O God, You are our God, the One in whom we trust. We’ve gathered together to come before You, to open our hearts and minds to Your presence. We long to meet You here, and to hear Your voice.
We come with confidence, because we’ve met You here before; we’ve been awed and inspired by Your glory and Your power. We come with gratitude, because we’ve known Your steadfast love, a love which is better than life itself.
And so we praise You, lifting our voices, lifting our hands in joy and expectation. Come among us in Your power. Pour out Your spirit on our thirsty souls, that we may be filled with Your goodness and love.*
Imagine the angelic choirs, and God the Lord of all sitting, and his Only Son sitting with him at his right hand, and the Spirit with them present, and thrones and dominions doing service, and each man and woman among you receiving salvation. Even now let your ears ring with the sound: long for that glorious sound, which after your salvation, the angels will chant over you:
Blessed are they whose iniquities have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. [Ps 32:1]**
Song - Psalm 118
Oh give thanks to the Lord
Oh give thanks to the Lord
For He is good, He is good
For He is good, He is good
His steadfast love endures
Forever, forever, He endures
Reading – Psalm 90
(Take a moment to ponder your mortality and to confess your need for God)
Song – Psalm 66
Come and see what God has done, see what God has done
For every daughter and every son
Oh, Come and hear what God has done
For everyone who fears the Lord will sing of what he’s done
And all the earth will shout your praise
And all the earth will sing your name
For You are great, For You are great
How glorious your name
How awesome are your ways
For you are great, For you are great
Reading – Psalm 92
Free expression of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord
The Words of Jesus – John 15:18-27
"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: 'They hated me without a cause.' (Psalm 35:19; 69:4)
But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”
• On how God is meeting you through your pursuit of him in the Psalms
• On what God is teaching you about himself and what it means to walk with him
• On what is stirring in your own hearts as you grow in the heart language of God
Song – Psalm 134
Come and bless the Lord
Come and bless the Lord
Come and bless the Lord
All you servants of the Lord
Lift up your head
To the holy place
Lift up your head
And bless his name
Evening Readings – Psalms 3, 4, and 137
Closing Prayer and Benediction
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. ~ Jude 24-25
*Adapted from re:Worship (Opening Prayer Psalm 63)
**Cyril of Jerusalem, Procatechesis
“And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him…” ~ Mark 3:14a
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’” ~ Revelation 21:3
We were created to be with God and our existence is to be one of abiding communion in him. It forms the bookends of scripture, being embodied in the Edenic picture of God walking with man in the cool of the day, and then forms telos of redemption where the Lord eternally dwells with man. In the space between there is Christ, the word who became flesh and dwelt among us. In Christ we find not only our way back to God, but the perfect vision of what a life with God looks like, a life we are being invited into with Jesus.
Yet our world is one of confusion and chaos, hardship and struggle. Busyness grows exponentially and often we find ourselves struggling to know how to live life with the God who invites us to call him Immanuel, God with us. The challenge is then how do we live out the truth that Christ promises to be with us.
A great place to begin this journey of learning to be with Jesus is in the Psalms. Apart from being the prayer book of Israel and the Church, the Psalms found their words on the lips and tongue of Jesus more than any other book of scripture. In the Psalms we then find:
The Language of Communion - The Psalms teach us how both be with God, but also how to speak to God. They give us permission to be honest with ourselves, our circumstances, and with God himself.
The Totality of the Human Experience - The Psalms also let us know that the totality of the human experience is part of our sacred journey with God. It is not only the set asides times that God is attentive to, but the whole of who we are. It speaks to our failures and brokenness, but also to God’s faithful love and the joy that is ours in him. In the Psalms we find permission to lament and cry out, to extol and proclaim, and to find the one who promises to never leave us or forsake us.
Taken from the Benedictine tradition, where the Psalms have been prayed weekly for nearly 1500 years, we have adapted them to a monthly reading plan that has morning, midday, and evening readings. Psalms that are prayed within the Benedictine tradition daily have been kept with some greater regularity. As we do these monthly readings it is also important to remember the following:
Daily Engagement - While our lives and schedules may not allow for the full engagement of the readings each day (generally 9-10 Psalms; about 30 minutes of total reading daily), being daily in the Psalms, even if we can only read one that day, allows us to grow together in being with Christ.
