Thursday, July 23, 2015

Trumps card

I was shaking my head over the whole Donald Trump leading in the polls news feed and wondering what are Republicans thinking. Today on NPR's Diane Rehm show some pundits said it was plausible Trump might actually win the nomination or run on a third party ticket. Scary thought: President Donald Trump. I told my wife we better make plans to move to Mexico if that happened! What are Christians thinking? Here is a caricature of the Rich Fool in the Bible, a supreme egotist. Who has been married many times which matters because Jesus actually said something about that. Not to mention greed. Trump admitted he mostly leaves God out of his life. At least, he tells the truth sometimes.

Anyway on the NPR show, one of the pundits said that any one running for President has to have a big ego to think that he would be the best choice for America to run the country for the next four years. Trump is only saying what everyone else is thinking about himself.

True. Compared to the Bible, we don't pick our candidates for leaders like God does. Think King David, who his own father did not think was leader material when Samuel came looking. Or Moses who mostly begged off the assignment God had for him. Then, there were several of the Judges, leaders, who would rather not have been. The prophets like Jonah who fled rather than lead. Paul who was leading but in the wrong direction before God intervened.

Jesus. The Messiah. We never would have nominated him for King. If he had an ego he left it in heaven, taking the form of a servant, calling his followers to do the same.

It is too much to hope that any of the presidential candidates will be like Jesus. He wouldn't be electable if he or she was. Anyway the coming debates are the new reality shows for the fall tv season. It is entertainment. Trump will drive ratings to new highs. Sell Murdoch's papers even though he claims to dislike Trump he likes to sell the news about Trump. Fox will trump CNN or MSNBC. Limbaugh will add listeners.

While this sideshow is going on, what do you and I do? Pray, Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven. And practice humility in humble act of service where we are. AMEN

Friday, July 10, 2015

Hope in death valley

Ezekiel 37 is one of my favorite Old Testament texts. The valley of the bones. Scattered bones. Not just skeletons but bones and more bones strewn every which way. Which makes the miracle seen in the vision Ezekiel was given all the more startling. God asks: Ezekiel, can these bones live? Ezekiel is wondering, perhaps, is this a trick question. He would likely say, No! Of course these bones cannot live. They are dry, dead bones. And he did not have a clue which bone went with which. So, he takes the safe way out and answers, O LORD God, you know. I love the response. God knows, of course, he does. There is a lot we would like to know. How was the world created? How many days? Where do the dinosaurs fit in? And that's just the first few verses of the Bible.

God says, Son of man, say to bones, Hear the word of the LORD, and I will put my breath into them and they will be given life.

These bones are not even the skeletons of the lives they once were. They are not even corpses. They are dried out bones, as dead as one can be. Speak to the dead, God says. Some preachers know something about that. Some sermons seem more like funeral orations in a cemetery full of dead people. Nothing happens. There is no hope.

Israel in exile was like that. They were saying, We have no hope. God has abandoned us. We are cut off which means as good as dead. They had no hope, no faith and no love. To quibble with Paul, the greatest of these is hope.

So God's word to Israel at this moment in their history is really three words combined.

First, is the promise that it will get better. Not by their logic or according to their schedules and not with their help by the way, either. God's hope may not look like what they expected God's hope to look like. We should take note. When we are hopeless, God is not. He has hope for us. Hang in there.

Second, God's hope has many layers. Haiti is often pictured as a hopeless place. Its people are poor with little hope for improvement. Their government is corrupt and has ripped the people off for years. The country seems to be in the path of hurricanes and earthquakes. The people live on much less than we think we could survive on. They survive and there are pockets of real joy, and faith fuels love and hope. God has His ways of breathing life into His people where all we see is death.

The source of perseverance, writes John Mogabgab, like the Christian undertaking itself, is not of human origin. To persevere, he writes, means to cling to God's plan and promise in realistic expectation that what a faithful and just God intends cannot be overthrown by human schemes.

