Saturday, July 25, 2009

Escape the Ordinary

The separation of Jesus from his creation, and the human race from Jesus is disastrous. This dualism leaves us assuming that our human existence is merely human, with, at best, a random, whimsical influence of the Holy Spirit. And if our fatherhood and motherhood, our work and play, laughter, music and romance are all bereft of the Holy Spirit, we are forced to look beyond our humanity for the Spirit and for real spirituality. But the Son of God became a human being, and in his ascension he did not discard his humanity as an old and useless robe. The incarnation and the continuing existence of the Son incarnate means that the Trinitarian life is now thoroughly human. Jesus spent most of his time not preaching, but working as a carpenter. Was his carpentry outside of his relationship with his Father and the Holy Spirit? To be sure, Jesus was anointed with the Spirit for his messianic work at the river Jordan, but that could never mean that the Holy Spirit or his Father were absent before that event. Jesus is the one who knows the Father and he is the one anointed in the Holy Spirit. The incantation means that he lived out his relationship with his Father and his relationship with the Holy Spirit as a human being, and he continues to do so now and for all eternity. The sphere of the Holy Spirit’s work is Jesus Christ, and the relationships that he has established (or reestablished) in his incarnate existence. To put this the other way around, Jesus has included the human race, and all creation in his own relationship with his Father and in his own anointing in the Holy Spirit. It is in our humanity that the Holy Spirit is bearing his fruit.

A while back there was a billboard not far from my home. It was an advertisement for a local Church. It read, “Escape the Ordinary.” There it was, Plato, Greek dualism, non-incarnational spirituality (in Jesus’ name) plastered for all to see. Jesus has been thoroughly disassociated from our ordinary humanity, the Holy Spirit is at work in some invisible, non-human sphere, so come to our Church to experience non-human spirituality. Why would we want to escape the ordinary when Jesus has embraced it and brought his Father and the Holy Spirit with him? My heart hurts for the carpenters in that Church, and for the mothers and fathers, the teachers, cooks and nurses, the ‘ordinary’ workers who give themselves everyday to help make our world function. They have been duped into believing that they must come to Church (and who knows what else) to experience the Holy Spirit, when they should have been lead by the Church to see the blessed Trinity at the florist, or the gas station, or in the music, the laughter, the love and joy and service all around them.

When we don’t see it, we invent it. When the human race is ripped out of the embrace of the Triune God (in our fallen, Greek-infested imaginations), we are forced to invent a non-human spirituality, and then forced to convince people that what we have invented is indeed the real dingo. And then forced to believe that it is so, or that our boredom with this dance in the darkness is the fruit of our lack of commitment. Our humanity, our relationships, our loves, joys and burdens, our work, our play are all minimized, devalued and made to be second rate.

A pastor once came to me in tears because the Holy Spirit had ‘fallen’ on a Church across town, and left her and her congregation behind. She could not understand. They had fasted and prayed for months, yet the Holy Spirit fell on another congregation.

“Do you love your husband and children? I asked.

“Of course.”

“Do you serve them, care for them? Wouldn’t you give your life for them?”

“Of course, I would,” she said with considerable intensity, and a quizzical look as if to ask ‘what has this got to do with the Holy Spirit?’

“Well,” I asked, “are you telling me that your love and care and service for your family, and your willingness to lay down your life for them, if necessary, all originate in you? Did you create that love? Are you that good? Or could it be that the love you know and experience for your family and for others is actually the super-natural, extraordinary love of the Father, Son and Spirit already at work within you?

Jesus said, “I am the light of the cosmos. The one who follows me shall never, ever walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). To follow Jesus means, at the very least, that we raise our hands and say, ‘Jesus, I do not want to see things the way that I see them any more. I want to see your Father, and the Holy Spirit, myself and others and all creation with your eyes, the way you see them.’ As the light of Jesus shines into our darkness, we will not be yearning to escape the ordinary, we will be stunned and full of wonder at the ordinary presence of the blessed Trinity in our humanity. Heaven is not a bodiless state in an invisible place. Heaven is the life of the Father, Son and Spirit coming to full and abiding expression in our human existence, and the earth and the cosmos are filled with the life and love and fellowship of the blessed Trinity. Meantime we grieve over the self-centeredness, over the lust and greed, the social and racial, environmental and political and religious injustices that run wild around us, wreaking such havoc in our lives. And we fast and pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth to us in our darkness. We pray for people to be given eyes to see and that the way things are in Jesus Christ would indeed emerge more and more in our human existence.

