Thursday, March 28, 2013

Worthy, and Accepted!

In 1 Cor 11:17-34, Paul gives instructions to a mixed-up church about gathering for the Lord's Supper, as it is commonly called -- remembering and
celebrating Jesus' giving of himself for us and our salvation. Many have been tortured over what he meant by "unworthily" in verse 27, "examine themselves" in verse 28, and "discerning the body of Christ" in verse 29.

If by "unworthily" Paul meant "having sinned too many times in the last few weeks" we'd all be out of luck, wouldn't we? He's talking about comprehending the bread and wine as both symbols and means of receiving grace from the Lord. The context of the whole book is of divisions and arguments within the church -- and in chapter 11, primarily class distinctions, with the poor left to go hungry while the rich overindulged even to the point of drunkenness. Neither group would be able to come to the table with the proper reflection, having admitted to oneself and to God how deeply we need this grace. Paul is telling them to be unified in love, to treat one another generously, and to reflect on the incredible love of God in forgiving us through Jesus.

"But, I still feel so unworthy!" we often say to ourselves. So, is our worth determined by our feelings? No, our worth is already given to us by Jesus himself, his own sinless life and perfect death for us, his love for us bringing us into the love of the Father. It's not because we have managed to confess every sin in our lives and stop sinning. Jesus loved his disciples in spite of their sins and selfish attitudes (John 13:1) -- and note, this is said while Judas was still in the room!  He told them the Father loved them too (John 17:23) and that love should give us confidence.

See also Jesus' words in John 15:9-17:  This hardly sounds like someone who says he accepts us only  subject to constant review of our hard work! And in Luke 22, as well as Matthew 26, Jesus urges the disciples to partake of the bread and wine -- it was his earnest desire that they take these symbols, and it's his earnest desire today too, for every one of us.

Our Lord has loved us beyond our imagination -- even when we try to imagine it! The symbols we take, in fellowship with one another and with God, help us remember Jesus: yes, our need for his forgiveness, but also to remember his love (John 3:16-17) that moved him to rescue and restore us to himself long before we could even ask (Romans 5:6-10). The Lord has given us life, freedom and love through Jesus. Isn't all of that worth celebrating with joy?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The "Abandoned" Savior

Reading through the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, I am struck once again by some of the seven sayings of Jesus on the cross. Two in particular seem
hard to reconcile with each other.

Near death, Jesus says "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" in Matthew 27:46. This is a quotation of the beginning of Psalm 22. Some take this to mean that when the weight and awfulness of all people's sins were laid on Jesus, the Father truly did turn away from the Son "to avoid looking on sin." But if the Father really separated from the Son, even for the smallest instant, the true unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit would be destroyed and the universe (you and me, too) would have ceased to exist. Given the unity of God, that's not a good explanation.

On another level, we see Jesus taking on even our most awful feelings of abandonment. Sometimes I feel like God hasn't answered my prayers, or doesn't really care about me, and probably you have too. But I don't think we can possibly understand how awful the Son of God, the man Jesus Christ, felt at that moment. He had been rejected by his own nation, even his own siblings, and abandoned by most of his closest friends. Now, as he was near death, and the Father had not reduced his agony or saved his physical life, perhaps Jesus the man really felt that he was being abandoned. Jesus identified with all our pain and sorrow (that idea is explained well in Isaiah 53) and in the end, defeated all of it along with all sin. Why do I say "defeated"? Because the feeling of abandonment didn't defeat him -- and it doesn't have to defeat us either.

Please let me explain. After quoting Psalm 22, Jesus said his last words: "Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!" (Luke 23:46). After feeling all that abandonment by so many who should have supported him, Jesus still chose to trust the Father to bring him through this trial. By trusting, he became our victory, and our example. Jesus completely defeated our feelings that God doesn't care -- just like he defeated every other sin in his human existence (Heb. 4:14-16, Rom. 8:2-4). And he did it for us, just like he lived and died and was resurrected for  us. 

