Monday, May 29, 2006

Contemplations #148
He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” Matthew 13:52

In continuing our look at Matthew 13 and Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God, we have this verse which concludes the parables. It is assumed that a good teacher would bring out old treasures, well-founded, and familiar – but why new? Why isn’t what was good enough in the past, now sufficient for the present? Why did Jesus have to bring anything new, and why would Matthew record this saying for the church? The truth we need to hear is that the very nature of God’s world or reality is that there is constantly more to discover, and that it will always be fresh and new. Thinking that God’s reality is only found in old treasure is a sure way to miss it.

Contemplation #149
He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” Matthew 13:52

It is interesting that Jesus actually talks about a “scribe” who has been instructed about God’s kingdom. Scribes were the experts in the Old Testament scriptures, and would be consulted for anything regarding their meaning or interpretation. That a scribe would bring not only the old, but the new as well, is about as revolutionary as one could imagine. Such is the power of becoming aware of the nature and essence of God’s kingdom, that even those known as experts in teachings of the past will begin to bring out the new as well as the old. Living in God’s reality entails an orientation toward the new God will present— always a challenging prospect.

Contemplation #150
I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world. Matthew 13:35

Matthew is quoting Psalm 78:2, a psalm of Asaph that recounts the mighty works of God in the history of Israel. Matthew sees Jesus engaged in the same work as Asaph, of pointing out how God has been active in the life of his people. One could say that showing this is revealing the kingdom of God, his reality, which co-exists within and among our realities. The story is old, the insight is new, and the call is to switch our world for God’s— entering and accepting the kingdom of God. Asaph’s work was Jesus’ work as well, and we too have been called to become those who seek and find God’s kingdom.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Contemplation #145
From Brokenness to Community by Jean Vanier, p. 30-31, the book from which one passage was read on Sunday.

Community is a place of conflict: conflict inside each one of us. There is first of all the conflict between the values of the world and the values of the community, between togetherness and independence. It is painful to lose one’s independence, and to come into togetherness—not just proximity—to make decisions together and not all alone. Loss of independence is painful, particularly in a world where we have been told to be independent and to cultivate the feeling that “I don’t need anyone else.”

Contemplation #146
From Brokenness to Community by Jean Vanier, p. 48, the book from which one passage was read on Sunday.

There is only the possibility of real growth in a community if people are deeply respected in their personal development. We continually need to have before us the challenge of our mission. We are not in a community just to protect ourselves. We are not even there just to protect our own little spiritual lives. We’re there for the church, for people in pain. We have a message to give, and we have a message to receive. We have a mission, and if we are not a people of mission, then the community is in danger of closing up, and of dying.

Contemplation #147
From Brokenness to Community by Jean Vanier, p. 50-51, the book from which one passage was read on Sunday.

To have a mission means to give life, to heal, and to liberate. It is to permit people to grow to freedom. When Jesus sends people off, he sends them to liberate and to heal others. That is the good news. And we can become people of liberation and of healing because we ourselves are walking along that road toward inner healing and inner liberation. Jesus calls his disciples to bear much fruit. “If you bear much fruit, you shall be my disciples, and bring glory to the Father.” To bear much fruit is to bring life to people. Not to judge, not to condemn, but to forgive. Remember those last words of Christ: “Father, forgive.” Essentially, a community is based on forgiveness and signs of forgiveness. It is not a group of people condemning or judging outsiders.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Contemplation #142
“A people who continually provoke me . . . who say, ‘Keep away ; don’t come near me, for I am too sacred for you!’” Isaiah 65:3,5

The end of Isaiah’s prophecies picture a new reality that God is creating – that is, His Mission. Some of the prophetic words contrast the people of old with the nature of the new people who will be formed out of God’s work. One of the ‘old’ traits that will be cleansed in God’s new reality is arrogant self-righteousness. The deluded sense of being morally superior, more worthy, and set apart from others by our religiosity is reprehensible to God. The new reality will be like the tax-collector who prayed ‘have mercy on me, a sinner.” Rather than an aloof society who see themselves as better than their neighbors, people who are truly of the new order of God consider themselves the least of all and those among whom no person would be unwelcome.

