Tag Archives: Paul

We will all be changed

Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (1 Cor. 15:51-54)

Lay claim to Jesus

Br. James Koester offers this reflection today for Brother, Give Us a Word:

It is our time to lay claim, not just to the message of the Cross but of the Empty Tomb as well. Now is the time for us to lay claim to hope and health and life. Now is our time to lay claim to Jesus.

We will all be changed

“Hope and health and life” all describe change.

We hope for something better, something as yet unseen but witnessed by others. Like the apostles, we worry that it might be “an idle tale,” too good to be true, but over time the undeniable change in others builds hope in us.

Health is more than the absence of illness; it’s the embrace of wholeness. Where in Lent we often practice giving up things that are bad for us, perhaps in Easter we can embrace the One who is good for us — Jesus, the Son who “has life in himself” (John 5:26).

Living in Jesus is like being invited to step through a doorway with him. It’s as if we have been in the tomb, too, and we see the light shining brighter as we duck through the opening, as we are reborn, into larger life.

 

Remembering only one thing

 

Timeline-of-Church-History

At one of the noon Eucharists last week at Bexley Seabury, during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the Rev. John Dally remarked that there are now some 33,582 Christian denominations in the world.

While it is commonplace to mark the first “unhappy division” of the church to 400 CE (the Nestorians and the “Oriental” Churches) or to the Great Schism between Orthodoxy and Catholicism in 1054 CE, I wonder if we don’t actually see hints of the first division much earlier.

There’s some evidence in today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do. (Galatians 2:7-10)

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is bracketed by two feasts — the Confession of St. Peter and the Conversion of St. Paul — celebrating two men who became convinced that the good news of the kingdom of God announced by Jesus applied to both Jews and Gentiles, that is, to everyone.

But listen to what Paul describes in his letter: “we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.” Peter and Paul are, in effect, dividing the mission of the new church between them, creating two apostolates, carving out overlapping jurisdictions, however you want to describe it. They have one goal, but will pursue it in two different ways with two different populations.

Certainly Paul sees this as a happy division characterized by the “right hand of fellowship,” but I wonder if this isn’t how the whole ball got rolling. Two thousand fourteen years and 33,582 denominations later, we have gotten good at division.

Many of the divisions in Christianity are being healed by time — I just sang the same hymn “Christ, Be Our Light” with Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Roman Catholics this past week — so I wonder if in our time we could become equally good at “only one thing, that we remember the poor.”

Imagine 33,582 denominations laying aside rancor and remembering only one thing. Imagine one billion Roman Catholics and one billion of the rest of us in Christ’s Body the Church (two out of five people in the world) uniting in service for, with, and alongside the poor.

What if we extended the right hand of fellowship not only to our brothers and sisters in Christ, but also to our neighbors and all who suffer in poverty?

For the Unity of the Church

O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 818)

To unity, knowledge, and maturity

Ss_Simon_and_Jude

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13).

Unity

We often hear in the Church the old saw that “unity does not mean uniformity.” What we are trying to express, I think, is that we don’t have to march in lockstep, we don’t all have to be believers in the same exact way.

The Church is gifted — not only with those who guard the faith (apostles) but also with those who upbraid the faithful (prophets); not only with traveling preachers (evangelists) but also with local leaders (pastors and teachers). We all have the same purpose, though: to equip the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ.

You may serve in the food kitchen, you may lead youth group, you may knit prayer shawls, you may provide pastoral care, you may give generously, you may go on mission trips, you may host a fellowship group in your home, you may advocate for political change, you may lead a Bible study. As David Allen says, “you can do anything, but you can’t do everything.”

Whatever you do, then, do it in order to equip the saints and to build up the body.

Knowledge

My own particular interests are in teaching the Bible and the practice of the Daily Office.

Isaiah has harsh words in today’s Old Testament lesson for religious leaders who teach nothing more than “precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little” (Isa. 28:10).

That is to say, teaching only Bible facts without teaching saving wisdom is no help in equipping the saints. It puffs up the teacher (as Miracle Max would say, “hoo hoo hoo, look who knows so much!”), but it does not build up the learner.

How do the words of Scripture become “living and active” in our lives? How do they soak into us until they are there when we need them?

One reason I teach about the Daily Office is that it is a method for reading Scripture in the context of worship that has helped Christians throughout the centuries to “inwardly digest” the Scriptures even as they “read, mark, and learn” (BCP 236) them in Bible studies and other forums. Again, no one method is complete or self-sufficient; each has a particular purpose.

Maturity

The gifts given to the Church are “for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”

“Equipping the saints” ultimately means enabling them to stand on their own two feet — to help learners become believers, and to help believers become ministers themselves.

Another program I’m involved in is Education for Ministry, a program of theological education for lay people created by the School of Theology of the University of the South. This year there are 11 students in my group at St. Thomas Church.

Along with the study we pursue in the four-year curriculum — Old Testament, New Testament, Church history, and theology — we also engage in a process of theological reflection, learning to identify where our beliefs and positions come from and how to turn our insights into action.

