Posts Tagged ‘Cross’

This is a blog about my personal journey in moving away from a Jesus that was thoroughly American toward following the Jesus testified to in the Gospels.

 

http://www.whyistopped.com/the-american-jesus/

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Lent is a season of reflecting in a further intentional way on the life of Christ which leads to the Cross.  The cross is symbolic, although not simply that, of the kind of ministry which Jesus embodied while proclaiming the Kingdom of God has begun here and now in him.  The cross is the way of the Kingdom, for it is the way of its King.  As Kingdom citizens, we are called to embody this same cruciform way of living here and now.  We are called to pick up our cross and follow Jesus.  Our baptisms are where we are buried with Christ so that we might also participate in his new-creation-life, which also anticipates Christ’s coming again to fulfill that which he began – “on earth as it is in heaven.”

As such, we are visible, tangible reminders that God’s Kingdom has come.  We are stewards that build for the Kingdom, announcing its inauguration in Jesus, and the Christian hope that it will someday be consummated in his return.  This is why we say: “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again!”

Yet, while we wait for Christ’s return, we recognize that there is still work to be done in the Creation and in us.  Although the Kingdom has begun, it is not yet completed work.  So, we long for and anticipate the coming redemption of all things, when Christ will be all in all.  Paul says that the Creation waits for the redemption of humanity.  And, as we wait for our redemption, sometimes we groan in prayer when words fail us.  The Spirit of God takes up our prayer and presents them to God.  We hunger and thirst for God to make right that which is broken and twisted by sin.  We all, including the Creation, groan to be set free from the bonds of sin and death.  Paul’s words picture this anguish perfectly: “Who can rescue me from this body of death” (Rom. 7:24)!?

Lent weighs heavily upon us.  We see the cross in the distance and recognize that the twisted beams of wood which pierce the ground and the rusty nails which pierce Jesus are both driven deep in the flesh and the earth by our own hands.  It is our violence and our demand for justice which finally nail Jesus to that branchless tree.

It is a tree of death upon which we have placed the Author of Life.  It is the tree which is rooted in our anger, bitterness, anxiety, and malice.  Through that tree we pour out all of our contempt upon the Light of the World.  The cross which stands in the distance comes nearer and nearer as we approach Good Friday.  It holds up the mirror before us, asking: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”  We can only exclaim, “Yes, it was me.  Yes, it was us.”  We try to avoid the disciplines of Lent because we finally want to avoid seeing our face in the crowd which cried out, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!”  We cannot bear the shame.

Astonishingly, what we intended for evil, God reorients for our good.  This is what Paul is exclaiming when he finishes his thought in Romans 7.  “Who can rescue me from this body of death!?  Thanks be to God – through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 7:24-25).  God takes an instrument of death and transforms it into a tool for cultivating new life in the Creation and in us.  This is the grand sweep of Romans 8.  Jesus has brought about new creation!  Yes, it is not completed work yet.  But, it’s not just a future event that we are waiting for either.  In fact, Paul calls the Christian community to begin to live into the reality of new creation now – to put our minds on the things of the Spirit and thus to put to death the misdeeds of the body.

We are to “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1).  God’s work through the Spirit will impact what we do with our bodies.  Paul writes, “… if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption” Rom. 8:13b-15a).  We are called to no longer live in the deathly ways of this world (12:2a), “but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  I do not think such transformation is possible without intentional practices that engage both body and spirit in the life of a follower of Jesus.  More specifically, as Paul highlights in the following section (vv. 3-8), it cannot happen outside of the community of faith.  This is not a journey which we can do by ourselves.  God has gifted us the Church for mutual encouragement and accountability.  Christian community and the peculiar practices (i.e., prayer, sacraments, fasting, confession, reading scripture, etc.) of that community have an odd way of “humbling us” and training us to think with “sober judgment.”

