Sunday, April 24, 2011

Our Heyday Is Yet To Come

One of the scripture lessons that is often read on Easter Sunday – part of the “Easter Vigil” liturgy – is a lengthy passage from Exodus (Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21). In this scripture, we read about the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. We all know this scene – Cecil B. DeMille and Charles Heston made it famous. With Pharaoh’s army close on their heels, the Israelites come to the banks of the Red Sea, where it looks as though they will surely be recaptured. But, God instructs Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea – and, when he does, the water is driven back by a heaven-sent wind so that the people can cross the sea on dry land.

It is a great story. But, we might wonder… why it is part of the liturgy for Easter Sunday? I think that – along with the Resurrection stories that we read in the Gospels – this passage from Exodus could possibly be one of the best scriptures to read on Easter Sunday. Like the accounts of Jesus’ Resurrection, the story of the crossing of the Red Sea is a salvation story. These scriptures tell us about God’s desire to save – even when doing so may appear to be impossible. These stories offer dynamic testimony of how God always makes a way when (it seems that) there is no way.

These stories about the Exodus and Jesus’ Resurrection invite us to make a dramatic shift in our thinking. Conventional thinking would suggest that huge bodies of water are always impossible to cross on foot. Conventional thinking would suggest that death is always the end of the story. But when we shift our thinking – when we put on new, Spirit-tinted glasses and we tune in to see what God sees – then we discover that there are more possibilities than we originally thought. Suddenly, there are dry paths made in the midst of the waves. Suddenly, stones are rolled away and new life springs forth where there once was only death.

Without the shift in our thinking – when we are reluctant to wear those Spirit-tinted glasses – we end up slipping into the murky land of “Should-a/Would-a/Could-a”. The Israelites were there for a while, asking Moses why they had left Egypt only to die in the wilderness – faced with the obstacle of crossing the Red Sea, they were quick to abandon hope and suggest that they were better off as slaves in captivity! “We should-a stayed in Egypt! We would-a never faced this kind of hardship there! We could-a been safe – even as slaves.”

Without Spirit-tinted glasses (offered to us through the promise of God-provided salvation), we – like the Israelites – slip into the belief that our heyday is behind us! We might be tempted to look back to the “Church of Yesteryear” and pine for “the good-ol’ days”. But, God (thankfully) didn’t finish working in and with the Church 30, 50, or 70 years ago – if God had finished back then, we’d still be dealing with issues of institutionalized segregation and sexism in the Church!

Thank the Lord that God is still acting! God is still moving! God is still at work! God – through the Word – encourages us to put on a new vision and recognize this fact: because God is at work, our heyday is yet to come.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Knowing the Mind of God

As I was writing last week, I was reminded of an experience I had while I was searching for a new call. When I was being considered for a position at a particular church, I had the opportunity to interview with a Committee on Ministry of a Presbytery via email. (I will not disclose which church, COM, or Presbytery this was -- I will only say that it is NOT the church, COM, or Presbytery with whom I am affiliated now.)

Here's one of my "favorite" questions about what I had to say in my PIF (Personal Information Form) from a member of that COM:

Under the heading "Key Theological Issues" in Amy's PIF she states: "All Christians must recognize that whenever we claim to know the mind of God we are guilty of idolatry; it is God who calls us and claims us as members of the body of Christ, and not we who call upon or claim God as our own." I need some help in understanding what she is saying here. I would like to ask her: are you saying we cannot know the mind of God at all? Can you explain your statement a bit more, especially in relation to God’s work of revealing to us God's will, God's truth, God's mind so that we can come to know more about God and God's ways for right living? If God can make God’s will known to us, what do you mean when you say it is idolatrous to claim to know what God has revealed? I don’t think I understand what you are trying to say on this point. (see 1 Corinthians 2:9-16, esp. 10-11)

Here is how I answered the inquisitive (and, dare I say, seemingly anxious) individual:

God’s will and God’s truth are, indeed, revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ by the Spirit of God, and through the Scriptures (again, only by the illumination of the Holy Spirit). Yet, while we (the Church) have received “the Spirit that is from God,” that does not mean that we now “know” the mind of God. Our finite, human minds cannot –- individually or in small groups -– ever fully contain or ever posses the mind of God. As Paul writes, “we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end…For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:9-12).”

It is the Church –- the full Body of Christ –- that has received the Spirit of God, and it is only together as a Body of Christ that we are able to begin to know the mind of God; and when God’s Kingdom is made complete, then our knowledge of God may also be complete. When we as individuals or groups (churches, denominations, affiliate groups, etc.) claim to “know” fully the mind of God, we are quick to forget that we are only a part of the Body of Christ; to claim that somehow one group or another is able to have the knowledge that God has is to once again fall prey to the lies of the Tempter.

In 1 Corinthians 2:12, Paul says that “Now we have received…the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.” Later in his letter, Paul goes on to more fully explain these spiritual gifts, taking great care to remind us that we are members of a body; we cannot live without one another (1 Corinthians 12). In order to accomplish this -– in order to live together as one Body of Christ –- we must have love for one another (1 Corinthians 13). Therefore, this is why I say this in my PIF: “The Church is called to live out the truth of Christ’s command to 'Love one another as I have loved you'. As we are confronted by a barrage of political and social issues, it is vitally important that the Church find ways to be open to persons of all political, socio-economic, and theological standpoints –- we will only be whole when the Church is able to embrace persons of differing views.”

When will we dare to get over ourselves, admit that we don't have all the answers (and that we couldn't handle it even if we did), and just let God be God...?