Consistency - The goal is not perfection, but consistency. This is a practice of learning to habitually come before God, realizing that in Christ he has already come to us and is present. If a time is missed it is important to remember that the purpose of this study is not to check a box off a list or merely get through the Psalms monthly, but to be with God. There is no merit in this process so be gracious with yourself with the goal of growing in your ability to be with God, who in his love and mercy is already present to you.
Prayer - At their core the Psalms are prayers, the prayers of individuals and of the people of God. It is important for us to approach them as such. We have been trained to read analytically, yet the Psalms are lyrical and poetic, inviting us to not just read them, but to experience them. To help combat our tendency towards reading them analytically, it can be helpful to read the Psalms aloud, even if doing so by one’s self. This slows them down and allows the heart to hang onto each word spoken out loud, finding the cadence and rhythm of the Psalm and discovering the emotions of each prayer.
Mindfulness - We must grow in our awareness of what these readings and this process stirs up within us. For some the emotive nature of the Psalms may bring up painful and challenging memories, areas of our heart and life that we have not yet learned to bring to Jesus or may still need his healing presence to touch. That can at times feel overwhelming and cause us to be anxious. For others this can be a source of joy and a gift, giving words to experiences and feelings and thus be a source of a relief. Remember that as we journey together in the Psalms that our collective experience will be shaped by our individual experiences.
Click Here for Monthly Order Psalms Readings
"You know very well, my brother, that someone who wants to set out on a long journey will first of all examine himself, and then he will attach himself to other travellers with whom he is able and willing to keep up; otherwise he may get left behind by his companions on the journey and come to harm. It is exactly the same with a person who wants to travel the road to righteousness. First of all let him look into himself and see how strong he is, then let him choose a way of life that is appropriate for himself. It is better to begin from one's feeble state and end up strong, to progress from small things to big, than to set your heart from the very first on the perfect way of life, only to have to abandon it later, -- or keep to it solely out of habit, because of what others will think -- in which case all this labour will be is vain.
Anyone who wishes to embark on the labours of the virtuous life should train himself gently, until he finally reaches the perfect state. Do not be perplexed by the many paths trodden by our Fathers of old, each different from the other; do not zealously try to imitate them all: this would only upset your way of life. Rather, choose a way of life that suits your feeble state; travel on that, and you will live, for your Lord is merciful and he will receive you, not because of your achievements, but because of your intention, just as he received the destitute woman's gift." ~ Evagrius
21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:21
Day 6 - The Inverted Justice of Love
The foundation of the Christian life is a sacred exchange. The prophet Isaiah spoke of it in that the wounds of another would be the healing of many and that by chastisement there would be peace. The chosen one who was despised and rejected, would himself become the sin offering through the altar of his life and death. In this, Christ, in his righteousness, bore the Father's wrath by taking upon himself and becoming our sin, exchanging his glory so that men and women may walk in union with him.
For centuries the anticipation of this exchange played out in the sin offering prescribed to Israel in Leviticus. The unblemished lamb who was without spot was now revealed in the sinless life of Christ, only now the atonement would bring more than just peace with God, it would bring union with his very essence. His righteousness became ours as our sin became his.
Moving against our natural inclinations to what is just and fair, the call to be ambassadors and representatives of the one sending us is to walk also in his nature. That God is just is true, but in Christ that justice was inverted to reveal the depths of his love and redemption. The one who was worthy gave himself for the unworthy that they themselves may be worthy as well. This inverted exchange, which is our foundation in the Christian life, is also the foundation of reconciliation.
Just as Christ gave himself as sin so that we may become the righteousness of God, we also must lay our lives on the altar of God's love so that our enmity and strife with one another may become peace and fellowship. The sacred exchange invites us to lay down our sense of what is just and right, and in turn to move in the initiating love of God. That we now belong to the righteousness of God means that not only are we capable of living it out, but that in Christ it belongs to our nature as well.
I will never forget a meeting I was part of in a small German city in 2003. A group of Christians from different traditions and countries had come together to pray for God’s blessing on this particular city, suffering under the weight of un-forgiveness and division. During the meeting a young Lutheran pastor said some hurtful things about the Catholic church, rooted in his own painful experiences. The tension in the room was palpable as we waited to see what would happen next. An older Catholic woman walked towards this young pastor and knelt down before him and asked for forgiveness for the specific ways he had been hurt by some in the Catholic Church. He extended his hand to her and helped her up, then they embraced and wept. Forgiveness and healing in Christ, won the day
Have you ever considered asking someone for forgiveness for sin that was done against them by someone that you represent. In Daniel 9:16, Daniel confesses to God not only his own sins but the sins of his father and of his people.
