HOEING COTTON WHEN HE COMES

“Little children keep yourselves from idols.” 1 John 5:21
Why should Israel have no God but Yahweh?
Because He commanded it. It was a non-negotiable demand from the Sovereign of the Universe.
Because He had earned the right to that position. Who else was worthy?
But despite His awesome power and majesty and despite the fact that He had earned their trust, Yahweh still put it to them in such a way that they were given the choice to say yes to His covenant offer and they did (20:19 and Deuteronomy 5:27).
Israel should have had no other God than Yahweh because they said they would! They gave their word!
In response to the majesty and awesome power of God, in response to His faithfulness and His gracious past rescue and future promises, they gave their word! And because they gave their word they should stick with it. To do that was to do what was right. They owed Him and they said they would pay. They didn’t bribe Him or He them; He hadn’t freed them from Pharaonic slavery to make them whimpering crawlers to Him. He called them openly and was willing to receive their heartfelt commitment (cf. Deuteronomy 5:27-28) even when He knew their limitations. And they gave it!
“Duty” has become a dirty word in some circles. In the religious realm it has had such a connection with legalism than one hardly dare mention the word without expecting a raking over the coals of criticism. “Never mind duty, let’s talk of grace.”
Because of the heresy of legalism a fine word, and a noble conception has been made an outlaw. Anyone who would make “duty” the ultimate motivation for the life of a disciple of God misses the mark and misses it by a long way, but anyone who has so “matured” as to dismiss duty has missed by a long way too.  It’s all right to recognize that we owe and because we owe we feel the debt and wish to respond in kind. We wish to earn nothing, for grace and our own evil have put that out of the question; but we don’t want teachers to rob us of the “hero in our soul;” we don’t want them to rob us of the deep sense of obligation we feel when we give our word; we don’t want them to steal from us that motivation which at some level of our lives and in some areas of living never vanishes—“I gave my word and therefore it is my duty.” No one will say that “duty” is the only or finest motivation for our behavior but we get weary when we hear people becoming too precise and too sophisticated when describing real humans. “If we were God we would do thus and so for thus and so reasons;” but we’re not God, we’re we and sometimes we act out of motivations which, while they aren’t the highest, they certainly aren’t evil. We need to stand in our place and do what we said we would do whether we have the consent of our emotions or not. A well-balanced black poet many years ago hit the target dead-center when he wrote this, disregarding harsh circumstances that some might use as an excuse for their not keeping their word to God:
There’s a king and a captain high And He’s coming by and by
And He’ll find me hoeing cotton when He comes.
You can hear His legions charging in the regions of  the sky
And He’ll find me hoeing cotton when He comes.
There’s a man they thrust aside Who was tortured till He died,
And He’ll find me hoeing cotton when He comes.
He was hated and rejected He was scorned and crucified
And He’ll find me hoeing cotton when He comes.
He’ll be crowned by saints and angels when He comes.
They’ll be shouting out Hosanna to the man that men denied
And I’ll kneel among my cotton when He comes.

 No one will gain our respect who while he rightly proclaims God’s full and free grace without apology he undermines what we feel in our bones is right: Love doesn’t despise the letter of the law—it fulfills it. So said the apostle of grace (Paul) in Romans 13:8-10 & 1 Corinthians 7:19.

 (I borrowed this from a book I wrote that hangs around the book of Exodus. HEADING HOME WITH GOD. If you’re interested in it you could purchase it via   rkretz@sunset.cc)

OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED…

Commenting on Hosea 11 the Scots commentator George A Smith said this. “Passing by all the empires of earth, the Almighty chose for Himself this people that was no people, this tribe that was the slave of Egypt. And the choice was one of love only: ‘When Israel was young I came to love him, and out of Egypt I called My son.’ It was the adoption of a little slave boy, adoption by the heart; and the fatherly figure continues, ‘I taught Ephraim to walk, taking him upon Mine arms.’ It is just the same charm, seen from another point of view, when Hosea hears God say that He had ‘found Israel like grapes in the wilderness, like the firstfruits of an early fig tree I saw your fathers.’ “

This is how the Jewish Publication Society Version renders Hosea 11:1,
I fell in love with Israel
When he was still a child;
And I have called [him] My son
Ever since Egypt.

