Sitting and Breathing

A friend and I spent a good deal of today sending emails back and forth talking about life. He had good words for me. Many of them in fact, but three that really stuck with me were “Sit and Breathe.”

Life lately has become more challenging than it had been before. A mixture of future blending with present all rushing towards the reality of me moving across the country. Moving there to things that give me life, but certainly a swirling vortex of choices and moments pushing me into something bigger than myself and my own dreams and hopes.

In this I received the encouragement to sit and breathe. I felt that perhaps I might like to think through those things.

Sit.

When I think about that I think about the passage in Hebrews were the author–note I didn’t say Paul 😉 –speaks about Christ being the one true High Priest. The One who unlike the previous priests was able to sit after offering His sacrifice. His work finished. As I mentioned in a previous blog post it is through participating in Christ’s baptism/life/teaching/death/resurrection that we find who we truly are. As German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer would encourage us, we become “humans before God” in and through Christ.

As I ponder sitting, I realize that the One in whom my own humanity is grounded is sitting. Both at the right hand of God (see the Apostle’s Creed) and in a work that is already finished. He sits. The fulfillment of humanity sits. If we participate in the work and life of Christ…then it seems that whether or not we like it we are to recognize ourselves as sitting. Perhaps not to say that there is nothing to be a part of doing, but rather to own that the real task–that of reconciling man to God–has been finished. We are sitting because He sits. The Lord who has completed the real task is completing it still. In us and through us.

Breathe. 

In Genesis, God breathes into Adam. After molding man via the dust, God breathes life into Adam. Thus I doubt if there is any way to separate this idea of breath, of breathing from the fact that God was the first to breathe. The first to give life to another.

My understanding of the Hebrew idea of the soul is that this breath of God is our soul. This force that animates us, that meets us in our bodies and gives us being is God actively working in us. Sustaining us. Unlike a Philosophical dualist version of existence (body vs. spirit) we see that bodies are integral to being humans. Jesus is resurrected to a body that breathes and eats. Albeit, one that passes through walls, but is also no less real and tangible.

In thinking about breathe and breathing I am reminded that it is God who breathed first. That it is through this gift of life given by the creator of all that I exist at all. I am dependent, as I have always been, on the One who gives me life so that I might share it with Him and others. In breathing, maybe there’ a way that each breath can be a reminder of this. That God cares enough to give me life, to bear with me in my frailties, strengths, successes, and failures and allow me to choose to share that gift He gives me.

I didn’t have much purpose other than to briefly ponder these things. Hopefully my thoughts might be of some service to you as well.

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Romans 7, Huh…That’s confusing.

I am doing a Lenten bible study with folks from church. For Lent we’re studying Romans. It’s been really fruitful, not necessarily because of the curriculum we’ve been issued (we are regularly underwhelmed by it) but because of the folks present.

There are two fairly recent SPU graduates–myself and my friend Joel–along with three older men who have careers or families. Some of them have both. We end up having some great discussions.

Yesterday, we read a part of Romans chapter 7(14-23) that I’ve been familiar with for awhile. Here it is:

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

  So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

   So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature[d] a slave to the law of sin.

I axed the verse numbers. But in any case there it is. This passage resonates clearly with me as I assume it does with many other people. This is a pretty good representation of my experience in Christian walk. It is commonly interpreted to apply to the life of the believer. The Lutheran confession of sin that I grew up reciting every Sunday featured the following line:

“We confess that we are in bondage to sin, and cannot free ourselves…”

I dunno about you, but I submit that Romans 7 is where Mr.Luther found that line. So, why do I bring it up you ask? Why is this worth mentioning? Because it’s seemingly directly contradicted by the second verse of the following chapter.

In Romans 8:2 St. Paul proceeds to state that:

…through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death.

I want you to think about the last bit in Chapter 7. “A slave to the law of sin” VS chapter 8’s sudden reversal.

Since I first encountered this shift between chapters 7 and 8 I have had beef with the Lutheran confession. Paul clearly states that we’re not in bondage to sin in 8, but then in 7 it seems to indicate otherwise. What are we to do with the resulting tension?

Well, read in the context of the rest of the chapter Paul seems to imply that chapter 7’s appraisal of the struggle with the law/sin is that of a pre-Messiah reality. The life of the orthodox Jewish community seems to be one of serious struggle with the manner in which Mosaic law actually enlightens the faithful Jew to what is sin and the manner in which choosing sinful things is an inherent part of life. 

The passage, read in this way, really does serve as a nice transition to chapter 8’s statement of freedom in Christ. We’re not bound by sin any longer through Christ. So, at this point Chapter 7 really does serve to carry Paul’s point well.

However, it does land me/you (I imagine)/Lutheran liturgy in a complicated space.

Firstly, let’s just call it what it is: Martin Luther misinterpreted the passage. I’m sorry, but it’s true. I won’t be able to say that particular confession anymore in good conscience.

Secondly, what exactly are we to do with the fact that chapter 7’s statement on the struggle with sin does resonate so strongly with people who are already in Christ? 

