The Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida » Bishops Blog
The Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida is comprised of over 30,000 people worshipping in over 80 congregations across 15 counties in Central Florida. We are people bound together in the worship of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and driven to serve and share his Good News in a myriad of ways throughout our neighborhoods and communities.
Every July 13, in part because our denomination is now connected with the Lutherans, we remember a Lutheran named Conrad Weiser. And Conrad Weiser was an 18th-century diplomat and active Christian who worked in connection with Benjamin Franklin in Pennsylvania. What particularly marked him was the fact that he was able to work with the Iroquois as well as the Anglos to find a way to work out peace and reconciliation between them. And he was deeply revered among the Native American people as well as by Benjamin Franklin and others.
Adopt a New Point of View
We can use Weiner’s example to encourage us to think about how to make an impact in a culture different from our own for the sake of the gospel. In other words, how do we engage in cross-cultural work?
The apostle Paul gives us the sine qua non verse for anyone trying to think about bringing the gospel into a different culture: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view, even though we once knew Christ in that way” (2 Cor. 5:16). In other words, the goal is to be able to see another life from culture and people, not through my Anglo eyes, or even through, in Weiser’s case, an Iroquois’ eyes, but actually through God’s eyes. And of course, Paul is writing this cross-culturally, as a Jewish rabbi to the pagan Corinthians, who are new converts.
What that means is, I need to ask God to show me how he regards me. In other words, gaining this new perspective starts by learning how to see myself not from my point of view but from God’s. Any of us will admit that the way we view ourselves has much to do with the way others have viewed us and how we have grown up and responded to that. Parents, teachers, other authority figures, good or bad experiences that we’ve had with friends and peers—those have all had some kind of impact on us that causes us to see ourselves from a very particular point of view. And, particularly if you’re a child, you accept that point of view without question.
And so one of the things I’m asking God to help me with is that I see myself through the lens of a male Anglo Southerner, educated on the East Coast of the United States. Each of those, you see, is a very particular human point of view, to use Paul’s language, that may or may not look anything like how Jesus sees me, sees my world or sees as well as challenges my assumptions about myself, about life and even about God.
Allow Scripture to Shape Us
And how that begins is with me looking at the Bible, which represents God’s point of view. What about my point of view does not line up with God’s Word? As someone famously said, it’s not so much that we exegete the Scripture as that we say yes to the Scripture exegeting us.
In other words, it’s not a body of material to be mastered; it’s a body of material that we’re allowing to master us. And that’s a whole different way, in fact, to read the Bible. The first way is, “I’m trying to get what I need so I can do a better job of getting through the day (if I have my quiet time before my day begins, which may or may not happen).”
The other is to actually submit to Scripture as a student, or really, more accurately, someone who is being discipled by God through the authors of this book, so that no part of my life goes unchallenged or unaffirmed. Only God can bring revelation to me in a way that shapes my perceptions of myself, of other people and of a culture.
So to actually engage in any kind of cross-cultural ministry begins by, in essence, saying to God, “I need you to know me. And help me to see my life, my culture, my assumptions, all of who I am, from your point of view.” That puts me in a position of gratitude as well as teachability.
Become Agents of Reconciliation
So it really starts with God. And learning from him who I am and what he has called me to be. He is forming me in such a way that I might be, to continue this passage, an agent of what he calls “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18b). Otherwise all I am is an agent to my point of view, which the Scripture always sees as less than God’s. But to be humbly submitted to the Lord to use me as he chooses to see fit, to be called into that place of servanthood, to understand that anything in my life is up for grabs that can and should be challenged and/or affirmed by the Holy Spirit himself, through the teaching of his Word, puts me in a position to be able to see people differently than I might.
And being an agent of reconciliation creates a new capacity to listen, a new capacity to perceive, so that when I share the message, again from this passage, “be reconciled to God” (1 Cor. 5:20b), it’s clear that I’m inviting other people to be reconciled with God, not with my own point of view.
Because in the end, what we’re calling people to is not a theological proposition, but to Jesus. And therefore it’s the overflow of our relationship with him that allows this to happen. So that Jesus, in essence, manifests himself, not just my point of view, through me.
So to engage in the cross-cultural work to which we are commended, through the example of Conrad Weiser, is not a small thing. It’s a commitment to life change, to servanthood in being available for God to challenge and affirm all that is inside us, that Jesus might manifest himself through us—more fully and completely, quite frankly, than anything we could ever ask or imagine.
How has God used you or someone you know in cross-cultural ministry? Share this blog and your response on Twitter. Please include my username, @revgregbrewer.
On June 14, we gave thanks for the life of Basil the Great. Basil is called “the Great” because of the importance and the revolutionary nature of his teaching.
Basil had initially planned to go into law. He came from a very well-to-do family in Cappadocia, present-day Turkey.
