Monday, January 19, 2009

Hope in the Power of One

I have a friend who's a priest in Iowa who has shown me over the years what Jesus would look like if he were a priest in Iowa (or anywhere for that matter). He's a brilliant theologian yet he just "does theology" in and with his life like no one else I have ever met. I pray he blesses you as richly as he does me.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

fully immersed in grace

I’ve always had this fascination with water. I don’t know, maybe it’s because my last name is Bywater, but I just love the stuff. I’m always the first one in and the last one out. I love to surf and paddle on it, fish and dive it in, snowboard over it, and trail run through it. Whether it’s bath water warm or steal-your breath cold I can’t seem to keep out of it. Surfers swear that a single wave can cure anything. A stressful day can’t survive a hot bath. Isn’t being properly hydrated the cure for everything these days? It just seems like nothing ill can stand water.
Yep, there’s something about water. But some things just don’t wash off, do they? A spouse that leaves you, a close friend’s frightening diagnosis, a factory that closes, your state of separation from God. A lake, river, puddle or ocean can’t keep your lights on when the bill is overdue or stop the bank from taking your home. Nor can they make you right with God. But there can be healing, hope and joy in water. Once you emerge from this water your life is never the same. Where is this water? It’s the waters of Baptism in Jesus Christ and all you have to do is answer the invitation and wade in.

And he [John the Baptist] preached, saying, "After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." Mark 12:7ff.

Now John wasn’t saying that either he or the water was magic or special. The water was just an old stream that wandered through the woods where people came to wash and clean. He was calling out to the crowds to wade into it as an outward sign of inwardly desiring to repent and turn back to God, the act simply saying, “yes God, I want in”. These were the waters of turning around (that’s what “repent” means) into the family of God and all the healing, grace, mercy and love He could offer.
And then Jesus shows up, the One whom he had been waiting for, the One whom he had been created to proclaim. And He asks to be baptized! In that outward act, Jesus was proclaiming what was required of all: to dedicate their entire lives to God. Anglicans (of which I am one) traditionally pour water on a person’s head when they are baptized, but to he honest, I am a fan of full-immersion. You can’t miss the profound symbolism of the entire body dying to self and committing to Christ. We’re called to wade in fully, not just our heads. Have you waded in fully, or are their parts of your life that you have laid on the banks of the river? What is it that you don’t want to get wet? Your marriage, your money, your job, your house, your spare time? It’s impossible to toss these things in unless you have experienced the second baptism John talks about, the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Now that makes some folks nervous. It shouldn’t. John is telling us that this second baptism is the one that gives us a new heart, one that is no longer focused on ourselves, but rather on God and our neighbors. At New Hope we’re trying to do our best to bury our whole lives in the waters and let hope spring forth and water our neighborhood. How? We’re helping provide low-cost food to our neighbors; we’re bringing clothes and furniture to teenage and single moms. We’re helping people see and find hope in Jesus, no matter if they’re on the banks or in the water. That’s what we’re about at New Hope. We’re all wet, or trying to be, and we’re pouring the waters of hope and grace on our parched town.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

the pagans got it right! wife and i got our daughter a Fisher Price Little People Creche this year. We wanted her to be able to be involved with the season and to be able to play and interact with the Greatest Story because it is part of her family story.

It was honestly a riot! She did her best impersonation of "girl-zilla"...she'd pick up the inn and run around the living room looking at us through the windows, she loved playing "hide the baby" and most days the donkey was sitting on top of the manger where the Angel was supposed to be sitting...

But it did what I hoped it would, it made the story accessible to her and it made me think about it over and over as I would pick up the pieces and tell my daughter about them. The story she learned was a little different than you see on most cards. It was Biblically accurate (sans Herod's call to kill all male children 2 and under, although I did tell her that Jesus was born into great danger) And in the midst of all the chaos, order came. That's what Epiphany is about, God bringing order into chaos. And this year as I dug deep into the reality of the revealing of the King of Kings alongside my daughter, it became all the more real.

The store-front image of the kings bent over the Christ child in their fine robes and chests of precious gifts is about as realistic as my daughters camels! They didn't show up until Jesus was into his terrible two's (he was human!) and after a trip of four months or more that covered approximately 900 miles! And they didn't come to pay homage to Jesus as their personal king, they had come to pay homage to a great king. It was more of a visit of the state than a pilgrimage. But Matthew still sees this as one theologian writes; "an acceptable Gentile response to a genuine revelation, despite dubious means". These kings were pagans. They weren't Jews looking for their king, they weren't God-fearers who were born outside of the Covenant and came to see the child that fulfilled the prophecy. They were magician/sorcerer/sages who (along with their doubtless very large entourages) came to do what any learned person would have done when the Greatest King that was ever predicted to be was born.

And these pagans had it right, for their act of worship was more real than they ever could have imagined. They thought they were bringing gifts to flesh but made offerings to heaven, they had left their comfort to witness a King and came face to face with the Creator of Kings, they followed a star according to their calculations and met the One who calculated thier creation.

The pagans got it right, and the "church got it wrong"...Matthew 2:3 tells us that "when King Herod heard this, he was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him. This reference was to the Pharisees and the Sadducee's, the rulers who had aligned themselves with the Romans. Their power and position depended on Romes, and if Herod lost, so did they...for they trusted their ability at running the state more than they did God to deliver them...

The pagans got it right, have you?