CJ's Blog

by CJ Alderton of Patrick Crossing

Author: clergydude (page 1 of 24)

August 19

Hangry
Jesus was about to offer himself up, during Passover, as the sacrificial lamb. Just as the blood of an innocent lamb spread over the lentils of the door spared the Israelites, so the blood of the eternal Lamb of God would cover the sins of the world.  The physical act of the crucifixion remains the ultimate act of worship. God didn’t keep us in his “thoughts and prayers.” He sent his son to die on a cross.

This little sidebar on the body is worth a go. Throughout history various theologies, beginning with the Gnostics, have downplayed the role of our bodies in respect to faith. They’re a little hard to understand, being a bit of a moving target. That notwithstanding, they borrowed heavily from various strands of Greek philosophy and other folk religions and stitched together a mystical system that didn’t give a whit about the body. It is an attractive if confusing heresy. When a theology emerges that tells us that what we do in the body is of no consequence, it is bound to become a hit.

The entire incarnation – God becoming a man and dwelling in our midst – disabuses the notion that the body doesn’t matter. Jesus toured about in an earth suit for the very purpose of demonstrating that the body matters a great deal. It certainly means a great deal to us. Think of all we do to attend to its demands each day. We wash it. We shave it. We comb it. We relieve it. We feed it. We water it. We rest it. We entertain it. We work it. We scratch it. We clothe it.  If the body sounds off with one of its countless demands, we are held hostage until that need – or want – is satiated.

So, it should come as no surprise that this little flesh tyrant in which we sport about must be brought into line with our spirit. The Gnostics would say the body doesn’t matter. The Christians say it matters supremely. And, it matters supremely because every little act that we can bring into line with the prompting of the Spirit becomes, by heaven’s reckoning, an act of worship. CS Lewis once mentioned that every missed meal can be become a holy fast offered up to God. That’s something to think about the next time you’re “hangry.”

 

August 18

High Five From An Ant

How is God glorified? What does that even mean? Why does it matter? In our busy lives we’ve not much time for having the luxury to ruminate over such lofty notions. In addition to that, there is the quiet, unspoken suspicion we might hold about the need of a Deity to be glorified. I mean, if he is God, what praise does he need from me? Isn’t that like getting a high five from an ant?

But we worship away. Church is often referred to as a worship service. The base meaning of that word, שָׁחָה (shä·khä’) in the Hebrew involves a physical act. It basically means to “to bow down.” Hold that thought while we jump to the Greek. Here, the most common word used is, προσκυνέω (pros-kü-ne’-ō) and it means…can you guess? It goes like this: “To fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence.”

This bodily involvement in worship is humbling and meant to be so. When CS Lewis penned his classic work, The Screwtape Letters, the devils understood this connection between our bodies and worship: At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls. ~C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters If you’re not familiar with that work it’s important to realize that quote comes from a chief demonic tempter named, Screwtape.

As Jesus prepares for his act of passion on the cross, this sacrifice is about to be accepted as the ultimate act of worship, of glorifying God in the body. It’s better than any music piece ever written. John notes this interaction between heaven and earth: Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. ~John 12:28-33 There is much here to consider in regard to this connection between our bodies and worship and I’m in no hurry. We’ll take our time to round out these thoughts.

August 17

Shiny

We noted yesterday that Jesus was troubled by death. The word for troubled in the Greek is: ταράσσω (tä-rä’s-sō). That word was used in John 5 by the lame man at the pool. If you recall, that fellow had complained that there was no one near to help get him into the pool when the angel came and “troubled” the water. That captures clearly the basic meaning of the word – water that is stirred up. Jesus was stirred up. Death was, and is, that formidable.

Such human moments are dotted about here and there in the gospels in respect to Jesus. The writers record that Jesus experienced fatigue, hunger, thirst, disappointment, anger, excruciating physical pain, and here, a troubled soul. All of these things are very natural. None diminished his high call. It can sometimes diminish ours.

