Plenty of Gracia Plena

AnnunciationIt takes two perfect people to have the perfect relationship. Some spouses will compliment the other one saying that the other person’s perfection makes it happen.  That sounds sweet, but it is not entirely accurate when humanity is involved.  But not so if one is divine.   But if one is divine and changes the setting for the human involved then the whole dynamic is different. Grace tends to do that.

A prime example for one who could see the kingdom of God for all it is as part of long-term called out community of God was someone who was “full of grace”.  This is why the first “micro-church” I will address is Mary of Nazareth.  For a teenage girl, she had a lot to say because she was “full of grace” and was a daughter of Zion. Such is the case in the Bible when one comes to Mary. 

Here we see the most perfect collaboration between the infinite God, through an angel, and a finite, specially touched human.  She was specifically a young woman in an age where women were not highly esteemed.  But in relationship to God, she is empowered in a faith journey that is not for cowards of either gender. She has faith and knew what it was to step up in courage. 

There is another part to the historical backdrop in the Bible before getting to Mary: unfaithfulness.  God’s people in the Old Testament were described as unfaithful with those who  struggled righteously and unrighteously living one day at a time.  God starts things anew with someone in Mary that had a context of being faithful to God and called to be on the offense just like what light does with darkness.

  “And he [Gabriel] came to her and said, ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.  And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”(Luke 1:27-33).

Hail— The “Hail” is not a casual “hi”.  If one looks at the correspondence of the first century between highly esteemed officials, this word is used only to someone of notable, royal distinction.  Mary had that going on as one set aside by the King of the Universe for a special station in life.

Yet from an Old Testament perspective there is a Zion, or Davidic dynasty, connection.  The following verse from Pope Benedict XVI is pointed out also with that same Greek word, “Rejoice, daughter of Zion; shout, Israel…the king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst” (Zephaniah 14-17).  Pope Benedict also states, “The essential reason for the daughter of Zion to rejoice is stated in the text itself; ‘the Lord is in your midst’.  Literally it says: ‘he is in your womb’ (Pope Benedixt XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives).  What is being heralded in just that word alone is like a shorthand for God’s kingdom to come—- and is coming now in the Christmas Story.

Full of Grace—  The original Greek is Kecharitomene, the perfect passive participle, shows a “completeness with a permanent result. Kecharitomene denotes continuance of a completed action” (H. W. Smyth, Greek Grammar [Harvard Univ Press, 1968], p. 108-109, sec 1852:b; also Blass and DeBrunner, p. 175).  Or one can say she was too full of grace to have room for anything else.  Therefore, to me, she stands as the perfect prototype, as the Theotokos (God-bearer as defined in the Council of Ephesus 431), and how the Bride of Christ is supposed to be.  The words I have commented on here and others to come in the infancy era of Jesus indicated she was without sin.  The Early Church Fathers were unanimous on this point and also Luther for those of you who are Protestants.

“But the other conception, namely the infusion of the soul, it is piously and suitably believed, was without any sin, so that while the soul was being infused, she would at the same time be cleansed from original sin and adorned with the gifts of God to receive the holy soul thus infused. And thus, in the very moment in which she began to live, she was without all sin…(Martin Luther, Weimar edition of Martin Luther’s Works,

English translation edited by J. Pelikan [Concordia: St. Louis], Volume 4, 694).

So here we have royalty for a grand scale and grace with even grander ramifications all set for an expanding influence as demonstrated further.

The Lord is with you…she was greatly troubled—-  This is not a goose bump phrase. This phrase in the Old Testament was for servants of God like Moses, Joshua and David who would go into the land promised to them by covenant.  They were used by God for natural warfare for that level of revelation in the Old Covenant.  Mary was to be used, launched in the contexts of covenants, to expand God’s influence through a spiritual warfare but at that moment she did not know that.  She just knew that this greeting indicated a level and form of influence beyond what she would think was her humble state in life could handle.  So there was some fear there. Her scope of knowledge would assume a troubling battle of flesh and steel like a middle-eastern Joan of Arc.