Triune God, following the example of Jesus, make us witnesses to your love. Grant us to become instruments of justice, peace and solidarity. May your Spirit move us towards concrete actions that lead to unity. May walls be transformed into bridges. This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:18-19
Day 4 - A Ministry of Reconciliation
Within the realm of Greco-Roman society the idea of reconciliation was found to be the work of the one who caused offense. If one was offended then it became the responsibility of the person who caused the breach in relationship to work towards its restoration. This notion of reconciliation was entirely inverted in the cross as the one who was offended, God, took the first and culminating step towards repairing the present disconnect between himself and humanity.
Whenever Paul spoke of reconciliation he did so recognizing that God was always its active agent and man the recipient of this loving action. Still, in the goodness and grace of God's mercy, he entrusted the ministry and message of reconciliation to those whom he had already restored to himself. The recipients of God's love thus become his instruments of goodness to humanity.
The transgressions and missteps of fallen men and women are no longer held in the heart of God to be counted against them. In Christ, God initiated and expressed his love and his desire to share once more the unobstructed union of knowing him and being known by him. In this way friendship with God was being restored and the proclamation of that truth has been gifted to those who now enjoy it.
This fullness of this restoration is found in the trusting commitment of its proclamation to the world through the church. The nature of this reconciliation is not solely in the private realm of the heart, but belongs as well to the public square. In the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus this message was first proclaimed and manifest to the world. Now it cries out from the hearts of those who once more belong to God in Christ.
This section hits home hard for me. I find it easy to close my heart off to those who have hurt me and even more difficult to face the reality that I have hurt others and that my attitudes and actions have directly and indirectly led to division and disunity. There are conflicts in my past where I have hidden behind the letter of the law, and fallen short of the spirit of law that calls me to follow Jesus to the cross. Jesus is teaching and helping me to keep my heart open and pursue those who have brought me deep pain and to never lose hope that God can heal and restore in even the most hopeless situation.
Ask God to show you a broken relationship in your life that He desires to bring healing and restoration to. Begin to pray about this asking God to show you what to do. Trust that He will speak to you and then obey what He asks you to do. Consider inviting others to pray with you. Never underestimate the rippling effects of healing and peace that can come from a restored relationship.
Lord Jesus, who prayed that we might all be one, we pray to you for the unity of Christians according to your will, according to your means. May your Spirit enable us to experience the suffering caused by division, to see and confess our sin and being forgiven and restored prepare us to be bearers of reconciliation wherever you place us. Amen.
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:16-17
Day 3 - New Creation
Many missed seeing and understanding Jesus in his day as the Christ because they were not looking at the right things or in the right way. Seeing him in his weakness and humanity, they missed the glory of God that was present among them. This failure to see Jesus for who he was and is, was not simply a mistake for those who walked with him, but is the mistake of all who have at one time or another forsaken God's mercies and graces towards them.
The failure to see Jesus in the fullness of who he is, also reveals our tendency to view one another in the same way. We look to one another's frailties, mistakes, failures and limitations and make judgments that lead to separation, division, and condemnation. The failure of this limited perception is that in it we miss the nature of God's work in redemption to make all things new.
This new work of God is to bring life to that which was dead and to bring union once more between God and man. The old had gone, meaning the ways in which we related to God and one another, and a new thing had come that continues to unfold itself in the working out in the redemption of the Gospel. No longer are we to view one another in our discord, disunity and hostility, but in our union and belonging to Christ as he makes all who are in him new.
Just as we are to look and see God at work in Christ, we are to look to one another and see God at work in the lives of those who are in Christ. The eyes of new creation our now ours and invite us to look beyond our superficialities and see the hand of God.
The old way of seeing causes us to be deeply insecure and views others, even our Christian brothers and sisters as competitors. Often threatened by the success and wellbeing of others we feel the need to try to prove that our tradition or church as right and theirs wrong. But if we look through the eyes of new creation we become secure in who we are and our unique place in God’s purposes and no longer as competitors with other Christians. We are now free to redirect our energies from defending our own position to now affirming, supporting, and blessing others.