Theodore Laetsch renders it, “When Israel was young, then I began to love him, and from Egypt I called My Son.” And G. Adam Smith points out that the verb stresses the point or moment at which something happens and renders it, in line with the previous two, “I came to love” Israel. The picture generated by the words in the text is clear. One day God was looking around at the nations he had created and his eye passed over powerful Assyria, sword in hand and with its lean and rippling muscles. Then he looked long at gorgeous Egypt with its wealth, culture and centuries of mystery before he caught sight of a little slave child. Helpless, bewildered and, to God, a lovely little boy. Here was a child with no power, no national history and no land to call his own and God’s heart went out to him at that time and he came to love him and adopted him as his son.
As the infant grew God taught him to walk (11:3). Hunkering down in front of him as fathers do, He rested the little boy’s hands on his own hands and arms and slowly backed away, allowing the child to support himself on his father’s arms. Looking like a little mechanical toy, with stiff legs as if he had no knees, he put one foot in front of another, grinning and gurgling as he staggered along. And when he stumbled and grazed his knee it was God that soothed and healed it (11:3). It was all so long ago. The little boy was too young to appreciate how dependent he was on his ever-present and attentive father but that didn’t matter because the joy of loving parents in their tiny girls and boys that toddle all over the place needs no special mention in those days. And so it was with the Holy Father, so these verses tell us. They spoke of days when all was warmth and affection and pleasure but now, as Hosea writes, Israel has grown old and suffers from senility and premature ageing (7:9) and God is pictured as a father pacing up and down the room anguishing over how to help him. (Compare 4:17 and 11:8, for example.)
The very reading of such texts makes it clear that it’s a crime to reduce the Story of the Bible to legal categories with an unhealthy stress on juridical words like “justification.” In light of truths told as Hosea tells them, to reduce the Bible to a book of wise maxims or a generalized moral code to which we must respond is tragic! It is more than a riveting romance, more than a Story of holy love reaching out but if it is more it certainly isn’t less!
I know the anthropomorphisms of scripture mustn’t be taken too far! Of course! And isn’t it Hosea that reminds us that God is not a man (11:9)! So, okay, we’re not to take them too far but we’re not to forget that God wasn’t ashamed to liken Himself to all that is best in fathers and mothers and that finally (praise His name!) He wasn’t even ashamed to become one of us—permanently!
The special relationship Israel had with God he was given in trust. It was for the world that Israel was called and it is for the world that the NT church is called. When we read the description of the churches in the NT we sometimes wince and wonder and as we look around at them today (or in the mirror) we sometimes wince and wonder even more. Does that not make sense? Yes, it does. “Sense”  within certain parameters.
Still, its irritating to listen to the peevish or those who easily take offense denigrating her, though they never ever lifted a hand to help her or they flung away because their expectations weren’t met—a Demas sort of move!
With more justification, let those who have been profoundly mistreated by her, cry unto her God—that we can understand! But when those she nourished with a sense of Jesus-imaging righteousness and care, when those who wouldn’t know the meaning of justice if it hadn’t been for her—when they join the sneering crowd of critics and whine about the poverty of “organized religion” we’re seeing an entirely different picture. When preachers barely ever mount the pulpit without parading her failures, beating her without mercy though they know right well that she too is sinful and weak, that she too needs a cup of cold water, that she too is naked and in need of clothing and warmth and forgiveness—when we see and hear that, we don’t wonder that “outsiders” humiliate and shame her.
Yes it makes sense to hear her criticized, but we still need to remember passages like this in Hosea. There’s something just not right about one of God’s people acting or speaking as if he/she isn’t a part of the “family” and there’s something risky about ceaselessly scorning God’s children when the Holy One who knows them best says He loves them. There’s a text somewhere where God says, “He that curses you, him will I curse; he that blesses you, him will I bless.” I’m sure it says something like that.

(Wise all knowing Holy Father you know what fools we are at times, how shallow our love pools are and how quickly they dry up when too many come to drink from them. You know well that we make judgments about things and people when we don’t know enough and aren’t pure enough to make them. We have heard wonderful stories of you and we believe every one of them and we heard you say (Hosea 11:8-9) of your People that even in their deep and treacherous apostasy that you wouldn’t execute the fullness of your wrath on them because you are God and not a man. Sometimes we realize only a God can save us and only a God like you will want to save us. We do our best (don’t we? do we?)—the best that we sinners can do, we suppose. You must save us, Holy One or we won’t be saved. We’re glad that you know everything and that you alone love us and will provide a flawless justice in that coming day. Our thanks and our request in Jesus name.)

WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?

This brief piece will be repetitive. It’s abundantly clear to me that God forgave sins from the days of Adam and Eve down to the arrival of Jesus. Forgiveness was always by God’s holy grace and could never be “earned”. God never asked anyone to “earn” it! The NT never doubts that and neither should we. David exults in the truth that there were people whose sins were not credited against them (Psalm 32:1,2 and Romans 4:6-8). But that truth is not what the NT is dealing with!
Abraham’s faith in God was as true and as real as Paul’s faith in God. The faith of believers in ancient times (Hebrews 11) was truly faith in God. The NT never doubts that and neither should we. True believers are true believers no matter in what age they live. But that truth is not what the NT is dealing with!
The obedience of faith that we read about in the OT (in people like Noah, Hannah, Josiah, Moses’ mother Jochebed or Melchizedek) was as real as the obedience that stemmed from faith in believers in Jesus Christ. The faith-filled obedient people are the same kind of people no matter in what age they live (again, note that Hebrews 11 uses ancient worthies as models for NT believers.). But that truth is not what the NT is dealing with!

The New Testament deals with a specific section of God’s unfolding drama. Everything prior to that, while absolutely essential to the drama as a whole, is prelude. The fullness of times (Galatians 4:4) and the “ends of the ages” (1 Corinthians 10:11) only arrived when God became incarnate in and as Jesus of Nazareth who is called the Christ. The NT era is the time that all the ancient worthies had to wait for if they hoped for the completed drama (Hebrews 11:39-40; 12:23).
It doesn’t matter that they didn’t know what the end was to be. It doesn’t matter that they didn’t know all that the end would involve. In trusting to God they were looking for whatever it was that God had in store. Prophets spoke things they didn’t really understand and people hoped for things (as we do) that they didn’t understand. (1 Peter 1:9-12) They even spoke of things they knew were not for them. “Eye hasn’t seen, ear hasn’t heard nor has it entered into the heart of man the things God has prepared for them that love him.” (I’m ignoring Paul’s immediate point in 1 Corinthians 2:9.) That is as true today for us as it would have been for ancient believers prior to God’s coming in the flesh.
People enjoyed forgiveness and life with God because God in holy grace granted it to them. But that life with God that they enjoyed occurred within a divine narrative that could never come to fullness in the history of the world as it was then. For the life that God finally intended for the human family when He was creating us wasn’t fulfilled in Genesis 1. That was the beginning of what God had in mind for us but the fullness of what God had in mind for us is revealed in Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:16) who is the last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:47). God gave forgiveness and life in a relationship to Abraham but Abraham would die, as would Moses and Samuel and David and the rest. Death would rob them of embodied life (and a human is not fully a human if not embodied).
Death reigned over the human family even over those that believed in God. Then came Jesus of Nazareth, the death killer! In and by Him death was destroyed (2 Timothy 1:9-10) and a new creation begun. In Him, as a single individual, a new creation actually exists and is experienced by Him now as He exists in a new mode of being (a resurrected and immortal human) and Christians inhabit that new world by faith in Him. They are born again and not of the flesh (1 Peter 1:3; John 3:3-7).
By faith Abraham was as right with God in his day as Christians are right with God by faith in Jesus Christ. But the content of the Christian’s faith is richer and more developed than Abraham’s was. Abraham saw glory ahead but he did not know it took the form of the resurrected and glorified Jesus of Nazareth (John 8:56; 2 Timothy 1:9-10; Ephesians 3:1-7).
The shape and truth content of his faith bore witness to God within the parameters and boundaries of his place in God’s developing drama within human history. The shape of a Christian’s faith in God through Jesus Christ is a witness to God’s bringing His creation purposes to completion in Jesus Christ. No one’s faith, prior to Jesus Christ, could bear such a witness precisely because pre-Jesus Christ faith could not proclaim what God has accomplished only in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Christians live at a particular time in the history of the world and have been called to be and function as the “body” of Jesus Christ in the world. Christians as the Body of the Risen Lord are a new creation, a resurrected people (Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 2:12; 3:1-4)