Paul reminds this covenant community (the Church) that the very purpose of this community is to serve as a training ground for the Kingdom-already-here-yet-still-to-come.  It is a training ground of love.  Love of God, yes!  Most certainly.  But, equally, love of our fellow people.  In fact, the competition of the world which tries to dominate others is traded in for a new kind of competition.  It is a competition of mutual affection where everyone seeks the benefit of others over their own desires.  It is a “holy zeal and an ardent spirit, serving the Lord” by serving each other (v. 11).  It is this energetic affection for God and for each other which makes things like “Rejoicing in hope, being patient in suffering, and persevering in prayer” possible (v. 12).  We bear the burdens together and we share in each other’s joy.  And, it is a joy that spills over to others.  The needs of the saints are met by one another (v. 13a).  Not only that, but this joy spills outside of the Church as well, by extending hospitality to the stranger (13b).  In other words, the new creation is expanding to receive those parts of the old creation that have yet experienced the new life found in Christ through the Spirit to the glory of the Father.

Of course, Paul isn’t wearing rose-colored glasses.  He recognizes that there are people that are still living by the flesh.  As such, they may very well reject, even in violent ways, the hope offered by the Church.  The Church may experience persecution.  Jesus never denied this possibility.  He said, “The world hated me; it will hate you.”  Don’t be surprised.  The Kingdom of Jesus isn’t always received as good news and is sometimes treated with hostility because it challenges the world’s way of life.  It says that there is a radically different way of doing things like politics, economics, how we treat our environment, how we treat our bodies, how we treat our enemies, how we treat the most vulnerable in society.  Love is the new priority.  And, if our way of life does not reflect the way of the cross, perhaps our minds have yet to be transformed by the Spirit.

Paul outlines how we are called to respond to the abuses which the world may heap upon us.  Before our renewal by the Spirit, we fought fire with fire.  We matched violence with violence.  We responded to hatred and evil with hatred and evil.  But, now, we are to be those who “bless and do not curse” (v. 14).  We are to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (vv. 15-19).  The way of Jesus; the way of the cross; the way of love.

Just in case we were confused, Paul goes further still.  We must not simply avoid evil.  We must pursue the good of others – even our enemies.  Paul writes, “No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (vv. 20-21).  Deep inside of us, we might cheer, “Good!  Serves them right!  My enemies deserve some burning coals on their head!”  But, that interpretation only highlights how much our lives still need to be formed by the Spirit.

The idea Paul is conveying by “heap burning coals on their heads” is rooted in a cultural practice during his day.  They didn’t have instant gas fires or lighters.  Starting a fire was hard work.  Once one was started, it was easier to keep it going than to let it die out and restart it.  If your fire died, it could be a serious problem, especially on cold nights.  If your fire did go out, you might visit a neighbor to get some live coals with which to start your fire back up.  Live coals are hot and heat rises.  So, carrying those coals in a bucket on your head would keep you from getting scorched.  Thus, “heaping burning coals on their heads” was a way of saying that we are called to get their “fires” going by returning evil with good.  Just as Jesus transformed our evil (the cross) into something for our good, we are called to do the same – even for our worst enemies.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  He understood the pain and suffering of being hated.  Yet, the Gospel of Jesus led him to respond with compassion and love for his enemies.  That is Christian hope in action.

May Lent call us to repentance where we have failed to put on the mind of Christ.  May Lent draw us to daily pick up our cross and follow Jesus in the way of love!  Let us move from the ash heap of the old creation people that we have been to those anointed with the oil of the Spirit as new creation people.

Here’s the link to a blog I recently wrote about co-pastoral ministry, power, and being a servant. The blog is posted on Shawna Gaines’ blog. Shawna and Tim Gaines serve as co-pastors in California. Their ministry has been helpful to observe and learn from as Becca and I began our ministry together. Grateful for others that are faithfully demonstrating what it looks like to live in community, sharing ministry together!

