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Forward Friday: The Meaning of the Story of God

Originally posted April 6, 2012

One of the most significant elements in body theology is the actual, physical life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That’s why Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter Sunday are so pivotal. We Christians are who we are because of who Christ is and what Christ did for us.

Sometimes looking at the big picture of the course of biblical history can help us understand the rhythm of the liturgical year.  Although this year’s Easter celebration is over, let us not be so hasty to rush on to the next big thing.  Let’s take some time to pause and allow the passing of this season to inform the season to come.

As you reflect this weekend on the passing of Holy Week and Easter and the coming of Pentecost, read back over some of the key elements of the story of God from our little flash Bible course to dig into the significance of what we are about to celebrate. Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

What stands out as particularly meaningful to you?

1. God takes evening walks with Adam and Eve in the garden.
2. Becoming aware of their nakedness and feeling ashamed causes them to hide from God.
3. God’s people become afraid of God and ask Moses to speak to God on their behalf.
4. God’s people are afraid even of the glory of God reflected on Moses’ face, so he has to wear a veil until the glory fades.
5. God instructs the people to build the Ark of the Covenant, where God’s presence will be confined among them.
6. The people never touch or open the Ark of the Covenant because it is so holy.
7. The Ark lives in its own tent among them, called the Tabernacle, where the people come to worship God.
8. After Moses, God speaks only to specific people God chooses, usually prophets, kings, or priests. These chosen few share God’s words with the people–who often do not listen.
9. To see the face of God is to die, and even the prophet Elijah–who asks to see God’s face–covers his face with his robe before meeting God at the mouth of the cave.
10. Once God’s people settle down in one place and begin to build houses instead of tents, God instructs King Solomon to build a temple for God to live in.
11. God’s presence is reserved for the Holy of Holies–a small area within the temple restricted from everyone where the Ark is kept, the entrance to which is blocked with a thick curtain.
12. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest goes through an elaborate cleansing ritual in preparation to enter the Holy of Holies and sprinkle the blood of the sacrificed animal to atone for the people’s sins. (They even tie a rope around his foot each time in case he dies from the experience of being with God and has to be dragged out to be buried since no one else is allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, even to retrieve a dead body.)
13. Then Jesus is born, and he is called Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”
14. No longer is God among the people yet blocked from their access. Jesus lives with the people, learns and grows with them, eats and drinks, sleeps, speaks, heals, reprimands, and teaches.
15. Jesus says that those who see him and know him also see and know God.
16. Jesus is anointed at Bethany for his coming death.
17. When the people celebrate Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem–what we call Palm Sunday–they acknowledge that Jesus is fulfilling the long-anticipated role of the Messiah, the one who has come to save them and restore the original order as God intended.
18. Jesus washes his disciples’ feet as an example of their role in each others’ lives.
19. Jesus breaks bread and passes the cup of wine to his disciples to foreshadow his impending arrest and execution.
20. Jesus prays in the garden with his disciples nearby–by some accounts so fervently that the capillaries break on his forehead and he begins to sweat blood–not only that he might yet be spared his role as the sacrifice for the people’s sins but also that he accepts that role.
21. Jesus is arrested, abandoned and denied by his disciples, beaten, mocked, and sentenced to death by Rome’s most barbaric form of execution.
22. Jesus is forced to carry the crossbeam through the crowded streets of Jerusalem up to the site of his execution.
23. Jesus is too weak to complete the trip and collapses. A member of the crowd is chosen at random by the guards to carry the crossbeam for Jesus the rest of the way.
24. At Golgatha, Jesus is stripped naked (yes, as naked as he was born).
25. The guards attach Jesus to the crossbeam with iron spikes through his wrists and to the stake with spikes through his ankles and raised to hang between two thieves until his struggle for breath overcomes him and he gives up his spirit to God and completes the sacrifice.
26. At the moment of his death, there is an earthquake and the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple is torn in half from top to bottom.
27. Jesus’ execution lasts only six hours, considerably less time than most people endured the experience.
28. Jesus is buried and mourned, and the disciples hide in fear that they will be arrested and executed next.
29. The women at the tomb discover Jesus’ resurrection early in the morning three days later. They become the first bringers of the good news (gospel) that Jesus is alive.
30. Jesus appears to his disciples and to many other people over the 40 days following his execution, eating and drinking with them and allowing them to touch him to prove that he indeed has retaken physical form.
31. Jesus ascends into the clouds after promising to send his spirit to be with his followers and to return again one day soon to bring the kingdom of heaven.
32. The disciples wait and pray until they experience the promised presence of the Holy Spirit during Pentecost.
33. The disciples become apostles, who preach the good news (gospel) that Jesus came back to life to all who are gathered in the street. Miraculously, each listener hears the words in his or her own language.
34. The apostles perform many other miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus, and many who hear believe. Thus the Church is born, and all who believe in the good news that Jesus came back to life are filled with the Holy Spirit…even the Gentiles!
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And then, after Holy Week…

