Thursday, July 3, 2014

This Life

But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach. (Act 5:17-21)
Jealousy, it’s funny what human emotions will do. No one is listening to the Sadducees. No one is converting there. I often wonder about this. The Sadducees were basically the modern day liberals, if Bishop Spong was a Jew he’d be a Sadducee. It has an appeal to some, but the appeal is an excuse not to believe. At least that is what it seems like to me, as far as I can understand it. It explains away all the miracles, holds to current ideas of the world under the guise of “this is scientific.” In the end it perhaps appeals to the aesthetic of Christianity as being beautiful, and then bids you to respect other religions because they are beautiful too. I not always sure I know what that means, or how beauty became the measure of whether a religion is good or not. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It’s a very subjective thing I guess. Any man that has had a friend with an ugly girlfriend can attest to that with a puzzled look and the shrug of his shoulders. His friend never thinks she is ugly, the rest look on in bewilderment. Art is often the very same way, there are some who for whatever reason just don’t get the genius of Michelangelo and will even paint clothes over the fresco of men and women being judged naked in the Sistine Chapel. (Just so you know, it was a pope did that, not prudish Americans). Other people like Picasso, even after his Rose and Blue Periods. Some look at Banksy and only see graffiti. But for one who believes the Bible, the half-baked arguments of liberalism look like a halfway house for those who don’t really want to admit they  aren’t believers, and still want to feel good about going to church on Sunday. If they get converts, it’s from someone who grew up Baptist, but likes to drink wine.
Then you have the disciples preaching the resurrection. There is life in this orthodoxy, for the resurrection was the orthodox position of Judaism. There was life here in this preaching of the gospel, and it wasn’t centered around a bunch of rules and manmade traditions. The apostles didn’t seem to care if you walked on the Sabbath, or forgot to wash before you sat down to eat your lunch. They were preaching life, that Jesus rose from the dead and you would too. That he had died on the cross for your sins only because he loved you personally and wanted you to have life abundantly. The Gospel breathes, and it breathes life into the soul. It is the same breath with which Jesus breathed upon the disciples telling them to receive the Holy Spirit and to go and forgive sins. It is the breath of life that God breathed into Adam. It comes with joy, even in the midst of misery, hope in the face of adversity. It lifts a soul burdened with sin, and replaces the yoke of slavery with love. And this is a true love, it is the love of God that bursts through the old wineskins of selfishness and greed that can only love what it finds beautiful. No this love washes over you in baptism watering the mustard seed of faith within you that continually grows as it is watered by the word. It grows, perhaps at first imperceptibly down there in the midst of your soul, in a field of weeds and tares. Sometimes tangled with nestles of hate, and burs of irritation from which you are never completely free. Even as a mature Christian you find yourself lashing out at those who are closest to you. Even in old age you find that it is gossip that intrigues you, so that a whole hour goes by at Bible Study and all you have done is shared gossip and some of it thirty years old. Yet, the mustard seed grows and pokes above all the weeds, your faith continually watered the life inside you looks to the heavens, and focuses on the cross. With every passing day, you realize more and more it isn’t your life and how you live because you have failed, but it is Christ and the forgiveness of sins, and the more you realize you need of that, the more inclined you become to forgive others.  For those who have been forgiven much, love much. And those who have been forgiven little, love little. Our growth in faith then, is often precisely in proportion to our ongoing realization of just how much we have been forgiven, how awful our sins truly are.
The Sadducees have none of it. No forgiveness for they have nothing to be forgiven for. Their sins the rationalize away as lifestyle choices. With no resurrection they have no hope, and whatever joy they have is the temporal and fleeting joy of this world, so often followed by a miserable hangover and a day  of reckoning for wrongs done, when beauty led you astray and your spouse is now estranged. They were jealous. The life they were jealous of was free for their taking, if only they believed, but then they would have to admit sin, and lose the miserable life they had. So they arrested the disciples a second time, and put them in prison. But it would not work this time either. An angel frees them and tells them to preach this life in the temple. Perhaps just a man sent by God, the word angel means messenger and is one that Jesus used to describe John the Baptist. Perhaps a seraph or a cherub.  But an angel because he came with the word of God, that frees all men from their prison of death. The gospel of our Lord that breathes life into our souls.

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