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Friday, January 18, 2019

A New Outlook


“Therefore, you are no longer a slave but a son or daughter, and if you are his child, 
then you are also an heir through God.”
Galatians 4:7 (Common English Bible)

            When Sara Roosevelt was asked if she ever imagined that her son, Franklin Roosevelt, might become president, she replied: “Never, no never! That was the last thing I should ever have imagined for him, or that he should be in public life of any sort.” Both she and her son, she insisted, shared a far simpler ambition – “The highest ideal – to grow to be like his father, straight and honorable, just and kind, an upstanding American.”[i] An only child, and with few playmates his own age, Franklin viewed his attentive and protective father as a companion and friend. Presidential biographer, Doris Kearns Goodwin observes that Franklin’s optimistic spirit and general expectation that things would turn out happily is a testament to the self-confidence developed within the atmosphere of love and affection that enveloped him as a child.[ii]

 The prevailing wisdom today – and imbedded in many approaches to psychological counseling – is that all of life consists of two elements: first, the facts, and second, our way of looking at them. Few of us escape some disappointment, some physical or mental limitation, or some distressing circumstance. It is a fact of life. We have very little control over these facts. Yet, what is largely within our power is how we look at these facts. We may permit these facts to debilitate us, to ruin our temper, spoil our work, and hurt our relationships with others, or we can become a master over their influence. Any cursory examination of Franklin Roosevelt’s life reveals a good measure of challenges, disappointments, and loss. But Roosevelt remained a master over everyone, convinced that there was a larger purpose for his life and nothing would stop his pursuit of that purpose. A positive home environment and the knowledge that he bore a strong and respected family name directed Roosevelt’s outlook.

The Christian faith is a call to a new outlook – a call to a changed point of view on the facts of life. In this teaching from Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia, Paul reminds us that we were once slaves and, consequently, of diminished value. And those who perceive to have a diminished value as a person have a dim view of life. But now, in the person of Jesus Christ, we are no longer slaves but children of God. If children of God, then an heir. Our name has been connected, as was Roosevelt’s, to a strong and respected name. For Paul, this makes a profound difference in how we are to live. We live as members of a royal household.

The deep divergence that commonly separates those who move positively through life from those who don’t lies in their outlook. Jesus’ word for “repent” meant to “change your mind” or “look at things differently”. When Jesus called those who would become his disciples he didn’t ask them to join a church or subscribe to some creed. He asked them to look at the facts differently. The laws concerning the Sabbath we reconsidered. The place of children was elevated. For those caught in the very act of sin, grace prevailed over punishment. Jesus called for a radical shift in how life would be lived – a shift that now recognized that with God on our side any handicap could be overcome and every challenge met positively. When we get a new way of seeing things it is then that we find a new life.

Joy,


[i] Doris Kearns Goodwin, Leadership In Turbulent Times (New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, New Delhi: Simon & Schuster, 2018), 50.
[ii] Goodwin, 43.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Promise of Something New (Location: Jerusalem)


The following meditation was written by Doug Hood’s son, 
Nathanael Hood, MA, New York University

As Jesus came to the city and observed it, he wept over it.” Luke 19:41 (CEB)

Pause a moment, and consider the city of Jerusalem as Jesus once saw it. Jesus the man—the Nazarene rabbi—looked upon an already ancient city straining under the yoke of Roman imperialism. Centurions elbowed through marketplaces crowded with Samaritans and Sadducees; self-righteous Israelites prayed in the squares as scabrous lepers scurried through the outskirts. In a few hours, he would be welcomed as a savior by the oppressed masses who would lay their coats and palm branches before him, singing the Psalms of David in joyous delirium. In a few days, those same crowds would scream for his death, demanding his execution at the hands of Pontius Pilate.

There is a small Roman Catholic church on the spot believed to be where Jesus wept in the nineteenth chapter of Luke—shaped like a tear drop, it sits on the Mount of Olives east of the city. Not too far from it is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed to be situated on Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified. Did he know, when he looked upon that city, that in a week’s time he would be seeing a nearly identical view, this time tortured, beaten, and nailed to a cross? Yes, Jesus looked upon the city that would be his doom and wept.

Now consider Jesus the Divine, the physical incarnation of the holy Godhead, the living Word that is and was and will be. See the city he saw, the city first inhabited 6000-7000 years ago by shepherds thirsty for freshwater springs. See the city ruled in turn by Canaanites, Egyptians, Babylonians, and Romans, dashed by waves of invaders and dynastic restorers. See the city whose legacy is warfare and carnage, as even God’s chosen king David took it by force from its Jebusite inhabitants. See the city that would be ravaged by emperor Vespasian less than a century after his death, the second temple reduced to ashes and a single wall while over a million civilians lay dead with another 97,000 enslaved. See the city conquered by Muslims in the seventh century, contested by crusaders in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth, controlled by Ottoman Turks until the nineteenth, and torn between Israelis and Palestinians to this very day. See the city originally named the “dwelling of peace” which would know none for countless generations.

