Tuesday, May 27, 2014

That We May Be One...



OUR READING for the Seventh Sunday of Easter comes once again from the Gospel According to Saint John. Within it, Jesus prays for his mission and followers…

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work which you gave me to do; and now, Father, you glorify me in your own presence with the glory which I had with you before the world was made.
  I have manifested your name to the men whom you gave me out of the world; yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you; for I have given them the words which you gave me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you did send me.
 I am praying for them; I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours; all mine are ours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me.., that they may be one, even as we are one. (John 17:1-11)

Knowing Eternal Life!
This section of scripture is nested into Jesus' conversation that occurred at Passover. The disciples were gathered just before his arrest and crucifixion. John had related that our Lord just finished telling his followers that they would be scattered into the world. However, our Lord instructed that they should not fear… for he had already overcome the world.
 With the exception of Judas, all professed faith in him, though they likely thought that they only were going to rule over Israel. Therefore, what he said in this prayer, as recorded by John… likely gave them pause.
 Indeed, Jesus looked upward and asked the Father to glorify him. The "glorify" word said in the Greek language…”doxason”, means to shine with the brightest light of perfection. This is a brilliance beyond all human understanding. The prayer was intimate to the Father, from the Son, in the same way that had been demonstrated previously in John 11:41, and also Mark 14:36, and Matthew 11:25.
 We gather that his prayerful request for glorification was spoken here that the Son could return the love the Father had given to him. You see, the work that Jesus had been doing upon earth as fully human and fully God… had been planned from a time before the world began. The work rightly accomplished by God alone exhibited, therefore, a quality of communication which had eternally existed. Jesus prayerfully stated this fact that the Father already knew…. reminding the Father though no reminder was needed… that everything was unfolding according to their divine, predetermined plan. You see, all salvation for sinful humanity was to be finalized. Jesus would die at Calvary and be raised to life again. In this way, he would pay the penalty for human sin. Those who believed in him and his gift would have eternal life.
 However, a problem became evident for his followers. The disciples had no real idea what the phrase “eternal life” meant. We can sympathize with them. So it was that Jesus defined it then for his followers. Thus we too learn of wondrous eternal life without end. I repeat our Lord's words here for emphasis…

 “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

  This verse was clearly stated by John to explain why the divine conversation was so very important. It was stated that Jesus the Christ is the Son, the Savior sent by the Father, and both persons are God. The occasion of the crucifixion was a mutually planned event, a weapon standing gracefully against the sinful ambitions of humanity. This salvation of sinful humanity had been prophesied. The Psalmist had indicated as such when he spoke of the future Davidic King…

“He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord has them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, ‘I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.  I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my son, today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
                                                                                 (Psalm 2:4-9)

Secured…
The prayer of Jesus, who was the holy and perfect descendant of David, then shifted focus to the disciples. After the revelation before them about what was happening, the prayerful words of our Lord turned the Father’s attention to the future welfare of Jesus’ followers. Jesus reminded the Father, who needs no reminding, that his followers were given to him by the Father. We notice, therefore, that of all the sinners of the world who could have been chosen… God had deliberately picked those eleven as an act of divine will and decided grace. Why these eleven? We do not know. Nor do we need to know. This was certainly done not by any good character of the disciples… for they were finite and sinful men who would scatter at the crucifixion of our Lord.
 Today, these words of Jesus simply remind us that God had gracefully chosen those few sitting with him... to carry a gospel message of love forward through history. Those chosen few, who remained seated at the Passover table for that blessed meal... would be the ones to reveal the brightness of the Son to the world around them.
Consequently, Jesus stated a request that none of them be lost. We need to note that this prayer was related in John’s gospel before the church of the late first century. It was a church being oppressed. They had been driven from the historic faith bonds previously enjoyed in the dispersed synagogue communities. They were scattered, often meeting in house churches and cemeteries. The followers who read and heard this gospel walked dangerously in the footsteps of those who had gathered in the Upper Room. In their own place and time, they needed to hear the message of Jesus Christ.... and now we do as well. Centuries ago, amid the din and destruction of the world around them they needed to hear that they would endure… for they already had the gift of eternal life. As is said in scripture, they were assured…

“ For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all when he offered up himself. Indeed, the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect for ever.”
                                                                                            (Hebrews 7:26-28)

 So it is with the Church today. Like the community of John, we are yet a people torn by many factions… and we forget that we are a “forever” church. We need to gather around the table of the Son to be forgiven and empowered. Today, though some have left previous denominational expressions due to apostasy and schism, we are yet called remember that we are the Church called to evangelical mission. Though some denominations push heretical agendas which may not be pleasing to our Lord, as expressed by right interpretation of scripture… we who seem scattered must still take heart. Remember! Our Lord prayed for us to the Father! Through the power of the Holy Spirit we are therefore called by this lesson to see that we shall indeed be one, as our Lord Jesus and the Father are one. This is Resurrection faith as given to us by the Holy Spirit… for Jesus Christ who was dead yet lives. So it is written… and so it shall forever be.



Tuesday, May 20, 2014

On Knowing the Lord...