But at 28, his younger brother unexpectedly, tragically died. That brought Basil home, which brought him in contact with his sister, Macrina. Macrina had already committed herself to the monastic life and invited her brother to come into the Christian faith, because he was still not yet baptized. After he was baptized, he was quickly ordained.
Two things happened in Basil’s life that would mark him for the ages. They are, in fact, two lessons he learned and passed on to others, including us.
Father and Son Are Equal in Value
As Basil began to study the scripture as well as theology, he knew that the prevailing view of the Trinity in his era, which was called Arianism, was dead wrong,
Arias said that the Father was greater than the Son; the Son was subservient, therefore, to the Father. And therefore the Son was of an inferior order to the Father, because to be under, to be subservient in every stratum, implies and assumes inferiority.
That was the social construct of the day. If I’m at the top of the heap, say a king, I’m really of a different order of human being. It’s not that somehow I’m the same human being but I’ve been elevated on the basis of accomplishment. That’s a totally modern idea that had no place in the fourth century. If you were doing well in any area of your life, you got that way because of your genes, because you were a better order of person.
Basil said, “That’s just not true of God at all.” He said, “The Father and the Son are of the same substance, and that hierarchy does not mean a different order of inferiority to those under.” This is why we say, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are co-equal in substance, even though they exercise different functions.
Now, that’s not esoteric. It’s extraordinarily important. If the heartbeat of the Trinity is co-equality, but difference in function, and Father, Son and Holy Spirit operate together relationally, co-eternally, that means the ideal way for Christians to operate, to live and to learn is communally.
This idea actually cuts off at the knees the idea of the Lone Ranger Christian. So it is no surprise that Basil founded Eastern monasticism. He wrote an order of how it should be, which is actually true to this day. And most Eastern Orthodox, particularly in the several centuries after Basil, were considered Baselites.
Every Human Being Has Value
Basil’s other revolutionary idea came from the fact that his understanding of the Trinity actually changed his view of humanity.
In the midst of a huge famine, he had assembled food to serve to the people in need. And at the time, it would have been assumed that the only people who would receive help from a local church would be Christians.
And Basil said, “Certainly not. Anybody who’s hungry comes here. Because the internal organs of the Jews are the same as the internal organs of those who are Christians, both are hungry.” In other words, his understanding of the common substance within Father, Son and Holy Spirit, caused him to see humanity in the very same way.
Those are the truths we inherit from Basil. Not just an important idea that set the pace for Trinitarian theology, but our understanding that we are one in Christ, which means even though we have different functions – bishop, priests, deacons, laypeople – no one is better or of a different order than someone else. And that the best way we operate is within the context of a collegiality where we learn to listen, work and serve together.
Yes, all that’s laid out in First Corinthians, but it’s what we celebrate when we think about Basil. It was shocking in the first century. If you were a king, you were considered a different kind of person than the slave. But the scripture says no. And the person who really gave legs to that teaching in a very clear way was Basil.
So we are in his debt, to remind us of the things that the Scripture plainly teaches and are called to live out our lives a way that reflects that kind of understanding of the common humanity we share in Jesus, and that all of us, regardless of who we are in him, are not subservient, but joint heirs. Forever.
How do you think Basil’s teaching can or should affect us today? Share this blog and your response on Twitter. Please include my username, @revgregbrewer.
All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Lakeland, community outreach, March 2019
In part 1 of this series, we examined three characteristics of those who are called to service in the church. This week, we’ll look at more of what the call means. I am writing particularly to deacons, but much of this applies to any Christian.
A Call to Slavery
One of the things we see in this age is an extraordinary crisis of confidence, a lack of confidence in our religious leaders. We see this because somehow what has creeped in or sometimes just walked right in is a commitment by leadership to things that do not look like Jesus Christ.
And none of us is immune. There’s no such thing as “their” problems. We are one body. And so if any of you are taking cold comfort in the fact that somehow the scandal hit Roman Catholicism, but it hasn’t touched The Episcopal Church yet – oh, be careful. “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). This should serve as a severe warning to any Christian leader. It is in contradiction to what it means to be a slave.
Because you see, that’s the call, the call to slavery, a very uncomfortable word. James 2:1-10, 14-17 reminds us that we are called to slavery, a slavery to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to serve all the men and women God has sent our way: children, the elderly, and the rest – everyone from the poor to the persecuted to the people in public trust, the entire panoply of humanity. This is true because that is our assignment: to let the whole world see and know, because the things which are cast down are being raised up.
That brings a kind of clarity to the job description. I’m here to be available for Jesus to use me as he so chooses, that by God’s mercy, something I might pray or say or show, might lead others in some way into the knowledge of the glory of the Son of God.
A Call to Availability
You see, without that kind of inner direction, there is among some clergy, what Stanley Hauerwas described as “this quivering mass of availability.” In other words, the idea that you are at anyone’s beck and call, and you could get a call anytime, day or night. And while yes, that is true, the fact of the matter is that you are under the direction of Jesus far more. We live in a word that desires to be profoundly loved and cared for, and it sees the church as a place for that care to be manifest.