The forgiveness in pre-Jesus Christ days was real and experienced but forgiveness in Jesus Christ carries with it a significance that couldn’t be carried before He came. Abraham’s faith-motivated obedience (Genesis 22 and James 2:21-23) was genuine and acceptable with God as righteousness (Romans 4:3). In that respect there is no difference between Abraham’s obedience of faith and the Christian’s. But Abraham’s obedience of faith could not function as a witness that God’s creation purposes has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, because from his perspective they hadn’t been! Israel, was God’s witness (Isaiah 43:10, 12; 44:8) to the truth entrusted to them in their place on the world stage at that time.  Humans can only experience God’s workings in a time continuum but as far as God was concerned it was already a done deal—see Romans 4:17.) Abraham, along with the other ancient worthies in Hebrews 11, had to wait until the Christian era arrived (Hebrews 11:39-40).
The New Covenant people function in their place in human history as God’s witness to Jesus Christ. This form of the people of God began with the coming of Jesus and His faithful doing of the will of God (Galatians 4:4). It has a commission that is in keeping with the direction, timing and plot of the Divine Story. Abraham is not part of that NT People precisely because his place was on stage in a different era. He served well there and died as did Moses and David (Acts 2:29, 34; Hebrews 3:2, 5). They could all be right with God without knowing of the resurrection of Jesus Christ for our justification (Romans 4:25). Abraham knew glory was coming but he did not know that it would be accomplished in Jesus of Nazareth (John 8:56) and he as one of the many righteous men and women had to wait for the fulfillment of God’s promises (Hebrews 11:39-40 with 12:23 (18-24).
Forgiveness and faith and obedience and life with God in pre-Jesus Christ days were real but they did not have the significance that those realities have in and through Jesus Christ. Christian faith proclaims—on the basis of Jesus Christ—that all that the ancient worthies had looked for (though they were not aware of it, certainly not, at any rate, in full awareness)—all that the ancient worthies had looked for has now come. We look now at the Lord Jesus and in Him, the individual, we see God’s creation purposes fulfilled, now!
Jesus is the end of all things. All things have been brought under one head [Ephesians 1:10]; all things have been put in their rightful place under God through Jesus [Colossians 1:15-20]. (This fulfillment that He as a single individual experiences and embodies will be made the personal experience of all that are embraced in His redeeming work. The Lord of All chooses that all that He now has dominion over will continue as it is until He chooses to consummate in a day of His choosing. His reasons are His own!)
Apart from Christians the ancients—whoever they were—could not be made perfect. Forgiveness and faith and life with God all have a different complexion now that Jesus has come. Those glorious realities function with a finality that wasn’t possible for even true faith in pre-Jesus Christ times.
It’s obviously correct to say that there are differences between Paul’s and Abraham’s faith and forgiveness and relationship with God. But the differences have nothing to do with quality or with their reality! But since they lived at different points in the divine drama their faith and life with God contributed to the entire drama in different ways. Only   Christians are “the end time people.” There is no chosen “People of God” (1 Peter 2:9) beyond this era because the People of God in this era are the “Body of Christ” and there is no Lord beyond Him.
Ray McClendon helpfully summarized the matter like this: “For example, the reference to an unfolding drama enables us to ponder Hebrews 11:39-40 in this light: What does it really mean that, though faithful, they didn’t receive what was promised and only together with us are made perfect?

“We could put it this way. At the end of the second act (of, say, a two-act story), all of the actors come out, join hands, and bow. Receiving the accolades of the honor and glory of the completed story they presented. They all occupy (finally and in the end) the same stage; regardless of where their part was in the Story; regardless of whether it came in the first act or the second act and regardless of whether their part was small or large. The actors in the Act 1 didn’t come out after the first act to receive all of the honor and glory because that wasn’t fully revealed or known until the second act! It couldn’t possibly be fully understood or appreciated because the story was still being told and the finale had not yet come. The Abrahams, Melchizedeks, and Rahabs were all in supportive roles; they weren’t the stars nor did they appear in the final and critical stages of the story.
But when the Star appears and the climax plays itself out, all the Act 1 players take their rightful place beside the Act 2 players and together with them receive all the honor and glory (compare Hebrews 11:39-40 and 12:22-24). They’re entitled to share in the glory that comes to the Act 2 players because without them there could be no Act 2 players and no completed drama. In addition, it wasn’t until the whole story was told/known that everyone’s role could be fully understood and appreciated. Nevertheless, everyone’s place in the Story, in his or her own time and circumstances, was crucial and served the will of God who, in every generation, dealt faithfully with all the players that had a place in the drama.”
(Look around at the people with whom you Supper on the Lord’s Day. Who is it that sings along with you, prays with you, reads and listens with you, shares their material blessings along with you and eats and drinks with you in the wondrous Supper that proclaims a wondrous Lord? See them for what they are. Obviously unimpressive it’s true, but then so was their Lord in His earthly ministering period (Isaiah 53:2; Mark 6:1-3) on His way to everlasting glorification as Lord of all. You and your fellow-believers are the visible witness and embodiment of breathtaking realities.)
Believe that! Wonder at that! Rejoice with trembling at that! Purpose by God’s grace to treat one another as that!

