Saturday, March 27, 2010

Highlight from "Living Faith" this week: Sin

“We must take sin seriously, but not too seriously. … Sin is not the main theme and central emphasis of the Christian faith. … We must not suggest that our sinfulness is the basic truth about what we are. The basic truth is not that we are sinners but that we are human beings created in the image of God.” (Shirley Guthrie, Christian Doctrine, 213).

Like a Dream

Like a Dream
Isa 43:16-21; Ps 126; Phil 3:4-14[1]
I spend a lot of time up here talking about things that the average person might think sound pretty fantastic. By definition the very language of faith must sound like so much “wishful thinking” or even “dreaming” to those who do not share our faith. Think about it—we’ve been going over the steps of faith: we confess “Jesus is Lord” because we are not our own, but we belong to God. When was the last time you used that language about yourself in everyday conversation? And another step is to embrace the faith that God is working to bring life and love and peace to all things and everyone rather than remaining stuck in the hopelessness of our world. It sounds pretty unrealistic if you take a hard look at the world. And a third step of faith is to trust in the faithful mercies of God in the face of the tragic suffering in our world. Is there really any evidence of mercy in this world? And we said last week that this whole process is a matter of the compassion of God our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer transforming us from within, making us “new” in the process of making all things new.
The very nature of what we say when we talk about our faith is such that it sounds too good to be true.[2] When I talk about these things, it must sound like I’m a dreamer. And of course in our pragmatic society, “dreaming” isn’t something that’s valuable. As a matter of fact, I’m actually quite the dreamer. I have incredibly vivid dreams—some of which I can remember from years back. I still remember the dream I had the night before I got my Ph. D. (almost 18 years ago). Graduation was always held at the largest church in town, and the graduates would line up in the lower level for the procession up the stairs and into the sanctuary for the ceremony. As we were about to “process,” the Provost and the Dean came up and pulled me out of line because, for some reason unknown to me, I wasn’t going to be allowed to graduate. Well, there’s not much mystery to what that dream was about! After 13 years of formal education, I was finally going to be out of school!
I also still remember the dream I had one night about 40 years ago. I was asleep in my bed, and all of a sudden it seemed like I was surrounded by a light so bright that it literally startled me awake! Although I remember the dream vividly, I still don’t have a clue what it meant. In earlier days I thought that I must have been visited by some heavenly messenger. I found that notion very reassuring in the midst of some of the turmoil of my young life. When I think about even now I still get a profound sense of God’s presence in my life. But I must confess that I really don’t know what it was about.
The hope of a way in the desert articulated by the prophet Isaiah must have sounded too good to be true to some of his contemporaries. Yes, they knew the stories about how God had made a path for the Israelites to walk through the sea on dry ground. But that was then and this was now. And in the “now” the people of Israel were in captivity in Babylon, separated from their homeland by a veritable ocean of burning sand! The hope that St. Paul articulated—new life through the power of the resurrection—must have sounded like dreaming to his peers who were schooled in Plato and Aristotle. And yet, the Apostle Paul says that he had come to the place where he viewed everything else in this life as rubbish compared with the “surpassing value” or the “high privilege” or the “priceless gain” of knowing Christ and experiencing the power of the resurrection in his own life.
But then I think we would have to say that many who saw and heard Jesus must have thought of him as a dreamer. The Gospel of Luke demonstrates this at the very outset by recounting Jesus’ sermon at Nazareth. Quoting Isaiah, he spoke of proclaiming “release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind” and letting “the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18). If that language is too familiar to us to hear the “dreaminess” in it, then listen to one of our recent confessions: Jesus Christ came “to set us free from sin and self-hatred, from ignorance and disease, from all forms of oppression, and even from death” and “to give us fullness of life now and forever” (Declaration of Faith, 1977). But I would go even further than that and say, to borrow the title of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s book, that “God has a Dream” as well. That same confession of ours puts it well when it affirms the faith that God is working in this world toward a day when “justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream, when nations will not learn war any more, when we will see the end of cruelty and suffering in the world, and when human fellowship with God and each other will be fulfilled.”
When I talk about these things, I’m quite sure I must sound foolish to some people; but to some extent I think talking about God’s wondrous work of restoration will always make us feel “like those who dream” (Ps. 126).[3] I would say that part of our problem is that we don’t do enough dreaming. We let TV and film do our “dreaming” for us, so we have lost the capacity for dreaming. Or we simply don’t want to make room in our pragmatic lives for dreams because they push us “out of our element” where we feel safe because we can safely keep things under our control.[4] I think the tragedy in that is that our “dreams”—whether they come to us in our sleep or when we’re awake—are what motivate and inspire us. When we lose the capacity to be inspired, what’s left but sitting on the couch with a remote control firmly in one hand and our beverage of choice in the other?
Do we really want our faith to be that boring? Sure it’s safe enough when we can put God in a box and can confidently recite a creed or a catechism so that we think we have a handle on the truth. But where’s the imagination and inspiration and passion in that? Do we really want our faith to be so mundane as to be entirely predictable? Or do we want our God to do surprising things, things that we couldn’t even begin to imagine, things that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived” (1 Cor. 2:9). Do we want our faith to lead us toward something more than we already have here and now?[5] I say give me the wonder, the mystery, and the dreams, and all the love and faith and hope that they can inspire.

