WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR?

Rev. 3:20 “Here I am. I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”

This is a great Advent passage but not for assumed reasons. Most people connect this scripture with evangelism conversation whereby a person is invited into a relationship with Christ. Jesus is standing at the entrance of your life (the door). He is knocking, desiring for you to ‘invite him into your life’. The painting of this scripture shows that there is no door handle on the outside meaning it’s up to YOU to do the inviting.

But that’s not really the context for this passage. Rather, Jesus is speaking to the lukewarm church of Laodicea who think they are doing just fine, thank you. They have acquired wealth and don’t need a thing.

But….there are people outside this church who are missing out on life while the Laodiceans don’t really give a hoot. The church is safe and comfortable and probably wants to be left to its own strategy. Jesus is upsetting the applecart by telling them they need more than what they have. They need what he can offer.

And here’s the thing. The person outside the door is the one who is hungry, hurt, imprisoned, naked and in need. (See the final judgment scene in Matthew 25.) And Jesus is saying ‘open your arms to the least of these, the ones in need. Invite them into your life and in so doing you will be ministering to Jesus himself. WE will sit down and dine together. And you might not even know it’s Jesus according to Matthew 25.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “Christ is standing at the door; he lives in the form of a human being among us.” (From a Christmas sermon preached by Bonhoeffer)

The waiting of Advent time is the time of welcoming our neighbors, loving our neighbors in the person of anyone in need. That’s what it means to be a servant of the master and an ‘overcomer’ as stated in verse 21. You don’t overcome the world by just inviting Jesus into your life. Most anyone can do that.

The master is tarrying and in the meantime he is building his Kingdom of servants and friends to work and live with him as this creation is being restored. In the time of waiting we are the hospitable bride welcoming those in need until the groom arrives at which time the feast will begin. And the ones who ‘GET IT’ – well, they, in all their humility and hospitality, get to be enthroned with Jesus. {Revelation 3:21}

Wait, I think I hear someone at the door.

WAKE ME WHEN WE GET THERE

Hope, as translated in the Message version of the Bible, is ‘keeping alert to what God will do next’. (Romans 5:5) We know that God is involved in our lives. Jesus was and is God’s loving presence making his home among us (John 1:14) He came to prove that God is ‘for us’ and not against us. (Romans 8:31). He came find those of us who have been ‘lost’ and bring us home. He comes not to judge but so save. (John 3:17)

All this and much more leads to ‘hope’ because the same God who was in Christ is in us by his Spirit (Romans 5). It is an organic and intimate hope. It’s in our DNA as believers and those yet to be.

Sometimes when we were kids our families would go on car trips with my parents, dad being the designated driver. And as could happen we’d get a bit lost but dad always said that he knew or could find the way. And it’s because we trusted him that we knew everything would be okay. But, as I still felt a tad uneasy with these ‘strange’ journeys, I would decide to go to sleep in the back seat trusting that when I awoke all would be well. Our dad was good to us. He could be trusted. Even asleep I was alert to the good that would eventually happen. HOPE.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler.” And every day is a journey with God. Hope is keeping alert to where God is taking us even in the most daily routines and into the darkest of nights. And it is only God’s goodness to us, his children, that gives us any certainly even in uncertainty, that the journey will be blessed.

Bonhoeffer being in a prison cell had hope that he would be released. But as time went on he began to realize that his death was inevitable. But even in that realization he did not lose hope. His last words were hope-laden. “This is the end but for me it is the beginning.” These words are a mirror of Jesus’ prayer on the cross, ‘Father into thy hands I give myself.” Paul reflecting on his dark days wrote, ‘For me to live is Christ and to die is gaining even more.”

These are all statements of hope, not naïve positive thinking. They have a foundation in the promise and person of God. They are borne of experience with God and through redemption by Christ.

So we never give up. But if you have to for a while (like falling asleep on a trip) know that ‘while scary uncertain stuff comes at night, joy always comes in the morning.’ (From Psalm 30:5)

Remember this. Hope always contains a bit of uncertainty because we still live earthbound and in the flesh. See faith is saying yes to following Christ- hope is the anticipation of the good in the journey.

Hope can be like the man who is asked by Jesus if he, the father, really believes that his son can be healed. The man responds ‘I believe, help my unbelief, my doubt.’ Sort of like saying, ‘Jesus I trust you and I know what you can do but there is reservation within me, a feeling of doubt about which I must be honest and even with that doubt I will trust you.’

That would be like my dad saying to me, ‘Son do you believe I can find the best route on this trip?’ ‘Sure dad, but would it be okay if I took a little nap back here and then you can wake me when we get there.’

RELIGIONLESS CHRISTIANITY

I have taken up readings by and about Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) once again.

He was a Lutheran pastor who gave his life in resistance to the Nazi Reich of the 30’s and 40’s. And what he observed in Germany was a piety that pushed God away from the center of a person’s life. In this way God was safer.

