Tuesday, July 26, 2005

love after love

Derek Walcott's Nobel citation:

for a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by a historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment.

From my fall 2001 management class, by the 1992 Nobel Laureate in Literature, Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes;
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott biography

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Deliverance, Homecoming, Shame and Grace

Another topic big enough for a book, but here's a beginning! To introduce this article, I'll quote parts of a pair of posts from early 2003; you can read my whole entire February 2003 here.
Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Synagogue and Basilica are meeting places—Church is People

...Liberation theology categories bring us back to God's self revelation in scripture and in the Christ Event. Mary's Magnificat is a central liberation theology concept and text:

"He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly, the hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away." –Luke 1:52-53

These words are grounded! Aren't those happenings demonstrated by Jesus' life and kerygma, Jesus' proclamation? I also like the liberation theology theme of the obliteration of shame: middle-class mainline U.S. Christianity often emphasizes annihilation of individual sin and guilt ...as devastating and as paralyzing as sin and guilt can be, shame is a far more cosmic category, visited upon individuals, cultures and societies by forces outside of themselves, forces over which they have no control—Paul's apocalyptic "powers and principalities." ...although the historical roots of deutero-Paul's exposition of and concern with the powers and principalities was somewhat "other than" what I've been writing about.

To paraphrase Johan Christiaan Beker in Paul's Apocalyptic Gospel: The Coming Triumph of God, the Church is the sign of the dawn of the new age and of the powers of life over and against the powers of death, and God calls the Church to active engagement with the world in order to fulfill its redemptive mission in the world. As I'd express it, God calls the Church, the Body of the Risen Christ, to be an instrument of grace to the world.

As an aside, although Paul may have been calling "on the Name of the Lord" on the fabled Damascus Road, I'm not completely convinced, since often grace and salvation break unbidden into life...into this world.

this relates, as well (also from February 2003):

Monday, February 17, 2003

Power and Sovereignty

Martin LutherAs Christians our ultimate model of power is our God of glory, majesty and sovereignty willingly abrogating that power and becoming "small for us in Christ"—as Martin Luther expressed it: small enough to die. For us! From Christmas and the vulnerability of the manger we go to Good Friday and the vulnerability and absolute defenselessness of the cross. As Christians we confess we find the height of God's sovereignty in the vulnerability and weakness – in the hiddenness – of a human dying on the scandal of a tree. We discover and recognize the fullness of the Shekinah Glory—the glory of the presence of God—in the weakness of Jesus, "The Human One," who dies without defense. And that powerlessness proved enough to annihilate the powers and principalities; it was sufficient to effect the death of the old order of death itself; Jesus' dying on the tree of death that paradoxically becomes the Tree of Life. Our Good Friday/East Sunday proclamation is the end of the supremacy of death and the birth, the ascendancy of the primacy of life—the eschatological reign of the Power of God, most eloquently uncovered and found in the Lordship of Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified and risen One both Human and Divine, who shared our common lot and in whose birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension we know and affirm the definitive manifestation of the God beyond time and beyond space. ...

Now to today's topic: deliverance, homecoming, shame and grace!

Vis-à-vis Good Friday's cross and the empty grave of Easter Sunday's dawn, Christianity has developed an intricate theology of deliverance from slavery, redemption from bondage and homecoming from exile, but for Jews, shame was the cultural piece about the cross! However, when you assess any of those dimensions of salvation and wholeness, they're actually all about freedom.
Deuteronomy 21
22 If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.

Galatians 3
13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree," 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Hebrews 12
1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Clearly shame is cosmic and embraces every aspect of a person, but if it's possible to place it more in one category than in others, shame is more cultural than it is psychological or spiritual. Exactly the same way the cultural piece about the cross was shame, for us also, shame as an aspect of culture invades our total lives and affects ourselves and our (lacking a better word) total performances. For all of us and any of us, the situations, events and various miscellanea that cause us shame also tend to constitute the unspeakable we cannot permit ourselves to articulate! Not only was death from hanging on a tree in itself a major curse under Old Covenant law—there's a ton of ritual and religious freight connected to that; in Jesus' case, dying outside the city gates located him outside humanity. For eons, city and civilization essentially have been synonymous; from days of old, cities have been places of population density, high-end commerce, and focal points of religious leadership and authority (hmmmm...thinking about Canterbury, Rome, Chicago, Louisville, Cleveland in this context?); typically cities have served as crossroads on the way to other places and historically, cities have been communication hubs, with news coming in and being broadcast out in various ways. As cities evolved, despite some barter and mutual exchange of goods still happening today (even now in the more-developed economies of the 21st Century First World), for a multitude of reasons, very early on a cash economy emerged and evolved. It's still emerging and still evolving, though these days credit and subsequent non-payment is becoming a habit for some.

