Friday, April 30, 2010

Thoughts on Hong Kong 2

Another day, another wander through the bustling streets of Hong Kong. I went to a wet market first. Amazing. Fresh food everywhere. Occupation, Safety and Health would not condone the hanging meat. I thought of 1 Corinthians 8, 10 and the temple meat markets. People seemed comfortable buying it as the 'butcher' cut of strips of the hanging red flesh. There were live fish, can't get fresher than this. The fruit and vege's were brilliant.

Travelled on a tram. So many options here for public transport, all efficient and cheap as. Auckland MUST get its act together. Went by ferry to Kowloon and got hammered by Hawkers trying to flog off replica watches, tailors wanting to fit me with tailor made clothes, etc etc. It was fun fending them off.

Saw a couple of beggars. Only a few. I couldn't help giving a few bucks here and there. The rich man and Lazarus.

As I write, the sun is out on day 3, there is blue sky behind the smog!

Went to the Vine church last night and Andrew Gardener taught. He is quite brilliant, as those who know him from Laidlaw will know. This church is taking off. They have real opportunities to do social justice work here among refugees etc. There is no Social Welfare system of consequence so they have a great chance to shine.

One feature of HK that interests me is its safety. Unlike Auckland and many western countries, you can walk the streets at night with relative safety. There are Triads if you want to get into the heroin and cocaine world. But, for the rest, there are few thefts, murders etc. In fact, violent crime here is huge news if it happens, because it hardly ever does. We in the west can consider ourselves 'civilised' and morally upright; this place is far safer than the west. This is fascinating to me and humbling.

Another thing that stands out is our need in a city like Auckland to build itself up i.e. stop the sprawl and fill it in. This will create the critical mass to form the infrastructre we need. We have to stop spreading and go up.

People bemoan apartment living in NZ. It is great. It is a culture shock in way, but it is not a bad way to live. Safe, clean if cramped. It enables a city with a strong infrastructure.

The weather is not hot as I expected. It is unseasonably cool here. Rain yesterday. The locals are all moaning.

Teaching starts tomorrow. It will be interesting to reflect on how I relate to this context... Cherio!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thoughts on Hong Kong 1

So, I am in Hong Kong. Thoughts!
1. Busy as! The place is teeming. People everywhere. Traffic makes Auckland look like a quiet day in the office. People going everywhere. People people people.
2. White faces are rare. There are few Europeans here.
3. Relaxed Frenetic! An oxymoron I know. The place is continually on the move. Yet people seem ok about it. there is an absence of the anger and frustration I feel in NZ.
4. Pollution! Man this place is polluted. The readings are so high! (http://www.epd-asg.gov.hk/) I have yet to see the sky, yet it is not cloudy! Not healthy. If the warming of the world's atmosphere is caused by humanity, we are in serious trouble. This can't be healthy either. Apparently they sometimes have to close the schools it is so bad.
5. Different schedules. The world goes from 11am to 11pm. In NZ it goes from 9am to 6pm, with the odd late night. The night life here is rocking. It is as busy at 10pm as at any time of the day.
6. Public Transport Rocks! Every city I visit I realise how appalling Auckland public transport is. Undergrounds are awesome. We need something like this in Auckland. One can get from place to place with consummate ease.
7. Apartment Living! People live in small apartments. They cost a bomb. They are comfortable but by Kiwi standards small.
8. Maids! Many families have maids. They are usually immigrants who come for the work. They must do the job well or are sent home. Many left their own families to come here and do this, work, send the money home. Bizarre. The Scriptures speak of master-slave relationships. This feels close to it. I feel guilty as when I ask her to do something like iron. She does the dishes. Cooks. Does your washing. It feels wrong, but it is another vocational pattern I suppose. It gives her a better income and her family. It means the 'masters' can be more productive I suppose. But it feels classist and offends my Kiwi egalitarianism. I think those who have such people working for them and who worship Jesus, should ensure that they are treated with equality, grace, justness, dignity and fairness. I tell you what though, I want one... no more housework! Wow! One person I spoke to here said that when he left home to live overseas he didn't know how to do any housework at all! That's what it produces. Mmmmm.
9. China is opening up big time! Man oh man (woman oh woman), China is opening up for the gospel hugely. Nicky Gumbell comes twice a year to help get Alpha into China. The demand, even from secular schools, is relentless. There is huge mission opportunities here. There are something like 350m Christians. The need is for theological training now for this growing edge of world Christianity. Andrew Gardner has dreams of a college of some sort here in Hong Kong. Interesting opportunities.
10. Consumerism. Oh my! This place is out of control capitalistic consumerism. Went for a Thai meal yesterday. As we entered a mall type place, 5 people came at us with menus. We chose one. The others deferred. I looked and saw all were Thai restaurants, side by side, competing for the dollar. This context makes them quite proactive, handing out leaflets, seeking custom. It is full on here. The middle class is on the rise.
11. USA corporates. It is funny to see Starbucks, MacDonalds, Burger King, Subway etc everywhere. The Americans are everywhere.
12. Kiwi Stuff! The Kiwis are here too. Fisher and Pykel are here. There is a New Zealand Centre. Faskinating!
13. High Rise Buildings! Wow, there are high rise buildings everywhere. Apartments, businesses etc. The churches are in high rise buildings with levels for worship, levels for offices, levels for counselling centres etc.
14. Infrastructure and Security. This has the effect of ensuring a great infrastructure. Don't need a car here. People go to everything on public transport. The place is safe at night because there are so many people here. You can't isolate a young woman as easily etc. Ironical. I feel far safer here than Auckland.
15. Malls! There are some amazing malls for shoppers too!
16. Joggers are in trouble! Not sure where a runner runs. First of all, you will die of air pollution. Secondly, you willl get run over or run into someone. So, I am not sure the next Paula Radcliffe will be from Hong Kong. You can run around the race course near the home.

