engender faith, and unite the world.  But it was  the means that were wrong.

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Does the end justify the means?  Never.  In fact, the means are the end in the process of becoming.  Becoming more forgiving, or becoming more vengeful.   Me coming more merciful, becoming more merciless.   Becoming more Christlike, or becoming un-like Christ.  Becoming more an instrument of Christ’s love and mercy, or becoming an instrument of the Satan’s anger and vengeance.   Compromised means always results in a compromised end.  Jesus overcame the temptation to base the kingdom on bread, spectacle and force and instead set forth to proclaim the kingdom on faith hope, and love.  Instead of the conquering Messiah, he chose the route of the suffering servant.  Instead of bread, circus, and force, he chose the route of the cross for his coronation.

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Jesus is king.  Jesus was king.  Jesus came to be king.  But when the people tried to make him king by force after his feeding the five thousand, he declined.  “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” John 6:15 ESV.   When they came the next day looking for more bread, he cryptically offers instead his own flesh and blood.  “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” John 6:53-56 ESV.   Most who hear him call him crazy, and all but the most devoted followers turn away.  “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”” John 6:66-69 ESV.

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Ultimately, Jesus would be crowned king.  His means were love and forgiveness, not bullets and bombs.   His ends were love and forgiveness, not bullets and bombs.  These are hard things to understand.   Will we turn back, or continue on our walk?  Do we want to go away as well?  Or, like Peter, is our answer Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God??

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“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.'” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'” And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.”

Luke 4:1-13 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.4.1-13.esv

John Lewis

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Into the Waters

Into the Waters

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“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.””  We come this morning to the baptism of Jesus.  You could also say this is the formal anointing of Jesus as Messiah.  The messiah is the anointed one.  The Messiah, in the scriptures, is anointed with oil instead of a crown.  Here, though, Jesus is anointed not with oil but with the Holy Spirit.   He comes out of the waters of baptism, he’s praying, and a dove lands upon him.   God the Father announces from the heavens You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.

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Luke is screaming out,  LOOK! LOOK!  We finally have the messiah.  We’ve waited so long, but it’s finally happening.  The king is on the scene, He, Jesus, in the waters being baptized by John, is the true king of Israel.  What follows next is Jesus going out into wilderness to be tested, tempted, and tried before actually launching his ministry and announcing kingdom of God.

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Meantime, let’s think about something here –  John the Baptist is announcing to Israel, you need to repent, change your lives, change your ways, you need to come be baptized for repentance and forgiveness of sins!!  The people come, Jesus comes with them and he gets baptized by John.  He is baptized with a baptism for repentance and forgiveness of sins.  So, question is, is Jesus repenting of sin??  Why else would he need to be baptized by John??  He is baptized with a baptism for repentance…is Jesus repenting of sin??

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The answer, i would say, is yes and no.  Jesus is without sin, therefore Jesus can not repent for personal sin.   But here’s the key – Jesus has joined us, he belongs to a sinful people,  he can say, to us and with us,  we need to repent, let me lead the way.   Jesus is God with us, he is Emmanuel.   He is not God separate from us, he is one of us.  He could never say father forgive me of my sin, but can teach us and lead us to pray, with him leading us, saying, Father “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

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This is hard to get for we modern people.  Repenting for sins for which we are not individually responsible for is foreign to us.  But the hyper individualism of the modern era is foreign to biblical thought.  It is a very modern, liberal creation to think like this –  I’m an individual responsible only for myself…it’s as if we believe in the ways of Cain, “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?””   To which we say all too often, no, I’m an individual responsible for no one else, just myself.  That’s foreign to the thought of the Bible, and it’s not how Jesus thought.

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Jesus did not stand aloof from us, as a holy individual, saying look at all those sinners are getting baptized, but I am without sin so I will not join them.  Instead Jesus says I belong to a sinful people, a sinful race, I am one if you, I am with you, I will lead the way, together we need to repent.  Even though he wasn’t individually responsible he’s willing to say we together need to come back to God.

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Jesus leads us into the waters of baptism and calls us to follow.  Baptism remains formal introduction into the Jesus Way.  There is no excuse for not being baptized.  Jesus was baptized.  Then he tells us to be baptized. If you’re not baptized, there is only one thing to do.  Go, and be baptized.