Do not be afraid, Mary… you have found favor with God. — Mary was full of grace but Gabriel elaborated that God’s favor for her and her mission was in grace to overflow by the direct hand of God with one undeniable fact—  the source and summit of the grace and favor for her was external to her in God.

you will conceive—  as the angel unfold’s God’s plan for her life there is a connection to the Incarnation.

you shall call his name Jesus—- Jesus means “God saves”.   The Incarnation means salvation in some way yet to be revealed.

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;—-  Here is the framework in that it will be in the pattern of David as the throne is from David.  This savior would be one with a visible kingdom. 

and of his kingdom there will be no end——  The declaration of God Incarnate and being savior of the world happens within a framework of a kingdom that has no end and thus continues.

On the devotional side, how can a modern person relate to these lofty subjects?  Well, we know through the rest of the story that Mary cooperated with a kingdom that is personal, holistic, authoritative and beyond our early lives.  These are ways that God initiates to us for full participation.  But in some ways our calling is not as good as Mary’s, in that moment, but better.  She was to carry God in her womb.  If we respond in the same humility to the gospel of the kingdom, we carry Jesus in our hearts. Could that be better?  Could that be possible?  What’s stopping you?

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Christmas with The Right Baggage

bethlehemstar

I heard a joke about church once that bears repeating. A horde of chipmunks were flooding a street that had three churches on it. The first two used brutal, inhumane means to kill the chipmunks. The third was a Catholic Church. There the priest said that their method would not get rid off all of them all of the time and his method would make sure that they would only have to deal with them Christmas and Easter. He would baptize them.

The joke made the audience and I laugh but there was a kernel of truth to it. Often there are people that will do their duty by darkening the door of a church for those special occasions but stay away otherwise even if they felt “touched” by their experiences. People that are only holiday church goers also find church attendance then as less threatening. So they get a spiritual feeding and go home and not to return until later.

Thus there is a reason I propose the idea of the Church of Bethlehem as a point of contemplation rather than something more grand. When one thinks of Bethlehem it is hard to connect that to a dark passage where God and those who say they represent him are bad. My hope in drawing the reader to the events that surround the birth and nativity is that they would allow the truths in those scriptures with a new perspective that would inspire a fuller understanding of Jesus Christ.

When someone thinks in this modern time of church and has not been educated on all how it can be like I describe, they anticipate items which scandalize the sensibilities. Items such as mystery in ceremony, demands of “thou shalt not’s” and traditions that are not easy to explain. For the modern person who wants to make sure everything makes sense it can be a bit distasteful to an inpatient mind. Don’t get me wrong, if one ponders on the Christmas story the right way, they can still ponder the person of Jesus and his call to follow him but in a different view as a baby with the small incarnate Word of God being a baby’s coo. 

Also if one has hangups from their own family experience, encountering who Jesus is is best seen through the lens of a proposition and not an imposition. Had a bad experience with an earthly father? Seeing Baby Jesus is seeing a Heavenly Father with a love that will not quit whether one goes deep into the Christmas Pageant material or not. 

Have a problem with past experiences like religion that makes it seem like a grand obscenity? Seeing the participants in the Christmas story in a full way can reinforce that the plan of God is not oppressive but a guide to how we are made in the first place. In the words of GK Chesterton, “When is a train most free? When it is on it’s tracks”. Bethlehem, meaning house of bread, is a beacon that points us to tracks to the Father’s house instead of a courthouse. We are indeed called to do our own “touch” to God but with head and heart.

As to a last point, make no mistake, a recurring point in the narratives is that the gospel is meant especially for those most in a humble state of mind so they can grasp the simplicity of the gospel.

“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike” (Matthew 11:25).

In reading the infancy narratives of Jesus Christ, we see how the Holy Spirit fills an unborn baby, John, that would prepare the way of Jesus. Going forward, let us prepare the way of Jesus in our hearts. For the ultimate call of members of a Christ-centric community is to decrease as Jesus would increase.