Originally posted April 5, 2012

Last week, we looked at the big picture of the history of God’s relationship to people up to the Day of Atonement.  Then, we looked at the entrance of Jesus into the story. On Good Friday, we considered the passion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Now that we’ve celebrated Easter Sunday, let’s look at the coming of the Holy Spirit and the implications of this story for body theology.

32. The disciples wait and pray until they experience the promised presence of the Holy Spirit during Pentecost.

33. The disciples become apostles, who preach the good news (gospel) that Jesus came back to life to all who are gathered in the street.  Miraculously, each listener hears the words in his or her own language.

34. The apostles perform many other miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus, and many who hear believe.  Thus the Church is born, and all who believe in the good news that Jesus came back to life are filled with the Holy Spirit…even the Gentiles!

When I was little, we used the phrase Holy Ghost.  Some people might have found that phrase a little scary.  To me, it was just a name, as incorporeal and intangible as today’s more common Holy Spirit.  Growing up Presbyterian, there was never much emphasis on the Holy Spirit at all.  We talked a lot about God as The Father and Jesus as The Son, but God as The Holy Ghost was just something we said as part of the Nicene Creed each week in the church service.

I’ve come a long way in my journey with the Holy Spirit.  That’s a post for another day.  What I want to share today is the continued trajectory of the story of God.

Last week, we looked at the beginning of the story of God when God was present with Adam and Eve, walking in the garden.  Through the entrance of sin and shame, a barrier went up that kept the people of God from God’s presence with them.  As we walk through the story of God, we see God living nearby, but there is always something keeping the people from direct contact with God–whether that’s shame, fear, or the belief that they are too unclean or unholy.

But God was determined to be with the people again.  On Wednesday and Friday, we looked at the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus–God in human form.  God broke the barrier by making the ultimate blood sacrifice so the people would never again be too unclean or unholy to be present with God.  But Jesus’ physical existence on earth–like ours–was only temporary, even after death.

So God sent the Holy Spirit–the presence of God–to remain in the world with the people of God and to actually live within the people, making their physical bodies into temples.  Now, people don’t have to go anywhere to be present with God.  No one can keep us away from God or force us to stay at a distance from God’s presence because God is now present inside the human body!

If that’s not the most exciting thing ever, I don’t know what is! Our bodies house the presence of God.  God’s presence inside us is what changes us, makes us new, and makes us holy.  There is nowhere we can go where God is not present.  There is nowhere we can go that is not made holy by God’s presence there.  The curtain has been ripped open.  The Spirit of God has been released into the world and into the body of every person who believes.

That is what body theology is all about.  That is why our bodies matter to our faith.  That is why the physical reality of God in the world matters to our theology.

And that is what Holistic Body Theology Blog is all about.

 

It’s Holy Week! (Part 3)

Originally posted April 4, 2012

Monday, we looked at the big picture of the history of God’s relationship to people up to the Day of Atonement.  Wednesday, we looked at the entrance of Jesus into the story. Today, let’s look at the Passion of Christ and the rest of the Jesus story.

21. Jesus is arrested, abandoned and denied by his disciples, beaten, mocked, and sentenced to death by Rome’s most barbaric form of execution.

22. Jesus is forced to carry the crossbeam through the crowded streets of Jerusalem up to the site of his execution.

23. Jesus is too weak to complete the trip and collapses.  A member of the crowd is chosen at random by the guards to carry the crossbeam for Jesus the rest of the way.