But God chose to be born into humanity, into our life style and our longings, not at the local Cedar Mount Sinai or Presbyterian Hospital equivalent; and the society – and culture – chose to put God to death not according to contemporary antisepsis. Is there an antiseptic death? Well, yes. In Christ Jesus, God entered humanity and socialized with society at every level, but ultimately chose to identify most completely with the least of humanity, the cast-out, cast-off and cast-always. Over on my testimony blog, this far by faith, recently I posted this passage from John's gospel:
8:31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
33 They answered Him, "We are Abraham's descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, 'You will be made free'?"
34 Jesus answered them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. 35 And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. 36 Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."
And from Romans 8, where Paul uses the same word as John uses for free eleutheria:
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the offspring of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
Also on this far by faith, two days ago, July 19, 2005, regarding Holy Shelter I wrote,

And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat...Exodus 25:22a

God promises to meet us at the throne of sovereign mercy and grace; God meets us at the cross of Mount Calvary...

...after all, isn’t homecoming the ultimate thanksgiving?

Christianity has developed a complex theology of deliverance from slavery, redemption from bondage and homecoming from exile, but for Jews, shame was the cultural piece about the cross; when you assess any of those dimensions of salvation and wholeness, they're actually all about freedom! Clearly shame is cosmic and embraces every facet of a person; shame as judgment from our culture invades our total selves.

God promises to meet us at the throne of sovereign mercy and grace; God meets us at the cross of Mount Calvary... shame invades our total selves, but in the Divine Sovereignty and provision of the Cross of Jesus Christ, in mercy and grace God meets us, take all of our shame upon Himself and, at Resurrection dawn, transforms our entire selves into a homecoming of freedom without shame!

But always and for all times it hasn't been about signs and wonders—remember, even the gods of the Egyptians could do the fireworks! For the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the prophets, the God and Father of Jesus Christ, all ways and every time it has been about constant, unmediated, unevoked and surprising Presence. For today I'm finished thinking about this, so I'll conclude with a handful of promise-texts:
Exodus 3
10 Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt."

11 But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?"

12 So He said, "I will certainly be with you. And this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain."

13 Then Moses said to God, "Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, "The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they say to me, "What is His name?' what shall I say to them?"

14 And God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And He said, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, "I AM has sent me to you."' 15 Moreover God said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: "The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.' 16 Go and gather the elders of Israel together, and say to them, "The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared to me, saying, "I have surely visited you and seen what is done to you in Egypt; 17 and I have said I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, to a land flowing with milk and honey."'

Joshua 1
5 No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. 7 Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. 8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."

Deuteronomy 1
32 Yet, for all that, you did not believe the LORD your God, 33 who went in the way before you to search out a place for you to pitch your tents, to show you the way you should go, in the fire by night and in the cloud by day.

Deuteronomy 2
7 "For the LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hand. He knows your trudging through this great wilderness. These forty years the LORD your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing."'

Matthew 28
18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

Sunday, July 17, 2005


I'm cross-posting this on this far by faith, my testimony blog with no changes, so please bear with me if you visit both blogs! Desert Spirit's Fire is the place for my more intentionally formal writing, but this post contains both approaches, so it belongs both places. The ideas I'm posting this evening could be developed far more, so one more time, here are some more sprawling connections—but they do cohere, however jaggedly.
Anticipation is another pungent biblical theme!
Friday afternoon at the 99¢ Only Store (local-dwellers know the store's addictiveness), for the first time in close to forever I heard Carly Simon's haunting Grammy-winner

Anticipation. Both music and lyrics are Carly Simon originals:

from Anticipation:
We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway
And I wonder if I'm really with you now
Or just chasing after some finer day

Anticipation, Anticipation
Is making me late
Is keeping me waiting...

