Posts Tagged ‘religion’

“Behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven”

December 3, 2018

A sermon on Malachi 4:1-6, on the eve of COP 24, to take place in Katowice, Poland, 12/3-14/2018

Friends, whatever value you do or don’t place on the prophecies of the Bible, this one really speaks to the condition of our time: the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and it is already burning as an oven in this year’s California wildfires and the record summer heat of the Persian Gulf – 127°F in one city near the shores of Iran. And it’s on track to get worse, our prophets the scientists tell us; – but our rulers, both the civil rulers and the corporate power-brokers that keep them in office, are steadfastly ignoring the scientists’ prophecies, at least in this country, the world’s biggest polluter.

Yes, a great and dreadful day of the Lord is surely coming, and for many of us it’s here already, brought on not by the anger of a wrathful God but – to use an old-fashioned word – by people’s obstinate wickedness. Because what does the Bible tell us about God? God is love! God is of the same character as Jesus, who loved and forgave His enemies even to His own death! God does not desire the death of sinners, but their repentance! This cooking of the earth that we see starting to happen is not, therefore, is not and cannot be, God’s rage at us or disgust with us. Still less is it the result of the non-existence of God, the powerlessness of God, or the indifference of God! So then, what are we to think?

What are we to think? Hear the words of Malachi’s prophecy: – for those willing to live under the government of God, “the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings.” Like “calves of the stall,” we’ll be healed, protected, kept alive. We aren’t told that we won’t suffer the agony of the heat along with all our neighbors, but we’ll know that the God we trust in loves us and won’t abandon us. Scroll down now to the very end of the Book of Malachi: God will send a prophet, or prophets, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children: what’s more needed now than that we care about our children’s and grandchildren’s need for a livable planet? We, the human race, are in danger of exterminating our descendants. How horrible! How could we answer to God for that? – But is the solution to fund a think-tank to brainstorm a way out, or is the solution to love those descendants more? And if we truly loved them, could we let our biggest single industry, our biggest single contributor to environmental destruction, be war? We call it “defense,” but you and I know that it’s war, it’s bullying by either bloodshed or the threat of bloodshed, and that it’s indefensibly costly to coming generations, and that it’s an attempt to impose a selfish human will, one state’s will, on the world in place of whatever God’s will might be.

The “great and dreadful day of the Lord” can only be an unveiling of what our own selfishness has created, and of how we, the human race, created it: how the way we’ve chosen jobs, bought, invested, voted, defended ourselves, lied to ourselves and others, and let ourselves be lied to, has earned us a dying planet. Our vain attempts to import pleasure and export pain have yielded the evil harvest that was implicit in the sowing of it! But how else can God teach us this truth but by letting us see the natural consequence of our own bad choices?

There is a right way to respond to this unveiling, and a wrong way. The wrong way is to name scapegoats for the unhappy condition we see developing, and try to cure it by attacking those scapegoats or demanding that they desist from evil. The right way is for each of us, individually and then together, to ask to be shown how we ourselves have been at fault. It’s promised that God gives wisdom liberally to those who ask for it (James 1:5). God would not be so cruel as to withhold such liberating knowledge from those who recognize it as essential to their survival.

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A Personal Mission Statement

March 14, 2014

God is love, and calls us all to forgive all offenses and adopt God’s will as our own.

I’ve also discerned that God calls me to preach and exemplify this call to repentance of our selfish ways, and bear witness to the new life that follows on our being forgiven and healed from estrangement from God, which is this common fear-dominated condition called sin. I experience and understand this new life as a life in Jesus Christ, who lives both in God and among us, guiding, directing, warning, empowering, gathering, healing and perfecting all who will come to Him, whether they call Him by that name or some other.

I’ve discerned that I’m called to serve Jesus Christ, in His name and power, as a teacher of His gospel, persuader, comforter, hearer of confessions, and conveyer of His forgiveness and His healing. As I understand my calling, I’m to do this chiefly, but not exclusively, within the Religious Society of Friends.

I ask the help of a spiritual care committee to help me grow in this ministry, and to correct me if I should stray from it.

Radical Jesus and a Tyrant Devil

November 29, 2013

“How do we like the government of satan?” asked early Quaker Stephen Crisp in a 1691 sermon. “I hope we do none of us like it.

We are a generation of selective ears, like all the generations that went before us, different only in the kinds of things we filter out.  For fourscore and seven years European-American males held it to be a self-evident truth that all men were created equal, but filtered out African-Americans, Native Americans and women.  For seventeen centuries Christians have filtered out Jesus’ pacifism and worshiped the power of the carnal weapon.  Today, of those that willingly hear of a Holy Spirit and a Creator God, many refuse to listen when the same scriptures that herald the Holy Spirit speak of “unclean spirits” too, or when texts declaring the might of God also warn of a “god of this world” opposing the Almighty.  Many of us smile at the ignorance of first-century writers who, lacking the insights of modern psychiatry, could only impute pathology to evil beings; we read Paul’s “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) merely as a clever figure of speech.  But perhaps this is just what the god of this world wants.