Sometimes care looks like challenge. Sometimes care looks like an invitation to join in servanthood. And sometimes care looks like a call to sacrifice that befits the name, “slave,” which is what all of us in Corinthians are called, without exception, not just the leaders. And we who are men and women who really want to live at the beck and call of the God of convenience are always shaken up by things that feel profoundly outside of our control. We don’t like interruptions.
And yet, God is shaping and working in us a kind of profound brokenness even to our own expectations. That he might even more faithfully flow through us, that these cracked earthen vessels might be those whom God uses, so that the light might shine, so that they might see and know.
A Call to Listen
Ministry is a difficult life, because there is a real “count the cost” that is a part of this, and it is not small. You will find yourself subject to every single expectation, both in the parish as well as in society, most of which are really not appropriate. And it takes a kind of inner clarity that can only come, quite frankly, by being alone with the Scripture, letting the Word of God form you and shape you; and by listening to people who have made commitments to Jesus from whom you can learn. It’s what the Scripture calls “that which we received, the faith of the apostles,” and to learn from them, who lived in very similar circumstances, how to express the gospel in the kind of climate in which we find ourselves. It’s not easy, but it is critically important.
And here’s the wonder of it. I don’t want this to sound too bleak. Because I want you to know, I wouldn’t do anything else for the world. I have the privilege, and so will you, of being involved in some of the most tender moments that you can ever share with another human being, where they, because they trust, begin to open their hearts, sometimes to things that they’ve never told anyone. Because, even if the price is high, they hunger to hear a word that speaks forgiveness, mercy, and even vocation, purpose. And they’re trusting you to come to them and be open to them without your “agenda.” If you come instead with a willingness to genuinely hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, you get to be a part of God moving in the most phenomenal ways.
A Call to God’s Power in You
So you are appointed on the one hand, to slavery. You’re appointed to tribulation. You’re appointed to “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus” (2 Cor. 4:10a).
And you’re also appointed to the power of God touching your lips. You are appointed to God working new things in your soul. You are appointed to be raised up by him, because you are one of the ones who had been cast down. You are appointed to walk with a sense of power and purpose. Because even though your armor doesn’t always feel particularly comfortable, you are continuing to move forward, because there is something happening in you and through you that matters for all of eternity. Why would you not want to be a part of that?
So deacons: express to the rest of us this kind of servanthood, this kind of slavery. Continue to open wide the doors of the church to know that the purpose is that the whole world might see and know, rather than just us feeling better about ourselves. Let them know that somehow that even in the ordinary work of life, God is present, and he desires to do things above and beyond anything we could ever ask or imagine.
Don’t be afraid to renounce the gods of this world. Don’t be afraid to call out those parts of us that really are abandoning the gospel for something else.
It’s complicated. You need Jesus to do this. But the glory of it is, he will give you what you need. The glory of it is, the flow of the life of God is the sweetest thing you will ever know. The glory of it is, you are being changed. And God will use you to be a vessel through which others are changed as well.
So come on, let’s do this. Let’s say yes to what God is doing in our lives, not shrink back. So that at the end, we may stand up with the most profound sense of gratitude, knowing that we didn’t deserve any of it.
Thank you, God, for calling me, for saying yes to me – that I might say yes to you.
Which facet of God’s call most resonates with you? Share this blog and your response on Twitter. Please include my username, @revgregbrewer.
This series is for all those who are called to service in the church – in other words, every Christian. I’m addressing deacons, but these truths will benefit any follower of Christ.
God is raising up men and women who are willing to serve him all over the world. When you’re ordained, part of the sense of what that means is that you’re ordained for the whole church. You could end up anywhere on this planet, because God has a passion to reach the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ, to let the whole world see and know. Let’s look at three elements of being called to service.
Raised in Faith
One of our collects says that the “things which were cast down are being raised up, things that had grown old are being made new and that all things (not just what we like, not just our culture, not just our friends and acquaintances, but all of it) are being brought to their perfection by him.”
That’s what we get to be a part of, to be a channel that somehow God uses to express that work, of things being raised up as a witness and sign, not just to us insiders who have already said yes to Jesus, but literally to the world that something new is happening. It starts in the heart of each one of us: “I once was lost, but now I’m found/ Was blind, but now I see.” That we who had, according to 2 Corinthians, been blinded by the god of this world, to keep us from seeing the light of the gospel, God broke in and said, “No. Satan does not have the last word; I do.”
And God breaks in with his light. So that in a whole new way, we see that the whole question about who God is and how God operates is literally manifested, as the Scripture says, in the face of his Son, that he is God’s final answer. For all theology, for all questions about what it means to be both God and to be human, that he is, as he said, “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6b).
