Wednesday, June 29, 2005

30 June 2005

Chapter 7 of 1 Corinthians deals with marriage relationships - always interesting.

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: "It is well for a man not to touch a woman." But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. the husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but his wife does. Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. This I say by way of concession, not of command. (1 Cor. 7:1-6)

There are more questions to be asked in this text than there are answers given. In fact, many of the questions that we could and should ask about what is said are questions that do not come up within these writings. Some examples would be: Do we marry simply to stop the potential for sexual immorality? Is marriage all about sex - conjugal rights seems to be all that is addressed? What about companionship for life...what about two becoming one as in a many-sided and holistic relationship in which both sides find their lives complete in a Genesis kind of way of being human? What if a spouse has an unhealthy sex drive (idolatrous we could say) that is, in essence, abusive to the other spouse for the sake of self? What if conjugal rights become oppressive and so domineering that the spirit of life in the one is broken because of the "rights" of one being met as they would want them met? What if you do not have the need for a relationship, sexual or not, with someone of the opposite sex and you long to be with that person for life? What if the choice of celibacy is not really a choice - what if it is due to abuse or fear of relationship/rejection - could celibacy be quite unnatural? Paul would have everyone be like himself, but we don't know what that is - nor do we need to. Most of all, we must first consider the depth of the command to love one another and to love the Lord, God. - in any relationship within any community - does a person engage others so that all the people in a relationship or potential relationship are honored as beloved of God? Many questions that take us beyond the bounds of Paul's letter, and yet they take us into the many more facets of our life as sexual beings who are gifted with the wealth of our whole humanity.

Connection: In a culture longing for commands and rules to set everything in its place, today we can look to Paul to remind us that all of this "stuff" is not ruled by commands. Rather, there is always in relationships the need for concessions, exceptions, and that love that take us beyond what the world can offer us.

Creator of Our Humanity, we know that we rest in your love and we are called forward into this day to live within the brilliant image of your likeness. When we long for fences to rule us, show us a new and courageous way to follow you as you beloved. Amen.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

29 June 2005

This section of 1 Corinthians continues to be with us today.

" All things are lawful for me," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be dominated by anything. "Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food," and God will destroy both one and the other. (1 Cor. 6:12-13a) The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her?... But anyone who united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. (1 Cor. 6:13b-17) Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body. (1 core. 6: 18-20)

Oh how happy are those who can say "I'm no fornicator!" Those are the ones who view sin in degrees and as actions as clear as knowing what it black or white. But sin, when it is seen as a separation from God and from one another, seems to throw all of us into the basket of fornication - as there is no sin greater than any other. When we let our lust for anything drive us and be our purpose for life and our source of energy for the day, we are doomed to be disappointed and to never experience the fullness of life that is promised to all who trust what God says about us and for us...forevermore: You are beloved. But it is much too easy to simply let fornication be that same old same, sex, sex. When that is the case, we can easily jump to the head of the religious class and receive a reward for our good life not like those who....who....who....fornicate. The Good News in all this conversation about what is not acceptable is the final line: were bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body. Our life has been matter what is the bumbling debt, we have been bought and secured and that is and will be the word about us. Therefore, we can admit to the many ways we fall down and know that the word for this day is that we can begin as though we are only who God says we are. There is a power in that word that will invite us out of the clutches of any power to which we are willing to be whores...any powers.

Connection: There is Good News even in the middle of words that seem to dwell on what we are not to be. The difficult part is to be able to hear the Good News. That is why we are to hear with ears baptized by the Holy Spirit for new life and not the same old rambling we tend to stumble upon much too often in our self-centered world.

Lord, lift us up to see your gift of new life that you already give to us and promise to have waiting for us at the dawn of each new day. Amen.

Monday, June 27, 2005

28 June 2005

Adding to yesterday's discussion of 1 Corinthians 6.

