Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Word for Today - Daily Office

Psalm 146:3 Don't put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there
Psalm 147:10 The LORD takes no pleasure in the strength of a horse or in human might. 

Psalm 113:4-7 For the LORD is high above the nations; his glory is higher than the heavens. 5 Who can be compared with the LORD our God, who is enthroned on high? He stoops to look down on heaven and on earth. He lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump.

Isaiah 40-10-11 Yes, the Sovereign LORD is coming in power. He will rule with a powerful arm... He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.

Hebrews 1:3 The Son radiates God's own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven.

John 1:29-34 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 

COMMENT: A STRANGE WAY TO SAVE THE WORLD - Our texts today are woven together around one of the central (and perhaps most misunderstood or misappropriated) themes in all Scripture - what Capon calls God's left-handed way of power when dealing with the world and its sinfulness. God's power and glory are finally and ultimately on display in the strangest place of all - the crosss of Jesus Christ. Hanging there in all the suffering and helplessness of convicted humanity...stripped of all dignity and honor... in absolute vulnerability, shame, and weakness - Christ crucified is the power and wisdom of God (see 1Cor 1:23-29).

The poets declare it in the psalms today - don't trust in human displays of power... powerful people, weapons, systems, technologies - and yet, so much of the church is captivated by this right-handed power (just a few examples of this are the agendas of both Christian left and right to use political muscle to enact the righteousness of God, the church's endless insistance with operating under a business organizational model rather than a relational organic one, and her reliance on technology rather than prayer). Yet, Psalm 113 declares that this high and exalted God, who inhabits eternity, stoops down to earth to pick up the poor and needy. Here is a king who bends down to lift up his who "though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, so that we, through his poverty, might become rich!" (2Cor 8:9)

The Isaiah text is particularly instructive - Here comes the Sovereign God, announces the prophet/poet, coming to rule with a powerful arm - and the Sovereign God's powerful arm turns out to be an arm that, surprise, does not out-muscle the enemy, or slap the rebellious children until we are black and blue, but this arm of power shows itself in compassion, care, provision, and gentleness. What a strange way to save the world, not with right-handed strokes of power, but left-handed strokes of love, mercy, and tenderness. (Three Dog Night sang it years ago - Why don't you try a little tenderness? How the church needs to hear that message afresh these days!)

Hebrews continues the theme - This unique, one of a kind Son, who radiates and exudes God's glory, majesty, and power - displays God's glory by cleansing us from our sins - an indirect reference to the cross - and an image, that, much to the fundamentalist's chagrin, testifies to the maternal side of God's nature - a God who holds us close to his bosom, feeds us like a mother does her nursing infant, cleans us up when we mess up (fathers changing diapers is a more recent, not a biblical times, phenomenon). Certainly God is shown in Scripture as a mighty, dread warrior... but that picture is balanced with this picture of God's maternal nature. 

And so, John (the Baptist), the final prophetic voice to point us to God's ultimate revelation in Jesus, declares this Word become flesh (by whom and through whom and for whom the entire cosmos exists), this long-awaited Messiah (anointed King whose coming will set the world right), this representative of the God of power and might whose glory fills heaven and earth... this Jesus comes to us as a Lamb. We were looking for a Lion - King of the Beasts, whose roar sends waves of fear and trembling to the entire jungle. Instead we get a lamb, a meek and mild creature who just stands defenseless and lets himself be slaughtered. There is a powerful picture of this very event in the book, The Kite Runner, where the author describes the haunting look in that lamb's eye, just before the knife slices through its throat... What a strange way to save the world. Not by right-handed power-mongering, but by left-handed acts of love and kindness. We, God's people have much to learn of the ways of our God... of dealing with one another (and the other) the way God deals with us. Yet this is God's commandment - that we love one another as God has loved us. It is God's command... it is the church's vocation... it is the hope of the world. May it be so, O God... may it be so!

Soli Deo gloria

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