Jesus doesn’t come up with some reason not to be baptized.  John tried to stop him.  “John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?””  Matthew 3:14 ESV.   But Jesus says no, we must fulfill all covenant faithfulness, all righteousness, I’m part of this so baptized me as well.  “But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.”  Matthew 3:15 ESV

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Jesus leads the way and calls us into baptism, he institutes communion, these are both formal religious practices.   Jesus followed a sacred calendar, He gave us a prayer to pray, He founded a church and calls us into it.

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Don’t accept modern liberal idea that Jesus was opposed to formal religious practices.  Noting could be farther from the truth.  Again, Jesus is baptized and calls us to be baptized.  Jesus instituted communion, observed a sacred calendar, Jesus gives us a prayer to pray, he founds a church calls us to be part of it.   We don’t get to make Christianity up.  It’s a received faith.  We can’t have an a la carte Christianity.  I like to sing the songs in worship, say Amen!  But i don’t need to be baptized, really.  It’s cold outside, it might mess my hair up.  And we really don’t need communion, besides, i have places to be and that takes time….

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Ok, you might be able to pull off following Jesus as an individual, but then what are you going to pass to your kinds and grandkids?    What about the generations to come?   If we are interested in passing our faith to the next generation, we need to be interested in the things that make Christianity multi-generational.   Things like churches, communion, calendar, and prayers that are passed on from generation to generation.  This is how the faith gets passed on through generations instead of just a lone, boutique experience.

Christianity is impossible as a solo project.  In the beginning of his ministry, the first thing Jesus did was to be baptized with us, showing us we are all in this together.  We don’t all have to  figure out how to be saved by ourselves.  One way of understanding Salvation might be as a kind of belonging where we, corporately,  belong to the People of God.

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I’ve heard it said that a lone Christian is a paralyzed Christian.  I would say a lone Christian is no Christian.   We are called follow Jesus into the waters of baptism, we are called into church, we are called to worship, we are called to communion, we are called to prayer.   If you’re not following Jesus into these things, then what are you following him into?

“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.””

Luke 3:21-22 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.3.21-22.esv

John Lewis

A Little Shelter

Writing today about our God, who is so vast and so overwhelming that we can only describe and attempt to understand him through the use of metaphor.  There really is no other way.  We talk about God in metaphor, but even that does not satisfy, so we have multiple metaphors we use, which at least can get us close to understand the power, majesty and grace of the God of the universe.

One of our favorite metaphors, it seems, is the military metaphor.  We American Christians do seem to love to refer to ourselves as “soldiers of the Lord”, we love to describe our bibles as “swords” we are carrying into our great battle.  We love the picture of Christ in Revelation with the sword coming from his mouth – “In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.”  Revelation 1:16 ESV.   We love to envision this Christ who returns, chopping down all those sinners with that sword (all those other sinners, that is).   As the writer of Hebrews told us “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12 ESV.  As a sinner who’s been chopped down by the word of God, slain in heart by the one the one who judges the living and the dead, so that I could come to faith and be baptized into the resurrection kind of life, this metaphor does have its place.

BUT, maybe this is not the best metaphor for us to use as we go into the world.   Maybe as “soldiers for Christ” we are carrying an us vs them attitude into the world.  In our current culture war climate, maybe this is just not the best way for us (or them) to see ourselves.  Many outside the church don’t understand this metaphor and even feel threatened by it.  As “soldiers for Christ”, we seem as though it’s us against the world.  And they are the world.  It’s just too easy for this metaphor to be misunderstood and misused by those outside both by those outside and those inside the church.   Why not focus on being the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the city on a hill, the temple of the Lord, the vineyard and branches of God.

Or how about the metaphor Jesus uses in closing his Sermon on the Mount?   “”Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”” Matthew 7:24-27 ESV.   This metaphor which Jesus gives at the end of his masterpiece sermon is especially helpful and hopeful for us if we are interested in reimagining the church in a new and more attractive way.  It’s the metaphor of a shelter from the storm.