Ask God to lead you to a Christian brother or sister not part of your church tradition and find a way to bless them. It could be as simple as taking the time to listen to their faith story or ask them what they appreciate about their tradition. Consider attending a worship service or other special event with them, or sharing a meal together.
Father we ask that you would help us to become instruments of healing and reconciliation full of compassion, and comfort, never distant, never on the defensive, freed of all harshness, a clear reflection of the Risen Christ. Amen
14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:14-15
Day 2 - The Love of God
While most of the focus in 2 Corinthians 5 turns towards the verses that follow this passage, the fact is that those verses begin with several "therefore's" that point back to what Paul states in these verses above. Before one can begin with new creation and the ministry of reconciliation, they have to begin with the fact that Jesus came, died, and was resurrected unto eternal life for the forgiveness of sins. For Paul this had two significant implications.
First, in the death of Jesus all of humanity was crucified. This does not mean that all are granted eternal life, but in his death Jesus died for all. Secondly, the death of Jesus was not simply to bring death to humanity, but to bring life through living for the one who was raised on our behalf. Now that this has been made known in Christ and is recognized, the love of Christ is to reign in the hearts of men.
It is this love manifest in Christ that controls the aim and intent of Paul's existence. Literally this is the binding element that holds together Paul's life and causes him to act as he does, in total pursuit of the Gospel and the impartation of the life and promises within it.
The death of Jesus holds within it the invitation to live. The life that it cultivates and calls forth is not the life of self-seeking consumption and personal gratification. It is the life of living for the sake of another, specifically the one that Paul now recognizes that life in, the one who died for all, Jesus the Christ. This is to be the binding element that holds together and controls us as well.
Jesus came to bring life that is deeply satisfying, full of purpose and born out of the love of God. I often experience doubts in my ability to love God and to love others but am encouraged to know that God delights even in the smallest desire to love others that flickers in our hearts. If we seek God with all our hearts and abide in Him he will turn this flicker into a blazing fire of love that can transform our families, communities, and cities.
Spend some time reflecting on those God has placed in your life that desperately need the love of God. Ask God to show you how you can ‘grab hold of their hand’ and lead them to God’s loving embrace.
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen
-The Book of Common Prayer, 101
11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:11-13
Day 1 - The Apostle's Heart
The apostle Paul knew firsthand the pain and brokenness of a divided church. In his first letter to the believers in Corinth he dealt with the arrogant factions that threatened to destroy the body of Christ and the Gospel message from the inside out. Now in his second letter, after having his commissioning as an apostolic messenger of Christ challenged by those who wished to oppose him, he is having to validate his role as a bearer of the message of reconciliation that is the Gospel. At stake was not his reputation, but the tangible union of fellowship within this church and subsequently the fullness of their union with God.
For the first half of this letter Paul's focus is his defense of himself as an ambassador of Jesus and how intricately woven into the nature of the Gospel it is to be found. Paul knew that in not receiving him, the church would not be receiving the one by whom he was sent, namely the one Paul had given his life and ministry to, Jesus, the resurrected hope of the world. The grace of God was not some abstract ideal, but was found in the historic act of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. The on-going working out of the promises of God in Christ would be equally concrete, fleshed out in the work of his commissioned representatives and in the church.
The division and discord that came through the false apostles who challenged Paul and his character, also challenged the heart and nature of the Gospel. If God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, then he was also reconciling those who would be found in him to one another. A church that could not receive the one Jesus sent was a church that was also making vain the grace of God in not receiving his message of reconciliation.
So Paul attempted to persuade the church of Corinth to receive him and the message of unity that resided so deeply within his heart. His words continue to persuade today as the body of Christ has an entrenched history of rejecting and not receiving one another.
When I was in college I had several confusing and painful experiences with Christians from a particular tradition that caused me to be judgmental and closed off to this tradition. It took some time but God has redeemed these painful experiences and I now have wonderful friends who are part of this tradition and have received the gifts and strengths of this tradition I once rejected
Think of an experience in your life when you had an encounter with a brother or sister from another Christian tradition that you dismissed in your heart because they were ‘different’. Ask God for forgiveness for any critical and competitive attitudes towards other Christian traditions and other brothers and sisters. Ask God whom He might want you to receive that until now you have kept at a distance.
