Friday, July 29, 2005

29 July 2005

Chapter 12 of Corinthians has us remember what a gifted and diverse people we are in the church.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. ...If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. (1 Cor. 12:12-15, 19-20)

Yes, we could have included the piece about the eye...or the ear...but Paul makes this point so well in many different ways that his argument is dramatic and thorough. Again and again, we hear of Jews and Greeks and slaves and free because the world was seen in just such a divided state. And yet, with this undeniable set of natural divisions, all drink of one Spirit. That Spirit is what makes the many and the various and the opposites and the enemies - one body: the body of Christ. For as much as we have heard Paul and others use this picture of the church, it is as though we only consider its call for oneness when the differences are simply the "gifts" we can use in the church. In that way, we can completely ignore any call for justice among us. When we use this passage merely as another to talk in a stewardship campaign about talents, we fall so short of its power to heal within the life of the church. As Paul will eventually say, there is this love that is the greatest of powers...the greatest of gifts given to those who are followers of Jesus. Within the life of the church, nothing can separate us from one another...nothing can rule one better or more worthy than another...nothing can designated us a full member or a lesser member. This is not a cute passage. It is meant to turn our heads because we see in ourselves how we can so easily think less of others or exclude others because we have a notion that the way we live and how we live and who we are is the way most everyone else should be. The church demands that we remain a culture of sheer diversity that the world cannot understand nor will it ever accept. When we can honor that refreshing gift of the Spirit, we may find among us a very powerful and beautiful community of saints.

Connection: Sentimentality in the church can be like a disease that slowly put the body to sleep and then to death. Cute pictures of the community do us no good. As one people within the church, we are given the opportunity to be people working with our differences and against our natural inclination to be self-absorbed. But look around...we usually use our differences an biases to separate from one another in a community that is to seek reconciliation rather than division.

Lord be the power of our lives that heals us so that within the life of the church we can be witnesses to that amazing grace that binds us together even when we are dead set on rejecting others or keeping to our own kind and our own ways. Amen.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

28 July 2005

In this portion of 1 Corinthians, the notion of unity of gifts is put into the image of one body.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one body we were all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Cor. 12:12-13)

It was the plan of the day to go farther along in this text but in these few verses, enough is said to send people into a tailspin or lift us up to a vision of new life. I am especially grabbed by this beginning thought knowing that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will be meeting at our national assembly in a few weeks and the church will be discussing issues of human sexuality. (That last sentence made it sound like it would be a good, body-building discussion.) Unfortunately, the meeting is preceded by threats of schism...and the schism will not be over the gospel, it will be over something like sexuality. I read recently that the American Baptists met and they were to discuss similar issues. They found that God attended the meeting...and it became a creative conversation where people actually listened to one another and the whole event sounded like it was a prayer meeting. In Paul's day, it was a divide house - literally. the divide between Jew and Greek was dramatic, well-known, and entered into every piece of life together because previous to the life within the church these people could not mix together. And yet, here they are parts of one body. What have we become in the church that we would choose to split rather than live as the one body we are - different, of course, but one body in Christ. One last word: usually there is a group that condemns homosexuality because they say the people choose to be homosexuals (rather than being homosexuals). Well, lets look at this from another perspective, I suppose we could say that those who choose to leave the ELCA are choosing to be something other than the body of Christ. Just think...choosing to be other than the body of Christ...choosing to be the organization they want and not the body of Christ...choosing to be so caught up in human sexuality (think something like circumcision) that they will not let the power of the resurrected Lord, Jesus, be the one Lord of the one Body of Christ. Interesting.

Connection: We all do it. We all point fingers and condemn or pull ourselves away from others. And yet, that Spirit of the Lord never ceases to use its power to make s one.

