Saturday, November 29, 2014

No Fear of Judgment: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 (Advent Week 1)

Do you remember the feeling of breaking something—or doing something wrong—and the anxiety of waiting for your parents to get home? There was a time in my life as a teenager where in quick succession I left the freezer door open all night, put kerosene in our gasoline-powered lawn mower, and (somehow accidentally) turned on an aquarium heater in an empty aquarium, thus shattering all the glass. That was a lot of days of waiting—with more than a hint of panic—for Mom and Dad to come home so I could receive my judgment.

Too many times I’ve ran across a train of thought in Christian circles that shares much of this anxiety with death and the return of Jesus. I’ve been warned many times to watch what I say and do because, “You’ll have to give an account to Jesus one day.” There is a fear of “judgment day” because I will have to stand up in front of Jesus and all of creation and tell them all of my dirty secrets and then cross my fingers and see what happens.

Now let’s be honest. There are some verses that—plucked out from their various locations in Scripture—would lend people to this kind of fear.

  • “Each of us will give an account of ourselves to God” (Romans 14:12).
  • “God...will judge the secret thoughts of all” (Romans 2:16).
  • "The Lord...will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart” (1 Corinthians 4:5).
And I don’t want to lie to you: judgment will come. Christ will return and put the world to rights. If justice is to come,  that means that injustice, sin, and the causes (cause-ers) of pain will have to go. 

But for those who are in Christ this judgment is not a thing we need to be afraid of. We wait for it with hopeful expectation because—in Christ—we know the verdict. 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 (the second reading of the first week of Advent) makes this abundantly clear. Check out the bolded text:
4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6 just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
We are waiting for the “revealing” of our Lord, the “day of the Lord.” Is this something to be afraid of? By no means! Because of God’s grace:
  • we have been enriched
  • we have been strengthened
  • we don’t lack any spiritual gift
  • we will be strengthened to the end
  • we will be blameless 
Notice that this is all God’s doing. God is the one who makes us blameless through Christ. God is the one who strengthens us. God is the one who is faithful (even when we are not! 2 Timothy 2:13). 

So whenever we run across “judgment” language in the Bible, be sure to place it within the understanding that God has already declared us righteous (Romans 3:24); has already declared you free of condemnation (Romans 8:1). This Advent is a season of hopeful expectation, not only of the wonder of the Incarnation, but also of Jesus’ return, when He comes again and declares us righteous, a faithful servant, heirs of His Kingdom. 

This Advent season, may we treat others in the same way that Christ treats us, recognizing that through God’s love there is no more room for condemnation or rejection, but rather open-armed forgiveness, acceptance, and unconditional love. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Lord, Teach Us To Pray

The Good Samaritan by He Qi
In light of recent events, it is good to remember that we should be "slow to speak and slow to become angry" (James 1:19) and quick to lift up our voices in prayer. Here are a few prayers to guide our words and meditations.

"For Social Justice" Book of Common Prayer
Grant, O God,
that your holy and life-giving Spirit
may so move every human heart
and especially the hearts of the people of this land,
that barriers which divide us may crumble,
suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease;
that our divisions be healed,
we may live in justice and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

"For A Death in the Neighborhood"
Lamb of God
You take away the sins of the world
Have mercy on us.
Grant us peace.

For the unbearable toil of our sinful world,
We plead for remission.
For the terror of absence from our beloved,
We plead for your comfort.
For the scandalous presence of death in your Creation,
We pleased for the resurrection.

Lamb of God
You take away the sins of the world
Have mercy on us.
Grant us peace.

"Prayer for Renewal" The Worship Sourcebook
Father, as we remember how our Lord Jesus was identified by baptism 
with John’s message of repentance and renewal, 
we pray for the renewal of humanity today
and for the church as a means of renewal.

We pray for the welfare of nations and the wisdom of governments, 
for social justice and for racial harmony.
May laws and policies dignify, not degrade,
and may the arrival of your kingdom in Jesus
be attested by the witness of Christians in every walk of life.

We pray for all who suffer loss and who are diminished by illness, 
by disappointment, or by the attitude of others.
Support and strengthen these and all who are in the wilderness 
facing the testing of what they believe in.

We pray also for all who must die soon—
both those who know it and those who do not.
Confirm in every one of us that it is not for this life only
that we have hope in Christ,
and in the communion of all your baptized people
may we find bonds forged between us that endure to all eternity. 
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Isaiah 64: Lost in the Clothes Racks

Do you remember getting separated from your mom or dad in a department store? I remember being pretty little—under 7—and going to K-Mart with my mom. She was doing some shopping for herself, which of course did not include spending copious amounts of time in the toy aisle like I had specifically requested. Instead we meandered through the women’s section, a complete bore-fest to any semi-normal child. To entertain my semi-normal self I was ducking in and out of the circular clothes racks, attempting to see how long it would take before Mom would forget about me. For a while Mom tried to pay attention to me, asking me to stop, to stay close by. But eventually I hid in a clothes rack for a little too long, she got a little too distracted by some article of clothing, and we were separated.

What’s funny about that experience is that I remember being the angry one. I had refused to stick close to my parent, I had literally hid myself from her, and yet I was angry that she would just leave me, abandon me to my fate in K-Mart of all God-forsaken places. I did the things that a lost child does—look around frantically, cry, look around some more, and eventually get asked by some employee if I was lost. In a moment lived-out by hundreds of families, we were joyfully reunited at the customer service desk after a call for “the mother of Anthony” rang out over the PA system.

Isaiah 64, the first Scripture of the first week of Advent, has Israel in much the same position as a lost child—but with the stakes much higher. Israel’s countryside has been burnt, it’s cities torn down, it’s civilization in ruins. And despite recognizing that they have sinned, that they have transgressed, that they have ran away from God, they still want to blame God for what has happened to them: “You have hidden your face from us” (64:7).

But the most forceful message of Isaiah 64 is the recognition that things are completely messed up, the world is totally screwed—but if God would “tear open the heavens and come down,” if God would make the earth shake in His presence, if God would baptize the world with fire and release His flames upon Israel’s adversaries, then all would be made right once more.

But we should pause before we join in too eagerly with these cries for vengeance. Because God did answer Israel’s prayer. God did come down, He did act decisively in Israel’s favor…but in a way totally unexpected, in a way absent of flame and earthquake and fear. God and His people were indeed reunited, brought into each other’s presence again, by way of God-in-the-flesh, the Divine-Made-Incarnate, Son of God and Son of Man: Jesus.

This Advent, we are right to cry out to God for Him to make things right in the world. We are right to recognize how lost we are without Him and how desperate things are without His presence. But let’s be slow to blame God for humanity’s mistakes. And let’s be slow to ask for God’s vengeance and anger and punishment. Rather let us anticipate together the presence of God made real in the unexpected: not in the earthquake or fire or storm, but in the still and in the quiet and in the recognition that God is with us, even when we’re hiding in the clothes racks.