A mark of maturity in the faith is that when we’re pressured from every direction with the aforementioned, we’re still able to maintain a steady hand and a confident, even cheerful faith. Fatigue, annoyances, a troubled heart and such do not define us, but they do challenge us. And life has a way of giving us plenty of practice with these and more. Yet, when any of these invade us there is always the risk of exaggerated offense. We can become inordinately self-absorbed and blaming and demand that someone, something, anybody, or anything take the pain away. Unless, that is, we wed these trials to something bigger than the mugs we stare at each morning

Even as Jesus discloses his anxiety, he immediately countermands it with this: Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name! ~John 12: 27,28 There it is once more – that eternal perspective invading this dusty earth. Jesus shows us that every setback, worry, need or aggravation can be redeemed and recycled to God’s good glory. To whine our way through life is unflattering to both heaven and earth. To bend our sorrows back towards heaven is the central concern as to whether our faith is shiny or dull. So – chin-up! WAY up! Let’s don’t be whiny. Let’s go for shiny.

August 16

A Troubled God

It is quite human to have a fear of death. As we’ve mentioned before, death is not natural. Theology, philosophy and science all sing from the same page in a sort of metaphysical harmony in this regard. Death is not the opposite of life. Death is the absence of life. Its unnaturalness is unsettling. I’ve officiated well over a hundred funerals. That sense of interruption of the normal is always profound.

Thankfully, Jesus felt the same way. When he raised Lazarus from the dead he wept. He wept for many reasons. He witnessed the pathos of the sisters and the community that had loved Lazarus. Jesus wept as an affected party. And he wept because of the aforementioned abnormality of death. Death is always a shock, even when it is inevitable. What is remarkable is that Jesus wept even as he knew that death was about to be defeated. Lazarus would live once more; and yet, Jesus wept.

As Jesus entered Jerusalem, death was very much on his mind. The resurrection of Lazarus was on everyone’s mind. The chronology of what was about to take place with Jesus and the resurrection of Lazarus was no accident. Lazarus foreshadowed the death and the resurrection of Jesus. Foreknowledge of a good outcome – that life would triumph over death – did not mitigate the fear or the repugnance of death. In this most human of responses, Jesus said this: Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. ~ John 12:27

John told us much earlier in his gospel that God had become a man to dwell among us. To be part of our sad lot would mean that Jesus would have to experience death. It is somehow comforting to know that Jesus was anything but cavalier in respect to death. He was troubled at the prospect.

August 15

Hating Life

It is essential to realize that just as we all use rhetorical devices in speech and writing, so did Jesus. To take everything he said literally would be foolish. Parables, for example, are a rhetorical method used to drive home a greater truth – usually one big truth. A good parable gets close enough to a real life event that the audience can nod along with approval. If they fail to get the meaning, at least they have heard a good story.

Jesus also used hyperbole. At least I hope that’s what he was doing. To wit: If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. ~ Matthew 5:29,30

Those statements are not meant to comfort. They are meant to make us sweat. “What did he mean by eyes and hands causing us to sin? Uh, oh.” Was the “you” and the “your” 2nd person singular or plural? It doesn’t matter. He could be speaking to one or to a multitude. He is forcing us to think. And, in so doing, he stitches us up in one big bag. We’ve all sinned with our eyes. We’ve all sinned with our hands. The church is full of sinners. Being a sinner is our entry ticket to Christianity – at least the humble admission of such. If we were to take this literally, we’d have a church jam-packed with the faithful hobbling about both blind and limbless. I don’t see a lot of that. There are stories of supposed saints down through the ages who did remove body parts. Origen, the great theologian and church father, allegedly took care of the self-mutilation business “a little further south” on his own body.

And so yesterday, we see Jesus saying that unless we detest or hate this life, then we are not really prepared for heaven. Those are strong words. He used this same argument on another occasion. He said this: If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, and even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. ~Luke 14:26

Now, in the balance of everything else Jesus said and did, does it follow that he meant for us to hate all of our loved ones and to do so absent a few body parts? I’m not one to think so. Yet, I do not want to disregard the force of these rhetorical devices. Jesus was using hyperbole to make a point – a point of comparison. I might say that I love my grandson and that I love pizza. Only an oaf would think I mean the same thing by the word “love.” If it came down to a choice between saving a pizza or my grandson from harm, I would definitely let the pizza come to a bad end. I love my grandson so much more than pizza that the distance between the two might appear as hate by comparison.

