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February 17, 2020
by Peter Burfeind
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Thursday of Epiphany 3: Words Build Worlds

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Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.” And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.

Jesus need not be present; His Word will carry the authority of His presence. The same theme comes up when Jesus heals the nobleman’s son in the Gospel of John, and it’s a necessary point to make in a Church where Jesus’ localized presence cannot obviously be everywhere at one. By “localized” I mean, “in the regular sense.” Of course, Christ is localized mystically, in the non-regular sense, through the Sacraments and in the Church.

And that mystical presence is sort of what we’re seeing in the Gospel for today. The mystical world is the world of faith, of not seeing but yet believing. Jesus recognizes the greatness of this faith, because in reality, it’s the only way faith can be once Jesus ascended! A non-great faith today would say, “Where is God? I don’t see Him or experience His works, therefore He cannot be present here. Unless I see signs and wonders, I will not believe.”

A great faith says, “I’m not so sure we could bear the presence of God in our fallen world anyways. I know what happened at Mount Sinai and even with Jesus I know what happened at the transfiguration. Such a presence of Jesus in my house…well, I’m not worthy of that. Therefore, if Jesus’ Word is present among us, that is just as effective and powerful as if Jesus Himself were here. In fact, the preaching of His Word carries with it the authority of Jesus as if He Himself is there. He is mystically present!”

At this point in Epiphany, we seem to be transitioning from Jesus’ manifestation through signs and wonders to His manifestation by His Word. The last Sunday of Epiphany, Transfiguration, really seals the point. The Father, overshadowing the witnesses of the Old Testament, the witnesses of the New Testament, and Jesus, directs our attention to Jesus and says, “Listen to Him.”

All the manifesting of Jesus’ divinity by His signs and wonders might cleanse a leper for a time, or give a wedding party some good wine for a time, but everything is moving in a certain direction, toward the Word of God as the foundation of the Church. In Pre-Lent as well, coming up in a few weeks, we get that Parable of the Sower, all about God’s Word.

It’s definitely a thing.

Last devotion we pondered how the will of God generates His Word which founds the world, both the first world and the new creation, the Church. “I am willing” Jesus said, generating, well, everything. But arising from that will of God is the Word, which is the true foundation of the new creation.

God’s Word creates worlds. This the centurion understood. Even as his word establishes the “cosmic architecture” in which war-fighting can properly happen, so can Jesus’ Word do the same thing for him, creating a “cosmic architecture” in which healing happens. Great faith opens the door into this cosmic architecture.

That’s why great faith is Church faith. To enter into the Church is to enter into a new creation arising from Christ’s Word. It’s a place where a superior form of healing happens, the healing of our souls, as well as the hope of a transfiguration of the mystical world of the Church into the real world itself, as the fallen one dissolves away.

Great faith is blessed faith, in the sense that Jesus told Thomas, that, blessed are those who do not see and yet believe. Great faith receives from the Holy Spirit the vision of the world Christ currently inhabits, for as Jesus said, the Holy Spirit takes what Jesus possesses and declares it to us. Yes, declares it to us. Again, it’s the Word that creates that vision.

The liturgical arrangement of the Church is the manifestation of that faith and vision, a real architecture arising from the cosmic architecture of the Word.

This was the home the centurion returned to. Christ wasn’t locally there, but His Word had created a new realm in his house. It was a type of the Church. What sort of realm is created, when our own homes are filled with the Word of Christ, received by the sort of great faith the centurion had?

February 17, 2020
by Peter Burfeind
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Wednesday of Epiphany 3: The Will of God

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Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

We see here that the will of God is to heal. “Thy will be done” is answered in such a way, that the Lord God uses His divine authority and power to heal us from our diseases. This statement of Christ – “I am willing” – lays the foundation for chapters eight and nine in Matthew, as we see broken situation after broken situation fixed by the Lord. Christ’s will alone leads to this massive construction project of human bodies and souls.

God’s will is implicitly the foundation of the entire created order, is it not? Because even before those first words were uttered, “Let there be…,” something in God directed Him to get to that point in the first place. And that is what we call His will. God’s will is the foundation for the Word going forth to do its salutary work. The will of God is always best, says the hymn. St. Paul calls it the “good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” And Peter repeats several times that God’s will is for us to do good, even it means we must suffer.

If we were to posit an order, so to speak, it might go like this: God’s will, His Word issued forth, the creation of abundant life-generating stuff, the declaration that this is good. God’s will indeed results in good things, things that abound in grace. That’s the order of creation, but also the order we see in the Gospel for today. Jesus is willing; He speaks His word, “be cleansed”; things abound in grace and goodness.

This is the world God created by His will, put us in, and in which we can live. When confronted with the will of another, in a sense, we are placed in that person’s world. His will also produces words that create a little mini “cosmic architecture” in which we find ourselves. Have you ever found yourself locked into someone else’s “cosmic architecture”?

