2008-02-27

IS JESUS JUST A LIFESTYLE ACCESSORY?


A Sermon For Year A, Lent 3
Copyright © 2007 Nathan L. Bostian
Based on Exodus 17:1-7; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42

Have you ever thought about what it takes to make your life complete? What can you NOT imagine life without? What stuff- whether products, possessions, places, or things- do you HAVE TO HAVE to consider yourself fulfilled?

Have you ever really thought about it?

For instance: When you think about a perfectly fulfilled life, what is the minimum sized place you would have to live in?

What is the minimum car you would have to drive?

What is the minimum salary you would have to make?

What is the minimum amount of clothes and shoes you would have to own? Where is the minimum store you would buy them from?

Can you imagine living a fulfilled life without: A car? A refrigerator? Fast food? Soda? Coffee?

Could you live without an air conditioner? A television? A computer? A stereo? An I-pod? A daytimer?

How about a cell phone? Let's be honest: Can you imagine life without a cell phone? I can't...

Now, with this being a "Church service" many people might be wondering the motive behind me asking questions like that. Someone might say: "Oh, here comes the guilt trip...

"The preacher man is gonna tell us how horribly materialistic we all are... How we are addicted to stuff, and consume for the sake of consumption... He's gonna tell us how all we need is Jesus, and if we are not fulfilled by him, we are lost."

Well, I will be honest with you. I DO think we live in a materialistic culture. I DO think we are often consumed by our own consumption. And I DO think we are lost without Jesus.

But, I DO NOT think "stuff" is bad. I do not think consumption, in itself, is a bad thing. And I think that part of the way that Jesus fulfills our lives is by giving us a good world to partake in.

Let me explain...

Let me show you my backpack. My backpack is my mobile office, and contains all of the things I think it would be hard to live without... [Unload backpack and describe]

Is any of this stuff in my backpack evil (other than Microsoft Windows on my computer)? No. In fact- it is ALL a gift.

All of creation is a gift from God to fulfill his children. All of creation is a playground for us to enjoy ourselves- responsibly, in a way that saves the playground for the rest of God's children. In itself, there is nothing wrong with our stuff or my backpack.

But there is ONE thing you cannot FIND in my backpack. There is ONE thing that cannot FIT in my backpack. And yet it is THIS ONE thing that makes everything in my backpack- and everything I do with my backpack- meaningful.

What is that ONE THING?

That ONE THING is the living water that is spoken of by Jesus in our Gospel passage today. That ONE THING is the justification and reconciliation spoken of by St. Paul today. That ONE THING is the Lord to whom Moses cried out in the midst of a million faithless crybabies.

That ONE THING is not a thing at all, but a person. The person of Jesus Christ. Without him, all of this stuff in my backpack is meaningless. Without him, all of the stuff that we count on in our lives- from what we drive, to what we talk on- is empty. Without Him, there is a God shaped hole in the middle of our soul that can never be filled no matter how many products, toys, strategies, or ploys we try to shove inside.

And yet, in our culture where we are used to buying what we want, when we want it, and how we want it, we have a really hard time not treating God the same way.

We have a really hard time not treating Jesus like just another lifestyle accessory... Like just another product to be bought and consumed and put on the back shelf (or even thrown away) when we get tired of Him.

For instance, I was at one of our mega-marts the other day with my bride buying all our lifestyle accessories at bargain basement prices. And I came to the book isle: You know, where all of the books are stacked up for easy consumption.

And wedged right between the self-help books and the romance novels, they have the religious bestsellers. There you can find the man with the perfect teeth, telling you how to create a "better you", with a veneer of God around the edges. There you can find all of the designer Bibles with fancy covers- You know: one for men, one for women, one for teens, one for children, and one for husbands of women with teenage children. A Bible for every demographic!

But, sitting side by side in the middle of them all are two stacks of books. One of the stacks of books is written by the current darling of left-wing Biblical scholarship, and it is entitled "God's Problem: How the Bible fails to answer our most important question- why we suffer."

