Posts Tagged ‘salvation’
God’s Conditional Love; Why It All Matters – Br. Curtis Almquist
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When I was a teenager I heard a chaplain say that God’s love for us is “unconditional.” On the surface, this sounded fabulous to me because I was a very mixed bag. Actually, I was a mess. And the thought that God actually loves me – me! – unconditionally was something I desperately (though very secretly) needed to know. By that point I was in high school, and it so happens I had trained to be a lifeguard. In actuality, it was like I who was drowning in my own stuff. I needed to be rescued; I needed to be saved from my self-disdain. That’s an adult term, “self-disdain.” As a teenager, I hated myself. So if it were true that God’s love for me, for us, is unconditional, then sign me up.
God’s love for each of us is vast and so personal. Who we are, what we are, however it is we’ve gotten to be where we are, God knows, God lures, God loves. Rather than calling this God’s “unconditional love,” I now think of this as God’s “conditional love.” Because life is inescapably full of conditions and circumstances, changes and chances, and God’s love for us is neither theoretical nor generic. God’s love for us is real and personal, woven into the fabric of our lives from the very beginning. God so loves our own world. Read More
Mercy: The Antidote to Anger and Self-Righteousness – Br. Michael Hardgrove
In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus offers us a stern warning regarding anger and the desire for retribution. He also offers us a corrective for that anger: to make peace with the one who has wronged us, or who we have wronged. The good news for us is that Jesus understands how limited we are, which is why in the Gospel lesson today we don’t hear him say that we will never fight with our neighbors or have disputes; but, he offers the way out. One of the great tragedies of being angry at our brothers and sisters is that there is a lot that we should be angry about in the world: we need to channel that righteous anger where it belongs, not project it onto our friends and loved ones.
Jesus’ warning that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” is very important here. The Pharisees and scribes are typically referred to by Jesus as being poor stewards of the kingdom of heaven, failing in their understanding of how they were meant to minister to the people of God. They had, in short, a limited and almost legalistic understanding of the sacred laws of God, in which the sacred covenant with God was more transactional than transformative. The words this morning from the prophet Ezekiel, seen in this light, are profoundly instructive for us today. The book of Ezekiel is deeply concerned with the people of Israel failing to live up to their covenantal relationship with God. As the chosen people of God, Ezekiel warned, like all the prophets before and after him, that the people would continue to suffer if they didn’t amend their ways and become true emissaries of the living God. Read More
Perfect Love Absolves Sin Forever – Br. Michael Hardgrove
“He holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently he is able for all time to savethose who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.” The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews instructs us to trust Jesus Christ above all else; His Atonement for our sins is established forever, and nothing can separate us from His love.
The Levitical priests that the author of the Letter to the Hebrews are referring to served an incredibly important function for the Israelites, as an intermediary between the people and God. The priests offered ritual sacrifices on behalf of the people of Israel for the forgiveness of their sins, both individually and collectively. The high priest performed the sin offering on the day of Atonement, which was offered on behalf of all of God’s people, wiping the slate clean, as it were. The new covenant in Christ, the writer tells us, replaces the old covenant, which was based on offering the sacrifices required by the law of Moses. The new covenant does not depend on our own efforts or our own sacrifices, but on the grace of God. The author explains that Jesus is our Great High priest forever, a priest who is not a priest based on genealogy, as the Levitical priests were, but based on being anointed by God to absolve human sin forever. Theologian William Barclay writes: “Jesus can do what the old priesthood never could—he can give us access to God…Jesus came to show men the infinite tender love of the God whose name is Father—and the awful fear is gone. We know now that God wants us to come home, not to punishment but to the welcome of his open arms…Jesus on his Cross made the perfect sacrifice which atones for sin. Fear is gone; sin is conquered; the way to God is open to men.” Read More
Until the Last Lamb is Free – Br. Keith Nelson
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If you’ve ever gone astray –
If by choice or by chance, you have found yourself separated – from God; from belonging; from the integrity, the dignity, or the honesty that once anchored you;
If you have found yourself in a place bereft of the guidance, the reassurance, or the forgiveness you so desperately needed;
Or from the touch or the glance or the words that would weave you once again into the fabric of connection, relationship, and love…
If yes, the question Jesus poses in tonight’s gospel is meant for you.
Does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?
What do you think? Jesus asks. Read More
Seeing and Serving Christ – Br. Todd Blackham
Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac
This night your very life is being demanded of you. If you take it very seriously, does the prospect make you squirm? In truth none of us knows what the next hours hold. Tomorrow is not promised. If your life was demanded of you tonight and you stood before the Almighty where would your confidence lie? Are you running the mental tally sheet, was I mostly good or mostly greedy? I have good intentions so…
“Trust in Jesus” is always a good answer in church, but it’s Jesus’ own words that form the core of tonight’s collect, “to see and to serve Christ by feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, and caring for the sick” Jesus told us that in all these things, whatever we did to the least of these we did to him, and whatever we did not do to the least of these we refused to do to him.