On the other hand, the First Epistle of John (3:8) reads, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil,” and Jesus’ own recorded words confirm that this is how He understood a major part of His own mission on earth: to “announce liberation to the captives” (Luke 4:18), to “cast out devils,” (Matt. 12:28, Mark 1:39, Luke 11:20, 13:32), and to empower His apostles to cast out demons in His name also (Matt. 10:8, Mark 16:17).  For Jesus as for His contemporaries, the demonic world was real, and it had one ruler, whose grip on this fallen world was to be shaken loose by Jesus’ crucifixion and rising again: “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12:31).

Now consider this contemporary reflection: “To the extent that we no longer realize the reality of the supernatural power of the demonic realm – against which we are powerless in our own unaided humanity – we no longer sense the need for a Savior, for Jesus Christ.  Even for many professing Christians, Jesus has become simply an excellent teacher of values, among many other teachers, like Confucius and the Buddha.  This is a major problem with the New Age movement:  It fails to recognize the reality of the supernatural dimension of evil, and affirms that human beings are good and have tremendous untapped potential for growth if only they can discover how good they are and rid themselves of shame.  Consequently, there is in the New Age system of thought no real need for a Savior; they see Jesus simply as a good man bringing a wonderful message of love for the human race.”  (from Francis MacNutt, Deliverance from Evil Spirits: A Practical Manual, p. 33.)   If you, like me, have a knee-jerk reaction to writers who speak of a “New Age movement” as if it were an intentional gathering of wills like the Labor Movement or the Civil Rights Movement, please put it aside; Francis MacNutt has a point here, and one of particular poignancy in these times when we see the Great Lie Machine gathering up its money and political power to trash all life on earth.

Yes, the Great Lie Machine.  You don’t have to be a conspiracy-theorist to see the same spirit of selfishness,  hypocrisy, and lust for power at work in phenomena as diverse as the  consolidation of big money’s control over nominal democracies and their media, while it continues to back regimes that disappear, torture and slaughter their dissidents; the stealthy expansion of environmental pollution, debt-slavery, offshore sweatshops, surveillance, prisons, weaponry, information-management and crowd-control technology; and the insane race to degrade and destroy the earth for the sake of the wealth to be sucked out of it.  The only question is whether there is one will and one master intelligence running the Great Lie Machine.  Not yet having the mature discernment to answer this question for myself, I turn it over to my heavenly Shepherd, trusting that we who more want to do the right thing than get the best interest rate will be enlightened about it, mobilized and led by Him when the time comes for appropriate action.

Just recently I received a request from a friend to discuss the newly published Radical Jesus: A Graphic History of Faith on this blog (Paul Buhle, editor; published 2013 by Herald Press in Harrisonburg, Virginia and Waterloo, Ontario; ISBN 978-0-8361-9621-4; paperback).  I like the book very much, find it beautifully illustrated, and hope to see my own life changed by reading it!  It starts with Sabrina Jones’s masterly sketch of the ministry of Jesus, “Radical Gospel,” from His baptism in the River Jordan to His post-resurrection giving of the Great Commission.   Taste and wit are shown in Friend Sabrina’s blending of scenery from first-century Palestine with images from the urbanized twenty-first century: the crowd around the Baptist is clearly of the ancient world, but when the Devil comes to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, we see a horned Satan with eyeglasses, who offers Jesus “all the kingdoms of this world” in a panorama that includes the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.  The illustrations of Jesus’ parables likewise jump forward twenty centuries to show modern soldiers guzzling bottled water and a skeleton-like hunger-striker refusing food brought by a guard who could be from Guantánamo.  It delights me to imagine the Gospel of Jesus Christ, made graphic through Sabrina’s richly gifted pen and brush, reaching people that might never take the trouble to read the Bible itself — except that here we see Jesus the teacher and Jesus the resurrected martyr but not Jesus the healer, and not Jesus the Savior who claimed, “all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18), draws all people to Him (John 12:32), and gives eternal life to whoever comes to Him (John 17:2).  My prayer is that I’ll see these other sides of Jesus in Sabrina’s future work.

“Radical History,” by Gary Dumm, with Laura Dumm and others, introduces the reader to some of the Church history you might never get to know if you weren’t one of the contributors yourself, and it’s vivid and fast-paced, covering Wycliffe and the Lollards in 14th-century England, the Anabaptists and Hutterites on the Continent and in America, the Quakers in the Colonies; it ends with a one-page life of abolitionist Angelina Grimké (1805-1879).  “Radical Resistance,” by Nick Thorkelson, brings the history up to the present day. The setting is a group discussion that could take place “last week, or 20 years ago, or next month,” “in Brockton, Massachusetts – or the hills around Sâo Paulo, Brazil – or the ruins of Port-au-Prince… – asking: … What are we called to do?”  Different presenters tell stories of inspiring acts of witness, from the 19th-century mission of Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) to the Christian Peacemaker Teams of today.   There the reader is left, wondering what he or she is to do now, and with whom?