O God the Father of all, you ask every one of us to spread love and reconciliation where people are divided You open this way for us, so that the wounded body of Jesus Christ, your church, may be leaven of communion for the poor of the earth and in the whole human family. Amen
-Brother Roger (founder of Taize)
By Daniel Malakowsky
With the onset of a new year there will be plenty of people looking to make plans, goals, and resolutions to focus and give direction to their lives (even joining the fad of non-resolutions). This desire and the aims of most of these plans tend to be God honoring and are generally a desire either for a better version of ourselves or the situation and circumstances we find ourselves living in. One of the most significant faults though in most of these plans and goals is that they tend to be rather superficial and temporal in their nature and orientation. This does not mean that they are bad or to be avoided, only that they in and of themselves are not enough.
As Christ came to reconcile fallen men to himself and to one another, he also gave way to what life was to be within what he called the kingdom of God, where God and his purposes reign supreme. The difficulty comes in the fact that we live in this unique place in-between the resurrection and Christ's triumphal return, a place torn between that in Christ God is making all things new and yet these things have not been fully revealed. A place between our brokenness and our healing, our death and life, where we have the fullness of God, but not its consummation.
Jesus and the Exodus
One of the most powerful passages of scripture is the story of Jesus' transfiguration. While it liturgically is reflected upon and preached at the onset of Lent in the church calendar, it is a narrative that speaks to this season in the New Year. The reason for this is that it ties together the past while calling forth and anticipating the future. It sums up all of God's work in anticipation of Christ, but also gives interpretation to the work that God is doing in and through Christ. Ultimately it roots the future in the anchors of God's established works, while simultaneously bringing those anchors into the future of God's redemptive purposes.
While this story of the transfiguration is recorded in all three of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew 1-13; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36), it is specifically Luke's Gospel that I want to highlight. Before I do though, there are some key elements within this text that are worth highlighting.
Metamorphosis - While the word for transfiguration is translated appropriately as such, focusing on the visible transformation of Jesus before the disciples, it also the same word used in Romans 12:2 to describe the inner transformation we are to experience in Christ. The glory revealed in Christ is the same glory and power at work in us to form us in his likeness.
Moses and Elijah - These two central figures in the Old Testament (Tanakh) symbolize its summation. John Crysostom (c. 349-407AD), church father and bishop of Constantinople, saw in these two men the representation of the Law and the Prophets, God speaking to men in revelation, and the symbol of the living and the dead, as Moses had a natural death and Elijah was caught up to heaven.
Overshadowing - Luke uses the same word here as he does when Mary is overshadowed by the Spirit and the immaculate conception occurs. It invokes the Spirit's presence in this moment and the power of God's miraculous work in revealing Christ. The same one revealed in the overshadowing power of the cloud is also the one works as the Paraclete (one alongside) in the church.
The Voice from Heaven - Each of the three Gospels in which this story is recorded, have slightly different emphasis as to what the Father speaks over the Son in this moment. These unique emphasis give us insight to the fact that the Father sees in Christ his good pleasure and messianic role as the chosen one, doing such as the Son of God. While these things were spoken over Jesus in his baptism, another explicitly Trinitarian moment, the voice now speaks these things not for Jesus, but for those in his company, giving them the direct command to listen to him.
The Transformation - When Moses came down the mountain his face was filled with God's glory, but it was a glory that faded as it belonged to another. In Christ the transfiguration would reveal a different glory. Christ's appearance changed, transforming his face and clothing, but did so not from the glory of another, but from a glory that radiated within him. Where Moses veiled this glory until it faded, in Christ this glory which had been previously veiled, was now being revealed.
While these things frame what is happening in this passage, there is one element within Luke's version that is worth noting. In each of the recollections of the transfiguration it reveals that Jesus and the figures of Moses and Elijah are speaking. While this shows that Moses and Elijah are in a way transferring and giving the baton to Christ in being the ultimate interpreter of scripture, it is only in Luke's Gospel that we discover what they are actually discussing.