24. At Golgatha, Jesus is stripped naked (yes, as naked as he was born).

25. The guards attach Jesus to the crossbeam with iron spikes through his wrists and to the stake with spikes through his ankles and raised to hang between two thieves until his struggle for breath overcomes him and he gives up his spirit to God and completes the sacrifice.

26. At the moment of his death, there is an earthquake and the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple is torn in half from top to bottom.

27. Jesus’ execution lasts only six hours, considerably less time than most people endured the experience.

28. Jesus is buried and mourned, and the disciples hide in fear that they will be arrested and executed next.

29. The women at the tomb discover Jesus’ resurrection early in the morning three days later.  They become the first bringers of the good news (gospel) that Jesus is alive.

30. Jesus appears to his disciples and to many other people over the 40 days following his execution, eating and drinking with them and allowing them to touch him to prove that he indeed has retaken physical form.

31. Jesus ascends into the clouds after promising to send his spirit to be with his followers and to return again one day soon to bring the kingdom of heaven.

There are so many wonderful moments in this part of the story of God.  Jesus, a physical human being, dies a physical human death (of the worst kind), and is resurrected to again be a physical human being.  The women are the first evangelists.  Jesus promises to leave his spirit with those who believe in him.

But my favorite moment is the moment of Jesus’ death when the curtain is ripped in two.  Remember the curtain? That piece of fabric hanging in the entrance to the Holy of Holies?  It served as a reminder of the barrier between God and God’s people.  It blocked people from God’s presence with them.

In fact, only the people considered to be the cleanest and most holy were even allowed near the Holy of Holies. Even the high priest, the holiest person out of all of God’s people, was only allowed inside once a year to sprinkle sacrificial blood on the Ark to atone for the sins of the people.  God was just too holy to be with the people.  The people were just too unholy to be with God.

But God came to the people anyway, in the physical human form of Jesus.  God became the ultimate blood sacrifice–the last and final atonement for all the sins of all people everywhere throughout all of time.  God ripped the curtain (top to bottom) at the moment of Jesus’ death to show the people that there was no more need to separate the holy from the unholy–the sacred from the secular.

And when I think that God, his son not sparing,
sent him to die, I scarce can take it in,
that on that cross, my burden gladly bearing,
he bled and died to take away my sin.
Then sings my soul, my savior God, to thee.
How great thou art! How great thou art!

So get ready for Easter, people.  The curtain gets ripped today.  The body of Jesus gets buried and the spirit of Jesus enters the place of eternal damnation on Saturday.  And then Sunday–oh glory!–we get to celebrate the living-breathing-walking-talking-eating-drinking-teaching-healing-actual-physical-human/divine-Jesus for defeating death, ending forever the need for blood sacrifice, forgiving sin, and making possible the presence of God in the world and in the body of every believer everywhere until the kingdom of God returns to us again one day soon.

People, get ‘a ready.  Jesus is ‘a comin’!

It’s Holy Week! (Part 2)

Originally posted April 3, 2012

Monday, we looked at the big picture of the history of God’s relationship to people up to the Day of Atonement.  Today, let’s look at the entrance of Jesus into the story.

13. Then Jesus is born, and he is called Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”

14. No longer is God among the people yet blocked from their access.  Jesus lives with the people, learns and grows with them, eats and drinks, sleeps, speaks, heals, reprimands, and teaches.

15. Jesus says that those who see him and know him also see and know God.

16. Jesus is anointed at Bethany for his coming death.

17. When the people celebrate Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem–what we call Palm Sunday–they acknowledge that Jesus is fulfilling the long-anticipated role of the Messiah, the one who has come to save them and restore the original order as God intended.

18. Jesus washes his disciples’ feet as an example of their role in each others’ lives.

19. Jesus breaks bread and passes the cup of wine to his disciples to foreshadow his impending arrest and execution.

20. Jesus prays in the garden with his disciples nearby–by some accounts so fervently that the capillaries break on his forehead and he begins to sweat blood–not only that he might yet be spared his role as the sacrifice for the people’s sins but also that he accepts that role.

This is what I love about the Jesus part of the story of God.  Here we see Jesus in his human vulnerability.  Though he is fully divine and capable of changing the end of the story, Jesus is also fully human and willingly becomes the final blood sacrifice as the atonement for the sins of the people–this time not only the people of God but all people everywhere throughout the course of history.

