The new rule of the cosmic Christ

joash-crowned-king

The Ascension scenes in Acts, Luke, and Matthew draws on imagery of coronation.  Jesus is crowned King, leader, victory.

As we pass through this time of Ascension-tide, the 10 days between Ascension Day and Pentecost Sunday, I think it is good to devote some time to reflect on what this experience of Christ ascendant over us and all things means.

I am struck by the powerful words of United Church of Christ theologian and preacher Walter Brueggemann, who writes in his Mandate To Difference:

“… the same Jesus who was known in the Gospel narrative is able to do on a cosmic scale what Jesus of Nazareth had done locally:

“He feeds the hungry multitude.

He touches lepers and they are healed.

He welcomes children who are vulnerable.

He enjoys the company of those disapproved of by proper society…

ascension

“We may confess the creed: ‘He ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right of God the Father. ‘  But we may do more than confess.  We may move our life into coherence with the new rule of Jesus…

“[In light of Christ’s ascension over all of life] … our common practices of greed, of the pursuit of consumer goods, of the frantic efforts to acquire more, are both inappropriate and unnecessary…

“[the same Christ ascendant over all of life was the very] Jesus [who] went to great length to identity ‘sister and brother’ as everyone, including those most unlike us, those who do not fit, those who upset us and make us uncomfortable.   What a gospel word in a society that is increasingly given over to exclusion, to hate, and to vengeance!  There is an ideology at work among us that wants to make the world very small, in order to make it safe for us, and to exclude and eliminate everyone who is not like us…

jesus holds the world

“[Since the ascendance of Christ over all of life means] this is God’s world and … the rule of love is at work, then our mandate is not to draw into a cocoon of safety; rather it is to be out and alive in the world in concrete acts and policies whereby the fearful anxiety among us is dispatched and adversaries can be turned to allies and friends.”

We can imagine ascension as Christ seated “on a cloud of glory, keeping the world under caring surveillance” and from there that he has declared the following edict by press release, according to Brueggemann:

“The newly ascended power has decreed that there is more than enough, and greed iss inappropriate in a world of God’s generosity.

“Here is a new act of legislation from the government of God that says,

Perfect love casts out hate, that we are not free for vengeance but must leave such matters to the wise Father.

“Here is an edict from the government that says,

“Do not fear for I am with you and the world will hold”

I find Brueggemann’s reflection of what this experiences the disciples and early believers re-tell — of Jesus ascendant over all of life and our world — means very compelling.  I think if i wrote out my own version I would add the sense of Psalm 24 that we are reminded by it that the earth is God’s, the fullness thereof, and we are called to treat all of life as bearing the image of the Christ who rose, according to Ephesians, to fill all things with Christ’s presence.   And thus, also, we must change our relationships with the land, air, water, soil, and other living things, learning to see the whole world as the temple of God — as well as our own and others’ bodies.

What experiences have led you, like the early believers both on Ascension Day itself and in the early days of the Jesus movement, to experience a sense that Christ is ascendant over all of your life and all the concerns of our world?  In what ways does it inspire and challenge you?

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

 

===

Follow us on our podcast, on iTunesTwitterfacebook, and here on our blog.

Advertisements

Bob Marley and the miracle of the Ascension

The more I reflect on Ascension Day,  the more I see the way in which, perhaps unaware of this connection himself, the musician Bob Marley connected with the heart of the meaning of the experience of Jesus ascendant over all of life and our world which the early Christians remembered in the ascension story.

In his classic song, “Get Up, Stand Up,” Bob riffs about themes at the heart of the message of this experience of Christ.  Notice his words:

“Ey, get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!
Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!
Preacher man, don’t tell me
Heaven is under the earth
I know you don’t know
What life is really worth
It’s not all that glitters is gold
Half the story has never been told
And now you see the light
You stand up for your rights
Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!
Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!
You see, most people think
Great God will come from the sky
Take away everything
And make everybody feel high
But if you know what life is worth
You would look for yours on earth
And now you see the light
You stand up for your rights
Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!
Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!
We sick an’ tired of your ‘ism-schism game
Dyin’, goin’ to heaven in-a Jesus’ name, Lord
We know when we understand
Almighty God is a living man
You can fool some people sometimes
But you couldn’t fool all the people all the time
And now we see the light
You stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!
Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!
Don’t give up the fight
Don’t give up the fight
Don’t give up the fight
Don’t give up the fight
Don’t give up the fight
Don’t give up the fight
Don’t give up the fight
Don’t give up the fight
Don’t give up the fight
Don’t give up the fight
Don’t give up the fight
Don’t give up the fight
I say now (don’t give up the fight) whooa-oh, ooh-oh
Whooa-oh, ooh-oh
Whooa-oh, ooh-oh
Whooa-oh, ooh-oh
Oh, yo-yo-yo (oh, yo-yo-yo)
Oh, yo-yo-yo (oh, yo-yo-yo)
Oh, yo (oh, yo)
Oh, yo (oh, yo)
Oh, yo-yo-yo (oh, yo-yo-yo)
Oh, yo-yo-yo (oh, yo-yo-yo)
Ethiopia (Ethiopia)
Yo-o (yo-o)
Yo, Jah-Jah (yo Jah-Jah)
Yo-o (yo-o)
Yo, Jah-Jah (yo Jah-Jah)
So we won’t give up the fight
So we won’t give up the fight
So we won’t give up the fight
So we won’t give up the fight
So we won’t give up the fight
So we won’t give up the fight
So we won’t give up the fight
So we won’t give up the fight
I said now, whoa-a (whoa-a)
Whoa-a (whoa-a)
Oh, yo-yo-yo (oh, yo-yo-yo)
Oh, yo-yo-yo (oh, yo-yo-yo)
So we won’t give up the fight
So we won’t give up the fight
So we won’t give up the fight
So we won’t give up the fight
You see, most people think
Great God will come from the sky
Take away everything
Make everybody feel high
But if you know what life is worth
You would look for yours on earth
And now you see the light
You stand up for your rights
Oh, yo (oh, yo)
Oh, yo-yo-yo (oh, yo-yo-yo)
Oh, yo (oh, yo)
Oh, yo-yo-yo (oh, yo-yo-yo)
Stand up for your rights!
Stand up for your rights!
Stand up for your rights!
Stand up for your rights!
Stand up for your rights!
Stand up for your rights!
Stand up for your rights!
Stand up for your rights!
Stand up for your rights!
Stand up for your rights!
Stand up for your rights!”

As most fans of Marley know, Bob doesn’t write as a mainline Christian like myself, but instead as a follower of Rastafarianism, which viewed the then-living King of Ethiopia as a re-inarnaction of Jesus, and thus a living avatar of God.   This idea of Jesus becoming reincarnated is rejected by mainline Christianity and in fact kind of flies in the face on the idea of the ascension.

