“The Word is Near You”

Lectio: Romans 10:5-15

 Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.”

But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.

The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Meditatio: “The Word is Near You”

Lectio Divina is very difficult, I find, when dealing with a familiar passage. All the words have become both freighted with over-interpretation and, at the same time, made hollow by familiarity. It takes a great deal of extra concentration and openness to the let the Spirit speak where so many have spoken already.

Nevertheless, the Spirit speaks, sometimes even through the voices of the preachers and teachers and readers and Christian witnesses who have spoken in the past. It is more and more important for me to honor those through whom the Spirit has spoken in the past, rather than disregard them or discredit them (because I’ve been to seminary, and know what this all really means). Such arrogance and, to quote C. S. Lewis, “chronological snobbery,” closes me to what the Spirit wishes to say.

Lectio, is, for me, one of the ways that “the Word is near.” The Spirit can lift up and use any one of my remembered Sunday School lessons, or sermon I’ve heard, or seminary lecture, or conversation, or the Spirit can put all of them aside and speak in a new word. The key is humility and openness.

Oratio

Holy Spirit, Companion and Comforter,

Thank you for using the remembered and written words of thousands of years of Your people to speak still today, in new and fresh ways.

Amen.

Contemplatio & Incarnatio

I can’t help it. I have to include these excerpts from Karl Barth’s commentary on Romans, because they are a challenge and a call to me to reflect more on my view of the Church, its task, and the its relationship to words and The Word. Read at your own risk.

The Church is the place of fruitful and hopeful repentance; it is nothing else. When the Church crashes up against this point, it is overwhelmed with disgust at its convulsive attempts, at one moment to “ascend into heaven,” at another to, “descend into the abyss;” it is appalled that it should have tried to be both “height” and “depth,” to occupy them, speak of them, point them out, and apportion them. There is a certain horror at all attempts to bring about the work of God, to effect the incarnation of divinity or the resurrection of humanity, by employing the dynamic, demonic power of the Church’s own word. The Church may refine its liturgy; popularize its technical language; broaden the basis of the education of its clergy; see that its administration is made more efficient; yield hurriedly to the demands of the laity, however doubtful they may be; encourage theological journalism; approximate more closely to the uncertainties of the “spirit of the age,” to romanticism, liberalism, nationalism, and socialism; may, in fact, “bring Christ into the picture”! But when He is brought into the picture, it is discovered that we cannot introduce Him thus, either by bringing Him down, or by bringing Him up. For Christ is not the exalted and transformed ideal man. He is the new man….

Once this were perceived, the Church — and in the term is included every conceivable little conventicle which passionately denies that it is a Church — would be the place where, contrasted with all other places, the proper, inexhaustible distance of “height” and “depth” would be apprehended, set forth, and maintained.

Then the Church would be able to express itself. The Church is not bound to be silent…For silence before God gives meaning both to our silence and to our most eloquent speech. Then the Church would be the place where men receive the message of joy and the positive Word of God. For it would be the place where — distinct from all moralizings and sentimentalities — the supreme negation of the Word of the Cross could be heard without the disturbance of other words….

A Church capable of retiring from all its sacred heights and depths, from all its extensive and intensive ecclesiastical possibilities; a Church determined to retrace its steps from every distant country, in order that it may move in the “nearness” of the lives of men and in the ambiguity of their existence, would thereby embrace its true task, and in its own misery and responsibility would encounter Him, who has ordered human affairs that in them He may be nigh at hand.

In thus describing the resignation of the Church and its severe concentration upon the matter in hand, we are not describing some new “reformation.” Rather, we are thinking once again of [the True Church], of the Church in the desert; we are thinking of miracle and faith, of the impossible possibility, which is beyond our observation, and which, therefore, we cannot think of in terms of some new movement of reform or of some new school of thought. We mean that which is everywhere and always present in every possible Church as soon as it in any way takes itself seriously.

The retirement of the Church upon its inner lines is not a maneuver which we can plan, set in motion, and accomplish. The retirement of the Church is the strategic significance of its already existing maneuvers — a significance which already exists and which occurs without any preparatory circulation of orders, without any practical consideration whatever, and without any increase of establishment. What we mean is the new orientation of all possible human activity, the step from hope to tribulation and from tribulation to hope, the eternal advance, which accompanies or does not accompany, which assists or hinders, all human progress. Set over against all human possibilities, it is the “Wholly Other;” and because it is this it is the possibility that is always and everywhere open — the possibility for the living, Unknown God to be what He is.

