The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

1 Corinthians 10: 16

 

Paul is talking about the formal celebration of the Eucharist or as we in the church often refer to it, The Lord’s Table or Holy Communion. Yet, he is also speaking to something bigger, more expansive, than just that. Paul is sharing his thoughts on what it means to be a part of the totality of the body of Christ. In certain ways, this is a very real union of people with other people and together with God. This is the most significant thing that occurs as we come into a relationship with God through Christ beyond the fact of God’s entry into us through the presence of the Holy Spirit within. It is firstly in union with Christ and then in union with His body that we are made useful and granted purpose and mission in this world. This is wherein our lives are transformed into ones that carry eternal weight and enter into God’s everlasting glory.

 

This participation that Paul mentions is not a form of ritual, either. It is life, itself. When people come to Christ and surrender our lives to Him, we are infused with Him, with God, in a manner that is mystical and wonderful. There is present in us both the reality of change within our beings, and at the same time, we carry forward an unlimited potential for transformative change and growth. This brings to light the concept of participation, for in Christ, we are called by God to engage with this world in ways that bring the revelation of love, grace, and truth that was the life that Jesus lived into direct and continual contact with all that is lost, broken, and without God in the course of our days. This engagement with the world is the truest expression of our communion with Christ that we can pour out.

 

So, if life itself is an expression of the sacred and the holy in that it is formed up and participated in by the presence of Christ within our hearts, minds, and souls, so then the conduct of our lives must follow along in that it too will be in all ways a statement of Christ’s presence within us. This is carried out in the way that we treat others and in the manner in which we enter into the discourse and the actions of our world. Christ brought love, respect, and equality of treatment into His interaction with all and so should we. The Lord granted healing to those who were sick in body, mind, spirit, and being, and we are to be His instruments of healing in these troubled days. Christ sought peace within people and peace in the world’s social order, so too, we need to be the people in our world who set aside its violence and turn to other means for resolving our differences. These are but a few of the ways that those of us who follow Christ participate in His blood and in His body so that every day of our lives can be an expression of our holy communion with the Lord.

Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith – just as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness?

Galatians 3: 5, 6

 

For some of us, the miraculous is easy to see, and for others it is just not all that apparent. Yet, I will submit to you that God is truly and fully present in this world, and if that is true, then the sort of expression of Him that we think of in terms of miracles or the miraculous is, of necessity, also truly present. The God that I know through the way that He has been there throughout my own life is a very active and engaged being. Throughout history He has never taken time off. Even when people have turned away from Him, sought to devise gods that were more to our liking and comfort, and rejected the Lord’s wisdom and council; even then, He has continued to work aggressively for our redemption.

 

The Lord does this same thing in the world today. His presence is seen in the natural wonder of creation, and it is found in the form and the personalities of each and every person on the earth. But God is more real and tangible than just the way that He is found by virtue of His handiwork, for God actively listens to our words, He responds to our needs, and He enters into the course of the lives of people. The Lord brings about healing for broken bodies, and He leads lost souls to the eternal water of salvation. He also protects us from the almost equally assertive attempts by evil to harm us and to divert people from God’s desired path for our lives. There is a spiritual dimension to this world that is even more fully packed with action than is the busiest of city streets

 

So, in light of who God is and because of His ongoing involvement with my world, I do truly believe in miracles. I hold it as a matter of faith that God, in His will and timing, does heal the sick, He will repair broken bodies and remove illness and pain. The Lord does repair shattered relationships and put love in place where hurt and anger have driven it away. Christ, Himself, is the only valid and true answer to the disagreements and distrust that lead peoples and nations to engage in generations of animosity that leads to war. In all of these hard and difficult situations and circumstances, Christ can and does do these things that we view as miraculous but that He knows to be the usual and normal outworking of the touch of the Divine.

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Romans 8: 20, 21

 

On this date, July 4th, the United States of America, the country where I live and the one that birthed and raised me, celebrates freedom. This day is the singular great holiday on the nation’s calendar, and it is generally the occasion for a massive and hopefully unifying party. I do think that freedom is worth celebrating and also that the freedoms that are considered to be fundamental to the national character of the United States are truly worthy of a vast and universal party. We should gather at the hearts of our communities, play festive music, remember those who have sacrificed in order to secure our world and this nation, and light up the sky with fireworks. Freedom is more than a worthy reason for all of this. Still, I think that there is a freedom that is greater than all that we are celebrating today, and it is something that we certainly should consider as we put on our party clothes and sing out our national hymns.

 

The need for freedom comes about because of its absence, its loss. When God made this world He made it and us free. We had an almost unfettered ability to make choices and to enter into our roles as the rulers of our daily life on earth. God did provide guidance and law, He was directly involved with us on an ongoing basis, and people were granted responsibility and were given freedom that was in balance with it. We know the story. This freedom was taken to extremes and the responsibility to follow God’s will and to reverence Him above all else was set aside with catastrophic results. So, we live in a world where everything is distorted and corrupted and wherein it is hard to find the sort of true freedom that God designed and intended from the beginning of our world’s history.