Appointed by God
And therefore, we say without reservation that our allegiance to him is more than just the allegiance of the will, the allegiance of all that we say, all that we are, because we are his and because he has bought us with such a dear price, literally the blood of His Son. The death and resurrection of Jesus are applied and made manifest here. And we would say, “never” to any invitation to walk away from him. We understand that no matter how sweet the voice of that invitation may seem, it finds its source in the god of this world, who is committing to blinding us to the authority of the gospel. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12a, KJV).
Instead, God by His mercy has pulled the curtain back. He has shown us the unseen in a way that we would never, ever have known without him first coming to us, breaking the bondage of that darkness, opening our eyes and creating room in our hearts to hear the very voice of God. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and … appointed you” (Jer. 1:5a, NRSV).
We thought we had a plan for our lives. We thought we knew what we were going to be doing. When asked as children, “What are you going to do when you grow up?” very few of us ever said, “Oh, I’m going to be ordained.”
My kids now laugh about this, but we would often have people at our dinner table. And so here we are gathered in the dining room with all of our kids, all five of them, and two or three guests. And inevitably, the question would come up, “Well, are any of you going to follow in your father’s footsteps?”
They just stared at their plates.
It’s not on our screens. In fact, I still remember when people started coming to me and saying, “Have you ever thought of being ordained?” I thought that was the silliest thing I’d ever heard of, I must confess to you, I did not have a high view of clergy. What I didn’t know was that God was laughing.
Opposed by the World
But you see, I couldn’t see. I had my mind on entirely different things, not knowing that the lure of those things was in fact, the work of the enemy in my life, to draw me away from faithfulness to Jesus. Nobody told me that. And in fact, because Satan is the god of this world, our world applauds virtues and values those things that are in complete contradiction to the gospel of the kingdom of God. And there is always that temptation to find a way to somehow lessen the inevitable friction between what it means to be a Christian who is committed to living out her or his faith in a world that stands in fact, in opposition to it, though they might hunger for it.
That’s why we find the warnings that are in the Scriptures and again and again, including the one that says we must dress as if we are ready for battle. Not ready for battle so we can be combative, but ready for battle knowing that the work in the unseen is a work primarily of intercession, and then out of that intercession expressed in a life of abject servanthood. In fact, whenever the church has tried to claim power for herself, inevitably, she comes under the influence of those values that look like the god of this world rather than the radical servanthood of Jesus.
Next week, in part 2, we’ll examine more about what it means to be called to service.
What does being called by God mean to you? Share this blog and your response on Twitter. Please include my username, @revgregbrewer.
(This post is an adaption of Bishop Brewer’s sermon on Sept. 8, 2018, at the Cathedral of St. Luke in Orlando, Florida.)
When we read the Scriptures, we find many contrasts. One of these is what we might call the toughness of Paul in the face of opposition and adversity, and the tenderness of Jesus as he prays for his disciples in that prayer in the garden called the high priestly prayer. But it seems to me if the Holy Spirit is at work in us, he is doing both things.
You see, we have a tendency, on the one hand to want to be tough with everybody or to be dotingly tender with everyone. And in excess, neither looks a lot like Jesus. You see, tough and tender is really not an either/or; it’s a both/and. And because this is true, regardless of our particular personality that sends us one way or the other, we are driven to our knees. We must ask God to work in us his heart, allowing us to be tough when we are supposed to be tough and to be tender when we’re supposed to be tender.
And in any leadership capacity, both are necessary. It is only a work of God that we can be so tender that we are moved with compassion – which is loving action, not just sympathy – to really stand with those in need. To serve them well, to have that sense of when I’m sitting with someone, and they’re in a place of pain, I allow that pain in. I stand with them, knowing that it is the Holy Spirit who is working in me compassion and working in them that sense of “We’re in this one together.” And it’s Jesus in the midst of all that who actually allowed effective prayer and service to happen.
In other words, it’s close to impossible to maintain what we might call “professional distance” in those kinds of situations, and at same time, to ask the Holy Spirit to move through you into the life of another person. It’s like creating a barrier and then asking God to move beyond it.
And so there is a certain trust level when you choose to give yourself away as you work with people in need. You also have to be careful not to be so without boundaries that people take advantage of you in a way that impinges on your capacity to lead.
Both these qualities, being tough and being tender, are critically important for men and women who are called to lead. The two are equally important. And it takes discernment to be able to know with whom to be tough and with whom to be tender.
I know that my tendency is to be so work oriented that I forget. Even this morning – the irony was not lost on me – that after living in this Gospel reading this morning, thinking about what I should say, I meet with a particular priest for breakfast. And after about an hour, there’s a part of me thinking, “I need to get back to get ready for this.” But Jesus’ goal is always that we might be one even as he and the Father are one.
So none of us, in other words, can look at these Scriptures and say, “I wish she was more like that” or “I wish he’d get the picture.” Instead, we need God’s work to form in us the kind of heart and mind of Jesus that allows His Holy Spirit to express himself through us in a way that is, appropriately at times, both tough and tender – and to know the difference.
Only God. No wonder we begin the prayer, the collect, “Do not leave us comfortless!”
