The Prophets – Sitting in the Rubble

So a couple weeks ago we began to try to break down the basic work and move of the prophets.  We started by saying that the prophets work begins among people who are numb to reality, who are practiced and proficient at insulating themselves from pain and fear and brokenness – both within and with out themselves.  And I don’t think the question is, are we a people a lot like that… practiced at numbing and insulating ourselves…

Rather the question seems to be, what’s your drug of choice when it comes to numbing or insulating??  denial, busyness, alcohol, a Netflix binge, making sure we’re never alone or quiet long enough to really have to deal w/ anything, …

And here the prophets show up and feel and bring to the surface w/ great anguish and passion what we refuse to feel.  They put their finger right where it hurts.

And these are always the hardest and most difficult experiences and conversations.  When you and I are being told we have to wake up to the fact that whatever we were holding onto is done, it’s gone, it’s over, it’s dead.  That the thing we were trying to squeeze life out of isn’t really life. It’s the call to stop pretending, stop trying to fool yourself, stop propping the thing up.

When we’re talking about the scriptures we call this part of the prophets work “pre-exilic.”  It’s the work that has to be done that forces our hand to come to grips w/ the pain and despair in our own lives and in the world around us.

But this is only 1/2 the task of the prophets.  Once exile becomes reality, once we find ourselves in a strange and foreign place, where nothing makes sense and the wheels all fall off… when you find yourself sitting in the rubble of your life… what do you do?

It’s here that the Prophet’s work gets really interesting.  Cause it’s here, when everything else is stripped away, that the prophets come among the people in exile and declare that in the face of all the things that seem stacked against them, all the powers and forces and circumstances that seems immovable and permanent… they come and say, “God is and has always been the one who calls forth life and a future out of the places that seemed empty, ruined and dead.  That there is in fact no power or reality or circumstance that has any real or lasting sway when God breaks in.

So it’s when we are convinced of our inability to maintain optimism and to solve our situation by positive mental thinking, it’s here that the prophets announce to us in our exile, something new that we cannot generate or produce on our own by our own efforts and energy – they declare to us the heart of the gospel, the good news – that calling forth life and hope where there is none – that this is exactly what God does.

This is exactly what the second 1/2 of Isaiah – Isaiah 40-55 is up to… (this is why we read a ton of this part of Isaiah during Advent)

Read Isaiah 43:11-21

It’s in the middle of the mess that God calls forth something new, something we couldn’t do, something we could not have strategized or planned.  It isn’t a move back to the way things were.  It’s something that moves you through exile into something brand new… and the call of the prophets among the people in exile is to begin to let that way of seeing take hold, to let singing and thanksgiving well up in their hearts and lives again… even while they wait in the place of exile.

Because their God hears their cries – And the God their dealing w/ – this is the God who created from nothing all that is, and this is the God who took old Abraham and barren Sarah and out of them made a great people, and this is the God who heard the cry of a people who were slaves in Egypt and led them out w/ a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.

See, this is WHO God is.

And so it just seems to me that the gift of the prophets is that so much of our lives are lived in these kinds of places that can look and feel a lot like exile.

And so tonight I hope that the good news can reach you right where you are – in the places where the wheels have all fallen off, where the thing seems to have unraveled, where you feel like you’re sitting in the rubble of your own life…

Right there may you hear, as if for the first time, that the God we’ve got is precisely the God who calls life to spring up out of the rubble.  That this was never supposed to be a story about how you were able to preform flawlessly and make a life for yourself.  But instead it’s a story about the God who even now is doing a new thing.  And the invitation comes to you: Can you perceive it??

“Why Jesus?” ch 10

Ch 10 – Lover 

This is one of those chapter titles that sounds like an obvious one.  Jesus as one who shows us God’s love… yep, that sounds right!

But early on Willimon, doing as he does, says,

“Once again, we see that we cannot affirm ‘God is love’ without risk of grave misunderstanding, anymore than we can say, ‘Jesus is both God and human’ without nuance of what we mean by both human and divine.  The cross signifies that a deep paradox is built into any accurate picture of Jesus, because we don’t expect God to go to such lengths to get to us.” (104)

And so he spends the rest of the chapter trying to help us move into and explore that paradox of what it means for God’s love to be shown to us in Jesus.

In doing so he seems to have in mind two broader theological terms he’d like to help us reconsider in the light of what we actually see in Jesus.  The first is the impassibility of God – the idea that God cannot suffer.  And the second is soteriology and/or atonement – how it is the God goes about saving us, bringing us to God’s self.

