Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Vol 1:43 Rhythms of Being - Being a Sign of God's Presence

This is the final Advent reflection (4 of 4) - As the people of God in the world, we are called to demonstrate a different way of being human as we participate with God in God's mission of redeeming humanity and creation. Throughout Advent, I will be exploring what it means for us to demonstrate a different rhythm of being the people of God in relation to rhythms of our culture.

Advent is a time of expectation – a time for expecting the coming presence of God into the world!
We celebrate Advent as a remembering – of God becoming human in Jesus almost 2 millennia ago.
It is also a time for anticipating – of Christ Jesus returning to make all things new.
But what about during this in-between time, now – where is the presence of God?
Are we willing to be the sign of God’s present redemptive activity in the world?

In the Old Testament the presence of the prophet was the sign of Yahweh’s presence with his people. The prophet was a mouthpiece for the voice of God.

In the New Testament, Jesus is the sign of God – of God coming to be with humanity – Immanuel, God with us; revealing not only the will of God, but God to us – God has come to “save us” (to set us free from sin and death – a saving for more so than saving from). Jesus performed signs or miracles to demonstrate the presence and power of God over all that oppresses and captives humanity. Exorcisms, healings, feeding of thousands, raising the dead were not meant to give Jesus “miracle worker” status, so he could have his own ministry, but rather they were demonstrations that God is active in the world to defeat the principalities and powers that enslave humanity rather than serve them!

Today, the church, the Body of Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, is the sign that God is still active, still engaged in the life of all humanity to bring about something that is radically new. By our witness, by our actions, by our living, we are people who point to God who is present and active.

How aware are we of the sign we are called to be?

In Isaiah 7, we read of King Ahaz, king of Judah, behind the walls of Jerusalem under attack by King Rezin of Aram and Pekah, son of the king of Israel; these two wanted to come out from under Assyria’s rule over them and wanted Ahaz to join them in their rebellion against Assyria. God came to Ahaz, speaking through the prophet Isaiah to continue resisting alignment with them, “Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid [maintain the current policy of peaceful submission to Assyria]. Do not lose heart . . . [their plans for conquest] will not take place, it will not happen . . . Stand firm in your faith [do not put in with their plans which are doomed to fail] or you will not stand at all” (Isaiah 7:4-9)

Then God through Isaiah makes a strange request of Ahaz: “Ask the Lord your God for a sign [that this will happen, in order to strengthen your faith].”

It’s a strange request because when Jesus was asked for a sign by the Pharisees, Jesus responded saying, “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except for the sign of Jonah.” (Matt. 16: 4). Jesus rejected the demand for a sign because he was unmasking the concealing of their refusal to repent, their refusal to align themselves with the purposes of God’s reign.

But, here God is asking Ahaz to ask for a sign so that it can be revealed that God is present in this time of distress in Judah.

Ahaz refuses and Isaiah rebukes him. Ahaz sounds righteous in stating that he does not want to put God to the test, but actually he expresses a false humility, he is expressing unbelief, he is expressing his being closed to God and God’s influence in his life; Ahaz wants God at his disposal, God on his terms, not his living his life on God’s terms, being at God’s disposal.

Yet, in response to Ahaz’s disobedience, God gives a sign anyway – a virgin will conceive, give birth to a son, and by time the child is able to make decisions, the attacking kingdoms will be no more. Look to this child – it is the everpresent sign of God’s presence with Judah – this child is the evidence of Immanuel – God is with us.

Whereas Ahaz refused asking for a sign, often times I find myself refusing to be a sign of God’s present and coming reign.

Do we see the sign that we are to be in the world? Do we see that our lives are not about ourselves, but about what God is up to in the world? Do we see that we are living bearers of the Gospel, signs revealing the active presence of God in the world?

The reality is that we find ourselves to be more like Ahaz than we’d like to be. Too often we imitate the attitude of Ahaz in which we refuse to be signs of God’s active presence by being communities that express a false humility, a religiosity that gets by with just having enough of God, but not overdoing it, being a community where life merely revolves around us, rather than enacting and dispersing the good news of the Gospel of God’s reign – the “setting all captive humanity free” mission of Jesus Christ in the world.

Being a community that is a sign of God’s presence reorders all our priorities, reorders all that we focus upon – life in Christ is not primarily about us, our comfort, rather it is participating in God’s actions of making all things whole through Jesus Christ – the active presence of God for all humanity.

In Christ Jesus, we are the sign of God’s active missional presence in the world – to refuse to be the sign is to refuse the Spirit leading us to participate in the purposes of God in the world.

NOTE:  I am taking a 2 week break from posting to Missional Matters over the Christmas break - I wish you all a joyous Christ-filled Christmas and may the new year be filled with opporrtunities for living a mission-filled life.  To God be the Glory!                    - I'll post again on January 7th. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Vol 1:42 Rhythms of Patience - Waiting for Healing and Restoration

Continuing Advent reflections (3 of 4) - As the people of God in the world, we are called to demonstrate a different way of being human as we participate with God in God's mission of redeeming humanity and creation. Throughout Advent, I will be exploring what it means for us to demonstrate a different rhythm of being the people of God in relation to rhythms of our culture.

John the Baptist knew what his mission was, even when he was imprisoned (cf. Matthew 11: 2ff), but he was getting impatient, unsure if indeed Jesus was the coming one, the Messiah – he was not seeing the fruit of God’s mission of healing and restoration to Israel. As God’s people, being involved in God’s mission – at least we hope we are, we wonder like John as well – is all that we are doing making a difference? Is God’s mission of redemption and healing and restoration transforming the world in which we live? We get impatient as well – where is all the healing and restoration?

We tend to look at the grand sweep of things and in our trying to be God’s missional people, we miss seeing life being transformed all around us. But what does Jesus say to John’s disciples, what is the Spirit saying to us? Jesus’ response is one of asking whether they have eyes and ears that see and hear what God is up to in the world. Jesus in essence is asking, “are you noticing the mustard seed-sized things going on? Though, in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus does not present the parable of the mustard seed until chapter 13, we are privy to this parable in which Jesus links God’s reign with the mustard seed – remember the reign of God is like a mustard seed, small, unnoticeable, unless you know where it has been planted – but it is growing, always growing – until it is revealed to be a plant that birds nest in and others notice.

In reflecting on Jesus’ response to John’s disciples, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” I cannot help but wonder whether we take the time to tell stories of the presence of God’s reign active all around us, stories of God’s life-giving rhythms being manifested in contrast to the life-sapping rhythms of our culture? We get so busy, so into our own agendas, so caught up in the commerce of the season, of life, that life and ministry becomes another doing, rather than noticing that God is active in mustard seed-sized happenings all around us. If we take the time to hear and see – we will begin to notice some pretty amazing things – in fact we will begin to see that God’s mission is being carried out everywhere.

I don’t know about you, but patiently, daily, attuning my eyes and ears to notice what God is up to, to seeing God working in the small things gives me hope, changes my sighs of impatient waiting and wondering into encouragement so that I do not tire in doing good, gives me resolve to continually submit myself to participate in what God is doing in making all things whole – because God is in fact doing this.

What are you seeing and hearing?