That said, it inspires words that connect directly with the message of Ascension Day.   Marley calls into question preachers who tell people to live for some heaven after they die, and the ways in which the church lies divided by “ism-schism”.   He says instead if the Mighty God exists as a living man that means we should expect God to work within us, we flesh and blood folks, to empower us to not just wait for God returning in the skies, but instead to work to seek God’s justice here on this earth.   Faith in God as present in a living human inspires him to call his hearers to not just roll over against life’s struggle but instead to get up, stand up, fighting for their rights.

How similar the ascension story!

cosmic christ

When the early believers surround the risen Jesus, asking him when Jesus would set right the injustices around them by establishing “the kingdom”, the alternative community of justice, peace, and abundance for all in which there will be no poor among us and no sick without access to health and healing, Jesus points them back to their responsibility: they will receive power, literally dynamos — the sort of explosive energy found in dynamite which since we have used to literally move mountains — a spiritual power to shake the structures of society, turning unjust systems on their head.   They are to use this in being witnesses to the different life, different world, Jesus proclaimed in his teachings like the Sermon on the Mount.

When Jesus rises ascendant over all of life and they stand, mouths agape, the message of the angels is not “sit waiting” but instead “get up, stand up, fight”.  They ask why these bearers of Jesus’ message stand waiting, when they have been given work to do.

And most interesting to me, the reason they can trust that God is giving them this power is that they have witnessed that the mighty God is a living Man.  In some way I at least cannot fully understand, God united God’s self with humanity.  In Jesus, they saw a human life fully aflame with God’s power, presence, and love.   So much so that they called Jesus “Son of God”, “Savior”, “Lord”, and one of their number founded a community that talks about Jesus as being God  having”became flesh and lived among us, …  full of grace and truth” (John 1).

black sacred heart of jesus

In their experience of ascension, the disciples did not experience what I do in those moments I experience Jesus ascendant over all of my life — a vague sense that my life is held in God’s hands, a sense that Christ is carrying and leading me, a comforting knowing that I need not fear for the future.  They experienced that and more: they saw the body of an earthly man, afire with God’s presence, rise up to the realm where God is, so that who God is now is united forever with who we are as human beings.

I like to say Ascension Day is something like a woman choosing to become pregnant.  Now her body alone is not all she bears in mind.  Rather she is united now, with the life of another.  Her life and fate is now tied up, intermingled, with the life and fate of the growing life in her body.  So that forever she cannot imagine her future without also considering the future of that child’s.

Ascension Day means that in some way beyond words, which can only be depicted in symbolic language like riding on clouds through the sky, ascending to a throne room, filling all things with one’s life like the ocean, God and humanity have become united.   God has not future without us, and we have no future without God.   God has bound up God’s future, God’s plans, God’s life, with that of flesh and blood people like you and me and our world, from the tiniest hair on our head to the star-spangled galaxies that surround us.

mother holding baby 1

This gives great hope.  As the creed of the Uniting Church of Canada says, we can trust that this is God’s world and in life, in death, and in life beyond death we are God’s, held safe in our Creator’s hands.

Yet it is also a challenge to not just stand, staring up in wonder, mouths agape.   Rather, this should inspire a wonder that leads us to set our hand to the plow.   We are called as Deitrich Bonhoeffer once said, to be engaged: yes in bandaging up the wounded from the crushing wheel of the world’s injustice — a bandaging both of other people but even other living things and God’s earth.  But not just such bandaging.  Also, as Jesus did, driving a spoke into the wheel of injustice itself.

This path — the path of servant love, the path of nonresistance to evil, the path of giving up materialism for sharing resources together for the common good, the path of welcoming all at table as God’s very own no matter how different they are — is also what we see ascendant above us.   In other words, we see a love above us that conquers death.   A power of grace that shatters evil.

Let us embrace that power today, taking it in our hands.

Get up, stand up, fight!

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

 

===

Follow us on our podcast, on iTunesTwitterfacebook, and here on our blog.

Ascension Day: Never Forsaken, Never Forgotten

Today is Ascension Day, the day at the end of the 40 days of Easter where Christians celebrate the experience of the early believers called “Ascension Day”   Below is a sermon I wrote and recorded on this theme.   I hope it blesses you.  I hope in the few days between Ascension Day and Pentecost Sunday to share some reflections on the meaning of this experience of Jesus raised to the center of life itself, “the right hand of the Father”, in our contemporary situation.

Hope it blesses you!

And I ain’t just whistling Dixie,

your progressive redneck preacher,
Micah

Image

PS I am available to do guest preaching at time.  If you’d be interested in having me provide a message to your church or group, feel free to email me at micahbroyal@yahoo.com

Never Forsaken, Never Forgotten

Our reading today comes from the book of Acts, beginning in chapter 1, verse 1:

In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”

These are the words of God, for the people of God.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Would you pray with me?

God, we believe you have more light to break forth from your holy word. We pray you open our minds and hearts so that we may see and know what light your Word has for us in these words of Scripture.  As I strive to proclaim your Word, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight.  In Christ’s name, Amen.

grumpy kid“Oh no.  I’m all alone.  Everybody has left.  Have they abandoned me?”.

That is what I said to myself, as I rapidly scanned the food court of a Georgia mall.   I must have been around 10 or 11.  I was near Jekyll Island, GA, at a church conference with my parents.  We kids had begged to go to the mall since my older brother and sister were teenagers and hanging at the mall was “the thing to do”, and my younger sister and I knew if we backed them up, maybe they’d back us up on what we wanted to do later.

I had seen a comic book rack, and turned aside to look at it for what I thought was just a second.  It must have been longer because when I turned around, my family was nowhere in sight.   I panicked.  Here I was miles away from my hometown of Fayetteville, NC.  In fact I was states away, in a mall in a city I barely knew.   And I not only didn’t know where my family was.  In a time before cell phones and texting, I had no clue where to find them or, if I couldn’t, how to get home from there.

I’d now spent what seemed like an eternity looking for them, and they were not in sight.

I was certain I’d been forgotten, lost to wander an un-known mall in Georgia forever…

griefClearly, we found each other, and all eventually ended up well.  That horrible sinking feeling, though, …  feeling that I am abandoned, forgotten, left to fend for myself in over my head, is something I’ve felt many times since myself.  I bet you have too.

Arriving at work, getting that pink slip telling you the steady work you rely on to pay bills and support your family is gone can feel like you have been rejected, forgotten.  “Oh no,” you say to yourself.  “I’m alone.  I’ve been forgotten”.

We can feel it when a relationship of many years comes apart despite our best efforts saying “they’ve left me.  I’m alone.  What lies ahead?”

We certainly can feel it when we hear the words “it is cancer” or some other life-threatening disease that we or someone close to us is facing.  “Oh no,” you may say.  “God’s left me.  I’m all alone.  How can I face this on my own?”