" All things are lawful for me," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be dominated by anything. "Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food," and God will destroy both one and the other. (1 Cor. 6:12-13a) The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her?... But anyone who united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. (1 Cor. 6:13b-17)

We have a higher calling than to be consumed by or be consumers of anything. We are the followers of Jesus and when we call Jesus "Lord" we are setting ourselves up to be a people whose spirit of life is set within the way of Jesus. do we deal with this passage. Well, we could consider it to be simply about "fornication." That is...about sex...abusive, inappropriate, and...all-consuming sexual activity. Though that fits the context of this letter, the message of the Good News is made so much less if that is how we talk about the Reign of God in Christ,Jesus, in contrast to the perversion of the world. We are not to "unite" ourselves with any power or force or part of creation to the point that we lose control of the gracious life of the followers of Jesus in community. We are not to become like those who are consumed by consuming. Our appetite is not to be for that which will gratify us at the expense of others and the disrespect of our own lives. Our appetite is for a banquet of solidarity and peace and holiness that is rich with respect, honor, grace, and love for one another. We are not a people who run away from the powers of prostitution, we live a life of graciousness that none of the prostitutes of our day can master. That becomes the blessed community of transformation through which the powers of the day are confronted and their priorities exposed.

Connection: Dream of the hopeful Reign of God. Do not simply let it be a dream...let it be a part of our holy imagination that seeps into all of our days and in every part of our life together. When the powers of the world want us to "sleep with them" it takes much courage and prayerfulness and peace to resist their ways.

Lord of Liberation and New Life, how majestic is your loving presence that attracts us and keeps us firmly held within your ways. Remind us of the power of your Reign as all the powers of this world continue to try and drain us of your vision for new life. Amen.

27 June 2005

Today we will move back into the letter to the Corinthians.

" All things are lawful for me," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be dominated by anything. "Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food," and God will destroy both one and the other. (1 Cor. 6:12-13a)

Grace runs us right to the edge of life. We exist in a realm of freedom that is beyond our comprehension. Therefore, it is important for us to understand that we will either try to fly off that edge and abandon any sense of community and graciousness or we will put on the brakes and never let ourselves get anywhere near the edge. When we put on the brakes because we are afraid of where freedom will lead us we also destroy community. We may make a community of robots who must all fall within a template of existence, but the community of love and graciousness that we inherit in Christ, Jesus, will be a dream miles away. When we fly off the edge because we have let ourselves trust a banner phrase rather than the life behind it (All things are lawful for me), our lives do not take the time to consider how our actions have an impact on the whole of the community and our individual lives. Our community becomes "me" and "mine" which is really no community at all...unless of course , we limit our lives to those whose lives are being ruled by that which pulls them off the edge. I suppose we could put these to categories of extremes onto many different labels - either political or religious - economic or social - sexual or educational. And yet, both are afraid of the call into community with all people. We live on the edge in the domain of grace. It is not always an easy way to live. It is always thrilling because we cannot be there alone. WE must understand that there will be those who are always pulling back from the edge and those who are constantly dangling over the edge...and yet, our God calls the whole bunch of us into a life where grace pulls us to the edge and love keeps us there - together. That, I think, is call the community of Christ.

Connection: Where is the edge? Today we may find ourselves at the edge, pulling away from the edge, and throwing ourselves over it. In the meantime, there will be confusion, anger, and the possibility of immense joy. Where is the edge in the lives we are living TODAY?!?

Gentle Lord of All Hopefulness, the guidance of your Spirit is needed in all we do. Keep us mindful of your gracious presence among us. Amen

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Friday, June 24, 2005

Here's one last piece from Stanley Hauerwas for a while.

"The name used to indicate the inseparability of worship, evangelism, and ethics is holiness….To be made holy is to have our lives rendered unintelligible if the God who has claimed us in Jesus Christ is not the true God. To be made holy is to have our lives 'exposed' to one another in the hope that we will become what we have been made."

"Holiness" is not likely to be a favorite word for many Lutherans, and maybe with some good reason. The word conjures up images of arrogance and empty moralizing-no one wants to be labeled "holier than thou" or associated with "holy rollers." We hear "holiness" talk and think of closed-minded withdrawal from the world or pretentious fire-and-brimstone preaching. With those mental pictures in mind, it's no wonder that Lutherans are not eager to pursue "holiness," whatever it is.