But right next to it is a right-wing stack of books entitled "Conspiracies and the Cross: How to intelligently counter the ten most important theories that attack the Gospel of Christ."

One book is seeking to destroy orthodox Christianity altogether, and the other book is seeking to uphold, at all costs, a particularly fundamental version of Christianity. And there they are, sitting side by side, in the mega-mart.

And what is important here is not which book is more correct. What is important here is that the marketers know more about religious people than we know about ourselves. They know that for most of us- and too often for myself as well- we treat God as just another consumable good.

They know that you can put all of those books side by side, and no one will raise a crisis of conscience. They will simply pick the Bible that fits their lifestyle, and read the theological flavor of the week, without it deeply impacting who they are at all.

Is that all God is: A lifestyle accessory?

Is religion just a product category that makes one a more rounded person?

Do we just buy one set of products to benefit our bodies, another set of products to strengthen our minds, yet another set of products to give us emotional wholeness, a whole other set of products to make us sexy, and finally a set of products to make us more "spiritual"?

And, please do not get me wrong: We are not the first ones to treat God like a product. Look at our reading from Exodus.

The Israelites treated God as a cosmic meal ticket: And when he did not serve them what they wanted when they wanted it, what did they do? They griped. They complained. They even got violent.

And, later, many of them left God behind altogether to worship a golden calf, who gave them more immediate gratification.

Things don't change much, do they?

Or take our lesson from St. Paul. Although it is clear that St. Paul did not treat Jesus as a product, many of those who interpret St. Paul interpret him in consumer terms.

This passage, in fact, has been treated worse than most.

In our passage tonight, He speaks of "God's love [which] has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us."

In the middle ages, it was common to use this passage as an image of God's grace as a sort of "substance" which was poured out through the Holy Spirit into us, to fill us up, and give favor with God. And, combined with this, it was common to say that God has given the Church the only authority to release the Holy Spirit into God's people.

Thus, the Church became the sole dispenser of God's grace to the world. If you wanted grace, if you wanted the Holy Spirit, you had to come shop at the Church. The Church claimed the power to make or break Kings, to bind or release forgiveness, and even to give those locked up in purgatory a free ride out.

But, only if you paid up.

In fact, it was the Church who developed the first advertising jingle: "Every time a coin in the plate rings, a soul from purgatory springs!"

Grace had become a consumer commodity.

So, it was with good reason that the Reformers of the 16th century tried to un-do the whole system. Instead they focused on grace as a free gift of God, received by faith.

In fact, using this same passage, they seized on the idea that we are justified and reconciled freely through Jesus Christ by putting our complete trust in Him. And, in this insight the reformers were right.

But, as time went by, and religion once again became big business in the countries that accepted the reformation, something predictable happened:

Justification and reconciliation became a product too. Instead of seeing justification and reconciliation as a new and living relationship with God through Christ, they began to be interpreted as in legal terms.

Soon, they became interpreted as merely a verdict of "not guilty" given by God to the sinner which insured that when they died they got a free ticket into heaven. The "price" you had to pay was mental acceptance of a set of doctrines, INSTEAD of a living faith in a Person.

And this became formalized in the last two centuries by revivalism, where people are emotionally manipulated to "close the deal" and come down front to pray a simple prayer with the right words, which ensure you get a ticket to heaven.

And for all the best reasons in the world, Jesus is demoted to just a product again. It is no coincidence that many of the leaders of American religious revivalism in the 1800's, are also the founders of modern marketing.

We find Jesus deconstructing the same attitude as he meets the Samaritan woman at the well. The first thing he does to deconstruct this idea that God is just a product to be consumed by the elect few, is that He crosses boundaries that nice religious people are not supposed to cross.

First, he crosses a physical boundary. He, a Jew, went into Samaritan territory. Samaritans were seen as religious and political traitors to Israel- much the same as Israelis feel about Palestinians today. Many Jews would spend an extra day going around Samaria rather than going through it.