Continue to tend to the welfare of our hearts, O Lord of New Life. You have brought us so far and yet we know that you intend to take us all the way through our lives without ever turning against us but always walking before us, holding us and encouraging us to have your faith among us. Praise to you, O Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

27 July 2005

Chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians is a powerful comment about the life within a gifted community.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Cor. 12:4-7)
To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. (1 Cor. 12:8-11)

It is easy to get all caught up in the kinds of gifts listed here. What are they? What do they do? How do we understand them today? But rather than go at this lesson on gifts like that, let's just say that the Spirit brings to the body of Christ "gifts." Gifts, build community. Gifts are brought to the table by everyone. Sometimes we can't quite see what may be the gift of another person and so it takes still another person to be able to fill us in on the importance of the other person. What I cannot see may be seen quite clearly by another. Aha...varied gifts to build one people. Sometimes when I am teaching a class, I love it when someone asks a question or makes a statement and I think I heard it and responded appropriately only to be told by another person that s/he doesn't think I understood the question/comment that was made. Then, this third person restates the question in other words and...duh...I hear now that I didn't hear the comment and therefore gave a response but not on target. The gifts of other people help all of us learn, listen, speak, and live more fully in the community. It is vital for us to make sure that we name gifts so that we can honor them. I may not know what it is that you bring to the table - I may not have the "tag" to put on it. But I can know what it sounds like or what it is to have you bring it into the room...into a discussion...and I know I need to honor it as though we all need it to move to a new matter how big or small the gift may be.

Connection: Some days, it can be really difficult to see any gifts in anyone else. Some days it can feel as though I am the only one who has a clue on what is real. Then...and always then...I need to stop and listen and watch and consider more seriously what others are offering to this day that is unfolding all around me. A day that looks bankrupt may be a day that is simply bursting with gifts.

Lord of the Community, your Spirit keep working and blowing and moving and nudging us from all angles of our lives so that we will breathe in the wonder of your creation. When we are short winded, let your Spirit blow around us and take us to a new place within this day. Amen.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

26 July 2005

The words of Paul about gifts within the community of Christ continue to open up 1 Corinthians.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Cor. 12:4-7)

To each - within the whole bunch of us in the community - the Spirit...its breath...its life...its life of inspiration, can be seen among us. That is why it is so important for us to prayerfully look around at others and come to know them and what they bring to the community. Sometimes that takes patience and sometimes that takes a willingness to stop being so centered in ourselves (which is really a gift of the Spirit of God in and of itself). I find that it can be much to easy to judge and dismiss and ignore others rather than listen and respect and honor. And yet, there in the one with me is another person grasped by the Spirit of our Lord and ready to bring a certain kind of life into the mix of things. I really think that it may take the gift of quite another person to help me see the gifts that the person in front of me has to offer. The Spirit has a way of mixing up life within the community. Sometimes we can all benefit from allowing ourselves to enter the mix - prayerfully.

Connection: When you are frustrated and at your wits end with another person...let's all try to ask, "what is the gift this person is bringing to us right now?" Who knows what may come of it!?!

When your Spirit rushes through creation and begins to make for new life, it is always amazing and beyond our imagination. We give you thanks for how you continue to breathe life into all the dimension of our lives so that we can see how your creation does indeed continue to bring forth life abundantly. Amen.

25 July 2005

At the beginning of the week we enter chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians.

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Let Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor. 12:1-3)

There are so many ways we like to turn things into a game...into a way to keep a way to have something over others...or a way to try to distinguish ourselves from others in order to somehow say something about our worth. Well, ditch it all. We don't play games in the community of the followers of Jesus. There are so many ways that people in the church try to make one side or one person a bit better/more holy than others. We do it in a variety of ways. Reality is, if someone says, "Jesus is Lord," or claims that the love of God in Jesus is the love that we count on for our very worth, no one...absolutely no one...can deny that. Oh they may try. People may say you don't show it the way we want you to show it...but we can say to that "baloney!" How wonderful it is that Paul has to deal with a bunch of junk in Corinth. It is the same junk that infects us today. Therefore, once we make the time and cultural jumps to today, Paul's words that focus on the ground of our life in the community of Christ are timeless and helpful. We do not let fear motivate our community life and we do not let rigid lines of definition control how the Spirit comes, to whom the Spirit comes, and what the Spirit may work through others.

Connection: We are handed such a day rich with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. it is quite beyond our comprehension. Therefore, it would do us all well to listen and enjoy and be pulled into new aspects of God's Reign as it takes place through others. We don't have a hold on how the Spirit will work among us.