In such moments, we can feel stranded, stuck in a situation we would never have chosen.  We can find ourselves scanning the horizons of our lives for some sign that what has happened simply is not so.  We can feel in those moments as if God has left us alone, wandering our own unknown halls, far from the comfortable scenes where we feel at home.

ascensionAs the disciples stand dumbfounded, staring up into the sky above watching their Jesus whom they had just recently been reunited with depart above them all, I can imagine the disciples felt some strong emotions.  Some of them too might have wondered if this meant they were abandoned.  Some might have been tempted to turn to each other and whisper, “Oh no.  We’re all alone.  Christ has left us.  He’s abandoned me”.

Though at first glance this scene may look like Jesus abandoning the disciples, I want to suggest that the meaning of “the ascension” is in fact the opposite: an answer to their fears, to their feelings of abandonment & loss, and to our own.   It is an answer to such deep heart ache because the ascension is an announcement that God has through Christ united God’s self to us in a way where we need never fear we will be plucked out of God’s hand.   It also is a reminder that what is true for us individually is true for all people, and the whole world.  It invites us not to despair, but to know the courage found in becoming Christ’s agents through whom he can do more now than when Jesus was physically with us.

The message of the ascension is that in Jesus God has taken hold of us in love in a way in which we need never fear he will ever let us go.

One of the reasons the story of the ascension made it into our Bibles and into the early Christian creeds was to answer a then common misconception about Jesus.  Many early Christians had trouble really believing that God had actually come among us in flesh and blood, as one of us, in Jesus.  These Christians called the Gnostics said that instead God just appeared as if he was a person, sort of like you might appear in a play as if you are a lion by putting on a lion costume you can later take off, without ever really becoming a lion.

Seeing Jesus ascend, flesh and blood, scars and all, into heaven as the disciples made it clear Jesus was no costume God might cast off.  God wasn’t playing around.  God really did become a vulnerable baby in Mary’s womb.  God really did experience all the hurt, trials, joys, and pains we do in our struggles. God really went through the pain of not knowing what the future hold, tearfully praying in Gethsemane, just as we do in our darkest moments.  In Jesus God really tasted friendship and love, as well as abandonment and forsakeness.  Jesus ascending, body and soul, into heaven sent the message God really has thrown God’s lot in with each of us.   God has sealed God’s fate with us, so that our future is bound up in God’s and God’s future with ours.

This is why Jesus can make bold promises right before his ascension, saying in Matthew that surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. This is why Paul, having experienced the ascended Christ revealing himself to Paul, can promise us saying Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. It is why Jesus can promise us in John nothing can tear us from his hand.

Friend, you may feel forsaken. You may feel forgotten.   But the message of this Ascension Sunday is clear: God has not forgotten you.   God will not forget you. Nothing you face, no matter how dark or dreadful can separate you from God’s love. And no sin you commit is so big to cause God to turn God’s back on you.

In fact, though physically Jesus’ body is out of view, the ascension means Jesus is no longer confined to one place but instead everywhere present. In Ephesians, Paul tells us that in his ascension, Jesus rises to fill all things with His presence. No matter where you go, what you are experiencing, Christ is now closer to you than the air that you breathe, nearer than the heartbeat in your chest. And full of love for you. In today’s text, Jesus tells the disciples to wait for the power we know as God the mothering Holy Spirit to come and fill their heart and minds. This Spirit makes Jesus not just present out there in the world, but in here, working in your heart, mind, and life. Because of ascension day you can know Jesus as closer to you than words can express.

This promise is not just some personal assurance for you or me alone. It extends to all of humanity and all of creation.

Near the end of the last century, writing out of his experience battling apartheid in South Africa, then-Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote

tutu no future“I have a book of cartoons entitled, My God… In one [cartoon] God watches the awful deeds of His earthly creatures and with some exasperation God says, “Stop it or I’ll come down and thump you”… I can picture God surveying the awful wrecks that litter human history – how the earth is soaked with the blood of so many innocent who have died brutally.  God has seen two World Wars in this century alone plus the Holocaust, the genocide in Cambodia and Rwanda, the awfulness in the Sudan, Sierra Leone, the two Congos, Northern Ireland, and the Middle East, and the excesses that have characterized Latin America.  It is a baneful catalog that records our capacity to wreak considerable harm on one another and our gross inhumanity to our fellow humans.  I imagine God surveying it all, seeing how His children treat their sisters and brothers God would weep as Jesus wept over the hard-hearted and unresponsive Jerusalem, where he had come to his own people and they would not receive him.  If God ever wanted to consider the folly of having created us, we have provided Him ample cause to do so…”

We could add to this list of reasons God might have to throw up Her hands and wept over us now Ferguson, Baltimore, Gaza, ISIS, and the many many transgender youth I have heard die from assault or suicide this past year.   We all know the truth of Tutu’s words – we would give up on this world if we were God.

Ascension day reminds us God will not.  In Jesus God has thrown God’s lot in with all humanity.  Just as a mother who chooses to have a child throw hers lot in with the lot of the life now within her womb, so pregnant motherour life has been placed within God through Jesus.  God has woven God’s own future inseparably into our own.

This is why the apostle Paul can say that just as in Adam all have died and been condemned, so in Christ now all people everywhere have been saved and given life eternal.   None are excluded. There is no one God has given up on, nor will there ever be.  This is why Paul can say that we look to all things in heaven, in earth, and under the earth being reconciled.    Ascension Day means Jesus will not give up on any one of us, or any part of creation.

This is why the angels who appear beside the disciples can tell them that just as Jesus ascended on the cloud, so Jesus will return.   This promise is not about us rapturing away from this hurting earth and its problems.  Instead, it a promise that Jesus will not give up on this earth.  As sure as the sun will rise in the morning, Jesus will heal this creation.  Through Jesus’ ascension we know one day Julian of Norwich’s words in her Revelation of Divine Love will ring true: “all will be well, all manner of thing be well”.

Which leads to the final message of Ascension day.  Even on hearing such good news, we are tempted to stand, mouth gaping, astounded not just at the sight of the clouds but also their message.  Yet the angels tell us to realize this amazing message means we have work to do.

One of the messages of Ascension day is that Jesus now is not done working.  He ascends to the right hand of the Father because He has taken the steering wheel of human history into His own hands, to send it into the right direction.  He has ascended to fill all things with Himself so that He can do more to heal this world than He ever could in the few-miles distance he could walk in Palestine.

But Christ chooses to not do it on his own.  Christ chooses only to bring this future about with us.  You and I are called to embrace the power from on high that Ascension day offers us to be his witnesses, his partners in healing this broken world.

Think for a moment – what is broken in your sphere of influence?  Are there injustices like systemic racism, homophobia, or unfairness where you live or work?  Are there hurting, depressed, suffering people you know in your neighborhood or family?  Do you know those you can lift up who are struggling just to get by?  Are there broken relationships in your life you can work to mend?   Jesus calls you, calls me, to be the change we hope to see in this world.  To join him in his ongoing work of healing this world.  None of us can do everything, but if each of us do our part as partners with the ascended Christ, what a difference we can make!

