Archives For September 2014

I can’t be easy without my pen in my hand, yet I know not what to write.

(John Adams, 1774 The Letters of John and Abigail Adams (Kindle Ed).

@Luke 16:10

September 28, 2014 — Leave a comment

Reputation is not always a mirror of a persons character

 

Entitled ‘Gideon: God is my Lord’[i]  and preached in Berlin on February 26, 1933 ‘Bonhoeffer gave his first sermon’ since Hitler had been enshrined as chancellor 27 days prior.

Bonhoeffer’s decision to preach from the Old Testament was deliberate. In my opinion he couldn’t have picked a more controversial figure, at the time, to make a political point.

The choice of Gideon was a deliberate attempt to preach against Nazi propaganda by using inferences to Nazi propaganda.

For example: Larry Rasmussen suggests Bonhoeffer contrasted a ‘young man chosen by God to save Israel from their enemies and turn them away from the worship of false gods’ with ‘Siegfried, the unconquered Germanic hero figure (of the Nibelung saga), idealised by the Nazis.’[ii]

Expanding on this Isabel Best writes that Bonhoeffer sets out to ‘describe God’s power in contrast to human might, and finally from Martin Luther’s ‘A Might Fortress,’ to assure his hearers that even now the power, and the victory, are God’s alone[iii].’

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is someone I’d heard of, yet never read with any serious interest until five years ago. Since then I have made inroads into understanding his life, theology and influences.

I’ve even managed to pull together some blog posts about the subject. {Here, here and here.}

Most Christians who have heard Bonhoeffer might only know him as martyr; others will be able to match the name in more detail with the context and images of an era when Europe was consumed by an industrial military complex issuing forth blitzkrieg, and euthanasia; inciting euphoria through Darwinian Socialism in support of its progeny, Nazi dogma.

The latter was swarming the globe enraging some, and finding recruits in others through the promise of a new dawn for humanity – one embossed in the appearance of allegiance with Christianity, when instead it was firmly based on the survival of the fittest, racial supremacy, socialism, scientism, and pagan religion.

Gideon’s message is God’s grace to the Israelites and through the witness of Gideon this message is also about God’s graciousness towards humanity.

Bonheoffer’s Gideon expresses this clearly. This is nowhere more evident than when Bonhoeffer states:

Gideon, we recognise your voice only too well; you sound just the same today as you did then
Who would be willing to say that he or she has never heard this call and has never answered, as Gideon did: Lord, with what I am supposed to do such great things?
But Gideon is silenced; today as just in those days, he’s told to shut up. You’re asking, “With what?” Haven’t you realised what it means that this is God calling to you? Isn’t the call of God enough for you; if you listen properly, doesn’t it drown out all your “with what” questions?
“I will be with you” – that means you are not asked to do this with any other help. It is I who have called you; I will be with you; I shall be doing it too. Do you hear that, Gideon of yesterday and today?
God has called you, and that is enough. Do you hear that, individual doubting Christian, asking and doubting Christian? God has plans for you, and that does mean you.
Be ready to see to it. Never forget, even when your own powerlessness is grinding you down to the ground, that God has phenomenal, immeasurable, great plans for you. I will be with you.’[iv]

Faced with the uncertainty of the times, Bonhoeffer reaches for a tangible example from the Biblical text.

Some of us may find the times confusing, some see victims living without victory or want of it, and others witness a wave of chaos attempting to breach walls where restraint has remained the stalwart of freedom. In the midst of this, not only Gideon, but also Bonhoeffer speaks to us, reminding us to trust that: God, in His mercy will reign.


Sources:

[i] Best, I. (Ed.) 2012 The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonheoffer Fortress Press, p.67

[ii] Rasmussen, L in The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonheoffer, Isabel Best, (Ed.) 2012  Fortress Press, p.67

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid, pp.67-74 & Stroud, D.G. (Ed.) Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich  Wm.B Eerdmans Press, pp.51-61

IMG_20140919_181306

We were privileged to end term three on somewhat of a ‘grace note’.

Our home-schoolers presented poster projects, a history paper and an Italian project-in-progress during a BBQ lunch with their Great-Grandparents.

