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GalatiansLove, Faith and Works

Monday, January 14, 2019

We have reflected frequently on this letter perhaps because its brevity draws us in.  This Noontime is a revision of something we shared in May 2009.  We offer it to you today.

Paul writes to the Galatians to remind them of the reason for their initial conversion . . . the love of Christ.  Interlopers were undermining the Gospel he had preached to them and the people of Galatia had begun to waver.  This is a scenario we live again today.  We know the truths that we have heard, but when the world intervenes with its own gospel we become confused.  We forget the initial message that . . . we are saved through grace brought by Christ’s death and resurrection, not by the Law This was surprising news to the Jewish structure in Paul’s day.  It sometimes surprises us today.

We constantly and loudly hear two compelling philosophies.  It is much easier, we tell ourselves, to do well if we are just told what to do and then we do it.  It is much easier, we tell ourselves, if we can just interpret the law as we like and then we can do what we like.

These modes of thinking are reflected in our polarized political and social world.  The two ends of the spectrum on which we live pull and push at one another until the middle is either squeezed to death or has the life pulled out of it.  There is no predictable place to stand.  It is this problem that instigates Paul’s letter to the Galatians; and we can take advice from his thinking today as he reminds us that because Christ is mystery only Christ can show us the way to salvation and how to live the mystery of life.  Only Christ can model how to live the Law, because he is the Law.

As this letter opens, Paul chides us for being so quickly led astray by the world; then he reminds us that there is only one true model to follow, Jesus.  Reading further into this letter we read that we might be saved by our faith.  Various protesting Christian sects stand on the premise that faith alone saves us.  We know that this is not true because it is faith as displayed by the sacrificial love of Christ that brings us home.  Our faith must be accompanied by works because . . . Jesus is love, and if we have faith, our works must be love.  If we have one without the other we lack integrity.  When we try to live a life in which we split ourselves and allow our actions to differ widely from what we say we believe, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 14, we are the gong clanging loudly signifying nothing.

Paul closes the letter with another reminder that the Galatians – and we – must return to our initial desire to follow Christ, for there is no other road to salvation.  We may surround ourselves with friends who help us create the illusion that this world answers all our needs if we can only amass enough money, fame or comfort; yet somewhere deep inside, we know that there is more.

When I feel both squeezed and pulled apart by the world, I know that it is time to return to this letter.  I look for verse 3:1: O stupid Galatians!  Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?  I re-read verse 1:6: I am amazed that you are so quickly forsaking the one who called you by [the] grace of Christ for a different gospel.  I look again at 5:7: You were running so well; who hindered you from following [the] truth.  I meditate on verses 2-5: Bear one another’s burdens, and so you fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he is deluding himself.  Each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason to boast with regard to someone else; for each will bear his own load. 

But in a world which constantly, and with expert ways, calls us away from Christ, it is with Galatians 6:9 that we will want to spend a good amount of time: Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up.


A re-post from January 14, 2012.

Image from: http://www.66clouds.com/new_testament.html

For more on this letter, see the Magnanimity page of A Book of Our Life on this blog. 

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Galatians 2:15-21God’s Mercy

Monday, October 22, 2018

Paul’s argument in this letter is that a man does not have to submit himself to circumcision in order to follow Christ; Christ is the fulfillment of the old law and is therefore not subject to it. Christ is, in fact, its full human embodiment.  How silly we are, Paul says, to believe that The Law is more important than Christ – God’s presence among us, as one of us.  In Paul’s view the Galatians have missed the big picture.  We are saved by Christ . . . and not the Law.

We have spent time reflecting on this in a number of our Noontimes, thinking about how we are frequently caught up in following the letter of the law and completely missing its intended purpose.  Neglecting the spirit of the law in order to adhere to the permutations we have created with it is a stumbling block to living a life of justification or salvationIn short, we are missing the forest by focusing on the trees.

We worry about the future and fret over the past.  We are anxious about people and plans in the weeks and months to come; we harbor anger and guilt about offenses we or others have committed long years ago.  We carry all of this weighty negativity with us and stagger through the present – missing the joy that God has posted along the way for us.  We seem intent on suffering, and doing it badly.

In a letter to Titus, Paul writes: When the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the holy Spirit, who he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.  (Titus 3:4-7)

With the letter of the law, we can become hyper-vigilant, struggling to maintain a safe distance from even the suggestion that we may break an order.

With the spirit of the law, we are free to explore new ways of serving God, free to express our emotions and to dialog with our creator.

With the Law, there is an immutable permanence and state of stasis that can deaden the soul.

With the Spirit, there is limitless compassion that heals, soothes, restores and replenishes the soul.

When we are intent on following the rules there is a paring down that takes place, a closing off of possibility, a temptation to finagle and maneuver.

