Saturday, May 24, 2014

No Longer An Orphan

" Jesus said, 'If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, because He abides with you, and He will be in you. I will not leave you an orphan; I am coming to you. [But], whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and [remember], the word that you hear is not mine, but comes from the Father who sent me. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.' " --[John 14: 15-26.]

I am always wondering what better kind of world we would live in, if only we still had Jesus walking the earth, preaching and teaching.

The reality is that Jesus remained on this earth for only about thirty-three years. And then He was gone.

I imagine how the disciples must have felt -- shocked, bewildered, bereft and alone, wondering where Jesus had gone, fearing how they would cope without Him.

I can truly relate to those feelings of being alone, and orphaned. In essence, I brought myself up.

 By the age of five, I was putting myself down for naps. Already at age five, I knew which nights I would likely not be fed.  I knew that if I did not get dinner, I would probably be too hungry to sleep. I had to figure out how to get food before nightfall. I figured out how to trade my celery and carrots  with someone at school, for a better snack; or, to show up at a neighbor's house after school, looking hungry, and hoping they would give me a piece of bread with butter.

By age ten, all of the cruelty and trauma from living in that house began to take its toll. I stopped speaking that year.

Outside of my highly dysfunctional family, I had relatives on my father's side; but, they lived in another country.  An aunt and uncle lived in another state. By the time I was 14, both maternal grandparents were dead.

I dared not tell any teachers or neighbors what was going on behind closed doors in my home.

When I had finally finished my education, I found an apartment in a big city. I moved in with a cot mattress and a folding card table.

Years prior, the depression had set in. My motto was, 'Trust no one!'

My outlook was that I was totally alone. That was my Truth. My Way. My Life.

It is not a simple thing to define the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Truth is invisible. It is mysterious. You cannot see Him, but you can see His effects. I think back to my childhood, and I can see that I really did know that my family was not living according to God's Truths. And so, I figured out that they did not love God.

They stopped taking me to church when I was 14. Church was forbidden. But it was too late. I already knew and loved God's Truths.

From church, I knew that Jesus stood for peace. But, there was no peace in my home, when I was hit and received black eyes.

I knew that Jesus stood for Love of all races. But, there was no tolerance in my home, when I saw how my parents derided everyone different than themselves. If they hated others so much, and no one was good enough, is that why they seemed to hate me?

All those years, I feared: What if I was wrong to believe those things, and that my family was right? And how could I know the Truth, when I was so isolated from the world? When things got too rough, I would sneak off and sit under a giant pine tree, the soft needles making a fragrant bed underneath me.  I would sit looking up at the clouds, and wonder how far away Heaven was?

And yet, the Spirit of Truth must have been around me, or else how could I have decided that I would rather cut my psyche into fragments, than to emulate the lies that my family believed in?

A priest once said that I have a "steely bond with God." But what else would I cling to? In 1Peter 3:17, Jesus says,  "For it is better to suffer for doing good, than to suffer for doing evil." What would I do, become like the ones who treated me so cruelly? Would I become them? I feared that potential outcome, far more than I dreaded the sacrifice I was making.

I still vastly prefer to rely on myself, more than on anyone else. And yet, the Spirit intrudes, softly nudging me. Whispering hints and directions to me. Confirming God's Truth, helping me to reject the lies. It turns out that I am NOT an orphan.

The Holy Spirit comes as a feeling. Once my son lost his favorite stuffed animal.  I walked into one room; it left me cold. I walked into his bedroom, and even though it was a mess, I could "feel" that the favorite toy was there. I told my son, 'Your toy is underneath something in your room. Clean your room and you will find it.' And that is exactly what happened.

Or, another time, I was anxious about someone visiting our home. This was a difficult person, someone friendly one moment, another moment sharp- tongued.  My son asked, 'When will she be here?' In fact, she was late and had not called.  I was beginning to think that she had forgotten. But in a few moment, I could sense her presence. I replied, 'She is just coming down our street now. Let me open the door.' I opened the door, and she was pulling into our drive.

The Holy Spirit points us in the direction of God's Love. The Holy Spirit does not want us to feel panic, or aloneness, or fear.

I used to have no idea what or who the Holy Spirit was? I used to be spooked at these quiet spiritual whispers. Now, I do not know how I would live without the Spirit. I depend on His loving protection and guidance. I pray for God's direction, and I try to stay open to His Loving Way. And the Spirit comes.

Come, Holy Spirit!

[Related Posting, "The Spirit of Truth", May 29, 2011.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Show Me The Father

"  'Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house, there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.'  Thomas said to Him, ' Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?'  Jesus said to him,  'I am the Way, The Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.'  Philip said to Him, 'Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.'  Jesus said to Him, 'Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.  . . . Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. . . . I am going to the Father.' "  [ John 14:1-14].