Now, this open possibility means that behind and above and in [the False/Visible Church] — however degenerate and priest-ridden it may be — is [the True/Invisible Church]. When we say that “the Word is nigh thee,” we are simply speaking again of the righteousness of God, ever awaiting our serious consideration, ever waiting for us to hear it and proclaim it, ever ready to display its efficacy in causing us oppression and in setting us free. Yet, because it is the Word of Christ, it is beyond our hearing and beyond our speaking; for, to hear it and proclaim it — we must wait…Far too transcendant, far too important, far too full of significance, is the Word of God by which the Church is constituted! We cannot endure it — even though it be heard by human ears and proclaimed by human lips!…

The Word is nigh unto us….

But here we must not forget to reckon with impossibility. For impossibility is, as such, nigh at hand, ready at our elbow, possible. Impossibility presses upon us, breaks over us, is indeed already present. Impossibility is more possible than everything we hold to be possible. The light shineth in the darkness.

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Re-Blog: “Here Breaks Out The Veritable God-Sickness”

I usually don’t do this, but today’s lectionary reading is Romans 9:1-5, and I discovered that I’ve already blogged about this passage, and this post is one of my favorites. It’s also unusually timely, considering all the Ebola outbreaks in the news (Lord, have mercy!). Enjoy!

~

Last night my wife and I had some friends over to play board games. The first game we played was “Pandemic.”

pandemicThe premise of the game: 4 diseases are infecting the planet. You’re a CDC team (all the players playing), who must work together to build research centers, travel to infected cities, and cure these 4 diseases before one of the diseases reaches critical mass, or before too many cities experience disease “outbreaks” into neighboring cities. It’s a devastatingly difficult game, where you all work together really well and the game will still win. It’s also a lot of fun.

And then this morning, I opened up Barth on Romans 9, where he launches into a detailed description of the Church: “Here breaks out the veritable God-sickness.” Praise be to the Spirit, who “works all things together.”

Romans 9:1-5 | “The Tribulation of the Church: Solidarity”

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit—I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Okay, I admit I was a little lost when I re-read Paul — Why is Barth writing about the Church if Paul is writing about Israel? — until I understood that Barth sees Israel as the Church, as the original “called out ones.” His treatment of the Church is cataclysmic and over-the-top, but I will definitely have to return to it when I begin studying “ecclesiology” with more attention.

The Church…is the place where the eternity of revelation is transformed into a temporal, concrete, directly visible thing in this world…In the Church, faith, hope, and love are directly possessed, and the Kingdom of God directly awaited, with the result that men band themselves together to inaugurate it, as though it were a THING which men could have and await and work for…To sum up: the Church is the endeavor to make the incomprehensible and unavoidable Way intelligible to men.

What an amazing and weighty thing to say of the Church.

[note: Barth is “not here concerned with some debased form of religion, but with the ideal and perfect Church.” I’m not sure that this distinction is possible from a pragmatic view, but then, Barth, a dialectical theologian, takes on “impossible possibilities” all the time.]

What if we (local churches) gathered together Sunday morning expecting “the eternity of revelation” and banding together to “await” and “inaugurate” the Kingdom of God? What if we lived our day-in, day-out lives seeking “to make the incomprehensible and unavoidable Way [Jesus Christ!] intelligible to men”: with our words, with our time, with our bodies, with our credit cards, with our whole lives?

pandemic 2Last night, we had cured 3 of the 4 diseases, and were sure we would easily defeat the 4th within the next 4 turns. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the game turned on us and wiped out all of Europe with a disease we had already cured. The frustration and defeat was palpable. Barth writes: “The God-sickness of men will always tend to break out in new forms.” Barth’s vision of the Church seems to be another “impossible possibility.” But what if we saw the Kingdom of God — this “God-sickness” — to be just as inevitable as one of these fictitious plagues: overrunning city after city, spreading from continent to continent so rapidly and fully that no cultural obstacle or human stubbornness or political legislation could turn it back? Would we not be eager and excited to stand in solidarity with the Church, because “here breaks out the veritable God-sickness”?

(originally posted here on July 16, 2013.)

“Here Breaks Out the Veritable God-Sickness”

Last night my wife and I had some friends over to play board games. The first game we played was “Pandemic.”

pandemic

The premise of the game: 4 diseases are infecting the planet. You’re a CDC team (all the players playing), who must work together to build research centers, travel to infected cities, and cure these 4 diseases before one of the diseases reaches critical mass, or before too many cities experience disease “outbreaks” into neighboring cities. It’s a devastatingly difficult game, where you all work together really well and the game will still win. It’s also a lot of fun.

And then this morning, I opened up Barth on Romans 9, where he launches into a detailed description of the Church: “Here breaks out the veritable God-sickness.” Praise be to the Spirit, who “works all things together.”

Romans 9:1-5 | “The Tribulation of the Church: Solidarity”

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit—I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Okay, I admit I was a little lost when I re-read Paul — Why is Barth writing about the Church if Paul is writing about Israel? — until I understood that Barth sees Israel as the Church, as the original “called out ones.” His treatment of the Church is cataclysmic and over-the-top, but I will definitely have to return to it when I begin studying “ecclesiology” with more attention.

