Friday, March 20, 2009

We are God’s work of art

I'm not usually here on Fridays ... it's my day off. But this week a variety of things got rearranged and so I ended up doing the Noon:Ten Eucharist and had the chance to mull this reading from Ephesians with a handful of the faithful in the All Saints chapel:

A Reading from Ephesians (2:4–10)

God, who is rich in mercy, out of great love brought us to life in Christ, even when we were dead in our sins. It is through this grace that we have been saved. God raised us up and, in union with Christ Jesus, gave us a place in the heavenly realm, to display in ages to come how immense are the resources of God’s grace and kindness in Christ Jesus.

It is by grace that you have been saved, through faith – and even that is not of yourselves, but the gift of God. Nor is it an award for anything you have done, so nobody can claim the credit. We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to do the good things God created us to do from the beginning.

I couldn't help thinking how much this passage informs the discussion here on this blog earlier this week around the platform issued by The Consultation for the upcoming General Convention and the focus of the comments on the assertion that God declared the creation "very good."
The fact that we so often fall short of doing the good things God created us to do from the beginning does NOT trump the fact that we -- and all creation -- have been declared by our creator "very good." More and more I'm convinced that how we live out our faith is directly connected to how we understand ourselves to have been created -- and whether we live out of a sense of our belovedness or of our brokenness informs not only our theology but our politics, our economics, our relationships ... the whole enchilada.
It's kind of like this story about two wolves that preachers love to use as a sermon illustration:

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. "A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy.

"It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego." He continued, "The other is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

Likewise, there is a fight going on inside the church about whether human beings are essentially beloved or essentially broken -- and the wolf that will win that fight is also the one that we feed. Choosing to feed our belovedness rather than our brokenness focuses us on inclusion rather than exclusion; on justice rather than judgment; on compassion rather than condemnation.

We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to do the good things God created us to do from the beginning. So let's get on with it.


Hiram said...

Usually it is conservatives who say “either-or” and progressives who say “both-and,” but I will vary things a bit by saying we are both beloved and broken. I sometimes use an illustration: humanity is like a Rolls-Royce that has had a bad accident, where the car still runs, but the frame has been bent, the radiator pierced, the wheels are out of alignment, and so forth. You can take one look and know that it is a fine and valuable car – but you will have lots of trouble as you drive it, for many things do not work as they should.

We were formed by God in creation, and he called us “very good.” We were deformed in the Fall, so that we do not trust God to do what is right and good for us, and seek instead to live by our own lights. Those who come to Christ are transformed, so that we once again fully reflect the image of God, and come to trust him completely as we were intended to do at creation.

I am going to cite five passages of Scripture that give me hope and direction. (These are from the English Standard Version)
Mt 6:31-33, Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
This gives us our priorities, the same priorities assigned to Adam and Eve: the Kingdom of God, and a trusting confidence that God will supply what is needed, when it is needed.

Rom 5:8, but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Gal 2:20, I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

These two verses show me how deeply God loves me, and how far his grace goes. They mean that I have the freedom to explore the depths of my heart, and whatever I find there, no matter how dreadful, is covered by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. He already knew the worst about me, and still he chose to die for me. There is nothing I can discover about myself that will cause him to run in terror and say, “That is more than I can forgive!” Thus, I can know the worst, and not fear. And it is when you are willing to know the worst and accept it as a part of yourself that you will also discover the best about yourself, for when we put a barrier over our hearts in order not to see and admit the worst, we also place a barrier in the way of seeing the best. In addition, since evil is not a thing in itself, but rather deformed goodness, whatever ill I discover can be forgiven and its source transformed into a source of good. In my teens I was very sarcastic – but the same ability I had to “read” people and see their weaknesses and then lambast them with pointed words can now be used to understand and to offer words of acceptance, consolation, and direction.

1 Jn 1:8-9, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

As we recognize our sins, confess them, and offer ourselves to God for transformation, we are cleansed and we become what the Father has called us in Christ: “righteous.” This is something that is recognized in Eucharistic Prayer B: “In him, you have delivered us from evil, and made us worthy to stand before you. In him, you have brought us out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.”

Finally, Phil 1:6, And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

There is no need to prettify ourselves and acknowledge and recognize only the good. We can see ourselves whole, and offer it all to Jesus for the sake of his Kingdom. Luther said it very succinctly: “simul justus et peccator.” Those who believe in Christ are at one and the same time justified and sinners. And the day will come when we will be fully transformed, rescued from the penalty, the power, and the presence of sin, in God’s perfect Kingdom. The process of transformation will be complete. All who belong to Jesus Christ will fully reflect his image and will be what God had intended at creation.

A “PS” to an earlier commentator who thinks that Calvin and the other reformers brought entirely new doctrine: Jesus was a Calvinist; just read John 6. So were Peter (read his speeches in Acts) and Paul (his Epistles, particularly Romans and Ephesians). The watchword of the early Enlightenment was “ad fontes,” “to the sources.” The Reformers went back to the texts of the Bible, in their original languages, and analyzed what they read there. They recovered Apostolic doctrine.

LGMarshall said...

Thanks for all the useful Scripture and thanks for the Rolls-Royce analogy. It's funny, I've used the 'Rolls-Royce' analogy before. I call the Bible Study I've been in for 11 years... the 'Rolls Royce' of all Bible Studies. (we ONLY use the Bible as text-- that is, No commentaries, No guides, No sermons, No media, Nothing.) Another analogy I like about becoming Born-again is... "Its like finally buttoning your sweater up right!' -- Ahhhh -- I knew something wasn't quite right!

JCF said...

Jesus was a Calvinist; just read John 6.

D'oh, NOW I get it! How could I have missed that before?!


Seriously, Hiram, you almost never fail to amaze me---including how you react to Susan's meditation, with a much longer, apropos-of-huh? sermon of your own (Hello? Maybe on your own blog?)

God love ya, Hiram---you show me how the Image of God is embodied such unique ways... ;-)