Vatican gives a home to homeless Jesus

An Ontario artist’s sculpture of a ‘homeless Jesus’ has been given a home near to the Vatican. Schmalz, the sculptor, said in an interview, “Historically, symbolically, it’s probably the greatest location for it.”

Since Pope Francis took office (March 2013) there has been an increased focus on the homeless:
last year, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, head of the charities, unveiled showers for homeless pilgrims near St. Peter’s Square and free shaves and haircuts are also now offered.

In the article it also noted that:

In London, Methodist Central Hall, across from Westminster Abbey, wanted to install it in front of its church, but the City of Westminster’s council rejected that, saying the sculpture would fail to preserve or enhance the character or appearance of the Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square conservation area. An online petition has been launched to try to overturn that decision.

Another church in London, St Martin-in-the-Fields, rejected the statue because it has a rule banning people from lying down inside church, and there were fears the statue would expose the church to ridicule, according to the Church Times.

 

Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?
 

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The fullness of times

Why did Jesus come when he came – why not much earlier, circumvent Abraham, Moses etc.? Assuming – based on Scripture which helps with assumptions!! – that God’s intention was always that of Incarnation, why the ‘delay’ in coming? In Galatians there is the phrase ‘when the fullness of times had come’:

In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Gal. 4:3-5).

An inadequate interpretation (and a very modernistic one) was that when there was the Pax Romana, effective transportation and communication in place and so the gospel could spread easily as a result that Jesus came at that opportune time. So the fullness of times is reduced to a pragmatic issue! However, writing to the ‘we’ (Jews) the fullness of times was when there was a bondage to the elemental principles (ta stoicheia). He goes on to strongly chastise the Gentile converts in Galatia for being influenced by the Judaisers and through their influence turning to the Jewish law. Before conversion they were enslaved to non-gods and now in turning to the law they were only going to be enslaved again to worthless elementary principles (ptocha stoicheia – same as before with the derisory ‘poverty stricken’ added). Jews and Gentiles alike in bondage to these ‘elemental spirits’.

So the fullness of times seems more related to a level of bondage than to anything practical. It was when there was domination at a level that enslaved the whole world, with even the Jews subject to the law in a non-liberating, enslaving relationship.

Jesus came, I suggest, at a time when there was the maximum amount of slavery to binding principles (elemental spirits) that manifested to dominate and crush all, Jew and Gentile alike. In coming at that time, Jesus, came to redeem the slaves at their low point in order to not simply set the slaves free but to destroy the yoke of slavery once and for all. Had he come earlier this slavery would not have reached a level of fullness whereby it could be fully broken. Jesus was born under the law (Jewish), born of a woman (human so not only for Jews but also for Gentiles, for all of humanity) at a time when all things were in place for the total domination of humanity. That domination is maybe best described as ‘bio-power’ – the consuming of human life itself (yes I am listening to, and maybe learning from, Gayle as she writes up her dissertation!!!).

Consuming is where it all began to go wrong, and that initial consumption of the forbidden fruit leads eventually to the inevitable consumption of human lives. Jesus the only true human allows himself to be consumed, rather than consume. He is consumed by the powers – religious, political, economic, demonic – for in eating him they can become like God, or better they can dispossess God and fully set in place a rebel government based on ‘might is right’. The submission of Jesus, to death, even the death on the cross is what breaks this power, it establishes love within the world and throughout all of creation. Love proves to be the currency that opens the door to freedom. Not power, not appeasement but love.

The presentation of the atonement as satisfaction to God (his honour as per Anselm, or the law and justice as per the Reformation) falls far short of the NT presentation. What is missing in the world is the presence of God, and at the cross ‘God was in Christ’ going to the depths so as from the lowest point to the highest point there could be a filling of all things with his presence.

The fullness of times – the hold that the powers had is gone.

Could we again be coming to a fullness of times? Could there be the complete re-imagining of the body of Christ in and through the earth to stand redemptively so as humanity does not totally self-destruct on the forbidden fruit?

