Recapitulating Creation

Ephesians 1.10

This is one of those subtle language things because recapitulation is, if done fairly and well, a big sprawling thing. The word is anakefalia which is from ana “again” and kefalia “head.” Kefalia is also used as the word for chapters in books. It is also the first word of  and kefalapoda the famous “head-feet” of science. Regardless of the particular kind of head meant, anakefalia means recapitulation, re-heading, or ‘getting a head again.’

So what’s the point of that, particularly if “all the cosmos” is getting a head again in Jesus. What is that supposed to even mean? What it means is that, like a good recap, Jesus is going thoroughly through the whole creation.  On a really pushing it but actually still accurate level, he is working through every nook and cranny, through every molecule and mote in order to bring the whole creation into himself.

A recap covers the story thoroughly, touching everything along the way so nothing is missed. In the same way, Jesus is Going through every fragment, corner, and cranny of our life and touching everything, bringing everything into himself. And that is why this verse is so important. It is about God touching our whole life, the parts we are proud of, the parts we are ashamed of, with grace. It is the way God comes into who we are, makes all things beautiful and new, and then draws all that beauty into who God fundamentally is.

Remember, the whole creation is recapitulated in Jesus and Jesus has ascended into the dance of the trinity that is life and joy. Therefore, our half-finished and yet still becoming beautiful lives are also gathered into that holy, heavenly dance.

Take that boring day planner that tells me my life is meaningless!

And like any good Circus Barker, it’s time to say “But wait! There’s more!” Because this is not just some sort of pick up thing, some mindless ‘oh well, I’ve gotta do something’ sort of gathering, it is part of an oikonomia an economy. Before you think that economy is a word about numbers and obscure, dry, math, let me explain.

Oikonomia comes from oikos “house” and nomos “rules/norms.” In other words, the rule, the norm, the way the house runs, is the economy. While on a national scale, house rules seem to be more on the order of rules of thumb or wishful thinking, in a home we have norms and patterns that actually shape us. Plus, when the house is healthy, those norms and patterns lead us toward life. (Yes, I have already covered the way that human lives are so often so very far away from the patterns that lead us to life. In this case, lets assume that God’s house rules, God’s economy does in fact lead into life).

So the work of God is leading into an economy, a way of living that, in the fullness, the completion of time, unfolds into glory. And if that itself were not glorious enough, this plan for the fullness, the coming together in hope takes place in kairos the right season.

The Greeks have two types of time kronos the tick-tock time of a watch dividing the day into precisely equal little slices. The other type of time however, kairos is the time that comes of itself. This is the time that unfolds like a season. It is the time that says “every highway was leading me back to you” and “you saved the best for last.” It’s the time that is a season for beginning and ending, that tells you when it’s time to say goodnight to your friends and go home, that tells you that meal was awesome. Kairos tells the birds to migrate and the flowers to bloom. It sends the salmon up the river and the leaves to turning to crimson fire.

Thus this verse says that God’s action is moving the cosmos into an oikonomia that is building into the fullness of kairos time. Furthermore, in that oikonomia Jesus is touching every single thing and drawing it into himself.

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I Am Making All Things New

Revelation 21.5

We’ve been taught that the revelation to St. John, popularly and incorrectly called ‘revelations,’ is a deeply ugly threat to our future. It is full of blood and smoke and world destroying monsters and properly the province of the seriously deranged. Or so we’re told.

But if we avoid it, we miss the subtlty of the ending. We miss the promise of new life and hope. We miss the stream of the water of life flowing from the throne in an echo of the healing Ezekiel saw. We miss the tree of life whose leaves are “for the healing of the ethnoi,” the nations. By focusing on the despair, we miss the moment God promises to “wipe away every tear” in the time when “death will be no more.”

In the middle of this promise, this new living hope, the “one sitting on the throne” drops this innocuous seeming sentence into our lap. Translators have no end of challenge with this because it is in an unexpected tense. We usually see it as “I make all things new” which is certainly technically correct because the verb is present tense (I make) but the reader  assumes this is some sort of present tense in the future. We understand that this revelation is a revealing (which, BTW: is what apocalypse really means in Greek) of what is to happen. Thus we assume that the promise to make all things new is a promise that will be true when everything works right in the future, when the whole world is new. But that’s not what the Greek says.