There is One who can tell us what we are to do now, who said He would be with us “alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20); but if He is not a Savior, but only “a good man bringing a wonderful message of love for the human race,” then He can’t give us the new, courageous heart and Holy Spirit-guided discerning eye that we need in order to be turned from hesitant, comfort-loving Christian Peacemaker wannabees into the faithful saints that the condition of the planet now calls for.  And this, in my view, is one limitation of Radical Jesus.  The other is that the huge array of bad guys currently running things, and stupid or misguided or enslaved or indifferent people working for or complicit with the bad guys, is just plain daunting: convert one wicked person to the way of righteousness and you’ve made all heaven rejoice, maybe, but then what about the other billions?  Don’t these people have a world headquarters that can be immobilized?  Is there some master strategy that can be blocked, some hypnotizing chief enslaver that they can all be freed from?

Jesus said, “I testify of ‘the world’ that its works are evil” (John 7:7b), “but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b). Yes, there is a chief enslaver, called in Scripture the prince, or god, of this world, and our Savior has defeated him (or “it”) already; it remains for us to unseat that god in our own hearts by saying “yes” to faith and love, and “no” to fear, pride, greed, lust, selfishness, anger — we may be given several opportunities to do this in any given day.  And then we are to listen.  We will surely be called and led.

We Need a Gospel, Not a Theology

May 14, 2013

So, in the power of the Lord Jesus Christ preach the everlasting gospel, that by his power the sick may be healed, the leprous cleansed, the dead raised, the blind eyes opened, and the devils cast out.
– George Fox, Epistle 114 (1656), in Works, v. 7, p. 114.

We Friends need a theology, some say: perhaps something more modern than the Apology Robert Barclay gave us in the 1670s, when the world was thought to be only thousands of years old and Moses’ history of it accurate. I agree! It would be priceless to have good information about God. For what can we understand about our own condition if we know nothing about the One responsible for our being? Only that we’re walking around in deep ignorance. Is God heartless, cruel, capricious? Then why is there suffering? Does God have a will, or care about human morality? Is there any way for creatures to know their Creator? Why do different scriptures and philosophies disagree about what God wants from us?

But information alone could not cure our ignorance, or our clearly evident bondage to sin and death. And the most perfect theological teaching could not save us from this unhappy exile from the immediately experienced presence of the Source of All Good. “Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him” (Job 23:8).

Much more than good information, therefore, do we need good news: words that heal us when they say “be healed,” words that save us when they say “be saved,” words that reveal God when they say “behold your God.” That’s what a gospel does, or is expected to do. A gospel, unlike a mere theology, is a manifestation of divine power. If it doesn’t mend the broken, raise up the fallen, destroy the works of the devil and set free the captive, it’s not a gospel worthy of the name.

“The gospel of Christ,” wrote Paul (Romans 1:16), “is the power of God unto salvation.” The gospel of Christ was but an unfulfilled prophecy in Isaiah 61 until Jesus read it aloud in the Nazareth synagogue (Luke 4:16-21), then proceeded to do deeds that showed the world He was fulfilling it. What is a gospel? A gospel would not only show me something of the glory and goodness of God, it would allow me to find a Savior and say, “Behold, I’m a corrupt tree that produces only corrupt fruit; make me into a good tree, and I’ll glorify you by producing only good fruit” – and my Savior would do it.

Every human heart yearns for a gospel, a great truth that makes possible a happy ending to our small and disappointing existences, because that’s what the heart seems to have been made to do: but most of us don’t expect such good tidings of great joy in our own time or in our own lives. But why not? Have we forgotten how to imagine the very good, or are we afraid to risk disappointment? Or are we afraid of what a Pearl of Great Price might cost us? Do we want the miracles of Jesus to exist only in a book about long ago and far away? Shall we dismiss His promise to be with us always, even to the end of the world, as something He never really said, or didn’t mean literally, because it can’t be true?

Looking into my own heart for the answer, or everyone’s heart, I find that we’re mostly content with things as they are, and don’t like leaving our comfort zone. Only when we find ourselves tormented by life, and bereft of faith in the fantasy that attacking someone else will relieve the torment, do we become like the disabled and desperate people of long ago that sought out Jesus of Nazareth for healing. Otherwise – why leave the comfort zone?

I find two other things, besides torment, that push us out of our comfort zone: one is love, which makes the torment of others as intolerable as torment to ourselves. The other is the realization that our comfort zone is maintained by illusions and lies, chief among which is that its comfort will last indefinitely. It never does. And then something – torment, love, or disillusionment – makes us feel our crying need for a gospel. One is there waiting for us.

Grant us, Lord, not merely the transforming and awakening power of Your gospel, but the faith and courage to receive it. Have we resistances? We welcome Your sweeping them away.