January 22 2023

The past few weeks, frost has painted our trees heavily and neither wind nor sun have interfered. They’ve granted us moments of white-arched streets lit by yellow street lamps and warm home windows; brilliant, white tree-lace against blue sky; and soft white tendrils subtly merging into soft grey clouds. Every day on my walks to church and back home, I’ve come across people stopped in their tracks and staring, or walking with eyes up and and gazing this way and that, or with cameras out, trying to capture it all. There is magical quality to our city right now. I say this because, on days like these, it seems easier to remember that there is a spiritual dimension to life.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of several Christians in the 1800s who warned us that western culture was tearing nature in two. Nature, we have increasingly perceived as functional, mechanical, and material, while ‘spirit’ is perceived as immaterial and optional, a matter of personal taste. Browning says it this way:

“Natural things
And spiritual – who separates those two
In art, in morals, or the social drift,
Tears up the bond of nature and brings death…”

Browning conveyed another way, an older way, of experiencing the world and understanding nature, one that insists upon a closer union of visible and invisible, upon God’s ongoing presence and activity in all life:

“Glancing on my own thin, veined wrist,–
In such a little tremor of the blood
The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul…

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes.”

She also perceived that nature has a trajectory, from death to redemption, and that all things were being draw up into God’s kingdom:

“… up to (eternal) significance
Through the open arms of God”

Perhaps she had Paul’s letters in mind. Paul saw all creation being lifted up with Christ on the cross and raised up to new life in Christ. This is God’s mystery made known, he explained, to gather all things in heaven and on earth into Christ. All things were made through him and all things were being redeemed through him. (Ephesians 1.9-10; Colossians 1:15-20)

Paul taught that the salvation of creation was connected to the salvation of our bodies:

“For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God… not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:20-23)

Since Paul preached in Athens, people have regularly scoffed at the resurrection. It has always been hard to accept. Since the 1700s, this skepticism has only intensified. People who see a spiritual dimension to physical life are (sometimes unconsciously) viewed as simple, naive, or eccentric. The idea of dying and of our spirits living on is more believable than the redemption of creation and the resurrection of our bodies. But this is, in fact, what we’ve always confessed. As John Chrysostom (a well-known church leader from 400 AD) wrote, “Let us continually say to others, and to ourselves, ‘There is a resurrection.’”

Winter may not feel magical when scraping ice from windshields or when it is minus 25… and windy… again… in March. Our bodies do not feel magical when we can’t remember things or when we get to the point where standing up takes some time and comes with pain. But our suffering is not pointless. Thanks to Jesus’ death and resurrection, suffering is redeemed. In God’s hand, it brings about transformation.

“What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.

“I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.

“You never saw him, yet you love him. You still don’t see him, yet you trust him—with laughter and singing. Because you kept on believing, you’ll getwhat you’re looking forward to: total salvation.” (1 Peter 1:3-9, The Message)

Yours with love,

Pastor Joel



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