In this discussion we find that they are speaking of Jesus' departure that he is about to accomplish in Jerusalem. This speaks to the death of Christ, but it is important to note that the word for departure in the Greek is actually the word exodus. The death of Christ and subsequent resurrection are thus the fulfillment of the exodus called forth by God through Moses, and Jesus the culminating deliverer of not just Israel, but the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
With Christ a new exodus has dawned. Where Moses delivered from the chains of Egypt and led Israel on dry ground , Christ delivers from death to life, becoming himself the bridge between. This new exodus is one that stands not just between Egypt and Canaan, but between heaven and earth, between the temporal and eternal, between the Garden and the glorious triumph in the heavens.
Goals for the New Year
This New Exodus requires new eyes that are ultimately shaped by our understanding of how God was at work in Christ to cultivate this transformation from death to life. Where the first exodus delivered Israel from the chains of Egypt, the exodus of Christ would deliver men from death to life, once more reconciling them to the divine presence and will of the God who would now make himself known as Father. Ultimately this would be an exodus of becoming, where the life in Christ would manifest in our metamorphing and transfiguring into the image of Christ.
The story continues in our lives and gives form to the goals of becoming that should not just shape us in this new year, but in our journey into the life and heart of God in Christ, a journey that shows that while we walk in the deserts of this life, we already belong to the promised land of knowing and belonging to eternity. As we walk into a new season and contemplate our own histories and future, the framework of the New Exodus calls us to form goals that go beyond the temporal ones that dominate our own floundering attempts at transformation.
1. Seeing - The Eyes of Eternity
The glimpse the inner three were given was into who Christ really was. Just prior to the story of the transfiguration we find Peter confessing Jesus as the Messiah. This was not revealed to him by flesh and blood, but by the Father in heaven. In Christ and the radiating glory of his transfiguration, he shines the light of eternity on the temporal world and circumstances giving ultimate meaning to them.
Paul in Ephesians 1:18 tells us that God is at work to enlighten the eyes of our hearts. This has two specific manifestations that are to transform our way of life in this world. First, this enlightening allows us to see things as they really are in Christ. To, as Paul states once more in 2 Corinthians, no longer view things according to the flesh, but in terms of Christ's work in new creation. Second, we are enlightened to see not just the unseen world of the Triune God revealed in Christ, we are also to see with the eyes of Christ.
Where most of our resolutions are commitments of the will, this ultimately is one of surrender. It is God who is the one actively revealing and opening our eyes. Our role is to yield and to receive that active love at work within and among us to see who we are, those we belong to, our families, friends, neighbors, and the work, circumstances, and seasons of our life in light of the work of Christ in the cross, but also the promise of his return.
Significant within this story of the transfiguration is the voice of the Father. Again, in this narrative, the voice is speaking not for the benefit of the Son, but the for edification of those present with him. In this new year there will be many voices that speak into us to define us and shape our own understanding of ourselves. Most of these voices are negative, whether it be the voices of those around us, in the media and culture that we can't escape, or the the one's that come from the prison of our own minds and how we see ourselves, shaped by our experiences of pain, brokenness, and rejection.
Resounding throughout eternity though is the voice of the Father over the Son. A voice which calls him his beloved child and speaks the pleasures of his heart over him. It is a voice that gives him a name and purpose, Chosen One, the only begotten of God. This voice of the Father is the voice that speaks over us who are in Christ and now belong to that love, identity and purpose that is revealed in its proclamation. We are no longer slaves and servants in the house of God, but those who belong as children.
Ultimately this is a goal of believing and belonging. It is believing in the voice of the Father that speaks over and into us, and giving ourselves to our belonging in Christ. The presence of Elijah reminds us in this story that the voice of the Father also comes through his silent whispers, and invites us into the stillness of his love that we too might be able to hear it over the thundering onslaught of all that attempts to speak into us. This then is a goal of identity and that requires we take the time and actions necessary to sit with the One who defines us. Only in his love can we rest secure in times of trouble and discouragement, and the New Exodus of Christ invites us walk out of our own Egypts in this new year, and into the promises of God's love for us in Christ.
Central to this story is the metamorphosis of Christ before his disciples. This outward transformation revealed the inner realities of who he was. As we stand in Christ through our faith in him, we too are being inwardly transformed as he conforms us to the fullness of his image. The radiant power and glory of God that the disciples could only describe as a light so pure that it appeared as the sun with the majesty of bursts of lightning, and so undefiled that even the purest bleaches couldn't approach the hallowed manifestation of Christ's holiness, is now at work in us.