© 1971 Quackenbush Music Ltd.

Reformation Notes
Because of their historical location the Reformers, especially Luther and Calvin, necessarily concentrated on a highly humanity-focused theological model, and theologizing within that, they also developed a compelling concept of God's gracious descent to all creation, which I believe laid open extensive possibilities for developing a comprehensive theology of redemption and sanctification that would include all creation. Both of those magisterial Reformers viewed all creation – not only human creatures – as an arena for the revelation of God's glory. In the Hebrew Bible there are ample precedents for this kind of holistic view of God's passion for creation and for an all-encompassing view of the sovereignty of Jesus Christ. I love the deuteronomic historian's relentless refrain, "into the land, into the land, into the land!" Hebrew Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann is one of my favorite authors; in his The Land: Place As Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith, he insists theology and theologians have concentrated far too much on covenant to the often near-exclusion of The Land.

As I continue my still very preliminary study and writing for my future book about ecological theology, besides the Bible, Brueggemann's plentiful work has influenced me a lot; Matthew Fox has influenced me some (though my theology is far more sacramental than Fox's); also, I'm drawing on the historical and still-present influences and insights of Celtic spirituality. Paul Santmire and Jürgen Moltmann are a pair of contemporary theologians in the Reformation tradition I need to thank and credit, as well.

Second Isaiah
I'm always thinking a lot about how much I love 2nd Isaiah of the exile (I need to figure out how to post some of my Isaiah graphics here). Check out the persistent theme of redemption and hope running through these verses, and particularly humanity's salvation physically located in the midst of the natural creation's redemption—the Reformers' theology of God's descent and infilling of everything created so recapture these passages! Related to these 2nd Isaiah texts, note well Luther's theology of the ubiquity of the Risen and Ascended Christ! [...looks as if I'm being excessive with the exclamation points?!]

from Isaiah 41

8 "But you, Israel, are My servant,
Jacob whom I have chosen,
The descendants of Abraham My friend.
9 You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth,
And called from its farthest regions,
And said to you,
"You are My servant,
I have chosen you and have not cast you away:
10 Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
Yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.'
18 I will open rivers in desolate heights,
And fountains in the midst of the valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
And the dry land springs of water."

Isaiah 43

Isaiah 43:1

1 But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel:
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.
3 For I am the LORD your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
11 I, even I, am the LORD,
And besides Me there is no savior.
12 I have declared and saved,
I have proclaimed,
And there was no alien god among you;
Therefore you are My witnesses,"
Says the LORD, "that I am God.

Isaiah 43:1-2
15 I am the LORD, your Holy One,
The Creator of Israel, your King."
16 Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea
And a path through the mighty waters,
18 "Do not remember the former things,
Nor consider the things of old.
19 Behold, I will do a new thing,
Now it shall spring forth;
Shall you not know it?
I will even make a road in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert.
20 The beast of the field will honor Me,
The jackals and the ostriches,
Because I give waters in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert,
To give drink to My people, My chosen.
21 This people I have formed for Myself;
They shall declare My praise."

Isaiah 44

23 Sing, O heavens, for the LORD has done it!
Shout, you lower parts of the earth;
Break forth into singing, you mountains,
O forest, and every tree in it!
For the LORD has redeemed Jacob,
And glorified Himself in Israel.

Isaiah 51

Isaiah 51:3

3 For the LORD will comfort Zion,
He will comfort all her waste places;
He will make her wilderness like Eden,
And her desert like the garden of the LORD;
Joy and gladness will be found in it,
Thanksgiving and the voice of melody.
4 "Listen to Me, My people;
And give ear to Me, O My nation:
For law will proceed from Me,
And I will make My justice rest
As a light of the peoples."
Walter Brueggemann essentially comments,

Of course the trees sing and clap their hands—no more clear-cutting! Of course the seas roar and everything in them rejoices—no more toxic waste and pollution!