The problem for us Lutherans, however, comes the moment we read almost any of the New Testament, which unflinchingly calls the followers "a holy nation" and summons us to be holy as God is holy. But of course, to hear Jesus tell it, our holiness is never about abandoning an ungodly secular world because we are too wise or good for it. Rather, it is about being so profoundly shaped by the grace of God that our lives and our faith appear foolish. It is, as Cardinal Suhard of Paris once said, "to live in such a way that one's life would not make sense if God did not exist." For us, holiness is another way of saying that we will be so taken by the reckless love of God that we will really let it guide our actions and living-eve if it means we are dismissed as reckless and silly ourselves. Holiness, then, is the gift of being willing to be marked by love, even when-especially when-that love looks like silliness. What a gift to be so recklessly holy!

Connection: The extravagant love of God frees us to foolishly and recklessly love others. So here is a dare-think of some way that love of God might show up in your day if you had no inhibitions-and then let it happen. There is nothing to lose.

Holy One, pry open our fists clenched tight around our fears, and teach us to let go. And in open-handed surrender, let us become who you have declared us to be. Make us wholly holy. Amen

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Ready for another helping of "Worship, Evangelism, and Ethics-On Eliminating the And"? Here's another taste:

"We believe that God's salvation is nothing less than participation in God's very life through word and sacrament. Worship is what we do for God, but in that doing we believe our lives are made part of God's care of creation."

God is always turning the tables on us and surprising us with more. Remember the story of King David? He decides he wants to build a "house" for God-a temple. And at least as the story is told in 2 Samuel 7, the king has good intentions: he wants to honor and worship God. He would build a house for God as a gift given in thanks. But God turns the tables on David and promises instead to build a "house"-a dynasty-and the promise of a descendant to rule justly forever. (And those who know the story also know that a mere thousand years later, a descendant of David is born to a backwoods girl named Mary, who names her son Jesus.)

David, of course, has no idea how God will work through him when he makes the offer to build a temple. But as it turns out, it is simply God's character to turn the tables on us, to grace us beyond our imagining, and to draw us into the divine life. We think we will offer God a gift-and at its best, that is what our worship is-but God always beats us to the punch with something more. And what's more, the great exchange doesn't stop there, because our God never settles for simply turning our gifts around. No, we too are turned around, transformed, and drawn into God's saving work. In the table-turning grace of God, we are both gifted and gifts ourselves, both blessed and blessing. In that sense, our worship is always dangerous-or at least adventurous-because it opens us up to receive surprising gifts and to be drawn unexpectedly deeper into the life and love of God.

Connection: God is already at work in you and through you today, even in the mundane details of your day, even in ways you cannot perceive. How might that change the way you face the encounters and tasks in front of you?

Surprise us with grace, O God. We barely know what we are getting ourselves into to ask it, but we ask it nonetheless. Turn the tables on us, and make us into your gifts for the world.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Here's some more from Stanley Hawerwas' "Worship, Evangelism, and Ethics."

"It is not any God that Christians worship, but the God whose justice is to be found in Jesus' cross and resurrection. To learn to worship God truthfully requires that our bodies be formed by truthful habits of speech and gesture. [It is] to acquire a character befitting lives capable of worshiping God."

In the Torah, the people of Israel are told to rehearse the story of God's deliverance constantly. They are to recite the words when they rise and when they lie down. They are to write them on their doorposts and wear them on their bodies. And why all the constant reminders? The people need to be reminded of who and whose they are. The practice of rehearsing the story in all those forms ingrains in them God's saving love for them and the vision of how they are to live in response. By hearing the story again and again, they become who God has declared them to be. By embodying that story in their worship, the cadences and character of God are to become their own as they reflect God's goodness, mercy, and justice.

That is at least one thing that has not changed over the millennia. As the people of God in Christ, we still have to learn who we are. We may think we know exactly who we are-our likes and dislikes, our preferences, and our commitments. Or we may have bought into one of countless other stories offered to us. But the claim of God on us, marked in baptism, reminds us that we must be always re-oriented to the character and grace of God in Jesus. We belong to a new community, we are given a new identity, and we have been drawn into a new story of cross and resurrection. God has done all of that for us. Yet once we are living within that new community and identity, we need to hear, embody, and enact that story again and again to let it sink in and take a hold of us. And that is exactly what we do in the church-in the liturgy, in the Word spoken and sung, and at the Table, we "practice" being who we are. We let the transforming story of God's deliverance in Jesus have its way with us, and as that happens, we learn who we are.

