Who Do You Say That I Am?

rhizome  He came into this world with little more than a story, surrounding him like the swaddling wrapped about him at his birth. By then the news of his coming was already running rampant across the countryside. The stories taking on a life of their own. Told, retold, ancient memories coming to life in the darkness of Israel’s winter.

Reach back over the two thousand years of debris that cover his story, back over the institutionalization of the soul, ritualization, dogma, defense, legend and myth, to the words, the Word that became flesh in the story of his life.

Before his birth his people made their long journey across the wilderness forming a sacred identity. Israel’s journey changed her. The story of this journey informed the Hebrew nation as it unfolded over time. Over time the story was knit and reknit, a weave of many colors that would unravel and be reshaped again and again. Eventually it took on mythical proportions that no longer looked like the covenant woven by the Lord God of Israel. As Israel strayed farther and farther from the heart of her identity, the Lord God of Israel unraveled into a distant silence as well. The silence drove John mad, drove him into the wilderness. Irony of ironies. One Hebrew alone in the desert now.

Into this silence came the Word; the Word that created, the Word that led, the Word that shaped and formed Israel into Yahweh’s own. To start over? Not exactly. But to reknit, to restore, rekindle, the true faith of Israel.  He came made of the cloth of humanity, a man, who would carry within him the promise. By his life he touched the people with words, with healing and more importantly with his presence. He embodied the faith of Israel keeping the promise Yahweh made to Abraham, to extend that faith to all the nations of the world, even the gentile nations. And yet, he too would be misunderstood.  He would challenge the powers that be, both religious and political, and in the end, his mission could not be sustained. Undaunted, the Lord God of Israel, whom he called Abba, would not let misunderstanding or death defeat his plan for his people. His a promised kept.  And so one fine Monday morning, when all seemed lost, his friends, weary and sleepless from their own betrayal and bewilderment, saw him, walking beside them, tending a fire by the shore, beckoning a woman to rise, as if proving himself to them, yet again, reaching beyond the boundaries of nature in order to call forth meaning from the dark tomb of their ignorance. From this seed a faith sprang up around him, vestiges of himself, fumbling forward for two thousand years, a rhizome swept away in whatever current paradigm it found to pitch its tent, shifting, sifting, defending, wending its way across the wilderness once more.

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Father Abraham and the Triumph of Faith

Romans 4, 5 & 6

 winter_scene Paul once again is fit with a diatribe about the Law and sin. In another of his tangled arguments (7:14-25) he is demonstrating his own struggle between the good he knows to do, with the unintended ‘sin’ his body seems to be intent on as well. Well, I guess we’ve been down this road before. For too long. The battle between body and soul, the spiritual self and the unspiritual self. The eternal battle of light and dark. Good and evil.

Before this entanglement though Paul reaches back to the origins of faith, to Abraham and the promise made to him by God. He has just pointed out the value of the Law itself: it kept us faithful, and had the ability to render us sacred. But, before the Law was given, even before Abraham was circumcised, he had faith. Paul’s appeal here seems to be to both to the Jewish converts and the non-Jewish converts in Rome. There was most likely a considerable population of Jews that had fled Palestine and were now living in Rome.

So this appeal to Abraham is something they and we can understand. Paul makes it clear: faith came first. Abraham’s faith initiates the fulfillment of the promise to everyone, no matter if you subscribed to the Law, which is good and has good intentions, or not. Another sign of the Mosaic Law was, and still is, circumcision, but again, Paul points out that even this custom, which is a sign of belonging to the law, participation in the covenant, did not precede Abraham’s faith. Abraham is the father of all who have faith. Faith which is first. Faith which is given. Faith which is gift. Faith which is grace. Paul has gathered everyone into the net. No one is lost. We are all counted, if we have faith. Faith now in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. Faith in Christ.

The link to Abraham and the origins of our faith is unbroken.

Through Jesus we enter a state of grace. The grace that is greater than sin. Grace that reigns now and is God’s life within us.

As we make our approach to Holy Week, we circle back to our spiritual heritage. Our ancestors go before us. Their faith brought us to the day of our faith. During the next week we are mindful of Passover, Passion and Death. Just as we journey with him, we will also celebrate Passover with him, we will pray in the garden with him, and we will be challenged and mocked with him. Paul reminds us what we might already know: that suffering brings perseverance which brings hope, the hope that cannot deceive, as God has poured his Holy Spirit into our hearts.

As we enter the heart of Holy Week, we enter the heart of the God who has poured into our hearts the life of a most sacred heart. We enter the tomb with Jesus and we rise with him into the garden of new Life. Jesus’s resurrection is ours as well. It is the ever recurring cycle of life and death, dying and rising. In Christ we are free, even in our most unspiritual selves, and are freely given the grace of the Spirit of Christ which we have only to summons like Lazarus from the tomb, to partake of a sacred legacy that reaches back thousands of years ago and yet is ever present with us and available to us today.