Come, Holy Spirit. Come and move us beyond ourselves. Come and deliver us from our short-sighted vision. Come and open us up to life that is not yet within our grasp and yet life that you promise to bring to us. As you keep coming among us, help us to celebrate your presence. Amen.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

22 July 2005

Within the Lord's Supper we share in an ethic. Paul draws calls us to consider this at the end of chapter 11 in 1 Corinthians.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation. (1 Cor. 27-34a)

Who are we and why are we doing what we are doing? These are two very vital questions to ask when we gather for the Lord's Supper. We are what we eat...we are the body of Christ. We come to the meal so that as we leave the table we leave with the encouragement to be the body of Christ and a part of the Reign of God that is breaking into our time. No long will the turned-in-on-self work for us. Remember, we are a community built up on the fact that we are sustained and shaped by the one who is always given and shed for us. Immediately, we are invited to trust that story of Jesus and let go of all the ways we try to fend for ourselves. There is no better way to share with others than to begin to let go of ourselves for the welfare of other. When we put this Meal into a liturgical setting, it is not merely something we do in the is what we becomes is our life together. No wonder Paul uses such strong language when teaching the Corinthians about how the Meal is to be eaten. The very life of the community was at issue here...not just the liturgical etiquette of the congregation. The brokenness within the body that we see around us today over issues that try to define our day are good examples of a body that refuses to discern the body that eats and drinks from the Lord's Table - together as one body.

Connection: It is enough to say that this Meal we share is all about connection. Therefore, as we move through the week away from the table and the Supper, prayerfully recall the night in which Jesus was betrayed and remember how the story came to life and unfolded...and then live the meal.

Lord of the Feast, when we gather in the name of your Beloved, we gather with the hope that we will be transformed by the real presence of Jesus in, with, and under the day in and day out life of your community of saints. Lift us up so that we will walk with you within your Reign. Amen.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

21 July 2005

As is expected, if we talk about the life around the Meal, we now come to the words we hear each Sunday.

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. (1 Cor. 11:23-26)

The shape of the community of the followers of Jesus is one ready to give of one's self for the welfare of others. Given and shed is a significant set of actions - especially when we hear that it is "for you." Again, this is not merely an individual or private matter. This is part of the make-up of a covenant community. This is part of the life that is handed over to the gathered bunch of saints so that the character of the crucified and resurrected Lord, Jesus, will continue to emerge within the daily routines of life in our world. We come to the Meal as ones invited to walk with Jesus into and through this world in a manner that is not the norm of the ways of this world. Paul brings out these words from the night Jesus was betrayed because the Corinthians, and all of us, must be reminded of the life of all when we gather within God's Reign as it unfolds around us.

Connection: We call these words the "words of institution" and the institution that comes into being is the living Reign of God. How is that being established around you today...already.

When we take and eat and take and drink, we are captivated by your love, O Lord of Life. Take our hearts and minds and lives and shape them with your love so that as we face one another, our neighbors, our enemies, and friends, we will face them as you face us freely and with life abundant. Amen.

20 July 2005

Today we will continue with instructions for the community on being the community in 1 Corinthians.

Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. (1 Cor. 11:17-19)
When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord's supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you. (1 Cor. 11:20-22

Even today, many look at the Lord's Supper as an individual experience, a "God & I" kind of event. It is most definitely an event where our Lord is really present and each one of us is included without exception, but the meal is a community event. Let me put it this way. When I look out at the congregation and the bread has been put onto the table for the meal, I quickly make a note of how the bread must be distributed. This is particularly the case at our congregation during the summer when we have one liturgy instead of two. Sometimes I simply remind myself to make sure I so much bread left by the time I reach "this person." Other times I may send an acolyte out to our verger or an usher to bring in more bread as the meal is progressing. We gather for the meal and the we is essential. The whole must be taken into consideration in our planning and in our celebration. Obviously in Corinth there was also a dinner that was a part of the Lord's supper and at that dinner, some had too much, some had too little, and what really was the issue is that some didn't care about the whole community. Instead, if I'm taken care of...if my group is doing fine...then, that's fine. Well, that is not the body of Christ. So...why pretend to be that - especially when we are to be in the midst of sharing the body and blood of Christ among us.