As Christ gives us eyes to see and a new identity in him, he is also shaping us and forming us to walk in the fullness of life. The New Exodus then is a journey of becoming, where those who were once dead in their transgressions walk in light of the fact that they have been made alive together with Jesus. This frames the new year in that we are to make goals of becoming and inward growth. This then is a commitment of the will to cultivate the practices of becoming, the tangible acts of following Christ that form us to his ways and life.
This means that our goals are to be framed by who we are. On our list of what we want to accomplish should be the fruit of the spirit, where those hidden parts of who we are that reveal themselves in our relationships are maturing into the fullness and abundance of life found in Christ. We lay aside our pursuit for temporal riches to pursue a wealth of soul that no thief can ever take away.
Obedience is an act of love because it is a surrendering of the will in trust to another. The Father commands obedience as it is in obedience that our life in Christ will be found. In him and him alone are the words of life. His command is to surrender our darkness and death and walk in the light and life of the resurrection. It is an obedience that shakes off the isolated existence of our arrogance that leaves us disconnected from our Father in heaven and hiding behind our self-made fig leaves, and into the light of our belonging to light of Christ, where the nakedness of our souls can be exposed once more without shame.
The Father commanded obedience to his Chosen One, because in him was also his chosen way. Through the suffering obedience of the Christ would men be atoned for, and with the simple command of 'follow me' would the path to life be found. The obedience of Israel led them out of their bondage and into the freedom God desired for them and allowed them to know the fullness of his love towards them. In the same way our obedience to the words and commands of Jesus lead us into the tangible love of God towards us.
The New Exodus that manifest in Christ shows us that God is still at work in this new year. In it we find another opportunity to conform ourselves to the ways of life in Christ. That way of conformity is one of trust and love, of life and abundance, one that calls us to look beyond the temporal trials of this world and into the eternal treasure of now belonging to God in Christ.
By Daniel Malakowsky
The very essence of God's nature is found in this simple name. The creator of heaven and earth, the covenant giver and keeper, the one who establishes kings and nations and stewards them to his own purposes would choose to identify himself as Immanuel, God with us. The Great I AM would yield himself to the painful despair of a world detached from his own purposes and enter humanity as a Son, thus revealing a God who made himself known not as one who is distant, but as one who is near in the endearing role of Father.
As Israel would find judgment and the northern kingdom a message of destruction and wrath in the words that were uttered by Isaiah, even their disobedience could not exhaust the immeasurable mercies of YHWH. In death there would be life and despair would yield to hope.
"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." ~ Isaiah 7:14
It is appropriate then that Matthew, pondering life in the kingdom that was manifest in the life of Christ, would see the authority of God expressed not from a detached throne, but in the midst of the desperation, isolation, and fear that are the hearts of men. The arrogant pride and lust, the wretched detachment from God and one another that permeated these hearts and lives would find hope in a king who came as a servant. The name of this king was Immanuel, God with us.
“'Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.' All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us)." ~ Matthew 1:20b-23
The king would find victory in humility and commission others to do the same. Immersing themselves in the reality and truth that was this kingdom, his followers were thus to immerse others in this goodness and grace. With the simple words of 'follow me' the heart of discipleship would be known and its foundation was found in the name of the one they were invited to follow...Immanuel, God with us.
Forming the bookends of his Gospel, Matthew would show that at the core of life in this kingdom was embracing the reality that is ours, that in Christ God is truly with us. In his putting on flesh and coming as a man, God revealed that the solution to the troubles of this world would be a person. To know this person, to embrace Immanuel, would not only be the entry point, but also the source and fountain of our life and restoration.
"Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." ~ Matthew 28:20b
As the advent season beckons us to celebrate the birth of Christ, it also invites us to follow after the 'God with us' life. To engage this life is to the know one who will never leave or forsake you, the one who chooses to be with you, the one who calls you forth in the unending satisfaction of his presence.
Let us celebrate him well, but let us embrace him even more as he embraces us. His name is Immanuel, and he shows us that God is truly with us.