Let it be so.  Amen.

 

===

Follow us on our podcast, on iTunesTwitterfacebook, and here on our blog.

Our next podcast interview — A Pheonix Rising

phoenix 2Last night I was blessed to meet Rev. Dian Jackson Davis, pastor of Mt. Zion United Church of Christ and author of The Phoenix – Rising from the Ashes, a novel about the experience of a woman overcoming the odds against abuse, racism, sexism, and embracing her life again.

During our interview, we explored these issues and the many “taboo” issues which Dian confronts head on in her ministry: raising up the voices of the voiceless, helping women and other often silenced people speak out and be heard, combating prejudice in all its forms to welcome all kinds of people into the church, exploring our God-given sexuality. Be watching for this podcast to go up as I think it will both delight and challenge you!

Your progressive redneck reacher,

Micah

Follow us on our podcast, on iTunesTwitterfacebook, and here on our blog.

(Repost) Lessons From a Mother’s Experience

As we reflect about God beyond gender and the image of motherhood, I want to just lift up again this previous about the experience of women, and lessons they teach us about our faith and life.

Your progressive preacher,

Micah

Follow us on our podcast, on iTunesTwitterfacebook, and here on our blog.

= = =

Continuing on my earlier theme of examples of theology flowing from the wisdom of the collective lives of folks often overlooked, I want to share a little from Carol Flinders’ book Enduring Grace : Living Portraits of Seven Mystics.
Cuellar-Daru Mother and ChildFlinders explores students of women’s lives who suggest that the unique ways women relate and make moral choices are suggestive of ways of changing our approach to life for all people which can lead us toward my ecologically just lifestyles that lend themselves toward peacemaking. These scholars suggest these “ways of thinking arise out of the ‘practice’ of being a mother”, not meaning of course that all women become mothers but all women are acculturated to think of motherhood as the norm. These ways of thinking seem to naturally fall in line, according to Flinders, to the practices and approaches of peacemaking and nonviolence. These approaches can be and are at times embraced by men but, according to Flinders, are unique to a women’s experience.
Here are some of these approaches that are shaped by the wisdom of women’s lives, according to Flinders, which also can point toward new more peaceful ways of relating:
1. Holding close while welcoming change.
“The growing child needs protective ‘holding’ and yet even while she welcomes it, she is struggling to break free and assert a new identity. Mothers snuggle, therefore, and reassure; we reenact the family traditions tirelessly, telling the child in effect that her world is stable no matter what. And when she shrugs off the bedtime ritual one evening as if it had never mattered anyway, we know we must shrug it off, too, and move blithely into the next stage of life”.
This attitude recognizes limits of what can be controlled, embracing change.
eskimo-mother-and-child-john-keaton2. A preference to the concrete rather than the abstract.
This is because of focusing on not children as ideas but this child – this daughter and son – and their unique needs. Flinders suggests that this leads away from abstractions to concrete, real needs. You can see how so much of our conflicts are ideological, and could not be sustained when seeing others as real people.
This leads to not focusing so much on sharp divisions between self and others, outer and inner world. This includes a focus on open ways of approaching others, seeing the connections that exist. She suggests this is “related to the kind of entity a child is. ‘A child herself might be thought of as an ‘open structure’, changing, growing, reinterpreting.’
This includes recognize the value of their own bodies and the bodies of others.
“Women tend to know … in a way and to a degree that many men do not, both the history and cost of human flesh … No woman who is a woman says of a human body, ‘it is nothing.’” After all it is from the flesh and blood of a woman’s body that humans enter the world: as particular, vulnerable bodies of children.

3. “Attentive love” as a discipline that guides living.
This is love that mothers must learn to raise children, love that “does not give place to self-serving fantasy” but rather “stays focused upon the child as he or she really is”. This love “implies and rewards a faith that love will not be destroyed by knowledge, that to the loving eye the lovable will be revealed”.

new image of motherhood4. “Women tell stories to one another out of their daily experience, stories that are meant to strengthen their values in themselves and one another”.

Flinders goes on to suggest what practically could flow from all of us, of all genders and gender expressions, learning to embrace some of these aspects of the wisdom common to women:
“The relevance of all this to current political events is not hard to find. In a world full of breaking-up empires and emerging nations, respect for the ‘complexities and uncertainties of another’s experience’ is surely of the first importance. So are a strong sense of connectedness, tolerance for ambiguity, and the capacity to ‘hold on’ while at the same time welcoming change. So, too, if we are to keep ourselves from destruction, is a reverence for human flesh itself — all human flesh: First World, Second, Third, and Fourth”.

She goes on to suggest that “the values that arise out of maternal practice are in fundamental opposition to those of a military-industrial complex” and the machinery of war or mass violence.

Whether one completely agrees with every suggestion Flinders is making of what her experience and other women’s experience looks like (and I will not assume as a straight cisgender man to be the best one to determine how close to a woman’s experience her analysis is), I do think there is truth to her essential premise: as we listen to women’s stories, as we hear them speak in their own voices, there is a wisdom that can call into question the violence, both psychic and physical, at the heart of our patriarchal society.

We might, if we would listen to mothers and daughters, sisters and wives, single women of all stripes, and all who don’t fit our patriarchal mold, hear some wisdom that can point us in a different direction than the violence we have seen in our streets both at the hands of police and people raging against police oppression, that we see occurring in gang violence and domestic violence, and that we continue to engage in on institutional levels through our war machine as a country.

What have been your examples of ways listening to the wisdom of other’s lives has shaped your own lives?  In particular, what is the message the experience of women in your life (or your own experience if you are a woman) teaching you?
Your progressive redneck preacher,
Micah

(repost) The Womb of Life

As we reflect on the motherhood of God, I thought this piece might be helpful to share.  I hope it touches you!

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Follow us on our podcast, on iTunesTwitterfacebook, and here on our blog.

= = =

I continue to talk about us and our stories, as well as the stories of others, as ways to encounter Christ.
Colossians 1:27 identifies our hope in glory as “Christ in us”. This points to the presence of Christ not just as under the stones or within the log we cleave with an axe, as St Thomas is said to have remembered Jesus saying in his Gospel, but within ourselves.
Just as the Cosmic Christ is present in every creature from the tiniest atom to the largest alligator, the squirming worm to the splashing whale, so in our lives Christ is present, living and active.
In its own this is what Psalm 139 recognizes, as it beautifully suggests to us our whole lives are lived within God:
“O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
A-Prayer-For-You4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.”

mother and foetusLike a fish is ever surrounded by the ocean, yet has its water ever flowing through its body, so our lives are lived within Christ as Christ is present in all creation. As Jurgen Moltmann suggests in his books God in Creation and The Source of Life, one can legitimately picture God in Christ in these verses as being depicted like a mother in whose womb we exist like children. While in our earthly mother’s womb, we are surrounded by her, yet she also fills us. For it is her air, her nourishment, her body’s strength that fills our own while we dwell within her. Likewise the Psalmist pictures God as so near us in Christ that w we live in, with, and surrounded by Christ in every place, with Christ being the life, strength, and nourishment flowing through us. Is it any wonder St. Julian of Norwich pictured Jesus as the Cosmic Christ as existing as our Mother when she wrote,

“It is a characteristic of God to overcome evil with good. Jesus Christ therefore, who himself overcame evil with good, is our true Mother. We received our ‘Being’ from Him ­ and this is where His Maternity starts ­ And with it comes the gentle Protection and Guard of Love which will never ceases to surround us. Just as God is our Father, so God is also our Mother. And He showed me this truth in all things, but especially in those sweet words when He says: “It is I”.