And, in all honesty, most Samarians liked it that way.

Next, he crosses a social boundary. It was bad enough that he was in Samarian territory in close proximity to those "traitors". But, in nearly all ancient cultures, it was strictly taboo for an unmarried man to be speaking to a woman in public. That was crossing a sexual boundary and even a property boundary, for women were little more than property to their men.

Yet, He treats this woman as a PERSON, not just as a thing to be used. He even offers her to drink from His "living water", just as He offers a crowd of Jewish MEN three chapters later.

But she was used to being objectified by Jews, and treated like property by men, so she interprets Jesus' offer as just another product: "Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water."

Yet Jesus understands, and cuts right to the heart of her woundedness. Jesus knows she has been treated as a disposable product, by many men who wanted to use her without giving themselves to her as husband.

So, Jesus speaks to her hard words, but words that change her life: No matter who has used her, Jesus is HIMSELF living water. His Spirit is the WELL that does not run dry. No matter how many people have turned her into a disposable product, Jesus will not. Jesus will fulfill her. Jesus alone can lead her into the life of Spirit and Truth that can fill her God-shaped hole.

As He shows us with the woman from Samaria, Jesus crosses across all of our consumer boundaries, except one.

That one boundary is that we cannot put boundaries on Jesus. We cannot distill Jesus into a product to be consumed. We cannot fit Him into our time slots or budgets. We cannot buy Him at the mega mart and put Him away at will.

Instead we must fit our lives into Jesus, instead of fitting Jesus into our lives... [PAUSE]

Jesus is the Center, the Source, the Purpose, the Plot, and the Goal of our existence. He alone gives Meaning to all our stuff, all our activities, and all our relationships.

With Jesus, its either all or nothing. He cannot be JUST another spiritual product...

And that is the question I leave you with tonight: Is Jesus your everything, or just a lifestyle accessory?

You decide.

2008-02-11

WHAT'S SO SINFUL ABOUT SIN?

A Sermon For Year A, First Lent
Copyright © 2008 Nathan L. Bostian

Based on Genesis 2-3; Romans 5:12-19; Psalm 51; John 1:9-18

What's so sinful about sin? Why is sin so bad? What is all the fuss about?

I mean, if you read what Paul says in Romans, you would think the world is going to heck in a handbasket. He talks about sin entering the world through Adam, and then death happening because of sin... And eventually, like a bad Rambo movie, sin kills everyone.

It sounds like whatever sin is, it must be horrible. And whoever this Adam guy is, he must have REALLY screwed up royally.

So, you turn to the beginning to find out what all went down to make everything go bad, and what you find is... well... let's be honest here... childish.

In fact, the story looks more like a children's fantasy than an explanation about how the world got so botched. A children's story with nudity, that is.

Just look at it: You got a man and a woman innocent and happy. You have a sneaky talking snake. And you have a tree of knowledge. It sounds like a rock concert in the late 60's rather than the end of the world as we know it.

And what is the great crime that gets everyone in deep trouble? Eating a fruit. A fruit. Not killing another person (at least not yet). Not committing adultery (at least not yet).

Not even littering.

Just eating a fruit. So what's the big deal?

And if you look at the culture, or even at what is preached in many churches, you would still be hard pressed to find out what is so sinful about sin.

On one hand, in pop-psychology propaganda and pedantic pulpits everywhere, we are sold the Gospel of self-esteem and told that nothing is really ever our fault. We are really good people deep down inside, and we really always want the right thing, but we just can't do it because of our circumstances or the people around us.

If no one likes being around me, it is everyone else's fault for not understanding me, and catering to my individuality. If I can't seem to be responsible and hold down a job, it is my parent's fault, and the fault of the dreaded public school system.

If I cannot stay within a budget and am buried in credit card debt, it is the credit card company's fault for offering me the darn cards in the first place, and my job should really value me more and pay me better.