Jesus did not invent this metaphor.   Instead, he is taking this metaphor straight from Isaiah, where Jesus took so much of his self awareness and self understanding from.  Three different times Isaiah uses this “shelter from the storm metaphor as he looks forward to Messiah.

“In that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel. And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning. Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy. There will be a booth for shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.” Isaiah 4:2-6 ESV.   Isaiah sees Zion in the age of Messiah, at the coming of Christ, as a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.   A safe place for those weathering the storm to come looking for shelter…

O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. For you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin; the foreigners’ palace is a city no more; it will never be rebuilt. Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you. For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat; for the breath of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall, like heat in a dry place. You subdue the noise of the foreigners; as heat by the shade of a cloud, so the song of the ruthless is put down.”  Isaiah 25:1-5 ESV.  God’s care for the poor and needy will be a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat.   Yahweh has always been especially interested in the care of those for whom the world does not care, in giving shelter to those who can provide none of their own.

“Behold, a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule in justice. Each will be like a hiding place from the wind, a shelter from the storm, like streams of water in a dry place, like the shade of a great rock in a weary land.” Isaiah 32:1-2 ESV.  The king will reign in righteousness and rule in justice.  And one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess and bless our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.

Eight centuries before Jesus, Isaiah used the language of a shelter from the storm.   Jesus would understand the kingdom of a God as Isaiah understood the coming of Messiah – a shelter from the storm.   The storm is all around us.  It seems we can run, but we can’t hide.  We live in the world of the 24 hour news cycle, a world where everyone has chosen sides and every bad thing that happens is their fault.  It doesn’t matter who they are, all that matters is that it’s not our fault.

In this polarized world in which we live, entrenched in our “us vs them” standoffs, the church as a shelter from the storm is far more appealing than storm-troopers for Jesus, or soldiers for Christ.  The world is entrenched in battle formations.  When we invite people to church, is it just another invitation to battle?  Is the invitation “We are in a huge battle, come fight on our side!”   How attractive is that?   Do people really want more conflict in their lives?   Or – have they already have enough of that?

Isaiah’s – and Jesus’- invitation is much better.  I’m reminded of the old 80s hair band song “We all need a little shelter”.  Our world is beaten down, pounded by the winds and the rains and the rising storms of life.  My pastor says that we are all either coming out of a storm, in a storm right now, or about to head into a storm.  So, are we offering them more storminess?  Or are we inviting them out of the raging storm and into a nice warm shelter?

What, exactly, should we be offering as the church?  Shelter from the storm?  Or more of the same old us vs them conflict that the rest of the world lives under.  Are we living by the spirit of the world, or the spirit of Christ?  “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” 1 Corinthians 2:12 ESV

We all need a little shelter.   Yes, we do.

John Lewis

Looking For Jesus

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The second of 2 stories in Luke Chapter 2 pertaining to the boy Jesus in the temple. The first is his dedication, with the sory of Anna and Simeon. This second story is the only story about Jesus between his infancy and the beginning of his ministry.  We might wish we had more to go on, we might like to know exactly what Jesus was doing at the age of 15, 20, 24, but we don’t.  All we have between infancy and starting the ministry about 30 is this glimpse of a precocious 12 year old in the temple.

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God, Yahweh, had commanded three pilgrimage feasts – Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. Three times a year all the Jews were to travel from their homes and villages to Jerusalem for a festival. It paints a picture of a people always on a journey, always on a pilgrimage. In the same way we are to be a people on the journey, moving toward god. We are never called to be static, settled, or satisfied. We are always to be in the journey moving toward god, seeking God.

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Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom.Mary and Joseph made the Passover journey with their village, with their entire clan. Jesus is twelve years old, on the brink of manhood. They travel in a large caravan, their whole clan, village, aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors. There really is something to that old saying “it takes a village”.

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And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him.At first they are not concerned they don’t see Jesus. They believe and live by the ancient, Holy idea that we live in community and take care of each other. They assume he’s back in the caravan with their neighbors and relatives. But finally they realize he’s not there.

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They had gone a day’s journey. So they probably had to wait until the next morning – it would not have been safe to travel back at night without the caravan. So they travelled back to Jerusalem the second day.