Thank you, Holy Spirit. Without you our lives would be a miserable mess of dark sadness. We are grateful for your presence and for the fruit you produce in our lives. Help us to see Jesus and his life in others, in work and play and music, in relationships, laughter and ordinary life. We are grieved that our world is so lost in the dark imagination of the fallen mind. We feel helpless to make any difference. Shine the light of Jesus.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Farming and the Holy Spirit

Ten or so years ago I was traveling through the Midwest to speak at a conference. A young man had picked me up at the airport and we were driving through farmland country. I liked him immediately, and we jump straight into conversation. As we drove through the flatlands everywhere we looked there were farms, tractors and men plowing. I asked the young man what he was planning to do when he gradated from college. He quickly replied, ‘I am going to seminary.’ ‘So you want to be a pastor?’ ‘Yes,’ he replied. So I asked if he had ever thought about how the Holy Spirit related to all those farmers plowing their fields. ‘No, not really,’ he said, ‘I have never thought about that.’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘it would be a good idea for your think on that, as almost all of your parishioners will be farmers, or from farming families. These men spend 60 plus hours a week farming, and their families are right with them. So if you don’t know how the Holy Spirit relates to what they do, you are essentially saying that most of their lives fall outside the realm of the Trinitarian life of God. As their pastor, what exactly are you going to urge them to do to be spiritual?’

After a moment of awkward silence, I asked him if he prayed before he ate supper in the evening. ‘Of course,’ he said, ‘I always thank the Lord for the food we are about to receive.’ ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘Why thank the Lord?’ It was one of the first times that the utter craziness of the sacred-secular dichotomy was so clear to me. The young man looked at me like I had grown a third eye. ‘How is it that you thank the Lord for the food that these farmers and their families grew with such great care, and yet you do not know how the Lord relates to their lives as farmers? And what exactly is the good news that you will be proclaiming to these farmers and their families?’

One of the great disasters of Western deism here stares us in the face. These farmers and their wives and children give their lives, day after day, month after month, year after year, to grow food to feed thousands of people. And I would hazard a guess that for the most part they love what they do. On Sundays they do their religious duty and go to Church, or at least they used to. I wonder if they have ever heard a single sermon on the way their lives and farming are a participation in Jesus’ anointing in the Holy Spirit, one of the ways they are a part of the kingdom of the Triune God. And if not, what then have they heard?

What do we say to the man who drives the bread truck six days a week, or the teacher who gives her heart for children with little recognition of her real value and less money? What do we say to the fishermen, the firemen, the oil workers and architects, the nurses and mechanics, the sanitation engineers, social workers and business men and women, to the fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers about what they do with the vast majority of their time on this planet? ‘Sorry, what you do is nice, but second class, just on the edge of the Holy Spirit, but still outside?’ I have seen preachers do the lip quiver asking for money to support people who are in ‘full time’ Christian ministry, as if the farmer and his family, the nurse, the grandmother are not.

I think this is one of the great issues of our day. If the ‘modern’ Christian message is incapable of affirming people in their humanity, in their work and play and relationships, then we don’t have anything much to say to them, other than ‘do your duty now so you can go to heaven when you die’? Why should they come to Church? Why would they be interested in anything we have to say. The modern message is irrelevant to their lives here and now.

But what if we told people who they are? What if we told them that they were included in Jesus, and in his relationship with his Father, and in his anointing in the Holy Spirit? What if we told the bread truck driver that his work was inspired by the Holy Spirit himself? What if we treated him as if it were true? What if we told the teacher that her burden for her students did not originate in her at all, but in the love of the Father, Son and Spirit, and that her participation in their love was as beautiful as it was critical? What if we told the farmer and his family that the Lord has no intention of being the Lord without them (to borrow from Karl Barth) and that their farming was the fruit of the Holy Spirit? What if we began to relate to people and to what they do with the honor and respect that belongs to Jesus himself and the Holy Spirit?