Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Vol 2:40 The Soul of God: So this is Christmas - Jesus, the Embodiment of God’s Mission

In this Advent season, many wonder who this Jesus, whom we celebrate at Christmas, really is.  Jesus is the active participation of God in humanity in order to reconcile humanity to God.  This insight is expressed in Ray Anderson’s theological memoir, The Soul of God.        
There is something completely unique and completely human about Jesus that embodies and fulfills the mission of God in restoring all of creation.  In the fifth chapter of The Soul of God, Ray Anderson relates that “Jesus did not become the Son of God by being anointed with the Spirit of God and by doing the works of God; rather because Jesus is the Son of God, the works which he does testifies to that inner relationship” (p. 69). 

It is not only that Jesus is completely unique as God and as human; it is also that God is unique as God and our creation is unique as an act of God. 

I recently found a copy of Georg Vicedom’s The Mission of God, which gave expression to the initial understandings of what missio Dei entails, which helps us understand the uniqueness of God. 

Vicedom stated:

“Christianity, in contrast to other religions, emphasizes the fact that God created the world and [humankind].  . . .  The world is not an effusion of the Deity and thus a part of [God].  Nor did it come into existence through birth.  Above all, the world did not originate alongside of [God] or against [God], so that it would thus be a force antagonistic to [God].  There is no dualism or emanationism involved.  These types of explanation, familiar to us in other religions are completely out of the picture.  With [humanity], the world is the creation of God brought into existence by [God’s] Almighty Word in accordance with [God’s] will.  In other words, God has created . . . a ‘Thou,’ and thus a place for activity on [God’s] part.  This was already the case before the Fall.  The imago Dei can certainly only mean that God created a being which could have fellowship with [God] and therein found life satisfying” (Vicedom, The Mission of God, 15).

Creation is, therefore, a unique act of God, because only God creates – no other gods have created as God creates.  And, therefore, since creation is unique to God, incarnation or God coming to participate in our humanity through Jesus Christ is an act that is unique to God in the fulfillment of God’s redemptive mission, so that humanity might be reconciled to God and restored in communion with God.  It is because we are unable to understand the uniqueness of God’s creation that we are also unable to fully grasp the unique act of God in becoming a human being, in participating in our humanity – for our benefit.  But that is the creative act of Christmas – which we are invited to receive as a gift from God.

As Anderson expresses, “the Apostle Paul proclaimed as a sacrament of salvation, ‘In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things . . .’ (Col. 1:19-20). In the person of Jesus Christ, this double movement took place simultaneously, not sequentially.  At every moment during the life of Jesus, the inner being of God was being revealed through the words and actions of Jesus.  . . . At the same time, every word and action of Jesus was a movement from below to above, reconciling humanity to God” (p. 71).

And so as John Lennon sings, Happy Christmas (War is Over), with these words:

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong
And so happy Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let's stop all the fight   . . .                  

I pray that we are open to experience the God who creates by receiving God’s participation in our humanity in Jesus, and that we may have eyes that see Jesus and hearts and lives that respond to his words and actions that give life and restore us to live in community with God.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Vol 2:39 The Soul of God: Being in Christ and Christ Being in Us

God’s mission connects us with God through Jesus Christ.  This insight is expressed in Ray Anderson’s theological memoir, The Soul of God.        

In the fifth chapter of The Soul of God, Ray Anderson relates that “to know God is to be reconciled to God, and in being reconciled to God we come to know God” (p. 71).  He expands on this, lest we think that the act of reconciliation is something we do, “both revelation and reconciliation take place through our being in Christ and Christ being in us” (p. 72). 

Allow me to offer a length quotation by Anderson that helps us understand the necessity of Jesus in being reconciled to God. 

“It would not be wrong to say that Jesus is the true believer, whose own faith in the Father becomes the basis for our faith in such a way that we are freed from the ambivalence and inward uncertainty which always plague our own attempt to believe.  It would not be wrong to say that Jesus is also the true disciple, whose own obedience lived out in the face of temptation in such a way that we are freed from our own instability and unreliability of will.  . . .   Every day of his life, Jesus took that human will and bent it back in perfect obedience to his Father so that in being joined to Christ our will is graciously conformed to his own willingness, which exists to this very day in the humanity of Christ now glorified and existing within the very being of God.  This is the basis for our assurance in union with Christ through being made partakers of Christ through the Spirit.  There is part of God in us through the indwelling Spirit of Christ.  The Christ who in us, says Paul, is our ‘hope of glory’ (Col. 1:27).  At the same time, Paul says, our ‘life is hidden with Christ in God’ (Col. 3:3).  This means that there is something of us already abiding in the very presence of God through Christ!” (p. 72)