Who IS this man Jesus, whom God, the Father, sent to us?  He was a prophet, even the Jews acknowledged that.

We Christians call Him the Messiah, Savior, our Redeemer, the Christ (the Anointed).

In this Scripture, Jesus explains to His disciples that He is not only "like" the Father, but that the Father is IN Jesus.

In last week's Scripture, in Acts 2: 22- 24, Peter stood and addressed a crowd of Israelites:  "You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say:  Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds, power, wonders, and signs that God did, through Him among you, as you yourselves know -- this man, handed over to you according to the set plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised Him up, having freed Him from death, because it was impossible for Him to be held in its power."

If we re-read this Scripture in Acts 2 closely, what we hear is that Jesus, with "deeds, power, wonders and signs that God did through Him", was clearly validated as God's Son; only to be crucified "according to the set plan and foreknowledge of God."

Does this not sound like some awful, cosmic set-up on the part of God-- to have established His Son's miraculous role in human history, with wonders and signs; yet, knowing full well, in advance, that Jesus would be sacrificed so violently in the end?

And so what IS the point for God to have sent His Son to save us, only to watch His Son be carried off to a bloody end?

I know a pastor who said that, as a boy of about six, he used to fantasize that the "real ending" of the Crucifixion would have been that Jesus did not suffer and die at all; but instead, He simply stepped down from the cross and walked away.

But as much as we all wish for that perfect ending, it did not happen. And, without Jesus' death and Resurrection, our central Christian story would never have been the same.

Recently, I attended a lecture by Celia Sirois, of the Archdiocese of Boston. She said that Jesus had to die, because essentially, God had run out of other options. What else could He have done?

Too understand this analysis, you have to consider the trajectory of the Old Testament, as a significant and critical prelude to our Christian history in the New Testament.

In the beginning, God made the earth, and He made the perfect dwelling place for His people, in the Garden of Eden. But the First Man and the First Woman disobeyed God's command to abstain from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve became as gods, knowing the difference between good and evil.

Evil overtook the land, beginning with Cain's murder of Abel.

God tried flooding the land, sparing only Noah and his family, and the animals that boarded the ark two by two. But humankind's sin continued.

God chose Abraham as a patriarch. Abraham bargained with God to save Sodom and Gomorrah. But humankind continued to sin. And so, God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.

Then, God made Himself known to Moses at the burning bush. God called Moses up to Mt. Sinai and gave Moses the Ten Commandments. But humankind still sinned, despite the stone tablets setting forth God's Law in the Commandments.

God spoke to His people through Moses, saying, "See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, [vs.] death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, by loving the Lord your God and walking in His ways, and observing his commandments, then you shall live , and the Lord your God will bless you. But if your heart turns away, and you are lead astray to bow down to other gods, you shall perish [receive curses]." -- Deuteronomy 30: 15-20.

Then, God gave His People the great leadership of Judges--  anointed ones, such as Deborah,  Gideon, Jephthah and Samson. But, humankind still sinned.

Then, God called Samuel, the last of the Judges, and a prophet. But humankind still sinned. Despite Samuel's objections, God's people insisted that they wanted a King. [1 Samuel 8: 19-20].

Then, came the era of the Kings. But humankind still sinned.

Then, God sent prophets, such as Elijah, Elisha, and Isaiah. The prophets tried to warn against disobeying God's commands. Their warnings even extended to the Kings, who were not above the law. But, even the Kings sinned.

Then, because of all of the Chosen People's sins, they were exiled to Babylon. Their temple in  Jerusalem was destroyed. They lost control over their Promised Land.

Finally, God sent his only Son, as a human embodiment of God. God was IN Jesus. Jesus walked the earth, healing people and teaching about God. Jesus said, " Whoever has seen me, has seen the Father."

I have to believe that God knew the huge risk that He was taking, to send His only Son into such a corrupt world. But God had tried everything else--- isolating His First Man and Woman in Utopia, floods, destruction of cities, burning bushes, the Ten Commandments written on stone tablets, Judges, Kings, Prophets, Exile. None of this had worked.

God, the Omniscient, must have foreseen that Jesus would be considered a direct threat to the Roman Kings. God must have known that Jesus would be called a heretic, and worse -- a criminal.

But God was willing to put His Son in danger for US. God must have known that His Son could never survive in our sinful world. Inevitably, His Son would face death.

How Infinite is God's Love for us!

 God must also have known that His own Son would ultimately be the One to finally gain our attention.  Where floods and destruction, and Abraham and Moses and Judges and Kings and Prophets had been ignored, His own Son could not be ignored!