First, to the notion of God’s relationship to suffering as we discover it in Jesus:  Willimon wants to show how Jesus reveals to us what God is like most clearly in the cross, in what he suffers.  That we don’t need to try to do all kinds of theological gymnastics paint God as a stoic in the clouds who feels no pain and is otherwise indifferent to our experience of being human.  Willimon goes on to say,

“Jesus’ sovereignty was different from Rome’s, as is dramatized by the Roman’s mockery of Jesus by putting a royal robe upon him and shouting, ‘Hail King!’ just before crucifying him.  Rome solidified it’s power with the whip, nails, and cross; Jesus accomplished what he wanted to do through nonviolent, suffering love.” (107)

And this God of suffering love goes to unexpected lengths to have us… it is, you could say, as we see in Jesus, his passion.

And this leads us to try and say some things about atonement and salvation.  Willimon says it this way:

“Jesus died on a cross not to appease the anger and blood lust of God the Father (as the church has sometimes implied) but rather because of the anger and blood lust that the Father’s love received from a humanity that wanted nothing so much as to be gods unto ourselves.  The cross, which the world erected to silence another uppity Jew, became, in the hands of God, the means whereby God got to us.  Everything about Jesus is cruciform, shaped like a cross.  The cross was not just an unfortunate event on a Friday afternoon at the garbage dump outside Jerusalem; it was the way the world welcomed lover Jesus from day one and still does today.” (109)

The chapter concludes by Willimon reflecting on a powerful passage from Colossians 2 –

“‘(Jesus) disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a pubic example of them, triumphing over them’ on the cross.  And he did it for Love: the cross is not what God demands of Jesus for our sin but rather what Jesus got for bringing the love of God so close to sinners like us.  This is all validated by God raising this crucified victim from the dead… it showed the world who God really is and how God gets what God wants.” (110)

I realize as I read and reflect on this, these are likely very challenging words for us.  They may seem dangerous and threatening, even.  And if you feel you must reject them in order to maintain what you’ve been given, I understand.

But I wonder if what Willimon is trying so hard to put his finger on is the way that you and I have cultivated for ourselves fine theologies that have not very often stopped long enough to begin w/ Jesus and the gospels… to remind us that our work must ALWAYS deal with what we have seen in Jesus.  No theological doctrine is so sacred as to not allow it to be critiqued by what we have seen and heard and witnessed in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

I look forward to getting to talk through and explore much of this in conversation soon!

“Why Jesus?” ch 9

Ch 9 – Sovereign 

When we hear this word we get ready to defend or affirm our theological positions about God’s sovereignty.  But Willimon wants to slow us down.  I’m sure our theological debates would be really interesting and exciting, but what he’d rather us to do is look at Jesus.  To watch Jesus and to let him show us what we should mean when we speak of God’ sovereignty.  To put, as it were, flesh and blood and bone to this idea.

And so what does it look like for Jesus to be King, to be in charge, to be ruler?  To talk about this, Willimon thinks we have to talk about the Kingdom that Jesus announced and demonstrated all through the gospels.

Willimon says,

“‘… The Kingdom of God is among you,’ warned Jesus, with a touch of defensiveness in his voice.  Jesus’ identity, Jesus’ reign as victor is NOT self-evident.  His victory, here, now, is open to a number of interpretations.” (91, emphasis added)

What it means to talk of God’s sovereignty while watching Jesus ends up being something different than defending God’s right to exclude certain persons from kingdom entry based upon moral codes and instead looks more like what Willimon shares…

“Membership in the kingdom is not limited to those with enough leisure and resources to sit around thinking spiritual thoughts; it’s accessible for all, particularly those whom may of the presumed righteous exclude by their rules and rituals.  Jesus simply announced that God is present, that God is already establishing God’s rule.  God is no longer trapped in God’s own glory; God is sovereign, home wrecker, and Savior here, now.” (92)

So that Jesus’ way of being in charge and the Kingdom which he brings stand in sharp contrast to our ways of being in charge and our ways of ordering life – who’s in, who’s out; who’s clean, who’s unclean; etc.

And so is it any wonder that when Jesus comes to announce God’s way of being in charge of things that he has to accompany that announcement w/ the call to “Repent!”  Willimon defines the call to repent as one that calls to the people to “exchange their agendas for God’s (agenda).  They must change their ways and sign on for the new kingdom or else.” (93)

This is why the whole new testament talks about what God has done in Jesus as a brand new thing… as the beginning of new creation.  Because it is an announcement that God is indeed in charge of it all and it doesn’t look like we thought it would… repent!

I want to leave us w/ this (more extended) quote as a good summation of what Willimon is getting at in this chapter:

“Jesus’ ethics, his ways in the world, was not a means of getting into the Kingdom — behave in this way and, if you perform all this well, some day you will be worthy to enter the kingdom.  Rather, the basis of his moral teaching is, ‘This is reality now.  Wake up, live in the light of the facts of life.’ The good news is that we don’t have to wait until his reign is obvious to enjoy the revolution.  In forgiving enemies, blessing those who persecute us, and in taking up the cross daily, we are not called by Jesus to be pious doormats for the world.  Rather, we are taking charge in Jesus’ name, joining the revolution, beginning the great turnaround toward reality that shall one day be hailed as, ‘the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord’ in which ‘he shall reign for ever and ever!'”