It’s clear from the rest of chapter 7 (and Romans as well) that Paul wants us to see ourselves as bound firmly to Christ. Jesus being the only true fulfillment of humanity means that we are all wrapped up in that. Whether we know it or not. We are a part of the communion of the Trinity through Jesus. We actually participate in His fulfilled humanity. It’s vicarious. 

So, as Paul will say…We’re dead to sin, but alive in Christ. His baptism, death, and resurrection is representative of all of God’s people. Because He did these things, we have done them with Him. All that said, when we read Romans 7 I don’t think we’re meant to stop there. Lots of people like to take passages out of their context and run away with them (cough cough…Marin Luther).

When we read that passage at the end of Romans 7 with the entirety of Romans 8 something different comes to our attention. Here are both from the NRSV as opposed to the NIV I used earlier. Just a little change-up:

For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin.* 15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.24Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin. 

8There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit* of life in Christ Jesus has set you*free from the law of sin and of death. 3For 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 to deal with sin,* he condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.* 5For 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.* 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit* is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit,* since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit* is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ* from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through* his Spirit that dwells in you.

12 So then, brothers and sisters,* we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba!* Father!’16it is that very Spirit bearing witness* with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in* hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes* for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes* with sighs too deep for words. 27And God,* who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit* intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.*

28 We know that all things work together for good* for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.* 30And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.* 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
   we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ 
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

So, we’re reading this and at least to me it’s quite encouraging. Paul doesn’t stop at the end of Romans 7 and say, “This is us. Deep sigh.” He moves on. He emphasizes our connection with the Risen Lord through the Holy Spirit and goes even further. We’re encouraged to “by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body”.

This to me implies that while the ultimate reality of our lives in Christ is that of participation in His fully realized humanity. We’re given reconciliation with God through Jesus, but we’re also left with the reality that we have work to do. We’re to put to death the parts of ourselves that don’t lean in the direction that God is leading us (important note is that we’re to do this by the Spirit). 

I think we’re to move with Paul from Romans 7 to Romans 8 as we read, but also in life. That we find ourselves in Romans 7 is not the issue. Our sense of movement towards and ownership of Romans 8 is. The book of Romans doesn’t end with chapter 7. It moves on. 

Nothing can separate us from God’s love. Nothing at all. That love is dynamic. It moves us. This is what John Wesley talked about when he mentioned sanctification. We’re being moved towards the life that God has for us through the Spirit, we participate in the fullness of that in Christ, and we build habits that put to death things that hold us back. I think that there’s a lot of hope in this. 

PS: I didn’t deal with the predestination bits in Chapter 8. That wasn’t really what I was about in this post. I don’t think it really has too much to do with what I was trying to talk about.

Oremus.org Hymn of the Day

I know I reblog these things all the time, but man…They’re just so money.

Words: Charlotte Elliott (1789-1871)
Tune: Saffron Walden

Just as I am, without one plea
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidst me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not
to rid my soul of one dark blot,
to thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve:
because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am (thy love unknown
has broken every barrier down),
now to be thine, yea, thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am, of that free love
the breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
here for a season, then above,
O Lamb of God, I come.

St.Patrick’s Day Prayer/Hymn

I really enjoyed this when I read it this morning:

I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever,
by power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;
his baptism in Jordan river;
his death on cross for my salvation;
his bursting from the spic d tomb;
his riding up the heavenly way;
his coming at the day of doom:
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
of the great love of cherubim;
the sweet “Well done” in judgment hour;
the service of the seraphim;
confessors’ faith, apostles’ word,
the patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls;
all good deeds done unto the Lord,
and purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven
the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
his eye to watch, his might to stay,
his ear to hearken, to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach,
his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech,
his heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort
and restore me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of
all that love me,
Christ in mouth of
friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Sinking in.

I’m traveling to North Carolina tomorrow morning. A fairly early flight, but all the same it gives me an excuse to catch up on my Harry Potter reading…I’ve read it before, but it’s becoming an engrossing habit as I get sucked back into the wonderful magical land of muggles and wizards. Those Weasley twins are a riot.

Like I was saying, I’m traveling across the country. I’m going to look at the place where I’ll be spending the next 3 years as of August. I’ll be attending Duke Divinity School in the Fall and will be pursuing my Masters of Divinity. Yep, it sounds a tad silly…but all the same I’m moving to Durham, NC for grad school (however silly my degree may sound) and that is real.

It’s slowly been growing more real a bit at a time. This time more so. This will be one of two trips I make out there. The next time it will be in a moving-van with all the necessary things I can bring to begin making North Carolina home.

I’ve lived in the PNW for 25 years. I’ve been other places to visit, often several months at a time, but I’ve never lived anywhere else. This will be new. It will be wonderful. It will be challenging. I guess it’s good when the Lord leads you to things like this.

All that said, I still feel like the XKCD comic below.

http://xkcd.com/616/