THE READING offered for the Sixth Sunday of Easter comes to us as continuation from last week’s lesson. The Gospel According to Saint John related further what our Lord Jesus taught to his disciples during the Passover feast. The discourse occurred just before his crucifixion and death on the cross. Jesus said…

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.
 I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
  He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:15-21)

Divine Love and Obedience…
As we study this text from John, we hear the first phrase which begins “If you love me…”. We are thus driven to note that the Greek text expressed a specific word for “love”. The word used, “agapate” in the original writings, describes not just love as we know it generally, but a particular kind of love. Our commonly used English word “love”, spoken in the Greek language of the day… can come out expressed as either of three different words: First we highlight the word “eros”, which is physical love such as that sexual love that may be accomplished between a man and wife. Second is the word “phileo”, as such found in the name “Philadelphia”, the city of “brotherly” love. This latter neighborly form is not to be confused with the eros expression. And finally, the word love as we read here, “agapate… means “divine” or “perfect” love. This last type cannot be developed, learned or obtained by humans through any means. Agape is only present as gifted to us by God.
 With these distinctions of the Greek language in mind, since the Johannine writings are penned as such, we see that Jesus was laying down a particular state of being. He was telling his disciples that “if” divine, gifted love is expressed toward him... that love must be demonstrated by keeping his commandments.
 We may rightly ask therefore, "Is this then a new law for us?"
Indeed it is good to question, but it takes us beyond the dictated Law as expressed in the Ten Commandments. In comparison, we learn that Jesus commandments do not differ in legal expression… but the motivation that causes their keeping changes. Such love was expressed as example by Jesus at the beginning of the disciples' gathering that night...

“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them." (John 13:14-16)

 In contrast, let us quickly examine the commandments as then understood by the culture of the Jews and early Christian churches. First, consider the words of Jesus that occurred in the temple at Jerusalem…

“And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, to test him. Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’
 And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.’ ”
                                                                               (Matthew 22:35-40)

 Thus it was that Jesus summarized all of the commandments of the Decalogue (Ten Commandments). He condensed the Law into two mandates. In brief, these commands stressed for us to… Love God, and love one another! Therefore the commands, taken as they should be obeyed… in the extreme… mean for us that this behavior is something to be accomplished at all times and in all places by everyone. These two commands were spoken universally in the Temple to Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and indeed… to all of the listeners present.
 The commands of the Law historically stated in both Exodus and Leviticus were thus not changed; even though some deviations do exist between the ancient texts.
 We note that Jesus summarized the Law… simplified the Law… yet made them no less difficult to obey. In fact, the condensing shows us that even in its simplest form, the Law cannot be obeyed by persons such as we who are immersed in original sin from a time before our birth. The commands serve primarily to show us our sin, and then drive us to seek salvation from the punishment of God’s judgment.
 Added to this, according to John’s writing in the setting of the Upper Room, our Lord previously had provided specific instructions to the disciples… 

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34)


 In this setting therefore, Jesus was speaking to the infant church which had not yet realized its calling. He radicalized the Law, and called them into an obedience far beyond that humanly possible. The love he called them to is expressed as divine, sacrificial love. This is the sort of love that Jesus demonstrated before them as he, though sinless… died upon the cross for their salvation. He paid the penalty of the perfect, loving Law! In that way, Jesus truly disarmed the power of evil and substituted himself for us… enabling that his disciples could be called to do similarly. Those hearing this message in the churches of John thus realized Jesus’ mandate unto “divine” love.
 So it is that we who follow may echo their thoughts. We may ask… “How was this hard and perfect way possible for those first disciples? How is it possible for us?’
 Our author immediately supplied the answer. The message was nested into the flow of this reading.  Jesus told them that he would pray and ask his Father to send a spiritual “alongside stander” (in Greek known as the Paraclete ).
 We know that persons of the sinful world around them… working their own way… cannot know this helper. The Paraclete is the Holy Spirit who is given by God the Father. This Spirit was already with them and would be in them. This was the Spirit present in Christ, but was not yet recognized by the disciples as being within them.. Recognition soon came fully to them, This was told by the disciples during the Pentecost festival that occurred after the Resurrection of Jesus. We note…

This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear.” (Acts 2:32-33)

 Certainly, witness occurs only by fully receiving this Spirit, a work of God that begins for us mightily in baptism. In this Spirit we as disciples possess the ability to truly love. With the power of the Holy Spirit, we learn to love with the same divine, sacrificial giving love that our Lord demonstrated. Truly the sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross reconciled us with God and showed us through the power of the Holy Spirit what true divine love looks like. The Spirit brings us to accept his loving gift. I speak here against any heresy that would claim any credit for God’s work. This reconciliation to God is that which we cannot do for ourselves, and in receiving it through the Holy Spirit we may therefore be reconciled with one another.

Keep His Commandments…
As Christians, therefore, please know that we cannot build a foundation for any Christian church witness without proper guidance. This foundation comes from scripture rightly taught through the work of the Holy Spirit. This is true for us just as those who first heard John’s gospel…

“Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3:5-8)

 We are called by Jesus to realize that because of our sin we cannot work our way upward onto the central seat on the civilization altar, nor scale a church steeple tall and climb into heaven by our deeds. Sinful persons may try to dig a burdensome foundation for a particular whited sepulcher, attempting to garner what they believe to be socialistic heaven; but faith-filled disciples know that forgiveness is already theirs in Christ. These have already received eternal life. They may work lightly alongside others to build a more faithful church. This ability comes to us through faith given by the love of God. Any disciple who follows Christ truly does not need to dig for a seat at the heavenly feast!
 Our Lord's beloved disciples dig the earth heartily out of thankfulness for the seat that has already been set aside for us. Only through displaying this hearty thankfulness can we be seen as truly obedient as disciples. We may securely give of our substance knowing that our acceptable confession may be made and forgiveness is ours... not for our sake but for the sake of Jesus Christ. We can attend the Holy Supper regularly, being fed the real presence of Christ. All of this miraculous benefit occurs so that we can prayerfully go forth and point God’s great love out to others. This is done so that they too may be brought to see.
 Therefore, I implore you as sisters and brothers in Christ, let us participate actively in this mission as disciples. May we work the works of the Holy Spirit, so that the gift of God shall be recognized by those who receive the good news.

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