The scene in the garden is one of my favorite Jesus moments.  We see Jesus at his most intimate, praying to God not for the sake of others but for his own sake.  We see the intense struggle between the divine and human in Jesus.  This is no small matter, this business of execution and sacrifice.  This is not easy or pleasant, but it is worthwhile and shows the extent of God’s love for the people–of Jesus’ love for the people, all people.

Blessed is the one who lays down their life for the sake of a friend.  And Jesus has called us friends.

I like to think the blood Jesus sweats during his prayer foreshadows the finality of his sacrifice. Like the blood sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, the first drops of Jesus’ blood are spilled in the garden as he struggles to accept his role as the animal sacrificed on the temple’s altar.

But my favorite moment is still coming…

Reconciliation and the Hidden Life

 

On Monday, we looked at an excerpt from Henri Nouwen‘s Sabbatical Journey and unpacked some of his reflections about Lent.  We focused more on the beginning and end of the passage, but today I really want to focus on what he says in the middle.

Jesus stressed the hidden life.  Whether we give alms, pray, or fast, we are able to do it in a hidden way, not to be praised by people but to enter into closer communion with God. Lent is a time of returning to God. It is a time to confess how we keep looking for joy, peace, and satisfaction in the many people and things surrounding us, without really finding what we desire.  Only God can give us what we want.  So we must be reconciled with God, as Paul says, and let that reconciliation be the basis of our relationship with others.

I always love how honest Nouwen is about what it’s like to be human.  He acknowledges all our fallen nature, our pride and guilt and selfishness and all the rest, yet he uses his own vulnerability to draw us into closer relationship with the Divine.

How often I fail at living the “hidden life” Jesus modeled for us.  How easily I am distracted and motivated by the praise the world gives.  How quickly I stray from the one thing I want.  The psalmist calls it an undivided heart.  John calls it remaining in God.  Nouwen calls it communion with God.

It is only when we are living this hidden life that we are able to be in right relationship with others.  It is only when we acknowledge our need for and accept God’s forgiveness that we are able to acknowledge our need for and ask for forgiveness from others or give them our forgiveness, even if they do not ask or acknowledge the need.

Lent is a time for reconciling ourselves to God and to others (not to mention to ourselves) so that when Easter morning comes, we are fully able to understand and celebrate the event that forever reconciled the world to God.

This process is big and important. It is difficult. It requires humility and honesty, vulnerability and transparency.  It requires intention and space.

But the good news is, reconciliation starts with God, and with God, it is already finished!

 

The Spiritual Practice of Breathing

Spiritual rhythms are like bodily rhythms: respiration requires both inhaling and exhaling, taking in and letting go. – Margaret Guenther, Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction

Breathing is perhaps the oldest and most widely accepted spiritual practice that involves the whole mind-body-spirit being.  Aside from Buddhist and Zen uses of focused breathing to enhance mediation, Christians have long used breathing as prayer practice, perhaps the most well known of which is the Jesus Prayer.

The Jesus Prayer is a simple, repetitive prayer to be used as you breathe in and out:

Inhale: Lord Jesus, Son of God,

Exhale: have mercy on me, a poor sinner.

A simple Google search of “Jesus Prayer” pulls up a number of very helpful descriptions and guides for breath prayer, so I won’t reinvent the wheel.  What I want to point out is this:

We have been created for rhythm and ritual, repetition and regularity.  Just as our bodies depend on the pattern of heartbeat and inspiration/expiration to function and remain alive, so our spiritual selves depend on patterns of spiritual practice to function and remain alive to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

This is who we are. We are mind-body-spirit beings.  We are creatures of habit.  We are soothed by the rhythmic sound of rain or waves.  We reduce stress with slow, steady breathing and periodic times of quiet.

We meet God in the most ordinary, uninspired moments. We come alive with the breath of God.  God comes to walk with us in the garden, to enjoy our company in the cool of the evening.  All we have to do is be available and attentive, recognize the presence of God in our daily experience, and open ourselves to the tingly rinse of the Holy Spirit within us.

It’s as easy and natural as breathing in and out and in.  It’s who we are.  It’s who we’ve been created to be.