So, that is all for now. Off out into the smoggy city for more.

Avatar and a Flight to Hong Kong

So I am off on my jaunt. It is a good one: Hong Kong - Rome - Athens - Corinth - Delphi - Thessalonaki - Kavala - Philippi - Istanbul - Troy - Gallipoli - 7 Churches Ephesus etc - Patmos - Dublin - Cork - Wexford - Carmarthen - Cardiff - London - Paris - Cambridge - Oxford. Will be able to sing, 'I've been every man, I've been ...'

On the flight I ate the meals, read some of Julian Batchelor's book Evangelism (more on this in a later blog). I was going to save the soul beside me, but there were two empty seats instead. So, I watched movies on and off... as you do.

I watched Avatar. About time you will say, and you are correct. It was a stunning movie - and that is a big statement when one considers I was watching it on a plane screen and not in 3 D. I found its message challenging.

On one level it can hardly be called 'Christian.' The 'god' is the spirit of the world. It is very pantheistic, panentheistic. As one might expect from James Cameron, it is 'the force be with you.' It reflects a commonly held spirituality of this age which many westerners are reaching for in their concrete impersonal jungles. It is an idealisation of the connection of humanity with the natural order. So, yes, the god of Pandora is very much the Gaia life force type god.

At another level I found it very moving and powerful. First, it called to mind colonialism and gave me white - man - colonial - guilt for the way in which we Europeans colonised the world. As much as I find the PC movement annoying and can self-justify my situation as a 6th generation NZer on both sides (or near), I cannot shake that feeling that my people did something horrendous in the colonisation of NZ - and by analogy, other peoples. What must it be like to be Maori and watch your land taken over by another people? Sure, the movie idealises this and amplifies the relationship that such people's had with the natural order, but the story remains - we ripped off Maori.

I pondered this; should we Europeans all shoot through? That is the Avatar solution, they all went home except those who would live among the Na'vi in their way. This is not feasible, we have 'nowhere to go', so to speak; the world has irrevocably changed. Perhaps we should have done this earlier, but the horse has now bolted.

What about this: should we give Maori sovereignty of the nation? That is, those of us who are not tangata whenua simply stand down from all positions of power and hand over the nation cf. South Africa? A nice thought perhaps, but idealistic and impractical. Too many questions can be raised like: who is a Maori? What sort of political system? After all, it could not be a democracy in this system, as Europeans greatly outnumber Maori. Would European buy into this? Of course not.

Another option is some sort of one nation - two systems sort of thing. That is what they have here in Hong Kong. Since the hand over, it is now Chinese, but has its own system of government. Could that work in NZ? I think it works here though, because Hong Kong had its own well established political infrastructure, and is a clearly defined geographical area. In NZ, Maori and Pakeha are intermingled throughout the nation. Unless it was decided to carve NZ up? On what basis? Who gets what? I really struggle to see how you could run two political and legal systems simultaneously in one nation. This would lead to real questions of justice and would be a constant struggle.