By Daniel Malakowsky
"And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all." ~ Ephesians 1:22-23
To understand the specific nuances of a faith, you have to understand the symbols which that faith employs to give expression to what it believes. Within the history of the nation of Israel one of the most significant symbol of its faith was that of the temple. It was in this temple that the sacrifices and offerings of the people of God were to be made and it was the temple that would house the actual presence of YHWH among his people. For Israel religion was the practice of purifying self for the intent purpose of entering into the presence of God, and the temple is where this divine encounter occurred. Central to all of this was the Law of Moses in the Torah, but the temple would be the place that housed the actual presence of God in the holy of holies within the central chamber of the temple complex itself.
With the coming of Christ the living Torah became incarnate among men and a fuller understanding of this indwelling reality of God's presence was made known. While Ezekiel records in the 6th century B.C. that the glory of God in the temple would depart, in Christ the temple would manifest in the uniqueness of his own flesh. The apostle John records in his Gospel that when Jesus was cleansing the temple in Jerusalem that he was asked to give a sign to reveal the authority that would allow for such actions. Jesus responded to the question by stating that he would destroy the temple in 3 days, but would then raise it again. This response confused even his disciples until the resurrection, as in it he was speaking of his own body now as the temple. In Christ the temple was finding its fulfillment in that the one who is the fullness of God now dwelt among men, and by his death would impart his Spirit to those who would become his through faith in him.
This did not mean that Jesus, or those early followers of him, would see the temple within Jerusalem as no longer holy and sacred, but that they would find its fulfillment now in a person and a people. What left in the 6th century had now returned in the person of Jesus and would inhabit a people now known in the church.
For the apostle Paul this had a profound effect on his personal understanding of the nature of how God was at work in the world and how his presence would be made known and encountered. While often the analogy of the body is employed by Paul, it has to be understood not simply in terms of interdependence (which he utilizes explicitly in 1st Corinthians), but in terms of the manifest presence of God in the world. In Paul's understanding Jesus was the summing up of all things for the purpose of once more bringing union with God (c.f. Ephesians 1:9). This heading up, or headship, of Jesus was now given to the church which, through the power of the incarnation, would now act on earth as the body of the Messiah himself.
This union in Christ thus calls forth a union with one another. Later in Ephesians, after unpacking how the hostilities of men were now removed in Christ (a topic I will pick up in the next blog), Paul returns to this temple analogy. The body of Christ, the church, through the imparting presence of God's Spirit within it had in itself become the sacred chamber of God's temple. The holy of holies was now found in the hearts of men and in the corporate communion of the saints.
"Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit."
~ Ephesians 2:20-22
Within the Greek language there were two possible ways of speaking of the temple. One of these was to speak of it in its entirety, meaning the total temple complex. The other, and the word which Paul employs here, was to speak of the temple more specifically as the inner sanctum of the temple, being in this case the holy of holies. What Paul then is saying is that in the person of Christ, which we who are in him now stand as his body, are being built together as the holy of holies and as a dwelling place for God by the work of the Spirit.
This then for Paul had a profound impact on his understanding of the oneness and unity of the Gospel, and it should for us as well. He states this work is presently being done and it is possible for it to grow, implying more of God's presence can inhabit it as our union is made whole in Christ and in one another. The picture then is that the inner sanctum of God's presence, being again us who are in Christ, can either expand or shrink through our ability to live in reconciled union with each other, or through our divisions and inability to receive one another.
To bring division within the body of Christ is to tarnish the inner sanctum and holy of holies of God's temple. It is to miss the fact that in the Messiah we are now his body actively at work in the world to bring the reconciling reality of the Gospel to the world. This is the means by which God has employed himself and us as bearers of a new humanity found only in the person of Jesus.
It would be nearly impossible for Paul to think of the holy of holies as divided and equally should be for us. Our present divides reveal our loss of what is sacred and how that sacredness is encountered and known in the world. Paul in another epistle would describe a world outside of Christ as a 'perverse and crooked generation' that those who are in Christ should shine as lights within and towards. This light is the radiating presence of God within body of his Son, now known in the church. Our divisions have dulled that light, but our union and restoration to one another will manifest the fullness of that presence to a world in desperate need for the hope that this union brings.
Reconciliation and unity are not options in this reality, but means by which it is encountered, known and manifest. Just as Ezekiel saw the glory of God depart from the temple, our divisions give vision to a similar truth. The Gospel calls us not to settle for such limitations, but beckons us forward in union of the fullness of him who fills all in all.