Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

good samaritan - african

good samaritan – african from Jesusmafa.com

In the Anglican church we attended yesterday the gospel portion was Luke 9: 18 – 24 in which Jesus asks the disciples who the crowds think he is and then who they think he is. The crowds see a prophet, the disciples see the Christ of God, the long awaited Messiah.

Sounds great but who exactly is this Messiah? Even Peter and the disciples got it wrong. They expected an earthly king. Someone who looked a little like the Roman generals only better. Jesus’s description that follows was far beyond their comprehension.

And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:22,23)

The idea of a vulnerable God who willingly exposes himself to suffering, pain and death  is hard for all of us to believe. A God with an aching heart who walks amongst the poor, eats with prostitutes, heals lepers, stands with the marginalized, this is the kind of God we still tend to reject. This is the kind of God who is still beyond our comprehension. That Jesus asks us to become like this is often even more incomprehensible.

The closer we walk to Jesus, the closer we move toward the love of God, the more aware we become of the fact that our God is not the arrogant “godlike” character we expect. Out of my meditations yesterday I wrote this prayer:

God you made yourself vulnerable,

Shown us your aching heart,

Open to abuse and contempt,

Willing to be scarred,

Accepting death as a criminal.

This is your love,

This is your faithfulness,

This is you revealed in Jesus Christ.

May we see and give thanks,
Amen.

So my question for today – how do we embrace this God, this vulnerable One with a broken heart and nail scarred hands? And then how do we follow him?

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Naming Jesus – Who Do We Think That He Is?

Good Samaritan by He Qi

Good Samaritan by He Qi

Today on the liturgical calendar, is the day we celebrate the circumcision of Christ.  Since our cultures are more squeamish than were those of our ancestors, modern calendars usually list it as the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.   Just like every Jewish boy, Jesus as circumcised and formally named on the eighth day of his life, and so, one week after Christmas, while we are still celebrating the wonder and the joy of the Saviour who came to dwell amongst us, we celebrate this occasion  In Jesus day, a name was far more important than it tends to be today.   Introducing a person just about gave you their whole genealogy and sometimes even reflected their personality.

As a celebration of then naming of Jesus why not get together with a group of friends for a party maybe not today but after those New Year hangovers have settled. This could be a good way to shake off those post Christmas blues.  Bring a name book with you.  Look up the names of each person in your group and discuss their meanings.  Get each person to share the story of why they were given that name.  Then ask the question: In what ways does your name reflect the call that God has placed on your life?  Some of you may like to consider a new name that reflects what you believe is God’s call on your life.  One friend of mine changed his name from Bill to Will because he felt it better reflected his desire to use his life “doing the will of God.”

Next spend time discussing the names of Jesus.  Get each person to write down the names that they remember as being applied to Jesus in the Scriptures.  You might like to have a competition to see who can think of the most names.  Or you could write a poem or song that reflects these names.  End your time with a discussion about how you could represent these different aspects of who Jesus can be to those who live around you.

Names matter. What we call Jesus matters. If we see him as Lord it can imply a distant and unapproachable God who is unconcerned for human suffering. If we call him servant, we see him down in the dirty places of our world and we want to join him. I have written about this previously in the post: Sometimes I want to Call God Mother. Think about it for a few minutes and then listen to this powerful 5 minute sermon by Rev SM Lockridge entitled That’s My King.

Or you might like to use this liturgy to reflect on:

Liturgy for Holy Name Day

Have You Met God Face To Face?

Where do we meet God face to face? And what kind of God are we expecting to meet? These are questions that has revolved in my mind all week as I have contemplated these words from Richard Rohr’s book Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality. 

We wil not trust spiritual power until we have experienced a God who operates in the same way, a God who is willing to wait, allow, forgive, trust and love unconditionally. p89

He goes on to say

Before encounter God is perceived as omnipotent power; after encounter God is perceived as humble love. p93

No wonder throughout most of human history people were unable to meet God face to face. Moses did and he was radically changed, but the children of Israel were unable to face God even the reflection of God that was evident in Moses face.  For them God would always be a punishing, powerful God who brought them out of Egypt to let them die in the desert.