So I suppose we are back to where NZ is at. Maori and Pakeha must work together as one people to bring justice for all and set about continuing to restore the nation and allow all peoples to grow. This means seeking ways to enable Maori to be restored to the same health and social indicators as others in the nation must go on. We need to do all we can to restore to Maori their land. I thank God for the Treaty. We must continue to work with Maori to work it out. It won't be easy. But we must.

I was also struck by the question of God and nature i.e. how is God connected to nature? In the story, the life force of the world  is the goddess ehwah. She retains the balance of life. She links to the Na'vi and empowers them and enables them to work in partnership with the natural world. We western Christians are terrified of this sort of thing, seeing it as idolatrous associated with eastern pantheistic religion. For sure, the movie pushes it too far. We also believe in a personal God beyond creation and within creation, sustaining it. If we hold that thought, what does the second half of that statement look like, 'in what sense is God in nature and sustaining it?' I wonder what the world was like pre-fall with God in the natural world and we walking in among the trees with him. What did that look like? I wonder if the life force that is our personal God is in a sense more in the natural world in an Avatar sense than we like to admit. Does our dualism get in the way here? I find it strangely compelling and attractive to consider the power of God dwelling in the natural order sustaining it. I know this is theologically loaded stuff, but I wonder. As we look at the world through western eyes do we lose something here?

My next thought relates to Christ and the story. I am struck by the recurring pattern in such stories. The hero is always a kind of reluctant type. In this story Jake Sully is disabled, he is not a scholar, he is an everyday guy. He is not a star. He becomes the star.

He is kind of Christ-like, some guy, from obscurity turns out to the save the world. He has a 'resurrection experience,' is a 'new creation', is 'born again' into an avatar. After all, avatar is a Hindu concept, of a god becoming man to save the world. Here it is an alien coming to a world, becoming one of them; through the vehicle of science. He is a 'god.' He becomes a Na'bi. He learns their language, becomes one of them, and he saves them. This is intriguing.

Yet it is more Hindu than Christian. In Hindu and other stories like this, gods come to earth and save. But they do so with force and power.

You see, our story is of a God who becomes man. He lives in the world, becomes one of them, learns their stories, and becomes a preacher. He never sins. He never resorts to violence. He never crosses the line of freedom. He woos. He heals. He loves. He accepts. He is totally and utterly non-violent. He does not play the game. In sum, he loves! He uses power for sure, but it is love and it is encased and infused with love.

Jack Sully is far from flawless. He is a spy, deceives, he fights, he is a warrior. He becomes the greatest warrior. He wins the war through the ways of a fallen world. He wins with violence and destruction. He out - wars his enemy. He does repent and turn, but in Jesus, there was never a need to, he was relentless in his pursuit of love.

It may sound arrogant, but I think the Christ story is superior and unique. It is of a God who saves the world from this filth by refusing to yield to it. He loves unrelentingly. He refuses to compromise this for an instant. If he had, the universe would have imploded into chaos, unwound, uncreated. Rather, he serves completely out of life, is rejected and killed by humanity, he dies and rises because he alone did this! He showed us the way. In a way the Avatar narrative is tired. It is the age old hero saves the world through violence. The problem is that violence begets violence. 'Those who live by the sword...'

We need a way out of this cycle of death and destruction, and it is Jesus. That is why I can never turn away from this story. It is THE story! Thanks James for Avatar, it is good, but it is merely a shadow of the real story of the universe. Give me the Jesus' story anyday! Amen.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Anzac Day, Conflicting Thoughts. A Confession.

I never quite know what to do with myself on ANZAC day. On the one hand, as time roles on from WW2 this is becoming the defining day of our nation. Together, New Zealanders, Maori and Pakeha, fought together with the Allies to overcome the threats from Kaiser Wilhelm and then from Hitler, Japan and their partners. Not to mention the other wars in Korea, Vietnam and more recently, the Middle East. There are great stories of NZers sacrificing themselves with great valour. So many died! According to NZ History on Line (http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/ww1-overview) 18,500 died in WW1 and 11,928 in WW2. There were many more injured and deeply marked.

I know what was at stake in these wars. Both sets of enemies from the two great wars were hell-bent on conquest, spreading their power through Europe, the Pacific and beyond. In Just War terms, the wars were justified with the Allies standing for justice and against the spread of evil. 