Milk and Honey, Reign of Heaven: right here In the Land
Although I like mystery (how can you be a theologian and not be drawn to mystery?), I absolutely love paradox! On that theme, I need to ask how you can be a Christian without the mysterious paradox of God's clearest self-revelation in the vulnerability of a human, amazing and overwhelming and drawing you into itself? Look in the manger and look at the cross, insists Martin Luther! Milk and honey is a sign of the fullness of the sovereignty of God; in Jesus of Nazareth we meet face-to-face the embodiment of the realization of the time of salvation, the epoch of the Reign of Heaven. But this paragraph began with milk and honey! Flowing honey and surging milk begin with fertile land and rivers of usable water. Ample milk means abundant cattle grazing on luxuriant grass, producing healthy calves and fertilizing grains and vegetable gardens. Of course it includes bees pollinating fruits and flowers, vineyards and other food crops. Hearty vineyards, healthy fields and sufficient water. Dairy and beef, honey and harvest lead to nourishment for the farmers, their families and the community, with overflowing everything to sell at market or barter and trade in order to acquire whatever you cannot produce on your own. Likely I've left out a slew of probable connections, but my intent is clear: heaven's blessings aplenty on earth!

However, Israel became Israel, receiving the identifying name, not in the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey but in the desert of the trek toward that promised-landed freedom. In the desert's sparse economy, with surprising gifts like water from the rock and manna from the sky, Israel and Yahweh encountered each other into the kind of relationship that later would enable God's people to recognize God's paradoxical self-revelation in the preached Word and proffered sacraments...

Now and here, like Christ Jesus, face-to-face with the world, the church is the incarnation of the fullness of the time of salvation, the era of the Reign of Life; as persons of the ekklesia, of the church, our sacramental liturgies and lifestyles replay God's paradoxical self-revelation in the exodus desert, recognizing and celebrating God's sustaining presence in, with and under creation's commonest stuff, the utmost essentials for life produced from the heart of the earth.

We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway

But, with God in charge of those days to come, we can have some ideas about a little of what will happen! First of all, (once again!) I need to include one of my favorite passages from Martin Buber's The Prophetic Faith:

In The Prophetic Faith, Jewish theologian Martin Buber writes,
"[for Jeremiah] Not the priest but the prophet he regards as the mediator between heaven and earth, messenger of God and intercessor in one. The contact between godhead and manhood in his view is not bound up with the rite but with the word...the word comes again and again from heaven as something new, and makes its abode within man...and the man who has to make it heard is over and over again subdued by the word before He lets it be put in his mouth. This is not the expression of a familiar deity, with whom man comes into regular contact in fixed places and at fixed times. He, Who speaks, is incomprehensible, irregular, surprising, overwhelming, sovereign. Therefore it is the virtue of this word, and of this alone, to lead, that is to say, to show the way.[my emphasis] ...In order to speak to man, God must become a person; but in order to speak to him, He must make him too a person." (pages 164-165)

Stewardship, Jesus and Us, the churches and the Church
Early on in the Genesis narrative God charges humanity with stewardship of everything created; that's a Yahwist text, meaning it's early! Moving forward quite a few centuries, the Heidelberg Catechism includes (approximate paraphrase), "Why is the Son of God called Jesus, meaning Savior?" "Why is he called Christ, meaning anointed?" Then the probing, "But why are you called a Christian?" "Because by faith I share in Christ's anointing, and I am anointed to reign with Christ over all creation for all eternity." Many of us (most of us?) exercise our baptismal calls to prophecy and to priesthood infrequently, but our everyday lives are replete with insistent opportunities to claim the co-sovereignty over creation we share with the crucified and risen One, or more accurately, the stewarding reign Christ graciously shares with us.

Anticipation is another pungent biblical theme!
There's a famous quote credited to Martin Luther (I've read a fair amount of Luther, but can't cite any source, so I'm saying credited to him): "Sin boldly, but trust even more boldly in the Risen Christ!" That's a glorious reality for every person, every community, and all creation to anticipate!

That's almost all for this evening...but one more Heidelberg Catechism paraphrase: we move from Christmas, with the mystery of Spirit in flesh, to Ascension, with the mystery of flesh in Spirit!