As we share our “spiritual autobiographies” with one another, we start to trace how God has acted in our lives. As we study the Scriptures, we learn about how God has acted in the life of Israel and of the Church. Reading church history is a humbling exercise in seeing how we keep getting it wrong, over and over again. And our study of theology is no academic exercise, but an attempt to go from “milk” to “solid food” (1 Cor 3:2) as we serve in our various ministries.

Being “lifelong learners” is wonderful, but as St. Benedict puts it, “the Lord waits for us daily to translate into action, as we should, his holy teachings” (RB Prologue).

Collect of the Day

O God, we thank you for the glorious company of the apostles, and especially on this day for Simon and Jude; and we pray that, as they were faithful and zealous in their mission, so we may with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 245)

 

The roads to Zion mourn

Twin Towers 9-11 by William Wray -- http://williamwray.blogspot.com

Twin Towers 9-11 by William Wray — http://williamwray.blogspot.com

How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal. She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies. Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude; she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress. The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter. Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the LORD has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe. (Lamentations 1:1-5)

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In his course this fall at Seabury titled “This Dangerous Book: Strategies for Teaching the Bible,” John Dally suggests that the Bible is organized around two 9-11’s.

The Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament, was compiled into its final form after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE and the exile of the Jews into Babylon.

The New Testament is the record of the Church’s attempt to understand the disaster of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Notes from the first session of John Dally's "This Dangerous Book: Strategies for Teaching the Bible" at Seabury.

Notes from the first session of John Dally’s “This Dangerous Book: Strategies for Teaching the Bible.”

The passage this morning from the Book of Lamentations captures the despair of the people of Judah over the destruction of the Temple. In the juxtaposition of this lesson and the canticle appointed for today (Canticle 13), we can see the seeds of Israel’s judgment on itself — “God is worthy of praise; this disaster must be our fault.” An empire has crushed the hope of God’s people.

The story that becomes clear throughout the Hebrew scriptures is the story of God seeking the people of Israel and their turning away from him again and again. In the New Testament, we see the same story written in small letters, but on a cosmic scale.

The New Testament story concerns Jesus of Nazareth — “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).

Not only did God come into the world he had created, but once again we turned away from him. Even when some came to accept him and place their hope in him, they had their hopes terribly dashed when he was killed by the Romans. Yet again, an empire crushed the hopes of God’s people.

In both cases, however, as John Dally observes, the people of God had their belief shattered and kept on believing.

Paul sums up the Christian understanding beautifully: “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, so will we bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49).

Though the Bible is organized around two disasters, they are not the point of the story. The point of the Biblical story is the unswerving love of God for the people he made. Just as the Jews in exile came to understand that God was with them in Torah rather than Temple, the early Church came to realize that not even death could separate them from the love of God or stop the plan of salvation that Jesus had set into motion.

Come to a sober and right mind

A friend spoke to me earlier this week about sobriety. He said, “What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.”

I now know that he was quoting from the Big Blue Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, but those words spoke volumes to me about the difference between duty and grace.

The duty of “maintaining our spiritual condition” is at the heart of programs like AA — and I’m beginning to understand how hard and serious that work is in every life.

The gift, the grace of a daily reprieve, is what sobriety represents.

I have often thought of my struggles to maintain a regular discipline of prayer — or any discipline of any kind, for that matter.  Like Paul, “I do not understand my own actions. I do not do what I want, but the very thing I hate” (1 Cor. 7:15).

My friend has me thinking differently today.

What if the daily prayer, the day without drinking, the day without shopping (or whatever else it may be), is not a burdensome duty to fail at yet again — but is actually the gift of rest for a moment?

The work is hard enough without making grace and rest a duty, too.

“Come unto me, all who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you,” says our Lord (Matt. 11:28).

Come to a sober and right mind as you maintain your spiritual condition.

Come to a daily reprieve.

Them I know … but who are you?

St. Paul and Jesus

St. Paul and Jesus

Then some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit said to them in reply, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” (Acts 19:13-15)

Who are you?

Would you be recognized as a follower of Jesus (not just by evil spirits, but by anybody you meet)?

When you talk about your faith, are you talking about an abstraction or are you talking about someone you know?

You don’t have to be perfect, that’s for sure — just look at David, featured in our Old Testament reading this morning in the act of committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband Uriah killed.

However, you do have to be known by God, and you have to do what God’s followers do — repent.

Knowing God and being known, just like any friendship, means putting in the time. That’s largely what we are doing when we pray the Daily Offices — spending face time with God.

Coming face to face with the living God, especially as we meet him in Jesus, highlights our sinfulness and leads us to want to change.

David will be confronted by Nathan, the prophet of God, in tomorrow morning’s reading, and he will repent of his sin.

Saul, whose early ministry was to persecute Christians, repented after he began to know the risen Jesus. In a complete turnaround (which is basically what repenting means), his new ministry under the new name of Paul was to help establish new churches.

Who are you?

Are you a friend of God?

Are you putting in the time and making the changes that your friendship requires?