I realise I live in a wonderful peaceful nation because of this sacrifice. I enjoy the life I do because these people gave their lives.

I also see all the people each ANZAC day gathering solemnly, playing the last stand, singing the national anthem, laying wreaths, remembering. It clearly means an enormous amount to many Kiwis.

Yet, if I am honest, ANZAC day doesn't get me. This actually gives me a sense of guilt as I feel that I should be deeply moved by it, yet I am not. I feel I should swell with pride as I consider how my forebears gave themselves for the cause of my freedom. They died so that I could live in this great nation not under tyranny, but in relative peace, security and freedom.

But the truth is - that sadly perhaps - it doesn't.

Rather, I am filled with questions and thoughts. My major issues are the problem nationalism and the Christ-pattern applied to life. For me, as a Christian, I find it hard to identify with my country to the degree many do. I get excited about sport, but my first allegience is to God's Kingdom. I am a citizen of heaven. My Kingdom, as Paul says in Phil 3:20, is heaven (politeuma). Jesus came to bring a new Kingdom planted in the midst of the fallenness of humanity, the Kingdom of God. It is a Kingdom of peace and not war. It is a Kingdom of the renunciation of all such force. My allegience is to him and his way. As such, while I delight in being a Kiwi, born into this great people and nation, I can never get caught up in nationalism. Nationalism becomes an idol and the flag replaces Jesus and his reign.

I struggle to work through how our ethic of peace works out in the world. Do I live among 'them' utterly uncompromising in my refusal to take up arms? (Pacifism). Do I live among them dedicated to peace as best I can, yet there is a time to fight? The latter is what I reluctantly come to, yet I struggle to be certain of this because the path and teaching of Jesus renounces violent force.

Secondly, as a kingdom citizen I am to live by the pattern of the cross, the ethic Jesus taught us and showed us. He taught us non-retaliation. He taught us non-violence. In a world ruled by violent force, he renounced it only showing compassion, mercy and grace; he refused to resort to using violent force to win his war. Rather, he went to a cross, a victim of that violent force. It was through this utter refusal to resort to the ways of the world, that is our redemption. He taught us to do the same especially in Matt 5 and Luke 6 where he urged his disciples and all humanity to love enemies, turn the other cheek, refuse to take up arms, help invading soldiers etc. Paul in his letters does the same. In Philippians in particular, the pattern of Christ's life is our pattern. Paul in Roman prison does not even think of violent force but speaks of love, joy and peace. The conquest of God's world is through the weapons of the King and not of the world.

So when I come to war I really struggle. I keep asking myself, was there another way? I ask, God what else could we have done? Was there another path?

Then I counter argue, but sometimes in a fallen world, violent force is required as a last resort in self-defence and/or the defence of others. This is the justice of having a police force and a military to protect 'innocent' citizens. I get that. Reluctantly I end up here.

I read the OT and see that God, although he is mercy and love, resorts himself to allowing and even using violent force to shape his world. Supposedly he urged the extermination of the Caanan inhabitants, he used war to shape his own people, he raises up despots who shape the world e.g. Assyria, Babylon, Cyrus, etc. He leads and guides the Judges, David and other kings in war. Prophets come to kings telling them when and how to fight. War is integral to the pattern of God's dealings with humanity in the OT.

Yet I consider Jesus who is set against this backdrop. Surely, he came set against this backdrop of violent force shaping God's world (not to mention the Greeks, Romans) to show us another way. He came refusing such a path no matter what the threat. He died before he took up arms. He disappointed his own people's expectations by doing so. In his death he overcame sin, and he is our pattern.

So as I come to ANZAC day I am truly torn and tend to back off. I want to honour those who lost their lives. I know I should. Thanks to them all for their sacrifice. Indeed, in many ways, they mirror Christ in their selfless laying down of life. So I pray God's blessing on them and their families. Perhaps my reticence is indeed born of the fact that war has not affected me personally. I did not grow up with stories of my relatives dying in such circumstances.

Yet while their sacrifice is wonderful and I am grateful, in many ways their sacrifice is the antithesis of Christ. He died refusing to resort to such action. Should we too? Because of Jesus, I know there is another way. The way of the martyr who dies for peace refusing to resort to violence who inspires others to stand in non-violences for good. What would have happened if the whole world had stood before these marauding troops and simply refused to fight. Would they have kept going? Who knows? Perhaps I am a utopian idealist. Indeed, again, I admit it, I am.