Portrait of An Assembly

Mountain TempleI used to love a show on CBS called “Picket Fences”.  It was set in a small town in Wisconsin.  It had drama and comedy with lots of social issues covered that represented the cultural dialogue at that time.  One TV critic at the time referred to the small town of Rome, Wisconsin as a “microcosm” of a larger culture.  One might compare it to a lab except there were real feelings involved.

When people think of church in a small level, for better or worse, they may see it a microcosm of the common culture but lose sight if they see it only as a social gathering. This is a mistaken approach because what is missed is the true “cosm” that the “micro” is based on. It is based on a beautiful fellowship in God and we are invited to participate in that which is heavenly and holy.

The truest Holy Family is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three in One. Three Who’s and one What. It is the highest experience of a community of persons we can presently point to.  In those three persons are initiating love, responding in love and a personhood of the love between. 

Church, as founded by Jesus, is meant to be an extension of this divine fellowship where heaven and earth meet. Not because it looks nice nor gives the members goosebumps.  A gathering of people ias Christians is always to point to Jesus and his higher purposes whether it is set of two or three gathered in his name or something even more deliberate.

The normative of such a gathering for higher purposes in the Old Testament was considered a solemn assembly.  One who said they loved God did not want to miss the event.  It was their everything.  It was the qahal.  When the Old Testament was translated into Greek in 200 BC an assembly was translated as ekklesia.  That Greek word was then used again in the New Testament to what we translate now as church.

Which brings us to another theme about church by the time the New Testament events occurred: church was about being called out to something.  The Greeks would refer the a small democratic town leaving the village to a nearby forest for a vote on what we might call a ballot measure.  the “ek” was the out of.  This comes to mind where we read in the Bible where God tells his people to come out and be separate for the world.  The highest point for an assembly is to be consecrated in some way. This was needed because it was a sacrifice. 

There were many sacrifices to be made.  As for the aspects of consecration and reason for a group to have the called out characteristics,  one would need to broaden their perspective to know what to look for.   Such a perspective would be informed by how the New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old is revealed in the New (Augustine).

Below are some of the broader elements of church in God’s eye that are worth considering. Consider it a “Picket Fences” but of the community of God to look for.

 No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly [church] of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect,  and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel (Hebrews 12:22).

Mount Zion—  When there is Zion, there is David who made that mountain a standard for covenant.  Jesus was called the Son of David because he has a kingdom that is modeled after David and how his dynasty was established and flourished.  His dynasty in the sense ended eventually but his line is fulfilled in Jesus.

..the living God— God is alive and not an idol.  He is not subject to man’s desire to make him in man’s image.  We know from Adam and Eve, however he did it, we are formed unto him.

..the heavenly Jerusalem—– Heaven is where you go to for Jesus the King and Jesus the High Priest.  And going there one does to some extent when they are in prayer with other believers.

countless angels in festal gathering—- Angels are God’s way of delegating heavenly power and authority to those who will inherit salvation.  The are a part of Christian fellowship whether one can seem them with the carnal eye or not.  I can add my own anecdote that my first time as an adult going to mass there was not a doubt in my mind that there were angels there.

the assembly [church] of the firstborn enrolled in heaven— This would be called the communion of the saints.  Those who are in heaven and witness to our running the race of faith and also who intercede for us under the merits of Jesus (Revelation 5:8).  The Church Triumphant is who we are “surrounded by a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).

and God the judge of all— This is not a bad thing.  God is a judge who gives us a chance to reap the benefits of discipline.  This was covered earlier in Hebrews 12 on how much we can submit in discipline to the “father of our spirits and live”.  God is judge and father.  It appears to be a paradox but not a contradiction.

and the spirits of the just made perfect—  This state is referred to as the Church Suffering or Purgatory.  To speaks of salvation for the members of God’s people as only an imputed, or legal designation, righteousness falls short for all of the grace that God the Father has for his children.  The gospel has for the converted the opportunity to accept “the engrafted word of God which can save your soul (James 1:21).  For further scriptures on this I recommend the fire references of 1 Corinthians 3 and the prayers for the dead shown in 2 Maccabees 12:24.

and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel—  An important distinction in Greek is that “and” often can be translated as “with”.  I would point out that this description of church ends on the highest note:  pointing to the saving nature and work of Jesus that is ongoing in our temporal reality but planted in eternity. That salvation in Jesus is in the context of joining. To join with Jesus is to receive him on his terms.  Jesus said he was the bread that came down from heaven and that the one who eats his flesh and drinks his blood receive eternal life (John 6). 

