Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Epiphany 3

Epiphany 3 (Luke 4:14-21)
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets.
The Law of Moses reveals the standards of human behavior in three broad categories. The first is our relationship with God. The second is our relationships with other people. The third is our relationship to our real self. God designed us to live and move and have our being in Him. The Law of the Sabbath is a fundamental design feature of the universe, our planet, the human species and each of us personally. It is key to who God created us to be and to become.
Luke comments that Jesus attended the Sabbath services in the synagogue as was his custom. Where so many others have cheated and continued to cheat this fundamental principle of creation, Jesus made a point to fulfill it. On the Sabbath day, sundown Friday to sundown Saturday under the Old Covenant; and, on Sunday under the New Covenant, God waits for us at the appointed time and the appointed place. He waits to bless us with the original blessing of Creation- the seventh day- the day of real presence.
The Sabbath day, the seventh day, is the day of blessing. It is unique. And more often than not most people most of the time do not value it. We do not value it because we are not interested in meeting God and enjoying his presence. We want the benefits of health, wealth and power we believe derive from God but we don’t want God himself.
Jesus, in the fullness of his humanity, delighted to enter into the Presence of his Heavenly Father. Jesus offers to help us share in that same delight.
As the meaning and purpose of our lives, as the one by whom, in whom and for whom we were created, as the one who is our first best and forever friend, Jesus invites us to walk with him throughout our lives in the way of blessing. Jesus passionately desires to help us appreciate the blessing God the Father designed into the universe on the Seventh Day of blessing.
It is very clear we cannot do this on our own. Scripture, history and our own personal biography all bear witness that God is not our first best priority. The lost do not value the Sabbath because they do not value God.  The found struggle with the distortions, the distractions and the temptations of the old way of living in separation from God.
The prophet Isaiah declares that the Anointed One of God, the Messiah- the Christ- will accomplish what the Law of Moses and the Temple rituals cannot accomplish. The Christ will proclaim Good News. He will set free those who have been enslaved by sin. He will help the lost who are willfully and spitefully blind to see. He will proclaim grace.
Grace. How sweet the sound. Grace is that quality of the divine nature that is universal and unconditional. Where human pride issues the demand: do it my way; grace in Jesus Christ lives in the real presence of God by the prayer: Thy will be done.
Where the human will to power uses people to acquire power, prestige, pleasure and possessions; grace in Jesus Christ assumes the place of a servant. The Christ is the servant King who does not issue commands or threats but rather asks: how may I help?
Where the Law inspires fear that keeps us anxious, depressed, agitated and running after the next quick fix and temporary pleasure; grace in Jesus Christ transforms fear into faith by divine love.
The very well spring of love is the fountain of love in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the love of God in human flesh. Once we receive the gift of reunification  with God the Father in God the Son by the indwelling Presence of God the Holy Spirit, Jesus himself becomes the new pattern of how we become human and how we become the unique person God created us to be.
The Plan of Salvation is not Law, religion or politics. The Plan of Salvation emerges from the Plan of Creation. In the Plan of Creation, God the Father created all of us and each of us to live and move and have our being in a forever friendship with God the Son, Jesus Christ.
When Jesus reads the description in Isaiah of God’s Anointed One he doesn’t offer a program or a religious sect or a political party as the path to fulfill the prophecy. He offers himself.
Jesus quite literally is the Good News of divine love who fulfills the Law we consistently break. He is the pattern of blessing who manifests the blessing of God and offers the blessing to everyone as a gift. In a friendship with Jesus characterized by faith we recover what we foolishly rejected and abandoned.
In Jesus our Heavenly Father sets us free to be the person He intended us to become. Jesus is the real presence of divine blessing in our world. As we choose to receive Jesus and then make daily choices to walk with Jesus, it is Jesus himself who will convert our souls and transform our minds, hearts and wills.
It isn’t magic. It isn’t automatic. It is a process that is personal and incremental as we grow in grace and become the blessing of God in our lives. Jesus is the way of transformation. Our responsibility is to listen to the Holy Spirit as He tells us where we need to change, to mature and to transform. Our responsibility is to make a real choice to enter into the real presence of God in Christ by the operation of the Holy Spirit in our souls.