This marginalization of God was done by language, ceremonies, and even church sacraments. One could be a Nazi and still give allegiance to God through the label of ‘Christian’ and even go so far from the center to have a ‘God blessed baptism’ without the effects. (It reminds me of a scene from ‘The Godfather’.) The same people who received the church sacraments could be the same persons who were anti-Semitic and executed their own citizens for the security of the Reich.

It’s hard to imagine how the German Nationalists could live with themselves. The reason perhaps is that they pushed God to the periphery of their lives, A God to whom they were only accountable for their religious observances and not their day to day lives.

We do and have done the same in America, myself included. We use our religious labels like ‘born again’ or ‘evangelical’ as ways of aligning ourselves with the God of religion. We get baptized, carry large study Bibles and join churches as a means of attaining an acceptable righteousness with God.

But what truly matters is very little of any of this. What matters is Christ, not religion. Christ is the understanding of Bonhoeffer was the epitome of ‘giving ones life for another’. In Philippians 2 Paul writes that we are to have the attitude, the mindset, the character of Jesus who ‘gave up power’ and his equality with God to become a servant to humanity even to the point of dying on the cross. That’s the center where Jesus lives and to where he calls us. In the vocation of salvation, to which we are called, we are to be a people who are for ‘all the others’ not just the few who belong to ‘our group’. Jesus didn’t die for only the Jews. He died for everyone, for all people. He was/is the Lamb of God who takes away ‘the sin of the world’. (John 1)

So if I am called to be Jesus’ disciples whom do I get to exclude in the name of nationalism, politics, the economy or even safety. Jesus did not call us to be ‘safe’ in this world. Rather he said we should carry a cross and deny ourselves, which is the only real way to discover who we really are.

‘Religion’ keeps us thinking that this is what we have really done. I Tithe. Wow, what a burden, a cross to bear. Jesus said that the very people who tithed were the same ones who neglected weightier matters of just and mercy.

Here’s the Message Version of Luke 11:42 “I’ve had it with you! You’re hopeless, you Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but manage to find loopholes for getting around basic matters of justice and God’s love. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required.

And now one of our states has a ‘good Christian’ man running for the U.S. Senate. His past is questionable with several allegations of sexual abuse. He has been compared with Joseph the carpenter who married a young virgin, Mary and bore a son, Jesus. So what’s the problem? And it was 40 years ago. It’s not relevant, some say. And he’s good for the country, a quality that outweighs any past behavior.

See what Bonhoeffer means by pushing God to the peripheral even while using God to condone our own character.

Remember Paul in 1Cor. 13 writing that we can ‘do’ or ‘perform’ all the right acceptable and seemingly moral behaviors but with love it counts, in the salvation vocation to which we are called, for nothing.

God did not send his Son to only save our personal souls to go to heaven when we die but to establish once and for certain His Kingdom, the beachhead for a reconciling of earth and heaven. In Luke 4 Jesus tells about his own presence on earth.

God’s Spirit is on me;
he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
recovery of sight to the blind,
to set the burdened and battered free,
to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”– Message Version

We are called to follow Jesus in the center of all life, loving others, those on the fringe of life, needing to know the love and blessing of God for everyone. We are called to be the light of the world- the whole world.

And as Jesus taught, ‘not even the powers of hell can stop that kind of church’.

We are the bride, getting ready for the Bridegroom to meet us, to feast with us and to restore this creation to a new heaven and new earth. That cannot happen with God on the periphery of our lives. We are not looking for a Christian State but rather the state of Christians to make Christ the center.

And listen- I’m no pillar of virtue when it comes to all the above. I have performed many religious acts and ceremonies that I have thought appeased God and even after 60 years of being ‘a Christian’ I need Christ more than ever at the CENTER, the center of all I am and do. Thanks be to God for his grace in all of that.

Maranatha

 

 

 

 

SEE NO EVIL??

After the events of the past few days I feel the need to speak out, not as one associated with any political party, but as a Christian.

I am convinced that the President has given tacit approval to hate groups within our country. Groups like the KKK, the neo-Nazis, White supremacists and others sense the Presidents’ sanction for their behavior. I believe this behavior stems from ‘EVIL’, pure and simple. They wish to take back their country. From whom? We have already taken this country, by extermination, from Native Americans and America has built this country through enslavement of African Americans. And now under the guise of ‘freedom of speech’ these white nationalists are threatening Jews and other minorities against whom they will fight with force if necessary.

We do not have a moral leader at the helm of our nation. We have a power hungry egotist. He is doing virtually nothing to protect the rights of those who have been so downtrodden in our history. And now he is equating the protests of ‘the left’ with the EVIL of the neo-Nazis and others like them.

I cannot speak to the heart of the President but a tree is known by its fruit. Jesus said that. I know for myself that my own words and actions speak at times of a heart and will that needs transformation. I believe that for all Christians and if a leader calls him or herself by the name of a follower of Jesus then let the words hold true for them as well. Words that are spoken reflect a certain character no matter how well those words are then reinterpreted by the speaker or spokespersons.