The important thing to note is that the advancing kingdom of God has an aspect that transcends what we can measure with our senses but still is true. As one looks at the passages of the New Testament before Jesus one can appreciate who he was by those who knew him in a manner of the senses and beyond. The traits are there.  This is why for them then and in modern times we need eyes to see and ears to hear and all the while without fear. For this family God stared is supposed to walk in that “perfect love [that] casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:17). 

The Final Word

The Final Word FB LogoIt is an honor to receive what we call a personal invitation.  Ironic that what we call a “personal invitation” is something sent to us through the postal service.  We can really highlight this if someone important comes up to us and says they are pleased to meet us can come to their home.  “I have been personally, face-to-face invited to….”. 

In this historical message of this in Christian thought, that is the beauty of the incarnation.  As I write this my wife is putting up the Christmas decorations around the house and somewhere will be the line from scripture and many yuletide songs of “peace on earth and good will towards men”.  This is the story: Jesus, the Son of God, Word with God and is God (John1:1) could not just be explained the light and send an impersonal invitation.  Actions speak louder than words, and thus, the act of incarnating himself on earth is the beginning of the message of Jesus’ presence on earth through a real mother, in a real town in the context of a marginalized blue-collar family. 

He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.John testified to him and cried out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’”  From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him (John 1:11-18).

This passage is a center of much theological tension or debate this past 2,000 years.  Water down a key word here or there and Jesus is either so lofty that he drops truth like a dry letter or is so earthy that redemption on the cross has limited or no effectiveness.  Jesus has from birth and now forever the 100% existence of being 100% God and 100% man.  And dear reader, if you say that you completely understand it, I may have written something wrong.  Why is it a mystery?  From an evangelistic rationale, I could point to the three theological transcendentals: beauty, goodness and truth.  Respectively, the drawing of ones heart to things above, what is rightly ordered and what is applicable. These are impulses of the heart and not formulas of the mind.  The incarnation of Jesus as divine Logos made flesh speaks to those conditions of humanity.    

to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God– – This is outlined in a few chapters later by Jesus.  It is a birth that is real, spiritual but not mad made. Man has something to do with it as a vessel but it is not initiated by fleshly means since it is grace.  The “grace on top of grace” is because the prior grace was emphasized through men but now and forever would be through Christ the unique mediator.  If we are tied to religious expression that neglects that understanding, we neglect God and his intent. 

And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.- – I would like to return to the theme I pointed to earlier in that God is not out to wow us.  The “still, small voice” is in Jesus.  The prior grace that Israel knew a grace to prepare us for the higher one at best.  And this grace now would be experienced. Christ is described several times to have had compassion.  Compassion means to suffer with.  His heart was drawn to the hungry so he gave them bread and fish.  In turn, we are able to connect with Jesus as Christians by living an intentional lifestyle in carrying our own cross and even adding our own to his.  “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).  It is a part of intimacy with Christ that we can “know him and the power of his resurrection and [the] sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death” (Philippians 3:10). 

The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me– – This is more profound than it likely appears upon first reading.  Yes, John the Baptist is right, Jesus is greater than him.  But if one sees Jesus only through the eyes of the flesh then this must be incorrect.  After all, John was conceived three months before Jesus.  Though the timelessness of Jesus is implied by the earlier versus of John it is worth pondering in the journey of ones conversation to Jesus that we how “eternity stepped into time”.  Jesus is not a being for today but forever. 

while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ– – The Greek word for truth was alithia.  This was inspired by the Lithia River in Greece which meant “forget”.  When one puts the suffix “a” before it the meaning is “not forget”.  We remember what we experience.  While we do not demand as Christians to be “wowed” or coerced into faith, the ongoing experience of salvation is a joint journey to experience grace of the Lord Jesus Christ together.  To be “followers of the Way”.    