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After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. At end of the third day – this is some of Luke’s prophetic foreshadowing. Mary finds the boy Jesus after he’d been missing for three days. Wouldn’t Mary would much later lose Jesus and then find him again, alive, after three days??

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The text says they found him in the temple. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.What did they talk about? Maybe Jesus is asking about the Messiah, the one to come. He’s learning. He’s asking questions, impressing all those in the temple with his knowledge and understanding. Maybe they talk about Psalm 22, maybe Isaiah 53, about how Messiah will die. Maybe they are talking about Isaiah’s suffering servant. Maybe this is where Jesus begins his journey of self discovery, maybe this is where he begins to understand who he might be and how that fits into the Hebrew Scriptures.

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And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Mary and Joseph find him, and they are irritated. If you are a parent, you understand this. They’ve been worried sick, he’s been lost for three days. Then we have Jesus’ very first recorded words in the Bible – first thing he says is a question. Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? If we know anything about Jesus, when Jesus asks questions, he’s not looking for information from you, he wants you to think about yourself.

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Why are you looking for me?, Jesus asks us. Why am I writing this? Why do I bother? Why are you reading? Why do you bother? Aren’t we both looking for Jesus? Why??

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Maybe what we’ve discovered is that it’s not Jesus who’s lost, but we who are lost? Maybe we think that by finding Jesus, he might know the way. He might show us the way. He might be the way.

Jesus wasn’t lost, we are. We’re looking for Jesus not because he’s lost, but because we are lost. He might find the way, he might know the way, he might show the way. he might be the way. Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? Jesus says I must be in my fathers house, about the fathers business, might be another way of reading this.

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Later on, this 12 year old boy would say things like “Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like:”Luke 6:47 ESV

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“So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”John 5:19 ESV

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“If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.””John 14:7 ESV

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”John 5:39-40 ESV

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This is Good news I’m bringing today. There is no better news than this. God is like Jesus. That is Great news!! And – What if it’s true? What if God really is as good, as kind, as compassionate, as merciful as Jesus? What a relief, that would be really good news!!

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It is true. God is like Jesus. That’s the whole point. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”John 1:14 ESV.“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:17 ESV. “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”John 1:18 ESV

wipe away every tear

So one last time, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!! That’s news worth celebrating for 12 days. It’s worth celebrating forever. The Revelation that God is like Jesus. Jesus says he is about His fathers business. What is His fathers business? To invite us to the table of reconciliation. It’s at his table that we come to be reconciled with God and reconciled with one another. If we could get these two things right, right relationship with God and right relationship with each other, we could wipe out just about every problem known to man. If we could combine all of our scientific knowledge and power in reconciliation with one another instead of finding more creative and effective ways to kill one one another, we could cure cancer, and every other disease known to man. We might even see the day when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.””Revelation 21:4

“Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”

Luke 2:41-52 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.2.41-52.esv

John Lewis

Only the Suffering God…

suffering christ

Continuing something now that I had started before Thanksgiving and the coming of the advent season.   Looking again at the question of pain and suffering in our world.  Pain is the price of admission, we might say, the price of admission into this thing we call being human.  We’ve been raised by Denial University to deny our pain, but denial or not, we all feel the pain of living in this broken world.

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So today I’m going to jump forward, out of advent, straight into the passion story of Jesus Christ.   Heche Homo.  Behold the man.  Pilate, during his “trial” in Rome leading to the crucifixion, brings forth Jesus to the jeering crowd.  See this man who is suffering.  See him bleed, watch us mock him, spit on him, beat him.  Is it enough?  It was not enough.  He would have to suffer more, much more.  Further torture.  Crucifixion.  An agonizing death.  Heche homo, behold the man.  This man whom we behold, this man is God.  But he is seen here not as the omnipotent God, but as the suffering God.

mighty-god

From the beginning of human religious consciousness  we have shared similar images of god throughout cultures and throughout the religions of the world.  We’ve had our ideas of god which go way back.  The  creator god, mighty god, merciful god, omnipotent god, the all powerful god.   We had known the glorious god, the holy god, the avenging god, but this is something other, something altogether unanticipated, unimagined, unexpected.  This is the suffering god.  A god who suffers.  The idea that god could and would suffer.