I dream of a better world where such wars do not exist and where all weapons are converted to working tools for the good of humankind. I read the OT through the lens of Jesus not to create a theology of just war, but a theology based on renouncing this. That is why the Christ-story is utterly amazing. Not only did he rise, but he utterly reversed the way of the world. His royal non-violence is utterly unique in a world run by swords.

Yet, I reluctantly concede in a fallen world that 'there is a time for war.' I recognise that Christians should be involved in the police and the military to ensure that this justice is done in the best possible way rather than brutally or that these forces inadvertently become forces of evil and not good. Yet even as I write this, my heart betrays me, because it makes me feel queezy. Is there not a better way?

So, ANZAC doesn't get me, and I don't get it. I want it to, I want to. For all those it does get, respect! Please forgive me my struggle. It's just that I hate war, violence, death. These are God's enemies and Jesus came to end them all.

Yet I suspect that were my family directly threatened I would be on the end of a gun like almost everyone else. Either that, or we would have run. Ah, fight or flight, the creatures response to threat!

Yet perhaps this sense of tension is a healthy place to be and we can embrace both dimensions. On the one hand, we can honour those who have died in these wars. If any wars have been just, these ones were. We should remember. We should lay wreaths. We should gather and mourn and celebrate. So, to those who fought with good integrity as they did, honour, respect, well done.

On the other hand, as we gather and remember, we must use it as motivation to make sure it never happens again. We must continue to work to see such things gone from our world. Blessed are the peacemakers after all. We Christians must lead the way in showing the world another way, the path of peace. We must get involved and be salt in these dark parts of the world seeking to limit the forces of darkness which through war, seek to steal, kill and destroy. I suspect there will be more wars, more death, more violence. If I read Scripture right, there will be might hoo-er of one at the end! (is that how you spell hooer?). So a dream of a better world free of war, full of God's shalom should move us.

This is the already-not yet tension of the Kingdom. This is the struggle of being God's people in a fallen world. So I will embrace this tension. Perhaps this cognitive dissonance is right. I think next year I will go to the dawn services and make an effort to understand and remember. Yet as I do, I will pray and dream for that world that Jesus came to bring. Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What's God Up To On Planet Earth?

Tomorrow night at Laidlaw College Auckland NZ at 7.30pm is the launch of my new book, What's God Up To On Planet Earth. A No-Strings Attached Explanation of the Christian Message. It is publised by Affirm/Castle. It is the culmination of years of work which began when I became a dedicated follower of Jesus at 24.

My first engagement with Christ was at 13 when I heard the Christian message and was convinced of its truth claims. I didn't carry through on this in a family that was pretty opposed to the faith. I remember crying out to God that it was too hard and that when I left home I would follow Jesus. When I left home in my early 20's I found myself working through many struggles and eventually realised God was calling me to honour what I had said. Eventually I relented and turned to Jesus and became a disciple. It was fantastic, I was liberated and my life took on meaning. My excitement at being a Christian and the wonder of Jesus grows everyday!

From early on I started sharing the gospel with anyone and everyone I could find. I wanted everyone to know about Jesus. I told the story of my conversion and set about learning the story of Jesus. I memorised verses, I read, I studied, I thought. I learnt a lot from debating. Over time I began to develop a method of arranging the gospel. I have preached this pattern a number of times and have found it very effective. It is not a new one, built on models I had been taught.

The book is the culmination of this. It arranges the Christians story around the 5 R's of the Gospel: Relationship, Rupture, Restoration, Return and Response. Each articulates an essential element of the Christian message. Each chapter answers a question within the framework of the big one, what is God up to. The first is 'why am I here?' Answer: relationship. The idea here is that God wants to hang out with us forever and that this is what moves him to create i.e. his relentless and overwhelming love. The second is 'what is the problem with the world?' The answer, evil and from a human perspective, sin i.e. the world is infected with a virus that must be resolved. As we do wrong we violate God and our humanity. We and our world needs healing. The third is 'what is the solution?' The answer, restoration. This is found in Jesus, through whom God has moved to resolve the problem of evil which corrupts his creation. The fourth is, 'how will it end?' It picks up the important notion of the return of Christ, the climax of history and the beginning of a new story. We cannot tell the story of Jesus and faith without getting and exciting vision of the culmination of the world when love and justice will prevail. The final question is 'what do I have to do?' The answer is 'believe in Jesus as saviour and Lord.' I unpack what that means; essentially, it means bowing the knee to King Jesus, sayng yes to his extraordinary offer of eternal life with God. There is a follow up chapter on 'where to from here' which tells the reader what they can do next.