When we are intent on following God, there is an opening up, a flourishing, a limitless opportunity for new beginnings.

With rules, we count our near occasions of sin and the number of times we have failed.

With God, we look for occasions to serve and opportunities to follow Jesus.

When we find ourselves looking for loopholes and excuses, we know we have strayed too far from Christ.  When we hear ourselves walking fine lines and arguing small points, we know we have wandered too far from the creator.  When we see ourselves safely hidden in our comfort zone fortresses rather than stepping into the unknown to witness and build up the Kingdom, we know that we have somehow forgotten that we are well-loved and ever-protected.

Paul speaks to the Galatians and he speaks to us, encouraging each of us to step into our lives with full confidence and gentle fearlessness.  He urges us to be led by the Spirit rather than be stifled by the law.  And he reminds us that God welcomes the sinner eagerly . . . for God has endless and abundant mercy.


A re-post from September 19, 2011.

Images from: http://www.biblechef.com/Indexes/Artifacts/JewishTorahSheet.html

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Romans 10: Disobedient and Contentious People

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

With this Favorite from November 17, 2010, we take a final look at Jesus as the Life we wish to live.

Paul explains here that faith has a way of saving us in a way that the Mosaic Law does not . . . and never will.  It is impossible to reach heaven or to be one with God if we live a life full of checklists that attend to the duties prescribed by a structure.  It is equally impossible to not be saved if we live our lives in Christ . . . if we live a life of acting according the Law of Love . . . even when this Law puts us in danger.

Footnotes explain the references to Old Testament verses, and they also remind us that to speak as Paul does here – or to tell and enact the Gospel story as Paul reminds us we are asked to do – often put us in danger.

In the first century, and in certain parts of the world today, being Christian brings exclusion from the wider society and even the death penalty.  We will need to rely on Christ once we respond to the call to tell the story of salvation.

Among many cliques and groups both now and in Paul’s day, living a life of faith brings scorn and derision.  We will need to rely on Christ once we commit to living a life of fidelity to Jesus’ Way.

In families, work places, schools, and any places where we humans gather, living a life of merciful justice and open trust brings ridicule and disdain.  We will need to rely on Christ once we live as fully in him as he asks.

Paul warns us about all of this today.  The easy, comfortable life spent in and for itself must fall away.  The disciplined life of service that we are called to live is not appealing to rebellious and difficult people. And so we have this clear choice before us: to opt for contention and disobedience, or to choose freedom and salvation in Christ.


Image from: http://lwccyork.com/blog/series/this-is-the-way-of-jesus/ 

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Matthew 3: Seek Newness

Sunday, November 26, 2017

As we prepare for the Advent season . . .

In becoming human, Jesus shows us that our humanity is not an obstacle to our communion with God, but rather the only path to our divine destiny . . . If my heart is not begging, “Come, Lord Jesus” in my ordinary life today, then I cannot pretend I would have recognized him when he first came, and I cannot expect truly to welcome him at is glorious return.  That is why the church gives us this season of Advent, to recognize the longing in our hearts for a salvation which we cannot give ourselves, but for which we can beg today and for ever, “Come, Lord Jesus”.  Fr. Richard Veras, November 28, 2010, THE MAGNIFICAT ADVENT COMPANION (17)

What is this newness that is ours in our humanity?

What is this divinity we have been gifted as part of our destiny?

What is this fulfillment of salvation that we cannot give ourselves?

Today our Noontime takes us to the proclamation of the new kingdom, the baptism of Jesus, and God’s announcement that he is well pleased with the beloved son.

Today we have the opportunity to think about our own place in the divine plan as a human creature.

We have the opportunity to open ourselves to the newness of the season and the cyclic beginning again of a calendar year.

We have the opportunity to make ourselves ready – as Jesus made himself ready – for the days ahead.

Let us heed the words we hear in today’s Gospel . . . So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come (Matthew 24:44) .

We will want to receive this newness that brings hope – Come, Lord Jesus.

We will want to be open to this healing that mends mortal wounds – Come, Lord Jesus.

We will want to experience this divinity that manifests in the obstacles of our humanity Come, Lord Jesus. 

And we will want to be awake and ready for the salvation with which we have been graced, the peace and serenity that are our heritage – Come, Lord Jesus . . . and fulfill this longing in our hearts . . .

Written on November 28, 2010.

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2 Chronicles 20Invasion

Jehoshaphat Defeats Moab and Ammon

Friday, September 29, 2017

A Favorite from September 24, 2009.

There are so many ways to invade, so many ways to be invaded.  None of us is impervious to others, no matter how thick or high we build walls.  And once we are pierced, once we lose what we believe to be our identity or our footing, we will need both a strong foundation to stand and recovery strategies.  Jehoshaphat today shows us what to do when even what is rightfully ours is taken away or ruined.