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This idea is so foreign to us (and by us i mean humanity), even scandalous, that it took nearly 2000 years for even the church to admit it, to see it, to confess it.  It took 2000 years after the suffering Christ to see the suffering god.  It took two world wars and the holocaust for the church to see the suffering god.

dietrich-bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the great theologians of the twentieth century.  A few days before his execution by Nazi Germany at the Flossenburg Concentration camp he scribbled the words “only the suffering god can help” on a scrap piece of paper which was somehow smuggled out of that prison and  preserved for history.  Written on a scrap piece of paper by one of the most brilliant theologians of the 20th century days before he himself was hung from the gallows for being a prophetic voice against his own brutal empire.

From the beginning of the Church and throughout its history, from the Greek philosophy, Platonist influenced Church fathers until middle of 20th century, we talked not of the suffering god, but instead of the “impassibility” of God.  Impassibility means incapable of suffering.  The argument went like this – To suffer is to change, God doesn’t change, and therefore God does not suffer.   This way of thinking about God dominated Christian thought from about the 2nd to 3rd century until the mid 20th century.   That’s when we discovered the suffering god.

What forced Christianity to re-think the suffering of god was the horrors of the twentieth century and the two world wars, which can really be seen as a single event stretching over 20 to 30 years.

WWI U.S.

World War I highlighted the coming of both mechanized and chemical warfare, along with trench warfare and our general advancement of technology.   It was the war to end all wars.  It was a war that saw 20,000,000 deaths.  The world had never seen anything thing like this.  Until the one that came after that.  We didn’t see this consequence of technology coming.  So much for our enlightenment bringing about a more peaceable world.

wwii

Then WWII came, and for the first time, it was not just not just about the armies.  Before WWII war was fought by soldiers out in the battlefield, civilians and cities were left alone.  But with WWII, the battlefield was everywhere,  the battlefield included the cities and population centers.  We were truly “enlightened” by this point, I suppose.   Really, why should only those in military service suffer and die?   While World War 1 saw 20,000,000 deaths, WWII. saw 25,000,000 military deaths, and 40,000,000 civilian deaths.  65,000,000 people gone with civilian deaths nearly doubling actual military combatant deaths.  We came a long way baby…war was now totalized.

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When we add in deaths produced by totalitarian regimes of mao and Stalin, first half of twentieth century saw death of 150,000,000 people through systematic killing.  The battlefield was truly everywhere.

At the dark heart of the twentieth century was the Shoah, or as we know it, the holocaust.  How is it that the most advanced, educated nation in the world (which is what Germany was at the time) could systematically murder 6 million just for being Jewish?

holocaust

After the smoke cleared from the ovens of Auschwitz and mushroom clouds of Hiroshima, the church could no longer speak of god as being impassible.  There was a seismic theological shift in Christianity and Judaism.  In the post holocaust world to speak of god as non-suffering seems almost blasphemous.  Bonhoeffer had it right, only the suffering God can help.  After the holocaust, if God doesn’t know what it is to suffer, then never mind.

But to see the suffering God is not just a concession to post-holocaust sensibilities.  It was in scriptures all along, we just did not see it, probably because we did not want to see it.  We barely want to acknowledge our own suffering, let alone a God who suffers.  But if Jesus really is Emmanuel, God with us, then God must suffer because to truly be one if us is to feel pain.

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Jürgen Moltmann is another important theologian of twentieth century.  In his book The Crucified God he says “A god who is only omnipotent is an incomplete being, for he cannot experience helplessness and powerlessness…Omnipotence is never loved only feared.  A god incapable of suffering can not be involved.

where is god

Elie Weisel is a Romanian born Jew who became an American citizen, Nobel Laureate, and was a holocaust survivor.  In his book Night about his experiences in Nazi concentration camps in Auschwitz and Buchenwald.  At one point, he relates a story from one of these camps of an infraction among the Jewish slave laborers.  To punish them, the guards executed 3 people, 2 men and one young boy.  But the boy was too small and his neck was not broken by impact.  He died a long, slow and tortured death.  The inmates were made to stand at attention and watch.  Someone near Weisel said “Where is God, where is God, where is God”.   To which someone else answers “in the gallows.”