From the human side things looked bleak in the valley of dry bones. Even after this word of the LORD, Rabbi Eliezer comments in the Babylonian Talmud: The dead that Ezekiel revived, got up on their feet, sang a hymn and died! Not a lot of hope there.

But God says through Ezekiel that His people should not be defined by their hopeless looking situation. Rather, they must align themselves with the Living God (ruach the Hebrew word for breath is used several times here, and in the Septuagint it is the word translated by Holy Spirit). The Spirit of God breathes life into us. So we can let ourselves be defined by our hopeless looking situations or we can choose to align ourselves with God's Spirit which is Life no matter what. On PBS the other night a journalist reported that over 12,000 Greeks have committed suicide in the past 5 years of financial crisis. For good reasons, they concluded there was no hope, no reason to live. This, too, in a largely Christian nation. It's not easy to sustain hope and hope is necessary for life.

Still, as the good Rabbi pointed out, the revival pictured in this vision was short-lived. Cyrus of Persia allowed the Israelites to return home. But, their return did not turn the land of Israel into a Garden of Eden. Nor was there any large scale outpouring of God's Spirit - at least until Pentecost. And no mass resurrections, only one we know about and that was hundreds of years later. (see Jenson, Ezekiel, 284)

It seems in our world of unrelenting calamity and misery, injustice and war, that hope is a hard commodity to come by. Some times the markers of hope are not very visible. You have to persevere, hopefully, with a generous community full of faith and love.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Theology and life

The Scripture reading on Sunday was from Ephesians chapter one. If you are familiar with it you know it is the chapter that blows you away with its high powered theological language. There's predestination, and chosen, and redemption, the mystery of God's will, forgiveness, our inheritance in Christ, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit. A tad bit intimidating. It's a theologians dream and they have written great and huge tomes on one or more of those theological terms. So, you could spend a year of diligent study on this one long Pauline sentence in verses 3-14. There is enough preaching material to keep a preacher busy for months. There is a lot of theological turf to fight over, too. Christians are territorial and most of us have staked out our positions on this chapter's big words. Chosen, does that mean God chooses some and not others? Does it mean God chooses us before we choose him (what about free will?)?

Predestination, and so how is that different from fate and does it mean some are predestined not to be in the family of God? What about free will?

How does the atonement work? What type of atonement view is the right one? How does forgiveness fit in?

How mysterious is God's will, what can we know and not know?

And we still have not gotten to the part of the sentence about the Holy Spirit, the pledge of our inheritance, and what that means.

As the Scripture was read, I was thinking about those great phrases and how divisive they have been for the church. Christians have fought and even died over their interpretations of those holy words! The churches in your area may have totally different approaches to one or more of the ideas in this chapter. In fact, you may have chosen the church you're in because of how they view one of those words (or did God choose your church for you before you did!) Did He lead you there? Did He know where you would fit in the best?

While the pastor talked about how Christians were divided about the weighty decisions of the Supreme Court and the state of South Carolina on the future of the Confederate flag as illuminated on Facebook this week, I was thinking about how divided we are on basic theology. So, it's not surprising we can't agree on social issues.

This Ephesians text begins with the word that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. In the middle it says God has lavished the riches of His grace on us. At the end it says we have all received the Holy Spirit, the down payment on our eternal inheritance with the saints.

When I tuned back into what the pastor was saying, I heard her say we can easily miss the Big Picture  of what God is doing and our part in it. God's Big Picture is awesome and we get to work along side of Him. She suggested God might be better served if we were peacemakers rather than dividers.

All this pointed me back to an article I read by Marilynne Robinson in Christian Century this week. In it she wrote: "faith lives in the human world by the grace of God, because of the love and loyalty of God, and in the presence of God, which is free, indifferent to our anxieties, to our categories, and to our very negative judgments about the spiritual state of our neighbors."

Ephesians one is good news. May God help me to live it.