“Make” is present tense, therefore what it means is that this is happening right now, not in some far off maybe future. If we are to capture the sense then, we’d have to read it as “I am making all things new.” Change the grand but unused “behold!” to the equally accurate “See!” and suddenly the sentence makes more sense while also being more disturbing.

Wait God, are you saying that right now amid the mud and blood and failure of this beautiful battered world you are even now making everything New? And that newness is not the ‘right off the line’ and shrink-wrapped into a package kind of ‘new’ that in our world usually goes with ‘improved’ and means nothing of the sort. No, this New is the ‘fresh from the moment of creation,’ ‘covered with the dew of the morning,’ kind of newness that means life has begun.

This is the newness that is behind the phrase “life has always just begun.” It is a perpetually renewing newness that goes beyond mere novelty into the power of “I am making everything new. And it is everything. Every bird, every tree, every particle of dust, every cosmic mote, every thing that is, it is all being, right now, made new.

That is the promise and the new life we have received in Christ. It is a promise to bring life to fruitfulness and grace in the fullness of time and to, in this very chaotic and crazy moment, make it new. This part of the promise is no pie in the sky, ‘jam tomorrow but never jam today’ promise for an ‘I sure hope so’ future. Instead, it is the promise of the water of life that is welling up in us like an artesian well because of who Jesus is and how God loves.

“See! Look! Behold! I am, right now, even when you don’t see it, making every single thing new, even you.”

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Meeting Together

Hebrews 10.25

It’s a verse people have used to bludgeon each other into church. “If you don’t go, you go to hell” they say, and then wonder why everyone stays away. (Hint: you can’t beat someone into heaven). But if it isn’t supposed to used as a spiked club to compell attendence, what is it for? How about a reminder that it is not good to be alone?

The church has a long and ugly history of people who have gone off into ‘me and Jesus’ land and because they were right and everyone else was wrong, never noticed that the Jesus they were hanging out with was mostly a reflection of their own ego. Without being able to test the brilliant ideas that pop into our head against the life and experience of other people of faith, we are exposed to the temptation to become our own god.

This is not really a temptation to start overtly worshipping our Self, it is however the opportunity for us to confuse ourselves over what is true about the world. And our confusion doesn’t have to be big to be effective. Luther put it well when he pointed out “wherever Christ builds a church, there satan builds a chapel.”

For an error to lead us away from life, it does not have to be massive or spectacular. All that is needed is for us to substitute something else: family, our sports team, our country, whatever, for what gives us life. Sometimes all that it takes is for us to come up with a redefinition of a word to change the whole sense of our lives.

Consider this statement “love is a lie we tell to children to comfort them in a world full of fear.” A person who believed that, who believed that love was, in itself, a lie would be unable to form a loving bond or reach for love and life. Someone that confused about love, and unwilling to accept outside evidence to the contrary, would have wandered into a very lonely place inside themselves. This is a place anyone who has been abused knows all too well. After all, what’s that one thing abusers always seem to say? “This’ll be our secret.”

As long as we tell no one else, as long as we ask no one else, the person with whom we keep this secret has total control over our world. With little nudges and touches they can convince us of nearly anything because they control who gets in to the closest part of our understanding.

Without going outside of that small world, in other words, without “meeting together” (the Greek word contians “synagogue” in its root), we stay at the mercy of our imaginings. Essentially, once we are dwelling on an idea, avoiding outside interference, we can start subtly wandering away from sanity.

The same thing happens when we are stuck chewing over some disappointment or frustration. The longer we dwell on it, the angrier we become until we start screaming at people who are “in our way” on the road. We unload massive rage on someone who is just not paying attention. As long as we dwell off in ‘me and my mad’-land, refusing to test our ideas against others, we can be led further and deeper into accepting and even doing cruelty.

So the writer of Hebrews challenges us not to let go/put down/abandon synagogue-ing together. The synagogue, the gathering of people of faith who challenge our ideas and certainties, help us grow in grace and faith. They do this by giving us the opportunity to bang our certainties against those held by other people. People who, like us, are seeking to hold their faces up to the light.