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The gift of isolation?

Community is in the heart of God. Trinitarian belief, the corporate ‘my people’, ‘it is not good for the man to be alone’… all point to community as not simply beneficial but healthy existence. When community is denied a person there is loss and pain. Given the norm of community and the lack of it that many experience I write cautiously what follows. I also write from our personal context here.

We have a strong conviction that over these next couple of decades many will find themselves uprooted from their former setting. We believe that thousands will re-locate to the cities and regions across Europe as the continent is re-seeded not simply with a gospel of words but an incarnated gospel of people (Mk. 13 parable #1 ‘seed’ = ‘word of the Lord’; parable #2 ‘seed’ = ‘people of the Lord’). In the relocation some will go with distinct purpose and vision, others will go by ‘circumstance’. If we come from a background of (Christian) community there are a few surprises waiting for us.

‘Clubs’ give us ready made friends. Many believers do not need to connect to others, the construct is what provides the context where they find the friends. This is not a bad thing in itself but all clubs by default insulate, they separate, and more so when we have no need of connecting external to that club. This is also accentuated if one held a measure of leadership within that club context. Friendship-making outside that context and with those who do not share the same world-view is a challenge – Paul, even with an incredibly developed world-view, achieved this (Acts 19: 31).

Appreciating beliefs that are different are wonderfully challenging. A gospel that is insulated can make sense when one is also isolated… but against the context of other beliefs can be deeply challenged. This, from what I understand, is what brought Steve Chalke to describe penal substitutionary atonement as ‘cosmic child abuse’. Our gospel is ‘foolishness to the Greeks’ but this does not mean there is no coherence to it. To re-examine the gospel is no bad thing. And certainly when one realises that the Western Protestant versions do not have a monopoly on interpretation opens up a few healthy doors.

Separation from the known, entering the liminal spaces, are so necessary for growth. Richard Rohr apparently recently described fundamental evangelicalism as ‘religion in its early phase’. He, being a Catholic, might indicate where development should take such a fundamentalist, whereas I would go in a totally different direction!

In transitioning into adulthood in many tribal scenarios there is a commonality to many of the rituals. What is in common is the removal of the known surroundings and boundaries, and the entering into a disorientating world. This is necessary for growth.

Yesterday we (Gayle and I) speculated that perhaps there is now the possibility of a fresh (Christian) movement, not one simply based on guilt and forgiveness at a personal level though probably with deep roots within that, but one focused on the body of Christ as the ‘soul’ of the world, the priesthood in the earth. If so I think that isolation will be one of the gifts from heaven to act as a catalyst for the conversion that is needed. Maybe Christian community will have to become (for a period, or maybe permanently) less of a defining element? Community, acceptance and accepting, is vital for healthy human existence, but those who have a vision for healthy community probably need to experience some measure of isolation along the way. To those much further down the road than I, thank you.

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Do not vote for the believer!!!!

I read a text yesterday that caused me to stop and think, as well as it amusing me:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler — not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Cor. 5:9-12)

So reading this text yesterday it caused me to think somewhat tangentially. An old line thinking was a straight line to church discipline and removal from fellowship. Easy, though defining what is meant by ‘guilty of greed’ or ‘is an idolator’ is always going to be somewhat more problematic than ‘guilty of sexual immorality’, but then even with that description we have to assume that it only relates to sexual activity outside the bounds of marriage. ‘Assuming’ and bringing definition to these injunctions indicates that it is not always as easy as appears at first reading. However laying that on one side, I had both a funny and an interesting thought…

There is a myth that if we get the right person (God’s person) to the top of government we will then move in the right direction. I describe it as a myth – it seems to fly totally in the face of Luke 3:1-3 and Rev. 4,5 and also the whole thrust of the following-Jesus subversive movement that I see in the NT. Here is the funny thought. So often we, or at least Christians with the conviction of ‘get the top position’, want to know if the person has made a confession of faith. If they have, even though they might exhibit some elements of racism, biggotism, excessive exploitative life-style, they are worthy of the ‘Christian vote’. But in the light of the passage I thought, but how are we to respond if the person has made a confession of faith but is ‘greedy’ (to pick one item from Paul’s example list)?, Does the instruction not to eat with that person mean I need to distance myself and that they of all people cannot get my vote. For once they ‘bear the name of a brother / sister’ I am supposed not to associate with them. While maybe if they were not a believer they could get my vote?