Connection: When voices around us would tell us who and what we are, we are always led back to the ancient-and-yet-new story of God's love for us in Jesus that tells us we belong to God. That story, the gospel story, is simply more real for us than anything else.

Lord, you are forever saving a forgetful people. Speak again amidst all the surrounding noise to remind us who are, and let your story of love open our eyes, mold our hands, and build our lives to be your people.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Another sampling from "Worship, Evangelism, and Ethics-On Eliminating the And"…

"The way the church 'wins converts,' therefore, is by making us faithful worshipers of the God who alone is worthy of worship….Such a people are bound to attract followers, because the God who has called them from the nations is so beautifully compelling."

If this sounds like a jab at megachurches that become consumed by growing in size, it is. There is something deeply disturbing when "evangelism" devolves into the endless quest to pack more people in the pews to have a 'meaningful' experience. But don't hear that criticism as a case of sour grapes from a declining denomination. It's not about jealousy because other churches are bigger than ours. Rather, the concern is about a vision that has settled for something too small. When increasing the numbers of our ranks becomes an end in itself, we lose the power of God's promise that we are loved just as we are and instead get caught up in keeping up with the church of the Joneses. When evangelism becomes marketing, we soon discover that we've traded the precious-but free!-gifts of God for a sales pitch. Grace is replaced with gimmick, and the love of the community becomes lost in saccharine "niceness" and shallow talk of "meaningfulness." We become convinced that faith is a product to be pushed and that God will lose face-or worse, we think, our congregation will lose face-unless numbers are up and people leave the service entertained.

What if it didn't have to be that way? What if we were not bent on being God's top sellers and instead could let ourselves simply offer thanks to the God who has gathered us? The preposterous word of faith (and it is preposterous in a world where everything has become a product) is that it doesn't have to be "that way" and we are not responsible for selling salvation. We do not need to settle for the lesser gods of popularity and prestige. We do not need to settle for anything less than communion with the God who has made and redeemed us. That God is the real focus and center of the gathered church. When we can let go of selling idols, we cannot help but be drawn deeper in love with the God who is "so beautifully compelling." And when we give up on meeting quotas, we cannot help but draw others around us into the same compelling love. That is all evangelism ever is.

Connection: We do not have to settle for anything less than the living God revealed in Jesus Christ as the center of our identity and our worship.

Gracious God, open our eyes to the beauty of who you are, and hold that vision ever before us in the face of all this day brings.

Monday, June 20, 2005

In case you have been reading the daily devotions regularly and are confused at why we’ve abruptly stopped in the middle of 1 Corinthians, here’s a word of explanation. While Pastor Al is on vacation, Vicar Steve is doing devotions for this week. But the good pastor will be back for the final week of June, and then you will be returned to your regularly scheduled programming, er, devotions.

Our devotions this week are drawn from an essay in Stanley Hauerwas' book, A Better Hope, entitled, "Worship, Evangelism, and Ethics-On Eliminating the 'And'." If the title seems intimidating, just know that the central theme is about how the gospel story shapes us and makes us into a new people-and that newness radiates forth in all of our lives. It really is good material (at least Hauerwas' part is!), so I invite you to try it on for size.*

"Worship is evangelism and ethics…worship is about the shaping of affections."

So much of life-as-we-know-it is disjointed and fragmented. Our culture seems intent on splitting up the world around us into compartments and keeping them hermetically sealed off from one another. Think about it-in the political arena, faith is often either kept private and completely out of decent public conversation or gets hijacked to divide the world into us-and-them, with-us-or-against-us teams. We are trained to keep our job "hat" and identity neatly separated from our family "hat"-you can be who you are on your own time, but don't let it get in the way of productivity or closing a sale. What we say on Sundays has no connection to how we think and act on the rest of the days. Even in the church, we often break up the ministry and mission of congregations into separate chunks called committees that may not interact at all-something is the job of the Church-in-Society Committee or the Evangelism Committee or the Worship Committee alone, but they don't work together. And as a result, we are split down the middle-we become fragmented people.

In the midst of all of our disconnected selves and disjointed commitments, the gospel of Jesus Christ brings real oneness. That's what I love about the subtitle of this whole essay by Hauerwas: Eliminating the "And." In a society that would split us up into disconnected fragments-between our Sunday selves and work-week lives, between our inner feelings and the forced smiles that sell, between private and public personas-Jesus offers us a vision of being whole. We are not compartmentalized, but have been claimed completely, wholly, by God. And so all of our lives are liberated for something new-not just our Sundays, and not just our inner thoughts. The Hebrew word for that wholeness of self and community is shalom, and that is precisely what Jesus offers.