[1] © 2010 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 3/21/10 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.
[2] Cf. John Caputo, On Religion, 7-10: he says that religion is about an “absolute future” that moves us “past the manageable prospects of the present, beyond the sphere in which we have some mastery, beyond the domain of sensible possibilities that we can get our hands on” and into “the sphere of the impossible, of something whose possibility we just cannot conceive” where “only the great passions of faith and love and hope will see us through,”
[3] Caputo, On Religion, 15, says it this way: “To have a religious sense of life is to long with a restless heart for a reality beyond reality.”
[4] Cf. Caputo, On Religion, 7-14; cf. esp. 13-14, where he says that in matters of faith “we are not calling the shots” because “we are out of our element” and in “God’s element, …, the element of the impossible, God’s realm or ‘Kingdom,’ where God rules.”
[5] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 25, where he says that the church’s hope “fetches its future into its present”!

All the Difference

All the Difference
Ps 32; 2 Cor 5:16-21; Lk 15[1]
Some of you may know that I’m a fan of history. At present, I’m reading through Shelby Foote’s three-volume Civil War, which runs a total of about 2900 pages. What fascinates me about history, among other things, is that you learn about people who made all the difference in our world today. For example, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, an English teacher from Maine, led his unit at the Battle of Gettysburg in a last-ditch charge that probably turned the tide of the battle, which turned the tide of the Civil War. And the outcome of that War was that we have a one nation in this land, a federation of states united under the Constitution.
You may have heard of Col. Chamberlain. I doubt you’ve ever heard of Dadabhai Naoroji. Mr. Naoroji lived in India in the 19th and early 20th centuries—under British rule, of course. He played a leading role in organizing various Indian political groups that worked for independence from British rule. It was his contention that British rule drained India of important resources and contributed significantly to the poverty that plagued India. In 1892 he was actually elected to the British Parliament, and continued his efforts from there. You may never have heard of Naoroji, known as the “Grand Old Man” of India, but I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of one of his protégés, Mohandas Karamchand Ghandi. Ghandi was probably the single most influential figure in the movement for Indian independence—through his courage, his integrity, and his personal sacrifice he made all the difference in the struggle that led to the founding of the largest democracy in the world. And of course, Ghandi was, in turn, a mentor to Martin Luther King Jr., who was probably the single most influential figure in the Civil Rights movement in this country. By advocating the strategy of non-violent resistance that Ghandi pioneered, Rev. King made all the difference in the effort to ensure true equality under the law for all people in this country.
So whom do we credit with the advances of Civil Rights in this country and around the world? Martin Luther King, Jr.? To some extent, yes. Mohandas K. Ghandi? To some extent, yes again. Dadabhai Naoroji? Once again, yes. But there were also many other countless individuals, some whose stories have been told and retold, like that of Rosa Parks refusing to go to the back of the bus, and others whose courage and sacrifice remain unsung. Each of them made all the difference in particular situations.