Connection: There is much more to the Reign of God than me, myself and I...or my self-interests...or my likes and wants. It does us all well if we take an inventory of how we use our time and how often we let ourselves serve those beyond us as part of what we call a normal day.

Lord of Liberation and New Life, we are grateful for the many gifts you bestow upon us. Inspire us to use our gifts for the well-being of the whole community and the world. Amen.

Monday, July 18, 2005

19 July 2005

We are going to skip over material in chapter 11 of 1 Corinthians that has to do with the position of husbands and wives, covering on heads, veils and hair. Instead we will pick up later in that chapter.

Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. (1 Cor. 11:17-19)

I will add to this tomorrow but we need to listen to these words before Paul goes forward to talk about how the Corinthians were sharing the Lord's Supper. The folks there seem to be living in the midst of division and that is happening at the cost of the community. But then there is a wonderful word from Paul. First he says he can believe that there would be. That can sound like a slam - almost like, "I knew you couldn't pull off this community in Christ thing." And yet, that is not how he means it. He rather has an healthy way of viewing conflict and differences and factions. Where most people find this a reason to split, Paul expects that this is the way we will discern the way and the nature of the community. Division is not bad in itself. It is how we go about our divisions. We could use them as ways to evaluate what is happening to us and where we are going. It is quite like a government that is run by one party. Who is going to keep that one side honest if another side is not there to speak up and ask questions and show another way!?! We become whole only when we see and hear that which is not the way would choose to hear and see and live.

Connection: Read both sides of a story...listen to both sides of an argument...attempt to engage in honest and critical conversation - this is all called prayer.

Let you Spirit of Renewal and Hopefulness bring us into this day with expectation that we will move along the way of following our Lord, Jesus. In that way we will not fear our differences. Rather, you will lead us through them into a greater understanding of how we embody your living will. Amen.

18 July 2005

Today will be a last look at food offered to idols - what does it have to do with community life, hospitality and simple care for one another.

"All things are lawful," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up. Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience, for "the earth and its fullness are the Lord's." If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, out of consideration for the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience - I mean the other's conscience, not your own. For why should my liberty be subject to the judgment of someone else's conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why should I be denounced because of that for which I give thanks? (1 Corinthians 10:23-30)

There are two aspects that are important to consider as we attempt to make use of this passage that speaks of food offered to idols in an age and society that doesn't even raise this issue quite like it is raised here in 1 Corinthians. First, what could simply be an issue about what I do and what I want to do is put into a place within the community. Rather than running along with what "I believe," I am being invited to consider what "we believe." That simple move in pronouns changes the kinds of things I must consider as I think about "doing whatever I want to do." This does not mean that I cannot go ahead with what I think is absolutely solid (as is eating meat offered to idols - for there are no other gods). What is means is that I take into consideration with whom I am eating. I observe the context and enter a dialogue with those around me. This may mean that for some people is may be easy to jump out into the life I see as faithful and yet that jumping may not be something that other can tolerate - yet. This "yet" is the second point to consider in this passage. Realize that today...and not too long after the writing of the letter, eating food offered to idols was not an issue...neither was the issue of circumcision in the church...neither was dietary restrictions...and...and...and. The body grows and the body changes - in time. But without a caring dialogue that takes into consideration - even those who we cannot quite understand, we will not help one another grow as the faithful of new generations.

Connection: Caring and listening to others doesn't mean we simply give up our position. It means we care and listen. It is quite amazing what the Holy Spirit can and does do in the midst of such a community.

Breath on us, O God of Every Age, so that as we contemplate the life of the church today we will be lifted up to see a vision of the church of tomorrow and begin to talk to one another about how it is already breaking in among us. Amen

Thursday, July 14, 2005

15 July 2005

Today we end the week by adding onto yesterday's piece from 1Corinthians 10.

I don't not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness. (1 Cor. 10:1-5) Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play." We must indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some did, and were destroyed by the destroyer... God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. (1 Cor. 10:6-10, 13b)

Paulo's journey back to the days when Israel was in the wilderness seems to carry with it the message that you better stay in line and act right...or else. Well, that is one way to teach a youngster how to live in the world and both the Israel out in the wilderness and this Corinthian community were like youngsters who need guidance and direction. But we must also see that we are always being pulled back to remember the Christ or the "Lord" who gathers us in with a promise. It is too easy to run away from a promise and be satisfied with what we are able to do for ourselves. When we take that road, we usually turn ourselves into the lord of life and seek to gratify only ourselves. What may sound like threatening words are really words meant to help the people remember what is at the very base of who they are - people of promise. That promise is the power for new life and we need not doubt it and try to establish another way. Trust the the even after we have doubted and fallen away. God is faithful!