Lose Yourself to Dance

Then David said to Michal, the daughter of Saul:

Here, take my shirt
and just go ‘head and wipe off all the
sweat, sweat, sweat …
Lose yourself to dance! (2 Sam. 6:21-22, paraphrased)

And Paul said, “So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s … Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister, or why do you despise your brother or sister? Lose yourself to dance!” (Romans 14:7-10, paraphrased).

When he draws near

Untitled 1950

 

Seek the Lord while he wills to be found;
call upon him when he draws near. (BCP 86)

Little does Saul realize (1 Samuel 9) that while hunting for his father’s lost sheep he will find instead the crown of the king of Israel. The Lord wills to be found, and through his servant Samuel God’s word “will prosper in that for which I sent it.” Saul will be made king, and he will pave the way for David’s reign.

Likewise, Stephen, “full of grace and power” (Acts 6:8), seizes the opportunity at his trial before the Council to preach about God’s salvation history being fulfilled in Jesus. God’s word will prosper through Stephen, we will learn in the next couple of days, because his stoning makes an impression on another young man named Saul.

The Lord wills to find Saul, and eventually he will heed the words of Isaiah we read in Canticle 10:

Let the wicked forsake their ways,
and the evil ones their thoughts;
And let them turn to the Lord, and he will have compassion,
and to our God, for he will richly pardon. (BCP 86)

The renamed Saul (our apostle Paul), becomes a fresh witness to the saving power of God in Christ Jesus, the “word that goes forth from [God’s] mouth.”

The Lord wills to be found in your life, too. Keep an eye out for his presence, and call upon him when he draws near to you.

That which God has purposed

But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relation to God and know his will and determine what is best because you are instructed in the law, and if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth, you, then, that teach others, will you not teach yourself? (Romans 2:17-21)

There is a serious vein running through today’s lessons from Jeremiah and Isaiah through to Paul and Christ.

Jeremiah recounts God’s judgment on God’s people and on Jerusalem. “The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end. Because of this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black; for I have spoken, I have purposed; I have not relented nor have I turned back” (Jer. 4:27-28).

God’s judgment is terrible, and he is unrelenting.

Except then comes the Canticle, the Second Song of Isaiah (Isa. 55:6-11), with its familiar words of reassurance:

For as rain and snow fall from the heavens
and return not again, but water the earth,
Bringing forth life and giving growth,
seed for sowing and bread for eating,
So is my word which goes forth from my mouth;
it will not return to me empty,
But it will accomplish that which I have purposed,
and prosper in that for which I sent it.

Christians, of course, read these words in the light of Christ the Word who “goes forth from God,” so to speak, and who accomplishes what God purposes.

What God purposes, we know from our vantage point post-Easter, is not desolation but restoration. God has “relented” once for all in Christ and continues to be present to us through the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide. How can we forget what God has done for us, has won for us, in Christ?

This is what frustrates Paul so much in his letter to the Romans. He basically asks, “Are you turning away from grace and back to the judgment under the law which cannot save?”

His question resonates with the prophets’ words. Are we turning away from restoration and teaching desolation? Are we preaching grace or sin?

Of course, it’s not an either/or thing. Grace freely given comes with a consciousness of sin. When I have been forgiven, I am acutely aware of exactly what I have done wrong. But the message from my forgiver — whether it’s my wife or the priest pronouncing God’s absolution on Sunday — is restoration, not condemnation.

Where in our lives do we still reflect a spirit of judgment, faces set in a disapproving frown? Where do we still dwell on faults more than freedom, quick to relay dirt and to dismiss others’ pain? Where do we still fail to preach the message of good news that animated Jesus and Paul and our forebears in this life in Christ?

Even worse, where does our judgmentalism and obsession with rectitude cause “the Name of God to be blasphemed” because of us (Rom. 2:24)? It’s happening all around us as people turn away from angry so-called “Christianity.” God forbid!

Like rain falling from the heavens is God’s grace falling on us, on all of us who “have no power in ourselves to help ourselves,” in the words of next Sunday’s Collect. What God has purposed is our restoration, our reconciliation with God, and our reaching out in love to the people around us.

What we can be sure of is that God’s word will prosper in us, will teach us, as we live out God’s restoring mission.

Until Christ is formed in you

At last night’s awards dinner for our sales team, our newly-hired VP introduced himself and invited us to connect what we do with people. When we keep in mind the people we ultimately serve, he said, we will do our work with passion.

My company sells software to hospitals that helps eliminate wasted time and motion and ultimately ensures that people who need a bed can get into it sooner. Whenever we hear the siren of an ambulance — as we did, coincidentally, in the middle of our VP’s address to us — we can call to mind our purpose.

My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, I wish I were present with you now and could change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. (Galatians 4:19-20)

One of the reasons Paul’s letters are still such a powerful inspiration some 2,000 years later is the very human voice that shines through. Paul may be boastful, but he is completely dedicated to the task of nurturing his children in faith.

His letter to the Galatians is a window into the mind of a man perplexed that the Galatians seem to be forgetting the freedom he preached in Christ. They are turning back to their old ways, and he cannot rest “until Christ is formed in them.”

What purpose keeps you from resting until the people you serve receive what they need?