Whatever happens, it is never my fault. Blame it on parents. Blame it on people. Blame it on the system. But, whatever happens, don't blame yourself.

This pattern goes back to the Garden of Eden story too. In the next section- the one we didn't read- as soon as God comes to ask man what happened, the blame game begins.

God asks man. Man blames woman (and blames God for giving woman to man!). Woman blames snake. And the blame keeps getting passed right down to the present day where it seems like everything in society is broken, but it is never actually anyone's fault.

Perhaps the story of the sneaky snake has more going for it than we saw at first glance, after all.

Perhaps instead of blaming everyone else about sin, we need to get deadly serious about sin, and preach sermons where we emphasize sin by making it several syllables long:

"Tew-nite we're gunna tawlk about siiiiiiiiiiiin-uh!"

But, ironically, it seems like the morbid fascination that some churches have with sin ALSO cheapens how powerful it is.

In some places, it seems that humans are treated like little more than miserable little cockroaches that feed on sin's filth. God, the cosmic exterminator, would like nothing more than to wipe us out of existence.

But, meek and mild Jesus has a thing for us little cockroaches, and begs God not to kill us. So, God puts Jesus to death in our place, and Jesus becomes our deflector shield from God's wrath.

In this theology, you really wonder why we are worth saving at all. Can anything good be found in our sin-ridden existence?

You also find that sin becomes just a long list of "do nots". Do not cuss. Do not lust. Do not question. Do not fuss. Furthermore, the list seems fairly arbitrary, and not balanced at all.

For instance, let's say we walked into any Church to give a sermon about hunger, poverty, and child prostitution in developing world nations, as well as how we could alleviate these systemic evils with our national wealth. Let's say, in the midst of describing the horror of these systemic evils, we accidentally let out the s-word or an f-bomb.

What do you think the majority of people would be offended by, the language, or the injustice that the language describes?

I give that illustration just to say that it seems that even when we seem to take sin seriously, we tend to cheapen it, by making it into a list of manageable behaviors that nice people avoid.

And so, on one hand, we are faced with a world that is in a mess: Glaring social injustice and misery face us on personal and social levels. But, on the other hand, the very concept we use to describe why this evil is so prevalent- the concept of sin- seems to be so cheapened. It is cheapened by shifting blame, or making lists, or giving a Sunday school version of the sneaky snake story.

So, what IS so sinful about sin?

But what if we return to the sneaky snake story, and find that there is another reading of it that makes better sense of all of this?

What if the key question to ask of this text is not whether it happened, but whether it happens?

We get so wrapped up in the details. Was there a real Adam and Eve, who lived in a real Garden, and were tempted by a real sneaky snake? Maybe.

I am sure we have first parents back in history. Biology class tells us that much. And, I am sure that those first humans- however they got there- were also the first people to do something that violated their own conscience, something they knew was wrong.

So, I have no doubt that at some point in history, something like this event happened. And I have no doubt that this sin was transmitted in social, spiritual, and physical ways to their children, and their children's children, and children's children's children... And eventually to us.

But doesn't this analysis kind of miss the point? Isn't that kind of the cosmic version of blaming our parents, and not taking sin seriously?

Isn't the point instead to see ourselves in the place of Adam and in the predicament of Eve? Isn’t the point to see that however that Story may have happened then, it is still happening today, right here and now, inside us and in our society?

And that damned snake is still whispering the same lies in our ears:

"You can be like God! All you need is to get a little more control! If you can just manipulate a little more, and use people a little more, to get what you want: You can be like God!"

Or he says: "Now that looks pleasing to the eye and good to consume, doesn't it? No! It doesn't matter if its wrong, because it feels so right! Just do it. You only live once!"

Or maybe he says: "Yeah, that's what they say. But you don't know for sure, do you? Just try it, and find out for yourself."

The tempter tempts. We fall from grace. We do what we know we shouldn’t do, and then we cover ourselves with the fig-leaf of denial and blaming and guilt and bitterness.

