Tuesday, 31 October 2017

For Reformation Day...

The brilliance of Martin Luther on the Excellence of Jesus Christ:

When Christ holds fast to us 
 By Martin Luther 

“And some brought to Him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven”.  Matthew 9:2. 

 These words show us quickly what the kingdom of Christ is – the caring voice that pierces our poverty with those words, “Your sins are forgiven”. 

We cannot view Christ’s great work amongst us in any other way, for only this word allows us to be alive before God. As you, my friends, understand, the great demand we know is to be right before God and our neighbor, so we must indeed hold fast to these precious words and find our refuge here and hear their sweet message to one like us – ‘Son, be assured, your sins are forgiven’. 

Can you here the rich treasure of the good news? 
We see, then, that the true work of Christ’s kingdom is only done when nothing but this comfort and forgiveness is evidenced not only in the words that proclaim it, but also in deed. Christ not only spoke to this sick man, but in truth, forgave his sins and comforted him. 

Words are quickly heard and then easily forgotten, and the world, the devil and false religion certainly wish to quickly remove us from this understanding. Therefore, dear ones, be careful to learn and truly know what is being given to us in these words, and thereby escape the snares that so easily seek to reason away the mercy we find here. 

Here there are no good works, no piety on the part of this poor man, no keeping of laws in order to show goodness or merit – here we find nothing but the comfort and mercy of Christ alone – it is the bare comfort of His grace and mercy that meets this man in need. So often, because our dullness, we receive such goodness only with our ears, far beyond our hearts, for this man’s problem – the weight of sin – still hangs upon us, so we run to those who they speak for God when they encourage us to try harder, climb further, by our own works, thinking this will bring us remedy. 

This, dear friends, is madness. 
Here, in this one verse, we find the true work of God’s Holy Spirit – not to leave us wallowing in our vanity and folly, but to bring us to the astonishing mercy of God in Christ. 

First, then, He insists must come this bestowing of God’s goodness – only then can we truly be of good cheer and of any true value to each other. There will always be those who seek to tell us that seek to torment us with numerous requirements and regulations in regards to our being right with God, but they so entirely overlook the work of Christ Himself here amongst us – for Christ first takes possession of us by love and then we are right before God by such mercy alone, enables us to aid our neighbor.  

We must likewise hold up this wondrous truth to ourselves and one another, and by doing so, hold each one close to God by His mercy and righteousness to us, and not by any other means. Christ alone shows us the gracious love of our God, bringing that mercy fully to us in Himself. Let us keep quiet about all other things, but only boast and marvel in this amazing care – Christ has indeed forgiven us of our sins!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Throwing it all away?

"I am amazed that you are so readily deserting the one who called you in the grace of His Son and turning to another message". Galatians 1:6.

So, the big day of the 500th anniversary is almost upon us, and all manner of exuberant and clarifying materials have clamored for our attention as we approach the moment, but I find myself asking one question.

If the good doctor Martin were sat with a brew at table with us right now, what would he want us to take away regarding all of this?

Back in the mid 90's, I was suddenly struck by, more than anything else, what was paramount about Luther's perpetual work from that October day in 1517 until the day he died.

It was made plain to me again yesterday whilst reading an item on the 1517 legacy page.

We can spend so much of our times wittering on about all manner of supposed 'truths', but at the end of the day, it really all comes down to Christ coming to us, both in His Incarnation, and then, in the various ways He has left with us that His spirit uses to bring Him to us.

When we worship, is it around the cross, and the astonishing reconciliation that God has brought through the atoning, justifying work of His Son, expressed in our confession and absolution?

When we face doubts and trails, are we able to find surety in that we have been baptized into Christ and are therefore dead to what was and alive to the magnitude of His marvelous redemption?

When we sit in church in our need, are we fed by His body and blood, given for us and to us in the bread and the wine, showing how we truly become His by the total giving of Him?

When we pause for a moment, we realize that everything that sustains our bodies comes in a similar fashion - we have to take in what is good to be healthy. Why, then, if God has made this so clear in the natural realm, do we think it's any different when it comes to what will feed us in regards to being born again? Why do we think that we have the inner resources to better ourselves and change the world for good? It's like a drowning man believing he'll be OK without a life-line.