Connection: In Christ, there is no longer a "work hat" or a "family hat" or a "private hat" or a "public hat" to wear at the right times-only the "beloved of God" hat, and that is enough.

O God who gives shalom, who else can pick up our many pieces? We long to be one today-come and make us whole and wholly yours.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

17 June 2005

This was accidentally sent out on Tuesday afternoon.
We will end this week with an interesting piece from 1 Corinthians 6.

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolators, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers - none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:9-11)

If you are looking for the Reign of God (how I like to say "kingdom of God) as something down the road...merely as an after life arriving place, I think we miss the majesty of this passage. It can sound like people will be kept out - someone will be looking through a peep-hole and decide if we are good enough to "get in" - or...there is a great check list that we must abide by in order to be let in to this gracious Reign. But now...what if the Reign of God is a life - an available life that is quite contrary to the brokenness that is listed in this passage? The Reigning of God is a life that some will unfortunately refuse to enter NOW. Instead, for example, rather than treat spouses with love and honor and fidelity and experience the fascination and grace of that kind of a relationship, you can go off and be an adulterer...but oh what you will miss. You will miss the beauty and majesty of life within the Reign of God. We could go through this whole list and help one another see what we would miss in life when the Good News of the Reign of God is not seen as a real entity of the living of these days. Thieves have to run their whole life and can never be a peace. Those who share and give their wealth away for the welfare of the whole community already live within a peace that is beyond the world's understanding.

Connection: We have been washed and called a holy people who have the freedom to enter the life within the Reign of God and invite others to join us. Yes, that will involve a life that will clash, in many ways, with the life of the world around us. But it is always to be a blessed adventure.

Take us Merciful God and shape the day at hand into the living presence of our Lord, Jesus, so that we may see how your Reign really does come down upon us each and every day. Amen.

16 June 2005

We continue with 1 Corinthians 6

In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud - and believers at that. (1 Cor. 6:7-8)

So what is the difference between those in the Church and others? Is there no difference? Well, if we see our life within Christ as a life that is to come...after another time...then, of course, we will live just like the world. Also, if our trust in Jesus - our faith - is seen as being a individual experience, we may quickly lose any need for the corporate life - except for what it can keep telling me about what will happen to me. When we look just like the rest of the world...what is the saving power that is granted to us...where is the saving life into which we are pulled and into which we invite others?!?

Connection: Without thinking in terms of lives bound up by an endless list of things to "do" and "not do", what life are we blessed to enter as we call ourselves followers of Jesus?

Sometimes, Lord God, we will do whatever we will do to take hold and run our lives just as we want them to be...for us. In that journey, life can turn as ugly as the ugliness of our world. Save us for something new just as you have promised. Amen.

15 June 2005

Today we enter chapter 6 of 1 Corinthians.

When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels - to say nothing of ordinary matters? If you have ordinary cases, then, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another, but a believer goes to court against a believer - and before unbelievers at that? (1 Cor. 6:1-6)

Some might want to write off this talk about legal action off to the notion that Paul and the folks of the infant church expected the end to be coming around the corner and therefore, the bar is set quite differently in regard to how we are to act. Remember though, that Paul is talking about what goes on among those in the body - how do we who claim Christ as Lord, live with one another as a new age people?!? If there needed to be a legal claim made against someone outside of the community, there was a place for that - the courts of Corinth. But inside the church, they are given a new life in which they have the full authority to make peace and come to terms of reconciliation and forgiveness. (I said "they" but let us read "we"). The tough language is like the language used on a child by a parent. "This is who we are...we do not do that!...and this is just how important it is." Sometimes that language can only sound like harsh threat and judgment. It is our task to listen for the foundation - the life of Christ among us - to hear how good news can bring us into an alternate life.

Connection: We must be this body of Christ. The life within this body is beyond our imagination. Maybe that is why we so often run from it and choose another life. That is also why it is so important for us to feed each other with Christ's love - that we too will be formed in that image.