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This is the scandal of the cross.  Strangely enough, this is exactly what we confess as Christians.  That God has been hung in the gallows.  Pilate says behold the man!  Confessing Christians say behold our god!  It is almost an incredible claim.  It is scandalous.  The Apostle Paul calls it the offense of the gospel.  The Crucified Jesus hung on the gallows of the cross is the image of the invisible god.   Paul tells us this human being is the logos of god made flesh and his defining moment is being hung upon the cross.   Christ crucified is the image, the ikon, the pure revelation of the invisible God.  Under the disfigurement of an ugly crucifixion and death, Jesus Christ is paradoxically the clearest revelation of who god is.  God is like that.  He does not suffer for us to satisfy god, he suffers with us as god.   What does the symbol of the Christian cross say if it doesn’t say we believe in the suffering god?

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God did not only become fully human, which is scandalous enough, but he became the kind of human we don’t want to be.  He became a despised and rejected outcast.  He became a failure.  His death came as a failure.  He did not die the noble death of a heroic martyr.  In light of resurrection we see the cross completely differently, but as he died, condemned by Caiaphas, sentenced to death by Pilate, he died the death of a failure.   It was the ultimate I told you so.  There was no halo.  It was just another shameful death on a Roman crucifix.

Jesus did not fight the good fight, live a full life and die at a ripe old age.   This was a young man in his prime, cut down.  He spoke of a new Kingdom, He spoke of a new way of being.  Everybody said he couldn’t do it, then they nailed him naked to a tree and proved they were right and he was wrong.  Even his disciples had forsaken him.  Jesus died the worst death that he may go down into the ugliest depths of death.  Jesus Christ,  Emmanuel, is god with us.  In life, in struggles, in sorrows, in pain, and yes, even in death.  Whatever it means for a human being to die, god in Christ has experienced, but not just an act of solidarity, but an act of salvation.

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The writer of Hebrews says   “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” Hebrews 2:9 ESV

God in Christ suffered death that he might enter into death, and defeat death inside its own domain.  He was swallowed up by death that he might destroy death from inside out.   God in Christ went all the way down into ugliest depths of death that he might lead the way out.  So that,  in Christ there is a way out.  In fact, when you die, you in Christ will not see death but see Christ.  He will be there to meet you having defeated death.  His suffering with us not just solidarity but an act of salvation

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This is the mystery of salvation – by his wounds we are healed.  He was wounded so we might be healed.  Even in his resurrected body Jesus s still displays his wounds.  Because when we bring our wounds to the wounds of Christ, we come to one who has really been wounded.  Only the suffering god can help.   His claim is not  “I haven’t really been wounded but I can help anyway”.  Instead he says “I know”. I know what it means to be spit upon, reviled, hated, rejected and betrayed.  I know what it is to be beaten and abused. See my hands, see my side, know that it is I.  He invites us, like Thomas, to touch his wounds, to lay our wounds upon his wounds.  That’s where the miracle begins.  We can’t  explain it, but bringing our wounds to the wounds of Christ does not multiply woundedness but begins the healing.

Only the suffering god can help.

And he is here to help.

“Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!””

John 19:1-5 ESV

http://bible.com/59/jhn.19.1-5.esv

John Lewis

A New Beginning

Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.   The prophets Simeon and Anna both greet Jesus at the temple for his dedication, and together they announce to the world that this child is the Messiah, the anointed one to redeem Israel from their centuries of shame and suffering at the hands of foreign occupiers.

But how does Jesus redeem Israel from their shame, suffering and humiliation?   This is something Simeon and Anna can’t imagine.  No one could.  They thought what everyone thought, that this little baby would be the liberating messiah, the warrior king who will wage a war of liberation against occupying Rome and rescue Israel.  And it’s true Jesus would relieve Israel if their shame and suffering.  But instead of relieving the suffering of his people by inflicting it upon others, as the world dictates and as everyone expected, Jesus does something completely unprecedented in human history.  When you go through suffering and shame and suffering, you get out of it by inflicting it upon someone else.  That’s the way the world works.  Whether it be schoolyard bullies who get out of being the one picked upon by finding someone else to pile it upon, to long-suffering nations who finally find the wherewithal to escape their own suffering by inflicting upon some other peoples, it is just a virus that spreads throughout history.  Shame and suffering spreads through nations, one to the next.