Amused me. The deeper issue remains – Caesar’s throne or heaven’s? Greatest of all or servant of all?

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We now have all the answers

We are just in process of tidying up from a few days together where we shared our stories, passions, difficulties and aspirations all within the broad canvas of ‘what is the gospel?’ The ‘we’ were: Craig and Kate (Oliva – been in Spain for 10 years); Noel and Tricia (Palma de Mallorca); Simon and Amy (Cádiz); Rachael (Tenerife). It was a privilege to hear from each other, and to be part of the openness and the willingness to listen to each other.

One thing is for sure is that we do not have all the answers as a result of being together. Yet I think the desired outcome of being strengthened and encouraged to follow whatever God has put in each person’s heart was more than achieved. Being present over these days illustrated to me that we desperately need situations where the open-ended questions can be asked. Truth is there to be discovered

I cannot possibly summarise all the discussion and prayer, but I think for me the conviction was strengthened that the overall proclamation of the gospel is that Jesus is risen from the dead and that there is a new way of being the world that is now possible in the here and now and will be manifest in fullness in the future. From that flows everything about economics, politics etc. Within that big picture proclamation there is the invitation to forgiveness and to be endued by the Spirit to enable participation in the Jesus-mission. The world needs the church – the salt within society that promotes kingdom growth and hinders the growth of evil, domination and destruction.

Those who do not respond to the personal message within the gospel can still be released to contribute kingdom activity, they can contribute to the future. And our perspective would be that the church over the past decades have opened space for less-than-perfect expressions more appropriate to the new humanity than before.

As I have increasingly embraced this wider view of the gospel it has left me with unanswered questions also, yet I think those questions are healthy. The church becomes at one level less about the community of the ‘saved’ and more about a movement for change in the wider community that it is connected to / is responsible for.

We did also look together at Brad Jersak’s presentation of ‘the gospel in chairs’. Well worth a look:

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Is this the gospel?

2016-03-16 10:03:39
Our friend, Elly Lloyd emailed me a poem she wrote a few years ago, saying ‘I wrote this about three years ago,I didn’t really understand it then, but I knew it wasn’t the time, so I held it. I dug it out of my rusty old trunk today knowing I should send it to you and Gayle!’

Well the timing is great… so go ahead read:

Is this the gospel?

it’s more about trusting than knowing
it’s more about becoming smaller in the worlds eyes
    than growing

  it’s more about losing
    than gaining ground

  it’s more about letting go
    than holding on

    it’s more about weakness
    than staying strong

      it’s more about walking with others
        than going ahead

            it’s more about listening
            than what’s being said

            it’s more about giving than taking
          to where more becomes less
                and poor is rich

              it’s more about revolution than revolt
              to humbly live with the questions
                and ask

              is this the gospel?

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Conversion

I’ve been thinking about conversion and what does it really mean and recently a friend of mine (Michael Hardin) suggested that Saul was not actually converted on the road to Damascus but instead it was when he heard Ananias call him “brother”.

The point cannot be missed that his journey into Damascus must have been less than optimal, not knowing exactly where he would end up, his entire theological world in shatters from the encounter with the light and voice that others heard but no one saw…think it through with me…you have journeyed probably with a group of “like-minded” enforcers with legal jurisdiction to incarcerate and apprehend ANY who were part of the struggling New Community that in a collective understanding were an abomination to your way of life and faith.

He is not on the fence about this Jesus guy…he is not indecisive regarding what must be done, he is a man of action working with other men of action and he has just been confronted by the one whom he is decidedly against.