Link to article: Pick Up Your Cross and Follow Me: Reflections on Co-pastoral Ministry

ImageIt is Good Friday.  That is a somewhat strange title for such a gruesome day.  After all, it is on this day that we are reminded that God was not the one demanding the cross, we were.  On this day we stood in the crowd and told Pilate: “You are no friend of Ceasar’s if you let this man go.”  Even as Pilate returned from questioning Jesus and said he found no fault with the man, we were not satisfied.  We yelled, “We have no king but Ceasar!  Crucify Jesus!  Crucify him!  Crucify him!  We demanded that a life be taken.   

But the “Good” was not found in us… it was found in him.  Jesus had told his disciples he would be raised up and would draw all nations to him.  The crucifixion, of all things, would be the very means by which God would draw people to God (John 12:32)!  God transformed the instrument of our violence (the cross) into an instrument of God’s peace and reconciliation. Miroslav Volf helps us think about this deeper: “Christ is not a third party inserted between an angry God and sinful humanity; he is the God who was wronged embracing humanity on the cross.”

Remember the night of Jesus betrayal?  In that “Last Supper” with his disciples, Jesus took the bread and after giving thanks, he broke it, saying, “This is my body…”  Likewise, he took the cup and blessed it, saying, “This is my blood…”  It is only with time that the disciples begin to better understand that God’s taking on flesh through Jesus, God’s participation with humanity, paves the way for our participation with God.  His flesh sanctifies our flesh.  His life becomes our life.  In Christ, God becomes accustomed to “tabernacling” with humanity and humanity becomes accustomed to living with God.  The cross becomes the means by which God demonstrates God’s unfailing love for the whole of creation.  It is the tangible action showing God is willing to go to the very depths of hell to save all of Creation. God received our violence while pouring out his grace. 

In the final moments on the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  By the tree in the Garden of Gethsemane, sin and death entered this world.  By the second tree, the cross, sin and death have been conquered.  Christ became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).  Reconciliation.  Redemption,  Recapitulation.

With his last breath, Jesus “gave up his spirit.”  At this moment, the veil that separated the Holy of Holies was torn in two.  The earth shook and the rocks split.  Everything that had once seemed so sure, so rock-solid… everything was shaken to the core. Sin, the means by which we live for ourselves, secure our desires, and maintain “control” – shaken.  Enmity between humanity and God – shaken.  Our inability to live obediently as God’s people – shaken.  Death, the bedrock of all we know – shaken!  All these things had given way to a more solid reality: God’s Love. 

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the punishment of God. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. 12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned—For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.  16 And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17 If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19 For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5: 6-11;15b-21).

Irenaeus compiled a list of apostolic successi...

Irenaeus compiled a list of apostolic succession, including the immediate successors of Peter and Paul” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

James Payton’s purpose in writing this book is to make Irenaeus’ Against Heresies more accessible and less cumbersome to engage.  His primary method for achieving this end is shortening Books 1 and 2, which sets out the Gnostic doctrine as it is taught.  Although large sections are removed from these two books, enough is left to provide a brief and succinct overview of the Gnostic thought and Irenaeus’ primary objections to it.  Payton does a good job of maintaining the key ideas in Irenaeus’ assessment of the Gnostics while presenting an abridged version.

Irenaeus is often described as a polemical figure.  Undoubtedly, he tackles the Gnostic problem head on without much reservation.  However, it should be noted, by Irenaeus’ own words, that this is not the primary motivation.  Irenaeus is polemical only in the sense that he is trying to preserve something.  Irenaeus describes the situation with his opponents as such: “This is how the adversaries with whom we have to deal act: like slippery serpents, they try to escape at all points.  Consequently, they need to be opposed at all points, so that possibly, by cutting off their retreat, we may succeed in turning them back to the truth” (57).  The preservation and proclamation of the Truth is at the heart of Irenaeus’ purpose in writing.  As such, he hopes that by writing even the Gnostics might come to know Truth that has been handed down from Christ to the apostles for the Church.

