Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Homily 47: For the Love of God (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"I have formed this people for Myself; they shall show forth my praise." Is. 43:21

The universe dances for the love of God, and by the love of God, for by the love of God were all things created, flying forth from the bounteous, rapturous joy of His Being like light from the sun, like sparks from the furnace, like foam from the sea. We were built from love and for love: from the love of God most glorious so that we may love God most glorious and all His glorious creatures. This is the true way of worship: not in words or song or dance but love, love that is not less than and yet is greater than all expression. True, our halting metaphors are ever-inadequate to pronounce our great purpose, yet we cannot help ourselves. We must sing, we must say, we must do, for the aching desire will not leave us be. Our bones burn until we prophesy the love of God to us, to all, to every one and thing.

Herein is love: not that we created ourselves, but that God created us, and recreated us. He is in the old things and the new things, and newer and newer things still, renewed in deeper and starker shades of glory and grace. There is no bottom to Him, and yet there is no bottom without Him. The dark is endless, the void deep where His love is not, where all things are not. Outside of His love is No-thing, and those who turn to its noths will feel the burn of endless exile, rejection by and of the summit of all light and desire. Who are we to neglect so great a salvation?  If we would be perfect as God is perfect, holy as He is holy, then we should abide by the summation of his commandments and law: love God, and necessarily love others (Matt. 22:37-40; Gal. 5:14).

But we are evil creatures indeed, for no one seeks after holiness, after righteousness, after God. No one seeks the way of worship, no not one. We have all of us turned astray, to our own way. Falling deeper and deeper into the abyss of our own isolation, our terrible loneliness, hard-won by our own spite and hell-born ignorance. God above, most brilliant and profoundest Being of the Deep Light, cleave our minds with Your truth, our selves with Your Selves. Strike us with Your love, your wild and reckless love; like a flash and crash of lightning against a dead tree, make your mark against our bark and spark the fire that burns towards Heaven once again. Amen.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Homily 46: Now I See (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"I, even I, am the Lord, and besides Me there is no savior. I have declared and have saved, and I have shown, when there was no strange god among you; therefore you are my witnesses...that I am God." Is. 43:11-12

It is good to take stock of what God has done in your life, for His real activity in the midst of your real world is the very foundation of evangelism. We err when we think that evangelism is about delivering some prepared speech or memorized strategy that's composed of various verses, talking points, and arguments. Unless something is real to you, it will reek of insincerity (and if there is one thing our generation is acutely aware of, it is insincerity). No one believes the salesman who does not believe in his own product. That is why even the greasiest of them have to at least feign interest. If their heart is not in it, you will know. Likewise, no one believes the evangelism of someone to whom God is reducible to soundbites (or even feigned interest!). To be a "witness" for God and Christ does not mean taking the party-line out of some dutiful yet empty sense of loyalty. Rather, "that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you" (I John 1:3). The precedent is simple: it is all a matter of reality, not dull responsibility. You bear witness because you have tasted and seen (in some way) that the Lord is good.

That is why it is wise to take stock of God's goodness to you, all of His goodness, both in your life specifically and in believers' lives in general. Ask yourself: How has God manifested His goodness to you in the past week? month? year? (It is easier to find out than you think, for even small things make grand testimony: God is in the details.) What does His incarnation mean to you? What does His w/Word mean to you? The point is that God is in the business of proving Himself, and He never demands what He hasn't already earned. If He declares us to be His "witnesses," then obviously we have witnessed something. Furthermore, whether or not we have witnessed something speaks to the most important question of all: is this whole "God" thing real to you? Do you really believe in who He is? in what He has done? what He is doing? Or are you merely playing at religion? playing at spirituality? playing at mysticism? going to church and doing your duty and spouting the right phrases like a machine? I have news for you: God is not interested in machines but rather flesh and blood people that can bear witness to His actual goodness in space and time. He is looking for those who will be marked by His goodness and thus go tell His story because it has become their story. The Christian life is about God becoming more and more real to you everyday, for He builds His case in His children. Is your life a testament to the reality of God?

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I am Not, but You Are (music from Current Orthodox Rebels)

I consider this to be a musical postscript to this post, so be sure to read the post before you listen. Once again, the greatest Christian band in the world delivers another stellar song. Enjoy.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Beyonder (as explained by an orthodox rebel)

"To whom then will ye liken God? Or what likeness will ye compare unto Him? [...] 'To whom then will ye liken Me, or [to whom] shall I be equal?' saith the Holy One." Is. 40:18, 25

One of the main themes of Isaiah is God's war on hubris. A necessary correlation from that is the absolute incomparableness of God. Try as we might, and much to our chagrin, God is fundamentally (on principle) and essentially (in His being) beyond our categories. I say "beyond" rather than "outside" because the categories that we do have (as gathered by reason and received by revelation) can create an approximation to God, so that He is knowable to us. It is, however, only an approximation, and our knowledge, as always, is incomplete (I Cor. 13:8-9). True, yet incomplete. We will never get to the bottom of God, and all of our endless metaphors will never exhaust Him, never completely capture the fullness of His being. Thus, He is the "Holy One," i.e., the separate one who is absolutely, categorically different from us.

