Friday, April 21, 2017

Not of This World?

For Easter Sunday this year, one of the texts we read was Colossians 3:1-4. In this brief passage, the author writes:
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
 There's a lot to like in this passage and being joined to Christ's death and resurrection is very fitting to the themes of Easter. But there's also a problem with reading this passage out of context or too literally.

When the author commands his readers to "Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth," I cringe a little bit because there has long been a thread of Christian thought that suggests we can ignore much of what happens in this life or to this earth because all that really matters is "getting to heaven." Some Christians try to disengage from "the world" by creating bubbles around themselves or avoiding larger social or political issues. I've even heard some Christians say we shouldn't bother with environmentalism because "God's going to destroy this world, anyway."

The problem is that the Bible starts with a story about how much God loves the world God creates and the creatures in it and goes on to say that God cares very much about how we live together in society, about the creation God shaped, and about what we do with our time here on earth. Even in Colossians 1:20, the author says, "God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of the cross" (emphasis added).

When the author says to "set your minds on things that are above," he isn't saying "ignore this life and this world because only heaven matters." Instead, he's using it as a metaphor to say, "look at your life through the lens of Christ, not through the lens of this world; shape your life as it fits to the example of Christ."

The author even goes on to explain this in the following verses by giving examples of what life in this world looks like for followers of Christ. "Put to death," he says, "anger, wrath, malice, [and] slander" and instead "clothe yourselves" with compassion, kindness, humility, and love.

Jesus himself spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven as not something far away or in the future, but something happening here and now: "The Kingdom of God has come near" (Mark 1:15). Jesus didn't die and rise so we could ignore this world; he did so so that we could be freed to truly live in it by seeing it. Let us set our minds on things above by living deeply in the world today.

From the Gray,
Pastor Ari

"Who do you think you are? Did you figure out the date? What do you hope to do while you sit around and wait, wait, wait?" -Newsboys, "Lights Out"

Friday, April 7, 2017

Norse Gods and the God of Easter

My daughter and I recently finished reading "Norse Mythology" by Neil Gaiman, which retells the old myths in ways that a great storyteller like Gaiman can. Being part Norwegian, my daughter and I both love these stories that reflect the fears and dreams of our ancestors.

But I also think about how flawed these gods are. Much like their Greek counterparts, the gods of these ancient myths are often selfish, vain, hotheaded, violent, deceptive, or just foolish. In other words, they are very human... except with more power to cause trouble.

All of these old stories are one of the reasons I continue to believe in the God of the Bible, and especially the one found in Jesus Christ.

Unlike the gods of ancient mythology, the God I find in the Bible very unhuman. To be sure, God has many human characteristics. God gets angry, jealous, and impatient at time. God weeps with sadness. But the God of the Bible is different in that this God isn't motivated by selfishness or human ego. Just the opposite. The overarching story of the Bible is of a God who persistently tries to reconcile with creation, who reaches out to help and serve. In fact, almost every time God is angry, jealous, or weeping, it isn't because he's childish; it's because humans don't accept or understand the love he's trying to share with them.

This coming week is Holy Week, when we will retell the central story of the Christian church: that God loved humanity so much that God put aside his power and became human, not to cause mischief or trouble, but to heal our separation, to serve others, to willingly be humiliated and receive the brunt of our human condition (fear, anger, hatred, violence), die and be resurrected so that the negative parts of us might be overcome and no longer poison us. This is not how most humans would act. This is not a story we find in most ancient mythologies.

And that's why I find it believable.

If I were to make up a story about God and the universe, it wouldn't be a story about a powerful being seeking weakness and service or asking me to sacrifice and turn the other cheek and love my enemies. If I were to make up a god, it would act a lot like me and/or reinforce my natural inclinations to seek vengeance and be self-centered.

But the God of Easter asks me to die with him so I might be raised again. The God of Easter asks me to live with faith, hope, love, compassion, and generosity, not strength or wealth. The God of Easter has made himself vulnerable for my benefit so I might be vulnerable for the sake of others.

I couldn't make this story up. So I trust in it and I try to live it.

From the Gray,
Pastor Ari

“Not much of this makes sense to me.” -Guster, “Happy Frappy”