THOSE WHO LOSE A CHILD CANNOT BE CONSOLED

The Reading for Today in the Lectionary:

Matthew 2: 16Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18“A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

There is nothing more heartbreaking than for a mother or father to have to face the death of a child no matter the age. And thus writes Matthew citing the history of Israel that there is no comfort or consolation. There are no words to bring solace. This is a place of deep darkness. Mary was even told that her own son’s (Jesus) death would pierce her soul.

So when we enter the house of a deceased child be it in a family home or funeral home or even on the barren ground where masses of unnamed children are buried let us only offer a silent prayer to God. For God knows a most profound grief of losing a child and willingly at that.

On several occasions God said that Jesus is his beloved Son with whom he was so pleased. For the Trinity to walk through darkness is the way God knows the grief of a parent.

We are told in the Bible that Jesus was the kind of priest/pastor who know the heartache of his people because he went through it. He and his Father agonized together in the Garden of Gethsemane concerning the death of a Son.

Nicholas Wolterstorff wrote LAMENT FOR A SON following the death of his own child in a mountain climbing accident.

“Will my eyes adjust to this darkness? Will I find you in the dark – not in the streaks of light, which remain, but in the darkness? Has anyone ever found you there? Did they love what they saw? Did they see love? And are there songs for singing when the light has gone dim? Or in the dark, is it best to wait in silence?

Noon has darkened. As fast as they could say, ‘He’s dead,’ the light dimmed. And where are you in the darkness? I learned to spy you in the light. Here in this darkness, I cannot find you. If I had never looked for you, or looked but never found, I would not feel this pain of your absence. Or is not your absence in which I dwell, but your elusive troubling presence?

It’s the neverness that is so painful. Never again to be here with us – never to sit with us at the table…. All the rest of our lives we must live without him. Only our death can stop the pain of his death.”
“God is not only the God of the sufferers but the God who suffers. … It is said of God that no one can behold his face and live. I always thought this meant that no one could see his splendor and live. A friend said perhaps it meant that no one could see his sorrow and live. Or perhaps his sorrow is splendor. … Instead of explaining our suffering God shares it.”- Nicholas WolterstorffLament for a Son

Perhaps this is why Bonhoeffer said at one point in Nazi Germany that ‘only a suffering God can help.’

 

 

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WHATEVER HAPPENED TO GRACE? MY WIFE SAYS SHE MOVED TO MINNESOTA.

Really?!

My point is that often we evangelical types forget the magnitude, the outrageousness and the wideness of God’s Amazing Grace. I would love to explore this with any of you who would like to respond. I begin with a passage from Ephesians chapter 2.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (ESV)

In the Voice Version this is how it reads:

But God, with the unfathomable richness of His love and mercy focused on us, united us with the Anointed One and infused our lifeless souls with life—even though we were buried under mountains of sin—and saved us by His grace. He raised us up with Him and seated us in the heavenly realms with our beloved Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King. He did this for a reason: so that for all eternity we will stand as a living testimony to the incredible riches of His grace and kindness that He freely gives to us by uniting us with Jesus the Anointed.

Words like unfathomable, indescribable, and even incomprehensible are not too extreme to describe God’s grace.

And this passage goes further to say that we have been saved by grace through faith and none of it is our doing, none of it. (Not even the faith part)

So where in any of the above passage do we see anything of our own doing in this salvation grace of God? Salvation is God’s work from beginning to end.

The only ‘work’ that we might be able to do is to leave, walk out of that relationship with God. Let’s put it this way: we are in until we opt out. This is one of the premises of Christian universalism. Now don’t stop reading. This universalism idea has much to offer in the conversation about Grace.

Let’s consider this analogy. We are all in the river together being carried along in God’s love. Some choose to make the leap out of that flowing water. I had a tropical fish that once jumped out of the tank. It’s not long before it realizes the need for water. And so it is with us. After a season God will place the wandering fish back where it belongs. Some fish will see the error of their ways and struggle to get back home by themselves. Kind of like the prodigal son. Ok, maybe it’s not the best analogy but I like it.

But here’s the thing. God’s salvation is through the faithfulness of Christ to show the incomparable riches of his grace. (Verse 7)

How can those riches be displayed, and how can the glory of God be known when we take credit for somehow making salvation possible by our belief? Remember that in the Bible we are looking at a microcosm of salvation encounters over a period of say 100 years in the New Testament narratives. But God’s incredible grace is at work through all eternity and everywhere in all God’s creation.