Three days he lives in darkness, led by the hand to…I dunno, where do you stay when you’ve come like a cop to arrest people but now your plans of “legally enforced entry and seizure”  have been derailed? Do you stay with the Jewish authorities in Damascus? Do you stay at some Roman citizens residence? Obviously you are not staying with a disciple, no one trusts you now…

Even Ananias as far away as Damascus has heard about the havoc and HARM Saul has done to the saints in Jerusalem, this was not Saul’s first rodeo he actually had a reputation that went out of the city into the surrounding region…

And then a man from the group you have come to violently destroy approaches you and calls you “brother”…

Let that sink in…imagine greeting a leader of Jihad with the phrase “brother” while offering to pray for complete healing for him…

This is where the real conversion takes place and not to diminish the “every head bowed every eye closed I see that hand” evangelical approach, but real conversion must take place between enemies or the gospel has not completed it’s work…

Until we have embraced our enemy with healing and the inclusion that “brother” brings we have not really done much more than shift the lines of who is in and who is out by a minus-plus equation…

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Preaching to whom?

In a few weeks time we will be part of a small group of people coming together for a couple of days to share our journeys in Spain with the backdrop of ‘what is the Gospel?’ to give some shape to our sharing. Thinking through what the gospel is presents quite a challenge – or maybe coming to terms with what was the ‘Pauline gospel’ is where the challenge lies. We know what a version of the ‘evangelical’ gospel looks like and that shapes our lives to one degree or another.

This year I have set out a Bible reading pattern that is a new one for me, and this morning it sets me Romans to begin with. Of course, Romans is where we find the clearest (?) presentation of the Pauline gospel. It is the clearest but not all parts of it is clear to us! It is great where Paul begins and he is pretty much straight into it with his ‘I am not ashamed…’ statement. The section before that is what struck me this morning with his expression of desire to get to Rome where he anticipated there would be the impartation of a spiritual gift and a mutually beneficial interchange. Then he seems to sum up his desire with this phrase:

So I really want to preach the good news also to you who live in Rome (Rom. 1: 15)

Taken at face value he is not saying I want to preach the good news to those who are outside the Christian community (an evangelistic crusade?), nor that he wants to train the church so that they together can evangelise the city. He wants to preach the gospel to the Roman believers. (We could translate the whole phrase as ‘evangelise’ the church as he simply uses one verb.)

This is not a normal evangelical approach. Train in evangelism, take an evangelistic meeting – those we can relate to, but preach the gospel with no-one there who is needing to raise their hand? Food for thought… what does Paul have in mind when he wants to evangelise the Roman church?

I suspect there are depths yet that have to be dug out with respect to the apostolic gospel that will mean that our evangelical interpretation is only the tip of the iceberg. Maybe the Alpha course is aptly named… just a few more letters in the alphabet I think?

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What do we know about omniscience?

God is traditionally: omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient.

Omnipresent: a definite

As far as I can work out I can affirm omnipresent in that s/he is present in the now everywhere. Hence when we try and appeal to Einstein and relativity as a means of suggesting God has to be outside of time I think it fails for omnipresence reasons. There is no ‘delay’ in time for God such as for us with light reaching us now being actually from the past. We experience an event now that happened then. There is no such experience for God. It is also interesting that there is no suggestion that the (chronological) future is experienced now. The miracle of the resurrection is though that the (eschatological) future is experienced in the now. And events ‘reserved’ for the future could take place now – for example the resurrection of ‘many saints’ in Jerusalem along with Jesus, the firstfruits, on the resurrection morning. An event took place that elsewhere seems unequivocally to be reserved to take place at the parousia.

Omnipotent: but what does that even mean?

Omnipotence, if we want to keep that category, it needs to be qualified. I touched on this in an earlier post, and also referred to a post by Boyd that suggested that God could have made a creation that did not allow choice, and he even seemed to suggest that s/he could also have programmed us to believe we were making choices. That is based on a ‘God can do / God is free to do whatever s/he chooses’ – an omnipotent God without boundaries.