When we give up the synagogue, the gathering together with other people of faith, we weaken ourselves. This is why we are encouraged not to give it up but instead to keep at it and even more, to encourage others to do so as well. Thus our decision to keep at it, to keep sharing our life of faith with other people of faith keeps building our life. Furthermore, by keeping at it and encouraging others to keep at it, we strengthen the lives of our fellows.

So by meeting together we: keep from getting stuck with our imaginings, get to challenge our ideas by banging them up against what our peers understand. Plus, as a bonus, by meeting and encouraging others to meet with us, we expand the group of people who are different from us and yet like us in faith thus we learn what it means to be more sane and less lost.

See, it’s not about beating us into the pews, this meeting together stuff helps us grow in grace and sanity.

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My Ish, My Love

Hosea 2.16

The story of Hosea and Gomer is like so much of life, messy, heartbreaking, and soaring. This text is from the part that soars.

As a synopsis, in order to give the people a living parable of God’s unfailing love in the face of human infidelity, God tells Hosea to marry an unfaithful woman, so he marries Gomer. They have three children together called, in English: The Lord Sows [vengeance] (Heb. Jezreel), Not pitied (Lo-Ruhamah), and Not My People (Lo-Ami). all in all, these are not happy names for kids and they speak to the crisis in the marriage.

The next chapter opens with a poetic lament and a declaration of how God intends to take away everything Israel has in order to awaken her understanding of her need. It is not always kind or loving. In fact, it is at times quite harsh but then the tone turns. God speaks of seducing the people back, of alluring them away from the distractions of life, the stupidities of selfishness and back into the arms of God. And then there’s this passage.

“You will call me My Man (ish) and no longer will you call me My Master (Ba’al)” says the Lord. The word Ish does mean ‘man’ but it also includes all the endearments a person would put into the idea of ‘my husband/my dear one.’ This is a massive contrast to the notion of calling God ‘Master’ (Ba’al). And yes, before you ask, Ba’al was Master, the thunderbolt throwing, cloud riding, god of the land between the Jordan and the Sea. He was Master and the people were supplicants of this Great Capricious Beard in the Sky (does this image sound familiar?)

In this one sentnce, God rejects that whole image. God says ‘I want to be your beloved husband and not your implacable dominator.’ Sure, there are times in  a loving relatinship where calling the other ‘master’ or ‘mistress’ can be quite fun but love cannot flourish in an environment of domination. So here in the Old Testament, in the middle of a passage about judgment and frustration, God decisively rejects the notion of domination as a positive good.

God invites love and being beloved. (For those who have trouble with the whole idea of being beloved by a God who in this passage goes by male pronouns, tough. Our sisters in the faith have trouble with the male language which we find so comfortable so we need to be ready to accept some discomfort too).

After this decisive turn, there begins a beautiful passage of new life and new hope. Creation rejoices in the new life it receives as being beloved. Yes, creation too calls God ‘my man, my husband,’ it too is beloved. God answers the earth with life and re-names the children of Gomer and Hosea. Jezreel becomes ‘The Lord Sows [life]’ and ‘not pittied’ recieves mercy. Lastly, ‘not my people’ is named ‘my people’ and replies to this new name ‘my God.’

So why is this important to me? It is a redefinition of what the love of God means. It contradicts the image of God as only conditinally loving, and shows that fundamentally, God is relentlessly loving in the face of our wandering, inept unfaithfulness.

Since I find myself ‘prone to wander‘ and more often than not suffering from severe Cranio-Rectal Syndrome, the reminder of relentless, seeking love is both a comfort and a challenge. It is a comfort because I know that I cannot wander so far as to be hopelessly lost. It is a challenge because God’s willingness to be loving is an invitation for me to be more loving than I am and more willing to be beloved than I have either experienced or believed myself to be.

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Mark 4.28

The key word in this verse is the first one, automatee. It means “of itself” or “by itself” and yes, it is related to the word “automatic.” Of itself, says Jesus, the soil produces fruit. Now  in our modern understanding, we know that it is actually the seed that grows and not the soil. However, the point is that the growth comes from what is already present.