So, when it comes to “hating life” I believe that what Jesus is saying is that we are to love the next life more than this one. Those who grasp this will do things counter-intuitive to a good and comfortable life here on earth. They will love their enemies. They will be generous to a fault. They will risk embarrassment and persecution for their faith. They will do all of this because they have learned to love the other life in a way that is qualitatively and quantitatively different than their love for this life. Essentially, what it comes down to is this: We are to hold this life loosely because, in fact, this life holds us loosely.

August 14

Eternal

We see life either as an end in itself or as the end of the beginning. For those who have the stamina for dreaming of life eternal, we find a sense of purpose beyond the corporeal. It effects, or should effect, how we treat others and how we treat ourselves. For those not seasoned with the hope of something more, this life is all that there is. It is a stark philosophy. It drifts, if embraced honestly, toward futility. And if we drift toward futility then truth, decency, beauty and the like have no meaning. If it is all meaningless then it is truly ALL meaningless. Bad is good and good is bad. The universe becomes random and subjective.

The fact that a voice inside of us rejects the notion of a purposeless universe is something we’ve spoken of a number of times. Purposelessness drains joy and meaning out of life. While the circumstances of our life may not in fact seem joyful or meaningful at a particular moment, that is beside the point. Joy and meaning are evocative words. They describe something. We may not know them experientially or consistently just yet, but something in us imagines the possibility of such. The Christian faith teaches us that we live on past death. And before that living on takes place, we have this dress rehearsal called life. The language of Scripture describes the change between mortal and eternal life not unlike a chrysalis. We are changed from “glory to glory” as St. Paul once mentioned. And, Jesus realizes in his opening remarks at Passover these very thoughts:  The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who *detests their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. ~John 12:23-25

We carry on into un unimaginable and beautiful eternity. But we also live on in what we leave behind. We have the possibility of creating not only biological legacies but spiritual ones as well. Life eternal and the life we leave behind are forever wed. As CS Lewis once remarked, those who do the most good on earth are the ones who think most of heaven. Eternity informs our lives and Jesus’ was the most informed life of all.

*Note: We’ll have a go at what Jesus meant by “detesting life” tomorrow.

August 13

 A Hebrew 4th of July

Any country or ethnic group that has ever been set free from an oppressor often marks the event with some sort of celebration. We might think of the Festival of Passover as the Jewish version of our 4th of July. It was an important event and critical to the historical memory of the Hebrews. It defined them as a people. The Passover, or Pesach, commemorated that singular, defining event in Jewish history as Moses prepared to lead the children of Israel out of servitude into the promised land. The cruel and clueless Pharaoh became the unwitting prototype of unjust despots down through the ages.

It is easy to conflate the crossing of the Red Sea with the word Passover. That’s understandable. But the Passover event actually preceded the crossing and it is filled with rich symbolism. In Exodus, the Bible tells us that God visited ten different plagues upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Flies, frogs, boils, embarrassing itches and the like spread about the Egyptian kingdom. Yet, Pharaoh couldn’t be brought to the bargaining table. He didn’t just abhor a minimum wage – he was hostile to any wage. Thus, the tenth and most heart-wrenching of the plagues was brought to Egypt – the death of the first-born.

The Passover re-enacts these events that led to the flight of the Israelites. They were given instructions to mark the doorposts of their homes with the sacrificial blood of a young lamb. This mark of blood would spare the wholesale slaughter of first-borns that was about to take place. Upon seeing the mark, the angel of death “passed over” the house.

When Pharaoh finally cried “Uncle” and briefly agreed to free the Israelites, they left in a jiffy. There was not enough time to let the bread rise. They smacked it down into tortillas and began hot-footing it to the Red Sea. Thus, as part of the Passover Feast (a bit of a misnomer) is the consumption of flatbread – or “matzos.” No tasty loaf of Ciabatta is offered.

And thus we begin the last week of Jesus’ life. John will tell the story in more detail than the other gospels. It begins with a preview of things to come. There are those seeking an audience with Jesus who are Gentile proselytes to the Jewish faith. They have come to join in a feast where they are not all that welcome. Although father Abraham had been commissioned to be a blessing to all the nations, the religious administrators during Jesus day were not genial toward the Gentiles. They still referred to them as “the strangers.” Racial purity was paramount to their theology. They were early adopters of denouncing cultural appropriation. They were politically correct before it was a thing.