There is a tricky element for those of us who wish to centre God somewhere different to ‘he (and I think we can drop the s/ this time) is bigger than all others and subject to no-one so whatever he decides is what is right. Might is right.’ We who want to make the centre outpoured love face the issue of, if God could do no other than love in what sense is that freedom? Does s/he love because of choice? And if there is no choice in what sense is that truly ‘love’? As much as it might confuse me I think I have to go with God is love, maybe with the proviso that love was an eternal choice. His nature is love… hence s/he loves. I see this as no different to our future. The choice to sin in the sense of being able to make that choice will have gone, not because we have lost the ability to choose, but because we have become like him (Jesus). All bugs will have been removed, the hardware will not crash, we will become what we were intended to be. (Please remove the machine type language, but I think you get what I mean. Healing of humanity brings us to the place of true holiness, true love.)

If therefore we centre God on love, we have to be careful what we then insist about omnipotence. The rules are not made up simply because of power, the limitations within which we have to live (do not consume, but eat of everything except) are not arbitrary rules but a pathway to be able to eat of the tree of life. Similarly there are limitations on God because God is God and there is none other.

I suggest then that the term omnipotent is not too helpful a term. It can lead to a gross immaturity of ‘My God can do…’ with no analysis of what we mean by that; or disappointment when God does not act for us; or we act in the image of the God we serve and power rather than a servant response that is content in the place of anonymity.

Omniscience: what does ‘omni’ mean this time round?

Full omniscience in the sense of God knowing all past, present and future events has been based (often though not always) on God being outside of time. But the bedrock of this view of omniscience is founded either on what has been predestined is known (foreknowledge based on predestination: a common Calvinist approach) or on something termed ‘middle knowledge’. I have memory – knowledge of the past but my knowledge does not dictate the past; God has knowledge of the past and also of the future but in a way that is analogous to my experience of memory. That knowledge of the future does not dictate the future. This leads to the common Arminian approach where the predestination of God is based on foreknowledge.

Now laying on one side that I do not see ‘predestination’ or ‘election’ as being about individual salvation as they both relate to Christ as the predestined or elect one, so all who are in Christ are predestined (their destiny is set) and are elect in him, what do I make of omniscience or in particular absolute foreknowledge?

Let me start with God knows all things that are knowable. But are all things knowable? Many things are easy to predict. If this, then that. Should one have infinite insight then of course the level of the accuracy of the ‘prediction’ would be, at least, very high. The real issue comes with absolute foreknowledge concerning the predictability of future events that involve creatures who are endowed with the ability to make choices. The response of ‘the choices of a free-will creature cannot be absolutely predicted’ has to be offset by, ‘but sadly we are not totally free in our choices’. Even if we react to the implications of ‘the total depravity of humanity’ we can clearly acknowledge that we are all damaged and thus not totally free in our choices – there is the bondage and dominion of sin the reality of which all humans have to acknowledge.

We could also (strangely) say that we can foreknow what God will do – or at least we could if we had a grid to understand what the truly loving choice would be. So perhaps it can be said that God can make a contrasting but equally accurate knowledge of all future human acts? Maybe the one difference in this though is the word ‘truly’. God makes the truly loving choice – always. Humanity is not evil, they are fallen. The adverb ‘truly’ cannot be applied to us – we are mixed, one day good choices, other days bad ones.

For the Calvinist the future is fixed – fixed by decree. Foreknowledge then is absolute. For many of those who are Arminian-biased the future is also certain and knowable, but not so by absolute divine decree. For the Open Theologians the normal response is the future is partly open, with certain things being not open – so some future events are totally knowable, whereas others are not (and this would include the choices made by individuals). The analogy of the game of chess is suggested, the end-game is fixed, the tactics along the way are adjusted, but adjusted perfectly. Thomas Oord (Uncontrolling Love) has gone one step further and taken away the ‘parts are not open’ option. Brave man!!