No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him– – Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:7).  This unveiling is part of a long term journey of growth under the fatherhood of God.  The more we “behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:29) the more we peer into the agape love of the Father’s heart and give full yielding to the redemption through the Cross. 

In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe, who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being,
and who sustains all things by his mighty word. When he had accomplished purification from sins, he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:1-3). 

 

Below is a link to a song called “Final Word” that think connects to many of the themes I wrote here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kuUF152hV9o

Lens of Law or Lens of Love

worldview eyeball

Years ago there was a brilliant man on television that rocked the ratings landscape by beating other prime time competition with a chalkboard, a cape, good stories and a sense of humor.  His name was Bishop Fulton Sheen.  He said many things that were profound but he was always aware that the truth he spoke to was greater than himself.  One year his show “Life Worth Living” won an Emmy award.  He said, “I would like to thank my staff writers.  Mathew, Mark, Luke and John.”

But another point he made was that, unlike leaders of other world religions, Jesus came pre-announced.  One who is a Christian believer would point to Old Testament prophets to illustrate that point.  But if one sees John the Baptist, they see him foretelling the arrival of Jesus and giving the world an introduction.  Looking at his life one can see he did this with the utmost reverence.

A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world,
    and the world came to be through him,
    but the world did not know him.

He came to what was his own,
    but his own people did not accept him (John 6:6-11)

He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him- – If one sees the body of Christianity correctly in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scriptures held up by the Church Jesus later founded, the same goes as a calling for more than one baptizer at a river. The message of Jesus was intended to be more than what is for just one man or through one man.  The eventual community to be founded would be of many witnesses.  “Therefore, we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). 

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world- – If one gets the solid objections of their spiritual life out of the way, then anyone can know Jesus.  There are “if’s” that unfold in the gospels.  If one is born again by Spirit and water (John 3:3).  If you believe and are baptized. 

He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him- – This is a tragic paradox.  Jesus was coming to the Jewish people who had historically know divinity but through thunder, clouds and earthquakes.  God is shown here in the Son, Jesus Christ, as too simple to be true to religious tastes common to them at that time.  But in the beginning, the world was made by Jesus as the Logos or the expressed wisdom of eternity that stepped into time first to create more than the Jewish people but the whole world.  In another way of speaking, in their disconnected form of religion that was contrary to the light and intimacy God wants to have with mankind they knew of God but did not naturally get Him.  But ready or nor, here he comes on the Jordan River and today in ways to be received objectively and subjectively. 

The key to “getting” Jesus is not through the lens of the Law but through the lens of love. It is to be experienced in material contexts and contextualized by a growing movement of articulated grace and truth that sprouts from the nature of Jesus (John 1:17).  To move forward in investigating the text of scripture is to not to lose a healthy context of the latter. Yes, the gospel is bigger than any one of us. 

Shedding Light On The Subject

Light In A Maze

“Ignorance is bliss” so the saying goes.  People love to say that not knowing those things that bring a dark view of life are not worth knowing.  But knowledge needed for a painful but needed change can be good from a more objective point of view.  In the human experience one can look back to painful change that came from knowledge that we are appreciative of.  The ignorance comes for often better change but by choice.  The dominant culture we live in allows for change with knowledge but with a caveat that “that’s good if it works for you…but don’t force your views on me” or something like that. 

But religion comes in as a contrast in the post-modern thought but it really should not.  The “lig” part of religion has an etymology that speaks of connecting like where ligaments comes from.  Religion is a matter of reconnecting for those that think beyond the materialistic point of view even if but for a moment. 

Christianity has a message for reconnecting with what matters that is objective and above the natural limits of meaning but in different forms of default delivery.  Much has been said about the improvised means of delivering the message of Christianity that has been violence or anecdotes of conversion.  The kernel of meaning on those two basic means of delivering the Christianity are still worth discovering.  From the Christian point of view, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). 