For people who understand basic biology, this makes sense. A seed has within it, in embryonic form, a tiny plant. There are proto leaves and a tiny root stub surrounded by all the energy needed to make the plant grow. With moisture and a medium in which to grow, the root will go down, the leaves go up and the plant begin its becoming. Pop open a peanut the next time you see one. Notice that tiny bit of grit between the two halves? Under a handlens, you’ll see the tiny leaves and the little root waiting (in an unroasted nut) to grow.

The seed is, in another part of the chapter, described as the word, the logos. In another place, logos is used to describe Jesus himself. Regardless of the specific meaning, the seed is itself the power to grow and, according to scripture elsewhere, has been put into our life by the work of God. And contained in the seed, ready to grow as soon as it is given an excuse, is all the beauty God gives us. It has within itself all the things needed for growth and all the beauty toward which we will reach with all our lives.

In fact, it not only does it have what is needed to grow, it has within itself the irrepressible power to grow. It will grow whether we are good people or bad people. The seed will sprout whether we are attentive or ignorant. The seed has already got the power to grow, and that seed has been sown in us.

What then is the implication for us? That the gift of new life in God is entire and complete within us right now. We do not need to wait for perfection, or the uttermost moment of wonder in order to grow. We are not constrained by waiting for the outside to be just right or to ‘figure it all out’ (an hopeless and pointless task. Try to figure out your friend, I dare you. You’ll end up with a bent brain, wasted hours, and only some insights. If the mystery of one human is beyond our reach, how arrogant to assume any one of us can figure out life).

In short, we are given the seed of new life in Christ’s love for us. That seed contains within it all that is needed for growth and it will grow of itself. Automatically, the seed grows. Automatically, our life unfolds in newness. From itself, toward beauty, our life unfolds in grace.

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Real Synergy

Romans 8.28

It is time to put down the corporatespeak filter and listen to the word again because in spite of the way it has been made to walk the streets in service of C-officer blindness, synergy is a word worth noting.

It is a compound of syn “together” and ergon the verb “to work” thus it means to work together. This is the sense of common labor toward a goal, of all the gears meshing so the machine goes forward. No matter what some doof in a suit has  tried to tell us, we don’t ‘synergize our mutualities’ or whatever other nonsense they’re trying to peddle.

But now we come to the real meat of the verse. If all things work together for good, doesn’t that mean that only good things will happen ‘for those who love the Lord?’ Doesn’t that mean that if bad things are happening I must not love the Lord enough? Um, no. It means that in the chaotic mess of stupidity, good intentions, and selfishness of life, God is at work to bring forth good from all the things that happen.

The good is, to be more precise, something all these things are working into. In other words, the goal, the destination of all this working together is The Good. The actual events can be good, evil, or indifferent but they are being worked together for good.

How can this be? Picture a really good (or at least good enough) parent. They have a “big P” Plan for our lives, that we grow up and be healthy. Having started with this plan, they spend our growing up years revising the plan in different ways attempting to bring us toward that goal. At their best, they are working toward our good, they are working toward our health.

If we want to push the image a bit, they are at work with their plans to in as many ways as possible bring us toward The Good. They may be only one person, the decisions we make and circumstances we find ourselves in may not always be the best (OK, they’re mostly dumb when we’re kids), but regardless of all the things that happen, with a good enough parent, many of them are brought toward our good.

Now picture the real, perfect, loving parent who could be capable of taking every stupid thing we do and every awful thing that happens to us and turn it toward good. For faith holders, that perfect parent is God and the promise is for those loving God.

Note that there is no actual measurement listed describing how much we are loving, only that we are loving. Also, in this verse love is a participle, an -ing word. It is not a static, measureable, ‘you aren’t loving God enough’ kind of verb. It is a dynamic ‘I am doing this with the whole of my ability to do it’ kind of loving. It is the sort of loving that comes and goes, waxes and wanes as we live our life, it is a loving that is a response to God’s act of reaching into our being and calling of us is ‘a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied.

All things working together into good does not mean that only good things will happen in our lives but that God is at work to wring every single bit of good from every single thing that happens.

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