There is no worse hubris then that which assumes it has God figured out. Whether it is the atheist who figures out that God has no existence, or the believer who figures out that God has endorsed their personal preferences, the foundation is the same: God has become reducible to our finite categorizes. As I've said elsewhere, one of God's favorite pastimes is smashing all confident and comfortable assumptions about Him that did not come from Him. But there is another principle that we must realize here, and that is this: hubris is the dead thing, while humility is the living thing.

Hubris stagnates and rots because it has grown too big (or rather, its universe has grown too small) and it has nowhere left to go. Humility, however, recognizes and accepts its smallness, and thus it has nothing but room to grow; not itself, but its universe, and that is the key. It is not at all about us becoming bigger, but about God becoming bigger than our wildest dreams. God is not a philosophy that we figure out eventually; rather, He is the wild yet good adventure (a "comedy," as we used to call it) that we explore and enjoy forever. But hubris cannot enjoy and explore forever. It has nothing left to explore, and thus nothing left to enjoy. It has discovered all variants, understood and classified all unknowables, and dispelled all mysteries and surprises. It has nothing left but its own overbloated self in its own overbloated world, nothing more than a bubble waiting to be popped.

Rest assured, God will pop them all. He will implode all galaxies and shatter all vanities that have made no room for Him, piercing them through with shafts of Light and Truth. His Truth, the Truth about Himself, Truth unfathomable and uncontainable and inescapable. We may balk at this if we wish, but I far better fate (and life) awaits those who find good courage and take strong rest in the reality that God is greater, more loving, and more good than they could ever conceive.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Homily 45: Danger Close (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"Thus saith the Lord...: I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears...." Is. 38:5

How close is your God? As close as your tears? As deep as your aches? If He is not, then He is not a God worthy of worship. When Hezekiah first called upon the Lord in prayer (Is. 37:15-20), He is called the God "who dwells between the cheribums" (KJV). That was a reference to the ark of the covenant, which sat in the temple at Jerusalem, Hezekiah's city. You see, God was not a murky abstraction or a deity of distances. He was close, danger close, in your midst. You could find the very street and building of His very house. Though the Holiest of Holies was still off-limits in Hezekiah's day, it was also still an actual, geographical location that could be referenced and seen and approached. For those who stood before the veil, the Lord was very near.

For we who have pierced the veil with and in Christ (Heb. 6:19-20), the reality is even more resplendent, for God is literally as close as tears. As close as sorrow. As touching as pain. Do not fall for the snare laid down by despair; hear your danger close God instead: "I hear your prayers. I see your tears. I have caught and counted every one in a bottle and recorded them in my book (Ps. 56:8), and I have nothing but compassion for you, like a father's compassion for his children as he remembers that they are not like him (Ps. 103:13-14): not strong like him or wise like him or as durable and capable as him. I know, and I see, and I understand, and I care." Take your rest in the compassion and nearness of your danger close Father God, whose knowledge of you is intimate as well as infinite, is small like you as well as big like Him. Amen.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Eucatastrophic God (as explained by an orthodox rebel)

"The wilderness and the solitary places shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing...." Is. 35:1-2

Our God is a loving God. He is love (I John 4:8), a fighting love; not shallow and inconsequential toleration, but a love that kills and is killed for the Beloved. A love that cannot be boxed in or limited, because it is the love of God, and God will not be boxed in or limited except by Himself in covenant (Heb. 6:13-14) and Incarnation (Phil. 2:5-8), in short, in love. It is the paradoxes of God's love that make Him frustrating to a pure rationalist. God is rational, in that all that He does is consistent with Himself; but He is also more than merely rational, and often His consistencies are hidden from our eyes. They are too big for us to see.

This is not simply a matter of accepting God's "bigness," but rather realizing (wondrously, gladly) that He is a "big" person, and as a person He is not reducible to some analytical system of propositions. Of course, such systems are useful as tools, especially certain systems of philosophy or theology. Nevertheless, we must remember (as often as we forget) that our faith, hope, and love is neither in nor directed towards systems that make sense. Rather, they are in and directed towards a Person who loves and thus is full of surprises, for love is full of surprises. To desire and demand (as we often do) an answer for everything, an answer that is neat and tidy and merely rational, is to love some system more than a person, to worship philosophy and theology rather than God.