Next time the world feels like it’s crashing in on you, next time you’re stressed out and rushing, next time it all feels like too much — take a moment, and breathe.

On Waiting

Advent is the season of waiting for the birth of Christ.  For your reading pleasure, below are several excerpts on the theme of waiting from a longer piece on being left-handed that I wrote in 2009.

…My soy candle burns often in these succeeding months since my January decision to live into this season of waiting.  I sit in my roommate’s rocking chair in the afternoons when I come home early from work and wait, watching the light flicker and the shadows it casts on the blank white wall.  The darkness of the unknown is overwhelming, but somehow that little light flickering on the table shines on.  I am surprised to realize how desperately I cling to my candle these days, staring into the glow as my body relaxes and my heartbeat slows.  I breathe to the same line of my meditative prayer I pray with Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she responds to the angel’s astonishing announcement that she will soon give birth to the hope of the world: let it be to me according to your word.  I sit.  I wait, even though I haven’t figured out what I’m waiting for.  The wax is almost gone. The candle burns low.  I am still waiting.  When the light burns out, I will buy another alternative soy candle.  I will keep waiting.  It is not yet time to move on.

*****

I found a carving I like of Jonah sitting in the whale, curled up like a child in the womb. I feel like an unborn child these days, being knit together in the darkness, waiting quietly in the secure warmth of the Mother for the birthing pains to come.  Both the pregnant mother and the unborn child learn the same lesson—that waiting, far from the passive negation of responsibility and participation, can be the most active part of our spiritual journeys; it is during the waiting that we are moved, and it is only through the waiting that we can ever arrive at another place. I never really identified with the image of spiritual life as a journey.  I always wanted to Get There Already, too impatient to appreciate the process.  Ironic, then, that the process itself turns out to be the destination, for there is waiting at every stage of life; there is even waiting in death.

*****

Mary and Martha turn up again in the book of John, and this time every character has been waiting.  Mary and Martha waited for a miracle.  Jesus waited for the appointed time.  Lazarus, well, he just waited for death.  When their waiting had come to fruition, once again, old weakness gave birth to new strength.  The gospels are full of accounts of Jesus’ healings, but only Lazarus can claim to be raised from the dead. There is so much death in me waiting for new life.  My old self, the person I used to be way back down the path, is gone for good.  I have laid my pretense at left-brained living to rest in the tomb of my soul.  But my new self, the person I can just glimpse up the way, waving at the next bend, that self is yet to be.  Right now I am still awkward, fearful, silent.  Right now I am still searching for my voice.  I will journey on, but right now I wait and rest.  I am resting in my weakness….

*****

Sometimes we have to let disease and infirmity, the weaknesses of life, take over.  Sometimes we even have to die and enter the tomb—rot there for days.  Sometimes it is only after the rotting has begun, when we can make no mistake about the stench of our failure, that God chooses to arrive, to grieve, to breathe life in that miraculous moment when we are called by name and beckoned back into the story with those thrilling words: “Come out!”  In my waiting I have discovered the gift of choice…. Even death can be a strength—or better, especially death—an opportunity for God to work in us a victory we cannot fathom. And then, the joy of new life, the joy of reunion.  But first are the sickness, the dying, the tomb.  Lazarus waited four days in his death.  Four days of rotting flesh; four days of undeniable failure.   Four days of total weakness as complete as the chaos of the waters before First Light—and then, the Voice of God.

*****

God has been teaching me as I wait in the tomb (or is it the womb?).  I am waiting to be revived (or is it reborn?).  This waiting, the tension between movements, is like the moment in a balancing act when the tightrope walker pauses midway, gathering strength for the rest of the journey.  This moment of rest is the most crucial element of the journey; we wait for that same appointed time…. Without the waiting, we rush on and on until–….

 

God with Us

Advent is my favorite part of the liturgical year.  I love the hymns, the candles, and the general atmosphere of “good cheer.”  But what I love most is the reason-for-the-season: the birth of Jesus.

Yesterday marked the first Sunday of Advent, and what I was most struck by during the sermon was a discussion of the names of Jesus we are given in scripture.  There are many, but Matthew begins his gospel with the most important two: Jesus the Messiah and Immanuel, which means God with us. These names represent the good news Matthew was writing to share.