“As if to say, I am the power and the Goodness of the Father, I am the Wisdom of the Mother, I am the Light and the Grace which is blessed love, I am the Trinity, I am the Unity, I am the supreme Goodness of all kind of things, I am the One who makes you love, I am the One who makes you desire, I am the never-ending fulfilment of all true desires. (…) Our highest Father, God Almighty, who is ‘Being’, has always known us and loved us: because of this knowledge, through his marvellous and deep charity and with the unanimous consent of the Blessed Trinity, He wanted the Second Person to become our Mother, our Brother, our Saviour.

This icon of the Trinity draws on the feminine images used in Scripture for the Holy Spirit, as a reminder that women as well as men can bear the image of God.“It is thus logical that God, being our Father, be also our Mother. Our Father desires, our Mother operates and our good Lord the Holy Ghost confirms; we are thus well advised to love our God through whom we have our being, to thank him reverently and to praise him for having created us and to pray fervently to our Mother, so as to obtain mercy and compassion, and to pray to our Lord, the Holy Ghost, to obtain help and grace. I then saw with complete certainty that God, before creating us, loved us, and His love never lessened and never will. In this love he accomplished all his works, and in this love he oriented all things to our good and in this love our life is eternal. With creation we started but the love with which he created us was in Him from the very beginning and in this love is our beginning. And all this we shall see it in God eternally.”
(From Revelations of Divine Love by Juliana of Norwich (1342-1416), (LIX, LXXXVI)).

I often picture this all-embracing presence of Christ around us and within us, like an all-surrounding womb to an unborn child or like an ocean to a fish, through the following prayer, in my work as a minister and chaplain:

“Oh Lord, who is nearer to us than the air that we bring, or the cool breezes that refresh us in summer heat, your word to us is always love. It is your love that births us into this world, and to your love we all shall return. Your love is what gives us strength to stand on all of our days – from days of overwhelming wonder and joy which nearly floor us with delight to days of crushing pain and heartache which make our knees knock and legs tremble, to every kind of day between. And when we cannot stand, it is your love that lifts us up like a child in their mother or father’s arms to carry us on”.

This all embracing presence of love, compassion, and grace that ever surrounds us, strengthens us, and guides us is the presence of the living Christ. Because we are both surrounded and filled by this loving presence, we can know wherever we go, whatever we face, Christ is always, ever around us and with us.
This all-surrounding presence is so beautifully pictured by the prayer of St. Patrick :


“Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”Amen.
Your progressive redneck preacher,
Micah

(repost) Encountering God the Spirit as True Mother, Christ as True Brother

As we reflect on the theme of motherhood and God as beyond gender, I thought it would be good to share again this reflection from several years ago on the motherhood of God in Scripture and Christian tradition.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Our readings in the New Testament focus first on the work of Christ as older brother, the one who has gone ahead of us on the path God has laid out for us. Yet they center on the work of the Holy Spirit, which Trinitarian theologian Jurgen Moltmann has come to call the motherly work of God with us and for us.
Jurgen Moltmann, in his book The Source of Life, writes:

“If the experiences of the Holy Spirit are grasped as being a `rebirth’ or a `being born anew’, this suggests an image for the Holy Spirit which was quite familiar in the early years of Christianity, especially in Syria, but got lost in the patriarchal empire of Rome: the image of the mother. If believers are `born’ of the Holy Spirit, then we have to think of the Spirit as the `mother’ of believers, and in this sense as a feminine Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is the Comforter, as the Gospel of John understands the Paraclete to be, then she comforts `as a mother comforts’ (cf. John 14.26 with Isa 66.13). In this case the Spirit is the motherly comforter of her children. Linguistically this brings out the feminine form of Yahweh’s ruach in Hebrew. Spirit is feminine in Hebrew, neuter in Greek, and masculine in Latin and German.

mother holding baby 1The famous Fifty Homilies of Makarios (Symeon) come from the sphere of the early Syrian church. For the two reasons we have mentioned, `Makarios’ talked about `the motherly ministry of the Holy Spirit’. In the seventeenth century, Gottfried Arnold translated these testimonies of Syrian Orthodox spirituality into German, and they were widely read in the early years of Pietism. John Wesley was fascinated by `Macarius the Egyptian’. In Halle, August Hermann Francke took over `Makarios” ideas about the feminine character of the Holy Spirit, and for Count Zinzendorf this perception came as a kind of revelation. In 117411, when the community of the Moravian Brethren was founded in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Zinzendorf proclaimed `the motherly ministry of the Holy Spirit’ as a community doctrine for the Brethren. He knew very well what he was doing, for he wrote later: `It was improper that the motherly ministry of the Holy Spirit should have been disclosed to the sisters not by a sister but by me.’

family-silhouette-clip-art1As a vivid, pictorial way of explaining the divine Tri-unity, Zinzendorf liked to use the image of the family, `since the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is our true Father and the Spirit of Jesus Christ is our true Mother, because the Son of the living God is our true Brother’. `The Father must love us, and can do no other; the Mother must guide us through the world and can do no other; the Son, our brother, must love souls as his own soul, as the body of his body, because we are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone, and he can do no other’ (see also my book The Spirit of Life, pp.158-9). Zinzendorf then also describes the influence of the Spirit on the soul in romantic terms of great tenderness. And in a German hymn, Johann Jacob Schutz describes the leadings of the Spirit similarly as a guiding `with motherly hand’.

It is right and good that contemporary feminist theology should have discovered the `femininity of the Holy Spirit’ and reinterpreted it, and it is quite out of place and a sign of ignorance when official church organs in Germany believe they can scent heresy in this discovery.

This icon of the Trinity draws on the feminine images used in Scripture for the Holy Spirit, as a reminder that women as well as men can bear the image of God.

Of course the picture of the family of God Father, God Mother and God Child is no more than an image for the God to whom no image can approximate. But it is much better than the ancient patriarchal picture of God the Father with two hands, the Son and the Spirit. For there God is a solitary, ruling and determining subject, whereas here the Tri-unity is a wonderful community. There the reflection of the triune God is a hierarchical church. Here the reflection of the triune God is a community of women and men without privileges, a community of free and equal people, sisters and brothers. For the building of this new congregational structure, the motherly ministry of the Spirit, and the Tri-unity as a community, are important”.