They rose early in the morning . . .

Oh how many times do I wish that my day did not begin before the sun rises; yet this early rising gives me the quiet edge I need to pray and reflect . . . and to begin well.

They went out into the wilderness . . .

Oh how I wish that I were not so often alone with such little sustenance; yet this leaving behind of all comfort gives me the proper feeling of dependence on God . . . a trusting child before a loving parent.

Believe in the Lord your God and you will be established . . .

Countless times do I pray the Creed – I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth . . .; yet still I need the encouragement from God to trust God’s plan.

Believe his prophets . . .

Countless times do we hear prophetic words and want to turn away from them because they call us to a place of discomfort; yet we follow for we know that there is no other Way to the eternal.

Give thanks to the Lord for his steadfast love endures forever . . .

Endlessly do we praise God for his careful providence in healing our willful ways and waywardness.

And the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet, for his God gave him rest all around . . .

Endlessly do we shelter from the violent storm beneath the altar of sacrifice for our God . . . and after the violence has passed . . . we rise again to find that we have weathered the invasion . . . and that we are saved.

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Judges 1: Cycles of Love

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema: The Women of Amphissa

We know that Judges is the book in the Old Testament that takes us from the time following the death of Joshua through several hundred years of leaders, or judges, who include Gideon, Deborah and Samson, to the time of Jesse, father of David.  It delineates the story of a people struggling to understand themselves and one another, a people who constantly cycle through a loop of straying, repenting, returning, and forgetting.  The last verse of the book speaks about the attitude of the people regarding not only their civic relationship with one another, but also their spiritual relationship with God.  In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what he thought best.  We reflected on this idea several days ago, saying that this is a sentiment we might apply to our contemporary times as we watch events unfold over which we have little and no control. It seems that in all ages we humans . . . do what we think best.  We also see God’s reaction to human waywardness: God allows the weeds to grow up with the wheat.

A number of years ago I came across a painting in the National Gallery’s Pompeii exhibit. It showed maenads, those who stir themselves to frenzy with wine and orgy, and who sink so low that they tear apart their own children.  They are the famous Bacchae of Dionysus, the distraught female followers of this god of wine who exacts revenge on any woman who will not submit to his will.  This Dionysus is the antithesis of the God of Israel.  This pagan god takes what he wants for his own satisfaction, and his followers are too exhausted to see the truth of his and their existence.

We are constantly faced with a choice in our lives because God grants us the freedom to follow or to strike out on our own, to enact love or to deaden our senses with the wine of self-pleasure and self-gratification.

The painting by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadea entitled The Women of Amphissa shows the exhausted maenads as they awaken the morning after a night of mad running through the hillsides in rapacious, orgiastic delight.  We can see their numbness to the light and to life.  The local townswomen protect them and arrange for them to be returned home unharmed; but the damage has already been done, and they remain powerless, forever in the grip of Dionysus.  They cannot escape from his cruel delight in watching them destroy others.  They have no God who loves them enough to sacrifice himself in redemption of their souls.  There is no Christ who refuses to leave his faithful to do what they think best.

Our God . . . the God of Israel . . . the one God of all of us here is not a God who holds us bound by the secrets or the dark debauchery that surround us.  Our God does not destroy with threats, but rather calls us to grow amid the weeds through faith in God’s own hope and love.  Ours is the God who forgives many times and constantly.  Our God welcomes those who witness and turn to goodness.  Our God does not chain us, does not bind us, does not force us into relationships, and does not take revenge.  Our God brings light, and truth and redemption.  And this God asks us to behave in like manner.  God sets us free to search for God’s goodness with our whole heart and our whole soul, to love or to turn away.  Our God is always hoping that when we do what we think best, we will respond in joyful hope to the call of light and truth and authentic, unencumbered love.

Adapted from a reflection written at the close of 2008. 

For more on the Bacchae, Dionysus and the playwirght Euripides, visit : http://www.mythography.com/myth/glimpse-of-a-greek-god-dionysus-in-the-bacchae-of-euripides/

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Joel 3:17-21: Salvation for God’s Elect

Saturday, May 28, 2016Wonder-and-Amazement

The expression “God’s Elect” seems contrary to the message of Jesus about universal access to God and salvation. We are all given the option to listen, seek, obey and serve. So the expression we see here today may put us out of our comfort zone. We need to think about this.

From the NAB: “This prophecy is rich in imagery and strongly eschatological in tone. . . Its prevailing theme is the day of the Lord.”