One of the poster projects was on transport and it just so happened that the day included some well-timed interaction with model locomotives and a large well crafted diorama.

I’m still in awe of how healthy, unforeseen opportunities appear and how they can significantly reinforce our journey.

 

Seeds and flower beds.
Gasps and “WOWs”!
Little additions worthy of greatness.

For Australians, spring is associated with bright mornings, longer days, and a slow re-acquaintance with the sweltering heat of summer.

Of all the seasons here, spring is in a way, THE penultimate pronouncement of them all; reminding us that Christmas is not all that far away, that the summer holidays are drawing near and that another year is coming to a close.

I’ve never been a big spring fan, but my perspective is changing.

The female satin Bowerbirds have been hanging around for a few weeks, and yesterday for the first time the (male) Regent Bowerbird  made an entrance.

Bower Bird collage

Left: Female Regent Bowerbird Right: Male Regent Bowerbird

 

It’s these kinds of encounters throughout spring that whilst not proving the existence of God empirically, are like metaphors that function as breathtaking reminders of His active creativity.

This is where the brilliance of Charles Spurgeon guides us when we read:

‘We have seen a hedge all thick with dry leaves throughout winter, and neither frost nor wind has removed the withered foliage, but the spring has soon made a clearance.
The new life dislodges the old, pushing it away as unsuitable to it. So our old corruptions are best removed by the growth of new graces.
It is as the new life buds and opens that the old worn out things or our former state are compelled to quit their hold of us.
Our wisdom lies in living near to God, that by the power of his Holy Spirit all our graces may be vigorous, and may exercise a sin-expelling power over our lives: the new leaves of grace pushing off our old dried-out affections and sinful habits.’[i]

The Earth, everything in and on it is far from being the residue of a cosmic incident whereby a Deistic creator steps aside, and becomes an indifferent, absent-minded spectator.

Through the seasons, God invites our applause.

Through spring, God welcomes new life.

Through Christ, God breathes it into us.

‘If anyone who is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Jesus Christ reconciled us to himself.’ (2. Cor. 5:17-18, ESV)

Source:

[i] Spurgeon, C. 1883 New Leaves Pushing off the Old in Flowers from a Puritans Garden, Funk & Wagnalls pp.97-98

 

Present Hearts Bow

September 12, 2014 — Leave a comment

Fallout_1_

 

Selective outrage.
Careful words exhausted by decades of toxic hearing.
Father. Sister. Wounds.

 

Noiseless presence.
Breathtaking magnificence.
Present hearts bow.

 

Recollect light.
The Divine “Yes” kindled by Divine “No.”
Promise fulfilled, anticipates fulfilment.

Remove The Stone

September 10, 2014 — Leave a comment

ID-100113575The events in John 11-12 involve a dynamic interaction between Jesus, his friends, a curious crowd[i] and some very concerned authorities.

We read of spies, intrigue, assassination plots and a mutinous disciple.

The text tells us that Jesus’ friends had serious concerns for his safety in a crowd[ii].  This is emphasised by John when he tells us that Jesus is warned against returning to Bethany (11:8).

In 10:31, John states that the reason for this is due to a previous clash, between offended stone throwers and their intention to arrest Jesus, who only after pushing them back with verbal rebuttals manages to avoid any further unnecessary contact.

We see this danger also exemplified by the assassination plots first laid out against Jesus and then Lazarus. We are later told of Caiaphas, the chief priest[iii], and his appeasement not just of 1st Century Jewish law, but also that of the ‘Pax Romana’; a 1st and 2nd century status quo enforced by Rome’s well disciplined, and heavily equipped legions.

The text then shows the true extent of Iscariot’s character, as Mary, in front of the risen Lazarus and his sister Martha, pours ointment, made of an expensive Indian perfume, onto the ‘feet of Jesus, wiping his feet with her hair.’

In John’s reflection we are unable to escape the tension as he writes:

‘Judas did not care for the poor. He was a thief. Having charge of the moneybag, which he used to help himself to’ (12:6)

The situation appears to have been a mix of grief, anger, joy, faith, reason and fear.

But, who, when tempted would struggle to disagree with Iscariot or the crowd today?

