Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Vol 2: 43 The Soul of God: A Christmas Gift - Resurrection and Missional Participation

As we come to the end of the year, this will be my last reflection on Ray Anderson’s theological memoir, The Soul of God.
Anderson notes that in Christianity that we rightfully make much of the cross – the cross is essential to the mission of God, but then he remarks that the cross is the end, it is not the beginning – Resurrection is the beginning.

As we celebrate Christmas this week and focus on Christ and his incarnation, we realize that his participating with God in God’s mission put him on a trajectory that leads him to the cross.  Yet, the good news of the Gospel, of God’s reign, of the outworking of God’s mission, is that it does not end at the cross, God’s mission through Jesus is fully manifested through the Resurrection.

Hear Anderson’s reframing of our understanding of the cross:

“The cross is the end of our life as mere sinner, not the beginning.  The cross put an end to the law which condemns, says Paul.  The cross is not a place to revisit time and time again in morbid fascination with the things that weigh us down and destroy our worth as God’s children. ‘I died to the law so that I might live to God,’ wrote Paul. ‘I have been crucified with Christ’ (Galatians 2:19).  What Paul says of himself is true of every human being.  In the cross all of humanity died when Christ died.  That is, through Christ God brought the consequence of sin upon himself, so that death no longer has power to determine human destiny. ‘It is no longer I who live,’ added Paul, ‘but it is Christ who lives in me.  And the life that I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20).  Not every person can say that, but only those in whom the spirit of the resurrected Christ dwells (Romans 8:9).
            ‘The world behind me, the cross before me,’ we assert when singing the familiar song, I Have Decided to Follow Jesus. That is so wrong!!  I would rewrite it to say, ‘The cross behind me, the world before me!’  No one should think that following Jesus leads back to the cross.  That is finished! Once and for all. . . . The Lost Lane-end Into Heaven, as the novelist, Thomas Wolfe, wrote, is not found at the foot of the cross but in the pathway marked by the light shining out of the empty tomb.  There is indeed a cross in my past, but not in my future.  I want to walk in the light and be singing of a Risen Savior when Jesus walks in the door!” (pp. 115, 116).

Yes, those of us who have been set free through Christ have a cross in our past, but now as we live, identifying with Christ, continuing the ministry of Christ in the world, we live participating with God in God’s mission in the light of the Resurrection.  We are a resurrection people, a people who still have stuff in our lives that needs to be crucified, but the trajectory of our lives now is beyond the cross, living in light of the resurrection of Christ – which in being identified with him through our baptisms, we are living as ones who have been resurrected into the life that is God (I say this because in Exodus 3 we discover that God’s name is not a noun, but a verb meaning Being, Life, Is – God is Life, because God is the Living One from whom all living emanates!)

And in being resurrected, we are living participants with God in God’s mission of bringing life, peace, hope, joy – life to all of humanity and to all of creation.  Mission is not something we do, but rather how we now live because we are a resurrection people connected to God, in relationship with God, through Christ Jesus in the power of the Spirit of God.  The mission of God is about transforming all of creation.  And as we live as transformed ones, being infused with resurrection life, we participate with God in God’s mission, because we now share in the life that is God.  The resurrection has re-created us and prepared us, so that our living as human beings is all about what God is accomplishing in this world to make all new. 

What a Christmas gift – a gift of God that began in the incarnation of God in Jesus, that led to the cross – Jesus taking on all the violence thrust against humanity, and culminated in the victory over sin and death through Jesus’ resurrection.  Because of this gift in Jesus, we now are empowered and filled with the Spirit of God to participate with God in God’s mission of making all creation new.  Merry Christmas!

[I will be taking a break next week, so my next posting will be during the week of January 6, 2012 – see you next year.]

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Vol 2:42 The Soul of God: Offering God our Brokenness - God’s Grace in Broken Places

In this Advent season, a time of grace and hope, we often misunderstand grace – grace, however is a gift, not for how good we have been – ala God checking a list to see who is naughty and whose nice, but a gift of grace in the midst of brokenness, barrenness.  If this is the case, then grace is indeed an act of hope, especially in our difficulties we face in these days.  Ray Anderson, in his theological memoir, The Soul of God, states that indeed this is the case.        