The more we look at what it is that we’re being called to do, the more it throws us on the need of God to do his work in us, a work we cannot do for ourselves. Even with the best of intentions, we’re redeemed sinners. That’s all we are.
To be faithful to the whole canon of Scripture, we must understand that both toughness and tenderness are essential. And the heart of a leader is a heart that is being shaped so the leader knows when to speak the truth in love, and how much truth and how much love. A heart that is being shaped so the leader has the ability to weep with those who weep and sit with them.
Because Jesus is present there.
How would others describe you: tough or tender? Ask God to help you grow in both ways. Share this blog and your response on Twitter. Please include my username, @revgregbrewer.
We live in a realm where people are often mistreated by institutions. And that’s really the story of the man who was born blind (John 9:1-12).
We prayed at the beginning of the service, “Gracious Father, whose blessed Son, Jesus Christ, came down from heaven to be the true bread that gives life to the world. Give us this bread, we pray.”
False Bread in Tradition
There is such a thing as false bread.
It can come via religious institutions that care more about keeping rules and keeping up appearances than actually having a relationship with this one, Jesus Christ, who is so full of life and love and vitality, who cares for everyone equally regardless of their status. And this is certainly shown in today’s passage.
If Jesus had only been interested in hanging out with the influential to try to make a difference in the institution, he would not have hung out with this man. When they meet him, the disciples ask a provocative but important question, “Rabbi, who sinned? This man or his parents that he was born blind? (John 9:2).
The folk-knowledge of this era was that if you were born with some kind of congenital birth defect, that was obviously because of a curse pattern operating in your family. Because the parents had done evil things, judgment was visited on the children.
I know it’s ridiculous. But that’s what they believed. And it wasn’t new. Way back at the time of Jeremiah the prophet, several hundred years earlier, Jeremiah, trying to correct the same thinking, says, “I know it is said (and this is their parabolic language), ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Jer. 31:29), adding “But [now] all shall die for their own sins.”
A very provocative thing for Jeremiah to have said in his era. We’re still wrestling, even to this day, with the relationship between corporate and individual responsibility. But in this case, the one who bore the brunt of these false judgments and superstitious folklore was this man born blind, whom people assumed to have been cursed by God for what had happened in the life of his family.
And Jesus says, “You’re asking the wrong question.” And he goes to the man, and he does something any Jew watching would have understood. He took dirt, put a little spittle in it to create, in essence, mud, and put it on the man’s eyes. What would echo in the head of the Jews was Genesis, where the Lord forms man out of the dust of the ground.
In other words, what we’re seeing are the actions of Jesus as Creator God incarnate, again, through the medium of dust, through which comes his great power, that in fact changes the congenital birth defect, so that the man can visibly see, in a way that shocks everyone.
It’s true. There’s no record in the Old Testament of anyone being supernaturally healed of blindness from birth. No wonder when people would run into him and say, “Isn’t that the beggar who was born blind?” they’d have to say, “No, it just looks like him,” because they’d never seen anything like that before. It was a small town, they knew each other, and they knew who his parents were. But this did not fit what they had known in the past. What they had known was false bread.
False Bread in the Church
I have extraordinary sympathy with this story because I meet people all the time who have an interest in Jesus but have not been treated well by the church. It resonates with me, because in some ways, that’s my story. I grew up in a church system that said appearance and rule-keeping were more important than anything else.
That kind of thinking fosters a mistrust in relationships, because maybe you’re not as good as you say you are. And it also engenders a kind of inner competitiveness and a desire to bring in the influential, because that helps us get ahead. Those are the kinds of scenarios—the gossip that goes along with it, the superficial level of relationships even if families have known each other all of their lives—that’s what the lack of security that being in a rule-keeping system produces.
And inevitably, there are losers: People who don’t live up. People who for some reason can’t live up. People who don’t fit the profile of whom that local church actually wants and is looking for. So that by the time I graduated from high school, I said, “Ugh. Thank God I don’t have to go to church anymore.”
I know God was laughing, too. Come back next week for the hope—and the rest of the story.
Have you had a time in your life where the church did not treat you well? Share this blog and your response on Twitter. Please include my username, @revgregbrewer.
I need a new flashlight. And when I was looking at flashlight ads, I found one that you can turn on, and the beam can either go broad or narrow, concentrated down to a pin dot.
Sometimes the pin dot happens for me when I read Scripture. Today, it was this line from the Gospel of John: “But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know … My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work” (John 4:32b, 34b).
And what I kept thinking was, How is that possible? How is it possible that somehow Jesus, God incarnate in human flesh, has the kind of flow happening through him that somehow energizes him and feeds him physically, emotionally, spiritually, in a way that causes him to not care whether he gets lunch or not?
A Powerful Promise
The disciples are clueless about the import of Jesus’ words. They actually echo the question of the woman at the well, who by this time is going into the village to tell everybody what Jesus has done. She said, “Where are we going to find a drink?” (John 4:11).
