Sola Fide

When did we give up on faith, exactly?

Since when is Faith, alone, not good enough and we had to send Assurance along to walk it to the corner market?

The anxiety gnawing at our innards; the spoiled children demanding to know what is in the package beneath the tree.  That peculiar drift from faith in Christ toward an insistence of an assurance of salvation astounds.

I’m still waiting for Calvin’s peer review to publish.

Faith does not satisfy like assurance. Faith is covenantal not contractual.

Assurance is binding; demanding. Our ways, human ways, like things strapped down.

Guaranteed.

 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. Isaiah 55:8-9

Leave it to a lawyer like Calvin to draft the closing argument for (his) justification before Christ in the divine courtroom. How clever to use sacred scripture to compile an adjudication; using God’s words against God to pronounce his own sentence, claiming  innocence on the merit of the Judge’s righteousness and demanding the inheritance of heaven!

So odd that among the Greekophiliac biblical scholars and their insatiable taste for tenses, that not one of them remember Paul saying we are “being saved”. Or, that not one has bothered to mention that assurance and faith are apples and oranges.

A witnessing believer declares, “Your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life! Your sins are forgiven and salvation is sure!” when those magic words are whispered: Jesus, come into my heart and save me. 

Somehow, this statement declaring a final judgment is not blasphemy.

                                    Just saving Jesus some time at the end of all things

Yet, should a Catholic priest say to a repentant person:

May God, who has enlightened every heart, help you to know your sins and trust in his mercy…God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

This, we are to believe, is an act of violence against Divine privilege and authority.

Even though Jesus taught us to forgive one another. James teaches us to confess our sins one to another. Jesus delegates to his disciples the function of binding and releasing sin as a function of shaping church (community) culture.

But the sacred scripture is quite clear about one thing.

Christ alone was declared worthy to judge. You cannot declare me “saved.” No one can. Not you. Not Calvin. Certainly not myself. How could any of us make such a claim?  Would you care to know what the Bible actually says about our salvation?

Jesus decides. And only Jesus knows.

See, I am being saved. I am charged to remain faithful. I have the works Jesus began to carry on.

Well there’s an uncomfortable concept. A judgment.

A judgement conducted by the only worthy judge.

No assurance there.

–All that “Lord, Lord we did miracles and such in your name” business.

But there is hope (Paul’s language again).  Faith is more formidable.

Assurance is, well, assuring. But the gospels, and the apostolic teachings, read collaboratively don’t say we are assured of anything.

Faith is a work of trust; it is relational.  It is evidenced, not by a tract discovered in a bathroom stall, signed, and stuffed in a wallet, but by a life living out the works and words of Christ.

Assurance-speak must be the language of the insecure, the anxious and uncertain. Assurance defies mystery. It is the prodigal’s demand for an inheritance now. Those who fear judgment have not experienced a mature relationship; a perfect love.

Faithfulness is an enduring; a process; a growth.

Faith is the substance that substantiates hope.

Faith is the evidence of what is yet unseen.

Faith is found in sincere, personal relationships.

They do not say of a good, loyal husband, “He was assuring to his wife.”

Hearing those words, that he was assuring to his wife, implies he is yet trying to convince his wife of something she is not quite sure is believable.

Sola Fide.  It is enough.

I won’t depend on magic words to seal my salvation any longer.  I will no longer demand Jesus come into my heart and life. Instead, I will answer the call of Christ and follow Him. I will come into His heart and His life.

And working out that salvation, not by my works, but through His works which He began and continues through us, I will know Him better; hear Him better; trust Him more.

Then, on that day, I will trust fall backward into the arms of Christ, or else into just judgment. Who knows?

Jesus.

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Transf-aggravation

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Irritable Jesus isn’t someone we recognize. At least, we don’t readily envision Jesus as the short-tempered, fed-up, tired-of-people type.

The Gospels take us behind the scenes. Jesus, having a literal mountain top experience, is back home for a time.

The presence of the Divine, familiar souls..Jesus glows with exhilaration. Even the conversation sounds like party planning: his departure.  This is homecoming, right?

But once the lights are turned out and the old friends are headed home, Jesus sounds anything but thrilled. His tone is scolding; His words scalding.

If the Gospels were mere hagiography, the epic hero would remain unchanged. But in a real life, like the one we read about in Scripture, real people react to bad news.

Like the news that your best friend will betray you. That your closest friends will desert you. That your enemies will shame you: mock you, spit on you , beat you. They’ll hang you naked, stuck to a post by nails, where you’ll be suffocated to death while suffering from anemia and dehydration due to blood loss, in front of loved ones, racial haters, and curious creepy types who enjoy watching people tortured.

That’s the news. That’s how you’re going out. That’s the send off from the public you loved with healing, and forgiveness, and restorative wisdom given at times you were completely exhausted or grieving the death of a close cousin.

Someone should tell God to get out of this abusive relationship.

But they’ll say they’re sorry. Sure they will. Don’t all abusers? They don’t know why they did it. They love you so much.

Here are some gifts. Will that make it better?

Take some money for missionaries.

I’ll be at church 3 times next month instead of just 1.

See, I’m over here at the service project, on a Saturday.

All better?

But then it happens again.

The cheating on God with other obsessions . The lying about it. Covering up. The rage fights. The screaming.

It’s God’s fault and God knows it!

Just stay in your place, God!

Do what you’re told!

Stay outta my business!

I’ll do what I want!

You really need to get out of this relationship, God. Humans are not good to you. Have some self respect, Most High. You need to affirm the Divine You. You deserve better…

Jesus feels it. Deeply. The anger. The confusion.

Just before the Cross moment, it’s decision time.

Are you breaking up with us, God?

