Getting back to
Eden.

It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus.

We continue in our Lenten series on getting back to Eden.

Paul puts it so plainly. We are all on a journey back to Eden. We haven’t quite gotten there, but we press on toward that goal.

Paul cites himself as the best of examples of one who needs to keep working toward that goal, to the full maturity of faith needed to grasp onto Eden. He knew that he had faith, but he wanted it to mature, to become more and more intimate with Jesus.

The people he was writing to couldn’t quite understand that. Here was Paul, and apostle. One who met and was sent by the Lord. Here was Paul, one who had suffered in union with and for the Lord; Paul who had sacrificed so much in order to acquire justice before God. He had to be there already, hadn’t he? Paul had to be in a state of perfection. He shouldn’t have to do anything else.

Yet here is Paul clueing them in. We all need to increase our efforts to reach Christian perfection. Much remains to be done, and we really cannot rest on the merits of what has been done before.

We are all tempted to pause, pat ourselves on the back, and think we’ve got it done. Paul reminds us by saying that he must strain forward, press ahead, to what lies ahead, a continued pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.

Today we have reflected on the times we have fallen short in our effort to press ahead toward Eden. We have removed the image of being all done, so we can start fresh. Our prize is not far from our grasp, we re-enter a state of sinlessness, we take hold of the promise of that beautifully perfect place, we have removed the fear caused by shame, we feel peace all around us, we re-engage in a cooperative relationship with God and each other. Eden is not far off.

Jesus is not far from us, but to reach Him it takes effort, introspection, and a commitment to developing more fully that intimate relationship that is at the heart of the Christian journey.

This is the time. If we haven’t done all we should then we need to take heart. The path is clear now and we are able to re-engage. Like the woman brought forward in that street so many years ago we hear Jesus say to us “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.

Freedom is before us. Eden is close by. Wrongs are forgotten. Sin is gone. We are free. We are ready to get back to Eden. The option is to do all required to strain forward.

Getting back to
Eden.

Brothers and sisters: Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

We continue in our Lenten series on getting back to Eden.

St. Paul makes Jesus’ mission to the world explicitly clear for the Corinthians. He came to reconcile the world, to eliminate the old and make all things new. This is the practical application of the parable of the Prodigal Son.

The son had taken all of the gifts his father had given him and had wasted them. The father’s work and savings, a lifetime of achievement had been squandered: he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.

The son returns, somewhat penitent, but still in a way self-serving. He is going back to the father to once again take advantage of his generosity – even if as a slave. Yet the father welcomes and forgives.

God knows our selfishness, our sins, our failings, yet through His Son Jesus, He no longer counts this against us. The old paradigm, the old way of doing things has been destroyed. There is a new way of forgiveness, reconciliation and welcome in spite of our sins. “We must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”

How did the sinful son feel? Overwhelmed by his father’s welcome, by the freely given and unconditional love he received, he had to be changed. The selfish motive for returning had been removed by the father’s welcome. The past had been forgotten. No grudge existed. Healing did.

The world of Eden is a world of healing love – sin is completely removed. While we remain in a world marred by sin, we live in the promise of a world without sin. Sin weighs on us not because we expect punishment and retribution, but because God is so very loving. He welcomes us back to the Eden born of His great love. How can we not regret our sin, and pledge to improve our lives, when faced with such a great love?

St. Paul, in reminding us of this great love, tells us that we also have something to give back. We are to become ambassadors of reconciliation, making the promise of Eden known to all we encounter. We are reconciled so we may reconcile.

Total reconciliation with God is not something that exists somewhere in the future. In Jesus, Eden is for today and for all.

Getting back to
Eden.

“He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’”

We continue in our Lenten series on getting back to Eden.

Last week we looked at what life was like in the Garden of Eden before sin: Sinless, an environmental paradise, innocent and without shame or guilt, without violence, cooperative. We reflected on the fact that as citizens of heaven we are fully entitled to that life – the life of Eden. Paradise is our inheritance. We need to stand firm against sin so that we might take possession of Eden. By standing firm, we give others a taste of Eden, an introduction to Jesus, through our witness.