Connection. Maybe it is good to be short at the end of the week. What do we need to remember as we head out the door to continue along the journey of our lives. God is faithful!!!

As we turn away from you again and again, we pray that by the power of the Holy Spirit, Liberating Lord, you will remind us of the fresh start we have as we live within your promises alone. Amen.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

14 July 2005

Skipping over a chapter of Paul dealing with his role as Apostle, we turn to 1 Corinthians 10.

I don't not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness. (1 Cor. 10:1-5)

Promise was with them. The Gracious Liberator was with them. The one who saves us and delivers us from the brutality of the life of this world was with them. Those ancestors could have stayed put in Egypt and let Moses go off by himself, but they were drawn into the promise that was handed to Moses. It became their food and their drink. It was everything that sustained them whenever they needed to be uplifted, healed, fed, or refreshed. No other power could or would do that for them - God alone. good news. That is gospel happening right in the middle of one of the most dramatic stories of the Hebrew scriptures. God acts for us - without hesitation. Today within the Church, we call that the love of God in Christ, Jesus. Ah...the rock...Christ - Messiah - Savior - Liberator. As we would then expect to happen in stories about all of us, there is that inevitable "nevertheless." In the middle of all that promise...people are unsatisfied with what is given to them and they...begin to rumble about in what they would have for themselves. Tomorrow we will see a bit more about what it is we do even when we are given life in its fullest. It is most often tragic...and idolatrous.

Connection: The promise is still for us and with us. It doesn't fade away...although we may find that we drift away from the embrace of that promise. There are so many other ways to live and see the life around us that we are a people who seem to gladly turn our back on how God is and will be for us and with us because we have things we must grab for ourselves. Old stories really never stay old - do they?!?

How great it is that you, Liberator of Life, take us by the hand and lead us beyond our imaginations into the reality of your loving and caring embrace. It is beyond our comprehension that you then - never let go even as we pull away from you as we long for other ways to rescue and preserve ourselves. Praise to you, O God Most High. Amen.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

13 July 2005

We continue on about food and idols and the rest in 1 Corinthians.

It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. (1 Cor. 8:7) "Food will not bring us close to God." We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. for if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall. (1 Cor. 8:8-13)

The freedom and liberty of living within the gracious Reign of God is beyond our understanding. And yet, it is available to us all in Christ, Jesus. Only Christ bring us into this eternal relationship with our God. Yes, the banner in this text does read "Food will not bring us close to God." It is also true that nothing we do or do not do will bring us close to God. But then...there is always a "but" that comes into play here. It is not a "but" that tries to say that the first part about Christ alone bringing us into that eternal relationships with God. Rather, it is a "but" that now attempts to make us aware of how we are also, in Christ, brought into a new relationship with our neighbor - whomever that may be. Sometimes, our neighbor is not at the same place of understanding or life experience and therefore, they may not have been able to discern the vast expanse of God's graciousness in Christ, Jesus. We are all suckers for conditional life...even when we think we are completely free of conditions. Too often, a conditional life is easier for us because the depth and width of God's gracious love is much to much for us to consider when it comes to applying it to everyday life. Having said that, we press forward within the gracious Reign of God. We do that in two ways - simultaneously. We witness to the freedom and liberation within this Reign and we never settle for anything less. Then again, as we live in community and within the differences of our lives we are invited to be patient, understanding, humble, self-sacrificing, even as we press on within the life Christ offers to us. You see, there is a tension here...there always will be tension when we are people who live in community...and we are always people in community.

Connection: We live in a time when many churches are trying to say either yes or no to issues like full inclusion of gay and lesbians in the church. Both sides want one of those responses to be the only response. Well, it may be that whatever we say, the whole body never ceases to press for the quality of life that is a part of the promise of the resurrection. Yes, it will mean the tension continues - even to the cross.