Contemplation #143
“This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” Isaiah 66:2

Why should we ‘tremble’ at what God’s speaks? To understand the meaning here, it is best to recognize how in the very next verse it is said that ‘he who sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a man.’ Perhaps it surprises us, but obedience to God’s commands can become a sin. The contrast is between the arrogance of confident religious actions versus humble dependence on and reverence for God’s direction. We can depend our actions more than the One who instructed us to perform them, and at that point we sin gravely. The new reality of God has no room for trusting in anything but the person of God, and listening intently to whatever he speaks. Our humility is so complete that we shake when our Lord speaks . . . so in awe of God are we.

Contemplation #144
“Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at his word: Your brothers who hate you, who exclude you because of my name . . .” Isaiah 66:5

In a world where people admire religious performance and equate arrogant self-righteousness with spirituality, those who listen reverently to God find themselves excluded and reviled. They are not maligned because of what they do, but in how it is perceived. Ironically, their non-participation in what is considered the height of devotion so they might have genuine affection for God, is interpreted as a lack of godliness. Let us choose listening to God, trembling at His word, over any form of religious practice. The new heavens and new earth – the Kingdom of God – is populated by people who choose the unpopular way of humility.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Contemplation #139
“I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me.” Isaiah 65:1

We often think of the reassurance that if we seek, we will find. This promise is true primarily because we were being sought by God. The burden is not on us to seek, because even the slightest attempt on our part will be met quickly. God has been called the ‘Hound of Heaven’ because he tracks us, pursues us, and runs us down though we are fleeing. God is not passively waiting for us to move toward Him, but hot on our heels after us even when we are running away. How much more will we find and be found if we turn toward him! We discover that he is the One who has been near all along. This is the Misseo Dei . . . God’s eternal mission.

Contemplation #140
“Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.” Isaiah 65:17

God says that he is going to do something so different that it is best described as a whole new creation . . . a brand new world which gives a new reality. The Misseo Dei is that God is turning our world right-side up, recreating it to be filled with godliness, joy, peace, and oneness. In the verses that follow Isaiah describes God’s people as being completely attuned to God, their lives reflecting the blessings of such harmony, and the old ways being left behind. Since this is God’s Mission, the eternal purpose that God is working out through history, our work is to adopt this new reality and live it even while it is coming. We become the vanguard of the new heavens and earth, the ambassadors of God’s Kingdom come.

Contemplation #141
“This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” Isaiah 66:2

Isaiah declares that God has regard for those who have been formed in humility and submission. In the beatitudes Jesus affirms what Isaiah says, for he is talking about the new heavens and new earth of Isaiah using the language of the Kingdom of God. Whatever the terminology, the Misseo Dei (Mission of God) has been God’s work to share with us a reality which embodies his nature so that we become like him and live as God lives. Our participation in the Mission of God is both that we live within this new God-defined world, and that we invite others to enter into this realm which is so close to them.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Contemplation #136
"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" - but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. 1 Cointhians 2:9

Do you notice how Paul quotes Isaiah 64:4 and then contradicts it? Some biblicists would, standing on the immutable nature of scripture, try to argure that no one knows . . . and well, it simply means what it says. Isaiah doesn't hint that God's people would know some day, or that the "knowing" he is talking about excluded the "knowing" of divine revelation. How reckless of Paul to reflect on what God is doing and proclaim that Isaiah's words no longer hold true! When we work on scripture through our logic alone and fail to discern the current working of God, we may conclude that what was will always be . . . and entirely miss the new things that God does.

Contemplation # 137
We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 1 Corinthians 2:12

Nothing is quite as dangerous to institutional Christianity as the Spirit of God. Little is as threatening to those who would exercise religious authority over others as the indwelling Spirit ordaining all to understand the gifts of God. We have often rejected the Spirit in favor of the Bible so that we might have a manageable God. We often trust the Spirit in "me" but not in "you". I have good judgment and can handle freedom, but you can't. However, our confidence in God is that he does lead us all to understanding through the Spirit what we have been freely given. Learning to follow . . . that is walking by the Spirit.

Contemplation #138
We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 1 Corinthians 2:12

The Spirit of God may lead us in many ways, but let us consider for now the one leading Paul mentions here. Often we think of the Spirit's guidance as primarily about making decisions according to God's will. But the work that Paul is speaking of in this verse is probably more fundamental: his leading into understanding the gifts of grace. Knowing what we've been freely given sets us right in the attitude of humility and explains to us who we are as new creatures. More than needing to know how to make a decision about some matter today, we need the leading into understanding the work of grace. May we seek to be led here first.