Make us witnesses to your loving Reign, O God. We will not go there on our own. We long for your Spirit to plant us within a life filled with your love. Amen.

14 June 2005

Here's the very end of chapter 5 in first Corinthians.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons - not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world. But now I am writing you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? God will judge those outside. Drive out the wicked persons from among you. (1 Cor.5:9-13)

I think it is important to find where the good new is in this passage. It sounds harsh. More than that it sounds like there is trouble within this community. The kind of trouble Paul and others would expect to see and hear out in the world...but not within the community blessed by the grace of God. It also sounds like this is about more than associating with sexually immoral person. In the middle of all this it sounds like the community that is called to be the body of Christ and a part of the messianic age is nothing more than "everyday in the world" that knows not the story of Christ and the promises within that story. It sounds as though Paul is upset that these people who say they are a part of the new age in Christ because they are in essence turning to "other gods" to find their satisfaction and meaning in life. There is a life we enter through the water of baptism and it is like the candle given to a baptismal candidate or the salt placed on their lips. We are by grace pulled into a life in which our lives will have the grace and love of God as the power that will shape us and form the patterns of our day...and be that "something new" for all to see. If we simply live like the world, we are missing out on the power for life that is available to us...a power where there is healing, reconciliation, forgiveness, trust, mercy, kindness, care of the world. It is as though Paul is trying to press - as hard as possible - the church in Corinth to enter the messianic age of wholeness that brings a life quite contrary to the world.

Connection: We do have a life to hand to our children and to share with one another. With the Christ as our center, there is to be a character about us that reflects the gift of life that is already ours. The fears and anxieties that come from turning and trusting other gods must be faced and named so that this new life in Christ might be called the Church.

Lord we are a broken people who find many ways to turn from you. By your grace pull us into a new life so that we may add seasoning to the world and be that light that brings your gracious Word to life. Amen.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

13 June 2005

Let me jump to chapter five in 1 Corinthians.

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you?
For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. (1 Cor. 5:1-5)

What a mess. This is the kind of story around the community that spreads like a wildfire and will never have any end. In fact, it usually keeps surfacing again and again as though the flame is meant to be some kind of eternal light - but this is not a light that serves the community. It is bad enough that there is a situation in which the community of a family has been betrayed in this action between a man and his father's wife. Add to this what such an action does to the trust and security of the whole community. It sounds as though people have this action as a concern and yet no one has the willingness to face it and deal with it by pointing out what it is doing to the whole community. Even though Paul's words sound harsh, notice that he is simple trying to bring about a new life for this man...and the community.

Connection: Silence doesn't help us. There are too many times in our life together when the choices of people must be faced and the consequences of such choices must be pressed. Otherwise, the life of the whole community is threatened in various ways.

Compassionate Lord, teach us the ways of peace and truthfulness so that as we live together, we can help to shape one another and honestly deal with the times when our actions go against the welfare of the community. Amen.

Friday, June 10, 2005

10 June 2005

Today we end the week with a bit from the fourth chapter of 1 Corinthians.

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Quite apart from us you have become kings. Indeed, I wish that you had become kings, so that we might be kings with you. (1 Cor. 4:8)

In the next verses, it will be come clear that Paul and his companions in the spreading of the gospel are anything but kings. In fact, they are intensely persecuted. To the Corinthians though, there was this notion that the complete Reign of God was present and complete. And yet, as their teacher will help them see, the road of the followers of Jesus is along a road in a world that does not take to this Jesus life. Yes, there may be quite a bit of enthusiasm at the beginning of the journey into the land of grace, but this land is an alien place and that makes the Corinthians and us - aliens no matter where we might be. It almost seems strange today to see the Church of Christ so intertwined with the powers of the world...almost to the extent that Christians simply assume that governments should bow down and do whatever we would like. In some ways, I think Paul would look at what many of us are doing today and simply laugh - or cry. Rather than be the suffering servants of all, we have tried to put ourselves in the company of the worlds kings and queens and rulers.

Connection: Always...we serve and we return to the Christ who is our way and our life. That means that as we recipients of grace we are also the vehicle of grace to the world around us. It is as we are on that road that we may face something other than praise.