We find ourselves a million miles away from the person we know we should be. We hide from the God who made us, for fear that if we look Him in the eyes we will have to admit what we have become.

It didn't just happen then. It happens now.

And perhaps the reason this Story is told like a children's Story is because it is a Story of how God's children loose their innocence.

God is not the cosmic exterminator that we talked about earlier. Neither is God a pop-psychologist who will put up with our blame game. God is instead a Father, a parent.

Whoever you can imagine in your mind as the perfect parent, take that image and multiply it by infinity. That begins to describe the kind of parent God is. And this parent wants his children to grow up healthy and strong, mature and complete.

Yet, there is a problem. The problem is that the power of evil uses God's children to make them weak, feeble, confused, self-centered, and self-absorbed.

In fact, if you read in between the lines of this children's story of the sneaky snake, you find a different kind of children's story. You find something like a story of abuse.

In the late 90's, I spent over six years in social work. In that time, I worked with dozens of people who have experienced abuse, and many people who have been abusers themselves.

In this Genesis story, I see the same seduction, the same betrayal, and the same confusion I saw in the sad stories of the clients I worked with.

Abuse does things to people. It confuses their core identity of who they are, and fills them with shame. It turns them inward, to care only for themselves, unable to deeply share love with others. And, sadly, for many, it sets in motion a pattern of choices that leads them to abuse others with the same abuse they received.

In fact, among all of the clients I worked with who were abusers, they all had one thing in common: They had been abused themselves.

This is what I see in the Genesis story. I see an abuse of innocence: An abuse that leads the abused to become the abuser across a thousand generations, as people visit on each other the evil that has been visited on them.

It is a cycle of destruction that happened then, and it happens now. We hurt, so we hurt others. We are abused, so we abuse. God's image is demeaned in us, so we demean others to raise ourselves up.

And the solution takes more than blaming others for our problems, because however much we are the victim, we victimize others as well.

The solution even takes more than accepting our own blame. Because just admitting where we are at fault does not give us the power to change ourselves... Much less the power to change the world.

We need Someone more greater than us to save us. We need someone powerful enough to confront evil and end its abuse. We need someone strong enough to lift the burden of guilt and shame and bitterness we bear. We need someone mighty enough to reconstruct our inner-self, so that our self-image once again reflects the image of God.

Only one is that mighty. Only one is that strong. Only one is that powerful: And that One is the God who made Himself powerless, and became human just like we are, to endure all of the weakness, temptation, shame, and guilt we go through.

God did not stay in Heaven, uninvolved, detached from what His children suffer in this world infected with Sin. Rather, in Jesus Christ, God became one of us, to become the antidote for our infection.

Jesus came to restore us to our true identity as children of God: healthy, whole, and mature. He came to destroy the abuse, and heal our wounds, and bring us into the abundant life that God our Father promises.

And to be fully healed we must truly receive Christ. This is why our Gospel today says that "to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God."

Do you know your true identity as God's beloved child, free of shame, free of reproach? Do you know your identity as God's child, but you seem entangled by cords of guilt, shame, and sin? Are you confused about your identity, but really want to believe all of this is true?

Wherever you are at with God, I invite you tonight, for the first time or for the five hundredth, to receive the Christ who alone can make you free, and restore your self-image as God's child.

Tonight, as you come forward for communion, and receive Christ in your hands, receive him in your heart. Ask Him to dwell in you. To free you. To make you whole.

As you drink His presence, and eat His life, in the bread and wine, pray and ask Him to nourish your soul, and to free you from whatever bondage you face.

He is here with us. In our prayers, in our songs, and in our sacraments. He is waiting for you to open yourself to Him. I invite you to open yourself to Christ tonight and become God's child. Amen.

DO OUR SPIRITS CHANGE?

Today on facebook, one of my friends asked me a difficult question about the nature of our Spirits. First he noted that:

"A) God created us in his image.
B) God is unchanging.
C) Animals are instinctive and vulgar creatures, conforming themselves to their environment to survive.
D) Humans are amphibians, part spiritual beings, part animal."