When we talk about belief, faith or trust we are simply recognizing that there are people who do acknowledge that Christ is the author of our salvation.It is Christ’s faithfulness and his alone that brings salvation to the world. Recognition of Christ and obedience to Christ are essential to the Christian walk but God is up to something quite astounding in bringing the whole creation back to God.

I realize that we can ‘find’ other scriptures to ‘prove’ other than what I have written but let’s do this; let’s consider them all and see what kind of picture they present of the incredible riches of God’s kindness.

 

 

 

 

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THE TRAIN AND THE PATH: A CHRISTMAS MESSAGE FOR ALL

In John 1:14 we are told that everything about God, his presence, being and most of all his love became a human being in Jesus and lived with us.

This is the message of Christ for everybody. It’s a message of grace to the world made evident in Christ. God, we are told, was pleased to have all his fullness in Christ. (See Colossians 1:17)

Grace is God’s initiative in bringing salvation to the world through Christ.

Not that grace was missing in the Old Testament. Certainly it is evident through creation, covenant, kindness, mercy and forgiveness on the part of God. But in the Old Testament it was the LAW that held the covenant people together. The law was the boundary, the wall, or the custodian, all set in the context of rules and regulations for the safety of society.

Let’s compare LAW AND GRACE this way.

The LAW is a passenger train with God as the conductor. If in disobedience you jump off the train you are on your own. Oh, every once in a while you will hear the whistle blow and if you are strong enough and fast enough you might catch up with the train and pray the conductor to let you back on.

GRACE is the pathway through the wilderness. (See Isaiah 43:19) Jesus is at the front, at the back, and by the side of each traveler. If you should wander off the path, Jesus goes with you wherever you are and finds you another way with him to the goal of everlasting life with God.

Grace is the drawing influence of God upon the whole world. (That means you and me wherever we are.) You can get off the TRAIN at the next stop, which would be RIGHT NOW, and begin the journey with Christ.

Christmas is the word of God to the world that the grace of God has been revealed bring salvation to ALL PEOPLE.

So …a Blessed Christmas to all.

 

 

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ONE BIG DISTRACTION

The National Safety Council reports several thousand deaths each year due to distracted drivers on our highways. I think most of them are in Colorado where I am told people feel a certain entitlement while driving meaning they can pretty much do whatever they like. Everything from cellphone use to adjusting the radio to just plain daydreaming and not thinking about what they heck they are doing.

Anyway. Enough of that. What I am writing about today is the DISTRACTION OF COMPLACENCY within the Christian faith. Driving the highway of life.

I recall Jesus speaking with his disciples not long before his arrest. He told them to WATCH and PRAY so that they would not be led into temptation away from God- their true source of life. (See Matthew 26:41f) He concludes by saying that the ‘spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’.

We grow complacent when we stop watching and praying thinking that all is well for us at the moment. It happens when we are not vigilant about what is going on around us. So many times Jesus told stories about a master going away and leaving his servants to care for his estate. The creation and the people of it are so important to our Lord. We dare not just take care of our selves while the world suffers.

And it can get to the point where we are like the church of Laodicea, a city just southeast of Philly (not the one in Pa.), which is now in ruins. But back their heyday they had it made. And in the book of Revelation Jesus speaks to the church there: “you all say that you are rich and have need of nothing not realizing how pitifully poor and naked you are even with all your wealth and finery.” (See Rev. 3:17f)

Complacency distracts us from the Christ at the center of all life. Even in this season I am troubled by the bumper stickers that say KEEP CHRIST IN CHRISTMAS. What that does is legitimize the extravagance of Christmas for the ‘well off’. Keeping Christ at the center of our lives would be to recall that Jesus came with nothing worldly for those who were poor, marginalized and treated unjustly.

So now in this beautiful season we have a TAX PLAN. I guess that’s great for some folks but it is a distraction of complacency from the threat of poverty, poor health coverage, nuclear war, and a nationalism that says, ‘US FIRST’ at the expense of so many in want and in need of some of the basic necessities of life. The better economy and the greater number of jobs and general political euphoria on the part of at least one party provide the same situation that we find in Laodicea.

“We have all we need.” “What a great Christmas present.” And let me repeat that for some it may be ‘life saving’. I am personally for a more robust economy from which America can help the poor. And recall that ‘the poor’ are the centerpiece of God’s attention for this earth.