Theology goes bad when we start to put anything in the spot that should only, ever, be filled by Jesus Christ and the good news of His saving work.

It wasn't long, some five centuries ago, before Wittenburg and then Europe would witness a plethora of "teachers" who would seek to put all kinds of provisos, footnotes and inserts into the plain and true message Luther had sought to recover for the church (see the amusing video below as an example of how this happened), and thereby began the fracturing of Protestantism into hundreds of different denominations, but this was never the intention, and this isn't the concord that is fostered when we return to that same essential message brother Martin sought to continually declare.

So, the good Doctor's answer would be simple - bring Christ to each and every one, that they, by faith in that good news, may find true joy and comfort with God.

Let's hope that this anniversary allows us to camp there, so the 1,000th anniversary can revel in the same light.

Peace with God comes through Jesus Christ.
Sola Fide, Sola Gracia, Sola Christos!

Oh - Happy Reformation day (31st).

Saturday, 21 October 2017

In spite of ourselves

"If we were to truly look inside ourselves, we would all condemn ourselves".
Noelle's dairy entry - from the film, Limbo.

"Jesus, the son of Joseph.... the son of Adam". Luke 3:25 & 38.

It's one of life great pretenses.

"How are you?"
"Oh, fine".

It doesn't actually take much to peel away that paper-thin veneer, but of course, we don't,
because we're expecting the usual to happen in such "conversations" -

"How are you?"
"Oh, I'm OK to".

(Phew - that's out of the way).

Then it's on to lighter issues.

Getting close to someone always costs, because once you peel away the outer "calm", you will find the storm inside - the raging push and pull between what they would like to be and what they actually are.

That's why the gospels (Matthew and Luke) quickly give us genealogies.

We often think that true purity or holiness is light years away from us or our shaky little worlds, but amidst what we might consider the dusty tomes of 'this one begat that one' - not what we might usually consider a page-turner - resides the answer to all our fears and troubles regarding ever being anywhere near good enough to matter.

The Christian message is that everyone counts, and that's not in some weird philosophical sense. God has literally married himself to us -  to this strange, turbulent mess of a race called humanity. That's what the passage in Luke is telling us - he became a man of the same stream, but without sin, as the rest of us.

The good news that keeps me afloat is not about measuring some increasing amount of virtue or piety in myself - if anything, I so often find the very opposite to be the case - it's all about the fact that "True holiness - the holier it is, the closer it will draw to sinners" (Luther).

We shouldn't be surprised about the fact that our greatest need is met by someone else.
Everything that really matters about us comes from beyond the shores of "me", but how we receive these gifts, how we use them, that's often where we find ourselves stranded. We know they count - we know we should be thankful and reciprocate with generosity and care, but there's this dreadful selfishness in the way that usually causes us to spoil or squander even what's good.

Some years ago, I started attending a church where most services commence with a moment of confession and absolution. It's a moment that resonates deeply, because it tells me that what really counts isn't my inner turmoil over the last week, but the fact that God has already intervened to change what matters - He has killed the power of Sin and Death in coming to us, living with us and for us and dying and rising to brake the cycle of going nowhere. That moment in church often allows me to recognize that splendor once again... and that allows me to get through another week.

That 'allowance' - assurance that what someone else has entirely done is what truly counts - breaks into our benighted, often dreadful days here, and beckons us to a surety and certainty that mediates a comfort beyond ourselves.

Sanctity is because God makes it so. That's why we're deemed to be saints as well as sinners - the bare creature, so marred and crippled by their folly, is covered by a beauty and a purity that could never be obtained by the wretch beneath it. That's why Christians are constantly talking about Jesus - He alone is the righteousness, the holiness, we so clearly need to heal this innate poverty of soul.

There's a great deal more that could be said about how we so readily "miss" each other because we know to do otherwise would cost our island-like selves deeply (the film, Limbo, is a splendid study in how this happens continually, often until it's too late) - but the remedy is here, and we can know a beginning of something far better in the life God brings us in His beloved Son.