Then he asked:

"But our spirit is eternal, right? ... How about here on earth? It is possible to taint your spirit, to throw in the Enemy's camp. So our spirit is capable of change, right? What do you think?"

Here is what I think:

This is a really interesting question. It kind of goes right to the heart of what it means to be created by a Creator in his image. So, I am going to give you a long answer...

I will tell you what I think: And there are a lot of theologians who disagree with what I am about to put down here, and a lot that do. If you ever want to research this, I can lead you to some sources.

But, my basic thesis is this:
1. God is Triune [Three Subjects in One Object, Three Persons in One Being].
2. All of creation bears an analogical relationship with its Source [cf. Aquinas on "analogy of being"]
3. Therefore, we should not be surprised to find Triune structures all over creation.

I think we see this in the basic structure of creation. The basic "stuff" of creation is triune:

1. There is matter. This is the principle of "stability" in creation. We don't know exactly what it is (whether it is just dancing subatomic "strings" or something more "substantial"). But we do know that the "matter" in particles give a sort of stability, a sense of having "things" in creation. I think this principle of matter reflects the Person of God the Father, who is unchanging and ever-stable.

2. There is energy. This is the principle of movement and activity in creation. Again, physicists don't know what "energy" is, except that it is the quality of movement in what we call "matter". Furthermore, matter and energy, while being distinct, share in one another and can be transformed into one another (cf. E=MC2). I think this principle of energy reflects God the Spirit, who is the active principle of energy and creation in God.

3. There is dimensionality/relationality. Matter and energy "dance" together in space/time, according to fixed ratios and physical laws. We can see this in Einstein's equation E=MC2. E (energy) equals M (matter) according to the ratio or relation of C2 (the speed of light squared). This dimensional/relational principle reflects God the Son, who is the Logos- the Word, the Pattern, the Plot, the Form, the Relationship, the Meaning- of all Creation.

And, while matter-energy-dimensionality are all distinct, they all share in a cosmic "dance", and cannot be separated without destroying the fabric of reality. Now, this "analogy of being" between creator and Creation falls apart at some point, because while it shares in God's Being, God also transcends creation and cannot be bound by creation.

Now, since we are both part of creation, and uniquely made in God's image, we also reflect the Trinity-in-Unity of our Creator and Father. I believe that, according to an "analogy of being", humans are sort of a trinity-of-trinities. We are triune in structure, and triune in experience. Let me explain:

A. Human triune structure: Various Bible passages represent humans as: (1) One composite unity, a "living being"; (2) A dual unity, as a material body and a non-material spirit-soul [several passages seem to equate spirit and soul as the same thing]; (3) A triunity, as being made up of a body, spirit, and soul [cf. 1Th 5.23]. All of these passages are correct, from different perspectives. From one perspective, we are one organic whole, and to separate anything is to kill a human. From another perspective, we are a duality, because there is one part of us you can see and touch (the body) and a part of us you cannot (the spirit and/or soul). But, I think that triunity does the best job of describing our structure. We are:

1. Humans are body. We are matter. This body is the part of the "self" that is empirically aware of other beings, and able to relate to them in Creation. This part of the self relates directly to the principle of "matter" above.

2. Humans are spirit. We are "energy". The spirit is the part of the "self" that is spiritually aware, able to relate to spiritual realities (such as God, angels, demons), and which energizes and gives life to the body and soul. This part of the self relates directly to the principle of "energy" above.

3. Humans are soul. We are "self". The soul is the part of the "self" that is aware of the self, that is conscious. The soul gives form to the self, and is that which relates spirit to body, and relates our "self" to other beings and other selves in Reality. This part of the self relates directly to the principle of "dimensionality" above.