The universal appeal of Jesus is foreshadowed in this brief narrative account: Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” ~John 12: 20,21 The Greeks came to meet Jesus and reached out to a Jew with a Greek name, Φίλιππος, Philippos. The Greeks understood the symbolism of the Passover Feast. What they didn’t yet realize was that the symbol had come to life in a man who was walking about Jerusalem.

August 12

Alliteration! 

“Why not? I paid good money for it.” (Sorry, I’m yakking with myself). Would you like to hear the rest? What I paid good money for was a seminary degree. In order to graduate with a Master’s in Divinity, one must take classes that deal with preaching. Preaching involves the study of homiletics and hermeneutics. Although a particular style of preaching had already reached the end of its shelf-life by the time I arrived, the ghost of it was still kicking and haunts about yet today. We called it the three points and a poem delivery. It involved telling an audience what you were going to say, saying it, and then telling them what you said. If you could use alliteration for your three points – all the better. A poem at the end was the bomb! I didn’t much care for it back then and I’ve rarely used that method. It felt contrived. But I suppose any sermon is, in a sense, contrived. Moreover, the next bit fit nicely, if accidently, with a bit of that old saw. So, let’s have a go at it! (I will use exclamation points to remind you to be excited)!

The Convinced!
The first group that we see are those who happened to be within the line of sight to witness Lazarus’ resurrection. They were the convinced! How could they not be? They had shown up for a funeral and a pot-luck and had gotten dinner and a show! Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. ~John 12:17

The Curious!
The next group were not witnesses to the resurrection. However, they knew someone, who knew someone, who knew someone that was said to be trustworthy. These were the curious! How could they not be? They had it on good authority: Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. ~John 12:18  Who wouldn’t want to do a meet and greet with a former corpse? I’d sure have a few questions. I would also ask the healer if he might have a go with a little back problem I’d been suffering. And, would he have a moment to check into my neighbor’s gout?

The Cross!
The final group was cross (angry). How could they not be? And with the choice of this word, I plan a double entendre. They began to devise a cross (a method of capital punishment) for this Galilean lad who was the cause of a recession to the religion industry – an enterprise for which they claimed a monopoly. The tariffs they imposed were high. They had to be paid in blood: So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”  ~John 12:19

There’s the three points and all nicely alliterated! And now for the poem. I admit it is a bit long, but it is brilliant! Put on a pot of tea and have a read. It will be good for your soul…

 

The Raising of Lazarus
By Franz Wright

Evidently, this was needed. Because people need to be screamed at with proof.
But he knew his friends.
Before they were he knew them.
And they knew that he would never leave them there, desolate.
So he let his exhausted eyes close at first glimpse of the village fringed with tall fig trees  – immediately he found himself in their midst: here was Martha, sister of the dead boy.
He knew she would not stray, as he knew which would; he knew that he would always find her at his right hand, and beside her, her sister Mary, the one a whole world of whores still stood in a vast circle pointing at.
Yes, all were gathered around him. And once again he began to explain
to bewildered upturned faces where it was he had to go, and why.
He called them “my friends.” The Logos, God’s creating word, — the same voice that said, “Let there be light.”
Yet when he opened his eyes, he found himself standing apart.
Even the two slowly backing away, as though from concern for their good name.
Then he began to hear voices; whispering quite distinctly, or thinking:
Lord, if you had been here our friend might not have died.
(At that, he slowly reached out as though to touch a face, and soundlessly started to cry.)
He asked them the way to the grave.
And he followed behind them, preparing to do what is not done to that green silent place where life and death are one.
By then other Brueghelian grotesques had gathered, toothlessly sneering across at each other and stalled at some porpoise or pig stage of ontogenetical horrorshow, keeping their own furtive shadowy distances and struggling to keep up like packs of limping dogs; merely to walk down this road in broad daylight had begun to feel illegal, unreal, rehearsal, test -  but for what!
And the filth of desecration sifting down over him, as a feverish outrage rose up, contempt at the glib ease with which words like “living” and “being dead” rolled off their tongues; and loathing flooded his body when he hoarsely cried, “Move the stone!”
“By now the body must stink,” some helpfully suggested.
But it was true that the body had lain in its grave four days.
He heard the voice as if from far away, beginning to fill with that gesture which rose through him: no hand that heavy had ever reached this height, shining an instant in air.
Then all at once clenching and cramped  – the fingers shrunk crookedly into themselves, and irreparably fixed there, like a hand with scars of ghastly slashing lacerations and the usual deep sawing across the wrist’s fret, through all major nerves, the frail hair-like nerves  - so his hand at the thought all the dead might return from that tomb where the enormous cocoon of the corpse was beginning to stir.
Yet nobody stood there -  only the one young man, pale as though bled, stooping at the entrance and squinting at the light, picking at his face, loose strips of rotting shroud.
All that he could think of was a dark place to lie down, and hide that wasted body.
And tears rolled up his cheek and back into his eyes, and then his eyes began rolling back into his head …
Peter looked across at Jesus with an expression that seemed to say:
You did it, or What have you done?
And everyone saw how their vague and inaccurate life made room for his once more.