(Open our eyes, Holy Father, and so strengthen us by your amazing grace. For the world’s sake as well as our own. This prayer in the Lord Jesus.)

SMEAGOL VERSUS GOLLUM

My friend Kenny Chumbley who from time to time writes pieces under the title: The Prairie Papers, (KLChumbley@aol.com) and who ramrodded the production of the book and the stage-play of The Green Children, made me aware of something Tolkien disclosed that I think you’ll find interesting and moving.
You’ll remember in the screen adaptation of The Fellowship of the Rings the scenes that show a renewed Gollum in a wrestle with the other side of Gollum—something I experienced this very day when I was out for a walk and found myself shouting at myself in stern rebuke.
A fear-filled Sam didn’t trust Gollum and had no sympathy for him. As Kenny pointed out to me, Gollum and Frodo were both ring-bearers and both had suffered greatly as a result of it so Frodo saw Gollum from a different perspective than the loyal-to-Frodo Sam did or could. Frodo had compassion on the ring-tormented Gollum who had been seduced into evil that led him to murder and to the worship of the evil power of the ring. Frodo says to Sam:

  1. Why do you put him down all the time?
  2. There’s nothing left in him but lies and deceit.
  3. You have no idea what it [the ring] did to him; what it’s still doing to him. I want to help him, Sam.
  4. Why?
  5. Because I have to believe he can come back.
  6. You can’t save him Mr. Frodo.

A rope was put around Gollum’s neck to control him, it tormented him, Frodo removed it and Gollum is softened toward Frodo.
When Gollum warns of danger Sam, in savage distrust wants Gollum driven off but Frodo says, “He has been true to his word.” Gollum is thrilled with the faith expressed in him and begins to see Frodo (“the master”) in a different light.
In another scene Frodo speaks gently to Gollum, “Who are you?” and the answer comes:
“Gollum, Gollum.”
Gandalf told me that you were one of the River Folk. You were not so far from a Hobbit, once, were you?! Gandalf told me your life was a sad story. (Gollum is sad, as if reminiscing; like a traveler far from home.)
Your name was Smeagol.” (Gollum slowly raises his head, eyes widening.)

  1. What did you call me?
  2. That was your name once, wasn’t it? A long time ago?
  3. My name! [whispering as if remembering with awe] My name…(hesitatingly and then with a faint smile), “Smeagol.” Compassion, confessed brotherhood and a gentle reminder of a happy life before the loss of innocence, was working a marvelous change in him and he begins to act that way.

Then there are the scenes when the evil side of Gollum begins to dialogue with the newly awakened Smeagol side that now seeks to believe in and serve “the master” in the mission to destroy the ring of evil.

  1. Wicked hobbits,   (says Gollum)
  2. Not the master (says Smeagol)
  3. They will cheat you, hurt you, lies… 
  4. The master’s my friend.
  5. You don’t have any friends. No one likes you
  6. (holding is ears) Not listening, Not listening.
  7. You’re a liar, a thief…a murderer.  
  8. (greatly distressed) No, go away!
  9. (Scoffing) Go away? 
  10. I hate you, I hate you, (holds head, agonized)
  11. Where would you be without me? Gollum, Gollum; It was me, I saved us. We survived because of me..”
  12. Not anymore!
  13. What did you say?
  14. Master looks after us now. We don’t need you.
  15. What?
  16. Leave now and never come back.
  17. No.
  18. Leave now and never come back. (again, stronger): Leave now and never come back!
  19. Gollum vanishes and Smeagol is startled and then to his better self he says, We told him to go away and way he goes. (He begins to whirl and dance) shouting  SMEAGOL IS FREE!

Then as Tolkien told it, Sam misinterprets Smeagol/Gollum and drives him off, back into the world of evil and torment and ultimate loss. When Tolkien finished writing that section, Kenny informed me, Tolkien confessed that he wept!