Are you giving up on the marriage? Is the long, ugly separation finally going to end in divorce?

Let this cup pass from me

Only natural that God, in flesh, wants out. Who needs co-dependent, destructive, hurting relationships?

But God, divine, knows something.

Your will be done

The difference between God in an abusive relationship and you and I in abusive relationships…

We can’t change the abusive broken deceiver-hurters  into new, whole, healed selves.

God says, from Calvary, “…but I can.”

LUKE

9:37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him.

9:38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child.

9:39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him.

9:40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.”

9:41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.”

9:42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.

9:43a And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

It Was the Singing

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There is a poem by Ian Crichton Smith

TWO GIRLS SINGING

It neither was the words nor yet the tune

Any tune would have done and any words.

Any listener at all.

As nightingales in rocks or a child crooning

in its own world of strange awakening

or larks for no reason but themselves.

So on the bus through late November running

by yellow lights tormented, darkness falling,

the two girls sang for miles and miles together

and it wasn’t the words or the tune. It was the singing.

It was the human sweetness in that yellow,

the unpredicted voices of our kind.

Source: Scottish Poem Book

May you find yourself, this day, together with another – singing.

Singing with raucous voice released by darkness and adventure and the courage that comes with company,

In the human sweetness, with the unpredicted voices of shared struggle and shared hope.

Amen.

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Courage

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An attribute of good character is Courage.

It is the stuff respect is made of.

Heart like this is not bravado

Real bravado is heart like this: risk takers and justice seekers who win over the mind of others because they conquered themselves first.

 

Today we practice courage:

 

When we are afraid, still we will act.

Fear and courage are brothers.

 

We will follow our heart.

To dare is to lose your footing for a moment. To not dare is to lose yourself.

 

We will continue on in spite of adversity.

Emerson said, “A hero is no braver than an ordinary person, but the hero was braver five minutes longer.”

 

We will stand for what is right.

From caring comes courage.

 

We will go farther and see more

No one ever sees new oceans without the courage to no longer see the shore.

 

We face everything with dignity.

There is no need to be ashamed of tears. Tears are courage packaged in suffering.

 

Today, we will practice courage.

Let the exercises begin.

And be stronger because of them.

 

Amen.

 

 

Adapted from the article:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201208/the-six-attributes-courage

Dangerous Love

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A Hebrew Bible in dust at rest in a library of a Christian University somewhere in the Midwest teased me with these words in its foreword. A Jewish work by Jewish scholars for a Jewish readership, the editor conveyed the exhaustive research which informed the translation. Illusory of the effort was a brief statement about the story of Abraham and Isaac. Some primitive manuscripts relayed a slightly different tale than the one which came later; the one traditionally given. In its original telling, Isaac dies but then is resurrected by God and given back to Abraham.

I cannot un-remember it. Not because I am Christian and this telling is a remarkable archetype, helpful to my own belief. But because of how it is unhelpful. Because the first question I am often asked about this dangerous patriarchal myth is, “Did God really expect Abraham to kill Isaac?” Like a newly discovered crime scene, rabbis, pastors, scholars and skeptics race to the scene with apologetic musings and condemning commentary. Let’s not make their mistake. Let’s not be in a hurry to rush in on this scene only to presuppose answers to questions only Abraham, Isaac and God can tell.

There is a harsh, uncomfortable reality in this tale that will be lost on the majority of soft thinking, spongy-worded spiritual people among us. Those who find it hard to comprehend how it is that conflict is essential to peace,or that love emerges through judgment and disciple, and not the absence of it, are among those who may be fated to forever view this patriarchal myth as if through the wide eyes of the ingenue archaeologist looking for the first time at strange hieroglyphs.

When I was a soldier we may have all said, “We’re all the same color here. We’re all green.” Actuality was that a caste system of competence separated us. Clearly defined lines. Support personnel were one caste. Another is combat support. Combat Arms was a little higher up the food chain, but don’t think that being an Infantry soldier made you elite. Among the Eleven Bravo (11B) military specialty is a class system. Each one rising only to one’s own level of incompetence. Above infantry were Rangers and Paratroop types who wore wings. Hybrids enjoyed special status: Airborne Ranger. Green Berets were more elite but it was an exceptional class of soldier who became the Special Forces soldier. Yes, we’re all green here, but no one casually compared the supply clerk or the mess sergeant to the class of elite soldier.

These soldiers were given something special, only to have it taken away.

These soldiers were tested more often, more severely, because more was riding on their success.

The nation entrusted more to them. The military has just cause to demand more.

On a mission, they would often be alone or small in number so their loyalty and resolve, confidence and competence had to be beyond proven.

So as you read this tale of incomprehensible demands on God’s first prophet, ask this also:

Is Abraham given the fierce, horrific task as a test because God has risked everything on this one man? Do we super focus on the trial? Is it better, perhaps, to simply salute the elite soldier; regard him as one we might aspire to be?

Carefully read the narrative. Study its words. It will rough you up a bit.

Maybe it is a story better handled by callouses than soft hands; better carried by spiritually war-torn veterans than academics.

Neither God nor Abraham nor Isaac are defined by this trial. Yet all are proven by it.

In Abraham’s mental, spiritual, and physical resolve we see a special forces elite who can remain present in each excruciating moment. He is not seduced by yesterday’s promise. He is not distracted by an imagined future.

Here I am, my son.”

Here I am, [my Lord].”

It is only in this moment the providence of God will be seen.

In fear and fire, it is only the moment we can manage.

The Love of God is dangerous; exhilarating; inviting us- driving us- to higher eschalons of trust.

Abraham is still teaching us what it means to walk together with God into a dangerous love relationship.

John 15:13 1 John 4: 18 Romans 5:8