Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Saint Impatient

Dear Friends,

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I snap at her, “I have the patience of a Saint.” She rolls her eyes and laughs, “Yeah! Saint Impatient!!”

They all thought that as I got older, I’d become warmer, kinder, mellower and more patient. But somehow the “nicer with age” thing hasn’t worked out for me as well as my loved ones had hoped. I may even be getting a little less patient and I’m blaming technology that feeds a desire for instant gratification.

I used to drive my school-age step-children to the library to look something up in the encyclopedia. That was a one to two hour excursion. I’d impatiently sit there while they laboriously hand-copied the information for their report. Resentful over the amount of time that took, we bought a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Awesome! Now it took only five to ten minutes to go into the other room, find the right volume and look something up! But today everything known in the world is instantly available on the  internet. And just the other day I was incensed that it took over seven seconds for an online encyclopedia to load on my smartphone. Absolutely unacceptable!

We have become a culture of impatience. Our children have grown up with a diminished capacity for sustained activities. We’ve lost interest in detailed news stories and prefer summarys and sound bites. For some, having to read anything over 140 characters long is tedious and unnecessary. A recent study showed that if the light turns green and the car ahead doesn’t go, the average amount of time you’ll give them before you impatiently lean on your horn is two seconds.

“Patience is a virtue,” we’re told and patience* is listed as one of the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. You may already have the patience of a Saint, but if not, how do we get it? Patience has been defined as “waiting without complaint.” We read that Jesus’s twelve original disciples were thick-headed, selfish and slow to believe. And, with those twelve, if anyone ever had the proverbial “patience of a Saint,” it was Jesus! That’s why, for us to become more patient, we may need to be a little more like Jesus and change our concept of “time.”
* Greek: makrothumia can be translated as “patience” or “longsuffering.”

I can walk along the beach for hours and it seems like just a few minutes. I can sit quietly by the lake at Saint Andrew’s Abbey, listen to the wind in the trees, and completely lose track of the time. I’m annoyed when it takes an agonizing fifteen seconds for an application to load on my computer. I live up to my nickname of “Saint Impatient” at the grocery store when the cashier tells the woman in front of me what the total is and that’s when the woman begins to rummage through her purse looking for her checkbook. The difference in my response to these life experiences is my perception of time.  And how I perceive time is a matter of spiritual discipline. 

Some of us may need to step off the hamster wheel of life and just set-a-spell to adjust to the natural rhythms of God’s Kingdom on earth. In our Bible we find that the Greeks had two words for time. Chronos time means time that is linear. Chronos time is orderly and depends on schedules, calendars and clocks. The other Greek word for time is Kairos. If Chronos is the quantity of those successive moments in our life, Kairos transcends those linear moments. Kairos time has no beginning and has no end.  Kairos is God's time. It's the time for being, not doing. It is contemplative. When we become immersed in Kairos time – in contemplative time with God – we lose track of Chronos time. We come into His presence, into His Kairos time, and we are no longer aware of the clock. 

In contemplative time, we become completely engaged by God. Life itself slows down and, for a moment, completely stops. We sit quietly in the presence of God. We may hear His small, still Voice. This is the highest level we can reach in our spiritual relationship with God. This is your life being lived in the fullness. Your earthly life can never get any better than this.

The spiritual discipline of spending Kairos time in silence with God, changes our concept of Chronos time. The car ahead doesn’t speed away at the green light...the woman finds her check book and starts looking in her purse for the pen. But now we take a deep breath. We thank God for the moment of time we have now just been given to come into His presence and feel His peace. And as we respond to the present moment in the rhythm of the divine, we wait without complaint and respond with His grace.  Amen?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Was The Resurrection Fake News?

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Dear Friends,

Do you remember the shocking headline news twenty years ago? What became known throughout the world as the “Friday the 13th Flood” back in 1997 was  subsequently documented in four books written on the history of our Valley and gave the horrific details of this devastating flood. 

Okay...This is obviously absurd. It’s fake news. And you know that because we are all eye-witnesses to what takes place during our own time in history. And if four history books with this factitious flood story were really published and widely-circulated, you and everyone else would know it’s fake news and the books would be dumped in the trash. 

About twenty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter that was circulated among the Christian churches. He said that Jesus died for our sins, was buried and rose again the third day. He was seen by Peter and then the twelve apostles and then He was seen by over five hundred “brethren” at one time. Paul says that some of those five hundred have died but most of them are still alive. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 

The point Paul is making is that there are many hundreds of eyewitnesses that a person could talk to if he/she had any doubts about the Resurrection. Paul himself had talked to the disciples and the eyewitnesses and now he’s inviting people to check it out for themselves. Paul says that Jesus Christ appeared to a large crowd of five hundred men. At that time, only men could give testimony in court; women were not considered by government authorities to be reliable witnesses. But in a crowd of five hundred men, there would have most likely been hundreds of women and children present. Paul is not being dismissive towards women. He is simply making the statement that there were over 500 legal eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ. 