We have been talking about what it means to take the steps of faith during Lent this year. In a very real sense, I think we tend to experience the transformation that the Apostle Paul describes as undergoing a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17) in steps and starts. And at each step of the way, some one very likely made the difference in encouraging us to make that next stride forward. It may have been a Sunday School teacher or a Pastor or a confirmation teacher who helped you confess “Jesus is Lord” for the first time and recognize that you are not your own, but you belong to God. It may have been a parent or a close friend or even a total stranger who enabled you to embrace the faith that God is working to bring life and love and peace to all things and everyone rather than remain stuck in the hopelessness of our world. It may have been a grandparent or a favorite author or one of the great saints of the church who helped you trust in the faithful mercies of God in the face of the tragic suffering in our world. We all have many people who have contributed to our spiritual journey throughout our lives.
I would suggest that through all of the individuals who made the difference in our lives, it was the compassion of God our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer that was effecting the change, working to transform us from within, making us “new” in the process of making all things new. There have been many theories through the ages from the brightest minds in the Christian world as to just what it is that changes us when we experience salvation. Some have attributed it to the justice of God making something of a legal exchange between Jesus’ obedience and our disobedience. Others have used the idea of punishment that we deserve for offending God’s honor but Jesus takes on himself. Still others have emphasized power of Jesus’ death and resurrection that sets us free from what imprisons us. There may or may not be some sense of truth in these “theories of the atonement.”
But it seems to me that no one ever experiences transformation that may truly be called a “new creation” apart from a profound experience of the love and mercy of God embracing us, accepting us and welcoming us home. At least that was the testimony of St. Paul—he says that his experience of the love of God poured out for us in Jesus Christ brought him wholeness and a whole new outlook on life. I think there are many of us who could add our “Amen”! We have all been “prodigals” in one way or another, and it is the experience of God’s compassion and mercy and love that has transformed us from the inside out, and it is continuing to make all the difference in our lives until we fully become that “new creation” that is promised by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

[1] © 2010 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 3/14/10 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Highlight from "Living Faith" on Humanity created in the "Image of God"

From The Study Catechism, PCUSA (1998):

"Question 16: What does it mean to say that we human beings are created in the image of God?

That God created us to live together in love and freedom--with God, with one another, and with the world. Our distinctive capacities--reason, imagination, volition and so on--are given primarily for this purpose. We are created to to be loving companions of others so that something of God's goodness may be reflected in our lives."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Merton on the Devil's "Theology" and those who are "devoted" to it

"The devil has a whole system of theology ... that created things are evil, that men are evil, that God created evil and that He directly wills that men should suffer evil. According to the devil, God rejoices in the suffering of men and, in fact, the whole universe is full of misery because God has willed and planned it that way."

He continues by saying, "the devotional life of those who are 'faithful' to this kind of theology consists above all in an obsession with evil. As if there were not already enough evils in the world, they multiply prohibitions and make new rules, binding everything with thorns, so that man may not escape evil and punishment." From this perspective, "the Cross ... is no longer a sign of mercy" and "not love but punishment is the fulfillment of the Law."

He concludes that this is a "theology of punishment, hatred and revenge" in which "there must be no mercy."