God designed us to grow, mature and transform in the pattern of blessing. That pattern is Jesus Christ. That is why and how Jesus fulfills the Law and the prophets in his own life and in our lives.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Epiphany 2

Epiphany 2 (John 2:1-11)
“Do whatever he tells you to do.”
God specializes in transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary.
Jesus performed his first miracle at the age of thirty. He was attending a wedding celebration. He went to celebrate an important but common event in the life of the community. He did not go to the celebration to perform a miracle.
Miracles are by definition rare occurrences. They represent a special manifestation of the real presence of God for a specific purpose. A true miracle announces the divine presence at work in the world. Jesus was not ready to announce to the world his ability to perform miracles.
At that time and place and culture people interpreted miracles as evidence of divine power. In the popular mind a miracle was an amazing and fearful event. Jesus performed his miracles from the place of love not power. Jesus performed miracles to help people understand the real presence of God in the categories of compassion, kindness and transformation. People generally experienced miracles in the categories of command and control, of rewards and punishments, as well as a divine demand for abject submission to God’s will.
As with all of the miracles Jesus performed, this first miracle meets a human need and is understated. Unlike the way we modern people portray miraculous events, there was no mystical music or shimmering lights or special effects. There was no thunder and lighting. There was a soft word of instruction. The only people who even knew that a miracle had taken place were Mary, the inner circle of disciple and the few servants who had filled the stone jars with water then drew out wine.
The need Jesus met was very practical. This was an honor based society. As a honor based society it was also a shame based culture. Clearly, the person the hosts had hired to provide the food and drink had underestimated the need. But, the community, for weddings were community events, would blame the host family and the host family would live with the dishonor and the shame for many years.
Holy Mother Mary knew this. Perhaps she was related to one of the families. Her own identification with the family motivated her to help. It is important to understand that traditional cultures believe the basic unit of society is the family. It is what we today call the extended family.
Traditional marriage is about family not about the individual. That is one of the basic reasons why traditional marriages are arranged marriages. The idea that individual romantic feelings define marriage was absurd to a traditional culture. They knew that romance was a mild form of temporary insanity- certainly no foundation for a lasting marriage.  
Traditional marriage only works well within the context of the traditional family as supported by a traditional culture. The broad underlying ethic of a traditional culture is: we are all in this together. If one of us suffers we all suffer. If one of us rejoices we all rejoice. Mary lived by this ethic. And so, when Mary became aware of the problem she wanted to help. She turned to Jesus. She did not know what he would do. She only knew he could and would solve the problem. There is a principle here. If you experience a problem take it to Jesus in prayer. You may also ask Holy Mother Mary to pray for you. If you take that second step then be prepared for Mary to instruct you: do whatever Jesus tells you to do.
Now, a marriage feast in the ancient world lasted for several days and sometimes as long as a week. All relatives, friends and neighbors participated. It was a threefold celebration of the happy couple  as they met for the first time, the families as they forged a new alliance, and the wider community who had a vested interest  in preserving society, culture and religion. Why? Because they understood that we are all in this together. We all need help. We all have the responsibility to offer help.
There was also a religious component to the celebrations. Through Moses God had revealed that He is love. Through the prophets God revealed that the shape of that love could be understood through three specific kinds of human relationships: Father to child, Husband to wife, friend to friend.           
People understood the wedding feast to be a foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus would more specifically develop this theme in the phrase: the marriage feast of the Lamb.  The spiritual underpinning of this miracle forms the transition from the Old Mosaic Law based covenant to the New Jesus grace based covenant.
The stone water jars represent a misunderstanding of the Law. The people who used them, most likely Pharisees, had developed elaborate purification rituals to reinforce their belief that they could keep the Law by their own actions. The failure to provide a basic component for the feast, the wine, symbolizes how the human made religious customs failed to accomplish what they promised. They could not keep the Law. They could not manifest God’s Kingdom.
When Jesus chooses to transform the water into wine he very subtly but powerfully announces that the Law cannot manifest the Kingdom of God. Grace (the gift of God) plus faith ( Mary’s trust and the servant’s obedience) plus Love (Jesus himself) alone manifests the Kingdom of God.