When that “cosmic architecture” is love, life-affirming, and healthy for our souls, that is a good reflection of God’s good order. It’s the use of the wholesome tongue as a tree of life, as the proverb says. Really what’s going on is the person is passing on God’s cosmic architecture. Ideally, this is what church should be. He is yielding his will to the Lord’s “will be done.” Here’s the interesting point: he needs no one else’s reactions or responses to construct his realm; he’s in God’s realm and no one can take that away!

More often than not the reverse happens. That “cosmic architecture” in which we find ourselves is rooted in one person’s idiosyncratic will. It’s ultimately a utopian new world that he feels should supplant the current one. The will that founds this cosmic architecture – and therefore the words that follow – cannot look at the real world and declare “the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord,” but are always tasked with proposing a new world.

This underlying will is set against God’s will and takes many forms. It founds the bitter person who only sees an awful world set in juxtaposition to a world he thinks could be.” But it also founds the charismatic and motivational speaker who, for a few hours, has the power to build a fantastical world that, wide-eyed, the crowds love to be in…only to come crashing down a few days later.

Of course, this underlying will fuels modern marketing: “This world could be yours if only you just purchased this product.” Here, the will of a magician craftily fuses with your own, as you get lured into the phantasm world of the commercial and believe this is your world.

Words create worlds, and wills produce words. Jesus’ will produces life, healing, and new creation. And there is an opposing will that does the opposite, and does it quite deceitfully. That is the devil’s will.

Whenever confronted with the worlds arising from the words generated by another’s will, we always have the choice to leave. Never the choice to remain, because when someone utters a word, you’re in his realm whether you like it or not. But we do have the choice to leave – this is a capacity God has given us. And that might simply be a matter of choosing not to entertain or even hear the words of the perverse will – two people can occupy the same space and be in two completely different worlds! This is true for the hypocrite sitting in church but also for the “happy warrior” joyfully going about his business in a toxic situation.

Adam and Eve chose to leave the Garden of Eden. They chose to leave the world which arose from God’s Word and enter the world arising from “you can be God,” the religion of Self, which leads back to dust, chaos, and void.

And we can leave the perverse worlds arising from the words of perverse people, who only see a world lacking what could be, lacking the goodness of the Lord. The world of the creation, and the world of the new creation (the Church), both of which have arisen from God’s Word, which was generated by His will, are worlds give to us. We always have the choice to leave.

The leper didn’t choose to leave. He made a statement, that Jesus has the authority and power to create a new reality from the fallen existent one. He was right. And Jesus created that world for him, a world in which he was healed.

We too have been given this world. We were baptized into it. We worship in it. We serve in it. And if we reflect the goodness going on in it, always praying “thy will be done” (not ours), our own words can extend the wholesome world of the Church into the lives of our own neighbors.

February 17, 2020
by Peter Burfeind
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Tuesday of Epiphany 3: Christ’s Divinity Revealed

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When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”

Jesus never says “I am God.” He elicits testimony and confession that He is God. He Himself says, “If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true. There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true.”

Here, He’s referencing His own baptism, where the Lord did bear witness of His Son, and John the Baptist affirms, “I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”

Same thing with the Transfiguration of Christ. Peter, James, and John were there to be witnesses. As Peter wrote, “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”

Or again, think of when Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. He was responding to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” This parallels Peter’s similar confession at the end of John 6, when Jesus asks the Twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” Peter answers, “we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus never says, “I am the Lord thy God. Worship Me!” He elicits testimony and confession. How does He elicit it? Sometimes by the Father’s Word, sometimes by His own miracles, and very often by His Word.

In our passage for today, the leper is responding along with the multitudes to what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. Recall that after the sermon it is written, “And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”

It was His teaching that elicited the action we see in the leper in our passage for today. And what was that action? “[B]ehold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.’ ”

The testimony and confession is twofold here, one comes by action, the other by word. The action is worship, which in the Greek is “to fall down and worship.” It’s what the wise men did when they came to the manger. It’s what Satan tempted Jesus to do in exchange for all the kingdoms of the world. Notably Jesus says, “You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.” The sort of worship the leper does is reserved only for “the Lord your God.”

Jesus may not say, “I am God.” But when a leper does something about which Jesus has said, “You shouldn’t do this for anyone but the Lord your God,” and He doesn’t stop him, the message is clear: standing here is the Lord God!

The second testimony and confession comes by word. For, what is it to say, “You are able to heal me and cleanse me”? It is to confess that such a one is God, and has the power of creativity, which God alone has.

So, what’s going on with the way the Lord elicits testimony and confession, rather than declares who He is simply and clearly? Why reveal Himself in such a roundabout way?