Anderson begins with some hard to receive words:  “The grace of God must first kill before it can make alive” (p. 101).  He continues: “The grace of God requires barrenness not our belief as a precondition.  True faith and true obedience come as a gift of God’s grace, and the inner logic of that gift requires that where we have inserted a human possibility the grace of God must remove it.  This was true for Moses, as he experienced his own failure and futility, only to witness God’s power and grace through his weakness” (p. 101).
Anderson also reminds us of Abraham and Sarah – Abraham believed he could fulfill God’s promise to him through Ishmael, rather than through the impossibility of Sarah bearing a son.  But it is precisely in the midst of Sarah’s barrenness that God’s grace is manifest. 
And this is what we need to embrace as well if we are to be a people who are transformed by God’s re-creative work in us as God makes all things new.  We not only participate with God in God’s mission, but we are also transformed through God’s mission taking hold of us.  When we think we have something to offer God as a precondition to our being involved with God in God’s mission – the mission becomes about us, rather than about what God is accomplishing.  But the mission is not about us – because God’s grace presupposes barrenness, not fertility (as in the case with Sarah).
It is in our weakness – read through the narrative of God’s encounter with his people throughout Scripture, it is always in our weakness that God’s presence, God’s activity is manifested.  It is when we say to God, “I’ve got this, take a break,” that we no longer are in need of God’s grace, nor of God’s hope, love, nor mercy – and as a result, we fail.  Such failure is indeed a grace, because it realizes that we have nothing to offer to God except our brokenness, our barrenness – so that all God does in us, and all God does through us is indeed the active outworking of God’s mission. 
And so Anderson concludes: “We must understand that the grace of God presupposes barrenness, not fertility; that impossibility from the human side is the condition which demonstrates most clearly the inner logic of grace.  We must also learn that humans have a share in the grace of God; that human obedience and faith are not set aside by grace, but are drawn into the grace of God as an indispensable aspect of God’s ministry, [God’s mission].  After all, Isaac did not drop down from heaven on a supernatural parachute! Rather, his birth resulted from a human act as much as did the birth of Ishmael.  Grace is not a supernatural addition to a natural life, but the empowering of natural life to realize and produce a divine potential.  The miracle of God’s grace is not that Abraham could disseminate his seed, but that a barren woman could conceive from it!” (p. 102).
This Advent and this Christmas, as we think of what gift we can give God – we realize that what we give are things that the world discards – our failures, our barrenness, our brokenness. In offering such “gifts” or “non-gifts” to God – these are indeed acts of faith, acts of obedience, recognizing that the nothing we have to offer is exactly what God needs to carry out God’s mission, and graciously to work through us to transform the world.  May we give God all of our nothingness and be open to receive the gift of God’s grace – that, as the Gospel reveals, is fully manifested in Jesus Christ – the content of God’s grace.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Vol 2:41 The Soul of God: Advent as the Incarnation of God’s Mercy

In this Advent season, many wonder why God became a human being to dwell among us.  The simple answer is that God loves us and is merciful to us.  What does this mercy entail?  Ray Anderson’s theological memoir, The Soul of God, has an insight.        

When humanity abandoned God to try to do life on their own, we were like teenagers who know their parents know nothing.  But we did not do well on our own – we ended up betraying one another, stealing from one another, accusing one another, killing one another.  But God does not abandon us, God is merciful!

Anderson expresses:

“The soul of God is intrinsically a relational soul.  The soul of moral theology must possess the moral instincts of love rather than the insensible letter of the law. ‘The letter kills but the Spirit gives life’ (2 Cor. 3:6).  As suggested earlier, the intention of mercy is the creation of a new moral being.  Mercy is not an abstract virtue, but a means for maintaining a relationship damaged by moral failure.  Mercy is what keeps sin from being fatal” (p. 90).

He continues:

“Mercy is the motive behind God’s love for the world.  This mercy is extended toward ‘all the families of the earth’ through the seed of Abraham, which extends through the generations to Jesus, according to Paul (Gen. 12; Gal. 3:16).  Divine mercy guarantees forgiveness and makes reconciliation possible.  Forgiveness is offered to all through Christ, and reconciliation is the intended goal.  God does not want any to perish, ‘but all to come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9).  Mercy must be received in order for forgiveness to be realized as a gift of grace.  The goal of grace is not merely the granting of amnesty, which often leaves the one who is estranged free of guilt, but a mercifully restoration with life in community.  ‘Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy’ (1 Peter 2:9-10).  Receiving mercy, experiencing forgiveness, and being reconciled to God within the people of God is to know the salvation of God” (p. 91).

Anderson shares a story that expresses how the merciful and forgiving redemptive mission of God recreates us to be merciful and forgiving as well – as a new humanity demonstrating a different reality in a world in need of mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation.

“In 1993, Amy Biehl, a 26 year old Fulbright Scholar, was murdered by 4 blacks in South Africa while registering voters for the nation’s first free election. Her murderers were apprehended and imprisoned.  Her parents, Peter and Linda Biehl, went to Cape Town to establish a foundation with the goal of violence prevention.  This foundation, named for Amy, continues to maintain a presence for peace.  Under the government’s newly formed Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established to grant amnesty for political crimes to those persons who confess and give the whole truth about their actions, the four men who murdered Amy were given full a pardon and released from prison on July 29, 1998.
            Commenting on this action which they supported, Amy’s parents said, ‘It is this vision of forgiveness and reconciliation that we have honored.’  They believed that this is what their daughter would have wanted.  Peter Biehl then added, ‘We’re not dispensing forgiveness.  We’re not God.  But we support the decision.’  Releasing the men from further punishment in no way mitigated the crime, to which they confessed.  Forgiveness in this case, however, was an act of mercy which the Biehls saw as an important steo in the journey toward peace and reconciliation” (pp. 91-92).

Advent, God’s coming to be among us in Jesus Christ, was not about establishing a religion in order to create further division amongst humanity, it was all about showing to us that God’s mercy is not merely an idea – God’s mercy has hands and feet that touches us deeply and personally.  Jesus reaches out to us to extend God’s mercy to us so that we might experience forgiveness and reconciliation being recreated as a new humanity, restored to relationship with God, which restores us to relationship with one another. 

Advent is the most earthy act of God’s mission – in Jesus, God is brought into relationship with us and we into relationship with God.  May we always be open to the embodiment of God’s merciful presence in Christ Jesus.