Prov. 14:31 Anyone who oppresses the poor is insulting God who made them. To help the poor is to honor God.

Deut. 15:7. If there is a poor man among you, one of your brothers, in any of the towns of the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand to your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.

Is. 58:10. “And if you give yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness, and your gloom will become like midday. And the LORD will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.”

But forgive me if I am a bit suspect on how this new economy will help the poor.

Recall God’s words in Deuteronomy 4:25f “When the time comes that you have children and grandchildren, are growing older and you start taking things for granted and growing complacent and start to make any idol no matter what kind and form – well then I can tell you. You are in big trouble.”

What does the Lord really require of us but TO DO JUSTICE (this doesn’t mean arresting undocumented people) LOVE MERCY, AND WALK HUMBLY WITH OUR GOD. Humble means acting in the attitude and manner of Jesus. (And just so you know. I have a long way to go in this regard.) See Amos 6.

Now I realize that our country is not a theocracy and that’s a good thing but as Christians we, in this country, are called to be a LIGHT FOR THE WORLD. Let us not be distracted or grow weary from doing good.

The other day I encountered a man on a street corner asking for some money for his family. I’m not sure how he will benefit from the new tax law but I care more about how Christian lawyers and laypeople can help our country to help those like him. (See Matthew 25)

I was hungry and you fed me

Thirsty and you gave me drink

Homeless and you gave me a room

Sick and imprisoned and you visited me.

 

And one more thing. Let’s enjoy ourselves this festive season but let not our religious ceremonies distract us into thinking what good people we are to observe the day. No, Jesus doesn’t call us to ‘religion’ but to life …. important and maybe more so on the 26th (oh by the way, that’s my birthday, speaking of distractions) and beyond. Watch and Pray.

 

Grace and Peace to all. And God bless us EVERYONE.

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WHEN LIES ARE NECESSARY

 

“In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” Winston Churchill

There are times when a lie protects the greater truth because truth is a greater reality than any one statement.

A small example: If your wife (in this case) puts on a new outfit that doesn’t quite seem to fit her and she asks you, “Does this make me look fat?” – Your true statement might be, “Why yes, dear, it does.” But your marriage, your love for her and the evening that you will spend together is a greater truth reality than your simple true (but stupid) answer.

Telling the truth seems to be a Christian ethic (way of doing the right thing) but a Christian ethic is not the only thing to be considered. There is a greater reality at work here.

There are ways to tell the truth that are unloving, rude, sarcastic and judgmental just to name a few. And some are just plain, as in the aforementioned example, senseless.

So ‘truth’ itself is not adequate. Truth must be centered in Jesus Christ who IS the truth.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer gives the example of a teacher asking a child in front of the class whether it’s truth that the child’s father often comes home drunk. (p. 753 The Bonhoeffer Reader.) The reality of this personal family’s life is being invaded by the pretense of seeking the ‘truth’. When the child says NO he or she is expressing a greater truth- the love, the privacy and even secrecy of a personal family against this unjustified intrusion.

In another example Bonhoeffer gives, there is a criminal who is looking to harm your friend whom you are hiding. The lawbreaker asks you if you are hiding your friend and you respond, ‘no’. And when the Nazis sought out the Jews being hidden by Christians, the homeowners lied to protect the innocent.

See truth is not just about facts but involves a greater reality centered in the person of Jesus Christ.

And, this is not about choosing the lesser of two evils. No, not at all. It’s about choosing the best reality, the greater truth identifying with Christ. If everything about Christ provides the context for our living then lying (in the sense of using certain words equated with a certain reality) is fully acceptable for the sake of Christ.

Truth telling comes from inward communion with God through God’s Spirit. Before the incident of the TREE in the Garden of Eden there was only truth, the will of God. And now, when faced with an ethical decision we go inside to ask, ‘Father, what is your will in this matter?’ We look at Christ on the cross asking why and for whom he died and then make our decision in light of that cross of love. And if we are wrong, well, God will cause all things to work for good for those who live within his love.

I really like the scripture where it is said, THE LAW CAME THROUGH MOSES (good and righteous as it was) BUT GRACE AND TRUTH CAME THROUGH JESUS CHRIST. (John 1:17) There is a distinction. Note it.

Sometimes truth requires a good lie.

Disclaimer: None of the above is an excuse for licentiousness. That, in the phrase of Bonhoeffer, would be CHEAP GRACE.