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 90-91

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Faithful Mercies

Faithful Mercies
Isa 55:1-9; Lk 13:1-9[1]
I think most people at one time or another will run headlong into the question, “God, how could you let that happen?” Usually it is in the context of something like your worst nightmare coming true. Whether it’s the loss of a child, or the loss of a marriage, or some tragedy on a broader scale than the individual, I think at one time or another we will all face that troubling question. It is a natural thing to ask when you’re in the depths of despair. After all, if God is truly infinite, truly beyond all that we can comprehend, it would only seem reasonable to assume that God has the ability to prevent tragedies from happening. For some, this becomes proof positive that there must not be a God, since the world is full of tragedies both individual and widespread, from Holocaust gas chambers to genocide in Rwanda, from the tsunami in Myanmar to the earthquake in Haiti.
This seems to be what was on the minds those who approached Jesus to ask him about a tragedy that apparently affected them deeply. Although our Gospel lesson doesn’t spell it out, I think we have to assume that they were troubled by this tragedy—the Roman Governor Pilate had not only executed some of their friends and neighbors, but also had desecrated their sacrifices. It would seem that what troubled them were questions about God’s character. “Couldn’t God have prevented this from happening?” “If so, why didn’t God prevent it?”
Jesus’ answer is a strange one, to put it mildly. He implies that they assumed the victims of that tragedy must have committed some horrible sins, whether publicly or in secret. That approach to God and tragedy was a traditional way of looking at things for the Jewish people, and it still is for many people of all faiths. If a tragedy befalls you, but I’m spared, you must be a “worse sinner” than me! But Jesus explodes the foolishness behind that assumption. One of the hard truths of life in this world is that tragedies simply happen. “Bad Things Happen to Good People,” to borrow the title of Rabbi Harold Kushner’s book. All the time, in fact. So letting God off the hook by “blaming the victim” just doesn’t work.[2] At first glance it would seem that Jesus doesn’t even address their question at all. It would seem that they come to him questioning God’s justice, and Jesus responds by rather bluntly reminding them that everyone must stand before a holy and just God someday, where God will do the questioning![3]
But in fact, I would say that Jesus does give an answer of sorts in the parable that follows. It is a story about a farmer and a fig tree. Now this probably wasn’t a single-crop farmer, like many we have in this country. This farmer probably owned a piece of land and grew several crops—in that day and time, probably some kind of grain, a variety of fruit trees, probably an olive grove and a vineyard. But water and soil were precious commodities, so the farmer checked the crops regularly to ensure that they were producing as they should. Apparently this particular fig tree was not. So the farmer tells the hired hand to cut it down. But the “vine-dresser” urged patience, promising to fertilize and cultivate it yet another year.
On the surface, it would seem fairly straightforward, as parables go. But the question this parable raises is where we find God in the story.[4] Do we see God reflected in the farmer who has every right to expect that the crops planted make good use of the soil and water invested in them, and demands that the tree be cut down? Or do we see God reflected in the worker tending the vineyard, who urges patience and promises to pay special attention to cultivate the tree and try to make it fruitful? To some extent, perhaps Jesus was trying to illustrate for us the truth that God is found in both. When we hear of tragedy that makes us wonder what someone must have done to deserve such heart break, Jesus urges us to remember that God has a right to expect us all to be the kind of people and live the kind of lives that we were meant for.
But when we hear of tragedy so terrible that it makes us question the goodness and mercy of God, Jesus reminds that God’s mercy is never failing, God’s goodness is inexhaustible, God’s compassion never gives up on us. God doesn’t “send” tragedies into our lives to punish us. God is the one who is always working to bring good out of evil, always working to bring life out of death.[5] God is the one who, even when dealing with those who are wayward, says, “come to me, you who have no money, come, buy and eat,” “listen to me and your soul will delight in the richest of food,” “come to me, that your soul may live” (Isa. 55:1-3).[6]
During this season of Lent we’ve been looking at what it means to take the steps of faith. It is important to confess “Jesus is Lord” for Christian faith because it is the first step toward moving out of the prison of our own selfishness.[7] And it is important to embrace faith because it enables us to move out of the essential hopelessness of our world and into the joy and freedom of God’s hopeful future.[8] When we struggle with faith in a world that can be heartbreaking, Jesus reminds us that God is the one who is with us in all our tragedy and our pain, sustaining us with mercies that are always faithful.[9]