Because Jesus is revealing Who He is by way of grace. He is building a world into which He invites us, through repentance, baptism, and confession, to find salvation. A building built any other way is more a jail than a home. A building built on the premise of “You’d better believe X, or Y will happen” is a jail whose bars are fear.

This truth sparkles in our passage for today. The leper’s confession is followed by Jesus’ response, “I am willing.” He is a willing God, willing to heal and save!

Now, Jesus could just as well have said, “You’re right to worship Me, because I am God, but I am not willing! I just preached the Sermon on the Mount and told you people how to live, and look how much you all fall short! Shape up and then we can talk.”

Rather, the tone is, “My sermon has just built a home with gracious words, because as the Lord that is what I do. I taught that you have a loving heavenly Father along with Me, for I am sharing my sonship – yes, I’m willing to share it – with those who hunger and thirst for it. You will be blessed with life and salvation. Come into the home and begin to conform yourselves to this new reality.”

That is hospitality. That is true friendship, as Jesus works out His mission as “friend of sinners.” And that climaxes, by the way, in a glorious feast.

February 17, 2020
by Peter Burfeind
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Monday of Epiphany 3: Where the Broken Gather

Image result for jesus heals the leper

When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”

Jesus set the pattern in His baptism. When He began His ministry, His first set a beeline for the sinners who were gathering in the Jordan. Where the sinners gather seeking the Lord, Jesus joins with them, to share with them the declaration of the Father, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The Lord is pleased with Jesus and all in Him, those baptized in Him, those adopted into His sonship.

This is what the Church is. It’s where the broken gather seeking salvation from their Savior, Jesus. It’s in the “Jordan” of their baptisms. A few weeks ago we meditated on this theme at the baptism of Christ, but left some unfinished business.

Because, we need to need to be clear that there is are specific sorts of sinners where you will find Jesus. You often hear people say pious things to support compromising Christian ethics, like, “Jesus hung around the prostitutes and tax collectors! If Jesus were here today, you’d find Him at the bar and with the lowlifes of society.”

Really? Is that true? Or is that imposing one’s self-justifying ideology onto Christ, in order to protect the ego?

There are actually only a handful of passages that support this picture of Christ. One is the passage where the woman washes Jesus’ feet with her hair. Another is Jesus’ statement, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ ” Finally there’s this, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him.”

But even in these passages themselves you see some caveats. Jesus was indeed a “friend” of tax collectors and sinners…and this we learn in the context of His call of Matthew, who clearly repented and followed Christ. We also see with Zachhaeus the same pattern. As far as “harlots” go, we see it he passages above that this too included repentance, like the woman washing Jesus’ feet. Jesus praised this woman for her faith and declared her sins forgiven: She was repenting and begging for forgiveness!

The point is, Jesus didn’t just randomly “hang out” with the sinners of society. He was found where repentance and faith were going on, and yes, this happened to include harlots, tax collectors, and winebibbers.

The bigger point is this: the modern incarnation of this truth is not pastors going out to the bars “looking for the lost,” but the Church! Trust me, you’ll find plenty of harlots, thieves, and winebibbers in your own congregation, because those afflicted with these sins, and who know they need forgiveness, will find their way to the place where they get reconciled to God.

The bar is not the institution that arises from sinners repenting, and in fact, you are more likely to “cast pearls before swine” at the bar, something Jesus also forbids. You’re more likely to get mocked, or told to shut up, or told to leave people alone, because the bar is not the best venue for proclaiming the Word of God. People are there to drink, not repent.

But in the Jordan people were there to repent and believe, in response to John’s proclamation. And when Jesus came down the mountain, the crowds followed Him because they recognized in Him one who could possibly save them, again, in response to His Word. Around Him were harlots, drunkards, thieves, lepers, diseased, and demonically-possessed. The broken gathered around Him.

There were lots of broken people in the world, and still there are a lot of broken ones today, but only among a certain sort of broken people will you find your Lord, among those who have repented, believed, and responded to His preaching. As it was then, so it is now.

And again, lest we forget, where broken people gather seeking salvation from their Lord, there need be no doubt about our Lord’s interest in fixing us: “I am willing.”

February 4, 2020
by Peter Burfeind
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The Third Sunday after Epiphany: I Am Willing

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Immediately after preaching the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus descends from the mountain, and a leper comes up to Him.  Will Jesus heal him?

This Gospel is one of has the feeling of one of those “turning point” moments in the Bible. It’s not unlike the moment in the Gospel of John when the Greeks came to Philip saying “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” It’s like the tectonic plates of the spiritual cosmos itself shifted at that moment – God’s grace in Christ is spilling over to the Gentiles!

Of course, there are a lot of “Gentile moments” in the Gospels, particularly in the Gospel for this week, but Jesus Himself seems to give the moment with the Greeks and Philip that “turning point” feel with His words, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.” Mary came up to Jesus at Cana and Jesus said, “My hour has not yet come,” but when Greeks come up, it’s a different story! God must really like Greeks!