(Holy Father, somewhere down in so many of us is Gollum and Smeagol. Sometimes just by compassion and long patience Smeagol longs to emerge and be free. Many of us are able to look back on those who in the image of your Holy Son took the rope off our necks and credited us with an honest attempt at keeping our words and they called us by another name, a name we would have forgotten if they hadn’t told us of our past before our loss of innocence. Some of those we well remember and consciously thank you for and there are many who treated us that way when we weren’t able to recognize it and we thank you for them too. Give us a sense of brother and sisterhood, grant us a compassionate spirit and the awareness that we are all ring-bearers. Give us Sam’s love for and loyalty to the Frodos in life and their commission but deliver us we pray from an excess of zeal for the divine purpose that would blind us to the truth that that purpose includes compassion on Smeagols that sometime sit alone in the darkness fighting the darker side of themselves and who without help will be overcome by what they love but hate. We so need your help here that we might be wise as well as empathetic and patient. This prayer in Jesus Christ.)

PRAYER FOR A TORMENTED WORLD

Holy One we have heard stories about you from eye-witnesses of your wonders. Stories about your rescuing nations from slavery and oppression under tyrants without mercy or conscience. We believe them and thank you. We ask you please to do such things again and deliver heartsick people from their awful suffering and their paralyzing despair—deliver them who live in the hell-holes of the world here at home and abroad. Do it for them and do it to glorify your holy name that they might come to seek after you and find you for we who have the privilege to believe know that you are not far from any of us.
But Holy Father, their Holy Father as well as ours, they don’t know how to know you. They’re poor and ignorant and forcibly kept that way and know nothing of you or your Beloved Son. They weep and no one dries their tears, they’re lonely and no one comes to their side, they’re mentioned in headlines but no one prays for them, they’re hungry and those who would feed and clothe and bless them are kept from doing it by heartless crime bosses and the corrupted powerful.
We have a little—though only a little—understanding of the complexities involved in your dealing with these awful realities when it is humans against humans and you care for us all, the evil and the good. But we know that you are the Lord of heaven and earth and they have no other to stand by their side against the heartless predators that love to feed on their sorrow and dance to the crying of their little children. It appears Holy One that only those who rejoice in brutality and torturing others are free to exercise free will—the many millions are raped and pillaged and herded around like livestock, dumb animals, kept only to be sold or as food to be eaten and their remains scattered in the dust.
We who do care—Christians and non-Christians—don’t know what to do or how to do it so we come to you, for where else is there to go? We who are free can’t help rejoicing in our freedom while our brothers and sisters, little children and parents, huddle together in panic at the news that predators are returning, young here in our own towns, lie in fear of a bedroom door opening again, the unemployed and unemployable, the abandoned and betrayed—there is no end, they awake or lie sleepless only to meet another day of the same.
Ahhhhhhh, how long, they want to know; when will it stop they wonder; they fear that no one can stop it—ever. Holy One we know we are selfish but you must know because you have worked within us that we are not so selfish that we cannot at times enter into their pain and so now for a while we feel it and pray for them, Father, for them. Now! For them—for them!
Grant that we who have freedom will join with you to effect some change and that we will use our freedom for more than self-service. Shape our hearts and speech and actions with the person and meaning of Jesus Christ that if we can’t take away the sorrow and hurt of the world we can in the name of the Lord Jesus do something for those within our reach.
Grant that as we Supper with the Lord Jesus on the Lord’s Day that we will keep the Story alive that He is returning and that all wrongs will be righted and cruelty and injustice and suffering will be no more. Oh, Holy One, whatever the cost to us deliver us your people from any sense that we are your pets and remind us that we live to rejoice in your kindness to us and to serve the world because by faith we were baptized into union with your Holy Son who united Himself with them and with us forever. This prayer in His name.

THERE’S MORE, NOT LESS, MORE

Disease and death are so ugly and brutal. Maybe a terminal ward where everyone is a little child has an added pathos. Because I believe that every little child anywhere in the world is a servant of God I find consolation in knowing that however things appear there’s more in it than meets the eye and when the world is better we’ll clap our hands over our mouths in enlightened astonishment.

Like everyone else it guts me to see them suffer and die.

The raging fever is real, the gasping for air is real, the incubators, straps, tubes, leads, needles, pumps, drips—they’re all real. The silent screaming, the wide-open mouths and the tiny toothless gums, the jerking, twisting, the shrill crying or the silent panting—all real.