So the first means of the delivery could be considered black coffee in a microwave.  Paul, who had his sudden conversion being blinded by Jesus says later as an apostle that the time for “bliss” is over. 

 God has overlooked the times of ignorance, but now he demands that all people everywhere repent because he has established a day on which he will ‘judge the world with justice’ through a man he has appointed, and he has provided confirmation for all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). 

So should we assume that is all that Christianity is?  I would say there is a declaration that we are accountable to the natural law for morals that are revealed with logic that anyone can adapt.  That is why there are very moral atheists and agnostics out there. But we will be judged.  Even though I am a counselor, I believe in guilt trips to a point if they are self-imposed.  Those moments are our spiritual pain crying out to do better.  To think better.  They are a shadow of things to come where we stand before Deity and are judged.  If one is ignorant, that is once thing, but the other?

But there is another means that all mankind can consider and that is in the full, multi-layered presentation of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the kingdom he founded.  Make no mistake, Paul said the abrupt statement above in the midst of a nuanced discussion where he borrowed from points of light from Plato and pagan deity script to illustrate the truth he presents in Jesus.  But without a printing press, without the gospels having been even written, that was what his audience could get.  Centuries later, we have in Christianity a well developed thought for “Man’s Search For Meaning” that Viktor Frankl approached as well as he did.  It is the message of Jesus that can also be legitimately be expressed as a kingdom based message of a battle won on a cross that is encountered and organically appropriated with initial and ongoing conversion.   

But from what starting point could the most erstwhile seeker begin?  Much of what I write is from the Gospel of John.  He begins with this proposition to the world to believe in Jesus from outside of conventional time and space. What is greatly addressed is a message of connection and it is divine.    

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1-5).  

We know from the first epistle of John that God is love.  One could say then that what was happening was a love exchange that was mysterious, perpetual and reciprocal. 

without him nothing came to be— The word for word is Logos in Greek.  “Ancient Greek philosophers associated the Word with the order and design of the universe or the intelligible expression of the mind of God as he sustains and governs it” (Ignatius Study Bible).  The Word is in transition in relationship to the world as the gospel unfolds in that.  The ISB goes on to states that “this eternal Word, once a mediator of creation, has now become a mediator of salvation through his incarnation”. 

I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.  Of all things visible and invisible.  I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ…. Born of the Father before all ages.  God from God.  Light from Light.  True God and true man.  Begotten not made.  Consubstantial with the Father (Council of Nicea, 325).   

What came to be through him was life—  Already we are seeing in the text an inference of the love between the Father and the Son to have an overflow.  If it was only to Jesus, then it ends with Jesus.  But since we know that the Holy Spirit is a person with relation to the Father and the Son then we can surmise that this life comes from God the Father in his initiative and goes through Jesus to mankind. 

and this life was the light of the human race- – We as humanity are initiated with the overwhelming, holy love of God that is tamable like a wild firehose.  But it is filtered through the gospel of the kingdom that Jesus and his Church preach. 

the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it- – As Jesus walked on earth and taught in parable he was setting up his followers to spread the message in words and action.  Jesus said that he was the light of the world but said to his Church too that,  “you are the light of the world”.  It is another case of Jesus being the Lord and transcending realities of our lives and pushing out darkness.   

this life was the light of the human race- – John speaks here to where Jesus of mystery steps into history.   Jesus expresses his light through the Church in a way that engages humanity in all of it understanding by whatever foundation of truth is in the pocket of civilization. 

and the darkness has not overcome it- – That is quite a declarative statement.  There is a stain of sin over individuals and communities out there.  But light keeps finding a way to shine through or around those things of substance that resist and cast a shadow.  Shadow is all solid obstacles to the kingdom can do.  Truth is going to still be evident.  And it is described in the narrative of Christian history and doctrine in the person of Jesus Christ. 

Again, it should be understood that for some individuals it may seem that the darkness is overcoming in present observations one can see in  a case by case basis.  One case of someone that was spiritually blind was Saul of Tarsus.  He was a persecutor of Christians, had a life changing encounter with Jesus and converted to become Paul the apostle.  He spoke from his experience on light and darkness.