I don't have any problem being the "hello... and goodbye" kind of person life so readily makes us, but every once and a while, you get to have an actual conversation with someone, and that can truly be life-changing. When we lift the lid, we begin to realize we're all the same, and we all need that precious moment when we're reminded that something, someone has made it right... in spite of us.

So, when today gets disjointed and you're in a rut once again, consider Him who went to the cross to bring you something so much better - that's the only way we can escape the trouble that is ourselves.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The Outsider

"Sometimes, to love someone you gotta be a stranger."
Dekkard - Blade Runner 2049

It's been a busy few weeks, running a series of studies up to the 500th anniversary of the day when a concerned monk in a university town posted some considered admonitions and astute observations that changed everything, but I did manage a trip to the cinema to see the new movie quoted from above to good effect.

As to the anniversary, there's already been a great deal published and expounded this year about this, but what fascinates me is just how far (and how quickly) we can move ourselves away from the strangeness - the complete 'otherness' of God's (rightly defined) "alien" work in the world to a philosophy that is far more comfortable to our own home-made religious requirements. Redemption doesn't ever  truly calmly arise naturally from our inner contemplations that instill an intent to serenely behave with placid equilibrium to all (due, presumably, to some inner virtue and well-being).

The story of our true recovery is far too earthy, too insistent for that. It begins in the nightmare of our becoming far less than truly human (Genesis 3), and, many generations on, reaches its zenith when a young maiden finds herself visited by an angelic being declaring that, although she had never laid with a man, she would soon be with child (Luke 1:26-35).

Our broken world has to be invaded by a stranger (a God who had become very foreign to us, though He is always so close) to become whole again.

 It's only when we begin to unpack afresh the stark and often blunt realities of the Gospel Luther and company returned to centre stage that we become keenly aware of just how foreign biblical Christianity can be.

It's like the way photographs are used in the Blade Runner movies. They are supposedly precious because they unlock memories - moments that are considered crucial to identity - but the enigma in these stories is that the events depicted in these images are not our memories - they belong to another, and yet, at our core, we are still part of them, needing to appropriate these moments to us to make us whole.

These divine moments that are captured - seeded into our world - end us but heal us. Godliness doesn't come to energize our virtue or piety, but to bury it, cold and lifeless - to entirely end such devices and replace it with another nature, another 'personhood', that is not us. This all happens, not in some picturesque temple or a mentally obtained celestial realm so relished by Gnostics, but at a filthy, blood-stained cross surrounded by the cruel and the wicked, in the body of man killing our sin.

Christ takes our vile, vain "goodness" and shows us the true cost of all we are, alienated from the garden, in His broken, despised, rejected flesh - the bread we must eat to be healed. Stricken for us, He offers the world a new humanity that, embodied in this single death and resurrection, severs us from our vile religion so our flesh might be indeed raised whole.

As in the beginning, when creation is brought about by nothing but God's word, so in redemption, we who are ungodly are made whole only by the complete and entire saving "offering up" of the Son, so it is His 'rightness', not ours, that rescues and renews us, nothing else.

Replicants, in both Blade Runner movies, come to see there is something far greater to become than themselves, even if it kills them. They may have been defined as 'more human than human', even as 'angels', but what truly matters is, as Jesus spoke of it, to find that pearl so unique, so precious, that everything else will be eagerly sold to obtain such a prize.

God has paid that manner of price for us - to renew and regain all that we were meant to be in our reflection of His astonishing goodness.

The God who we often miss-shape and deride is so much closer than we often care to say - He so speaks in those deep, intimate moments of existence which move us and enthrall. He calls us to discard our folly, our derived pretense of self-sufficiency, to be made whole at the Cross. Only then will life and death become more than a burden - for there we find the one wounded for us, bringing healing by His wounds, that we might be restored.

Beyond us is a ground where justice and mercy met, where all may come and meet the stranger that loves us most.

"I want to drink out of that fountain, on a hill called double cure".
(Vigilantes of Love).

Considering the lilies...

Fascinating video.