August 11

Parade

The stage is now set for the final week of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The religious establishment has thus far shown nothing but antipathy toward the miracles and the message of Jesus. A showdown is inevitable. A showdown is essential. It is essential to each side of the conflict but for vastly different reasons. Sanhedrin, Inc. is desperate to preserve the hard-won political power of this temporary earthly shell. Jesus is about to open the door of the eternal kingdom and demonstrate a power antithetical to the grease-palmed, whispered intrigues of this world. In earlier passages we have witnessed Jesus slipping in and out of town surreptitiously. That would not be the case this time. We witness here a first century version of the Macy’s Parade: The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” ~John 12:12-15

A little over 500 years before this event, Zechariah, looking through his prophetic lens, saw clearly this first Palm Sunday. Jesus would ride into Jerusalem not on a small donkey, but smaller yet, on a donkey’s colt. That allowed for little clearance. Jesus was most likely dragging his feet along the ground. It was not fitting for a King. It was almost the equivalent of one of those Shriner clown cars.

Yet, it was fitting for this King. He was not raised high above the crowds as were the Roman trossuli (cavalry). Their preferred steeds were the Arabians or the Camargues. No, Jesus remained at eye level, or even a bit below that, as the wee beast struggled its way down Main Street.

The Gospel of St. John records this humble entry for us in great juxtaposition to one of his later works, The Book of Revelation. In the Book of Revelation things change considerably. We see Jesus’ return to earth mounted on a magnificent white horse. The contrast of these two images is instructive and speak to a consistent theme of Scripture. St. Peter would say it this way: Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God and you will be exalted in due time. ~I Peter 5:6

A nasty fall awaits those who presume the steed before they’ve mastered the colt. The colt comes before the steed…always.

August 10

A Spiritual Gastrectomy

The celebrities were a little more than a mile from Jerusalem. The city was preparing itself for Passover and therefore great numbers of the faithful had gathered in the holy city for the celebration. The observance itself heralded memories of Yahweh’s great and miraculous delivery of the children of Israel from that old scoundrel, Pharaoh. During those heady days, so the stories went, Yahweh had revealed himself a number of times through his servant, Moses. With that historical memory, the people were hungry for miracles, for prophets, for a deliverer – for anything to remind them that they were in fact a chosen people. This young lad, (a blue-collar carpenter they were told) who had allegedly raised a man from the dead, might be just the one for which they’d been hoping. For you see, a miracle working God that has appeared to go silent can cause a severe, religious inferiority complex. “Why did our ancestors receive such special attention and we’ve been left with nothing but Sanhedrin, Inc.? For crying out loud, the Sadducees don’t even believe in the miraculous. They don’t even believe in heaven!” These were great questions and great concerns. The hunger itself for something more presaged then, and yet today, a deep indication of the miraculous at work below the surface. To recognize spiritual hunger as the hand of God is the first step to seeing the hand of God at work. Many things can satiate and delay the acknowledgement of such hunger. Food, ale, entertainment, the daily news, vocation, hobby, fuss-budgeting…all can anesthetize us from the cry of our own hungry soul. Before heaven can satisfy the hunger, we must learn to say, “Ouch.” And a great number were now doing just that: Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. ~John 12: 9

There were those, of course, who acknowledged neither the hunger of the masses nor their own spiritual malnutrition. The thin gruel of a spiritless religion was the only item on their menu. They were starving. Instead of listening to the wisdom offered up by their own famished soul, they set to work to perform a spiritual gastrectomy: So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well,  for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him. ~John 12:9-11 They wanted to kill off the heavenly provision. They had not yet realized that you cannot defeat hunger by eradicating the food.

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