Jesus, this so-called ‘’preacher of love”; the so-called ‘Son of Man’; a man presumed to be one of absolute peace and tolerance, so easily managed to incite the anger of the authorities.

If he is about grace, why is he so divisive?

Look at how Jesus treated his friend Lazarus and see how he is absent when Lazarus’ sisters are in need?

Why did he place his own security over the healing of his friend?

How is that not selfish betrayal?

Did his intolerance know no bounds?  Perhaps the whispers and accusations spoken against him are true?

These questions might not be so unjustified, that is of course if it were not for this key event:

In front of the people gathered to console the grieving sisters, Jesus returns, prays, speaks, and then raises Lazarus from the dead.

Jesus is first met by Martha.

Possibly indicating prior conversations of lament and confusion between Lazarus’ sisters, who speak separately with Jesus and say:

“Lord, if you had been here…” (11:21 / 11:32, ESV)

He tells Martha that ‘your brother will rise again…I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?’ (11:23). Martha’s response is retold in the form of confession: ‘she believes he is the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world’ (11:27)

Yet, it’s a curious thing that following this John observing Jesus’ body language, describes him as being moved to ‘anger[iv] and indignation’[v]  – better described as a ‘snarl, snort or growl’ (Carson).

With such a response and what we know of Jesus Christ, it is not beyond reason to suggest that:

Here He is, with the power of the life-giver moving through his human veins standing before the tomb of his friend.

Here, Jesus recognizes the lingering effects of death which has passed through Lazarus and still torments those gathered.

The life of Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, now silenced by the ‘total peril’[vi]; the ‘nothingness’, which is a ‘stubborn element and alien factor’[vii] that ‘opposes and resists God’s world-dominion’[viii], yet passes its devastating blow throughout all humanity.

It is here that Jesus’ ‘quiet outrage flares up again[ix]‘, yet he responds with an uncharacteristic public prayer, beginning with thanksgiving saying:

‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe you sent me’ (11:41-42, ESV)

Although ‘two interpretations are possible’[x], there is little doubt that at this point:

‘Christ does not approach the tomb of Lazarus as an idle spectator, but as a champion who prepares for a contest; He groans; for the violent tyranny of death, which he had to conquer…and contemplates the transaction itself’ (Calvin, 361)

Here ‘Christ shows that he is the commencement of life and that the continuance of life is also a work of his grace’ (Calvin, 356), commanding bystanders to:

“Remove the stone.” (38-39, The Message)
And then he cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out”.
The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go” (11:43-44, ESV)

Three things stand out to the modern-era hearers.

First, the text confronts us with three things Jesus does when he is angered and deeply disturbed by the events around him: he asserts himself, turns to prayer and gratitude, and then acts.

Second, is that we do well to understand ‘that grief and outrage are right responses held together, in tension, but grief and compassion without outrage reduces both to mere sentiment, while outrage without grief hardens into self-righteous arrogance and rage’[xi]

Finally, from this we can understand that the consequence of Christ’s victory is the right for us to exist. It is no longer a hopeless existence, merely surviving in the shadow of a destructive vacuum of that which has no right to exist.

The events surrounding Lazarus show us that Jesus is opposed to death as much as he is opposed to sin.

In this, His “yes” to life resonates as the preamble for the grace-conclusion found in the scarred Christ standing outside his own tomb, where permission to live, not just for now, but forever in fellowship with God, is granted by grace to the responsive sinner.

 

Sources:

[i] Carson: ‘They were puzzled and confused.’

[ii] John Calvin rightly noted that: ‘the rage of his enemies had not subsided’ ; Commentary of John Sourced from CCEL.org (p.355)

[iii] John 11:49-50

[iv] ἐμβριμάομαι: rebuke; warning; deeply moved; groan. Not ὀργή: wrath; hostility.

[v] ‘His inward reaction was anger or outrage or indignation’ (Carson, 1991)

[vi] Barth, K. 1960 God and Nothingness CD.III.3 Hendrickson Publishers (p.289-290)

[vii] ibid

[viii] ibid

[ix] Carson, D. A. (1991). The Gospel according to John (p. 416). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans.

[x] Ibid

[xi] Ibid

Image: “Stairs In A Cave” courtesy of  papaija2008 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net