Lord of the Resurrection, we long to live within your glory and yet we still must trod along the way of your Beloved. It is a road that will take us more deeply into the blessedness of service to others and care for the world. Grand us the strength to move in that way and the vision to keep our eyes on the glory that comes within our service and our loving. Amen.

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

9 June 2005

Today we continue in 1 Corinthians, chapter four.

I have applied all this to Apollos and myself for your benefit, brothers and sisters, so that you may learn through us the meaning of the saying, "Nothing beyond what is written," so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift? (1 Cor. 4:6-7)

We always go back to the water. For me, infant baptism is one strong image for a community that does not know anything but the gift. From the water where the power of the love of God soaks us for life, there is no other status and no other story that can be used by one person or group against another. The water is the language of the gift and we have all been to the water and we have all left the font as gifted children of God. It does not matter who led us to the water or who poured the water over us or dipped us beneath its surface. The only thing that matters is what God does to us and with us. Therefore, we are free from the games people try to play with every source of power the world knows. There is no us or them...there is no one side standing closer to God. We are a gifted people and all we can do is point to our God and say, "Wow, what a way to start the day and face whatever will be among us."

Connection: A gift has been given to you. According to this gift, you have had life handed to you in an abundant fashion and it continues to be the power that will sustain you and shape you. No one can take that from you or claim a greater power.

Presiding Lord of Life, all we can do in your presence is give you thanks. Let our thanksgiving be in the shape of our lives wholly responding to your gracious love. Amen.

Monday, June 6, 2005

8 June 2005

Including the piece from 1 Corinthians 4 from yesterday, we press on.

Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries. (I Cor. 4:1)
Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purpose of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God. (1 Cor. 4:2-5)

As stewards of the Reign of God - the good news in all its gracious glory - we are to be trustworthy in regard to the good news. Nothing else but the grace of God as we hear it in the story of the life, death, and resurrection is placed in our care. That is a singular task that is a gift and a great responsibility. In many ways, we are to be great defenders and caretakers of the vision of the Reign of God within the everyday dynamics of life as it is presented to us in every time and place. This is a responsibility that does not settle for the way things are. We are always called into the same position as we have held previous to this time - be faithful stewards of the good news...let the light of the gospel shine no matter what the darkness of the day tries to do with us or to us. Therefore, we look to one another to be stewards of this gift of let it shine...because we cannot trust ourselves to do that. We will always fall short. We need the light of the gospel that moves through the prism of the community to bring depth and color to our life.

Connection: We always want to know who is right and what is the right way. Well, time will tell. And time will tell if the mysteries of God really do shine through time and bring new life. What appears to be a "right way" now may be quite empty in regard to being a witness to the grace of God.

How wonderful it is, O God, that you entrust us with the life of your Reign. As we go out into this day, let your light of the new life that comes in Christ, Jesus, be our guide and our wisdom as we attempt to discern your will among your faithful people. Amen.

7 June 2005

Today we move into chapter four of 1 Corinthians.

Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries. (I Cor. 4:1)

Like any mystery things may not always be just as they appear. The Reign of God and the life that is brought forth by the Holy Spirit as that Reign begins to emerge in our lives is always beyond our grasp. I always find this to be quite like the grace of God. We have images of it. We say it is the source of our life in Christ. We know that it is how God acts towards God's people. Having said that, grace seems to always be cut short by our interpretation of what it means. We have an expansive vision but...then there is reality and we don't usually like to go beyond what we see as our reality of choice. Therefore, it is essential for us to be open to how the whole body of Christ interprets what it is to be servants of Christ and to be very frank about how God's way to lead us into the future is indeed a mystery compared to how I would tend to enter that journey. The love and grace of God is always beyond our comprehension and we me be those people who keep it just like that...beyond us...calling us...shaping us...but never completely the same as how we would interpret what it is to be servants.

Connection: What can we learn about the mysteries of God's grace from one another? Most often, it is the power that pulls me into life outside of my reality...a power to love when I have no ability to love anymore.

Come Holy Spirit and deliver us into the land of grace where forgiveness blossoms and love is able to transform us. Help us to be thrilled and not frightened by the surprises in life that nudge us into a more gracious way to see and be in the world. Amen.