We need to remember that Jerusalem was a major metropolitan center. Can you think of think of anything more shocking and newsworthy than having the government publicly execute the most popular and controversial religious leader and then having the guy turn up live to a massive crowd of people?  So let's do some math here, and to keep it simple, we’ll just say it was only 500 men. This was the hottest news ever so let’s reasonably assume that each of the 500 men told ten other people. If those ten people told only five other people, in the days following the Resurrection, about 25,000 people would have heard the news either first hand or second hand. Fifty days after the death and resurrection of Jesus, Peter and the disciples were still in Jerusalem preaching the Gospel message and telling people that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead and was alive. How did they get away with preaching this crazy message about Jesus being alive? Why were they not stoned for preaching “fake news?” Because people had already heard it was true from the eyewitnesses!

There is no way that a person could write a history book today about Los Angeles and give details of the Great Flood of 1997 that wiped out vast portions of the Valley. It would be absurd. Ridiculous. Laughable. In the same way, 2000 years ago, because the witnesses to that period of history were still alive, there would be no way the four Gospel writers and both Paul and Peter could write about the Resurrection if it were not true. It would be absurd, ridiculous and laughable. It would have been immediately exposed as fake news. That's why the strongest and most tangible evidence that we have for the resurrection is the complete lack of any historic, credible denial of this the most shocking event in the entire history of the world. That’s why we can say: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!” 1 Peter 1:3 Amen?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Crucify Him! Crucify Her!

Dear Friends,

As the sun broke through the early morning clouds on that Spring day in Jerusalem, the spiritual ones discerned a mysterious sense of anticipation more intrinsically felt than clearly seen. On the Mount of Olives overlooking the Temple, the vast sea of olive trees were beginning to flower, and a gentle breeze carried forth their sweet scent like perfumed incense released to the heavens in anticipation of something holy to come. 

The city was packed with those who had come to celebrate Passover. Crowds filling the streets. Friends greeting each other. Talking. Laughing. Praying. A shout: “Jesus is coming!” The Messiah who healed the lame, restored the sight of blind men, cast out demons and brought the dead back to life. The King is coming! They take off their cloaks and spread them  on the road as a sign of submission. Others cut palm branches and spread those on the ground. Some wave the palm fronds as a sign of Jewish nationalism and victory. Excitement grips the crowd. They rejoice and praise God for all the mighty works they have seen Jesus do. As He passes by, they shout out: “Hosanna (Oh save us..) to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” The crowd is praising God and worshiping Jesus Christ! The Messiah! Their Lord and Savior! 

Five days later. Skies dark and threatening. The same crowd. Whipped into a frenzy by religious leaders. The same hand that lovingly laid down a cloak is clenched into a shaking fist. The same hand that waved a palm branch to honor the Son of God now picks up a stone to throw as the Son carrying the cross walks slowly past. The lips that exalted the Messiah in praise now spit on Him as He struggles to stay on His feet. Some laugh when He stumbles and they call out derisively to mock Him. The ones who praised His name five days ago are now shouting, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
Matthew 21:1-11   Luke 23:13-24

We don’t like this story. We are left shaken by the scriptures that speak of this betrayal. How could they worship Jesus as Lord and Savior one day and spit on Him the next? We are shocked by their unfaithfulness and their fickleness is repulsive to us. How can the same voice that sings praises to Jesus on Sunday, shout words to crucify and kill on Friday? Their treacherous behavior is deeply troubling. And yet I wonder if the distress that grips our soul is not a visceral reaction to their behavior but a holy revulsion to ours?

Have we perhaps caught a glimpse of our own face in the crowd? Is it possible that the repulsiveness we’re feeling is rising out of a painful awareness of our own fickleness and unfaithfulness?

We go to church and raise hands and voices in worship to the Lord on Sunday. We speak words of praise, love and adoration. And on Monday we turn and coldly crucify a loved one with our angry, bitter words. We pray for our neighbor on Sunday and ignore her need on Tuesday. We raise our hand in worship Sunday and use the same hand to give a disrespectful gesture to the driver who cuts us off on Wednesday. We thank God on Sunday for blessing us with all that He has given to us and turn away from the homeless person on Thursday. We praise Jesus and commit our life to Him on Sunday and then deny Him with our lifestyle on Friday at home. 

We point a judgmental finger at others and shout “Crucify him! Crucify her!” And then God opens our eyes and we see that we are no better a sinner than those who we hate and condemn. On our knees, we repent. Our remorse leaves us feeling unclean and unholy. Then grace happens! Jesus forgives! On the cross, we are cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. The veil between the unholy and the Holy is torn from top to bottom. Matthew 27:51 The torn flesh of Jesus becomes a living opening through which we can all come into the Holiest of Holies by His His love. Hebrews 10:19-20

On our knees. Tears flow. We thank Jesus for grace, forgiveness and for salvation. We are restored. What He gave to us in love was truly a good Friday.  Amen?