This week’s “turning point” moment from Matthew is very, well, Matthean. Which is to say, there’s a lot of Old Testament background. One of Matthew’s goals is to present Jesus as the “prophet like me” promised by Moses. Jesus assumes the mantle of the Moses type, and as He does with all types, fulfills it and then, like wine in old wine skins, bursts it open.

Jesus had just finished teaching the Sermon on the Mount. Like Moses, He’s on a mountain. Like Moses, He’s issuing divine teaching. Like Moses, there’s a “thundering” character to that teaching – people know God means business. Or as the Gospel puts it, after Jesus had finished, “the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority.”

In the Old Testament, when the scene was first laid down, the people begged Moses to speak on behalf of God, and even Moses needed a veil when He spoke with them. The book of Hebrews describes the scene at that mountain well:

“[It was a] mountain that [could not] be touched and that burned with fire, … blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words; …those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore.”

So when Jesus replicates this scene and proposes Himself as the prophet like Moses, surely wonderment spread over the people. “What will this new prophet be like? Will this be more fear and trembling? Clearly this is a divine being bearing Moses’ mantle. What will happen when He comes down from the mountain?”

Now, last time God came down the mountain, He veiled Himself in the tabernacle so He could be with His people. It was a time of grace, indeed, but unfulfilled, and insofar as it was unfulfilled, the people remained in fear.

And here comes Jesus, whom St. John testifies as the “Word tabernacled among us.” What will this be like?

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, the people got a clue what sort of divine presence Jesus would be. Throughout the sermon He called God “your Father” and “your heavenly Father.” In other words, He was sharing what was declared of Him in the waters of the Jordan. His words combined with the waters embraced all who heard and were baptized, together with Him, under that glorious declaration, “This is My beloved Son!” Think of the Sermon on the Mount as a baptism in the Word. Or, we might say, a baptism in the Spirit. And it all began in the waters.

So there are some good indications that, though this Jesus is carrying the mantle of the Moses type and replicating the Old Testament scene, we have some indication that something greater and more is going on. What will this divine Person be like? What will He use His divine authority to do? Will He use it to create? Will He use it to help us and save us from our earthly troubles, from death, from disease…from leprosy?

So the leper goes up to Him – He’s got nothing to lose! And on behalf of all of us – because at the end of the day, we’re all lepers falling apart on the way back to dust! – he makes a simple statement. Not a question, not a plea, just a statement, or, a beautiful confession: “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Yup, absolutely true! The same is true as we confess, by the way. The Creeds are not just statements of intellectual fact we say to be on the right team. Behind each article is the implied statement, “Father, Son, Holy Spirit, you are source of all that is good. By Your will, we live, and if you are willing, you can cleanse us from our sin and death.” That’s why we say “I believe” and not just, “The Father is Maker of heaven and earth; the Son is….” To say “I believe” is to say “I trust this one I confess will save me.”

Jesus’ response to the leper are where the tectonic plates shift. We’re not at Sinai. We’re not begging the Lord to speak a different way to us. We’re not hiding in the clefts and mountains. No, it’s as the book of Hebrews continues after the above quoted verse on Mount Sinai:

“[Y]ou have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new testament, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.”

Yes, a new “blood” is in town! This blood doesn’t, with Mount Sinaia, speak fear, trembling, and vengeance against sin. It speaks something new. It speaks “Given for the forgiveness of your sins.”

But foundational to all that, from Jesus it speaks these beautiful words to humanity’s representative falling-apart human, “I am willing.”

January 30, 2020
by Peter Burfeind
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Saturday of Epiphany 2: Why the Signs?

This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.

Again, when St. John mentions “signs,” it must be seen in the context of his statement near the end of his Gospel: “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”

How does this work? Nicodemus, in the upcoming chapter, explains how when he says to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”

Jesus’ signs show that God is with him. Beyond the profound mystical stuff going on with miracles like the one at Cana, as well as the feeding of the five thousand and other miracle, the signs John writes about simply show Jesus to have the authority and power of God behind Him. As Nicodemus said, “God is with him.”

Here are the miracles in John. How do each of these show “God is with” Jesus? How do these show that there is life in His name? The miracle at Cana. The healing of the nobleman’s son. The healing of the diseased. The feeding of the five thousand. The healing of the blind man. The raising of Lazarus.

In each of those miracles Jesus gives life to something. He imposes His “I Am”-ness onto the creation in order to renew it, multiply it, or make it better. The one who can create multiple bread and wine from water and a few loaves of bread can also take my bones and make them into a living being. Of course, that’s what He did with Lazarus! But He also did it with the mud on the blind man’s eyes, replicating how the Lord make Adam out of mud.

