Tuesday, April 26, 2011

the Second Day after Easter

The Lord works vindication
and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses,
 his acts to the people of Israel. 
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
 slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 
He will not always accuse,
 nor will he keep his anger for ever. 
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
 nor repay us according to our iniquities. 
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
 so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him; 
as far as the east is from the west,
 so far he removes our transgressions from us. 
As a father has compassion for his children,
 so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him. 
For he knows how we were made;
 he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:6-14)

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them. . . I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (John 14:18-21)

When I was in the Navy I worked in an old building that had three restrooms on the bottom floor, and each was clearly labeled: Men; Women; Officers. The message was clear to we enlisted folks who were at the bottom of the military food chain: We had our own restrooms and we were not to share those facilities with our officers, who were, historically, men.

The only problem with this set up was that there were now two female officers who worked on the first floor of this building. Every so often one of them would use the “Officers” restroom just to make a point. After all, they too were officers. It was their right. It was an act of equality and justice.

In our culture equality, rights, and justice are often bundled together in our thinking. We believe in equal access to all things—after all, we have the right to pursue almost anything we desire, and to hinder that process is perceived as an act of injustice.
The way that the Bible describes justice in relation to God is very different from our cultural constructs. Justice is seen as God engaging with broken humanity and setting right what has been damaged by sin and oppression. Even to those who have transgressed, God offers the possibility of forgiveness. This comes from his love and compassion, described so beautifully in Psalm 103.

When Jesus speaks to his friends in John 14, he deepens the understanding of God’s love by describing it not only as compassionate, but also present. He speaks of his life being embedding in the life of God the Father, and that this life will live within those who trust him. He describes the Holy Spirit as the “Advocate,” the one who comes alongside us to help us. This is more than God looking over his damaged children and relieving them from punishment; this is God fully present as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to his children who are, in all appearances, dust.

It is sad when we reduce Christian faith to a set of concrete statements of belief. At the heart of Christian faith is the initiative of God, which comes before anything we believe, and the promise of his presence living within us, transforming us from dust to beloved children. This is God worth trusting. First we trust, then we come to articulate what we believe. As John says in another place,

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us . . . (I John 4:10a)

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