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).      ~ Matthew 1:23 TNIV

The fundamental basis of Holistic Body Theology is our identity in Christ, who we are as the children of God.  We receive our identity because of two theological truths: imago Dei and the incarnation of Christ.

We are only who we are because of who Christ is. We are only who we are because of what Christ has done for us — not only the death and resurrection of Christ but also the birth and life of Christ.  Because God chose to come to us — physically, humbly, weakly, fleshly –, we have the opportunity to receive the gift of adoption into the family of God.

Advent is the perfect time to remind ourselves of what God has done for us — and to look forward to the continued activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

So this advent season, take the opportunity to dwell on just what it means to anticipate the coming of Christ into the world.  Consider Henri Nouwen’s words in The Genesee Diary:

The expectation of Advent is anchored in the event of God’s incarnation.  The more I come in touch with what happened in the past, the more I come in touch with what is to come.  The Gospel not only reminds me of what took place but also of what will take place.  In the contemplation of Christ’s first coming, I can discover the signs of his second coming.  By looking back in meditation, I can look forward in expectation.  By reflection, I can project; by conserving the memory of Christ’s birth, I can progress to the fulfillment of his kingdom….

I pray that Advent will offer me the opportunity to deepen my memory of God’s great deeds in time and will set me free to look forward with courage to the fulfillment of time by him who came and is still to come.

Happy Advent, lovely readers!  May this season be full of joyful anticipation of connection with the God who created us and called us by name into the gracious, merciful, and loving family of God.

The Compassionate God

 

This week, we are reading through Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison.

Introduction & Part One: The Compassionate God

To be compassionate then means to be kind and gentle to those who get hurt by competition. (6)

But being compassionate toward others, especially the poor and marginalized to whom competition does the most harm, does not come naturally. We do not like to be around others’ pain and suffering, and we certainly do not like to give up anything we consider ours for the benefit of someone else — even in the name of fairness and justice, much less forgiveness and compassion.

Fortunately, we are not governed by our own desires and fears but by the movement of God in our lives:

God’s own compassion constitutes the basis and source of our compassion….[I]t is only in discipleship that we can begin to understand the call to be compassionate as our loving God is compassionate….[I]t is through these disciplines [of prayer and action], which guide our relationships with God and our fellow human beings, that God’s compassion can manifest itself. (8)

Their central argument is that Christians — as human beings who are by our very nature threatened by the idea of showing compassion to others (and thereby losing competition and identity) — are enabled to share in God’s compassion through the new identity we have been given as a result of our experience of the compassion of God in our lives through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This means the compassion that moves us to “be kind and gentle to those who get hurt by competition” does not come from our own nature; it comes from God.

It also comes from the example of a God who would make himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likenessBecause of the humble incarnation of Christ, the example of Jesus’ life, the choice to be obedient to death, and the miracle of the resurrection, we are able to experience the compassion of God for ourselves:

Jesus who is divine lives our broken humanity not as a curse…, but as a blessing. His divine compassion makes it possible for us to face our sinful selves, because it transforms our broken human condition from a cause of despair into a source of hope. (15)

The mystery of God’s love is not that our pain is taken away, but that God first wants to share that pain with us. (16)

Once we have experienced God’s compassion in our own lives, we are transformed by this new-found grace and freedom to live into the new identity we are given as children of God. Then we are able to follow the example of Jesus. Indeed, we are called to do so:

[O]nce we see that Jesus reveals to us, in his radically downward pull, the compassionate nature of God, we begin to understand that to follow Jesus is to participate in the ongoing self-revelation of God. (27)

Personally, this is where I get stuck.  I can agree all day that Jesus taught us to be servants and showed us by example how to live radically counter-cultural lives that defy competition in favor of compassion and justice for the poor and marginalized.

But what does that look like in my life?  Am I missing out on the will of God by not living in Calcutta or joining Shane Claiborne’s intentional community? What does it mean to be radically counter-cultural?

Radical servanthood is not an enterprise in which we try to surround ourselves with as much misery as possible, but a joyful way of life in which our eyes are opened to the vision of the true God who chose to be revealed in servanthood….[S]ervice is an expression of the search for God. (29)

That’s a beautiful line: a joyful way of life in which our eyes are opened to the vision of the true God who chose to be revealed in servanthood.