May joyful anticipation of the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, now become the Risen and Ascended One, always sustain you!

Monday, July 04, 2005

Thy Strong Word

Here’s the text of Martin Franzman’s magnificent theological accolade:

Thy Strong Word
  1. Thy strong word did cleave the darkness;
    at thy speaking it was done;
    for created light we thank thee,
    while thine ordered seasons run:
    Alleluia, alleluia! Praise to thee who light dost send!
    Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia without end!

  2. Lo, on those who dwelt in darkness,
    dark as night and deep as death,
    broke the light of thy salvation,
    breathed thine own live-giving breath:
    Alleluia, alleluia! Praise to thee who light dost send!
    Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia without end!

  3. Thy strong word bespeaks us righteous;
    bright with thine own holiness,
    glorious now, we press toward glory,
    and our lives our hopes confess:
    Alleluia, alleluia! Praise to thee who light dost send!
    Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia without end!

  4. God the Father, Light-Creator,
    to thee laud and honor be;
    to thee, Light of Light begotten,
    praise be sung eternally;
    Holy Spirit, Light-Revealer, glory, glory be to thee;
    mortals, angels, now and ever praise the Holy Trinity.
Words: Martin H. Franzman (1907-1976)
Music: Ton-y-Botel, Thomas John Williams (1869-1944)

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Heart Knowledge: sermon

Sunday in Ordinary Time 14 A proclamation
Sunday between July 3 and 9

Sunday, 03 July 2005

Let’s begin by hearing a Word of Life
from the Gospel according to

Matthew, chapter 11:16-19; 28-30
Jesus exclaimed:
16 “To what can I compare this age group? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to others:
17 “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a sad song and you did not lament.’ 18 John the Baptist came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 Jesus, the Human One, Jesus, came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is vindicated by wisdom’s deeds!”
Jesus continued,
28 “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you a break. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for my heart is gentle and unpretentious, and in me you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Let’s pray together (more and less from Psalm 145:8-14):

God, for your gracious, compassionate, loving goodness to all creation, we thank You! Draw us to Yourself and let us learn from You, so we will be able to enter Your dance and show the world the glorious splendor of Your constant presence among all people of every generation. In the Name of the Living Word, Jesus Christ, Amen!
Sermon title: Heart Knowledge

Grace, mercy and peace to you from our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer God!

How can you know someone and say something true about a person unless you know that person's heart? How can any of us say anything about God unless we know God’s heart?

Our central Christian message to the world is the way God reveals Himself to us most clearly in the human, Jesus of Nazareth; one of the primary ways we learn about God is by reading the Bible. Especially in the Gospel accounts we find in the Bible, we learn how God in Christ Jesus lived a human life like ours and learned the human heart from the experience of living human. In Jesus Christ, God learned the heart of a human person, but as humans, can we know God’s heart?

A great deal of the Bible was a product of Jewish life and culture, and in Hebrew biology, above all, the heart is the seat of the will.

Throughout all of the Bible’s witness, in the demonstration of Jesus’ life and today, in the life of the contemporary people of God, the Church, we encounter the heart of God. Maybe you know the story of Abram or Abraham from the Old Testament book of Genesis? The Bible’s text informs us Abraham was an Ivri – a Hebrew: someone from the other side! You don’t need to know formal theology or have spent time in church to realize that God is very much the Other-than-us, God is way beyond time and space, God comes from that exceedingly “other side!” However, the Bible tells us and the Church always has taught how God became incarnate, God became enfleshed as one of us, God lived as a human, in Jesus of Nazareth. From what we read in the gospels, Jesus spent most of his earthly life and ministry outside of the religious establishment and outside of the high-end social establishment; Jesus lived most of his life on the conventional systems’ and accredited authorities’ “other sides,” all the while inviting everyone to become part of his insider circle, always inviting everyone to belong to the people of God.