There’s no point in denying the reality of all that!

But what if what we see is not all there is?

What if there’s more (not less!) to what we see than what we see?

Would you not want to be able to believe that there was more?

One day outside Jerusalem there was a young man hanging on the public gallows. The spit, the sweat, the blood, the jeers, the taunts, the treachery, the hypocrisy, the race hatred—all real. The thirst, the loneliness, the sense of abandonment, the grief of a mother and friends, the injustice, the evil—all real.

But there was more!

In all that—not simply after it—in and through all that there was more.

There wasn’t less than that! There was more!

John 12:31: SENTENCE WAS BEING PASSED ON THE WORLD! SATAN WAS BEING KICKED OUT!

In the Mel Gibson movie, Christ, badly beating, not allowed to sleep, falling one more time, His mother runs to Him and He says, “Look, mother, I’m making everything new.” Using Revelation 21:5.

Without denying a bit of the ugly and brutal in it there was the wondrous in it, paid for in enduring anguish and pain.

There is more in the disease and death of a child! Let’s not reduce the child to an object of pity. Sadness we should feel but we should learn from them.

It speaks profound truths to the world, into which we have brought anguish, agony and loss, and what it says is said to us at a heartbreaking cost!
And what does it say?

LOVING THE “BENT KING”

This is a long piece but I hope you are able to get a few minutes to read it. I do. But don’t begin it until you are free to do it. God bless us all in such matters.
In his extended poem Saul. Robert Browning has David called to play his music for the wayward king Saul who is in the dark abyss of depression and feelings of abandonment. David’s music, we’re told, had soothed Saul in times past (1 Samuel 16:23) and if ever Saul needed help he needed it now.
The love of David for Jonathan, son of Saul, is well known to Bible readers, but David’s deep feeling for Saul is not given the notice it calls for and merits (see 1 Samuel 24 and 2 Samuel 1 as parts of the story). Browning uses the biblical text and his own depth of imaginative insight and gives us a lesson we need to hear again and again. I hope you can read what follows with patience. In a world as mad and bad as this one is and can be, the existence, depth and selflessness of human love at its best says something the whole creation needs to hear.
David’s met by Abner who tells him the king is in a dreadful state and that he and the men haven’t eaten a bite since he went into his tent. Nor would they eat or drink until David came back out to say the king was alive and well because he has been three days in the black tent in the middle of the camp—in complete silence. The troops know a struggle is going on between Saul and the Spirit of God.
David first prays and then enters, creeping in on his knees, praying as he goes, into the great darkness. He speaks into that darkness, “I’m David, your servant.” Not a word or a sound, only deep darkness. Then his eyes make out something even darker, an upright—the center beam of the tent and then, blackest of all, he makes out the huge figure of Saul. A beam of sunlight suddenly gives some light and David sees him there, propped up against the central beam with his arms draped over the cross beam—like one crucified, covered in sweat, head drooping, like a king-serpent, cut off from his own kind while he’s waiting to shed his skin.
David begins to play the kind of music he plays for His sheep—the kind that calms them; then music that charms the birds and other animals, even crickets. Then he played happy music, the kind they play at harvest when friends enjoy one another and expand each others’ hearts and then came the kind of music they play as they bear a man to his grave. The kind that goes along with the praise they proclaim as they walk saying, “The land has none left such as he on the bier.” Then there was wedding music and music that men do hard work by when they have to get their shoulders under huge stones when building. And more, there was the praise music as when men go to worship, led by the Levitical singers,

up to the altar in glory enthroned. But I stopped:
for here in the darkness Saul groaned.

For a moment David’s silent, listening, then the tent shakes “for mighty Saul shuddered”, but after that only his head moved. David begins to play again, speaking of the joys of human life, the rock-climbing, swimming, bear-hunting. He sings of love of family and the joys of it, the love of boyhood friends and then of the king’s coming to glory and being monarch of the nation. And at that point, carried away by the beauty and truth of it all, and anxious for Saul to drink it in and end his night, he calls out the king’s name—Saul!
The whole tent’s brighter with the singing but the figure in the center is like a dark mountain that’s the last thing in the valley to be hit by the rising sun’s light. But not so dark that David can’t make out the scars the king bears, scars he received in the nation’s defense. Saul gives a long shudder, then silence again, but now he’s aware of who and where he is. He has heard all the words and in great sadness:

He said, “It is good;” still he drinks not:
He lets me praise life,
Gives assent, yet would die for his own part.