As I reflect on this statement, on this confession, my response, during this week of Thanksgiving – but also during any week – is one of giving thanks and praise to God.  God’s mission is not merely about effecting some grand recreation; God’s mission is indeed very personal in which in our being reconciled to God through Christ Jesus, there is a part of God in us, and a part of us in God – meaning we are brought into community with God – participating and sharing in the life of God and God participating and sharing in our lives.  I am not talking about our becoming divine – we have been created human and that is our gift from God – but God always intended that we in our humanity would be in community with God.  The good news of Jesus Christ – of God with us as a human being – is that we have been restored to being in community with God through Jesus.  In God being human among us in Jesus – we are invited into community, into relationship with God through Jesus.  Indeed, this is a thanksgiving that my words are incapable of fully expressing – which can only adequately and minimally expressed in worship of God.

Join me this Thanksgiving in giving worship to God through Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Vol 2:38 The Soul of God: Living and Breathing the Mission of God – A Mission that is Personal

God’s mission is deeply personal.  This insight is expressed in Ray Anderson’s theological memoir, The Soul of God.        
In the fourth chapter of The Soul of God, Ray Anderson shares a perspective from this theological mentor Thomas F. Torrance “that God confronts humans as subjects” (p. 61). 

Anderson states that Torrance expressed “that God confronts humans as subjects ‘by addressing them personally and claiming from them personal responses’” (p. 61).  The implications of such an understanding, as Anderson reveals, is that God’s revelation and communication with humanity is deeply personal and rooted in the communities in which humans reside.  To speak of God’s encounter apart from a personal and communal understanding is to, in my words, to misunderstand the personal and communal nature of God’s redemptive mission.

Anderson expresses, that Torrance concluded, “Knowledge of God takes place not only within the rational structures, but also within the personal and social structures of human life, where the Spirit is at work as personalizing Spirit.  As the living presence of God who confronts us with His (sic) Being, addresses us in [God’s] Word, opens us out toward Himself, and calls forth from us the response of faith and love, [God] rehabilitates the human subject, sustaining [them] in [their] personal relationship with God and with [their] fellow creatures” (pp. 61, 62).

Mission can sometimes be seen as an impersonal task – it is something we do or are called to do – with the focus being on the something.  But this understanding of God and God’s nature as One who addresses us personally and claims from us personal responses – either a yes or no to God, which involves our hearts as well as our minds, leads me to regard mission as not something that is impersonal, but as an activity, an engagement that always embraces someone.  God’s mission, God’s acts of salvation, therefore, are not somethings, they are always personal acts engaging and embracing someones.

How can I say this in another way? 

Just as Jesus is the embodiment of God’s reign, Jesus is also the embodiment of God’s mission.  Jesus in his person lived out the mission of God – by bringing the presence of God to encounter the sinful brokenness of humanity.  God’s mission has a heart, God’s mission has a circulatory system, God’s mission has a nervous, muscular, and skeletal system, God’s mission has organs.  That is to say – God’s mission is lived through the thoughts, actions, relationships, dreams, sufferings, struggles, and hopes of people – most fully in Jesus Christ, but also now through us – as the people of God, as we are identified and rooted in Christ Jesus.

God’s mission is not something that happens outside of us, as it did not happen outside of Jesus – God’s mission happens in us, through us and engages others in their lives and through their lives.  God’s mission is deeply personal and not at all impersonal, not at all about something – it is always about someones – bringing about liberation, setting us free from what binds us, what binds others, bringing healing and wholeness, conquering sin and death – not just out there, but in us and the power it has in us.  God’s mission is deeply personal, because God is personal, because humanity is personal.  The power of sin and death would have us see humanity impersonally, but the grace of God gives us eyes and ears to notice that God intends us as human beings to be deeply personal – with one another and with God.

So, may we help each other live and breathe the mission of God in our lives.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Vol 2:37 The Soul of God: A Missional Credo – Living as Jesus

As I further explore insights from Ray Anderson’s theological memoir, The Soul of God, I continue to be deeply influenced in being shaped in living missionally.      
In the second chapter of The Soul of God, Ray Anderson shares regarding the humanity of Jesus as to what it meant that he was sent – as a way of shaping how we are sent.  I share his statement here without comment – it is for me a missional credo. 

As Jesus was: In the midst of a religious culture that prized appearance and cultivated form, Jesus appeared clothed simply in grace and truth.  He refused to recognize as spiritual that which was artificial and affected.  He valued the truth of being and doing over the righteousness of words and prayers.  Both in the street and in the temple, he uses one language for both the saint and the sinner.  He stated divine realities in terms of human experience.  His life-style was that of a human person living among humans.  Because he was the truth, he had no fear of exposure, nothing to defend.

