Sunday, April 24, 2022

The presence of God

A small word of encouragement today in a troubled world: 

"The Lord be with you." It's an integral part of many Christian worship services. "The Lord be with you" was recorded as a blessing and a greeting in the days of Ruth and Naomi in the generations before King David was born (Ruth 2:4). It's a treasured and familiar greeting among God's people.

Scripture teaches us that God's presence reaches all the world. That is a promise that no place is beyond his providence, beyond reach of his blessing. God is present whether we see him or not, whether we recognize him or not. Yet his presence brings us peace of mind only to the extent that our minds hold thought of him. 

We live in troubled times -- the most troubled I have yet seen, with a possibility that things may get worse before they get better. Even more prosperous times feel empty and pointless without being grounded in the presence of God. Without that presence, troubled times can become overwhelming. 

It follows that our awareness of God matters for our peace of mind.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Redemption through death and resurrection

Without forgiveness, eternal life is not a prize. Look at any family gathering where there is no tradition of forgiveness. There is either open enmity or secret hostility; those are about the sum of available options, without forgiveness. Forgiveness is the acceptance and love that values us even through our imperfection. Without it there is either a requirement to meet a standard, or the desperate pretense that there are no problems of any significance. Forgiveness brings with it the better likelihood of honesty, where admitting a problem isn't a deal-breaker and so problems can be addressed rather than masked or ignored. It may be counter-intuitive, but admitting to problems leads to fewer or smaller problems: there is a safe way back, so they can be addressed.

Without redemption -- and making all things new -- our lesser holiness doesn't survive first contact with a fallen world. We easily adopt the things we are cautioned against, whether doubt or enmity or strife or factions or discord or envy, bitterness or pride, or any number of pitfalls in this life. They can all start as strategies for making things better; the problem is that they don't. The Psalmist's cry, "Create in me a clean heart" is one of the most beautiful in Scripture. There comes a time when we are as interested in becoming pure and holy, as we are in being accepted or forgiven. 

To God be the glory for making all things new, and first for the death and resurrection of our Lord. 

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Forgiveness: The no-shows at our big moments

This continues a series on forgiveness. 

 "But Thomas, one of the Twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came." (John 20:24)

Thomas is one of Jesus' chosen Twelve apostles -- a high honor in this world. And yet he is most famous for doubting. Who was he doubting?* Did he doubt the women's story? He might have convinced himself that Mary and the others were confused. Did he doubt the other disciples? He must have; they carried the word to him also. He was likely to have heard the report of Mary and the others who had gone to the tomb. Thomas chose not to be there in the upper room that night; he may have been expressing his doubts already by his absence.

So Thomas missed Jesus' first supper with his disciples after the resurrection. Thomas missed the joy, and continued in grief. He wasn't there for Jesus; he also wasn't there for his fellow apostles to console each other in their sorrow. We're not sure where he was when his fellow apostles found him, but as they brought him the news of Jesus' resurrection, Thomas made his doubt and skepticism plain: he didn't believe them, and wouldn't take their word. ... Not entirely. He did believe them, or want to believe them, just enough that he was in their company the next time that Jesus came to see them. And Jesus met Thomas' skepticism with compassion, with a willingness to relieve his doubts and fears, to spend some extra time to strengthen him.

There are times when people have been no-shows at my big moments in life -- or, I wonder, have I sometimes been a no-show at theirs? Jesus' patience with Thomas is encouraging -- even knowing his doubt, he meets it with understanding. He considers it worth the effort to reach out, and (to their credit) so did the other apostles. 

Lord, in someone's absence, may I withhold judgment and consider that I may not know what doubts are on their minds. At the right time, may we see each other and resolve the doubts. For those where I have been absent, may I seek the new occasion to be there for them again.

* Yes, I'm aware that it's still officially on English style-guides that it should be "Whom" at the start of the flagged sentence; that's also (in practical use) considered at least semi-archaic. I choose to use "who" in the hopes that future style guides will adopt what is becoming de facto standard, if not yet formal standard. Even if the style guides do not adopt that standard, it is likely that less formal readers already have.

Sunday, April 03, 2022

Forgiveness: Those who scored personal points at our expense

This post continues the Lenten series on forgiveness. 

As soon as he (Pilate) knew that he (Jesus) was under Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod who was himself also in Jerusalem at the time. ... And Herod with his soldiers despised him and mocked him, and dressed him in a bright robe, and sent him (Jesus) again to Pilate. And that same day Pilate and Herod became friends: for before they were at enmity between themselves. -- Luke 23: 7, 11-12

People trade favors all the time. In this broken world, mistreating other people or passing around a famous prisoner could be a token of friendship, a way to curry favor. And so the man who would soon authorize Jesus' execution became friends with the man who had ordered the death of John the Baptist. 

Jesus endured another round of needless mocking and manhandling by the soldiers, and interrogation by arrogant officials with nothing (they thought) at stake. It was a favor, some blend of power trip and bonding exercise, where two officials scored points at the expense of their prisoner. 

The stakes for me have never been that big. Still in my own way I have been on the short end of mocking where people bonded by joining together to make fun of me, or scored points at my expense. In some earlier posts in this series it is unclear whether there was intentional wrong-doing so much as weakness or fear. Here, there is the arrogance of people who used another human being as a pawn, the callousness of enjoying someone else's troubles, the indifference to justice. Here, forgiveness needs to be made of stronger stuff, and repentance would see the person gaining more humility -- and compassion -- than when they had begun. It's very worldly to be carried away by a thought of our own advantage, or enjoyment, or entertainment, or opportunity; it's very human. It's not one of humanity's finer moments. It is Jesus' humility and compassion which brought him there, to a place where he could work out our forgiveness. 

Lord, may I seek a greater measure of humility and compassion. May I see my own repentance as gain rather than loss, as freedom from an unhealthy and unkind spirit. And may I consider, "We all do pray for mercy, and that same prayer teaches us all to render the deeds of mercy" (Shakespeare, in case the quote is unfamiliar to anyone, with the wording slightly modernized).