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Posts Tagged ‘Christ’

Bread and wineMy wife and I like our son to eat food that’s nutritious and good for his development. We allow ice cream once in a while, but we know that giving our child a steady diet of junk food would be parental malpractice. He needs vegetables, vitamins, fruit, protein, complex carbs, and a reasonable dose of fat.

When he gets bored at mealtime and doesn’t want to eat the rest of his green beans, we encourage him to finish eating. We tell him that eating his food will help him to be big and strong like his daddy.

Maybe you’ve heard the saying “You are what you eat.” That doesn’t mean that you become green beans if you eat green beans. It means that eating healthful food empowers you to have a healthy body and a healthy life, while eating too much junk food empowers you to have a junky body with a junky life. This observation reminds me of another saying: “Input equals output.”

My congregation’s sermon this weekend comes from Romans 8, and in verses 1-11 we find a similar inside-outside connection.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (ESV)

What goes into us shapes how we live. “You are what you eat.”

When the Holy Spirit lives in us, God transforms our lives. “Input equals output.”

The Spirit enters us in various ways.

We “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” when we believe the good news of Jesus and when we are baptized (Acts 2:38; Ephesians 1:13).

The Holy Spirit enters people through the laying on of hands (Deuteronomy 34:9; Acts 19:6).

The Holy Spirit can enter people who are around others in whom the Spirit is working (1 Samuel 19:18-24).

The Holy Spirit fills followers of Jesus when they speak (Acts 2:4; 4:8; 13:9) and when they are persecuted (13:50-52).

God gives the Holy Spirit to people who ask (Luke 11:13).

The Holy Spirit can even enter people before birth (Luke 1:15).

Beyond these ways, the Holy Spirit can operate in ways that are unexpected and unexplainable (John 3:8). As the hymnist William Cowper penned in the 18th century, “God moves in a mysterious way.”

I look forward to listening to tomorrow’s sermon on Romans 8. Before that sermon, I get to say a few comments to prepare the church for communion. As I get ready for that privilege, my meditation on verses 1-11 leads me to see communion as one way in which the Holy Spirits enters us and empowers us for life in God’s mission.

A long-held belief in Christianity is that Christ is somehow present with his followers in communion (also called the Eucharist and the Lord’s Supper). Although great thinkers in the history of the church have disagreed about exactly how this presence operates, many Christians have believed that in some way Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is present when gathered communities of Christian faith consume the bread and cup, commemorating Jesus’ crucifixion and celebrating the hope of his return.

Through this process of remembering and celebrating, the Holy Spirit continually fills the body of Christ (the church) and empowers that community of Jesus-followers to carry out God’s mission of blessing the world.

When we eat the bread and drink the cup, we do more than eat crackers and drink wine or grape juice.

When we participate in this event, the Holy Spirit enters us yet again and strengthens us to live for God.

As a child, I experienced amazement when the bread and cup were served. When I looked at the people around me, I could tell that this practice was something special, something mystical. I didn’t understand what was happening, but the holiness of the moment drew me in.

I have not always experienced that amazement at communion. The Lord’s Supper has not always seemed special. I have not always noticed the mystery of the Eucharist.

So I pray for the ability to see the mysterious transformation that God is working through the Holy Spirit when followers of Jesus take the bread and cup together. Through the Spirit, the bread and cup become more than a snack and more than an ancient practice the meaning of which we’ve forgotten. They become a meaningful meal that fuels us for life.

When we eat the body of Christ together, the Spirit empowers us to be that body.

We are what we eat.

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The time is upon us again–the annual season designated for international celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth. Of course, plenty of devout Christians are fond of highlighting the commercialization of the holiday, and I share at least some of their perspectives.

Other Jesus-followers elect not to recognize any religious dimensions of the holiday because they have no way of knowing (and are even highly skeptical) that December 25 was the precise date that the Savior entered human life. I can understand that position as well, for my early childhood happened in the context of that belief and practice. My family participated, as much as possible, in the commercial rituals, giving and receiving gifts and feasting on homemade delicacies; but I remember friends’ confusion when they learned that my Christian family did not have a star or an angel on our Christmas tree.

The first angel on our Christmas tree must have arrived sometime during my preteen era. It brought me simultaneous feelings of liberating enthusiasm and theological tension. (The word “theological” was not yet in my vocabulary, thanks to the pragmatic foundation of our cultural context.) I appreciated the freedom to let my soul’s excitement soar as high as, and eventually higher than, my Christmas morning hyperactivity (which still exists); but a question plagued me: How can I believe that December 25 is most likely not the actual birthday of my Lord AND at the same time celebrate the spiritual aspects of the holiday that the world recognizes as his birthday?

Eventually, I discovered that most of the thinking people in the world who have had any exposure to the Christian message do not insist that the 25th of December is literally Jesus’ birthday. I also learned to appreciate the widespread recognition of Christ, no matter the season or holiday that spurs it. Even though the Bible does not specify the date, even though December was not a likely time for shepherds to be out in the fields with their flocks, and even though we should be celebrating Jesus year-round, I am happy to join millions of other citizens of this world in our common celebration of God’s heroic and loving act of taking on human flesh and living with us to give a glimpse of divine reality and to call us to a better life in tune with that revelation.

The commercialization of the season still bothers me, as does the general materialism of our culture(s) throughout the year. When I repeatedly explore the story of Jesus, I do not see a jolly fat man devouring plates of cookies and giving gluttonous bags of toys and candy, nor do I see parents using their credit cards or family savings to lavish extravagant and unnecessary luxuries upon their demanding children whose closets, tummies, and toy chests already overflow. Instead, I see a baby born to a poor family with no bedroom. I see that baby sleeping and probably crying in a box of hay in a smelly barn. And I see the Son of God entering the world in the midst of rumors and ridicule.

The story of Jesus does not exemplify the “American dream.” He does not advance from poverty to riches. He ends up walking around his country with a small group of outcasts and without a house to call his own.

What does this story say about economic and lifestyle practices of Jesus-followers today? How can we live functionally in our culture(s) and still live up to the sacrificial calling issuing forth from the life and teachings of Christ?

How can we live in ways that celebrate Jesus throughout the year, instead of just on socially specified dates?

I do not have all the answers. I am still seeking. And along the journey, I keep celebrating. May God bless you with out-of-this-world joy both today and tomorrow, as you experience once again the birth of our journey in Christ.

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