And it’s the disciples who come and say, “Rabbi, eat … Has anyone brought him food?” (John 4:31b, 33b). And in answering this question, Jesus says, “My food is to do the do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34b).
This foreshadows a promise he will share just two chapters later, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). Now, have you ever read something so many times it just goes straight over your head, because you actually think you know what it means, but you know only a tiny bit of a verse that’s almost infinite in its depth?
I couldn’t square this verse with my own problem. You see, I’m often spiritually hungry and thirsty. But as I began to ponder, I realized that I’m often hungry and thirsty because I want things from God that he’s not actually ready to give me. I want access to the vending machine of “Ask, and you shall receive,” when more often than not, there is a deeper lesson: the formation of abject dependency that he is working in me. This work makes instantaneous answers to prayer at cross-purposes with his desire to conform me to the image of his Son.
You see, if I can just go and press the button, quote the Bible verse, and it happens, that only solidifies the mechanism whereby I can get something from God. In other words, it’ an expression of personal mastery, not subjective servanthood. But if I don’t really know how to pray, even when I offer it the best I’ve got, then I am in fact, utterly dependent upon God to choose, in his timing, to say yes or just flat-out, “No, I’m not going to do that.” And that keeps me in a position of learning how to seek his face, hear his voice, follow where he leads.
A Clenched Fist
It’s not that God is stingy. Far from it. I’ve seen extraordinary miracles, including God’s power to make the blind see, the deaf hear and the lame walk. But something about asking and receiving is never entirely automatic, because God wants to unite us to himself more than he wants to give us whatever we want. He will never be reduced to a mechanism that simply gives us what we need.
In other words, it is the conforming nature of that relationship that is always primary, and it runs at direct cross-purposes to my own self-centeredness. It comes against my desire to say, “I want what I want when I want it, so I need to know how to get it, so I can master prayer so I can get what I need.”
In those moments, my fist is clenched, trying to grasp what is really just the thin air of my own demanding desires. As Archbishop William Temple succinctly wrote, “Many ask for something from Christ. What he offers is himself.”
An Open Hand
How do I know I am grasping at that which is other than Jesus himself? In my life, the symptoms are evident. First of all, there is a certain wildness to faith that gets quickly domesticated. I start counting on the predictable just to get through the demands of life.
Second, I am not I am tempted not to nurture people, but to use them to get what I need done. And someone like me, who has been in ministry for a while, has the seasoned capability of using someone with the most extraordinarily biblical language. It’s like the tempter quoting Scripture to Jesus in the wilderness.
I need Jesus to stop me in my tracks, take me by the shoulders, turn me around and show me where he is: way behind me, because I’m running so fast. To keep saying yes to Jesus offers, instead of my striving to keep up, the invitation to go back, to walk at his pace, because it’s only then that I have breathing room.
A wag one said that every time one goes to the refrigerator, the bottle or the internet, one is actually looking for God. But I really do need God to take me, because I don’t want to let go that easily. Even though I believe, in the depths of my heart, in justification by grace alone, through faith alone, there is still a part of me that wants to prove my worth.
In other words, I must be willing to admit that that to which I clinch so profoundly is, in fact, a delusion. And to hold onto it is to invite only greater delusion because one lie, even if one believes it inside and tells it to no one, always begets more. I must be willing to come to God with an open hand. We’re never free except that we are made free. And the invitation again becomes, “Eat my flesh; drink my blood; sit, be still; learn what it is, again, to walk as a child.”
Brothers and sisters, family of God, “Come to me,” Jesus says, “all you who labor and are heavy laden” (Matt. 11:28). Let us learn again to receive the food only he can give us so we can walk with him and then, when invited, run the race that is set before us.
Which best expresses your walk of faith: a clenched fist or an open hand? Share this blog and your response on Twitter. Please include my username, @revgregbrewer.
If you were reading along through the Gospel of John, and you heard Jesus say, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23), a part of you would think, Oh. Now we find out what it is that He’s actually talking about.
This is true because all through John’s Gospel, things happen, and Jesus says, “My hour is not yet come.” And he says that with no explanation. And that leaves us with What does he mean? What’s ‘his hour’? What is he talking about?
Honoring His Death
But now, something new has taken place. The sign, of course, is the hunger of the Gentiles. The Greeks say, “We wish to see Jesus” (John 12:21b). The shift has happened. The spiritual balance of the world is beginning to move in a direction that reveals something new. And the newness is Jesus as Messiah, not just for his own people, but literally the whole world. So that what results is a kingdom that looks like every tribe, tongue, language, people and nation.
But Jesus does more than say his hour has come; he describes what’s going to happen in it. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” And again, to the shock and surprise of many, glorification looks like death. Death itself is the place where the Son of Man is glorified. And this says something clear about the very nature and character of God: that the glorification of God is actually expressed in humility, in sacrifice. In fact, the very outflowing of God’s glory, to quote the book of Hebrews, is supremely expressed in betrayal, bruising, beating, suffering and death.