It is designed to be a no-strings attached explanation of the Christian message. It is designed for those who have heard the story in some way or another, and don't quite get it, or need to understand it better. The idea is that they can read it, without someone pressuring them, and make a call on whether they want this Jesus. My hope is that Christians will read it and pray about who it is appropriate for, and give it to them. It is useful as an aid to Alpha and other evangelistic programs.

Several features of the book I think make it interesting. First, it is written with my story splashed through it at points to bring it alive. Secondly, it is written in a non-dogmatic way explaining to the reader various ways Christian resolve issues. For example, it briefly touches on different views of creation, and of hell. It prepares these new Christians for the variety of ideas they will encounter. I hope it appeals to the post-modern in this sense. Thirdly, it is written hopefully with a sense of humility and without the sort of pressure that can turn a non-believer off. The gospel itself is offensive without me adding to its offense! Fourthly, there are no bible verse references in the text or footnotes. Rather, there are endnotes with the appropriate texts for the reader to check out themselves when they have read the book. Finally, it presents a compelling vision of what God is up to. It hopefully will excite readers with their role in what I call Cosmission, God's mission to restore every inch of his glorious world and to see everyone live forever with him.

It is not an apologetic book full of answers to the tough questions like, 'is there a God?' 'Why do good people suffer?' Etc. That is one of my next books, or send them to one of the many other books that deal with these things.


So, I hope it is well received and I hope many come to faith through it. Indeed, that is what excites me most about it, that someone somewhere might become a Christian through it. I also dream of putting together a children's version, youth version, a video series and more around it. If there is anyone who wants to help sponsor those ideas, let me know!


There are a number of places you can buy them. You can email me at mkeown@laidlaw.ac.nz to arrange payments. It is also available through Castle Publishing


http://castlepublishing.wordpress.com/.

Shalom
Mark

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Another Resurrection Thought

Isn't it ironical that new life started in a tomb, so appropriate. Jesus, laid in Joseph's tomb, thoroughly dead, as the separated blood indicated. Sinless, he overcomes death, and is raised to life; the only man to overcome death through righteousness. That moment of resurrection is the beginning of a new creation. In the midst of a space set for death, life begins. From there it flows to all nations. The river of life flows from a scene of death and despair. I like that thought.

Of course, it is Jesus himself who is the new temple (Ezek 40-42). It is Jesus upon whom the glory of God comes (Ezek 43). It is from Jesus that the river that brings life flows (Ezek 47). The water flows through all the world, the Spirit of God, released to all humanity by God. It is fresh, full of life. Is there a play on fish and 'I will make you fishers of people'? Are humans the fish as life flows out, they are 'captured alive' and fill the river? And they eat from the trees that line the bank, the leaves never wither, healing is in them. Shalom.

Jesus the Tree of Life

One way of thinking about this wonderful day is that Jesus is our tree of life. In Eden, God placed one tree in the garden which would sustain humanity with life, the so-called 'tree of life' (Gen 2:9). In Ezekiel 47:12 Ezekiel speaks of trees lining the river that flows from the temple of God, the leaves of the trees bring healing. In Acts, Jesus is hung on a tree, another way of describing the cross (Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29). In the new heaven and earth, the new Jerusalem, where heaven and earth are merged, eternal life granted, evil vanquished and our joy complete, the tree of life will be found again. In its leaves will be the healing of the nations (Rev 22:2, 14, 19). The problem of the tree of knowledge and good and evil which brought death is resolved, access is now free to the tree that sustains. 
In a spiritual sense Jesus is the tree of life. John goes close to this when he describes Jesus as a vine. We are grafted into Jesus (cf. Rom 11:17-24). We are branches in this vine. He is our life, if we are broken off, we die. If we remain or abide in him, we bear fruit. We must eat of the fruit of the vine that is Jesus to live. The fruit we bear will be eaten by others, and they will too experience life. The key is 'remain in me, and I will remain in you' (Jn 15:4). The alternative is death, 'such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.'

