The Art and Science of God – Synthesis

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The Art and Science of God

Synthesis

Jonah 2

A Psalm of Thanksgiving

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying,

“I called to the Lord out of my distress,

and he answered me;

out of the belly of Sheol I cried,

and you heard my voice.

You cast me into the deep,

into the heart of the seas,

and the flood surrounded me;

all your waves and your billows

passed over me.

Then I said, ‘I am driven away

from your sight;

how shall I look again

upon your holy temple?’

The waters closed in over me;

the deep surrounded me;

weeds were wrapped around my head

at the roots of the mountains.

I went down to the land

whose bars closed upon me forever;

yet you brought up my life from the Pit,

O Lord my God.

As my life was ebbing away,

I remembered the Lord;

and my prayer came to you,

into your holy temple.

Those who worship vain idols

forsake their true loyalty.

But I with the voice of thanksgiving

will sacrifice to you;

what I have vowed I will pay.

Deliverance belongs to the Lord!”

Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land.

I think the heart of the story of Jonah is the world-changing power when repentance meets forgiveness. In the church we call that power grace and we have been singing songs about it for centuries. Grace stands in that middle place where the almighty power of God touches our frailness and brings forth greatness that we cannot contain ourselves. If you think religion and spiritual life is just a checklist, like eating healthy and exercising regularly, you are missing out on most of it.

It’s a power of synthesis, when two spiritual entities collaborate to share existence, to work together, to act as one. In science, when this typically happens between a greater and lesser being, the greater entity swallows up the lesser into is own being and the individuality is lost, the way we cannot see the raindrops within the clouds. However, even in science we see those hard rules of nature respecting this creative power of God. Those same clouds, as the heat is removed from them, distribute those unidentifiable drops of water as billions of snowflakes, each unique in its own delicate beauty.

God knows those snowflakes and He knows us even more. We are not made without purpose. We all fit into creation in a unique way. God does not separate the value of the holy and profane, the special and the plain, the way we, in our prejudices do. He created it all, and while He often creates an abundance of more than is strictly necessary, He does not let His world go to waste.

Case and point: even Jonah’s deliberate act of disobedience is redeemed and transformed into a story that has inspired the world to follow God for thousands of years.

This is grace, where the science of how things should work together meets the art of working through the disconnections and conflicts – creating something even more beautiful because of the fragility of it all. In our efforts to see how our world was made to work, when we look closely enough, we see that the only way it works at all, is if God continues to hold us all together.

Matthew 12:38-421

The Sign of Jonah

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! “

If you closely enough at the struggles you face today, can you see God working to hold everything together even there?


  1. (Lk 11:29–32)

Drinking under the Veil

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Drinking under the Veil

1 Corinthians 10:1-4

“10 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.”

Baptism by water (through the Red Sea)brought the Hebrew refugees into a new land, but not the Promised Land they were looking for. Receiving the Spirit of God and transforming those refugees into a royal priesthood and a holy nation took 40 years of training and suffering in the wilderness. They could not receive their calling until they had the faith and courage to follow God wherever He would lead them.

I’m not going into pneumatology… yet.

I think there was something that happened in the time between. Somehow in the mix of open wilderness, yet covered in the cloud of the Almighty. There God held them and fed them. And it was there in that protected dry place that God gave them the water of life… the same water that Jesus would offer to a Samaritan woman centuries later. This water did not come from a stream or a spring. It did not come from collected rainfall. It came from a rock.

Paul, writing to the Christians in Corinth, compared them to those Hebrew refugees God was transforming into something magnificent. He explains that tee same God covered them all. They all were fed the same food and drank from the same miraculous water that flowed from a rock. That rock, explains Paul, that keeps them all alive, is Christ.

God holds us and nurtures us even as He is forming us into the new creations He intends us to become. If we follow Paul’s encouragement to the Corinthians and the example of the faithful Israelites, we may find that our key to growth in God is persistence in following Him and continually returning to Christ, the source of our life?

Where do you feel most surrounded by God?

How can you seek Christ for renewed life today?

 

 

Living Water

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Living Water

John 4:5-42

“So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” ”

 

Water, Wine, and Partisan Politics

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Water, Wine, and Partisan Politics

The first miracle in John’s gospel has always been a bit mysterious to me. Alcohol in and of itself has political influence, economonic influence, psychological and sometimes even spiritual influence in our lives. When alcohol is mentioned, particularly in many societies today, it is difficult to parse through the lens of our current context and return to a time where it frankly was not such a big deal.