I invite you as you crack open your Bible with me, to look to and listen to the descriptions of the brotherly work of Jesus on your behalf, and how you can join him in the path he has tread for you, but also to hear the descriptions of the motherly work of the Holy Spirit. Open yourself to the presence of the Spirit in your life, and how you can experience Her as she makes real to you God’s transforming love.

 

In my life, opening to the experience of the Holy Spirit first happened among a youth Bible club in my high school, a group of mainly Baptists and charismatics. I remember as I joined in a prayer circle with them, and joined in praise choruses to the strumming of one of their guitars, feeling my heart open and sensing a presence of love that melted my defenses and opened me to feel fully alive. I experienced then, and since, the Holy Spirit in the terms Moltmann describes Her in his book: “the Holy Spirit is the unrestricted presence of God in which our life wakes up, becomes wholly and entirely living, and is endowed with the energies of life”. In different ways through different experiences and practices in my life I have felt God’s presence flow over me like water, embrace me like a mother’s arms her child, and I have felt myself filled with the sense that I am fully alive.

This presence in which our lives wake up, the mothering Holy Spirit, is not just available in the strum of guitar chords or in moments of prayer, but in each moment and each place in which we draw breath. Just as the Holy Spirit has helped me discover the joy of being fully alive, so the Holy Spirit is there for you in each moment, as you open your heart to Her presence.
And I ain’t just whistling Dixie!
Your Progressive Redneck Preacher,
Micah

Micah and his momma.

jesus-park-benchMatthew 16:13-20. I wonder as I read this story. We often read it literally, as if Jesus is trying to put together some Christology or maybe an ad campaign for himself, like in “Jesus Christ Superstar”. Jesus literally asks “Who do you say that I am?” Yet Jesus already knows who he is. Jesus does not need someone to inform him on the right doctrine of Christ, to let Jesus in on the secret of his own identity. I wonder if instead of asking who he is by saying “Who do you say that I am?”, Jesus is really asking those who answer “Who are you?” by this question. After all, our answer to who Jesus is to us is really more our description of our relationship to Jesus than anything else. Our answer to this question flows less from our theology and from Bible verses than we would like to admit. My answer to “Who do you say I am?” flows more from my lived experience of Jesus in my life. It comes from my heart, my life. Your answer does too.

The challenge of this verse for me is that Christ still haunts us with this question. “Who are you, really? I know who I am, but who are you in relationship to me?”. The question of who we are is the question we struggle with the most. God is constant, Christ is ever for us and with us. The Spirit is nearer than the air that we breathe. They never falter. Yet our hearts waver, and we struggle to find our way. Know that Christ is not trying to force you into some mold that is not who you are. Nor is Christ sitting in judgment of the rightness or wrongness of your beliefs, as if your ideas about Jesus determine your rightness with God or others. Rather, Christ is holding out his hand, saying “follow me”, “walk with me”. Christ is offering to walk with you on this journey to discover who you are, who you are always meant to be. You cannot answer either the question of who Christ is, or who you are, without embarking on this journey. Jesus is not worried about the abstracts of your dogma. Jesus is worried about you, and offering a richly rewarding relationship with you that will help you discover who you truly are and what your life is for. Jesus invites you and me to a journey that is never ending, never easy, but worth each step and every mile

walking-with-jesus-pms-j7p1Matthew 28:11-20. What strikes me as I read this story is how Jesus has made a 180 from his earlier approach. Earlier in Matthew, Jesus nearly refuses to heal a woman because his mission was only to the Jewish people and she was not Jewish. She confronted Jesus on how he had let his cultural upbringing stand in the way of God’s work. Jesus heard this woman out, and he began to change his approach so Jesus’s ministry included more people. Now, after his death and resurrection, Jesus commands his followers to go into all the world, proclaiming God’s realm to people from every nation and walk of life. We see Jesus learning, growing, and evolving, throughout the Gospel of Matthew. Apparently the sort of holy sinless life Jesus embodies is not one that is static nor the holiness of a man that doesn’t make mistakes. This shows me that a mistake and a sin are different. There seems to be a point where God confronts us with our prejudice we inherit from our culture and upbringing, an inheritance that puts up walls to keep the other out. When that happens, we have to choose what to do. After that encounter, such prejudice becomes not just something we grew up with but outright sin and bigotry. Jesus’s evolving holiness suggests something to me about our calling as Christians. The Christian life is not adhering to a list of rules and regulations. It is following Jesus. It is embarking on the same shape of life Jesus lived out. For Jesus that was a life constantly open to learning new things. It was a life of ever adjusting his boundaries so they reflected more and more of God’s mercy, love, generosity, and grace. This holiness is a journey where we follow Jesus in moving daily out of the cultural prejudices we have been raised with, oftentimes which view only certain people as worthy of God’s love or the community’s embrace. This path of holiness guides us in moving more and more toward fulfilling more perfectly Jesus’ command to reach out embracing all kinds of people in all kinds of places with the message of God’s love. We are fooling ourselves if we think this is a simple process. This path, like Jesus’s own holiness, is evolutionary. It means regularly confronting our own inner prejudices that could be overlooked, and working to really see people for who they are, so that we can honestly more fully see them as just as much bearers of the Divine image as we ourselves are. It also means not just making the other mistake of beginning to castigate those who grew up as we did, who taught us the values that we did, as evil and unworthy of grace, love, and inclusion in God’s family. We do not know their journey or story, and they too have need of love. Living out this all-inclusive grace is the holiness Jesus modeled for us, and it is a journey and a process. Its destination is a day of great home-coming and family reunion where all sit at the table of fellowship. May it come quickly in this earth, and thank God it remains for us beyond this veil of tears!

jesus hugsRomans 8:1-11. Two lines resonate with me in this rich and moving section of Scripture. First, “There is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. So much of my Christian life I lived as if God’s love was fickle, as if God was a kid who did take backs on God’s gifts. Yet in clear words we have the promise: there is no condemnation in God for those in Christ. All fear of divine retribution, fear of being abandoned by God, and fear of being kicked out of God’s family need to be laid aside. God’s love and acceptance is here for all of us. This inclusion in Christ sounds like it is for some of us, but in actual fact all are included in this. God loved the world so much that God sent Jesus. The whole world, not just part of it. Jesus came for all the world, so that all are included in this phrase “in Christ”. This promise lets us in on the great secret: we can abandon any need to relate to God with fear and can begin now to open up to God.

If only we could see ourselves as God sees us.