O Lord of New Life, you set us in the middle of a community and inspire us to live together as one body. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are moved to face our differences and remain that one people who are able to struggle and discern the path we will walk together in Jesus name. Let your gracious ways rain down upon us. Amen.

Monday, July 11, 2005

12 July 2005

We continue on with idols and food and what that all could have to do with today.

It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. (1 Cor. 8:7)

I will piece this sections to others as we go along through the week.
There are not many followers of Jesus who have an issue with food - at least not for religious issues. Therefore let's play with some other way to look at what is going on in Corinth. If, for example, you were raised to read the Bible literally and now you are being told that it is filled with writings that are not to be take literally - what do you do? What happens when the book of Daniel, or Revelations is not to be read like a book predicting a far off future but rather is to be seen as pieces within the genre of apocalyptic literature. They cannot be taken literally and yet popular religious writers of the day try to do just that. What if the some of the condemnations within the Holiness Code of the book of Leviticus - that you once thought were to be observed strictly - are now being seen within their historical context and with the reasoning of the day that is not the same now? Someone may even ask why it is that we are involved in warfare as Christians when there seems to be a strong word against killing in the teaching of Jesus. Is it just because since the time of Constantine, we have been more of a state/empire religion than a movement of people following Jesus? Anyway, there are a number of ways people can be "offended" by the way others follow along the way of Jesus. We are never to let go of the gracious Reign of God as seen in the good new of Jesus, the Christ, but sometimes it means we must be very diligent about how we pastorally deal with one another. That to which we assign great meaning and authority within the faith can be very sensitive and though some of it must be dismantled in order to hear the good news more thoroughly, it must be dismantled with patience and care.

Connection: Try listening to what people say is vital and important to them in their faith journey. It may be that we hold quite different views. We then must take a look at what is the foundation of each of our ways of seeing the faith alive among us. This is really a good test to see if our ground is really the gracious Reign of God in Christ, Jesus.

Help us to clarify the grand expansiveness of your grace and the call to follow along the way of the cross. Your love, O God, defines us and moves us. As we encounter a variety of opinions about how we are to follow our Lord, Jesus, keep your powers of reconciliation and forgiveness deep within our hearts. Amen.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

11 July 2005

This week we continue on in 1 Corinthians with the discussion of chapter eight.

Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that "no idol in the world really exists," and that there is not God but one." Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth - as in fact there are many gods and many lords - yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Cor. 4-6)

I remember reading the prophet Isaiah and how this prophet ridiculed the gods of the Babylonians as he encouraged the people of Israel to remain faithful to the one God who liberated them from captivity in Egypt. That God would also lead them out of Babylon! But there are many gods who attempt to rule us and take us and use us to help support them with all the resources of our lives. Many years ago, one peace activist made the argument that our ongoing love affair with nuclear weapons carried the signs of being idol worshipers. He said that idols demand everything they can get from us in order to sustain themselves...and they give nothing back that bring life. He said just look at the money we pour into their development and how little we spend to put an end to hunger in our own country...and more so, the world. Since we know that there is only one God the games of those who offer up their lives to the gods of our world do not and cannot order us around. In the church, there are many games that take our time and energy and our focus for life...but there is only one meal that counts: the great banquet of the promised Reign of God. Trust that alone and let nothing else play with your mind or your life.

Connection: We don't worry too much about what we eat these days...that is, in regard to our life as followers of Jesus. It is always good to help one another look around at our lives and find those places that cause controversy and yet...they have nothing to do with the promises of our God for new we have in Jesus.

You feed us, Loving and Liberating Lord, so that we will know of the power for life that you make available to us in the midst of all the limited promises in our world. Continue to bring peace to us as we sit down to the feast of victory of our Lord, Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, July 7, 2005

8 July 2005

We will end this week by entering chapter 8 of 1 Corinthians.

Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that "all of us possess knowledge," Knowledge puffs up but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is know by him.
(1 Cor.8:1-3)

For awhile I was lost on how to start. Then I turned my attention to conflict and how hard it is to see the other side and to come to some understanding of the "understandings" of others - especially when I know what I know and that seems to work for me. No matter what is at the heart of our heated arguments, there is always more to learn, more to hear, more to see, more to know...and that discipline never comes to an end. We tend to fight over everything and anything that creates a bit of distance between me and you...even the smallest division can become reason to separate from you! Odd, isn't it!?! We do not reconcile ourselves with one another and live in peace through the knowledge we are able to gather. "Let's talk," usually leads to more reasons to be separated from you. But then, it would be good for us to begin at a different point as we attempt to deal with our differences - no matter how small or large. When we love God we are not pulled into the fight of what is more right. To begin as people who love God is to already have on our side the God who knows the very depths of our hearts and already has done all the work necessary to transform us. With this love of God who already loves us beyond our comprehension, we can approach each other as people who love our God who is already madly in love with us. That puts us in the same arena and essentially on the same team. We do not have to deal with one another with great moves that try to show our superiority or with great gusts of wind that never bring a single breath of fresh air into our lives.

Connection: We have to see ourselves in the same reality - known by God, beloved of God, lovers of our God...and, by that, lovers of one another. It is a powerful place to start and we need know nothing more than that to begin our journey into community.

Praise to you, O God, for you have known us from the very beginning and by your love you bring us close that we might be drawn to you with a love that opens our heart to your will and our hearts to those around us. We never know just where that will lead us, but we are assured at every step that you know us and will pull us into your gracious Reign. Amen

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

7 July 2005

Today we'll make a run into a section of 1 Corinthians I thought we would skip.

Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy. I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are... For the present form of this world is passing away. (1 Cor. 7:25-26, 31b)

There is a bit I skipped. For Paul, the end was pressing in on the world. That which was the status quo of the day was not going to continue as it was. So strong was this notion that even the most basic relationships - and the advancement and care of those relationships - was to be considered less than essential. Though we now live several thousand years later, that end that was shaping what Paul spoke to his beloved friends did not come quite as it might have been expected.
I think, at the same time, it is important for us to remember that "the present form of this world is passing away" and we are right in the middle of its passing. It is passing away because we have been called into another form of life that the world has not been able to embrace. We have today to live within our baptism. Today is, as I say so often, the beginning and the end of all things. Today is our opportunity to walk around and engage the day within a form of life that seeks justice, works for peace, cares for the disinherited, loves the outcast and the unloveable. Right in the middle of "this" kind of day, the present form of the world will indeed be passing away. And yet, the present form of this world will persist even when we resist by living as though we are wet from baptism. the difference will be the life we have available to us and the life we make available to this world - whether it likes it or not.

Connection: We can go for it! No power can rule the day when we are upheld by the power of the Spirit of God that creates life that will not be run by whatever the present for of this world may be. You are baptized in Christ, it!

Renewing and Refreshing Spirit, let the power of your breath enrich our lives and make us a people willing to let that life shine and bring your Spirit of Hopefulness to all. Amen.

6 July 2005

Today we continue on in 1 Corinthians 7.

...let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision in nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything. Let each of you remain in the condition you were called. (1 Cor. 7:17-20)
Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever. For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of human masters. In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters, there remain with God. (1 Cor. 7:21-24)

This passage was used to justify keeping in place the institution of slavery and used to keep slaves in their place even as they entered into the following of Jesus. This is also one of the reason Howard Thurman in "Jesus and the Disinherited" turns to the gospels rather than Paul to hear the Good News. Thurman writes about his grandmother who would tell him the stories of Jesus and not Paul because Paul was used by the power of slavery to keep slaves in place. He goes on to say that Paul was not of the disinherited of the world. He was a Roman citizen and when push came to shove, Paul could play the "power/citizen" card to escape the immediate persecution at hand. The disinherited, the slave, the outsider...could never do this. I think this was simply a bad example for Paul to use. It shows how we must be able to see the historical context (slavery is fine and good and expected) and how we have been transforming our human culture to rid the world of slavery of any kind. His words can be offensive to the modern ears of most people, but he was really pressing the point of the devotion we are to have to the one who makes us whole -saves us -in a time when Paul was expecting Jesus to return again. For us today, we still expect Jesus to return today...but we would urge people to act as though it is already the case within our everyday life. Therefore, slaves, be bold and step out of your condition. Slave owners and those who try to control others, step out of your old life and see the freedom of all people and stop trying to place shackle of any kind on any of God's people. None of us are here simply waiting for the new life to has and is at hand. We are set free - now.