For example, deaths due to intoxication while driving did not occur in Jesus day. There were no motorized vehicles, and most people just walked from place to place. The alcohol made was not as strong nor did it come in as many varieties as we have today. While it certainly still had some addictive properties to it, it was simply not as available to the common person as it is today. It was essentially a luxury item.

That is important to understand in this passage. Jesus is not setting up a brewery or distillery here. He is providing a luxury item for a wedding celebration that, while it was a common experience, it was not an everyday experience. It was probably not even a monthly experience. There is an incredible articulation of balance here as John unashamedly describes this story of Jesus using miraculous power to transform water into wine.

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Jn 2:1–5). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)

It begins with Jesus (and his disciples) at this wedding celebrating with his mother. I fully expect they were drinking – not because John says so anywhere, but, as stated above, alcohol simply was not the social issue then that it is today. More importantly, hospitality was a major issue. To refuse the hospitality of the host, regardless of personal issues was a major social insult in this society that had no concept of diets, allergies, or personal preferences regarding food and drink. In the middle east, you were simply grateful to be offered anything, and in a Jewish household, nothing would have been suspect. Furthermore, Jesus is accused by the Pharisees as being one who hangs out with drunks throughout His ministry, so there is no reason to claim this as the one time Jesus celebrated with alcohol.

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” (The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Mt 11:18–19). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)

Even so, Jesus does not initiate this miracle nor draw undue attention to Himself by it. It almost makes me wonder if Jesus had to pick seven miracles to record, if this one would have even been considered, let alone included as the first. His own statement comes as the question to which all the miracles stand as a testimony, “What does this have to do with me?”. That is the question we all must find an answer to if we are to understand this miracle. He knew His time of drawing the attention of the whole middle eastern world had not yet arrived, so He kept this particular miracle as quiet as possible.

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” (The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Jn 2:6–10). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)

Six stone jars were set aside for the ritual purification by washing. This ritual washing is very closely tied to the ritual baths practiced by the Essenes and the baptisms done in the Jordan River, so these jars tell us two things about this household. First, this is a Jewish household that is trying to maintain a level of spiritual purity (perhaps inspired by the nearness of the Passover celebration). On the other hand though, ritual washing was supposed to be done by “living” or running water, not to be stored in jars. While this water was probably not especially dirty water, it was not drinking water, nor was it even truly appropriate for the use of ritual washing. (Keener, C. S. (2012). The Gospel of John: A Commentary & 2 (Vol. 1, p. 510). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.)

The transformation of this substandard water, in substandard vessels, and its transformation into wine – a luxury item of celebration makes a significant spiritual statement. The concern and practice for ritual purity is at once exceeded and redirected to celebration. It is like a sneak preview of the ministry of Christ that is to come. Yes, baptism is a wonderful thing, but it is just the beginning. For these Jews, who were so concerned with being ritually cleansed, particularly for the holy celebrations, Jesus invites them to take in and drink the very water that was meant to cleanse the inside. As far as I am aware, it is an unspoken rule that you do not drink the baptism water. You certainly do not serve it at a party. Yet that was precisely what Jesus was asking this servant to do.

When it was dipped out though, it was not water, pure or otherwise, it was wine… and not just any wine. The master of the feast proclaimed it as the good wine, or the wine that was to be served first while the guests still cared about taste. John takes the ritual of purification and turns it into a joyful celebration.

The idea of political purification today is ripe with racial, ethnic, and cultural sentiments that all to often lead to hatred, violence, and suffering on a mass scale. This miracle did not mark a line drawn in the sand between those who were friends and enemies of God. Quite the opposite. It marked a union of two becoming one, and on that day, in that celebration, the very ritual tools made to separate became intruments to celebrate a union. Put another way, Jesus used the concept of baptism (setting apart) to celebrate a marriage (coming together) in one move.

What are the instruments of our political separation? We have colors and mascots that represent political parties, whose existence may be the greatest instruments of separation we have. In many cases, when asked about my political beliefs, I am not asked about particular issues. I am simply asked which party I support. How can Christ take these instruments of separation and transform them into a celebration of union?

Morning Breath

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breathe with me just once more

in lifting gasps of wonder

from different vantage

underbent

on silver strands

of sunlight

 

singing through the morning air

alive at once again

my soul calls out

in heartfelt hymn

an ode to

anonymity

 

lost in all this beauteous world

a silent saffron dancer

who paints the days

unspent in steps

and bounds through

endlessly

 

for all of time is held right here

at hand upon our fingers

for tunes that sold

our heritage

and sing in

timeless breath