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WAIT TIL YOUR FATHER GETS HOME

I’ve been in court a few times during my adult life. Mostly I’ve been a spectator. On one occasion a witness and another a potential juror. Each time the judge enters there is a feeling of almost dread. He or she is announced and we are all asked to rise. They are usually attired in a robe of authority. A sense of nervousness comes upon me and some degree of pessimism as I think of the impending judgment upon the accused.

Judge, judgment, judgment day. They all have an element of fear attached. And so it is with the Christian faith. It may be due to the experience many have had of the judgment by Christians themselves. A lot of people feel that Christ is judging them. Maybe the church has contributed to this also.

Some of us are just very self-conscious about the wrongs we have thought and done in our lives and think that maybe Jesus just isn’t all that happy with us.

And perhaps we do well to have some experience of fright at the thought of Jesus, our judge.

Bonhoeffer once wrote that without that fright we do not experience the marvelous favor and grace when we discover that we are actually loved dearly by this judge. (THE COMING OF JESUS IN OUR MIDST)

It’s only when we realize just how lost we have been that we know the joy of being found. It’s only when a dreaded diagnosis comes do we realize the joy of recovery.

Jesus once said that he had come for the sick, the lost, the lame, and the blind. So that when we enter his court knowing our condition we can rejoice in our hearts when his presence comes into our lives. What this Judge brings is Good News.

“For judgment I have come into this world so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” (Those who make the pretense of seeing) John 9.

If we think we have it all together and can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and need no help or relationship with God then we will go off by ourselves. Otherwise the judge has nothing but love and forgiveness and an eternal relationship to give us.

See, Christ makes his greatest judgment from Calvary. His judgment seat is the cross and his verdict is guilt for death and sin that both may be defeated. He has exhausted the worst they could do to the best.

But to those who long for his appearance his verdict is INNOCENT AND FREE.

Sometimes we are like the children who hear these dreaded words ‘Wait ‘til your Father gets home’ only to discover that when dad arrives his arms are open, his love is unconditional and any guilt is borne by his own humility and grace.

And now it is given to us to go into the world with Jesus looking for the lost and blind and self-conscious to tell them and remind ourselves of the GOOD NEWS. And with the lowly shepherds we can go to the manger to see this wonderful thing that God has done and then leave there to give praise to our God.

‘God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world.’

By the way: I have a friend who is a wonderfully kind and compassionate judge as I am sure many are.

 

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I CHOOSE GRACE

Why does God choose to work in our weaknesses rather than in our strengths? Does God want to show us who is boss? Does God have a pride problem? Does God perhaps want to humiliate us for our sin? Is God himself weak?

No. It’s because God cannot develop a relationship with his creation if we think we are strong enough to succeed by ourselves. That’s what happened in the Garden a long time ago. And it’s what happens whenever and wherever humans build their own egos (their territorial walls) against the love of another, in this case God.

God wants to love us and love is best enjoyed when neither lover is a bully or egotist.

God has already demonstrated his own weakness and vulnerability in Jesus. That’s what the incarnation is all about. Not only does God live with us but God loves with us and suffers with us in order to give love a fertile ground in which to thrive. See, God’s grace can only flourish in weakness. It’s the law of God’s universe and God’s salvation and restoration of humankind. And while much suffering is unthinkable and unbearable it is the only path of love in this world and God wants love enough that God gives freedom even to evil and greed on this journey. Certainly God can work all things to the good for those who understand this but unfortunately not many do. And God will not force his love on us or coerce us to love him. That would be abusive and meaningless.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9 God tells Paul that God’s love is sufficient/enough for Paul’s needs in the midst of Paul’s own suffering. And through it Paul will develop more understanding of God’s love in this world. It will be the kind of love that will develop community and form a bride for the living Christ. And through Paul’s own suffering God will develop a character that God can trust with his powerful love and restoration of this creation.

It’s as though God is letting the EGO of this world be ‘lost’ in order to be ‘found’ again.

There are a great many trees in our contemporary Gardens of Eden. And if we could we would choose them over God and make our own way. But creation doesn’t work that way. It is been arranged that we NEED each other. We love each other. We care for each other. And without suffering there would be only self-sufficiency.

Fortunately the tree is now inaccessible and unavailable try as we might to find it or grow our own.

Before the tree there was only love. Now through Christ love, eternal love, has been restored. Through the poverty of Christ our lives have been enriched. There is a choice now: self-sufficiency or grace. I CHOOSE GRACE.

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