[1] © 2010 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 3/7/10 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.
[2] See Barbara Brown Taylor, “Life Giving Fear,” The Christian Century (March 4, 1998): 229.
[3] Jesus was pointing out that “it is … God who questions the questioner” (cf. E. Schweizer, Good News According to Luke, 219).
[4] In a very real sense, Charles Hedrick, in “An Unfinished Story about a Fig Tree in a Vineyard,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 26 (Summer, 1999): 169-192, suggests the parable takes a “secular” approach to tragedy. He views the farmer and the “vinter” as incompetent at cultivating fig trees, the one through faulty judgment and the other through neglect. From this perspective, he suggests that the point of the parable is “as long as there is life, there is hope.”
[5] Cf. Barbara Brown Taylor, “Life Giving Fear”, 229: “for those of us who have discovered that we cannot make life safe nor God tame,” Jesus’ answer “is gospel enough.” She continues, “What we can do is turn our faces to the light. That way, whatever befalls us, we will fall the right way.”
[6] Cf. Tom Long, “Breaking and Entering,” The Christian Century (March 7, 2001):11. He interprets this Gospel text in light of the previous context in Luke, where Jesus chides the people for their inability to read the signs of the in-breaking Kingdom of God. He says, “the sign of the times, the clue to the breaking in of God’s reign” is “not the Hale-Bopp Comet, not invaders from space, not Clinton as King Belshazzar redux, not wars or rumors of war, but instead the gracious and patient hand that reaches out to halt the ax, the merciful gesture woven into the fabric of life that stays all that would give up on the barren and the broken, the merciful voice that says, ‘Let’s give this hopeless case one more year.’” Cf. also James A. Sanders, “Expository Article: Isaiah 55:1-9," Interpretation 32 (July, 1978): 291-95, who reminds us that the setting for this lavish banquet in antiquity would have been a celebration of the enthronement of a new king (i.e., in this case God!).
[7] See Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 38: “To be ‘lost’ is to be left to the arbitrariness and pretenses of the contingent ego, the smoke-self that must inevitably vanish. To be ‘saved’ is to return to one’s inviolate and eternal reality and to live in God.”
[8] See Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, 145, where he says that faith means “to trust God’s future and to live assured of that future even in the deathly present.” See also Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 31-32: “Where in faith and hope we begin to live in the light of the possibilities and promises of this God, the whole fullness of life discloses itself as … a life to be loved.”
[9] Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 24-25: “Neither in presumption nor in despair does there lie the power to renew life, but only in the hope that is enduring and sure.” It would seem to me that the “faithful mercies” of God are the only true ground for that kind of faith and hope.