The center of it is the cross of Christ. The resurrection is the outwork, the natural, logical conclusion to what we see in the cross. But it is the cross that is, in fact, the supreme expression of his glory.
It’s a mistake, in other words, for people to say, “Why do Christians wear crosses around their neck? They ought to have empty tombs.” There’s something in the cross itself that, in fact, expresses the very nature of God. It’s a sacrificial life best expressed in death that God chooses to raise up in triumph.
In other words, in the end, Jesus says, “Whoever serves me, the Father will honor” (John 12:26). The resurrection is the statement of the Father honoring the death of Jesus, honoring his sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.
Losing Your Life
But you see, Jesus doesn’t just use this as a way to define what’s going to happen to him, rapidly at this point. He expands it. He makes it, in fact, a spiritual principle that He, in fact, applies directly to his followers: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24b).
Here, Jesus is not only defining the outworking of his own death and resurrection, but also saying, “If you want to be one of my followers, this is the path to which you are called as well.” Which is why he goes on to say, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25).
Here, the word “life” does not mean “body,” but refers instead to the very essence of who we are. That self that, in fact, wants to live life on its own terms. That self that wants life to go, my way. That’s the self from which we choose to part company. That’s the self about which we say to God, “Lord, I can’t deal with this rebellious so-and-so who lives inside me. I want you to come and to conquer it.”
Expressing His Resurrection
And that’s because this self is far bigger than any efforts I might make to try to control it. And in the end, self is not conquered not through coercion, but by displacement. The displacement of Another, with a capital A.
In other words, displacement happens. And that’s what we’re asking for: for the Holy Spirit to come in and build into us the life of Jesus. We need this because our own efforts to exhibit some level of self-control only go so far, and we are inevitably dashed upon the rocks of our own desire to do what we want.
That’s the nature, the seductive power, of sin: The very thing that could kill the good is often the thing we deeply desire. And therefore God has to come in and express his death and resurrection in and through us. This gives us, in fact, the power to both be changed and to say yes to God’s call: “Those who love their life lose it” (John 12:25a).
All of this represents an expression of God’s work that must happen if we are, in fact, going to live in any way that reflects the life of Jesus. And that is the life to which we are called.
How does your life display Jesus’ death, his life and his resurrection? Share this blog and your response on Twitter. Please include my username, @revgregbrewer.
The story of the crucifixion is always a story I don’t want to read. I avoid it as much as I can. And yet, especially at this time of year, it draws me in.
Prepared by the Father
I don’t want to read it, you see, because I don’t want to know the price Jesus had to pay for my sin. I don’t want to know what he means when he defines love: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). I don’t even want to know necessarily Jesus’ definition of friendship, or even what he means when he says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b).
I don’t want to know these things, because my idea of friendship is camaraderie, but without the cost. My idea of abundant life is a life free of pain and suffering. My idea of love is mutual tenderness, intimacy, companionship without having the difficulty that inevitably brings people together into that deep place of intimacy.
But you see, Jesus has never been this and wants none of this. He is walking out a way that has been prepared for him by his Father. And it’s not a bad ending to a life of love. It is the inevitable consequence of a life that is spoken of as sacrifice.
Love as sacrifice. Friendship as sacrifice. Even abundant life as sacrifice.
Invited by the Son
If they had been listening, none of the disciples should have been surprised. But I can’t point my finger at them and say, “Why weren’t you listening?” because I’ve only heard the gospel most of my life. And it’s still not what I want to hear either.
I’d much rather we define and live life on my terms. And that’s the kind of world we live in. We want to talk about not commitment in suffering, but loyalty that is based on one’s feelings. If someone offends us, we act like the woman who told me that when someone angered her, she would just say, “I have no time for this.” And then she simply moved on.
But Jesus comes and keeps coming. No matter how hard I try to avoid the suffering inherent to the gospel, he continues to invite me to Golgotha, to see on the cross his definition of abundant life, of what love is, of what friendship is, a life prepared for him by his Father.
You see, that’s not even my definition of fatherhood. I’m a dad, I’m a grandfather. It never even occurred to me that when my now-grown sons were growing up that a part of my responsibility as a dad was to prepare them for the inevitability of suffering because of their commitments to Jesus Christ. It never occurred to me. After all, persecution is what happens to people who live in other countries.
And yet the applications here are inescapable. Jesus is inviting us in.
“Mercifully grant,” the Book of Common Prayer says, “that we may walk the way of the cross and find it none other than the way of life and peace.”
If we are to walk in faithfulness to Jesus, we look to him as the one who is inviting us into this way of suffering. And we know that the price he paid for our sins is exactly what enables us to receive both the forgiveness and the empowerment necessary to continue to say yes, no matter what is being asked of us, knowing that we can trust in the goodness of our Father, who has prepared this weight for us.