Many of the hardest "problems" leveled against the Christian Faith could be handle much more magnificently if we would just remember this one fundamental Christian assertion: God is great (i.e., is bigger and thus more inscrutable and unfathomable than we can imagine), God is good (i.e., He loves, and thus is a person who loves, and thus is full of unguessable surprises of goodness and love). Just look at the mind-boggling character and quality of His grace (viz., in redemption). It is logical, in that it flows logically from who God is; and yet logic could never have discovered it on its own, for it is a product of divine revelation rather than logical deduction. It is a surprise that makes sense; glorious, wonderful sense.

Look at Isaiah. In chapter 34, God left utterly desolate the city that injured His beloved. Now, in chapter 35, a new chord is struck: "The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them." The "them" in this verse (KJV) is referring back to the animals and wild beasts that have taken up residence in the desolate city and thus confirming its desolation (Is. 34:11-15). Why be glad at such a sad picture? Because it signaled the beginning of glory, the "glory" and "excellency" of the Lord (Is. 35:2b), full of happy turns and sudden surprises: the desert will blossom into a garden (vs. 1-2), weak hands and knees will be strengthened (vs. 3-4), and the blind will see and deaf hear and lame walk and dumb speak (vs. 5-6) as the wilderness and parched, thirsty grounds become filled with water and grass lands (vs. 6-7). At every point, God is turning the world upside-down, turning the vain, prideful beauties of the world into ash and the poor, desolate places of the world into things of beauty and paths of holiness (vs. 8-9).

This is an absolute turn around. This is redemption. This is resurrection. This is the awesome and inscrutable activity of a God who loves and thus is full of surprises, and there is no greater surprises than this: God has chosen the foolish things to confound the wise, and the weak things to confound the mighty. He has chosen base and despised things and things that are not to bring to naught things that are, for the foolishness of God is wiser than man, and the weakness of God is stronger than man, so that all flesh may glory in nothing but Him (I Cor. 1:25-29), the Great-Good God whose unpredictable grace cuts deeper than we know and does exceedingly, abundantly more than we can ever imagine. That is who we worship: not principles, not propositions, not deductions, but the personal-infinite God of love whose grace is greater than all our systems as well as our sin.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Lover and a Fighter (as explained by an orthodox rebel and Vegeta)

"For it is the day of the Lord's vengeance, and the year of recompenses...and He shall stretch out upon [His enemies] the line of confusion and the stones of emptiness." Is. 34:8-11

Our God is a fighting God. This does not sit well with a modern Western audience, who have done everything in their power to castrate God into inconsequence. They cut out His wrath and holiness like they're tumors, and then they water down His love to such a level that even the most syrupy sentimentalist would find it banal. This so-called "love," this abominable "love" that they assign to God is so lethargic, so apathetic, so utterly pointless and pathetic that it does nothing at all: neither punishes nor saves from sin, neither fights for or against anyone or thing, and neither blesses nor curses or involves itself in any of the affairs of mankind (except to allow the occasional tsunami or mass shooting). Theirs is a god of all fluff and puff, a marshmallow in the clouds, a Santa Claus so doped up on Prozac that it is unconscious of everything, including itself.

This marshmallow god is as true a creation of the secular world as the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Likewise, it is also foreign to the God of the Bible. There we find the Fighter, the Warrior, the Father, the Lover. Just listen to the wording of Isaiah: The indignation of the Lord is upon all nations, and His fury upon all their armies. He has utterly destroyed them; He has delivered them to the slaughter. Their slain shall be cast out, and their stench shall come up out of their carcasses, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood...and the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch (Is. 34:2-3, 9). That sounds less like Santa Claus and more like Vegeta. Our God has a Lover's heart beating with Warrior's blood. He has spilt much blood in the name of His beloved, including His own (Acts 20:28; Rom. 5:9-10).

Yet this Fighting-Lover God has enough power in His wrath to humble even the likes of Vegeta. The proof is found in the strange wording of verse 11: "He shall stretch out upon [His enemies] the line of confusion and the stones of emptiness." Now, "line" and "stones" refer to the measuring rod and plumb lines used in ancient (and even modern) architecture, and they are a common image in biblical prophecy (such as in Ezekiel and Revelation). "Confusion" and "emptiness," however, are even more interesting. In Hebrew, they mean "formless" and "void," respectively, and they are the exact same words used in Genesis 1:2 to describe the world in its uncreated state. Thus, the image that seemed so strange should now be terrifyingly clear: the Fighting-Lover God will not simply destroy his enemies; He will uncreate them. Literally (in Hebrew), He will use the means of building ("line" and "stones") to unbuild them, to make them without form and void, the formless void of precreation. The annihilation will be absolute. This is the power and terror of our God, the one true God, for the Warrior Lover is also the Mighty Maker. Only He can make, and only He can and will unmake.

"I'm gonna need a bigger Flash."

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013