 

This country does set out concepts and ideas that move in the direction of the form of freedom that God desires for people and for His creation to enjoy. Yet, I do wonder if we don’t get some of it wrong or at least in the wrong order. The greatness in this nation is found in its world-embracing diversity and by virtue of the gift of resources that allow for this soil to enfold people who come with nothing and grant them the opportunity to develop and to become contributors to the well being of others. This is a nation where humanity’s great conversations can take place in an open and protected environment in which understanding is the objective. We can meet and share our faith, our understanding of the nature and the person of God, our views on the makeup and function of family, how we care for this planet, and the best way to establish peace upon its surface and among its people. The ability to enter into these and many other discussions, both large and small, is a part of the freedom that God has granted to us here.

 

The glory of God is seen in our love for others and in our openness to hearing their stories and to caring for them. There is no greater freedom than what is found in the ability to set aside fears and to embrace God’s desire for reconciliation among peoples who have become separated by the human-derived barriers of this broken world. This sort of thing is the foundational greatness that can set the United States apart in our world. This nation has great resources, and I would pray that we would learn to use them to care for people who are in need. This nation grants many freedoms, and I desire to see us tender them to multitudes in order to narrow the gaps of understanding and mistrust that are prevalent in our world today. There is much to celebrate here today, and as we do this, I do sincerely pray that the glory that fills our sky will be that of the Lord as His desire and will for people to enjoy true and eternal freedom becomes the hymn of our nation.

Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me!

Psalm 35: 1

 

In the Christian church and throughout its traditions we have generally looked at Psalm 35 as a statement of faith and trust in the way that God would defeat our enemies through the use of might, force, and even by empowering our own military skill and campaigns. However, as I reconsider these words that David gave us, I am wondering if there isn’t something else, something much greater on view here. Although David seems to have had a prophet’s view into a future when the Messiah would come, he did not possess the post-cross perspective that we do. His words dealt with the reality of his life, and they shared a glimpse into a potential future, but they could not interpret our world in light of Christ.

 

In Jesus we see a man of peace and of service. We are told to control our responses to personal attacks and to seek out our enemies in love. We are, in fact, told to lift them up to God in prayer with a sincere desire to see them come to know Christ and thus to be joined with us in community. This is not just a directive to be fulfilled in a grudging, grit our teeth and get on with it manner. Instead, Christ tells us that we should be praying in earnest for those who are trying to destroy us so that they can join us at the banquet table of God’s holy Eucharist. We are granted Christ’s direction to love all people with fully and to seek for all of them to come and dwell with us as equally adopted in children of God’s own choosing.

 

None of this suggests that we are seeking their destruction. I am wondering if the Psalmist’s words about shame, dishonor, entrapment and defeat are not to be interpreted with Christ on the cross in view so that we are seeing a picture of the way that God works in the hearts of all of us to show us the futility and the lostness of our natural way. In that case, death for our enemies is not the desired outcome. Neither is defeat unto subjugation; for, Christ calls upon His people to have no fear of the forces of this world. Rather, we are to pursue the hearts and the minds of our enemies as the shepherd does the lost sheep. This requires us to have faith in Christ and in His protection for us. It also demands that we set aside anger and hurt so that we can love others with the passion and the sincerity of one who desires to greet them with the holy kiss of fellowship.

 

He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples;

and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

Isaiah 2: 4

 

The Prophet was certainly seeing some future time and events that were not a part of the world that he knew. Judah, the nation where Isaiah lived, was continually in a state of readiness to defend itself against attack that came from all sides and was carried out by every other nation that surrounded it. They even had been at war with the other half of the Hebrew nation, Israel. When and how this peace was to come is something that Isaiah does not clearly reveal. It just might be true that God did not tell him, as He wanted each of Isaiah’s readers to consider our personal response to this promise of peace. Otherwise it is our tendency to focus on the future, defer responsibility for the sad condition of our world to God and His timing, and become promoters of conflict as necessary for the defense of our faith.

 

It is true that strife, conflict, and war are direct results of sin. Creation, especially its people, was not intended by God to oppress, torture, rape, and kill. Yet, set free from the restraint of God’s hand, this is exactly what we have done. Over our history we have become very good at it all, too. The soil of every nation on this earth is saturated with the blood of those who we have been sacrificed to our greed and ambition. Although there have been many people who have worked for peace and numerous efforts put forth to bring about that peace in our world, they have all failed. They were and will continue to be doomed from inception. There is no peace to be found in the hearts of humans. We are a war-like band for whom killing is a sacrament. Yet, it doesn’t need to be this way.

 

Christ is the answer to the question of who is it that Isaiah is saying will cause the great restorative changes in our world that are mentioned in this verse and elsewhere in his narrative. I would submit that this is not solely a future promise. Rather, it would seem that Christ’s life depicts that He sought to live as a man for whom peace was the sacrament. He engaged peacemaking as a form of worship to the Father, and Christ brought the holy touch of the Kingdom of God as a blessing upon the lives of people. As the Spirit of Christ lives within us, so we should be people who bring His spirit of peace to all of our interactions. For each and every child of the Living God, today should be the day when we submit to Christ and lay down our weapons of war in every form that they may exist. Now is the time to seek peace with our neighbor, to reconcile with our enemy, and to demand that our nations do likewise.