It is a shame that our sin came to that point, that nothing which God had previously sent could stop us from worshipping false gods and breaking His Commandments.

 Jesus was God's last, great Hope. Jesus died so that we might recognize finally, God's powerful significance in our lives.

Jesus, You came so that we can know God.

Jesus, You are the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father, but through You.

[Related Postings, " Healed by His Wounds", May 15, 2014.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Healed By His Wounds

"Beloved:  If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His footsteps.  He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth.  When He was insulted, He returned no insult; when He suffered, He did not threaten; instead, He handed Himself over to the One who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness.  By His wounds, you have been healed. For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls." -- 1 Peter 2: 20-25.

A couple of generations ago in my family history, I had a grandmother who was Irish Catholic. In the 1930's, she married my grandfather, a Protestant. I can only imagine the shock that rippled through their town at the news of this engagement.

My Nana converted to Protestant after her marriage. If she did visit her Catholic family, that happened only on the sly, when my grandfather was at work, or away on business.

A couple of generations later, I was born. Growing up, I never knew the Catholic relatives, not their names, not their faces, nor their voices, nor their personalities. That was the "other side" of the family, the one I was not supposed to know about.

My parents took me to a Protestant church until I was 14. Then, church stopped. I was told, "We don't do that anymore.' My parents apparently took me to church because that is what "good families" do. But there was no Faith in it.

Somehow, I got the "Catholic gene", but it had skipped a generation. There is a special kind of pain for those of us who grew up with Faith in God, in a family possessing no Faith.

Author and lecturer Celia Sirois says that anytime you have Christian believers in a place of unbelievers, there will be martyrdom.

I hate to even hear that. But, this is what this Scripture is talking about. . . . being insulted for proclaiming that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; accepting wounds as part of the sacrifice of being a Christian; refusing to return sin for sin, which only boomerangs as against oneself.

My parents would openly make racist statements in front of me. But, I would remember my Sunday school lessons about how God loves everyone.

My mother would try to teach me to, in all things to put money first. I would think to myself, 'But what about God? Doesn't He come first, before all things?'

These are not theoretical differences. If I tried to make a small sacrifice to help someone else, my father would lecture me, " You think of YOURSELF first!"

One day, I came home and announced that I was engaged to a Catholic man. Then my parents fought over every detail of my wedding day; and in the end, they refused to stand in the receiving line at the wedding reception.

But I ask you, what choices do we believers have here?

I could not imagine insulting and humiliating my family back. How would that make me any better than they were?  It would not make me a peaceful, loving Christian. It would make me a sinner.

It never occurred to me to lie to myself or to God by proclaiming that I hated God. My parents had their unbelief. I could not take that on. It would not help me.

Perhaps if I had parroted my mother's mantra that the Almighty Dollar comes first, I could have appeased her. But for me, that would be a lie. Jesus never deceived anyone about who He was or what He believed. Why should we?

To get my family to believe in God and take me to church, I could have threatened them. But that is not Christian behavior either. What is the point of having to threaten someone --- to get to church?

The one miraculous thing that I almost cannot figure out? ---- How did I know that my parents were wrong and Jesus was right? I was only a little girl. I heard all these ugly beliefs coming out of my parents' mouths, and I said to myself, "No".

I was patient with my parents. I even ministered to them, helping my father to paint a room, weeding and tending my mother's garden. Maybe I thought, in my child's logic, that if they could not be loving Christians, I would become one FOR them. No matter how lovingly I behaved, though, they verbally trashed Christians---  and they were cruel and abusive to me.

This is what Peter is talking about when he says, "If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, that is a grace before God. For this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you." And so, my patience came from God's grace. He taught me the Truth, amidst so many lies and cruelties.

Sometimes we get bad choices in life, and worse choices. I guess somehow, out of that grace that God showered upon me, I decided that I would rather suffer for being right, than suffer for being wrong and hateful.

Then we get to the part about, "By His wounds, you have been healed." I never wanted Jesus to die for me. His sacrifice is too awful. I always thought that Jesus would do the world much more good, if He were still here.

That is the central mystery of our Christian story. If God gave us Someone so pure and holy and good, why would He take Him away?

There are so many answers to this. One very valid answer is that Jesus, having suffered so much Himself for being the Messiah, knows all about how WE suffer. He is a shining example of how it is better to suffer for being right. When we suffer, He walks right along with us. This Scripture says,
" For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His footsteps."

I also like, "Jesus Himself bore our sins in His body upon the cross, so that free from sin, we might live for righteousness [for being in right relationship with God]."  That is, His wounds, His sacrifice in going back to the Father, are what allow us to seek a good and right relationship with God for ourselves.