It’s not about finding the most misery.  We don’t all have to be Mother Theresa to be doing God’s compassionate work in the world.  It’s about a radical paradigm shift.  It’s about seeing with new eyes, eyes opened to who God is through service.

So how do we know what we are called to do in the world?  How do we know if we are Mother Theresas or mothers of three? Our wise authors remind us that it’s much simpler than we imagine:

The obedience of Jesus is hearing God’s loving word and responding to it. (34)

We are poor listeners because we are afraid that there is something other than love in God….[Jesus] came to include us in his divine obedience. He wanted to lead us to God so that we could enjoy the same intimacy he did. (38)

God is all about relationship.  God is all about intimacy.  When we relate to God intimately, we cannot help but see the world with new eyes.  We cannot help but be moved by compassion.  We cannot help but pray and act — those disciplines that guide our relationships with God and others.

On Wednesday, we’ll look at Part Two: The Compassionate Life.

 

And then, after Holy Week…

Monday, we looked at the big picture of the history of God’s relationship to people up to the Day of AtonementTuesday, we looked at the entrance of Jesus into the story. Yesterday, we considered the passion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.  Today, let’s look at the coming of the Holy Spirit and the implications of this story for body theology.

32. The disciples wait and pray until they experience the promised presence of the Holy Spirit during Pentecost.

33. The disciples become apostles, who preach the good news (gospel) that Jesus came back to life to all who are gathered in the street.  Miraculously, each listener hears the words in his or her own language.

34. The apostles perform many other miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus, and many who hear believe.  Thus the Church is born, and all who believe in the good news that Jesus came back to life are filled with the Holy Spirit…even the Gentiles!

When I was little, we used the phrase Holy Ghost.  Some people might have found that phrase a little scary.  To me, it was just a name, as incorporeal and intangible as today’s more common Holy Spirit.  Growing up Presbyterian, there was never much emphasis on the Holy Spirit at all.  We talked a lot about God as The Father and Jesus as The Son, but God as The Holy Ghost was just something we said as part of the Nicene Creed each week in the church service.

I’ve come a long way in my journey with the Holy Spirit.  That’s a post for another day.  What I want to share today is the continued trajectory of the story of God.

On Monday, we looked at the beginning of the story of God when God was present with Adam and Eve, walking in the garden.  Through the entrance of sin and shame, a barrier went up that kept the people of God from God’s presence with them.  As we walk through the story of God, we see God living nearby, but there is always something keeping the people from direct contact with God–whether that’s shame, fear, or the belief that they are too unclean or unholy.

But God was determined to be with the people again.  On Tuesday and Wednesday, we looked at the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus–God in human form.  God broke the barrier by making the ultimate blood sacrifice so the people would never again be too unclean or unholy to be present with God.  But Jesus’ physical existence on earth–like ours–was only temporary, even after death.

So God sent the Holy Spirit–the presence of God–to remain in the world with the people of God and to actually live within the people, making their physical bodies into temples.  Now, people don’t have to go anywhere to be present with God.  No one can keep us away from God or force us to stay at a distance from God’s presence because God is now present inside the human body!

If that’s not the most exciting thing ever, I don’t know what is! Our bodies house the presence of God.  God’s presence inside us is what changes us, makes us new, and makes us holy.  There is nowhere we can go where God is not present.  There is nowhere we can go that is not made holy by God’s presence there.  The curtain has been ripped open.  The Spirit of God has been released into the world and into the body of every person who believes.

That is what body theology is all about.  That is why our bodies matter to our faith.  That is why the physical reality of God in the world matters to our theology.

So get ready for Easter, people.  The curtain gets ripped tomorrow.  The body of Jesus gets buried and the spirit of Jesus enters the place of eternal damnation on Saturday.  And then Sunday–oh glory!–we get to celebrate the living-breathing-walking-talking-eating-drinking-teaching-healing-actual-physical-human/divine-Jesus for defeating death, ending forever the need for blood sacrifice, forgiving sin, and making possible the presence of God in the world and in the body of every believer everywhere until the kingdom of God returns to us again one day soon.

People, get ‘a ready.  Jesus is ‘a comin’!

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