By believing, we can also have that life “in His name.” Clearly something baptismal is going on here. The baptismal faith is faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. As we see in the book of Acts, “Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may [be baptized].’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ ”

To believe in Jesus, convinced by His signs that He’s Christ, the Son of God, is to have life. What does that mean? Let’s look at the following verses from John:

“But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe.”

Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.”

To believe in Jesus is to receive His Word and abide in it. There’s a lot going on here.

First off, it’s not just any word. It’s the word of Jesus. The one named “Jesus” has words, and life comes only from that one named “Jesus” and His words.

This mystery parallels what’s going on in the Sermon on the Mount, but John is more explicit with it. That is, a big part of the Sermon on the Mount is that, when the believer hears it, he takes every word from Jesus as from God. There’s a reason why a great swath of the world’s population tries to love its enemies and do good when others do evil to them. It’s because a great swath of the world’s population believes Jesus is God. If Socrates said, “Love your enemies,” there’d be no life to that thought. But when Jesus teaches it, it has life, because Jesus has the words of eternal life.

John often speaks of believing in the name of Jesus. It’s not just the teachings of Jesus that have been universalized. This is how the progressives and liberal Christians view it: Jesus was simply an enlightened teacher who gained understanding of enlightened truths and taught them. No, the Person Jesus is the fount and source of all wisdom, because He alone is God’s Son.

Second, once we accept that Jesus is Lord and God, now we hear His words and “abide” in them. That is, we “live in” His Word like a house! This is the cosmic architecture we’ve been talking about! Jesus’ words literally re-create the cosmic architecture of creation. Or reestablish them.

This principle, that Jesus’ words create a house in which we live, goes along with the principle established in the beginning, namely, that “words create worlds.” Yes, words create worlds.

Certainly that was true in the creation. God said, “Let there be…” and it was.

As creatures made in His image, it’s also true for us. As the Proverb says, “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life…” Our own words create worlds.

Matthew’s Gospel puts the image this way, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”

The Word, when it has divine authority and power behind it, has the power to build a place to live, a place to nest, a new world. Yes, words create worlds.

This is how the Christian can look at the world and see nothing but the goodness of the Lord. This is how St. John, while being “in the spirit on the Lord’s Day,” was able to behold all the world events and not see a persecuted Church, but a God steering everything to a glorious fulfillment.

It’s because, to be “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” is to be in the cosmic architecture created by the Lord’s Word. The Divine Liturgy is that structure.

The sign at Cana was recorded so that we might be certain that Jesus was one to be listened to, so that receiving His Word, we might be beneficiaries of the great comfort which comes from His Word. So that we might have “life” in His name. Or perhaps better put, so that a structure of life might arise in our hearts, in which we abide forever.

 

January 30, 2020
by Peter Burfeind
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Friday of Epiphany 2: More on the Third Day

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On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee…

So much glorious theology, so little time!

With more investigation, there’s another beautiful interpretation of the “on the third day.” Last devotion we contemplated that the “on the third day” brought us to an eighth day of creation, the first day of the new creation. There’s another interpretation.

In the Old Testament, Exodus 19, there is what some could interpret as a marriage between God and His people. It’s when the Lord appeared to Moses and told him to pass on these words to Israel: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

Israel responds, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do.” Put another way, “I do.”

Well, to consecrate that bond, the Lord says, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. And let them be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.” Here’s the “on the third day” and also the purification, invoking the stone waterpots for purification at the wedding feast.

When that “third day” arrived, well, here’s a report of it from the book of Hebrews: “the mountain…[could not] be touched and burned with fire, [it was accompanied by] blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore.”

So much for that “third day”!

Well, as with all things Jesus, there’s a new “third day” in town, and He demonstrates it at the wedding at Cana, giving an image of the new marriage between God and His people.

Let’s follow up with Hebrews and how the author gives a contrast to the image above: “[Y]ou have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new testament, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.”

The old marriage contract (the old covenant) only resulted in terror and fright. It parallels what the “blood of Abel” spoke, which is vengeance. But Jesus’ blood speaks something better. What does it speak? Let’s look at what the author of Hebrews was referencing regarding the “new testament.” It comes from Jeremiah 31:

“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah …this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Immediately after that the Lord says that as long as the sun, moon, and stars shine, He will keep His ordinance with Israel. But look at these verses:

From Isaiah: Behold, the day of the LORD comes, …the stars of heaven and their constellations Will not give their light; The sun will be darkened in its going forth, And the moon will not cause its light to shine.

From Joel: The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD.