But – Jesus doesn’t do this.  He rescues Israel from shame and suffering not by finding someone else to inflict it upon, or transmit the virus into, but instead by sharing their shame and suffering into himself.  He absorbs their shame, suffering and humiliation into himself, he does not inflict it upon others.  We sinned all of our anger, all of our pain, all of our sins into Jesus, and he he returns all that sin, shame, and suffering not by projecting it upon some other victim, but by offering unconditional, complete forgiveness.  And this is how Jesus Christ becomes the Lamb of God who takes away sin of world

Jesus heals us by absorbing the shame, the humiliation, the suffering, not recycling it and heaping it upon someone else.  He allows it to die in himself.   And so by his wounds we are healed

Part of Simeon’s prophecy to Mary is and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.   This is the kind of prophecy that can only be understood in retrospect.  We can not understand it when it is given, but after certain events occur, we can look back and see “that’s what he was talking about.

Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.  Jesus will be responsible for the fall and rising of Israel itself.  Israel is to be re born through Jesus.  Jesus is israel, He embodies Israel and that all God intends to do through Israel.  He is the seed of Abraham, he is the Son of David.  He is the true Israelite.  He himself will fall into death only to be raised in resurrection to give Israel a new definition, a new meaning.

Simeon says the child is a sign to be opposed to reveal the hearts of many.  If we oppose teachings of Jesus, like, say, the Sermon on the Mount, it reveals our own dark inner thoughts, fears, and motivations.   We really don’t like to admit we oppose Jesus.  But when it comes to the Sermon on Mount, loving our enemies, forgiving seventy times seven, we just chalk these up to things we need forgiveness for ourselves.  After all, Jesus died to forgive my sins, right?   Opposition to Jesus and the Jesus Way, to his teachings like (especially) the Sermon on the Mount reveals the dark thoughts and intentions of our hearts, so we fall.  But when we fall, we let that darkness fall away from ourselves.  Then we are able to be raised again into a new way of thinking, a new way of being.  We are raised into a new light of understanding.  Jesus is a light to enlighten nations.

Mary would live to see Jesus crucified.  She would see Jerusalem reject Jesus and crucify him.   She would live to feel that sword pierce her very own soul.  But she would also see him raised from the dead.   She would live to see the Son (her son) rise in resurrection.   She would live to see Jesus crucified, but also vindicated.  He wasn’t crazy.  He was the true son of God who gives us a new way of being “only human”.    His crucifixion was supposed to be the end of just another failed Messiah.  But his resurrection gave us all a new beginning, a second chance, a real hope.  Hope that we don’t have to spread the virus of shame, humiliation and suffering forever.  Hope that we can all have a new beginning living the Jesus Way.   A new beginning not dependent on force and might, but instead love and forgiveness.

Today, we all have a new beginning.

“And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Luke 2:22-38 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.2.22-38.esv

John Lewis

So This is Christmas…

So This is Christmas…

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I know, I know, it’s a couple of days after Christmas.  But taking my look today at Luke Chapter 2 anyway.

great light

We’ve looked at Isaiah Chapter 9 already.  We have seen that the people who walk in darkness have seen a great light.  So this is Christmas.

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In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 

caesar-augustus

Caesar Augustus, empower of the world, wanted a census.  As with every census, he wanted to be sure he knew where his taxes were coming from, the taxes which his and every empire depend upon to maintain their power over the people.

no room

Luke starts this part of the story with a wide angle lens.  It’s a very wide shot, the world ruled by Caesar.  Then region he comes in a little tighter to the nation-state of Syria governed by Quirinius, then down to the region of Judea, narrowing further to the village Bethlehem.  Then we see the inn, then we are in the stable in the inn, then a manger with a baby.   Finally the scene ends with a tight shot, a shot of the face face of a newborn baby wrapped in swaddling  clothes.