Christians, I believe, must stand, in the strongest way, against any Nazi expression. While it may be ‘free speech’ it is EVIL and what happened at that Rally and especially to the young woman who was murdered was EVIL. The people ‘on the left’ may have their ‘issues’ but the EVIL perpetrated by hate speech must be fought by the expression and prayers of Christian believers, among others. Behind the EVIL of the neo-Nazis is the Satan who desires to defeat faith and the faithful.

The Christians of today who are as complacent as the Christians were in Nazi Germany are guilty for non-action (myself included) against the EVIL we witnessed. Consider the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who spoke out against the Nazis in Germany. These words in his radio address were censored.

“If the leader tries to become the idol the led are looking for–something the led always hope from their leader–then the image of the leader shifts to one of a mis-leader, then the leader is acting improperly toward the led as well as toward himself. The true leader must always be able to disappoint. This, especially, is part of the leader’s responsibility and objectivity. “ (The day after Hitler came to power.)

 If anything needs to be taken back in America it is the courage of the conviction of Christians to follow God and not Caesar.

Read these words from a French sociologist and political theorist:

“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”
― Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835)

 

 

 

Message for Roseburg

If I were a pastor in that little community of Roseburg, Oregon or any community that is connected to the people there here is what I would want to say:

Let’s stay with Jesus for a while. Let’s not hurry on even to a sense of victory. The resurrection is muted. We just need to stay with Jesus. Look at his body, the blood, his tears. See his weakness on that cross. Don’t turn away with some easy answer to the senseless tragedy. No, stay with Jesus. Each one of these lives, these precious souls whose death has pierced their loved ones hearts, belongs to Jesus, the Jesus who suffers with each aching heart.

Don’t rush to change laws right now. Don’t rush to blame. Don’t rush to judgment. Just stay with Jesus.

Don’t rush to revenge. Leave that to the Lord. There was none of that on Good Friday. They just stayed with Jesus, cried with Jesus, and something in each of them died with Jesus just as something in all of us dies with these young men and women, their families and communities right now. They stood for Jesus. Jesus stands with them. Their hurt is his continuing pain. Don’t rush to find the end just yet. Believe right where you are, right where your heart breaks right not. If you need to doubt or rage against heaven, go ahead because heaven knows how to bear our doubt, disbelief or uncontrollable anger. Heaven has been here before.

Just stay with Jesus right now. That’s right. Where their blood poured out it is mingled with the blood of Jesus. That word ‘Jesus’ right now is the only word we can speak.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, ONLY A SUFFERING GOD CAN HELP NOW. May each of our hearts find a place where that suffering God can rest for a while.

Christ at the Center

Bonhoeffer has a book by this title and I tag along to him by saying that everything in this creation has come through Christ. Christ is the victim and the victor and he calls us to be his followers. Those folks in South Carolina, centered in Christ, have found the ability to grieve and grief deeply while they witness to God’s love in Christ through forgiveness. Few of us can understand their grief but those of us who do know it realize it that there is anger and sadness in the midst of anything else we are feeling. We are not naive but at the same time we are not unfaithful. We know the weakness of God in Christ and we know the defeat of death through Christ. Those families and faithful ones in Christ through their forgiveness and their celebration of life know weakness and strength.
The church is to experience both. We are to live with Christ and we are to die with Christ knowing all the while that we are in Christ and Christ in us and not even Satan and all his legions can stop God’s children from marching forward.
I pray that the light of AME Zion churches and those who stand with them will know that God’s grace is always sufficient as well as ultimately victorious.
P.S. Hopefully through it all our nation and we as individual believers will be sufficiently humble to hear God.

BEGGARS

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran Pastor and Nazi resistor in Germany. Even back in 1933 he stood against Hitler. He ended up imprisoned and executed for his role in the assassination attempts against the Fuhrer but even in jail he ministered to so many. His writings survived through the kindness of guards and good friends.

Consider the following letter from Bonhoeffer written from his jail cell in 1943: I think we’re going to have an exceptionally good Christmas. The very fact that outward circumstance precludes our making provision for it will show whether we can be content with what is truly essential. I used to be very fond of thinking up and buying presents, but now that we have nothing to give, the gift God gave us in the birth of Christ will seem all the more glorious; the emptier our hands the better we understand what Luther meant by his dying words: ‘We’re beggars; it; it’s true.’ The poorer our quarters, the more clearly we perceive that our hearts should be Christ’s home on earth.

I suspect that for many of us the time will come in some fashion when we are beggars thereby emptied of ourselves and more open to God. I pray that for all of us in these days of Advent and Christmas we can honestly say that we have nothing to give and instead receive the grace, the love and mercy that God extends to us in his Son, Jesus. Be assured that those who are humble and broken will be the first to taste of the goodness of God in this life and in the life to come. Amen

I have just been watching THE BIBLE: the epic series produced through the history channel and it’s quite wonderful. Be on the lookout in February for the movie, THE SON OF GOD, which I understand, comes in part from this series.