Sunday, April 27, 2014

"By your words you shall be acquitted"

By your words you shall be acquitted, and by your words you shall be condemned. - Jesus (Matthew 12:37)
The Bible invites us to imagine the Last Day, and to wonder about the words that will be spoken to us. While Jesus has given us more than one picture of the Last Day, they share a common theme: "with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you." Jesus said that our own words would come back to us on the Last Day, not only for those who are condemned but even for those who would be acquitted:
I say to you: That every idle word that people shall speak, they shall give account for it on the Day of Judgment. For by your words you shall be acquitted, and by your words you shall be condemned. (Matthew 12:36-37)
So, if the words I hear on that day are words that I have used myself, I should ask myself: with what words would I like to be acquitted? When we imagine the Last Day, we might worry about what words we will hear, and we may wonder what words will be spoken to us. But if we are judged "by our own words", then we have a hand in choosing the words we will hear on that day.

May I never again say something I would not want to hear said back to me on that day. What words would I want to hear? When I think of words of forgiveness, these words would be sweet to my soul: 
  • "There is so much good in you. We'll remember the best, and the rest will be like it never happened. You'll see. This is a new beginning."
  • "Is that even worth comparing to all the kindnesses you have shown, day after day, week after week, year after year? How could I see only the bad and overlook all the good?"
  • "You're remembering what you said? I know that's not the kind of person you want to be. Let's put that behind us."
  • "I have waited for the day when we could get past that. Consider it forgotten." 
  • "What I've really wanted is a chance to be reconciled to you. This place is better with you in it, and that's what matters to me now."
When Jesus said our words would be used to acquit us, he wasn't talking about a blog. He was talking about words we say to other people. So if we want to choose the words that we most want to hear on the Last Day, it's time we start saying those things to other people. Make your own list. Let yourself imagine what you'd most want to hear. And then make sure that someone hears it from you, from the heart. The words of judgment we hear on that day will be our own words. We are invited to live our lives in such a way that the Lord will have plenty of beautiful things to choose from.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Christ Is Risen!

... and (Jesus) was buried. The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures - Nicene Creed
That ancient creed contains traces of far earlier Christian proclamations:
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received:
that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures: and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve. After that, he was seen of above five hundred of the brothers at once; of whom the most remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that, he was seen by James; then by all the apostles. 
(Paul, first letter to the Corinthians 15:3-7)

Paul's words were what he received from the earlier believers -- some of them who had seen the risen Lord themselves. Paul knew these people; he had met those who had run to the tomb in confusion and amazement that morning when the proclamation was very first head: he is not here. He has risen.

They have passed it down to us, an echo of the words first spoken at the empty tomb nearly 2000 years ago, and a record of the some of the times he came among the apostles after he had risen from the dead. It has been proclaimed in amazement by his people ever since:

He is not here. He is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. (Matthew 28:6)

He is not here. He is risen. Come see the place where they laid him. (Mark 16:6)

He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told to you ... (Luke 24:6)

This was now the third time Jesus had showed himself to the disciples after he was risen from the dead. (John 21:14)

Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Other celebrations spotted:

He is risen!
He is risen indeed!
He arose!

Friday, April 18, 2014

"God is dead": Now for the reading of the last will and testament

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. (Matthew 27:50)
In the case of a will or testament, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when someone has died. It never takes effect while the one who made it is living. This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. He said:
This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep. (Exodus 24:8) 
(Hebrews 9:16-20)
We remember that Jesus, in the night he was betrayed,
took the cup, gave thanks, and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26:27-28)

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. He says,
"This is the covenant I will make with them after that time," says the Lord. "I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds." (Jeremiah 31:33)
Then he adds,
Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more. (Jeremiah 31:34)
 And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. (Hebrews 10:15-18)
You are no longer merely a servant, but a son. And if a son, then also an heir of God through Christ. (Galatians 4:7)
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)
 And in the Day to come:
Then shall the King say to those on his right hand, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." (Matthew 25:34)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Is disliking someone a judgmental act?

I've been wrestling with whether it is inherently wrong to dislike someone. If we are meant to love each other -- if love is the essence of God's law, so that love is the fulfillment -- then a lack of love has some connection to the root of sin. I am not concerned with the question of "lack of love" where it concerns people that we haven't met; it's not as though we dislike them. But to dislike someone that we know, I'm asking myself: is that sinful?