Crossing Over

Crossing Over
Gen 15:1-12, 17-18; Phil 3:17-4:1[1]
As I mentioned last week, the spiritual life is a pilgrimage for us all. I think we are all ultimately on the same journey, but our paths can lead us in very different directions. Some of us seem to make a beeline for God. For others, I think that the journey can be a very long one. For many people in this world, the spiritual path is difficult and painful. They seem to be on a path that will only let them believe what they can see. Unfortunately, when that is the case, people can find themselves locked in the despair “vicious circles” of shame and violence and death that seem to dominate this life.[2]
And yet many of those who are on this path seek to break out of the bondage of these vicious circles through individual effort—whether by seeking to achieve and build up, or by asserting the freedom to corrupt and tear down. In particular, it seems that our culture delights in what Paul could call “glorying in their shame” (Philippians 3:19). As a people, we have taken that phrase to new depths; we invent new ways to “glory in our shame.” But we don’t stop there—we seem to be “hell-bent” on spreading our degradation, humiliation, and shame throughout the human race. The end result of the path that only believes what can be seen is a picture of disgrace that is bleak and utterly devoid of hope.
As we consider the Scripture lesson from Genesis this week, I think it is impossible for us to fully appreciate the disgrace of barrenness in the world of Sarah and Abraham. They had set out on what must have seemed to their friends and family to be a “fool’s errand” based only on a promise from God. After many years had passed, God appears to Abraham to remind him of the promise, but it seems that the years have taken their toll on his faith. Abraham says, “Sovereign Lord, what good will your reward do me, since I have no children? (Genesis 15:2, TEV). To him it would seem that he and Sarah were stuck in what was to them a vicious circle of barrenness and mortality, which meant that they had no real future and therefore no real hope. In some way, however, God was able to break through Abraham’s fears and doubts and shame, and Abraham crossed over to faith.
I think the story of Abraham gives us an excellent example of the role of faith in our salvation. As we mentioned last week, Paul said that we must confess “Jesus is Lord” and “believe in our hearts” that God raised him from the dead. We talked about the first dimension last week. But why is it so important for us to have faith in order to experience God’s salvation? Well, I think at least part of the answer is that faith enables us to move out of the essential hopelessness of a world that believes only what it can see and that consists of the eternal return of the same thing.[3]
We don’t really know what happened to Abraham on that starry night that enabled him to take the step of faith. Did the sight of the beautiful night sky with its vast array of lights somehow reassure him that God “calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4:17) and therefore that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:21)? [4] It’s hard to say for sure. But somehow, God was able to break through Abraham’s shame and doubt and fear and lead him to “trust God’s future” even in the midst of everything that contradicts it here and now.[5]
Essentially, God intrudes on Abraham’s shame and hopelessness with a promise—an outlandish promise that had no possible way of being fulfilled from a human point of view. But this promise enables Abraham to look past his hopeless barrenness to a different future.[6] In the same way, the promise of the God who keeps all promises can lead us to a faith is able to see through the vicious circles that seek to dominate our lives to the truth that hopelessness is where God works best.[7]
This is something of what Paul has to say when he addresses those who were “glorying in their shame” in his day and time. In contrast to those whose “god is their belly,” Paul insists that the transformation God instigated through Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection to new life is one that is changing us all.[8] As he says elsewhere, “Everybody dies in Adam; everybody comes alive in Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:22, MSG). Paul can speak of this transformation as if we all had died with Jesus on that cross and we were all raised with him to new life on that first Easter.[9]
Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have all crossed over—from shame, and death to freedom and life! And that means we have crossed over from shame and despair to hope. So if that’s true, why is it so important for us to take the step of faith? Because it enables us to actually make the journey from hopelessness to the freedom that comes from “trusting God’s future.” Faith enables us to move beyond believing only what we can see to believing that God is a God who brings hope out of hopelessness and new life out of death.[10] Faith enables us to move out of the essential hopelessness of our world and to step into the “glorious liberty” that God is bringing to the whole creation through Jesus.[11]
It is a different path, a whole new way of life that sees the possibility of new life in every death, sees the light shining in the deepest darkness, and sees hope in the midst of despair. It is not naïve about the vicious circles that are so prevalent in this world, but it recognizes that their power is a broken one, and that their days are numbered