In the end, for an entire generation, my family had gone astray from the central message of Christianity. But in God's grace, I was returned to Jesus, "the shepherd and guardian of our soul" -- because I had heard His voice.

[Related Postings, " Where is My Flock?", April 29, 2012; " His Flock", May 16, 2014. ]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Who Killed Jesus?

" Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven,  living in Jerusalem.  The crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard heard them speaking in the native language of each other. [ Some] sneered and said, "They are filled with wine."  But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and proclaimed, ' You who are Jews, indeed all who are staying in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. You who are Israelites, hear these words. Jesus the Nazarene was a man commended to you by God, with mighty deeds, wonders and signs, which God worked through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know. This man, delivered up by a set plan and foreknowledge of God, you killed--using lawless men-- to crucify Him. But God raised Him up, releasing Him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for Him to be held by it. Exalted by the right hand of God, He received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, and poured Him forth as you see and hear. Therefore, let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made Him both Lord, and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified."  -- [ Acts 2: 5-6, 13-15, 22-24, 36.]

This Scripture passage in Acts is well known. It speaks of the times of the early Christians, who were so amazed and astonished and filled with wonder at the Resurrection, that they seemed giddy to the
observing crowds.

Sadly, there is a dark side to all of this rapture. Peter addresses the Jews of the city of Jerusalem. He says, " You who are Jews, let this be known to you, and hear what I say: Jesus the Nazarene was commended to YOU by God, with mighty deeds, wonders and signs, as you yourselves know. YOU killed this man [Jesus],  using lawless men to crucify Him."[ Emphasis added].

It is these words that became the beginning of the fracture between the Jewish and Christian peoples. Generations of Christians took this statement of Peter's literally. Generations of Jewish peoples bore the brunt of the Christians' blame for the Crucifixion.

What are we to make of this?

First, if I re-read these verses, I see that after the Resurrection, at this time, each person in the crowd could hear and understand the languages of each other person, native or foreign : "Galileans, Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and parts of Libya, Cyrene, both Jews, Cretans and Arabs."

This passage tells me that what we are witnessing here is the exact opposite of the confusion of languages during the story of the Tower of Babel. In the Old Testament, when the Tower of Babel was destroyed because of the people's sin, the people developed different languages, and had to disperse to far regions, because they could not understand each other's tongues.

After the death and Resurrection of Jesus, the peoples of God's world could understand each other again! This tells me that Jesus did not come and die, only to divide us.

Recently, the world watched as Pope Francis presided over the Canonization of two former Popes, Pope John XXIII and Pope John  Paul II.  With each of these men, Catholic-Jewish relations have improved markedly because of healing words and gestures during their papacy.

Pope John XXIII was the architect of Vatican II. His efforts with this Catholic renewal re-emphasized the Old Testament roots of central Catholic teachings.

Pope John Paul II took the dramatic step of placing a letter in the stones of the Western Wall, asking for forgiveness from the Jewish people for Catholics' sins against them. Pope John Paul II made it clear that anti-Semitism is a sin against God and against our world. [source: Times of The Newest Saints and the Future of Catholic-Jewish Relations, by Lazar Berman.]

Pope Francis today has said,  "We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God [the Ten Commandments] has never been revoked."

Many times, we Christians gloss over the Old Testament and focus only on the New Testament. It is somewhat natural for us to do that, since the New Testament contains our central story of Jesus.

But, we Christians do ourselves a grave disservice if we ignore the Old Testament. Our central story in Jesus would have no resonance, and perhaps could never have occurred with such sacred meaning for us, if it were not for the events in the Old Testament.

Had there been no Moses, our ancestors the Israelites might never have been freed from slavery in Egypt, paving the way for us to receive our own Salvation from Jesus.

We might never have received Mary's Magnificat  (Luke 1: 46-55), if it were not for Hannah's Song in the Old Testament ( 1 Samuel: 2).

 In 2 Kings 4-5, Elisha the Old Testament prophet multiplies loaves of bread to feed hundreds, revives a dead man, and cures Namaan of leprosy. If it were not for the miracles of this Hebrew prophet, would we have witnessed Jesus' almost identical miracles in the same way? Did not Elisha pave the way for Jesus?

It was in the Old Testament that Jews and Christians alike were given the way to live: "Love your neighbor as yourself". -- Leviticus 19:18. And " Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength." -- Deuteronomy 6:5.

The Jewish story in the Old Testament is a powerful prequel to the dramatic turn that the Christian story took thereafter.

Who killed Jesus? I think that by our sin in not loving each other, we ALL sin against each other-- and against God.

Any animosity that kills another's soul, kills Jesus. And we kill a little bit of ourselves in that process, too.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.