Body, spirit, and soul are distinct, but cannot be separated without killing a person. One cannot be a disembodied soul, because part of being a "soul" or a "self" is to be in relation to other selves. But this relationality cannot be done without a medium through which to relate(the medium we relate through is body and spirit). Just as dimensionality would be empty and void without matter and energy filling it (indeed, unimaginable without matter and energy!), so also the soul is unimaginable without connectedness to matter through the body, and connectedness to spirituality through the spirit.

B. Human triune experience: Again, various Bible passages speak of different facets of the "self" or the "soul". This is too complex to explore in detail, but suffice it to say that the Bible speaks of "heart", "mind", "strength", "will", "memory", "appetite", "conscience", and a host of other terms to describe the inner function of the self. I think that all of these facets of the self can be understood within a triune "grid" of heart, mind, and will.

1. The self as "heart": This is the affective part of the self, the wellspring of emotions and aesthetic experience. The key factor in the heart is that of being "prescriptive" and viewing Reality as it SHOULD be. Our imaginations and aesthetic ideals are based on what we hope reality SHOULD become. Our emotions are largely based on whether the state of reality conforms or deforms what we think SHOULD be.

2. The self as "mind": This is the cognitive, rational part of the self. This is largely where our worldview is formed. The key factor in the mind is that of being "descriptive", and viewing reality as it IS. In our minds we analyze and synthesize what we think the state of reality IS based off of the evidence we have gained. Our reasoning and memory may be flawed, and it is influenced by how we feel in our hearts, but this is largely how we develop our worldview.

And, as a sidenote, almost all of our education in the western world is aimed at cultivating the mind and not the heart or the will. We are very "mind-heavy" in our way of relating to Reality.

3. The self as "will": This is the volitional, active part of the self. This is the part of the self that makes choices to shape our inner and outer realities. The key factor in the will is the process of BECOMING. In fact, the desires and choice of the will can be seen as the bridge between heart and mind. The will is that part of the self that acts to conform what IS to what SHOULD be. We can either act inwardly to conform the self to reality (decide that what IS is what SHOULD be), or act outwardly to conform reality to the self (decide that what SHOULD be should shape what IS).

C. I would just like to add that there are other facets of what it means to be made in God's image, such as human community and sexuality. But, for the purposes of answering your question, these are less-than-relevant. So, I just wanted to make sure that you did not reduce being made in God's image to JUST what I have said above. There is more...
D. But, now that we have defined what I consider to be the core meaning of what it means to be "human" ( we are a triunity of body, spirit, and soul, with the soul as a triunity of heart, mind, and will), we are in a position to answer your question:

Does the Spirit change?

1. In one way, the spirit IS change itself. It is the principle that animates the Body and Soul and indeed animates the whole universe as Divine Energy. Our spirit is an extension of the Holy Spirit who "brooded over the waters" at Creation to bring forth life out of non-life (cf. Gen 1.1-3).

The Spirit is the divine energy that is drawing us into deeper relationship with God. As such, the Spirit draws us through stages and levels of awareness, and as we draw closer to God we are filled more and more with this Divine Energy.

So, on one hand the spirit does change because the Spirit is change.

2. In another way, the Spirit never changes. The Spirit is God (the third Divine Person), and God never changes. Furthermore, if the Spirit is the principle of change itself, and if it were to change from being that principle, then it would have to become non-change.

So, on this analysis, it is not the Spirit who changes, but it is the Spirit that changes all of creation from non-life to life, and from life to human life in the divine image. The Spirit stays the same as the Force that draws us into God. We change as we go through the ages and stages of growth into God's image.

3. In fact, I would ultimately argue that our "Spirit" is not ours at all, but is a gift on loan from God. In Ecclesiastes 12:7 we find that "the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it". In fact, I would argue that Spirit is the gift of God Himself dwelling in us to a greater or lesser degree (as we open ourselves to God's presence). You can find information about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in places like John 14-17 and Romans 8.