It’s worth considering, “Am I seeing and serving Christ in the ways he told me I would?” Read More
Drawn on to Wholeness – Br. Todd Blackham
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Recently, I was sorting through some corn we grew this year up at Emery House. I can’t tell you how much it has meant to me to watch this stuff grow all season. Br. James had started the seeds in little bio-degradable cups that Br. Keith and I put in the ground once they had sprouted. Then we watered and waited and those stalks got taller and like magic the ears of corn showed up. And then, one sabbath a few of us grabbed some of the prettiest corn I’ve ever seen and brought it in for lunch. It was magnificent. I was pretty excited to harvest the rest and bring it back for the rest of my brothers and our guests. So, I started shucking and let’s just say not all of those ears of corn were as pretty as the ones I had for lunch that day. Let’s call them “artisanal.” There were some pollination problems with some that left little holes where the kernels hadn’t developed, and some corn bores had gotten to others and eaten their way through the rows. It was a mixed lot.
The truth is most of them had perfectly fine kernels of corn on them but not all of them were exactly “table ready.” At first it was easy to keep the ones that looked good, and toss the ones that had hardly developed at all. Some of them just needed the ends cut off and they looked fine. But some I really struggled with. I might have been fine eating them but I’m not sure I’d set it in front of a guest. It would have been nice to have a strict standard by which to measure them, but my heart really wanted to salvage as much as I could. Read More
The Great Revelation – Br. Curtis Almquist
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O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
These wise men who had come from the East, who are they? The New Testament Greek name for them is “magi,” which means magicians, fortune tellers, wizards. [i] The Greek name magi also includes astrologers, and so it’s no wonder that they reportedly saw a certain star rising, knew its significance, and followed it.[ii]
The wise men came from “the East,” but whether that is near East, or middle East, or far East is only a guess. St. John Chrysostom, fourth-century archbishop of Constantinople, believed the three magi came from Yemen because, in those days, the Kings of Yemen were Jews. A very early Armenian tradition neither saw them as Jews nor as starting out together but rather meeting up along the way, each of them a king from a foreign realm, each of them following this star: one named Balthazar, a king from Arabia; another was Melchior, a king from Persia; and a third, Gaspar, a king from India. I am speaking of three magi, but we are actually not told how many wizards came to Bethlehem. Three is just a guess: three kings because of the three gifts so no one comes empty handed. The gifts were of gold, the most precious mineral on the earth[iii]; frankincense, a symbol of prayer, as the psalmist says, “let my prayer like incense be”[iv]; and myrrh, the fragrance of heaven, used in the anointing for healing and also in the anointing of the dead (ultimately Jesus’ own body).[v] Read More
Gone Is Thy Shame! – Br. Jim Woodrum
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Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqLiH7AyU9A
O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen[i]
I’ve been thinking a lot this past year about the prevalence of shame in our society. While I cannot remember my first encounter with shame, I can recall many instances of it throughout my life; moments that have been seared into my memory by the branding iron of trauma. From being bullied by older boys in the changing room at the local YMCA while participating in an after-school swimming program in elementary school—to being unable to finish my college degree as a result in part of a learning disability that eluded me until only three years ago—shame has been a regular character in the drama of my life, lurking behind the curtain until its cue to enter and take center stage. Shame manifests in my mind like evidence presented to a jury in a court of law, which after a very brief deliberation declares the devastating judgement, “You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.” Or, to put it simply: you are not enough.
In her book Daring Greatly, self-proclaimed ‘shame researcher’ Brené Brown defines this emotion as: the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.[ii] While you may not remember your maiden voyage on the sea of shame, my bet is that like me, you are able to recall instances of it throughout your lifetime. Brown goes on to say that we all experience the emotion of shame. And, even though it is universal, we are reluctant to talk about it.[iii] The insidious nature of shame insures that we dare not speak its name, giving it time to metastasize like cancer cells, breaking free from its injurious ‘ground zero’ and spreading throughout our lived experience.
Similarly, like cancer, the longer it roams free, the further out of control it becomes. The loss of innocence to shame often results in the learned skill of taming this wild beast and wielding it as a weapon to our advantage through the instilling of fear in another. So fluent are we all in the language of shame that often times our employing of it is not intentional. Shame can be used as a method of motivation to steer others from engaging in behaviors we find questionable, unacceptable, or dangerous according to our own lived experience, which can be skewed because of our own experience of being shamed. Shame begets shame, fear begets fear. When we force shame upon others, we rob them of their dignity as we venture to recreate them in our own image. Brown continues, “Not only is this wrong, but it’s dangerous. Shame is highly correlated with addiction, violence, aggression, depression, eating disorders, and bullying. In fact, shame is much more likely to be the cause of destructive and hurtful behaviors than it is to be the solution.”[iv] Forcing a square peg into a round hole will damage the integrity of both.