It's a tough topic. First, there is the possibility that someone might take that question as a cause for guilt, and be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the task considering the real-life sinners that we know. If someone is one of Jesus' people, then Jesus sets us free from guilt and judgment. But the question poses itself all the more clearly against the background of Jesus' love: Do we have any right to dislike another person? Beyond that, isn't it arrogant to dislike someone? So the question is meant not for guilt but for challenge, as a tool we can use to check ourselves if we find ourselves dwelling on how we don't like another person and why.

Another complication is about people who are doing wrong things; we don't want some misunderstanding about whether we support those things. The wrong doesn't have to be wrong on a grand scale; the everyday scale will do. For example, this morning I found myself struggling with unpleasant feelings for a family that has a history of unkindness to other people, and this morning took the "reserved" row where a handicapped child and his family normally sit. (The row is a little bit wider to make room for his walker. The row was marked off, as always, with a cord.) The handicapped child's family had some trouble to find another place besides their usual reserved place. And if the ushers didn't catch the situation in time, it really wasn't my place to say anything. But if it wasn't my place to say anything, was it my place to harbor an annoyance? (Along with noticing small wrongs, there is a temptation to be petty.) Then again, not all wrongs are small.

I won't pretend the topic is simple, easy, and clear to me. But I suspect that, in most cases, disliking someone is wrong.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

"What if I loved him?"

In my mind, this is on the subject of "how to get along with difficult people." And this is a post where there is much that you can see is wrong with my thoughts: some of those thoughts are less than Christian. (After all, no doubt I'm on somebody's list of "difficult people" myself. I could easily see "getting along with difficult people" as a matter of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you.") So you can see that I'm not writing about where I should be in the struggle but about where I am. I offer up these thoughts of a small step in the right direction, in the hopes that it benefits someone else too.

I've found an approach that's been helpful to me, in treating people better, especially people that I really, truly don't enjoy being around. It came up when I was (once again) dreading having to to deal with a certain person that I find difficult to respect. My frustration with this person has been climbing for some time.

And this last week, on a night when I was going to be in a group that invariably includes him, I finally wondered, "What if I loved him?" Like an uncle or a father or a cousin or whatever the case may be, what if I loved him? And it was noticeably easier that night to be not merely civil but even kind, when I kept that thought in my mind. Since then I've had the occasion to try it on other people who sometimes test my patience: before opening my mouth, or interacting in any way, I simply think, "What if I loved him (her)?"

And it's no help towards loving them, if instead I feel guilty that I don't love them the way I should. But it has helped to ask myself "What if I did?" It has quickly become something of a background thought that keeps running in a corner of my mind. The way some people ask, "What would Jesus do?" before their actions, I find myself using that line to prepare my heart and mind -- clean it, maybe? -- before I speak to someone. "What if I loved them?"

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Satanists demand, "Put the Hxll back in Hallowe'en!"

The growing secularization of our culture has led to many traditional groups having their special and particular celebrations renamed in order to be less offensive to those who weren't planning on celebrating anyway. This trend has long been approaching on that most distinctive of holidays, a favorite of Satanists worldwide: Hallowe'en. Do you call it "Fall Festival"? "Harvest Celebration"? Fairy Tale Day?

In this short interview, we have a question and answer session with the spokesman of a newly-formed Satanist group:

Q: Your group believes that you follow the most powerful spiritual being in existence. A certain percentage of people are afraid of your group, and you've got some public visibility, especially around such a holiday. How do these factor into your plans for reclaiming your heritage?
A: Not at all. Our official policy is to complain to our friends, neighbors, and co-workers in the hopes that will raise consciousness of the problem. Yet still, year after year, we see offensively-titled celebrations like "Autumn Fair" or "Fall Fandango". It's quite insensitive.

Q: Why do you think you have not had greater success in raising consciousness of these issues?
A: We believe the market is over-saturated with groups that exist to promote themselves. That and our studies indicate there may be some obstacles to perceiving Satanists as victims.

Q. As you mentioned, you all have some significant problems with your public image. What is your reaction when your opponents try to demonize you?
A. (Pause) We don't mind that so much. But we find that other groups have a rather naive idea of what's involved in demonizing their opponents.

Yes, well perhaps our friends can explain how that's really done, some other time. And that concludes the first press conference with Advocates of Pagan Religions (APR-1).