From today’s MAGNIFCAT: “Jesus said: ‘I am the gate. Whoever enters me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture’.” John 10:9 The gate to the Lord’s sheepfold is narrow and cut in the shape of a cross. Yet Christ leads the flock safely through to the place of pasture he has prepared for us. . . Two distinct groups follow Jesus as he goes up to Jerusalem. Those who walked with him who ‘were amazed’ are the ones who live the prayer, ‘Look upon us, show us the light of your mercies. Give new signs and work new wonders.’ However, those who walked behind him ‘were afraid.’ Joining with Jesus who gives his life as a ransom for many changes our fear into amazement.”

With God and prayer, fear turns to amazement. We must remember this.

When we turn to God through our suffering, our wonder and awe are increased many-fold. When we see how God provides for us, our faith is increased many-fold. When we dream of prayers God might answer for us, our petitions are answered many-fold. When we love as God loves us, our love is increased many-fold. And so we pray.

Good and gracious God, grant us the patience, the wisdom, and the perseverance to seek the narrow gate and to enter it. May our fear turn to awe, and may we be continually amazed by your goodness. Amen.

Adapted from a Favorite from May 30, 2007.

Cameron, Peter John. “Meditation of the Day.” MAGNIFICAT. 30.5 (2007). Print. 

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Isaiah 11: On that day . . .

Thursday, December 10, 2015lion and lamb

“Isaiah wrote during a period of upheaval and general unrest, as the Assyrian Empire was expanding and the northern kingdom of Israel facing decline and imminent disaster.  Judah [in the south] was also vulnerable, although her destruction was ultimately to come at the hands of a later power, Babylonia . . . Isaiah’s primary ministry was to the people of Judah, who were failing to live according to the requirements of God’s law.  But he prophesied judgment not only upon Judah but also upon Israel and the surrounding nations.  On the other hand, Isaiah delivered a stirring message of repentance and salvation for any who would turn to God. (Zondervan 1051)

In reading today’s Noontime we see that only a stump or remnant of David’s dynasty will remain, and this remnant will be in exile; but from this stump will rise the Messiah, the saver of all peoples.  Also in today’s reading we hear that the word of God will first be lost on those originally chosen, and will then find more fertile soil in the gentile nations.  This is a story of disaster giving bloom to fruit – of rejection giving birth to glory.  It is the story of Jesus’ coming and interaction with humankind.  Harm will be turned to good.  Hate will convert to love.  Rejection will be overridden by restoration.  All that has sought to divide will itself be conquered.  All that has been self-seeking will capitulate to union. Emmanuel – God among us – will rule.  Emmanuel – God amidst us – will save.

isaiah 11v1We can take comfort from these words when we find ourselves in situations that seem irredeemable.  We can also find consolation for the times when we feel devastating loss.  God is constantly looking to restore all that is good.  God is consistent in his love and in his insistence in love being the only power which ultimately survives the chaos of our existence.  The message is clear: On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.  On that day, the Lord shall again take it in hand to reclaim the remnant of his people . . .

We often think of the day of Christ’s coming as some distant time in the next life, but as we recently reflected on God’s power to control all time for all good, we realize that that day may be today or any day.  That day is the day that God wills.  As members of God’s body we come together in the hope that each day may be that day, that all days may be days when we clearly feel and see Emmanuel among us.

spirit1Rather than put our hopes in a distant day when things may come right, when hard hearts may eventually be softened, let us place our hope in this day.  And let us petition our God that each day may be that day.  Let us ready ourselves each morning for his coming.  Let us walk with him through each day.  And each evening as we lay our heads on pillows to slip into sleep, let us thank him that this day has – in some way or other – been that day. 

ARCHAEOLOGICAL STUDY BIBLE (NIV). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005. 1051. Print.

A favorite from November 7, 2009.

 

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Psalm 146: The Abundant Helper

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Don’t put your life in the hands of experts who know nothing of life, salvation life.

God’s generosity cannot be outdone; God’s love cannot be overcome.

Mere humans don’t have what it takes; when they die, their projects die with them.

God’s hope is eternal; God’s fidelity is everlasting.

God always does what he says – he defends the wronged, he feeds the hungry.

Jesus heals the broken and comforts the abandoned.

God frees prisoners – he gives sight to the blind, he lifts up the fallen.

Jesus calls each of us to pardon as we are pardoned.

God loves good people, protects strangers, takes the side of orphans and widows, but makes short work of the wicked.

The Spirit dwells within each of us, making a place for God’s abundant help to rescue, reconcile and redeem . . . so that we too might take part in God’s great plan of salvation.

generosity_of_god_smallWhen we use the scripture link to explore other versions of Psalm 146, we discover God’s abundant help. We discover God’s great plan for salvation life.

Click on the images to discover more about “Accessing God’s Willing Generosity,” and other thoughts on God’s abundant help. 

 

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