David understands that the king knows something he doesn’t know. That all David has sung, while it’s true, and lovely and joyous—it’s not enough. There’s got to be more. Life’s joys aren’t enough to take the awful sting out of living much less out of dying.
David imagines himself lying in a little rock fissure while he’s out tending his sheep. The rocks on each side hem in his view of the sky and narrow it down to only a sliver while high above him flies an eagle. What can he see? From that height, what can he see? Much more than David! David as a shepherd boy knows so little of life, and there’s so much more. Now convinced of that, he takes up his harp and begins to sing again.
He tells the king he’s right not to put too much stock in life as it is on the physical level, “it’s good” but it’s not enough, and people grow tired of it and feel empty. But this life and the praise the king will get in future years from a grateful nation is God-given! God gave it!
And as he sings, Saul moves, fixes his hair , adjusts his turban, wipes off the sweat with his robe, fixes his tunic and stands erect; looking now like the old Saul “before error had bent” Then, weak, with his back against the central post he slides down to sit on the ground right close to David, his huge knees hemming the boy in. And then, without a word, slowly, he lifts a hand and puts it on the boy’s head with “kind power” and pushes it back so he can look long in his face. David’s heart is bursting with love for the man. He hears himself say he would give anything, anything if he could make the king well, if he could give him not just longer life—but new life! If love could do it, love would. His mind leaped to God and the thought startled him and he could play no more nor sing.
                           Can David out-love God and so what?
Shocked into silence by the new and daring thought, he reflects on creation, admitting it’s more than he can fathom, it far outreaches all his wisdom, it exposes all his limitations. And what of God’s love—did it not surpass his? He thinks of his own love for Saul, Saul the bent king. He thinks how gladly he’d do whatever it took to make him right. And in this, does the creature do better than the Creator? Does he compare himself with God and out-shine God? It’s true he doesn’t have God’s power to execute, but does he think he has out-willed God? Does he will Saul good more than God? Does God have more power but less good will toward sinners than David? No, God out-wills him as well as out-powers him.
Should David then in all the lesser matters trust God and when it comes to what matters most “distrust” him? Is it too good to be true? Should he, now having seen so much go “thus far and no farther?” Would God make Saul and not love him? And if He loved him, would He not redeem him? David would! Could God be less than David in loving? Perish the thought! When the truth sinks in, he begins to weep. His own weakness doesn’t prevent him from willing Saul’s redemption though his weakness depresses and frustrates him. Still, it suddenly dawns on him, “tis not what man does which exalts him, but what man would do!” So David’s service is perfect; weakness doesn’t change his purpose.
Could I wrestle to raise Him from sorrow,
grow poor to enrich,
To fill up his life, starve my own out, I would….
Oh, speak through me now!
Would I suffer for him that I love? So
wouldst thou—so wilt thou!

Knowing then that God felt as he felt, Browning has David long for the incarnation of that character, purpose and power (compare Psalm 27:8).

O Saul, it shall be
A Face like my face that receives thee; a
Man like to me,
Thou shalt love and be loved by, forever;
a hand like this hand
Shall throw open the gates of new life to thee!
See the Christ stand!

All this came to David with stunning power and since it was so profound a revelation, involving the Creator of all things in a “covenant” based on His very own character, David feels that the whole of creation must have been affected.
He stumbles His way home in the night and feels there’s a host of creatures as well as a universe watching Him, like a nation famished for news on how the war went.
As He walks home it’s getting close to dawn and creatures stand, awe-stricken at the revelation, flowers stare in awed astonishment, winds whisper and brooks quietly murmur in hushed voice—all, joining together in responding to the “new law” (which was really an old law) given to David, “Even so, it is so!”
All of this comes to us in stunning power too for we now know that what Browning has David long for has actually taken place in Jesus of Nazareth: God’s character, purpose and power has shown itself in a face like our faces; the face of one who is not only able but has the will to bring new life to all of us no matter how far we’ve gone astray.

(Holy Father, this moves us and makes us want to be more like you but it seems to call us too high though we constantly long for such heights. At least, Holy One, enable us we pray, to love in such a Christlike way our beloved ones whom you have given to us to protect and love and who are within our reach.  And perhaps in so loving them we will grow to feel more and do more for those who are not our special ones with whom you have blessed us. Hear our prayer because we ask it in the Lord Jesus and in His Spirit.)