Jacob wrestled with God and was also changed. His self made strength was torn apart and he was able to greet his brother with love, humility and vulnerability instead of with deceit and fraud. (Genesis 32 & 33)

In the New Testament we do of course meet God face to face in the person of Jesus but again so many rejected this encounter. A king born in a stable, raised as a refugee, despised and rejected by the authorities? A God who ate with sinners, welcomed prostitutes, healed the unclean? How could this possibly be? But for those who did turn and face Jesus gazed into the face of God and were so radically changed that their lives changed history forever.

Meeting God face to face is the most earth shattering and life shattering experience imaginable, not because it reveals to us the power of God but because it overwhelms us with the love and humility of God. And in that encounter we are changed forever too. A true encounter with God leaves on us an imprint of the living God, an image that enables us to reach out to others with the love and compassion that is who God truly is. In meeting God face to face, we too become the face of God to others.

Remember Our Story by Ellen Haroutunian

Ray Dirks CMU chapel painting

chapel painting at CMU Winnipeg by Ray Dirks

This morning’s post in the series: Jesus Is Coming What Do We Expect comes from Ellen Haroutunian. It was first published on her blog as Advent 2011 Synchroblog: Remember Our Story. I feel that as we move closer to Christmas and start to feel more and more overwhelmed by the frenzied hype that beckons us to consume, consume, consume there is even more need to draw aside, reflect and remind ourselves of the story that is meant to be celebrated at this season.

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Our world is unraveling. We are seeing the deterioration of civil society in many ways. The Thanksgiving holiday week alone has been an embarrassment of aggressive consumerism with shoppers resorting to pepper spray and robbing each other at gunpoint. Black Friday is extending back into Thursday, threatening to diminish the one day we have set aside to pause our frantic lives and give thanks that some of us actually have money to spend. And that’s just the news on the small scale.

I just had a long conversation with a friend over the meaning of Christmas. It began around her assertion that Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus. When you look at Walmart at midnight on Thanksgiving, you can see that that has become very true. But the conversation was more about how many choose to celebrate Christmas either in a secular fashion or with more ancient ties to the pagan rituals that were the inspiration for the choice of December for this observance. I agreed, the holiday was birthed from engagement with other traditions and has taken on many more dimensions, much of which have nothing to do with the remembering of Jesus and the Christian story. I also agreed with her that people should be allowed to celebrate how they wish without harassment. In her insistence that Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus, I assume she wanted to show support for the millions who celebrate Christmas in various ways but have no Christian affiliation.

Even so, it’s important to remember that the shaping of the Christmas celebration (long before secular commercialization) was intentional and beautiful. Early Christians brought their story to the celebrations that they had already been observing such as pagan solstice rituals, or more likely, the Roman solar celebration. Since the beginning of time people had observed that light returns to the world as the world revolves around the sun, renewing and enlivening as it comes. The Christian story, the gospel story, is about the Light coming into the world, bringing life and healing to hurting souls. What was already observed and celebrated in rhythm with creation was then seen to hold a deeper meaning in the minds of these early Christians. As a result, the season of waiting (Advent) and the celebration of the Incarnation of God, Emmanuel, was born. Eventually, the season became known as the Feast of the Nativity or Christ’s Mass. So on the level of tradition and history, the evolution of Christmas as a holiday (holy day) is indeed about Jesus. The whole point of the discussion was that there’s no need to diminish Christian tradition to make room for other traditions, just as there’s no need to diminish other traditions to make space for the Christian.

But that discussion isn’t the true issue. I understand that there is a lot of anger towards Christians who have been offering judgment instead of the Good News. I understand that people would then choose to diminish the Christian Story as a result. That’s what people do. That’s why the world is hurting. We all diminish and deny the traditions, beliefs, needs and feelings of the other in order to make space for ourselves. However, in doing so, any empathy for the other is also lost. Lack of empathy for the other is the human heart in its most desolate state. The particular case above was about diminishing Christianity. But the way of thinking that essentially diminishes or eliminates the other, any other, has become the norm worldwide as each of our hearts shrink and pull back into self-protective bunkers. This is what our broken and hard-hearted system of justice does.