Connection: How easy it is pass out rules for others. How easy it is to not hear how real the liberating word of the Gospel is and to try to make it a "individual & personal" matter that does not have a living impact on the life of the world we live in at this time.

Lord of Freedom and New Life, we continue to wrestle with your gracious Word. Though we attempt to make it a word of comfort simply for ourselves, we need to remember how it is the Word that really breaks the bonds of suffering and slavery of all kinds so that all people can begin to live anew. Amen.

Monday, July 4, 2005

5 July 2005

Let's jump in with a look at another look at 1 Corinthians with...a different set of eyes.

...let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision in nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything. Let each of you remain in the condition you were called. (1 Cor. 7:17-20)

Paul is not simply writing off a small issue here. This is a identity making action. This simple cut of the foreskin was a mark that meant everything! But among is nothing. So, if you are you are if you are not you are not -- we are the church together. I wondered how this kind of thought would fly when we take a look at those who are homosexuals (Please note that for this writer - being a homosexual is not like choosing or having it chosen for you -like is something you are.). Don't seek to try and change. You are who you are. You are in this position - do not try to be something else or look like something else or dance like someone else. Be the baptized follower of Jesus into whose life you have been thrust when the water of baptism was splashed over you with the words of God's promises. But know this - "obey the commandments of God!" We are born again into the promise of our baptism...into Christ, Jesus - no exceptions and no removal of that identity. Here is where we come in with the "and then." And then, live within the love of God that is brought out in such a wonderful gift as the commandments. No matter who you are - circumcised or not...male or or straight, there is a character of life that comes through the water of baptism and we call it the way of the cross. It take some loving that is beyond our comprehension so that we literally need some guide along the way. People who welcome and call for full membership of homosexuals in the church are ask for nothing more or nothing less than Paul did of these folks in Corinth.

Connection: What matters in the life of the the life of your the life of a community of baptized people with whom you would like to live out your days?

We ask that you remain the God who has liberated your people throughout time. For we know that as you liberate, O God, you also bring us into a life that is filled with the blessings of your freedom and the character of your Beloved, Jesus. Amen.

Friday, July 1, 2005

1 July 2005

The week draws to a close with another piece on marriage from 1 Corinthians.

To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.
To the married I give this command - not I but the Lord - that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. (1 Cor. 7:8-11)

First note that someone "aflame with passion" does not mean that they are acting on their passions. A person may be celibate and yet always consumed by the desire to be with another person. In writing this, even though Paul is speaking of a man and a woman, I simply wondered about someone who is a gay or lesbian as we understand them today. Wouldn't it be best for them to be in a life-long relationship than to burn with passion in a celibate state or a married state because they felt the social pressure to do that? It is not one of Paul's concerns here...but I do think that if we are to take Paul's teaching seriously, we may have to take it seriously within the realm of life as we see it today. On the matter of divorce, Paul opens up the possibility for a woman to leave her husband - something unheard of...and yet it seems that it was actually done, or else he wouldn't mention it here. Is he now speaking to this Corinthian context rather than following the teaching of Jesus on divorce? He doesn't go into the issue as strongly as Jesus does in Mark's gospel, for example. Today, it seems as though it is nothing to be divorced or get a divorce - bam...its done. But to be quite honest, a broken relationship that was meant to be life-long, even if there is a divorce for good reason, is a trauma to the individual and the community of the church. Remember, Paul is not writing to a person; he is writing to the community. His concern is pastoral. Yes, it would be good if we could work through our differences...but reality says, that can be next to impossible. So, how do we go forward from here? The Church is still dealing with this one.

Connection: How does the community of the church care for those who have gone through divorce? How do we help one another go on to live a new life...forgive the other...forgive ourselves...and then, start up into a new life in which the old does not rule us anymore?

We are a broken people and at times our brokenness damages the relationship that our most central to our lives. Lord of New Life, we give you thanks for you not only stand alongside us in our brokenness, you walk with us, and then you mercifully offer us new lives that we can grasp hold of and begin to dance a new dance and still remain in your blessed embrace. Amen.