So, as we think of Easter, we can think of Jesus' resurrection as the reopening of Eden. The stone is rolled away from the tomb that is death, we can now walk into a new world. This new creation has begun in Jesus, from this tomb. As in Narnia, where the raised Aslan treads brings life in new flowers and hope. From this small tomb of death, life is now flowing into all humanity, into all the world.

We can eat of the tree of life now, we don't have to wait until the culmination of the world. The garden is open, the cheribum says 'come and eat.' We can eat of the tree of life today, because Jesus is risen.

To eat is to believe in Jesus. John again records Jesus saying 'I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty' (Joh 6:35). Faith which is trust lived out each day (not perfectly, but intentionally), is akin to eating of the fruit that hangs of the tree of life. The one who hung on a tree of death has risen, and is now the tree of life. All we do is abide, eat of his fruit, walk in faith, and we will know life. And we bear fruit, fruit that brings life to others as they eat of it. Our leaves are healing to others, just as Jesus' leaves are healing for us.

So will you eat. I choose to dine of the tree. Thanks, that the curse of death is broken. Thanks that life is now here. Thanks that our greatest enemy is history because of Jesus. Bring on that day. Maranatha.

Friday, April 2, 2010

True Humanity Revealed: Easter Friday

According to Paul, the cross is foolishness to the Gentiles and a stumbling block to the Jews. Why? For the Greco-Roman world the story is absurdity. The supposed ruler of the world born in the backblocks of Palestine, where the annoying Jews lived... nonsense. The supposed ruler of the world allows himself to be betrayed by his own friend, is handed over to the Romans, and refuses to defend himself... futility. The supposed ruler of the world powerless, weak, pathetic, naked, humiliated, ridiculed, abused, mocked, rejected, on a cross... pathetic. The supposed ruler of the world, dead... Yeah right! The supposed ruler of the world resurrected... spurious superstition. The supposed ruler of the world commissions a motley group of Jews to go and take over the world without the use of a weapon, through service, through death... utter rubbish. No, this Jesus is nothing. Another pathetic false Messiah killed by the might of Rome.

For the Jews the story is impossible. He was a promising guy. Preached a good message. Like a good prophet called for repentance. Did a few impressive miracles (but so did Moses, Elijah and Elisha). Never came out and declared he was Messiah. Antagonised the leaders of the nation, the interpreters of the blessed law. He dared to enter Jerusalem on a donkey, as if he is king. His followers cried out from Ps 118 that Hosanna, save! Then all he did was attack the temple and debating theology with his own people. He was no Messiah. Then he was humiliated by the mortal enemy of God and Israel, the Romans. Crucified! He should have come down and sorted it out. Then his followers claimed his resurrection. Yeah right. We know he is not Messiah, for 'cursed is anyone who is hung on a tree.' No, the Messiah is still yet to come. He will. The Jews wait for him.

But both Gentiles and Jews miss the point. The message of the cross is the power of God. It is power through weakness. It is a greater power than might, it is love. Friday reminds us of the most important day in history. It is the day of glory when Jesus made it to the cross living the first completely human life. He never succumbed to evil. Satan threw his best at him, offered him the world, yet he overcame. He never resorted to use of power for self. He lived totally others-centred. He healed. He loved. He forgave. He served. Rather than use the weapons of this world, he took up the only real weapon, love. He urged, but did not violate freedom.

As such his death broke the barrier between humanity and God, a barrier created by human sin which separates us from an undefiled holy God. His death overcame the final enemy, sin and death. Satan's power was broken in a moment.

His death is our salvation. All we have to do is say yes, bend the knee to the sovereign King of kings and Lord of lords. And in that moment our sin is washed away. All that we have done, all that we will do, absorbed into the death of Jesus and extinguished. This is a mystery, but a great one. We are then reconciled to God, restored to relationship. And that is just the beginning. We are then filled with God's power of love, to take up our crosses and go to the world to work with and for God to restore his world. The cross is the beginning of the transformation of the cosmos. Death is to be consumed by Christ, and life will flow (that is Sunday).

His life is our pattern. We are to love, serve, heal, spending ourselves for cosmic restoration. We are world-transformers, loving people into the Kingdom, and then seeing the world restored to what it could be. We will be opposed. We will suffer. We will be poor. We will die. We will burn out. We will fail. We will triumph. We will cry. We will laugh. But because of the power of God that is now liberated to all people through the work of Christ, we will not flag until the end. We will bear crosses in his name, and it will be glorious. Thank you for the cross... Amen.