In John’s account of Jesus’ passion, we observe a first-hand account of the destructive nature of shame. We watch as Jesus is abandoned by all but a handful of those close to him. We see Jesus as he is stripped of his clothes and his dignity; mocked, scourged, and spit upon. We stand with Jesus’ mother and the beloved disciple at the foot his cross, gazing at His body: bruised, bleeding, and naked. Perhaps, it is in gazing at Jesus nakedness that we harken to another place and time: a garden where we hid ourselves in shame, hearing the voice of our creator asking, “Who told you that you were naked?” Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”[v] It is in this garden, called Eden, that we encounter our first experience of the shame that is so difficult to remember. The trauma experienced here was not the result of forbidden fruit, eaten and digested, but through the seductive language of shame: Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden? You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’[vi] Or, once again to put it simply: you are not enough.
It was then that we observed God’s first acts of mercy. God clothes the man and woman and then says, ‘See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.’[vii] The expulsion from Eden was an act of mercy, lest humanity live in perpetual shame.
The gospel news of the cross is that God took on our human nature in the face of Jesus and endured the shame of the cross for our sake. It is in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead that God restored our nature, giving us the ability to stare shame in the face and eradicate it with a different language: the language of love.
But, we do have to face the cross as Jesus did. We have to summon the courage with God’s help to face what we know to be true, that we are worthy of love and belonging, that we are enough. How is it that you know shame? What is your experience of being weighed in the balance and found wanting? How have you wielded shame as a weapon for the sake of self-preservation? Who has been a source of shame for you in your life? In a few moments, we will have the opportunity to venerate the cross. As you approach, bring your shame, your experience of not being enough, your struggle for control, or the shame you’ve felt at another’s hands; and as you kiss the cross, imagine that shame being nailed to the cross and know that in Jesus victory over death, that shame will be transfigured. For those of you joining us online, you may want to take a cross you have in your household, pull an image of a cross on your screen, draw a cross, or simply pick a brother to enact the veneration for you.
I close with words from Hymn 162:
O tree of beauty, tree most fair,
Ordained those holy limbs to bear
Gone is thy shame, each crimsoned bough
Proclaims the King of glory now.
Blest tree, whose chosen branches bore
The wealth that did the world restore,
The price which none but he could pay
To spoil the spoiler of his prey.[viii]
Lectionary Year/Proper: Year One
Solemnity or Major Feast: Good Friday
[i] Collect for Tuesday in Holy Week, Book of Common Prayer, p. 220
[ii] Brown Brené. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. Avery, 2015.
[v] Genesis 3:11
[vi] Genesis 3:1-5
[vii] Genesis 3:22-24
[viii] Venantius Honorius Fortunatus (540?-600?); ver. Hymnal 1982
Love for the Looking – Br. James Koester
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Numbers 21: 4 – 9; John 3: 14 – 21
If you feel you have walked into the middle of a conversation today, you have! No wonder, if you are shaking your head, and thinking, where on earth did all this come from? You’re not the only one to feel that. Any number of people are thinking, did I miss something?
Our gospel today is the second half of that famous encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. You’ll remember the story. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, in secret, declaring Jesus to be a teacher who has come from God. It is perhaps the first glimmer of faith by Nicodemus, who we will see again at the end of the gospel, when, with Joseph of Arimathea, he makes provision for the Lord’s burial, by bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.  But all of that comes later, much later, almost at the end of the story. Today we’re near the beginning, and Jesus and Nicodemus have that mysterious, almost mystical conversation, about water, being born again, and entering a second time into a mother’s womb.
Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? Read More
The Healing of George Herbert – Br. Curtis Almquist
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Commemoration of George Herbert
Our God and King, you called your servant George Herbert from the pursuit of worldly honors to be a pastor of souls, a poet, and a priest in your temple: Give us grace, we pray, joyfully to perform the tasks you give us to do, knowing that nothing is menial or common that is done for your sake; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
In the calendar of the church, we commemorate today a 17th-century Church of England country parson named George Herbert.[i] Down through the centuries, he is most remembered for his arresting, revealing, passionate poetry.
How Herbert’s life ended is not how it began. The combination of his family’s tremendous wealth and privilege, his keen mind, his excellent education, his charismatic oratorical skills, his internal drive to be fabulous, and who knows what else, had brought him to the top of the heap. By age 30, he was counselor to two kings and a member of Parliament. He had gained the whole world but never found his soul.[ii] Two things happened, two breakdowns. Read More