The Church…is the place where the eternity of revelation is transformed into a temporal, concrete, directly visible thing in this world…In the Church, faith, hope, and love are directly possessed, and the Kingdom of God directly awaited, with the result that men band themselves together to inaugurate it, as though it were a THING which men could have and await and work for…To sum up: the Church is the endeavor to make the incomprehensible and unavoidable Way intelligible to men.

What an amazing and weighty thing to say of the Church.

[note: Barth is “not here concerned with some debased form of religion, but with the ideal and perfect Church.” I’m not sure that this distinction is possible from a pragmatic view, but then, Barth, a dialectical theologian, takes on “impossible possibilities” all the time.]

What if we (local churches) gathered together Sunday morning expecting “the eternity of revelation” and banding together to “await” and “inaugurate” the Kingdom of God? What if we lived our day-in, day-out lives seeking “to make the incomprehensible and unavoidable Way [Jesus Christ!] intelligible to men”: with our words, with our time, with our bodies, with our credit cards, with our whole lives?

pandemic 2Last night, we had cured 3 of the 4 diseases, and were sure we would easily defeat the 4th within the next 4 turns. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the game turned on us and wiped out all of Europe with a disease we had already cured. The frustration and defeat was palpable. Barth writes: “The God-sickness of men will always tend to break out in new forms.” Barth’s vision of the Church seems to be another “impossible possibility.” But what if we saw the Kingdom of God — this “God-sickness” — to be just as inevitable as one of these fictitious plagues: overrunning city after city, spreading from continent to continent so rapidly and fully that no cultural obstacle or human stubbornness or political legislation could turn it back? Would we not be eager and excited to stand in solidarity with the Church, because “here breaks out the veritable God-sickness”?

“Led by the Spirit of God”

In this season of Ordinary Time, and in this season of summer, it is profoundly difficult for me to keep my nose to the grindstone and persevere in work. Kids are running around with balls and bikes and water balloons; friends are spending their afternoons at the beach; the sun begs to be enjoyed. At first glance, “work” would not have surfaced as an obvious theme of Romans 8; however, after reading this and reading Barth, I can’t help but see my work as a profound implication of the Truth.

Romans 8:11-17 | “The Spirit: The Truth” (part 1)

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Barth focuses, after Paul, on the role and reality of the Holy Spirit in this passage. Barth insists that the Spirit is the Truth, and as such, we have a much more complicated relationship with “Truth” than we usually admit. Here are a few of his assertions:

    • “Truth is not what we say about God, but what He does and will do and has done.”
    • “Truth is no objective observation of the Truth; for its objectivity is that by which we are observed before ever we have observed anything at all…Truth cannot therefore depend upon my observation.”
    • “We cannot begin with Truth, for it is our beginning.”
    • “Truth therefore, does not stand and fall with us, does not live and die with us, is not right whe we are right and wrong when we are deceived, does not triumph in our victory and fail when we are defeated. Truth is death poised above the cradle; it is life breathing o’er the grave.”

Because the Spirit (the Truth) is at work within us, was at work before us, and continues to work ahead of us, Barth lays out an interesting image of what it means to respond to the Truth and to follow the Truth.

“There is no warm sunset glow which succeeds the storm of our lives — save by the orientation which is given to men by God Himself and by God alone. This orientation is embarrassment, threatening, promise, the final security of insecurity, which, as the reflection of light uncreated, encompasses every created thing. This orientation is the End which announces the Beginning, is the eternal disturbance and the eternal peace, is the command which banishes us from every quiet or unquiet nook and compels us to faith, because our veritable redemption can only be believed in. — Such is the peace of God which passeth all understanding.”

compassThis image of “orientating,” of discerning “True” cardinal directions in relation to (in spite of?) the surrounding environment and positioning ourselves accordingly, is a fascinating picture of how we respond to the Spirit’s direction, as though the Spirit were the compass by which we understand the cultural and religious landscapes within which we live.

“By the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, by the knowledge of God, we are…orientated from west to east, from death to life; the Holy Spirit exercises His function of judgment and of consolation; the Truth is the Truth — this is the meaning of our being led by the Spirit of God.”

In the Reformed Tradition, the Spirit’s work is most closely linked to the Bible, making the Word of God living, active, and clear to our human understanding. If the Bible is our map for navigating our lives, then, according to Barth, the Spirit is our compass.

May God, our True North,
make His Word clear to us
— both the map-pages of His Written Word
and the living Guide of His Word Incarnate —
and send His Spirit of Truth to swivel and spin within us,
directing our wills and desires and interests
according to His will, His design, His character,
So that we might orient ourselves accordingly,
with careful precision and dynamic obedience,
to be and act in our worlds
— our workplaces, our families, our homes, our leisure — 
perfectly aligned, and continually realigning, to God.
Amen.