So, we live in a world in which empathy is a rare gemMore than ever, this has become a world of every man or woman for themselves, whether it be about grabbing the last waffle maker at Walmart or blocking job creating bills because you don’t like the politics of the party in power, or insisting that every conservative Christian is hate-filled and every liberal one is immoral, or that every Muslim is a terrorist. We no longer seek to listen, to know, to honor and respect each other. We no longer see the Image in one another. The idea of being our brothers’ keeper has become laughable, even amongst Jesus followers. We cannot compromise and work together because whatever the other represents is simply too offensive, too threatening, too inconvenient, too irrelevant to our personal lives. In this sense, we indeed have truly lost Jesus.

We do not need to create a “let’s take Christmas back” mentality. That is not what this post is about and it’s only another way to diminish those with whom we disagree. We do acknowledge that millions of people who are not Christians celebrate “Christmas” in various ways around the world and can remain unthreatened by that. However, the most important thing we can do is to reflect to the world the Light that has come to us. The incarnation of God-as-human is an act of ultimate empathy. God, who is Wholly Other became the other in order to love fully and to reconcile, to heal, to save. This is what love does! Love enters the story of the other. This world that has become more cold and hard and cynical than ever is desperate for a love that enters in.

Remember the Story. May we remember and act accordingly and thus bring true empathy back into the world, whether it’s at Walmart or in congress or towards Wall Street protestors or in trying to be politically correct (or not).  The world says, “Your needs and pain don’t matter to me” as it steps on the heads of the weaker brother to move upward towards bigger and better. Jesus calls us back down to our senses, back down to being our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, back down to a life of love. And when we listen to his Story, we find that he has shown us how.

The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. John 1:9 RSV

Definitions of Empathy:

1. The imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it (perhaps incarnates it? – my addition)

2. The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this.

Sometimes I want to Call God Mother – What We Call God Matters

Christ as King

Christ - king or friend & companion?

Sometimes I want to call God Mother, Father, friend, companion, lover of my soul. At other times I want to call God creator, saviour, Lord of the Universe, bringer of justice, rescuer of the poor. I thought about this a lot this morning after receiving a message from a friend who reads my facebook prayers.

I’ve really enjoyed your prayers, Christine. However in recent months I’m noticing more and more that Jesus isn’t mentioned by name…. Somehow God and Christ, accurate names, aren’t as intimate and personal too me as the name “Jesus”… Am I just a hopeless Evangelical?

Her words were very perceptive but caught me off guard inviting me to think about what I call God and why. Have I drifted away from a sense of personal intimacy with God or is there more to this change?

What we call God matters. All the names I listed above are legitimate and important names for God, but they produce very different images in our minds. The first list all bring a sense of intimacy with them. They draw us into a close and personal relationship to God. They invite us to call God Abba, the Christ Jesus and the Spirit Comforter. The encourage us to grow the love of God deep within our hearts.

However, these names can also have negative connotations. For some calling God father creates images of hierarchical and patriarchal structures in which men rule over women and the elite rule over the poor and the marginalized.  And the use of mother for some, creates images of amazonian feminists who are trying to destroy the family and our faith in God.

The second list at least for me are those that inspire me to action. They encourage me to embrace God’s ways of justice and mercy and encourage me to place God’s dream of a world made new at the centre of all I am and do.  However  they often create more distant images in our minds, images of a lordly figure who sits on a throne far above our world distributing justice sometimes with an arbitrary and vengeful hand.

My prayers in the last few months have tended to reflect this more activist view of God. The economic volatility of our world and the growing numbers of people I know who are sinking into poverty, the crashing waves of natural disasters that are rending the lives of so many I care about, and the ongoing challenges of poverty, oppression and disease tear at my heart and I want to respond and encourage others to respond.