After reading the way that Irenaeus re-orients the Old Testament in light of Christ, I find John Lawson’s categories for Irenaeus untenable.  Lawson states that Irenaeus did not know or adequately comprehend the history behind the Old Testament.  However, I believe that Irenaeus has a rich understanding of the Old Testament, which he reads in light of Christ.  He does not read the Old Testament in isolation from its preparation for Christ.  Thus, the importance does not sit upon the historical context but on the way that Christ fulfills and completes that which is in the Old Testament.  For instance, Irenaeus re-functions the Old Testament texts that talk about swords being beaten into plowshares to bring about a fuller comprehension of the cross.  An instrument intended for violence becomes God’s instrument of peace through which the harvest of the eschaton will be gathered.  Irenaeus does not ignore the historical context but says that the purpose is realized in Christ.

This is essential for Irenaeus’ argument against Gnosticism.  After all, Irenaeus wants to maintain the continuity between Jesus and the Creator God of the Old Testament.  What better way to do that than showing how Christ corrects and fulfills the Law and the Prophets.  Irenaeus is not allegorizing every Scripture and twisting it.  Rather, his exegesis is quite stunning in many respects.  For instance, Irenaeus employs the stories of the patriarchs in appropriate ways to the promised hope that is embodied in Jesus.

Recapitulation or ontic participation is scattered all throughout Irenaeus’ writings.  Although they are slightly different, they cannot be separated from one another.  Christ takes on the fullness of humanity so that through Christ humanity might enjoy all of God.  Jesus becomes the second Adam by treading the same ground that Adam tread but was found obedient, even unto death.  And, it is through Christ’s obedience that we see the fullest intentions and purpose of humanity!  We are able, at every stage, to see what it means to be a fully mature human: Christ!  In this way, Christ is the exemplar of what it means to participate in the very life of God.  In fact, Irenaeus states: “The glory of God is a human being fully alive” (116).

The main purpose for Irenaeus in salvation or recapitulation is that humanity might finally achieve its end: “join[ing] the end to the beginning – that is, humanity to God” (114).  He also views ontic participation as a relational ontology (to use modern vernacular), stating: “Without life it is impossible to live, and the means of life is found in fellowship with God.  But fellowship with God is to know God and to enjoy his goodness” (115).  And, this fellowship of love is demonstrated as obedience.  Which highlights the value of Christ’s recapitulating obedience.

Irenaeus’ concept of the Triune God working simultaneously and spontaneously together is intriguing.  We can learn a lot from him here.  In all ways, the Father, Son, and Spirit are working in unison and cooperation toward a common telos.  There is not a true sense of hierarchy or modalism that pervades the Trinity.  Instead, there is a relational mutuality that is inherent in God.  Now, Irenaeus typically talks about the “Two Hands of God” (Son and Spirit, Word and Wisdom).  However, by separating these out, Irenaeus only moves to put them back together again.  There is a constant tension that shows the continuity of God both in the old covenant and the new covenant.  As opposed to Gnostic thought, Irenaeus maintains that God is both God of Creation and God of salvation.

In fact, it is only through this cooperation that God is fully revealed.  He states, “God the Father was shown forth through all these operations, with the Spirit working and the Son ministering, while the Father was approving – and that salvation for humankind was being achieved” (115).  This is important given the tension between God’s transcendence and immanence.  Gnostics held that God could not truly be known and that the Pleroma were not God.  Irenaeus maintains God’s transcendence but maintains that God can be known because of the Son and the Spirit.  Most specifically, it is the Son’s flesh that reveals the invisible God in visible ways to humanity.  This is a brilliant tactic in dispelling his opponents’ arguments.

I particularly found Irenaeus’ concepts of recapitulation and ontic participation refreshing.  His emphasis that the Incarnation was going to happen even before the Fall, not because of it, was powerful.  The purpose of Creation from the beginning was to enjoy fellowship with God.  This shapes the understanding of the cross in significant ways that push back on the penal substitution so popular in our churches.  It pushes back on the Gnostic idea that Creation is bad and spirit is pure.  And, it challenges our separation of Christ’s work from the purposes of the Creator.  Our end is in our beginning.  Creation is salvation and salvation is creation, because it is God that works both.