How’s that for a quote!

The Prophets, part 2: Putting your finger where it hurts

So it’d be an interesting but maybe a difficult day for us when the prophets show up at worship or come into our family gatherings or social hangouts. Because what we quickly see when we watch the prophets is how they have a way of showing us all the things we have numbed ourselves toward. All the things that we’d rather not notice or feel or have to deal with.

So if your family was like mine growing up, on the drive to grandma’s we’d receive the briefing of things we weren’t going to talk about at thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, my uncles trouble w/ drugs, martial stress w/ my other aunt and uncle etc., “because we just want to have a nice dinner together.”

And then there’s all the different ways we can medicate and numb and insulate ourselves from the stress and anxiety of our life.  Because we think we have to do whatever we can to not reckon w/ the reality that we can work really hard, get all the right grades and the perfect internships and have the most impressive resume… and still there’s no guarantee of the job…

…or that even if we get the job that we won’t get a week or a month or a year into that and hate it, find that there’s no life in it for us.

And in our worship – how hard do we work to scrub it clean of pain and difficulty and stress and to try to create a sterile, happy, serene space… “Everyone put your best smiles on, act happy… we’re going to church!”

i0219000501s0037aa_jeremiah_prophetThe pre exilic prophets, in particular, walk into these contexts and have a lot to say about the way God’s people aren’t feeling what they’re suppose to feel, aren’t open the way they’re supposed to be open…

Read Jeremiah 4:3-4 and Jeremiah 5:1-3

And so the prophets show up and they don’t so much come w/ anger into these places as they come w/ anguish!

They want to put their finger right where it hurts. And if we won’t deal w/ it or feel it… they’ll feel it for us; they’ll embody the pain and suffering and despair we have numbed ourselves of and blocked out.

They come and speak and act and live in a way that provoke feeling, response, crisis to those things that we all know deep down are broken, wrong, dying; but for all kinds of reasons we find it easier to just ignore, shove down, insulate ourselves from.

Read Jeremiah 4:19-21

But the prophets come and put their finger right where it hurts, because waking up to and be able to give voice to the pain and suffering and brokenness and despair in us and in our families and world is the first step of being ready to receive hope, to receive joy, to receive all of life as a gift from God. 

The Prophets, part 1: How’d these get in here?

So the old testament is made up of 3 different sections.  The first 5 books are called Torah or the Pentateuch or the 5 books of Moses (And at least w/ the Jews, they hold a special place, even above other Scripture).  Then there’s what’s called “The Writings”  which is made up of all different genre’s – the Psalms (poetry/song), things called “wisdom literature” – so: proverbs, job, ecclesiates, but then also things like 1&2 Chronicles and more.

Then the last several books in there are called “The Prophets.”  And for the next few weeks we’re gonna spend some time listening to the sound of their voice in Scripture.  And even before we get into that much I want to start by confessing how strange I think it is, how interesting that we have such a decent piece of “sacred text” that is “The Prophets.”

What I mean is that here, in those who made decisions about what would be sacred text and what would not, what carried w/ it the divine addressing humanity, what parts of the story of God and people were essential and which ones weren’t – that a whole hunk was given to something that from the inside speaks against God’s people – that seems unlikely, interesting, important!

Cause if you’re a part of the people of Gi0219000501s0037aa_jeremiah_prophetod and you’re putting together the story of God’s work and presence among this people over time, wouldn’t it be tempting to edit w/ a heavy hand those parts that show so clearly how God’s people get it wrong, bury the plot, terribly miss the point of the whole thing.

But THIS IS PRECISELY what the Prophets do!  And they’re in there as Scripture, as sacred text, as a part of the way we HAVE TO let God keep speaking to and dealing w/ us!  It’s easy for us to get a kind of insider feel and confuse our way of thinking, acting, speaking, seeing the world  as, of course!, being God’s way of thinking, acting, speaking and seeing the world… BUT the Prophets stand in Scripture to speak against that very thing… to speak, as it were, AGAINST US!  AGAINST ME.

Here’s how this seems to work in the Prophets (like we heard in Amos 2) – There is the way God has worked, this deep tradition, the source and life of the whole thing – who God is, how God has worked… and then you have the way that the tradition is practiced and expressed NOW, in the current situation.  And what we find happening in cycles and rhythms is the way that the deep tradition/source on the one hand AND how that is expressed and practiced on the other, get disconnected, have an increasing divergence over time.