            Because he was human, he had no fear of humanness, in himself or others.  Because he came in love, he had no fear of love – he was open to all who were open to him.

So we should be: A real Christian must also be a genuine human being.  Spiritual growth is manifested in those who demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit in relationship with others (Gal. 5:22-23).  The Christian is to be related to one’s own society in the same way that Christ was related to the world (John 17:18).  The test for truth in a Christian is what the world sees of Jesus Christ in us, not what other Christians see of themselves in us.

            We are committed to live a transparent life, willing to be known for who we really are, not only by who we say we are.

            We are committed to live in openness toward others, accepting them as Christ has accepted us, having a spirit of tolerance toward others who do not share our concepts or convictions.  Yet we know that openness is not permissiveness, and tolerance is not compromise.

            We are committed to the fact that a Christian has anxieties, temptations, moods, doubts, frustrations and problems.  This is what it means to be human.

            We are committed to have no ulterior motive or religious device in our love for God or our love for our neighbor: that is, we are committed to authenticity” (Anderson, The Soul of God, 25).

Well, maybe one comment:  To seek to be authentic in this way is to seek to live missionally. 

And also a prayer: This I know I do not have within me, unless the Spirit of God enables me. 

Spirit of God take hold of me,
shape me, transform me,
so that I might live as Jesus
– authentically and missionally.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Vol 2:36 The Soul of God: Deconstructing an Abstract God

I am further exploring insights I have gained from reading Ray Anderson’s theological memoir, entitled, The Soul of God.  Ray Anderson.  As mentioned in last week’s blog, he has had a tremendous influence in my life, shaping much of my understanding and engagement of pastoral ministry.    

In the second chapter of The Soul of God, Ray Anderson expresses that “the abstract concepts of God which stirred my intellectual self now left my soul undernourished and unfulfilled.  I did not doubt that they were true, but they no longer satisfied my search for truth” (p. 23). 

He continues by saying that too many of us have abstract concepts of God, or we understand God as being distant from us, aloof from us.  Abstract concepts of God are “disconnected from people’s daily lives” (p, 23).

In response he presents Jesus as one who deconstructs God’s abstraction by being the very exegesis of God.  He states, “Jesus is not only one who touches our own human souls with grace and truth, he is the very soul of God in human form.  Theologians call it incarnation, which is the Latin translation of the Greek phrase, ‘became flesh’ (John 1:14).  John does not shrink from telling us that the one whom we call Jesus is identical in being with God and, in fact, the very exegesis of the Father.  When we use the term [exegesis], we refer to the discipline of expounding and explaining the exact meaning of a text of Scripture.  John uses the very Greek word when he says that God’s only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, ‘has made him known [exegeomai]’ (John 1:17)” (p. 23).

Anderson further expresses: “Jesus is literally the exegesis of the soul of God” (p. 23). 

The ministry of Jesus was connecting the heart and presence of God with the people whom God loves – which encompasses all humanity.  Jesus did this not merely as a representative, but as God in human flesh, exegeting the very soul of God, so that we might be in relationship with God up close and personal.  There is nothing aloof or distant about God’s encountering of us.

How is this significant in our being the missional people of God? 

In being the sign of God’s present and coming reign, we as God’s people are also to be about exegeting the presence of God – i.e., that we are so open to God’s life and presence within us that whomever we encounter and whomever encounters us can encounter God personally.  We are no mere representatives, carrying God as a name on our business cards; we are ones who are God-carriers, Christ-carriers, Spirit-carriers who bring the presence of God into every situation, every context, every encounter we find ourselves in.

Our being in mission – participating with God in God’s redemptive mission, is to make God known, not as ones who tell about God, but as ones who are indwellt by the presence of the Living God – indwellt by the Spirit of God.

We come to know the Living God through the Living Christ – and we share the Living Christ with others as we live our lives deeply rooted in Christ’s presence.

The way we live in Christ’s presence involves an intentionality in our living – we do not merely live for ourselves, but we come to the place of realizing that all our living is for the sake of God, every aspect of who we are is rooted in Christ, our identities find their fullest expression in being identified in Christ – so that we along with Paul, in Galatians 2:20, can express that “we have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us and through us.” 

I admit, more times than not, my life is a poor exegesis of Christ, but it is my prayer each and every day that my life indeed who be an exegesis of Jesus, who is the exegesis of the very soul of God.