Jesus saved the day for the newlyweds and their families. Jesus also manifests the underlying principle of the Kingdom of Heaven. That principle is abundant life.
Jesus came to bring life. Jesus came to set us free from slavery to sin. Jesus transforms fear- especially fear of death- into faith. This is his great gift to our species.
One last note on the miracle. When the people taste the wine they are amazed. Normally, you serve one round of realty good expensive wine to impress and delight your guests. Then, you gradually shift to ordinary table wine. The wine Jesus made was the best.
In Jesus, God gives us His best so we will only experience the best.
The process of experiencing the best of divine abundance in our daily lives begins as we become aware of the problem. Once we become aware of the problem it is important to turn to Jesus for help. Next, we ask for Holy Mother Mary to pray for us. Then we follow her advice: Do whatever Jesus tells you to do. Make your choices in life according to the principles of love that Jesus teaches. Set your priorities according to the design of the Plan of Creation.
The best way to live in this world is the Jesus Way of grace (giving) through faith (trust in God) by love (who is a person – Jesus himself.)
Only Jesus can take the distorted forms of false religion and transform them to be vessels of grace. He can do that for the institutions of any religion or of no religion. He can do that because he himself is eternal love manifesting in this world.
Only Jesus takes the bare minimum of our lives and transforms them into the most amazing and abundant life we can experience.
Holy Mother Mary always points us to Jesus. And, she always gives her maternal instruction to us: do whatever Jesus has told you to do from the pages of scripture as applied to the circumstances of your daily life.                                                          

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Epiphany 2016

Epiphany 2016 (Matthew 2:1-12)
 “We observed his star…”
Ancient civilizations believed that the heavens declared the glory of the divine. They developed the principle: “as above so below.”
They understood the entirety of creation as a universe governed by a singular set of principles. They also believed human beings were capable of discerning the essential truth of Creation through observation.
The wise men were the Magi- philosopher priests- who studied written records of past generations. They studied the observations of their ancestors and added their own observations to the body of knowledge that they had assembled. They were astronomers, mathematicians and philosophers. They taught their children the three M s of ancient education: Music, Math and Myth.
They were subject to the same temptations that beset our species. Over time they abandoned observation and inquiry for more rigid forms of certainty. They became obsessed with so called secret knowledge by which they could acquire wealth and power.
Some Magi still had that very rare sense of inquiry most people lose as we age. It is called “beginners’ mind”. It is the ability to observe nature, humanity and our own lives with a fresh perspective. It is the very rare ability to ask questions.
Based on their fundamental beliefs about the universe, the Wise Men concluded that the new star they observed in the heavens was linked in some way to something or someone new on earth. They decided to test this hypothesis by following the star. They asked for help from the political and religious authorities in Jerusalem.
They incautiously shared their theory about the meaning of the star. They naively told the political and religious elites of Jerusalem that the birth of a new star in the heavens announced the birth of a new star- a king- on earth. They failed to consider how this theory would affect the King, the Temple Priests, and the Scribes who formed the religious bureaucracy of the time.
As with the prophets of the past the words of the Magi frightened the establishment of the day. As with the kings and priests and merchants of old the elites heard the Good News of divine intervention in human history as a threat. For some it was an inconvenience. For others it was a challenge to the social order. For the most powerful it was a direct attack on their position.
Whether they really believed the Magi’s interpretation of the star they knew that the ignorant masses of people might just believe. They knew that their rivals and enemies would exploit that belief. As with the word of the prophets they chose the path of reaction through deceit and aggression.
We know the story. We remember the politically expedient lies. We try to distant ourselves from the reality that a lost and rebellious humanity has no room for the divine.
As it was then so it continues now. The heavens declare the glory of God but people fail to perceive the glory. The Creation is a universe of unified principles that derive from one single elegant truth: the logos. Yet, people invent modern mythologies to evade and deny the obvious. The ruling political and religious elites pay lip service to a generic deity but rebel against the Real Presence of God in Jesus Christ.
The Good News is still the Good News. God is real. God is personal. God is love. God is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the source of all truth. All truth points to and leads to Jesus Christ. Jesus manifests himself to us through the operation of the Holy Spirit in nature, in personal relationships and in the Church. In Jesus, God is working His purpose out.