What does “the way of the cross” mean to you? Share this blog and your response on Twitter. Please include my username, @revgregbrewer.
What do you think about when you hear the word Lent?
The world bombards us with questions: “What are you doing for Lent?” “What are you giving up for Lent this year?” “How long do you think you can go without Starbucks [or fast food, or sugar, or whatever they think might be a typical Lenten sacrifice]?”
Our responses become the heartbeat of Lent. And before we know it, this holy season turns into nothing more than “I’m taking something on” or “I’m giving something up.”
If that’s our Lenten focus, let’s face it: we often try to take on or let go of whatever will be the most painless. All we have to do is get through the season and return to our alleluias in Easter, when we can eat and drink whatever we want. No wonder Lent has given rise to so many caricatures.
I would like to propose a different way of thinking about Lent. Let’s take a look at three surprising lessons that will help us change our focus.
Lent is an expression of gratitude.
The Book of Deuteronomy is one of the books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible. It contains God’s instruction to the people of Israel. At the beginning of Lent, we read from Deuteronomy 26 about Moses telling the people to remember the good things God has done for them. As an act of thanksgiving, Moses encourages them to gather up the bounty of their lives to present before the priest.
The remembrance of God’s blessings involves the recitation of their story. God took Abraham out of a particular district, moved him, and eventually settled him in the land of Egypt. From there, he and his progeny became a huge nation and a threat to the Egyptians. The nation fell under the thumb of the Egyptians in slavery. But eventually, God, with a “mighty hand and an outstretched arm” performed real miracles to set the people of Israel free and bring them into the Promised Land (Deut. 26:8).
This carries over to what Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans. What has God done? Paul tells us that the Lord is generous because he gives freely (Rom. 10:12). He created the world and filled it with beauty; he has raised us up and made us in his own image. God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to bring forgiveness and mercy to the brokenness of our lives. In Christ’s death and resurrection, he opens up the way to eternal life. All these actions happen because God loves us. Out of his love, he promises us the companionship of his presence.
As we experience Lent, let’s first remember with gratitude what God has done.
Lent is a time to realize we cannot gain God’s favor by doing good things.
What is the entryway to inheriting all that God has given us?
Paul tells us, “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). It sounds simple. So simple even a child could do it. But here’s the dilemma: If we think we need to be good in order to receive God’s promises, we can never measure up.
The entryway into relationship with God can never be based on me qualifying myself because I’m a good person. Yes, I may do good things, but there’s also a lot of sin and brokenness in my life. From scripture, we know that each of us is a mixture of good and evil, sin and righteousness, cruelty and blessing. If we doubt any of this, we need only to look at the thoughts of our hearts, those things we never tell anyone. We find sin and brokenness not only out in the world but deep inside ourselves.
If we try to gain God’s favor by doing good actions, we move backward. During Lent, if we try to give up something and think we can earn something from God in return, we are, in effect, trying to earn some sort of divine merit badge.
The bottom line is that we need God to take the initiative and bring us what we don’t deserve. God is not interested in you giving up something this Lent to earn more points with him. What matters to him is the fact that he loves you, cares for you deeply, and wants to bring you into his presence.
This is the second lesson of Lent: to understand that we can never earn our inheritance based on our goodness.
Lent is a commitment to yield the authority of my life to Jesus.
In Lent, we no longer pretend. We stand and confess that we are broken sinners in desperate need of help from God. The church comes alongside and says, “We’re all in this together.” Is it easy? Of course not.
Our world is full of hurt and desperation. Not only do we deal with issues of human sin, but we also live with real evil in our lives. Genuine demonic power exists, and we need all the help we can get, help that can come only from God.
It is deeply counter-cultural to make a commitment to Christ. It is hard to yield to him and say yes to allowing him to use you as he sees fit. But the great love he has shown us draws us closer to him and allows him to use us to make a difference in the lives of others who need gentleness, care, and compassion.
To confess “Jesus is Lord” means we are subservient to him, we come under his authority, we are not in charge of our lives anymore, and we ask him to call the shots. We rely on what God did in Jesus to bring us the very things we need: mercy, forgiveness, his companionship, and the promise of eternal life.
This is the third lesson of Lent: to commit our lives to Christ and come closer to Him.
The world expects us to give up chocolate for Lent and still act like sinners. Certainly, we can make sacrifices, but as we’ve seen, Lent is so much more. Whatever you’ve chosen to take on or let go of this Lent, remember your purpose is expressing thankfulness and drawing nearer to God. Prove the world wrong and say yes to Christ. See what he might do in your life and those of others.
That’s the wonderful reality of Lent. That’s why we’re able to take a season like this and think about what we can do as an offering of gratitude for what God has done for us. How can each of us take the step through that act of thanksgiving that draws us closer to God?
How’s your Lent going? How will you continue to show thankfulness to God in the remainder of the season? Share your response on social media. Include my username @revgregbrewer in your post. God’s grace to you in this Lenten season and always.