And later from Joel, this clincher verse: Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. The sun and moon will grow dark, And the stars will diminish their brightness. The LORD also will roar from Zion, And utter His voice from Jerusalem; The heavens and earth will shake; But the LORD will be a shelter for His people, And the strength of the children of Israel. So you shall know that I am the LORD your God, Dwelling in Zion My holy mountain. Then Jerusalem shall be holy, And no aliens shall ever pass through her again. And it will come to pass in that day That the mountains shall drip with new wine, …

So, when the sun, moon, and stars “go out,” the Lord creates a new ordinance with Israel, a new creation, symbolized by new wine. What does that new “blood” speak, the blood of sprinkling? And how is this connected to the new wine of the new creation? And how in this a fulfillment of the day when “there sin I will remember no more”?

Well duh: “this is My blood of the new testament (covenant), which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” What does this blood “speak”? Of course, it speaks forgiveness, in fulfillment of the Jeremiah prophecy.

And then there’s this.

Pentecost was a “new wine” harvest festival celebrating the “latter rain,” which is why everyone thought Peter was drunk at 9 AM. And it was the giving of the Holy Spirit. Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon His disciples and with that breath authorized them to forgive sins. There’s that “blood of sprinkling” speaking better things again!

And here’s the connection to Cana, also from Joel: “Be glad then, you children of Zion, And rejoice in the LORD your God; For He has given you the former rain faithfully, And He will cause the rain to come down for you – The former rain, And the latter rain in the first month. The threshing floors shall be full of wheat, And the vats shall overflow with new wine and oil.

Vats overflowing with wine.  Sound familiar?

But there’s more.

The new testament in Christ’s blood, in the new wine, speaks forgiveness by the Holy Spirit, through the apostles. We contemplated yesterday how Jesus selecting the apostles on the second through fourth days paralleled the Lord’s setting up of the architecture of the old creation. He was setting up the “lights” in the heavens – the new sun, moon, and stars – who would spread a new Light throughout the world.

We quoted Psalm 19, which St. Paul also did with reference to the apostles: “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language Where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth…”

Putting two and two and two and two (and more) together, on the eighth day (Resurrection; Pentecost; Lord’s Day), the lights of the old ordinance and its covenant – it’s marital contract – go out, and a new one begins. It’s a day on which a new blood speaks new things, and a new wine flows. That’s the Holy Spirit breathing His forgiveness into the wine, the blood of Christ.

The apostles bear witness to this light, just as John the Baptist did for Jesus, and carry this light throughout the world.

And that sets up the new architecture of our existence. The mystery of the Christian life is parsing out what it means to live ones existence in a structure built from the architecture of the forgiveness of sins.

Oh, goodness, there might be more…

That is, if John 1 and 2 have a chiastic structure, that could possibly place Jesus’ naming of Peter (Cephas) as the third out of five disciples, the middle one, the point in the chiasm. He builds His Church on this rock, meaning, the architecture of the new creation is founded on the rock, Peter’s Pentecostal sermon. This brings us back to the new day, the end of the old ordinance, the new wine, and also founds the new cosmic architecture of the Church on his words of his first sermon, which end:

“Then Peter [Cephas, the rock on which the architecture of the new creation is built] said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ [born from above] for the remission of sins [the “better thing” spoken than the blood of Abel]; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit [who gives forgiveness and thereby begins renewal of the creation]. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” [The new lights traversing the sky to bear witness to the Light.] And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation.’ Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread [the new wine and new testament speaking better things than the blood of Abel], and in [the] prayers.’ ”

January 29, 2020
by Peter Burfeind
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Thursday of Epiphany 2: The Eighth Day Marriage Feast

Image result for wedding at cana

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee…

We need to back up a few verses and discuss the time line of the Gospel of John.

Right off the bat we get a strong clue that John’s Gospel is about the new creation. His Gospel begins, after all, with “In the beginning.” Well, after “in the beginning” were seven days of creation. Do we get any indication of such days in the Gospel of John? In fact we do, strongly.

In the first several chapters of John, there are repeated references to the day it was. Let’s first lay the date out:

John 1: 29 – The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

John 1: 35-37 – Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.

John 1: 43 – The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me.”

John 2: 1 – On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee…

Now, because the first verse says “the next day,” that puts the focus on what happened the day prior. What happened then? It was John answering the question of who he was: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness.’ ”

So, assembling the data, we have a “beginning” in which there is a wilderness, or chaos and void. A “Voice” pierces that wilderness, chaos, and void, and proclaims the coming of the “Word.” What Word? The “I Am,” or the “Let there be.”

This would be Day One, when John proclaims the testimony. He called himself “the voice” proclaiming in the wilderness, not unlike the voice calling out into the chaos and void, “Let there be.”

The next three days are the days of new creation – Day Two through Day Four – of the Lord calling His disciples. Andrew and John leave John the Baptist and join Jesus. Then Andrew fetches Peter. The next day, Nathanael and Philip join Jesus. How does the calling of the disciples parallel the new creation? The Gospel of John tells us right away how: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

They were born again in John’s baptism and with Jesus’ call. They were the new creation. They were born from above, a birth whose details we will learn about in a bit from Nicodemus. It’s a birth of water (from John) and the Spirit (from Jesus). Adam’s children were born the old way; the children of the kingdom are born from above.

