Sunday, February 21, 2016


February 21, 2016 –– Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 15:5–12, 17–18 / Psalm 27 / Philippians 3:17–4:1 / Luke 9:28b–36

How do you think of yourself?

Is your personal image focused on your profession or career? Are you mostly defined by your family of origin or where you grew up? Or maybe it is our country; being an “American” seems to rank almost number one for many. Is there some significant event in your past (positive or negative) that has left an indelible mark on your identity––something like the military or a crippling disease? It has become popular to seek identity in sexuality or physical appearance.  Some people even seem to be mostly known for a sports team that has become their obsession. How do you think of yourself?

I fear that most people––especially Christians––sell themselves short of who they really are. Made in the image of God is almost a cliché, even among many who would say they believe it. How often do you look in the mirror and think, “I was created in the image of God”? We can let the passing things of this world be too important.

St Paul gives us a reason not be among those whose minds are occupied with earthly things. He says, Their end is destruction.

I guess I need to say this doesn’t mean we can’t have a favorite team, have a healthy interest in our country or career, or be affected by the significant things that happen to us. In fact, those things can be part of God’s gracious gifts that “season” our lives and make our witness all the more compelling. The issue is that word “occupied”––that which truly marks our identity. So again, how do you think of yourself?

Well, if earthly things are not going to consume us, we need something better to take their place. Trying to live life in the negative––merely denying things––is no way to live. (By the way, that is not what Lent is about––merely denying ourselves.) We need something worthy of our real identity to aim for. The only reason to deny ourselves something good is if there is something better. As Christians, the God who created us in his image has given us the BEST. Why settle for anything less?

What, then, is this “best”? Here is how St Paul describes it to the Philippians: our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body…. 

Imagine…. We are offered a citizenship greater than being an American and a body that is more glorious than any other on earth!

How can we hope for such a thing? How are we to imagine it?

There is one way we are not left totally to our imaginations. There was one time that Jesus gave a glimpse of his glory to three of his disciples. We call it The Transfiguration. Luke’s account is today’s Gospel reading. We have a record of what they saw: ….his face was radiant as the sun and his clothing white as snow….they saw his glory. Jesus knew it would be hard for us to grasp what he was doing, so he gave those first disciples a glimpse.

Now while this doesn’t tell us all we’d like to know, we have the Apostolic record––the witness of those first disciples whose lives were so transformed that they were willing to die for the risen Lord they saw put to death. This promise of glory is at the heart of Christian Faith:

In his first letter St John affirms, Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him (3:2). St Paul tells the Corinthians this is already in process: we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another (2Cor 3:18). And in what is appropriately called the Resurrection Chapter, Paul proclaims the destiny of our faith (and I’m only giving a snippet of what he says): Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven…. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. (1Cor 15:49,52).

Imagine a colony of grubs living on the bottom of a swamp. Every once in a while, one of these grubs is inclined to climb a leaf stem to the surface. Then he disappears above the surface and never returns. All the grubs wonder why this is so and what it must be like up there, so they counsel among themselves and agree that the next one who goes up will come back and tell the others. Not long after that, one of the grubs feels the urge and climbs that leaf stem and goes out above the surface onto a lily pad. And there in the warmth of the sun, he falls asleep. While he sleeps, the carapace of the tiny creature breaks open, and out of the inside of the grub comes a magnificent dragonfly with beautiful, wide, rainbow-hued, iridescent wings. And he spreads those wings and flies, soaring out over those waters. But then he remembers the commitment he has made to those behind, yet now he knows he cannot return. They would not recognize him in the first place, and beyond that, he could not live again in such a place. But one thought is his that takes away all the distress: they, too, shall climb the stem, and they, too, shall know the glory (Bruce Thielemann, Christus Imperator).

How do you think of yourself? The Transfiguration of Jesus gives us a glimpse of who we are destined to be. Don’t let this world sell you a cheap image that is here today and gone tomorrow. In the image of God and through our re-creation in Jesus Christ, we are destined for greatness. Here’s an assignment. Sometime soon look at yourself in the mirror and then say to yourself: "the risen Son of God lives in me….the glory of God has been entrusted to me.” 

He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body…. How do you think of yourself?

Friday, February 19, 2016

Making Sense of Mercy and Judgment

Friday: February 19, 2016 –– First Week of Lent
Ezekiel 18:21–28 / Psalm 130 / Matthew 5:20–26
Making Sense of Mercy and Judgment

If we take Scripture seriously (and I do), the texts for today give us a reason to have what was once called a “godly fear”.

This is in contrast to at least two prevalent attitudes that surround us: First, there is a pervasive tendency to hardly to think of God at all. Second, if God does enter one’s thoughts, it is assumed that there is nothing to worry about since he’s some distant but benign being that demands nothing but assures everyone that everything will eventually turn out okay. Again, if we take Scripture seriously, both of these attitudes are grave mistakes.

Now to be sure, the Psalmist does indeed give assurance that with the Lord there is forgiveness. But forgiveness is bookended here. On one end we find for with the Lord is kindness…. This is why we can hope for forgiveness. On the other end, though, with him is plenteous redemption. This is more than forgiveness. This phrase points us to what God desires––and does—through the salvation he offers. Here is how the Psalmist says it: he will redeem Israel from all their iniquities. In other words, God is out to make his people holy.

We are instructed and warned: God hates sin. This time of Lent is meant to bring us, in fresh ways, face to face with what it means to ignore and reject God’s ways. We need time to reflect on the difference between sin and godliness. In a rebellious world that has grossly twisted the word, we should always start with the basic fact that God is love. This means that God defines love (and we are not free to redefine it according to our tastes and desires).

This also means that love is not selfish. After St John, in his first letter, simply says God is love, he also expands that saying, In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins (1 Jn 4:10). As Lent takes us on the journey with Jesus to the cross, there are two important things to keep in mind. First, God shows us what love is through self-sacrifice. Second, the death of Jesus on the cross shows us the horror and the price of rejecting God’s ways.

In today’s Gospel (and in the verses that follow, if you care to read further) Jesus confronts two common tendencies in broken humanity which are at total odds with love: the desire to kill and the attitude of disdaining another. At the root of both is an attitude which essentially says to another: “you don’t matter; what I want is most important even if it means removing you”.

The attitude that God is always inviting us to embrace is his own. To use the words of the Psalmist we are called to kindness and forgiveness. When we do that we are taking a path that Ezekiel calls right and just. It is a path that is filled with the mercy of God.

Still using Ezekiel’s words, if the virtuous man turns from the path of virtue to do evil, the implication is fully present. In leaving the path, such a person is walking away from God and walking away from God means turning one’s back on mercy. It is not that God hates that person or desires his judgment; turning from God inherently means rejecting mercy and choosing judgment.

So there is good reason to fear. There is a spirit in this world that is always wanting to pull us from God. Peter warns us Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour (1Pet 5:8). We are tempted with urges to put ourselves above others even to the point of disdain and hate. We have been given the blessing and the curse of choice. We can choose a selfishness that can destroy us and do incredible harm to those around us. It is a way that ends in judgment and death.

But…. there is a better reason not to live in selfishness and fear. Ezekiel also gives God’s deepest desire: As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die? (Ezekiel 33:11).

This is where today’s Ezekiel text ends: But if the wicked, turning from the wickedness he has committed, does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die (18:27-28).

This is why the Church calls us to confession. It is good to be always turning in the right direction. When we are turning away from our sins, we are going toward the Lord. Conversely, if we are going toward the Lord, then we are turning away from our sins. One way is mercy; the other is judgment. One way is life; the other is death.

In the death of Christ, God is always offering us his life.

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