At the same time I want to grow in intimacy with God. Perhaps like my friend who commented this morning I am at heart a hopeless evangelical. I think that our personal relationship with God is crucially important. Without the knowledge that God resides in the very personal and individual place of my heart it would be impossible for me to respond to the needs I see around me. I realize too that my language needs to reflect that.

Part of what my friend’s comment this morning made me realize is that I need to broaden the range of names I use for God. Yes I need to regularly use names that draw me into intimacy, that is essential for me to grow into the love of God.  But these need to be balanced with names that inspire me to respond and to act as God’s representative to our desperately needy world.

So my question for you this morning is: What do you most frequently call God and how does that reflect your view of God?

Visio Divina – Praying with Art

The Last Supper - John August Swanson

The Last Supper - John August Swanson http://www.johnaugustswanson.com

Praying with Art or Visio Divina as it is increasingly called is a form of prayer that is becoming increasingly popular and in a world that is as visually oriented as ours, an intentional way of praying with images is needed now more than ever.  After reading yesterday’s post, my friend Tom Cashman commented:

In my Spiritual Formation classes over the last 2-3 years, in addition to more traditional Lection Divina I’ve also been using forms of Visio Divina.  This isn’t new, beginning with Benedict in the 6th century is floweried with the Orthodox iconographers.

Tom’s words sent me on a google search for more information on a form of prayer that I honestly know little about, even though I have often used religious art as a focus for meditation.

I found this article by Tom Mooney particularly helpful and love the images from John August Swanson, an artist that I have not encountered before but whose images drew me into a wonderful rich and refreshing encounter with the gospel stories.  Mooney explains:

Visio Divina (Latin for “divine seeing”) is a method for praying with images or other media. While the Orthodox tradition has long practiced praying with images through icons, the western church, and Protestantism in particular, is less comfortable with this type of prayer. But as a cursory glance through scripture will show, images have been an important part of God’s way of communicating. Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones, and Peter’s dream on the rooftop in Acts 10, are just two instances of how images and prayer are vitally connected.  Read the entire article

I also discovered this excellent resource for Bible study: Seeing the Word: Picture the Beauty of God’s Word, developed by Saint John’s School of Theology Seminary and Liturgical Press.  Seeing the Word offers guided reflections  on particular Scripture texts, using images from the acclaimed The Saint John’s Bible,

This video is a useful tool that helps to explain the process of Visio Divina

This Bible that reminds me of the Book of Kells and other illuminated gospels which are another wonderful tool for Visio Divina.

Book of Kells images

Illumination from the Book of Kells

One book I have read recently that delves into Vision Divina in a very helpful way is Contemplative Vision: A Guide to Christian Art and Prayer by Juliet Benner.  She very instructively combines the knowledge of a trained artist with that of a spiritual director to show people how to meditate on art that depicts passages of scripture.

Another great tool for this form of prayer is the use of Christian images from different cultures.  I first wrote about this some years ago in a blog post entitled Imaging Jesus and even produced a youtube video to go with it.  One of my earliest so it is a little funky now but I still thought that you might enjoy it.

This is obviously a small beginning in exploring this form of prayer.  I would love to hear your thoughts and comments.

 

 

Open My Eyes I Want to See Jesus

This morning one of the songs we sang in our worship time was Open My eyes Lord I Want to See Jesus, a song that I usually enjoy singing.  However as I sat amongst urban workers who work amongst the street people, the drug addicts and alcoholics, the at risk youth of London and other English cities. As I looked at these people who are all struggling with work overload and facing cutbacks to their funding, I was caught short – Do I really want to see Jesus? I wondered.

Yes I love the images of Jesus the loving and caring one, the healing and comforting one, the redeeming and renewing one.  But I realized this morning that there are other images of Jesus I am far less comfortable with –

Jesus the lamb who was slain, the despised and abandoned one, the neglected and forgotten one, the tortured and wounded one who is present in the lives and faces of all those who live on the streets.  Jesus the weeping  and mourning one who is present in the faces of so many overworked urban workers who feel abandoned and despised by their governments and often church leadership as well.  Do I really want to see this Jesus and if so how do I respond?