In the original creation, the first four days of creation were the completion of what we might call the architecture of the creation into which the animal beings of the final two days were placed. There are some intriguing biblical items that we could develop.

First, the disciples “born from above” fulfill God’s promise to Abraham that his children would be numbered as the stars of the sky.

Second, there is Psalm 19, which St. Paul applies to the apostles: “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language Where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world. In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun, Which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, And rejoices like a strong man to run its race.”

Here’s how St. Paul interprets that Psalm: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: ‘Their sound has gone out to all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world.’ ”

The apostolic ministry is the “architecture” of the new creation. So, that could explain the calling of the apostles on days two through four.

On Day Six we expect the creation of man. But Jesus is a second Adam, and He’s the source of those “born from above,” a new and redeemed creation of humanity. So we only get silence on that day, as well as the Sabbath Day – after three days. Nothing those days.

Then the wedding happens. On Day 8. This is the day of new creation. You might say, “But didn’t God rest on Day 7?” And Jesus answers, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” The new creation isn’t finished until Jesus breathed out the Holy Spirit after saying “It is finished” and then delivered that same Spirit to the apostles assembled in the upper room, an event about which we read, “You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; And You renew the face of the earth.”

That day was Day 8, the day of resurrection, or, the “Day of the Lord.”

This was the day John received His revelation, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet…” This day culminates, toward the end of Revelation, with the great heavenly wedding banquet.

The divine liturgy is the architecture of the new creation. It’s elements are established by the apostolic testimony, a light unto the world. Each eighth day is a great wedding feast. Of course, as with John, a lot else is going on in our world in the background – spiritual and demonic things – but due to his faith, his being “in the spirit,” he was able to see the events of the world as worked by the Lord toward the ultimate, marital blessing for Church, His bride.

 

January 28, 2020
by Peter Burfeind
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Wednesday of Epiphany 2: Six Stone Waterpots, Emblems of Creation?

Image result for face of the waters

Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.

John’s Gospel is a lovely marriage of the historical and the spiritual. It’s like, where the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) have Jesus teaching parables – earthly stories with heavenly meaning – all of John’s Gospel is a parable, an account of earthly events with heavenly meaning.

There were six waterpots made of stone. Three things should be considered. First, John’s Gospel is dominated by creation and re-creation themes. Second, the creation was drawn from the waters. Third, the creation happened in six days.

It’s difficult to ignore the symbolism going on with the six stone waterpots. Again, recall St. John’s words at the end of his Gospel. Jesus did many signs, but the ones John chose to record were written so that we might believe He’s the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing in Him we might have life in His name. In other words, the signs John recorded are significant for teaching something about our faith. This being the case, how cannot His first sign be of supreme catechetical, symbolical, heavenly significance?

So, loads of things could be going on with the six waterpots.

On one hand, there are a lot of Jewish things going on. The waterpots were used for purification, to cleanse one who was unclean, for instance, someone who was unclean on account of touching a corpse – interestingly, such cleaning was to be done “on the third day,” which is how this Gospel begins.

Such purification was the foundation for baptism. For, as was prophesied, John the Baptist would “purify the sons of Levi.” This he did with water, but yet, even as John himself promised of Jesus, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.”

That is, whatever John does with water, Jesus will do something much greater, being God in flesh. And whatever use the water of purification had from the stone waterpots, Jesus would do something far greater, being God in flesh. Which is exactly what He did – He created, did something only God does. Jesus being the Creator – the “I Am” or “Let there be” of creation – is a strong theme in John.

So, as far as the Jewish interpretation of the pots goes, Jesus would fulfill the Law. And notice, Jesus doesn’t get rid of the stone pots, or bring new wine, or empty the water. No, He did not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it. So He takes from the old, and makes new.

On the other hand, there’s a more cosmic interpretation rooted in the “six” waterpots, six of course referencing the creation. In the creation account, God created out of the “face of the waters.” We have pondered in these devotions whether the creation was the marriage of God with creation, and the creation was a great unveiling, taking the veil of the waters away to reveal His beloved. Again, God is always creating and recreating from the waters.

Perhaps there is an unveiling here going on in the waterpots paralleling the unveiling of the bride going on with the Cana wedding. Jesus is unveiling the new wine representing the new age, or renewed creation.

Again, note Jesus does not create something different. He renews. He redeems. He takes from the old and makes it to be something renewed. Just as He raised Lazarus, and caused the blind man’s eyes to see with the mud. He works within the “rules” of the six day creation, so to speak.

And what of the stone?

Stone might be shaped by man, but the material itself is natural, unlike clay. The promise is that the mountains would drip with new wine. And the promise is that the earth itself will be renewed.