Remember, Psalm 22 ends in victory and praise. So when you and I get to feeling God doesn't care anymore, and nothing is ever going to work out (like Eeyore, if you know the character), we can remember that Jesus, who is still with us (Matt. 28:20), knows exactly how it feels, and gives us his victory freely. Let's accept that victory from him as his loving gift today, and praise the Father for it!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Snow and Forgivensss

Yesterday's snowfall was unexpected and lovely, blanketing the area in a sheet of white. Snow is
a wonder, with its fluffy whiteness covering all the dirt and detail of the landscape. For a short time, it makes us think everything is clean, pristine and perfect.  If only it could stay that way forever!

This is how our Father God sees each person in Christ. We are drawn into Jesus' life of perfection through the grace he gives us, and we are given a right relationship with God just as freely as the snow falls. The difference between the two, is that forgiveness will stay that way forever! The Father will always see us as clean and forgiven, righteous in Jesus and beloved.

This time of year, we celebrate the death of Jesus for us, and his resurrection for us too. We get to meditate often over the the wonder of God's freely-given love and forgiveness, the awesome depth of the sacrificial love of God for us, and the amazing all-inclusive nature of his plan for us that covers every contingency and will eventually redeem everything. We couldn't have dreamed it up, we can't really understand it, and we can't possibly give him enough thanks for it, but we surely ought to try!

One more thing:  that same forgiveness, grace, and inclusion the Lord God Almighty offers us, we are now empowered by the Holy Spirit to find ways to extend to others too. That includes the smelly homeless woman who hasn't had a bath in months, the addict who can't seem to find a way out of his hopelessness, and everyone who has ever offended us. Each of those is also loved, infinitely, by the same God who loves us in spite of the broken and hurtful ways we each live. (Yes, that includes me, dear reader, and somebody in your life could tell you that includes you.)

Let's rejoice, this season of renewal and new life, in God's amazing love. And let's make an effort to give that love and acceptance to someone else too. Even someone we might think doesn't deserve it.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

It's Time to Take Off the Veil

Moses spent time with God (Exodus 34) and his his appearance was changed. He had to wear a veil to keep from scaring everyone. Jesus was changed
in his appearance ("transfigured") before his crucifixion, to fulfill Moses' experience. After the resurrection and the start of the church, the disciples reflected Jesus by the way their inner selves were changed. (The Jewish high court, seeing them, knew they "had been with Jesus," Acts 4:13). You and I also ought to reflect Jesus (2 Cor 3:18), but sometimes we don't, because of 'the veil': either we don't see God well, so we don't see our sins; or our past is still present, and it veils the shining face of our new self in Christ.

I've been following Jesus for decades, but I still have unhealthy thinking and broken emotional patterns from the past that lead me to sin, hurting me and hurting others. And so do you. What's the cure for our disease? Paul tells us "this is the secret: Christ lives in you" (Col. 1:27). The Holy Spirit, whom Jesus sends us, will keep bugging us to "be with Jesus." Time spent focusing on Jesus will help us see him more, so we can see, confess, and surrender our sins, and so reflect Jesus. For today, here is just one example of such a sin that veils the image of Christ in us. 

Fear: all of us live in self-protection. We are afraid others will hurt us, or that they'll find out the embarrassing truth about us, so we hide behind a polite mask of pretended security. We try to control everything that happens so we stay "safe." And we try to control others by stubbornly holding our opinion, or shutting others off when we don't get our way. Fear and its results inhibit love in every relationship, from a casual meeting on the street to intimacy in marriage. We even try to use the same tactic with God, out of fear he will reject us -- but he has already accepted us through Jesus. His love should rule us instead. 1 John 4 tells us "God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love."

The love John describes requires taking off the veil instead of hiding behind it in fear. You may not even be aware of a fear you have, but it's still crippling you. God has already put someone in your life who knows and loves you, and can help you, in an ongoing partnership of prayer and confession, to see the roots of your fear and surrender all of it to God. We all need someone to show the love of Jesus to us, and help us take off the veil. I'll be praying for you to find that person. Isn't it time you started this process too?