Pieta,_attributed_To_Antonio_Ciseri

Luke is foreshadowing something here in Luke 2:7.   The baby wrapped in cloths laid in manger foreshadows Luke 23:23, Jesus post crucifixion being wrapped in cloths and laid in tomb.   It’s all part of the same story, we must never forget that.  Jesus coming into the world, born in a cave where they keep the animals is Emmanuel, God with us, with us in birth, with us in life, with us in death.  He is God with us that he might give us new way of being human and lead us out of our ways of death into life and resurrection…

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 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.

Manger

The angel said to shepherds what the angels always say – Fear not.  Shepherds in this time and place are the humblest of humble, lowest of the low, they are the ones who’ve always suffered the most.  But the angel says to them  I bring you good news of great joy….you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.  Be clear here.  This manger is not a prop for a nativity scene, it’s a feeding trough for the animals, the animals who lived in this particular cave.   Jesus was born in a cave, but his was certainly not the first birth to happen in this cave.  These animal had birthed their own calves and kids into the world right in this same cave, and now this little baby is born, wrapped in swaddling clothes per the custom of the day, then laid down in their feeding trough for a crib.  Is this not at least a little bit strange?

bread_oflife

Stranger still – this little baby laid down in a feeding trough would grow up to say things like  “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst….I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”….So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” John 6:35, 51, 53-56 ESV.  Picture now the bread of life laid in a manger, a feeding trough.   Christ does not save us by killing our enemies but by offering us his own body and his own shed blood and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!

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God does not hate mankind. He’s kindly inclined toward mankind in his own pleasure, but he wants to save us from our ways of death.

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The Gospel of Christ came into a world that already had a gospel.  The world already had the Gospel of Caesar, specifically Caesar Augustus.  The Roman Senate had already declared him savior of the world because of the great peace he had brought into the world.  There was talk as to whether to split time into B.C. (Before Caesar) and A.D. based upon his birth and life.  Yes he had brought peace, the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome.  But as the historian Tacitus had noted, there were  complaints that Rome “created a desert and calls it peace.”  The Roman army would show up to a new territory, and announce that they were here to bring peace.  Some might reply “we already have peace!”   To which Romes response was, “yes, but it’s not our peace!”   They would seize territory, impose taxes, and carry the best from that territory back to Rome.   If some so happened to resist, they would be killed, creating peace!   Amen!!??

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Christ does not save us by killing our enemies but by being born in a manger, offering his flesh as food, teaching us to love our enemies and be radically forgiving.  He then lives out his own teaching all the way through allowing himself to tortured and crucified upon the cross.  It is upon the cross that Christ judges the world, it is as he cries out Father forgive them that the ugliness of human sin lies bare for all to see.   Christ naked and dying upon the cross paradoxically shines the brightest light upon the systems of sin which have been in place since the foundation of the world.

Dark-Rainy-Night-Wallpaper

It’s time to speak plainly.  We are a violent species.  Violence is our most diabolical source of systemic evil.  It just seems keep going on forever and forever.  From Cain killing Abel, to Pharaoh Ramses Tutmosis, to Alexander the Great, to Caesar Augustus, to Auschwitz, to Hiroshima, to 9/11, to Sandy Hook, to Lax Vegas, to MS13, to your own street corner on a dark rainy night.

war is over

In the past 5000 years, there have been approximately 14500 wars killing 3.5 billion people.  Born on Christmas Day, laid in a manger, the Prince of Peace offers a better way, if we will dare.  As the John Lennon Christmas anthem puts it, War is over, if you want it.

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The 20th century will be known as the century we finally perfected the technology of killing.  Meanwhile, Jesus waits for us.   Since the end of WWII over 23 million more have been killed in war.  Wars around the world have created tens of millions of refugees.  90% of those casualties have been civilians, 3 out of 4 of these have been women and children.  And the angels continue to sing “Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled….the herald angels sing “glory to the newborn king!””

savior

We currently have over 19000 nuclear weapons in the world.  That’s enough to destroy the human race 20 times over.  It’s time to get on the Jesus train.  It’s time to seriously consider following the Prince of Peace into a new way of being human.   “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.”

Luke 2:1-16 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.2.1-16.esv

John Lewis