As St. Paul said, the “creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.” The earthen vessel that is our earth is the womb from which all life arises, so to speak. It awaits the day when it will give birth, rebirth, to a resurrection of bodies arising from its bosom. Not unlike the earthen vessels pouring forth new wine.

 

January 28, 2020
by Peter Burfeind
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Tuesday of Epiphany 2: Whatever He says to you, “Let there be…”

Image result for mary jesus cana

Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

There is an intriguing possible parallel in this little passage with Jesus’ actions with the Canaanite woman. Recall, she too came up to Jesus begging for something, and recall, He also then rebuffed her, basically saying, “It’s not the time/place for that.” For Mary, it’s not the time. For the Canaanite woman, it wasn’t the place.

The Canaanite woman wanted “bread,” the bread of Jesus’ mercy intended for the “children.” She begged for just a crumb and got way, way more, the Lord praising her with great words.. Mary wants wine, and she too got way, way more than she expected. Both are symbols of the coming messianic age.

And in both accounts, the woman relies on Jesus’ Person despite His objections. The Canaanite woman laid the foundation for Jesus helping her by calling Him “Lord, Son of David.” The Son of David is the messiah, and if the messiah is anything, he is a champion and savior for the oppressed.

Although it doesn’t say specifically, we read between the lines in the miracle at Cana. Mary goes to Jesus and says, “They have no wine.” Why does she go to Jesus? She knows why; Jesus knows why; and we ultimately know why. It’s because Jesus is God in flesh and has the capacity to fix things.

Jesus implicitly suggests this is exactly what Mary was thinking by saying, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” Jesus knew Mary was going to Him to perform a miracle and essentially “out” Himself as the messiah. She had been keeping many things in her heart from His birth. What was it about this moment leading her to believe it was the time for Jesus to manifest Himself? The wedding? Jesus was recently baptized, and John was “outing” Jesus to his disciples; perhaps Mary knew the time was close.

Whatever the case, Mary shows a faith a bit more passive than that of the Canaanite woman, but no less great in terms of what it signified. She says, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

The Canaanite woman’s faith was active. “You are the Messiah! The Messiah is a promise for both Jew and Gentile to save! Whatever mercy you have for Jew, surely you have a crumb for me, and I demand it!” Note her faith rooted in Who Jesus is, not just the Messiah, but a Messiah come to save.

Mary’s faith was passive. “Here is my Son, God in flesh. He has the power to create. There is a problem here at the wedding, and I lay that problem in His lap. I also leave it to His devices to do whatever He will, and I trust it will be good. Why? Because I know He is good. Therefore do whatever He says to you, because it will be good.” Note here as well, her faith is rooted in Who Jesus is, not just God in flesh, but a good and gracious God in flesh.

Both women teach us much about faith. The Canaanite woman has always been the emblem of one binding Jesus to His word. There is a rhetorical crowbar we are given based on who Jesus is, that is, a good Savior. We can take the crumbs He gives us in the Word, and pry our way into the kingdom. The woman refused to let Jesus be anything other than Jesus for her.

Mary’s more passive faith is a bit like what Job should have had. “Whatever will be, let it be.” Jesus could have said nothing. Jesus could have turned the water into bitter water to make some prophetic point. He could have turned it to ice. But Mary trusted He’d do good, and He did.

Had Job cut out the middle chapters of his life, he could have avoided all foolish the yammering from friend and wife, and cut to the glorious last chapter. He could have said to the cosmos, “Whatever the Lord says, do it.” If the Lord taught him anything, it was that His creative powers are immense, but in the end, He uses them to bless those faithful to Him.

Mary recognized this without any fear the situation wouldn’t end well for everyone. “Whatever He says to you, do it.” If we run with the metaphor brought up in the previous devotion, that Mary represents the earth, perhaps the servants represent the powers of this world order, those under the “rules” of this world, namely, the law of scarcity. The “rules” of this world say that when you run out of something, you worry and fret and cry out to the cosmos, “What are we going to do?!!”

Mary, the creation waiting in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed, trusts her coming Lord to do good – it’s what He did when He first created after all – and simply says to this world order, as if speaking to a chaos and void not unlike that from the beginning, “Whatever He says, do it.”

Put another way, “When you hear ‘Let there be,’ let it be done. I represent the earth awaiting its renewal, and I recognize here the Lord of creation, come to create all things new.”

Again, the “Mary as earth” figure comes from Revelation 12 coupled with Romans 8. Here are the two texts:

From Revelation 12: “Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth. …She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne.”

From Romans 8: “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. …[It] eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.”

Mary was eagerly waiting for the revealing of the sons of God. Jesus was calling disciples – five had been called so far. He was recently baptized. It was time. It was time for the renewal, the rebirth of creation and its children.