I think that the phrase, “there is no longer any condemnation,” also speaks to me because I am my worst critic. I beat myself with my “if only’s”. To quote my friend, Pastor Bec Cranford-Smith, I should on myself all the time, until I am a should-y mess. This is not God’s doing. This is my continuing to live as if I am not in Christ. It is continuing to live as if the story being written for me is the word of shame I heard from so many sources as a child, the word of rejection I heard as a little boy on the playground, the word of abandonment I heard as a young minister when colleagues and mentors decided I was “too far gone” with the inclusion I preached and practiced. I know firsthand how powerful these shoulds can be, but should-ing on myself does not make my life any healthier or this world any better. All should-ing does is make things messier and uglier.
In fact, shoulding on ourselves is paralyizing. It makes me, makes you, feel helpless and unable to change for the better. It also causes us to see condemnation all around us, even in people who love us and care for us. It makes it hard to hear good advice, fearing underneath it might be shame, rejection, or abandonment because of words of critique or disagreement.

mirror dimlyNo wonder “there is no condemnation” is the first word in this text! Without it, nothing that follows can be life-giving. In fact, I would argue that the words “there is no condemnation” are a lens we can use to guide us on how to interpret the whole Bible. We can ask, “since there is no condemnation, what does this verse mean?” and go through Scripture treating it less as a rulebook with a pass/fail test at the end, instead realizing it is a testimony, a letter of love and grace to us and to all people. We can let go of that fear of being condemned. Doing so can help us realize that interpretations of Scripture which seem to present that this or that person is rejected, condemned, cut off from God, are far of the mark because we are promised that all people — even the whole world — are in Christ, and in Christ there is no condemnation.

Jacob wrestling in the night is a fitting picture for how some picture the struggle between flesh and spirit.

The flip side of this text only makes sense when we realize no one it talks about here is condemned. The text begins to talk about the way to a full life that God intends, and it talks about the way of life versus the way of death. This brings us to the second set of words that stand out to me. It talks about a way that is guided by flesh or Spirit. Flesh is a translation I hate, because it makes it sound like our bodies, the trees, the water, the birds, …. all those fleshy things … are evil. A condemnation of our bodies and our earth is not what I understand the Greek word sarx, which we translate flesh, means. Sarx means more flesh without spirit in it. Sarx is body without breath or life in it. Sarx is not flesh in the sense of living skin. Sarx instead is more like the corpse that is dead flesh being chosen over the life-giving Spirit. The life-giving Spirit is what gives our bodies life so they are not a corpses but living things that carry within them the image of the invisible God. Yet we can live as if this is not the case, live as if we are zombies, just bodies without life. We do this when we only focus on the material of life, without its meaning, without its purpose, without its connection to the deeper reality that undergirds it. To not live as zombies is to cooperate in our bodies with the Spirit of life.

9781e9e0-c634-698e-112d-5c720e4c6430_TWDS4_Gallery_Rick-Fen.jpgThe ironic thing about this text is that instead of ignoring our bodies and the earth as some take this verse, the Spirit we are called to cooperate with in this passage is the Spirit that is already in all of us, and which gives our bodies life and breath. So Paul calls us to cooperate with the Spirit who is breathing life into us each moment, rather than to fight against Her. Jesus embodied what this looks like, what this cooperation with life is like. Cooperating with the Spirit sounds like a struggle in these verses, but that is only because from day one we have learned that working against nature, working against our own natures, is necessary to survive. We have to fit others’ molds to succeed. We have to be the good boy or girl, the strong man or motherly woman. Or do we?

tree-of-life-river-of-life-05-08This text paints a picture that we can come to know full life only as we follow Jesus’s example of continuing to cooperate with the Spirit of life who indwells us. Two images help me with what it means. Both suggest that, far from becoming flesh-hating, we are being called to love our bodies. My sister is a sustainable agriculture student who works as a sustainable farmer. Getting plants in step with the life-giving Spirit is what she is studying to do. To thrive, that plant needs water, fertilizer, and sunlight. As a sustainable farmer, my sister does this for the plants as organically as possible. To remove the plant from these things would be the agricultural equivalent to pulling that plant away from the Spirit of life so it lives according to the flesh as a vegetable zombie. To do so would mean that plant or that field of plants would shrivel, waste away, and eventually die. Physically, we have all seen not just plants experience this, but neglected animals and people in dire straights. To cooperate with the Spirit is to open ourselves up to those ways the Spirit is available for us to help nourish us, to cause us to thrive.

pinnochioAnother image that helps is the one CS Lewis gives in his book, Mere Christianity. He says it is like without the Spirit, we are Pinocchio dolls. The Spirit is the One who animates us and gives us life. She wants to work together with us so that we can go from marionette dolls to becoming real boys and girls. The Spirit is the Love of God made manifest, so we Velveteen rabbits can become fully alive.

I hear a call in these words of Scripture to ensure we take time and space to drink deep of the well of Spirit water that quenches our soul thirst, to stand near the sunlight of Christ light shining upon us, to set down roots deep into the ground of the Creator Spirit we call “Father” and “Mother”.

children-coming-to-jesusRomans 8:12-25. On one hand, this section of Scripture is a word of unbounded hope. You and I have been adopted into the family of God. Somehow you and I have been brought into the relationship of love God the Father, Son, and mothering Holy Spirit have shared from eternity past. That all-enduring embrace is about you always. It is a pledge that we now stand upon a solid foundation that will not be shaken, that lasts. It is a promise that beyond the suffering of this world, there is a great home-coming in store for you and me at that great family table laid out before the Creator’s home-stead. It is a certainty that whatever you and I face, the outcome will be more beautiful than this suffering, for we will enter into the quality of life Christ has known in the Father and mothering Spirit from eternity past.

peaceable kingdomYet this son-ship and daughter-hood we are granted is also linked here with the redemption of all creation and the earth. Again this shows Paul is not anti-flesh, anti-body, anti-earth. Paul is not a hater of the created world. He looks in hope to see it redeemed from its suffering, through our entrance into our full life as children of God. A part of this pledge is a reminder that our salvation is not just about heaven apart from this earth. It is also about God redeeming all of creation in this earth — from the mountains and rivers, to the trees and tigers, to the clouds in the sky — from the damage our selfishness, pollution, and abuse, has done to them. This is a part of what the doctrine of the second coming is supposed to be about in the Christian tradition: Jesus redeeming all of creation from what we have done to it so that heaven and earth may become one.