Back to how we can know God’s heart; from his words recorded in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said:
16 “To what can I compare this age group? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to others:
17 “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a sad song and you did not lament.’ 19 Jesus, the Human One, came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is vindicated by wisdom’s deeds!”
In Hebrew biology the heart is the seat of the will; in this passage from Matthew 11, Jesus identifies with Wisdom in the Old Testament book of Proverbs; here’s part of the Wisdom text:
Proverbs 8
1 Does not wisdom call out?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
5 You who are simple, gain prudence;
you who are foolish, gain understanding.
12 “I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence;
I possess knowledge and discretion.
20 I walk in the way of righteousness,
along the paths of justice,
33 Listen to my instruction and be wise;
do not ignore it.
35 For whoever finds Wisdom finds life
and receives favor from the LORD.”
According to these words, in justice and righteousness, a wise person grabs hold of this moment, this right now; according to Jesus’ example the God-like gentle-hearted wise person invites everyone to the meal, whether it’s a banquet or a simple spread on a picnic table, helping sustain them on every life level with food and companionship, in friendship helping carry their sorrows and rejoicings.

We know Jesus as the best-ever image of God, and Jesus asks us to behave the way he did! In other words, if we’re going to be like God, one of the ways we need to imitate Jesus is by not intentionally excluding anyone...but how can we do that? We’ve already learned the heart is where the will resides, and every one of us knows how many times we fail to do what we intend to do, no matter how hard we try. A prominent author of part of the Bible, Paul, or Saul, from the city of Tarsus, has an answer for us; in the book of Romans, the letter to the Church at Rome, Paul sounds a lot like us when he says in chapter 7:
Romans 7:21a-25a

21 ...even when I want to do good, evil is right there alongside the good; 22 while in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 I see another law at work in my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my body. 24 What a deplorable person I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God, Who rescues me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Paul insists God rescues “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” However, for people who haven’t spent much time in church, that needs some explaining. There’s a ton of theology connected with it, but the basic truth is that in Jesus’ death on the cross of Good Friday and God raising Jesus to new life on Easter Sunday, God has done everything necessary to deliver us, to save, rescue us and forgive us from our own frustrating and often highly self-defeating behaviors, such as not feeling like bringing others into our circles, frequently wanting to put our own desires before the needs of others, constantly repeating behavior we already know leads to negative outcomes. In other words, in Jesus Christ, God rescues us from the worst parts of ourselves by re-newing and re-forming us into people who live according to Jesus’ example!

In Hebrew biology, the heart is the seat of the will! Throughout the gospels’ narrative we encounter Jesus feasting with friends, outsiders and strangers, showing the world the heart of God that wills to include, renew and restore all people into a community where everyone belongs, where there is no outsider! According to Jesus, the wise person’s - wisdom’s - practice of including everyone at meals helps lead to righteousness. We celebrate righteousness or justness as one of God’s attributes or qualities, and we recognize righteousness as one of God’s qualities Christ gives us! Does this happen when we come to faith in Jesus and in baptism? Yes, of course! But also as we continue following the gracious and inclusive Way of Jesus every day.

Via the gospel-writer Matthew, Jesus recommends, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you a break. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

During his earth-walk, Jesus found many of his examples in everyday life; in biblical days a yoke spanned the shoulders of oxen so they could share the weight of a load by pulling together. Jesus knows we need a yoke; we need to be linked together in community and connected together with Jesus, in order to lighten the many loads every one of us carries.

I can assure you – from my own experience, from other people’s testimony and from the witness of the biblical record – God knows the human heart because in Jesus Christ God has lived as one of us, God has lived a fully human life. I reassure you – from my own experience, from other people’s testimony and because of God’s faithful and unbreakable promises – as the Holy Spirit, God still lives with us, within us and among us, most specifically in the gathered assembly of the Church. In the Church we call this time in the history of the world Pentecost, meaning the days of the Reign or Sovereignty of the Holy Spirit of God.

Because the Holy Spirit of God and of the Christ is with us, we can know God’s heart as we continue fully becoming people who show the world the heart of God, including others in our insider circle. Because the Holy Spirit of God and Jesus is here, right now, we can be yoked with Jesus and yoked into community, helping friends and sometimes strangers carry their heavy loads as in turn they help bear ours. May we trust God and Jesus as together we follow the Way of Jesus!

To God Alone be Glory!!!