How can we see this city and not weep? Earlier in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus had mourned the sacred city upon learning of Herod’s plot to murder him:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you! How often I have wanted to gather your people just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you didn’t want that.” (Luke 13:34 CEB)

Two thousand years later and the chicks have still not come home. We look out and see a world more bitterly divided than ever, edged on the brink of cataclysm. How similar it must have felt for first century Jews living under the thumb of Rome where a single order from the emperor could ravage their holiest of holies as was done in the time of Jeremiah. Yet let us not forget that it was out of this swirling void of chaos that God chose to unmake the world itself with a new covenant, one that transcended all the sorrow and brokenness of this life with the promise of a new one. These times are not the end, merely a transition from which to emerge like a certain lowly carpenter all those years ago towards a great glory.


Thursday, January 3, 2019

When We Get God Wrong (Location: Capernaum)


The following meditation was written by Doug Hood’s son, 
Nathanael Hood, MA, New York University

Now when Jesus heard that John was arrested, he went to Galilee. 
He left Nazareth and settled in Capernaum, 
which lies alongside the sea in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali.” 
(Matthew 4:12-13, CEB)

Short of the Resurrection, think of Jesus’ greatest, most well-known miracles and there’s a good chance they happened in Capernaum, a tiny fishing village of about fifteen-hundred people on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was so small and insignificant that its inhabitants never even bothered building a wall—invading armies would pass it by, deeming it too unimportant to occupy; even the Romans ignored it during their ruthless suppression of the Jewish people during the First Jewish–Roman War (AD 66–73). Archaeologists speculate that it was cramped and dirty, with several families living together in the same one-story building with no plumbing or drainage. Yet it was this nowhere village, only about 40 miles away from his traditional home in Nazareth, that became Jesus’ de facto base of operations during his three-year ministry. The Gospel of Matthew even refers to it in its ninth chapter as “his own city.”

It was in Capernaum that Jesus found his first four disciples: the fishermen Peter and Andrew and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John. (Later, Jesus would recruit Matthew, one of the local tax collectors, as another member of the Twelve.) It was in its little synagogue that Jesus astonished the people with the authority of his teaching and cast out an impure spirit possessing one of the worshippers (Mark 1: 21-27). It was along these dusty streets that Jesus healed the centurion’s paralyzed servant (Matthew 8:5-13), an astonishing act of compassion for a gentile living in his country as part of an occupying colonial force. It was in one of these packed, smelly houses that four friends lifted up a mud and thatch roof to lower their lame companion for Jesus’ healing (Mark 2: 1-5). It was on these nearby shores of Galilee that Jesus broke five barley loaves and two fish and fed the five thousand, leaving behind twelve baskets of leftovers (John 6:13). And it was on a nearby hillside where Jesus preached the greatest sermon ever known, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

And yet, it was also the place that Jesus cursed and condemned for its unbelief. “And you, Capernaum,” Jesus raged, “will you be honored by being raised up to heaven? No, you will be thrown down to the place of the dead. After all, if the miracles that were done among you had been done in Sodom, it would still be here today.” (Matthew 11:23) One of the only recorded times in any of the scriptures of Jesus getting angry, and it was towards the city he called home for years. It wasn’t that the villagers denied the miraculous things Jesus did—their community was too full of those he’d healed for them to claim that kind of ignorance. Instead, they refused to see these signs and wonders as evidence of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, the Son of God. “Their vision of the kingdom,” Tom Wright writes, “was all about revolution…violence to defeat violence. A holy war against unholy warriors. Love your neighbor, hate your enemy.”i He was simply the wrong kind of redeemer.

We as believers, much like the people of ancient Capernaum, have our own ideas concerning God into which we cram all our expectations and prejudices. We use Jesus as a crutch for our own political and morale agendas, wielding him more like a weapon than surrendering before him as the Christ. In doing so, we delude ourselves as powerfully as Capernaum did. We appreciate the miracles but ignore the miracle-worker; we eat the barley loaves and fish but blow off the provider; we appreciate the healing but stiff the doctor. As Christians, we must shield ourselves from such arrogance or risk the same condemnation that once echoed down to this little seaside village.

Joy,
____________________
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone: Part One (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 133.