Unless we dismiss the texts as purely anthropomorphic there are numerous Scriptures where God makes a response to how the people behave. A classic would be in Exod. 33:5

Say to the people of Israel, ‘You are a vstiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do with you.

So absolute definite conclusions on the matter of absolute foreknowledge? The only real conclusion is ‘what do we know..?’ But my tentative conclusions would be that given the nature of the world God has created not all future events and choices are knowable. God has perfect knowledge of all things that are knowable. The future is open:

either partly as per Boyd, Pinnock, Sanders et al.
or even totally as per Oord.

Whatever our conclusions, from fixed, partly open to totally open practically we live as though the future is open. We are called to participate with heaven in the shape of the future. I do not read the NT any way differently. I do not read it as a set of predictions about an antiChrist, a one world government etc., but I do read it as inviting us to contribute to the future knowing there will be a future judgement (assessment?) when our contribution will make it through or simply be burned up. I think that is the practical response because I think it is the theological reality. The future is essentially open, with the characteristics (‘no more crying’, ‘no temple’, etc.) fixed, but the pathway is not.

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We can do?

‘Without me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5) pretty much puts us in our place!! Of course that has a context so I am going to press some other directions as to our ‘place’.

The original Genesis pictures are of some measure of delegation of authority to humanity with respect to the earth, which is re-iterated in, for example, Psalm 115:16

The highest heavens belong to the Lord.
But he has given the earth to human beings.

The freaky part would be if in this aspect of delegation there was an inevitable limitation that God embraced. For me this makes sense at every level. The ensuing conflict and hostility is not between God and the serpent but between the seed of the serpent and the seed of woman. This is followed through with the Incarnation (born of a woman) who comes at a time of fullness to ‘destroy the works of the devil’. This overcoming is seen in the wilderness time of trial, and in particular at the cross. There seems a good basis to suggest the wilderness was with regard to the effective kingdom expression in the context of the remnant of Israel (the 12 + wider community of disciples), so that through the cross there can be a declaration of the kingdom throughout the inhabited earth.

Can God do nothing without us? This does not seem to be the case as from the beginning s/he enters the world of Eden, later we read of the protection of Cain, so s/he is not totally on the outside looking in. In Isaiah 59:16 we read

He sees that there is no one who helps his people.
He is shocked that no one stands up for them.
So he will use his own powerful arm to save them.
He has the strength to do it because he is holy.

It is probably hard to go to the extreme that there is no intervention from heaven, but it is probably possible to hold that there are certain interventions that do not take place without invitation, and that the norm is for divine intervention to follow human invitation.

It would seem to me that the issue Jesus came to settle was the restoration of humanity to their appointed place. His claim to having received all authority has the (implied) consequence that this authority has been released also for those who ‘go’.

In these posts that are exploring the conceptual elements of time, timelessness etc., the real issues are ‘so what…’ If there is traction in what I am suggesting then I think there are at least two key implications.

1) how the body of Christ positions herself with regard to the world is very key. If it is ‘rule over’ I cannot see that as embracing the cruciform path. It needs to be one of servant to the world so that the outworkings of the cross (the ‘it is finished’ part) can be seen in evidence in the world. Where the body of Christ does not follow this path, perhaps the resulting problems could be greater as a result.

2) the invitation to God to intervene becomes one of the key roles for the body of Christ. Prayer, but intercession at the deepest level of positioning then would be very key. Standing between what is and what is to come would be the requirement.

If we place this again in an eschatological setting we can hold that the age to come breaking in fullness is not dependent on a future calendar date but to a fullness of contribution that the body of Christ has made.

All in all, for me makes sense of the apparent lack of interventions from heaven; presents a challenge to discover ‘what do you want me to do?’ and ‘how do you want me to live?’. Then getting the balance of we are not created as workers but as companions to the God of heaven is important, because it is certainly not down to us in the sense of performance. Work without relationship is not going to be the way forward.

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