I don’t think this connection, though, is just about what is coming by and by, whether in Jesus’s return and the new world that follows, or in our entrance into glory at death. I think it is also about the meaning of son-ship and daughter-hood in the Bible for here and now in this earth today. Because we know Jesus as Son of God is also a reference to heroes of faithJesus as the Second Person of the Trinity made flesh, we often forget the meaning of son-ship in the Hebrew Scriptures. A son of God in the Hebrew Scriptures was a messiah, an anointed one, sent by God to deliver people here and now from oppression, to heal the broken earth, and to be one who helps the promise of Abram of all people being blessed, and the earth beginning to be healed so it is more like Eden than Pharoah’s slavery-powered Egypt. Many figures are such sons and daughters of God in the Bible. These sons and daughters of God messiah, anointed one, figures in Scripture including David and Deborah, Cyrus of Persia and possibly Zerubabel. So to be adopted as a son or daughter of God means you and I also, in this world, are called to be ones who, like these sons and daughters of God who came before us, join Jesus in the work of overturning injustice, bringing liberation to the oppressed, bringing healing to the broken, reconciliation to the estranged, and healing to this earth. Here, in this world, we are to work to make this world more as it is in heaven, in anticipation of that mysterious moment in which God will make earth and heaven into one, a moment which Christians picture in the language of Jesus’s second advent. It is a daunting challenge, and possible only because we are not alone, but welcomed into the embrace of love the Father, Son, and mothering Spirit have always shared through being adopted as God’s children. This work flows from the adoption, into this world.

sitting in despairRomans 8:26-30. This text continues to look at the work of the Spirit. “The Spirit….comes to help us…when we don’t know how to pray,” means so much to me. A part of this promise is, of course, that we do not pray alone. The Holy Spirit comes alongside us, inspiring us from within how to talk to God. But I think, too, of many times I needed to reach out and words would not come. We all have moments of joy and pain too deep for words. We are promised here that wordless times can also be times of prayer. We can sit before God, groaning or silenced by what we face, and know God hears. God the Spirit translates these groans to words.

The famous words, “God makes everything work out for the good,” follow this description of silent groans and sighs as prayer. This working out for the good of all things, too, is the work of the Spirit in response to our wordless groans. The Holy Spirit not only fills our hearts, but fills all things with Her loving presence, so that everything from the stars in their shining orbits, the plants in God mother hentheir growing, the rain as it falls, is in a relationship with the loving Spirit who indwells them. This is not what traditionally is thought of as predestination. Our hope is not in some cold determinism of God’s will, blind fate, or our will-power. It is in the fact that all that is remains indwelled by a loving Spirit who relates to it and to us as a Mother to her children. Biblically, this relationship of the Spirit to us and all things is pictured as a mother bird sheltering her chicks under her wings. Like a loving mother, this loving Spirit does not force anything — from the earth moving its tectonic plates, to birds in their migration, to the choices of men and women — to do anything. Like a mother to her children, the Spirit whispers, nudges, guides, and leads all things. Like a Mother, the Spirit is persistent. We can know that while no one and nothing’s outcome is forced, such a leading, though it cannot prevent pain and heartache, will guide, inspire, and lead all things to work toward healing, hope, love, and new beginnings for all people and all that live. This is what our mothers on their better days have done for us as children, and so what the Holy Spirit as the Mother of all living continues to do for us and all living things, always and forever.

A final part I think is important to me as I reflect on this text is that mother-and-childthis movement is linked to “those who love God and are called to God’s purpose”. This is a reminder to me of what I noticed yesterday: that being adopted as a son or daughter of God is not just about our being loved, blessed, and given a secure place in God’s homestead. It is that, to be sure. It is also the Hebrew concept of son-ship; being anointed as one who shares the responsibility of working together with the Spirit to help the healing of the world to happen. This adds to my sense that all things working together for the good is not cold determinism. We have a part of being ones who listen for the Mother’s voice, who listen for those Spirit whispers that come. We must cooperate with God the Holy Spirit and in so doing we help further this process of God restoring all things. Being a child of God is to be a partner with the Father, Son, and mothering Holy Spirit as they work to draw all things into healing, reconciliation, and peace. Closer to that day all will be brought to the peace and wonder of the Father’s heavenly homestead.

Mother_and_Child_by_senseibushidoRomans 8:31-39. This text says it all. It is a glimpse into the very heart of God, which is exactly what Christians believe Jesus came to reveal to us. What is the heart of God? A promise, true as a baby’s cry, firm as Appalachian hills: nothing, my child, will ever separate you from my love. Nothing will ever doom you away from my care. Never, in all of time, will you ever be forgotten or abandoned by me, even in those moments that like Jesus you cry “my God, my God, why?” Nowhere, in all of space and a multiverse of worlds will you ever be hidden from my sight, or too far for my love. Even in hell below, and in death to come, yet my heart will hold you close. You are my child, precious and beloved. Hear this words today, and know they are ever, always, God’s promise to you, to me, and all who live and breathe in this world.

tribal_drawing___mother_and_child_by_portraitsbyhand-d5s8kecRomans 9:1-18. Paul is very human here. Paul is struggling through how to understand the Holy Spirit’s work to turn all things to the good in a situation where Paul feels people are not making the best choices. Why do my own country-men and country-women not choose to embark on this new path of Christianity? Paul agonizes over it as a Jewish believer in Christ Jesus. I too can relate with times when the paths others take — and I take — are ones I end up agonizing over, fearing they (or I) have gone a path that is dangerous, risky, and that misses the mark.

The picture I get of the Spirit’s working in Romans 9 is that the Holy Spirit does not force us to a particular choice, but works together with our freedom. The Spirit works with the paths we embark on, trying to lead us and gently guide us. Silhouette of pregnant woman with baby inside _pvWe don’t always make the right choice, and at times that means pain or suffering for us or others affected by our choices. This is not the final word, though, for even then the Spirit works with us, within our lives, within our world, as if in labor pains, working to bear within the Spirit’s own self both our good and bad choices, just as a pregnant mother bears within her own body every move her child makes. The Spirit is constantly working so that out of these good and bad choices something good, beautiful, and healing can be borne into the world. We are like the child wriggling in the Spirit’s womb, sometimes kicking against her womb walls, sometimes growing comfortably, but ultimately never separated from our loving Mother who forever surrounds us. Ultimately, we cannot overturn the Spirit’s work of turning us and all things to good, though we can fight and wrestle against them, causing grief to the Spirit. Like a mother leading her child back home, so the Spirit is able to guide us to the right destination from all of our journeys, even when we make a wrong turn. And often the turn that seems wrong to another may be right for us, even if it is wrong for them.

mother helping child find wayIt seems to me that Paul does not know what the Spirit is doing, and why his fellow country-men or women reject the Christian message. I think instead of trying to rule on who is in or out, Paul is trying to illustrate that God the Spirit is still turning all things to good, even when how that will happen is not clear. I wonder if we have a better picture of this question he asked today. Do we not see Jewish people of faith who, without becoming Christians, live out their Jewishness in a way that makes the world more whole, more healed, more beautiful? Do we not also see how the continued witness of the Jewish people in their own terms has caused Christians to have a more beautiful, more loving, more just faith through hearing the stories of these Jewish believers? I wonder if this example shows us to trust the Spirit when people and groups go down paths we feel are wrong. Who knows what the outcome will be? Who are we to say that it is ultimately wrong for them? After all, the Holy Spirit continues to work with that person and those groups, groaning in them and in our world, until that path is brought into one that brings healing. Even when our choices are not perfect, the Spirit is able to guide us aright, and guide our world. To me that is a message of hope for us, for all we care for, and for all who live on God’s earth.