But what happens if our lives are marked by fruitlessness. What if we fail to bear witness and offer that taste of Eden to those we encounter? God had suffered long and hard with the people of the old Israel. They had grown cold, legalistic, and self-centered. Israel was not bearing the fruit of God’s truth. Yet He was patient.

Our human reaction might say “No Fruit? Cut it down.” Jesus’ teaching is different. When His Father comes looking for fruit in us and finds none Jesus steps in. Father, let me keep at them. Let me work at them, ‘fertilize’ them, and see if they bear fruit.

Seeing the love of His Son the Father allows it. I’ll wait yet another year. Perhaps then they will be fruitful?

To get back to Eden, to the perfect garden, we have to bear real fruit. That does not mean we should just produce a few good works, a few grapes or figs every now and then – anyone can throw a few dollars towards charity or can be nice for a day or two. Rather to bear real fruit means we need to change the kind of tree we are. We have to change inside and out. With true conversion of heart and repentance the fruit is produced naturally and without effort as part of Jesus. We are one in heart, mind, body, and soul. The fruits of the Spirit are apparent in us and are produced regularly: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

As we produce ever more abundantly we bring that glimpse of Eden – people find Eden alive in us. They see in us the promise of hope – the beauty and glory that life in Jesus produces. They want part in that Eden. They want to be like we are – a people of promise. We bear the fruit that furthers the Kingdom of God. Eden is within our grasp. The unstated alternative is that God will not tolerate fruitlessness indefinitely. God gives His help so that when we are barren we might turn and bear fruit. He expects a response to His effort. Yes, Lord, make me fruitful.

Getting back to
Eden.

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord.

We continue in our Lenten preaching theme – Getting back to Eden.

What was life like in the Garden of Eden before sin? Well it certainly was not like today’s world although if we look closely enough we see the beauty and perfection God meant for the world. When we look past crime, violence, sin, and deprivation we see hints of Eden.

In the first place Eden was sinless. There was no corruption. There was peace – not any peace – but the true peace of God because we walked in unity with God.

Eden was an environmental paradise. There would have been no storms or harmful natural occurrences. Everything was created “very good.” Perfect temperature, perfect humidity, no pests or diseases.

Eden was innocent and without shame or guilt. Relationships were perfect. Adam and Eve enjoyed a relationship with God that was up close and in person. Their mutual relationship had no conflict, jealousy, or disruption. Man and woman was to be “one flesh.” No matter how the world corrupts human sexuality, God created this part of humanity as a beautiful sharing between a man and woman, husband and wife.

There was no violence. The biblical record tells us that both man and animals ate plants, not each other. This would have allowed them to have a peaceful non-violent relationship.

Relationship was cooperative. Adam and Eve worked together to tend the garden, not in toil, but in joy. On the Sabbath, like God, they rested and enjoyed His company and each other’s.

St. Paul tells us that as Jesus’ faithful people we have citizenship in heaven, in paradise, in Eden. Jesus has reopened Eden for us. We can still be held back by sin, have a bit of a hard time getting there, but it is our calling, our destiny. As such, Paul tells us to stand firm, that is, to live and show forth in our lives a preview of what awaits all Christians.

Living the Christian life we get a taste of Eden and bring a little bit more of it back into the world. The better we do the more we enjoy the flavor of God’s perfect life. We show people who are unsure of Jesus the true promise of life in Him – Eden. The new pre-Fall Eden is in our grasp. In Jesus we have been freed from our former guilt and shame, and the new Eden blossoms in our lives anew.

Getting back to
Eden.

What does Scripture say? The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart —that is, the word of faith that we preach—, for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

This reflection is focused on the scriptures for the First Sunday of Lent and our Lenten preaching theme – Getting back to Eden.

St. Paul is writing to the Church at Rome reminding them that they have word.

The word had been given to them and they committed it, not just to rote memory. Rather, the word became a real and meaningful part of their lives. Their reception of God’s word was life changing.

God’s word was in their hearts and their actions were changed by it. Wherever they went, the word was on their lips and they proclaimed it.

The Church at Rome received the wonderful gift of the word and that word was transformative in their lives. They were changed by it. Their confession of faith – a confession that was through and throughout their lives – saved them. That word, that salvation made such a huge difference that over the next three centuries those at Rome were willing to suffer and die for the word.

