Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Paradise: the plural of Paradox?

We have a visitor in the community for a few weeks, who comes into town to visit her mother, who is unable to attend worship with us anymore. She faithfully sits in her mother's church and listens to every sermon and every hymn and lets me know after the service how awful some of the hymns are: songs about blood and gore, Jesus' "precious bleeding side". She also critiques the sermons, which by some twist of fate and lectionary have centered on Luke each time she's been here. She doesn't agree with or believe a lot of what we do, but she's here anyway...something draws her here.
That's a part of the essential paradox that is our faith. The Old Testament calls us to fulfill the law; Jesus says the Law is not as important as having a relationship with him. Our culture calls us to put ourselves first, because no one else will care for us like we will; our faith calls us to live for others, and put ourselves last. Many of Jesus' parables and the stories of his encounters during his ministry, and the stories of the early church in Acts, tell us about paradoxes: the disobedient leper who comes back to Jesus rather than go to the Temple is the most faithful, the stone that the builders reject becomes the cornerstone of our faith, we must be born seems like a huge part of my preaching and teaching is centered around unpacking the reality that we can't learn or earn our way into the Kingdom. And when I look back on what I've preached and taught, in the midst of all the paradoxes, I find consistency: God's desire for us, that we might be in relationship with God in Christ through the Spirit, and also with each other. So maybe Paradise is the plural, the sum, of all these paradoxes...the Kingdom of God, in all its paradoxical, eternal, now-and-not-yet, present and eschatological glory.

A thought from Mother Theresa, who embodied paradox (much like John Wesley) in living out her faith, even when she didn't feel it:

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered; forgive them
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; be
kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true
enemies; succeed anyway.
People may cheat you; be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; build
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; be happy
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; do good
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; give the
world the best you've got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; it is never
between you and them anyway.

(cross-posted at Any Way You Slice It)

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