Friday, June 3, 2005

6 June 2005

1 Corinthians chapter 3 is still on the table.

Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person. For God's temple is holy and you are that temple. Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God... So let no one boast about human leaders. for all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future - all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. (1 Cor. 3:18-19, 21-23)

Begin with the understanding that the "you" in "you are God's temple" is the "you" as in "all y'all". It is a community term. The temple is no longer that geographic place in is no longer a building restored and rebuilt several time and now for some a place that needs to be rebuilt again. Rather, the temple is the people. The holy site...the dwelling place of God...the manifestation of grace and glory here in the midst of ordinary people is...the ordinary people...who come together on this gracious foundation that is Christ, Jesus. This is a wonderful way to remind each of us that no one can claim to be the source of all wisdom. In fact, that is quite a contrary notion within the Reign of God in Christ. From the community, the temple, each stone is considered an important part of the making of the whole. The community of Christ counts on each of us to bring our gifts to play into the building of the life of promise that is always pulling us into God's future. By using the various names of leaders in Corinth, we find that Paul is pressing the Corinthians - and us - to consider the wealth of wisdom that is the whole body. No one person is given credit for the life we have together. Rather it is Christ, who is our body, our wisdom, and the life into which we can walk together.

Connection: Share you gifts and expect that others have them also. Knowing that, there is much that will be brought to the life of the community. That in itself is a miracle - that we would honor the wealth of gifts that come from the many of us who are now called one body.

Builder of the People of God, we give you thanks for the opportunity we are given to see how gracious you are as we look around and are witnesses to the way your gifts are scattered among us so that we might be drawn to one another rather than separate from one another. Continue to help us see the worth of those other than ourselves. Amen.

Thursday, June 2, 2005

3 June 2005

We will end the week in chapter 3 of 1 Corinthians.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 3:10-11). Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw - the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Cor. 3:12-15)

It is important to note that the builder suffers loss and yet...the builder will be saved. It is also important to note that it doesn't matter what is used in the building...the builder will suffer loss. Fire has a way of reducing to nothing that which is not able to reflect the life of the foundation. As soon as I read this piece I couldn't help but think of Jesus pointing out the fine work and precious stones of the Temple and that even this fine work would one day be reduced to not one stone on another. Then, in that same section of the gospel there is the woman who drops mere coins - all that she has - into the treasury. Two very different builders - two very different structures...and yet one foundation of grace. There is that need for us to experience the fire that brings our grand ideas of life into line with the foundation upon which we are given life.

Connection: There are many ways that we go along our merry ways and think that the way we are moving is the way everyone should go. But unless we have a community of people who feel free to draw one another into question and offer suggestions and nudge us to look again at what we are building in our lives (all of this can be called prayer), we will continue on our way and miss the blessedness of new life that is always ours in Christ, Jesus.

Lord, you build the community of your disciples and we are in constant need of you Spirit of truthfulness and grace so that we can work with one another as we come to learn the depths of your love and the shape of the life you offer us. Amen.

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

2 June 2005

Onward with division and the work of the church in 1 Corinthians.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 3:10-11).
I will include this section again along with the following verses in tomorrow's devotion.

The foundation forms the future of what will be. We are given the opportunity to raise up lives that bring attention to the foundation upon which the life of the community of Christ is built. Therefore, the character of the building - the community and each of its members - must always return to the foundation in order to align ourselves with the grace that abounds from that source - Christ, Jesus. The beautiful notion of building on a foundation of grace is that we are not fixed into one pattern like a kit that will allow you to build something just one way. Rather, the community of Christ can and must build itself up within its abilities and skills and gifts. This means that even as we have a common foundation, the community in which Jesus is lifted up as Lord may look different in its very structure and presentation but its "being" is shaped by and secured in place by the grace of God that makes all things begin and brings all things to an end.

Connection: There is too much fighting over how different we are in the church. It is as though we do not care about the abundant grace of God and the freedom of life it brings. It is as though we expect that everyone will be the same...have the same kind of in the same manner as others. In reality, this demand for conformity is usually not based on the Good News, it is based on the values of one set of people in one time. Have you ever noticed that people mandating a set of "Christian Values" for everyone...rarely have a view of everyone. Instead it is usually simply a view of themselves and how they would have the world be.

Keep us anchored in your grace, O Lord of Love, so that as we find ourselves confused by the winds of the day we can return to you, our rock and our foundation, for a new way to face all that comes and goes around us. Amen.