Now we’ve used a rather big word here. God’s word was “transformative” to these people. What does that mean? It means they were changed at three essential levels.

The transformative effect of God’s word changed them (1) Psychologically – they had a new understanding of who they were. (2) Convictionally – they were part of a new and powerful belief system. (3) Behaviorally – every part of their lifestyle was changed.

Getting back to Eden starts with the realization that our exile is over. The people of Rome heard that. It changed them. They were cast out and are now being let in. The gates that were closed to them have been opened. That powerful image made real in the Good News – the word – transformed the people of Rome. That powerful word transforms to this day. It has transformed the life of every person who has come to belief in Jesus by faith.

Like the Church at Rome we have received God’s word. We have found faith in Jesus and have pledged our lives to Him. We confess His name and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead. We recognize we are saved and on the road back to Eden. So let us re-double our efforts in making His word active in our daily lives. Let us, like Rome, be mindful of the wonderful gift – the beautiful word – that is ours. Let us strengthen our faith, proclaim it, and allow it to work its transformative effect in our lives.

Specks, logs, planks,
whole trees.

“How can you say to another believer, ‘Friend, let me take the piece of sawdust out of your eye,’ when you don’t see the beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye. Then you will see clearly to remove the piece of sawdust from another believer’s eye.”

Today marks the last Sunday of the Pre-Lenten season. It confronts us with the hardest challenge we can face in life, the tendency to be judgmental toward others while simultaneously failing to perceive our sins and failings.

There are two keys here. First, how easy it is to perceive the failings in another, and to turn that perception into an accusation. How hurtful and damaging to the target. Beyond that, how often we fail to understand the reality behind another person’s perceived weaknesses. We never know the real reason, the hurt, the pain, the negative experience behind another’s minor failing.

Second, it really isn’t that we fail to see the plank – the hugeness of failings – in our lives. They are exactly huge because they are so close to us. My unbridled passions, lusts, desires, cruelties – huge!

Jesus really hits home in calling us hypocrites exactly because we already know our failings. We see them clearly every day – and yet we turn to hurt another. Wow!

In preparation for Lent we are called to attack the log, the plank, that huge dead tree in the middle of our lives. We are called into a holy season that is to be filled with action. We aren’t to go into a solitary cell, sit quietly, and ponder our dead tree. We are to take action, cutting it down and replacing it with the most life-giving tree of all – the Cross.

Jesus is calling us to go deep in removing that dead tree. The dead tree, the dead roots, all must go. Then we will come to conversion so that we “bear good fruit.” We are then that good man [who] out of the good treasure of his heart produces good. Then people will know who we are for out of the godly abundance of the heart will our mouths speak.

There are two kinds of trees we can focus on. We can live in a forest of death and accusation or come to the Tree of Life. Throughout Lent we are going to focus on getting back to the Life tree – to Eden, that paradise God has prepared for us. The place of joy, peace, and true life.

In Eden there are no dead trees, there are no planks, logs, or specks. We do not look at a another and pass judgment. We see in them Jesus and another self. If we perceive in them hurt, pain, or negative experience we do not accuse. Rather we actively heal them. We gather them under and into the life-giving tree. Jesus has opened the door to Eden for us. Let us go to the Life tree.

Back on the early newsletter streak.

February is here and we will quickly transition from Pre-Lent to Lent. As we begin this journey we naturally ask, why increase prayer, sacrifice more, be in church more, extend myself to others more? What will come out of this? Won’t I just end up grumpy? God has a game plan, an end game in mind for us. Lent helps us to reconnect to that plan, to wash ourselves clean of everything that clouds our vision of the Paradise He has promised us and has provided to us through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus. Lent is about recapturing Eden.

February – we do Lentopoly and celebrate some really special events. There’s a Confirmation, the Bishop’s attendance at out annual parish meeting on February 14th (want to ask a question, here’s your chance). There is an invitation to a Polish Mardis Gras celebration. Lots of other great stuff too. Also, important news on CONVO 2016 and this Special Year Reverence Across our Holy Church.

You may view and download a copy of our February 2016 Newsletter right here.