And even though our gospel is veiled, it is veiled for those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, so that they may not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

We are not all connected.  But we can be! What is our choice?

Unscrambling the Bad Dialogue

Miscommunication-Cartoon“Lost in translation” is a sometimes nightmare in the art of diplomacy.  Either a message is incomplete or, even worse, fear or hostility emerges from the recipient. In dialogue across the religious spectrum there is the matter of wide gaps on some concepts in the languages as well as cultural nuances. 

One case of this can be found in the last 500 years between Catholics and Protestants.  As I have written before, Catholics are misunderstood on when they are speaking in definitive theological intent on wording and those times that are metaphorically spoken.  An example is when the metaphorical wording is implying how Mary has a distinct holiness but means it as extrinsically obtained. 

Ironically, the modern Protestants may even misunderstand the original Reformer fathers.  For instance, when I was evangelizing recently in a Catholic ministry a fiery Protestant emphasized sola gratia (grace alone).   That does tie back to Martin Luther.  However, he maintained a work of grace to be baptismal regeneration which the modern, zealous Reformed Christian would not ascribe to. 

More specifically on the translation is the Latin to English post-Reformation divide with an example like “holy”.  When a Protestant hears of a pope being referred to as “his Holiness”,they may perceive that Catholics see the pope as internally based in his holiness.  This is not true as one can see with an example of when Pope Francis was asked, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergolio?”   He answered that he is a sinner. 

To see this linguistically one can see the Latin root word santus.  It morphed into cognates that sound similar in the more blatant Latin based languages like Spanish and Portuguese for both holy as in Holy Spirit as well as saints.  While the former, holiness is intrinsic but for the latter, it is because they know they are sinners at the same time and wanted sanctification. 

Next is how “prayer” is used as an operative term in casual or fully theological conversation.   When Shakespeare writes, “Make haste, I pray then” we give him the benefit of the doubt that one mortal is not worshiping another mortal.  In modern language in a petition to a court undergirded by English common law the petitioner says they “pray this court…..” would do such and such.  Again, the judge is not being worshipped. 

So to with how Catholics or Eastern Orthodox pray to the saints.  They ask their intercession and the context is Christ centered.  The dilemma is that Catholics and Protestants in English have their wording quirks and in at least one direction there is a lack of benefit of the doubt in examining the written or spoken word.  When one is biased towards a person or group in examining their characteristics, the traits that confirm what is expected will be seen and the traits that counter what is expected are dismissed.  This is called confirmation bias. 

Another word that blurs the communication is “merit”.  Protestants often have taught that Catholics believe they get merit for salvation through their works.  The confusion is fueled in part about the Catholic Church due to the etymology of the word. 

In the second century, the Latin word meritum (“merit”) was introduced as a translation for the Greek word for “reward”, and so entered the theological vocabulary.  The doctrine of merit [Catholics] and the doctrine of reward [Protestants] are two ways of expressing the same concept (The Fathers Know Best, Jimmy Akin). 

In the 5th and 6th centuries the Catholic Church condemned Plagiarism and Semi-Plagianism which was a heresy that taught one could earn salvation with works absent of grace.  Later the Catholic Church stated “none of those things which precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification; for if it is by grace, it is not now by works; otherwise, as the apostle says, grace is no more grace” (Decree on Justification 8, Council of Trent). 

But sometimes, a good translation happens.   In 1999 there was the Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification which included Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later known as Pope Benedict VI).  They collaborated, looked through the history with cooler heads than some of the hotheads of both sides 500 years ago and said ,“By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part,” its key passage said, “we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping us and calling us to good works.” We are called to a life where faith is working through love (Galatians 6:5). 

For Jesus’ prayer of unity in the Body of Christ (John 17:21) to be realized, we owe it to our Lord to listen better and pray more.  As brothers and sisters redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, we owe it to each other too.

At the time I write this, I went to an event in the John 17 movement last night.  It is a touchstone for good dialogue and prayer for each other.  That is not all of the work, but honoring what unites us is a start.