Jesus as revealed in the Scriptures, present at the altar of sacrifice and working in our minds, hearts and wills is the risen star in the Creation inviting us all into a new life and into a new way of living. Jesus manifests the glory of God which is the steadfast holy universal and unconditional love of God.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christmas 2

Christmas 2 (Luke 2:41-52)
“Did you not know…?”
Jesus was, and still is, fully human.
While his conception was miraculous, his gestation and birth were completely normal. He is the incarnation of the co-eternal Word of the Eternal Father. He is the Beloved.
Our Heavenly Father created all of us and each of us to be the forever friends of the Beloved. That is the meaning and purpose of life. That is the meaning and purpose we as a species rejected. Each of us individually lives in separation from God. We are lost in separation. We are not just merely or accidentally lost. We are willfully and spitefully lost.
We are lost and we do not want to be found. We are lost and we seek meaning and purpose everywhere except in the original blessing of the original design of God.
The co-eternal Word of the eternal Father, the Beloved, came to Earth to seek the lost who do not want to be found. He unified his divinity with our humanity in Jesus. Jesus is one person with two natures. In order to achieve his goal of finding us, the Beloved surrendered all of his divine prerogatives. He did this so he could live life exactly as we live life.
He is eternal but when he entered the world of time he experienced time as we experience time- second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.
He is infinite but when he entered the world of space he experienced limitation, location, and place.
He became fully human so he could experience exactly what it means to be us and then offer us a new way of being human. It is the Way of the Beloved. It is the way of grace.
Throughout his life, Jesus lived a normal human life. He ate and drank. He slept and worked and played. He worshipped in the synagogue every week on the Sabbath. He worshipped in the Temple in Jerusalem on the appointed festivals. He read and studied and memorized scripture.
The biographies of Jesus, the gospels, mainly focus on his three years of public ministry starting from when he turned 30 years old. We hear a little about his birth. We know his parents fled to Egypt as political refugees. They lived there for seven years then returned to Nazareth.
Then we have this incident when he was 12 years old. He was still a child. He was on the cusp of adolescence. As with any 12 year old he was inquisitive and curious. He apparently delighted in the age appropriate “why” questions.
He became so entranced by the Temple rituals that he remained in the Temple for three days after his family had returned home. He probably just lost track of time. He certainly had perfect trust in his heavenly Father to protect him and to take care of him. The Temple priests probably gave him a place to sleep and food to eat. They were impressed with his insightful questions and more than willing to offer their own insights into the God of Israel and their understanding of religion.
His parents, however, were frantic- as well they might be. In the context of the extended family of the time, Mary just assumed Jesus was with an uncle or a cousin or one of his older step brothers. When Mary and Joseph finally realized Jesus was missing they were horrified. Mary especially knew the prophecies concerning the suffering servant Messiah. She lived with a constant fear and a constant prayer for Jesus’ safety.
When they finally discovered Jesus in the Temple after searching every place else for him they are both relieved and angry. Jesus is curiously amazed at their reaction. It is almost as though he asks- don’t you realize who I am? Don’t you trust God to protect me? But, then he sees things from their perspective. He realizes, oh right. Yes. Of course. This is why I came. This is what it means to be a child. This is what it means to be a Mom and a Dad. This is fear.
Jesus had to learn fear from his parents and his extended family. Jesus never separated from God. Jesus never reacted to life with fear. He responded to life and to other people with faith through love. So, he learned a valuable lesson in much the same way every 12 year old learns. He learned from experience. He learned from observation. He understood through the teachings of Moses that as a 12 year old he needed to honor his mother and his step Father. He probably apologized and assured Mary he would be more mindful and more respectful of her. It was a lesson any 12 year needed to learn. It was especially poignant for Mary who knew that Jesus was the Son of God but did not understand how Jesus was the Son of God.
Having lived life as we live life, Jesus wants to help us live a better life. Jesus wants to help us make wise choices to live a better Way of life. It is the way of faith through love. It is the Way of Original Blessing. It is the Way we cooperate with the Holy Spirit to be the best possible version of our unique personal identity. It is the Jesus Way of Grace.