[1] © 2010 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 2/28/10 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.
[2] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, 293-94, 317-18, 329-32; cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 87-89
[3] Cf. Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, 116: “Barrenness is the way of human history. It is an effective metaphor for hopelessness. There is no foreseeable future. There is no human power to invent a future.”
[4] Brueggemann, Genesis, 143. He defines faith as “a certitude that is based not on human reason but on a primal awareness that God is God.” With reference to Abraham, he continues, “The same God who gives the promise is the one who makes it believable” through “the new awareness that God really is God.”
[5] Brueggemann, Genesis, 145: faith means “to trust God’s future and to live assured of that future even in the deathly present.” Cf. also ibid., 118, where he points out that Just as Sarah and Abraham had to leave the world they knew for a country they didn’t know, so for us “such departure from securities is the only way out of barrenness. … To stay in safety is to remain barren; to leave in risk is to have hope.”
[6] Brueggemann, Genesis, 117. He says that the promise “asserts the freedom and power of God to work his will among the hopeless.”
[7] Cf. Brueggemann, Genesis, 116: “barrenness is the arena of God’s life-giving action.”
[8] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 3.2:187; Cf. Declaration of Faith, 4.5, which says, “His resurrection is a decisive victory over the powers that deform and destroy human life.” Cf. also Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 26-27, 28, 30, 32-33, 182, 188-89, 220, 223, 254, 256; Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 33-34, 85, 88; Moltmann, Church in the Power, 98-99, 191, 197.
[9] I would argue that Phil. 3:21 is not just about the physical transformation of our bodies from mortal to immortal, but about the total life transformation that is underway even now. Cf. James D. G. Dunn, “1 Corinthians 15:45—Last Adam, Life-Giving Spirit,” in The Christ and the Spirit, vol. 1, 263; Lucien Cerfaux, The Christian In The Theology Of St. Paul, 178-89, 228-29. With all due respect to John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries XXI:110; Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 382-83; and Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, Philippians, rev. ed., 233.
[10] Cf. The Study Catechism, question 81.
[11] Cf. Declaration of Faith, 8.2. Cf. Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 31-34: “the spell of the dogma of hopelessness—ex nihilo nihil fit (nothing comes from nothing)—is broken where he who raises the dead is recognized to be God. Where in faith and hope we begin to live in the light of the possibilities and promises of this God, the whole fullness of life discloses itself as … a life to be loved” by embracing all things and all people with this love that effects a “creative transformation” of all things.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Highlights from "Living Faith" on God as Trinity

The idea of God as Trinity is an image of God in relationship—within the tri-unity of God, with all humankind, and ultimately with all creation. Relationship implies giving and forgiving, it implies being personal, above all it implies becoming vulnerable. But love is also joyful and creative, and this is an aspect of God as love that The Shack vividly portrays. God is not some serene watchmaker who assembles the machine and then ignores it, but rather a creative lover who enjoys cooking, gardening, and tinkering in the wood shop, among many other things!

"The love of the triune God made known to us in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit is plentiful beyond measure (Rom 5:20). It is given freely and extravagantly, utterly unmerited and unexpected. It is always greater than we can imagine or conceive. Like a gushing fountain, God’s love overflows toward us. (Jer 2:13; Jn 4:14). It freely pours forth in an inexhaustible stream, never diminished in the giving, never drying up. It is constant and trustworthy. It is more powerful than all the forces of sin and evil that deny and resist the gift and call of the love of God given to us in Jesus Christ and shared with us by the Holy Spirit. It cannot be quenched, even by death itself."

From "The Trinity: God's Love Overflowing" A Report to the 217th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) (2006)

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Merton's thoughts on "The Pure Heart"

"No man can live a fully sane and decent life unless he is able to say 'no' occasionally to his natural bodily appetites." One who does not do this "has renounced his spiritual freedom and become the servant of bodily impulse." The one who lives "under the power of his appetites" "is not 'sinning' but simply makes an ass of himself, deluding himself that he is real when his compulsions have reduced him to a shadow of a genuine person."

"One must learn to survive without the habit-forming luxuries which get such a hold on men today."

"Keep your eyes clean and your ears quiet and your mind serene. Breathe God's air. Work, if you can, under His sky."

"The virtue of chastity is not the complete renunciation of all sex, but simply the right use of sex. ... Nowhere is self-denial more important than in the area of sex, because this is the most difficult of all natural appetites to control and one whose undisciplined gratification completely blinds the human spirit to all interior light. ... The very struggle for chastity teaches us to rely on a spiritual power higher than our own nature, and this is an indispensable preparation for interior prayer."

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 85-88