From this perspective, our Spirit changes because we allow more or less of the Spirit into our lives to fill and energize us with divine life. The "gateway" which allows the Spirit in is the decisions we make in our soul. We can "harden our hearts" to the Spirit by choosing things that SHOULD not be. We can "darken our minds" to the Spirit's reality by choosing the believe things that ARE NOT true. We can "stiffen our necks" to the Holy Spirit by willing to do things that grieve God and harm his children.

All of these choices- these sins- constrict the flow of the Spirit in our lives. And if we keep it up, we can actually cut ourselves off from the Holy Spirit. If we do that, we die and become an un-man. We can either die physically, or die spiritually, as a person who is completely filled and controlled by a spirit that is not of God (i.e. possession).

E. So, to put the "cookies on the bottom shelf" I would say that:
1. The Spirit is God's Spirit, and does not ultimately belong to us, although we need Spirit to be fully alive and fully human. It is proper to speak of "our spirit" (because it is part of our structural makeup) as long as we do not forget it is ultimately God's Holy Spirit.

2. The Spirit Herself does not change, but is the Agent of God who leads us on a path of change as we are transformed into God's image.

3. We can experience more or less of the "fullness" of the Spirit based on the openness of our souls to God (whether our hearts, minds, and wills are more or less congruent with God's), and the health of our bodies (whether we are tired, injured, or have proper brain function).

4. This experience of fullness/emptiness of God's Spirit is what we think of as a "change" in our spirits, as we become further/closer to God.

5. There are other spiritual beings in creation, such as angels and demons. As far as I can tell from Scripture, God's obedient angels always stay "external" to persons and do not inhabit, fill, or possess us. It is for God's Spirit alone to fill and possess us.

Yet, fallen angels- demons- can and do take advantage of the "spiritual vacuum" that happens when we are empty of the Holy Spirit. "Nature abhors a vacuum" is a dictum not only empirically but also spiritually. If we do not have the fullness of the Holy Spirit, demons can "demonize" us and even "seize" us (i.e. fill and possess us).

Now, the authority of Christ and surrender to the Holy Spirit can fix this. But we have to will it and want it. God will not be an unwilling guest within us. Thus I end with a promise and admonition from St. Paul:

Ephesians 5:18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit.

1 Thessalonians 5:23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2008-02-04

Scripture: The Story that Reads Us


OK, instead of writing a sermon this last week, I drew a picture. Click above to see it.

The basic thesis that drives the chart above (and the sermon that went with it) is that Scripture is a grand Story which reads us and interprets our lives to us. When we find our place in the outworking Story revealed in Scripture, we find our true identity in Christ. This Story has seven "ages" or "chapters":

1. The Creation.
2. The Crisis.
3. The Calling.
4. The Christ.
5. The Commission.
6. The Church.
7. The Completion.

Let me describe a little of what is going on here. The idea that "Scripture is a grand Story into which all of our personal stories are being woven" is not a new one. It has its roots in the early Church tradition. One exemplar that I can think of is Irenaeus and his theory of Jesus Christ recapitulating and redeeming the whole human story.

However, the immediate inspiration for this has come over the last 5 years through three authors: (a) CS Lewis hits on this theme in several of his essays, and even implicitly in his Narnia series and Space Trilogy. (b) Brian McLaren puts forward a scheme that is substantially the same as what I have drawn above in his book "The Story we find ourselves in". This book was the first time I explicitly began to formulate my ideas of Scripture as Grand Story, and I borrow heavily from McLaren. (c) NT Wright, in his book "The Last Word" (and others) formulates an idea of Scriptural authority based in narrative consistency. His schema only uses 5 acts in the Story, but I rely on his sense of Biblical Authority.

There are also other works of systematic theology, such as VonBalthasaar's "Theo-Drama", and Kevin Vanhoozer's "The Drama of Doctrine", and Gabriel Fackre's "The Christian Story", which contribute largely to my understanding.

Anyway, enjoy the chart. I hope it makes sense. At some point I will put an essay up which describes in detail what the chart means. But, until then: My you find your story in His Story.
This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.