And this is the basic cycle of that in the OT: The people who were slaves in Egypt, were led out and liberated by this God, who called them to be God’s people in the world.  To live in ways that make clear what God is like – to, as it were, bear witness and reflect God’s goodness, mercy, justice into ALL the earth.  But over time, they bury the plot and start to live as though the point of being liberated was in order to be a Pharaoh unto themselves.

And it is at this point, again and again, that the word of the Lord comes to the various prophets to speak truth to power in whatever form it presents itself – to Kings, to ones who own increasing amount of land and buildings and people, to small business owners, to the professionally religious… and to announce that God is brining to an end the (religious/social/economic) system they are working to their own advantage.

In essence saying, “Remember how God heard your people’s cry when they were slaves in Egypt and led them out w/ a mighty arm?  The Free and Freeing God is always about this work… but you’ve buried the plot and forgotten who you are to be and so you’ll know what it’s like to be on Pharaoh’s side of the thing… cause it’s all going to come down!”

And you can imagine this is a tough job – being a prophet.  Cause what do you want to do when someone says, “Hey, the way your making the system work for you… yeah that whole thing is gonna come done… thus saith the Lord!”  How’s that going over?  Do we just say, “Oh, wow, you’re right! My bad!!”  Or do they, do WE double down and say, “Well, it’s working fine for me now, so I don’t see what the problem is.”

And so this is what I want us to take w/ us as we start this series….  that baked into the crust of our sacred text is God’s voice speaking against us when we forget who we’re called to be…. both as a community of people called to belong to God, AND as for you and me personally.  And so how can we make sure that we take the time and create the space for that in-house critique?  And to not hear it as addressing “those other people,” but ME, US.

Why Jesus? – ch 6

Ch 6 – Magician – 

8754560-_uy630_sr1200630_I think we’ll have lots of fun w/ this one when we are able to discuss it in person.  Because, as Willimon points out, it is Jesus as wonder worker, doer of miracles that most of us, if we’re honest, don’t quite no what to do w/.  And in some ways (though for different reasons), Willimon shows us, the original witnesses of Jesus signs did not fair much better, in terms of knowing what to make of what Jesus was up to.

I want to just touch on 3 quick things he highlights that I struck me as being of particular importance or most interesting to consider…

First, the way Willimon invites us to consider a redefining of “natural” and “supernatural” through the signs of Jesus in the gospels.  Every time Jesus does such a sign, Willimon says, “it was as if he vividly demonstrated that THIS is the way the world is supposed to be, THIS is God’s intention for Creation, THIS is normal.” (65)

And again, at the bottom of the same page he says, “But what if, just for the sake of argument, there is no “natural” — that is, no world that somehow functions and is immune from God? What if what we’ve been led to call “natural “is, in truth, “creation,” the result of God’s loving, constant, though often subtle and undetected interaction with the world?” (65-66)

Next – and closely related to the first one – I think it’s really important that he suggests to us the way that we are to let Jesus’ resurrection from the dead be the starting point and lens through which we come to see and understand everything else about Jesus signs and ministry among us.  He says this is how it worked for Jesus’ first disciples:

Now we get it, they said after his resurrection.  Now we see that your sporadic healing arts were signs of a much larger project even than salubrious work among a few hurting people.  Now we see that you are determined to have nothing less than the defeat of sin and death and the whole hurting world delivered back into the hands of God. (67)

I personally think that is exactly right and really important.  This is why my blog is called, “In Light of the Resurrection.”  Because I think the Risen Jesus and the rest of the new testament is teaching us to see through the lens of the, “Jesus, who was crucified, God raised from the dead.”  When that’s the lens, we will read Scripture very differently.  BUT we will also begin to see ALL of life and relationships and the world differently…

God has made it so that what is deepest and most true in the universe is that life comes bursting out of death… that the lines we had drawn and said, this is off limits, this is God-forsaken, this is damned, this cannot be saved.  To ALL of that the crucified and now risen Jesus stands in glorious and strong judgment and says, “Really?”   

And that connects me to that last piece of the chapter I want to reference.  This is where Willimon begins w/ Jesus as Magician.  He does a really great job of highlighting the way that Jesus being seen as a magician in the gospels was to say that he was working outside the proper channels, that he was, as Willimon says on a few different occasions, “non-credentialed” (see middle of 59 for starters).  That while the religious and social powers were busy w/ their systems and procedures by which someone may seek God’s care and healing… for a those who deserved it, could afford it, etc… Jesus comes on the scene as a someone on the outside of all that who is with and for those who find themselves on the outside of the structures of care and healing.  And oh, how this drives the official keepers of thing CRAZY!!!  A closed circuit system doesn’t work very well when something breaks in from the outside of it.  That just causes all kinds of trouble.

Why, Jesus, do you seem to always come at us from the outside, from the edge, from the “non-credentialed” path…

…And how, Jesus, may we join you there?