Tuesday, August 30, 2005

1 September 2005

This continues a look at God and America in "A Better Hope" by Stanley Hauerwas.

There is not better indication of the Americanization of the church than the god worshiped by Christians in America. For most American Christians, the crucially important things about god are the God exists and that God's most important attribute be love. ...(Thomas) Jenkins traces the career of this god through the development of liberal and conservative theology and literary figures of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We should not be surprised that the result was a vague god vaguely worshiped or at least vaguely considered.

Let me comment first about a very important change in the word God in the above text. Notice that Hauerwas takes us from talking about God to talking about "this god." What an artful comment in and of itself. That vague god is not the God of the cross...not the God of the way of Jesus...not the God who for three days locked behind the darkness of the tomb. In some ways, all of the protests about the use of the name of God on money or in mottos is something we who follow Jesus should indeed pick up as an issue among us. But for us, it simply would be to make sure the God on the money and in the mottos would be "god" not God. The god of America is not the same God of the prophets and the Christ. This is coming from someone who always talks about the Love of God. But, I hope that when I reference that love, it is always defined by the life of the cross and the love that is self-sacrificing for the welfare of others and the love that will not let go of any of us for any reason.

Connection: Homework for the week: Listen to how the word God is used. Is it the God we see in Christ crucified and raised from the dead, or is it another god that does not and would not ever be seen following Jesus into the homes of sinners and tax collectors...and the like.

Draw us into the way of your beloved Jesus, O God. We find it too easy to follow other gods and need the power of your Spirit to keep us focused on the one who is the Christ. Amen.

31 August 2005

Again from "A Better Hope" by Stanley Hauerwas.

Even though I believe the fundamental presuppositions that shaped much of American life and government were meant to destroy or at least marginalize the church, I believe with God's help the church may even survive in America. Rather, the problem is that when Christians in America take as their fundamental task to make America work, we lose our ability to survive as church. We do so because in the interest of serving America the church unwittingly becomes governed by the story of America... That story is meant to make our God at home in America.

Again in today's Columbus paper, the "patriot" pastors met under the direction of Rod Parsley and Zell (give em hell) Miller- with Kenneth Blackwell broadly smiling at the whole thing. They are going to win this country over to Jesus and stop what they say has been the oppression of the church by the state. Well, we are not the state and we are not called to take it over and make it work. We are the church and we will always be set at odds with whatever state may be our governing body. It is quite alright not to be in power and have things as we would like them to be for just our kind. Some of the most infamous times in the life of the church has been when the church has gone to bed with governments and rulers or at least served to bless what the state/empire did or wanted to do. We, the church, has no home. Our home is within the Reign of God that has no boundaries and not state lines to separate one from another. Our home is the radical notion of loving Jesus which leads us into the radical life in which our love of God is imprinted upon our love of neighbors...who live both inside and outside of our politically designated borders. The church will survive even if we do not sell ourselves to the state or let nationalism become a part of our creed.

Connection: Listen to the language of what is called Christianity in this country. Most often, the cross is turned into a magical wand that will whisk away my personal sin. Make sure that when you hear talk of the cross...and the call to follow it...it leads us into a life that looks like the way of the cross of Jesus. There is no nationalism along that way...except of course among those who drove in the nails.

Lord, be a guide for us so that we can be a people who do not lose sight of the cross and within that vision we begin to walk within this world but always questioning the way the world would have us go. Let you love Reign among us. Amen.

Monday, August 29, 2005

30 August 2005

Today is a continuing look at the chapter in "A Better Hope" called On Being A Christian and An American by Stanley Hauerwas.

In writing about what seems to be the necessity for Christianity to provide a "moral account" for the country, Hauerwas writes...Christianity becomes the the master story to sustain a republic that officially can have not master story.
A story not unlike this has been tempting for liberal and conservative Christians alike. Liberal Christians assume that something like a religious appeal is necessary or at least important to sustain the quest for justice; conservative Christians assume that without Christianity people cannot develop the virtues necessary to sustain a free society. Thus the imporantance of intermediate institutions of which the church seems to be a ready exemplification. Calls for Christians to make the family work are but the out-working of such strategies. The only problem is that the only institution more destructive of the family than capitalism is Christianity.

The Church is not a people who help to sustain the government and culture in which we live - from either a liberal or conservative perspective. We are called to be followers of Jesus...a contrary movement that will not settle for the many ways people want our societies "fixed" by the Church. For example, as we learn to live with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ and we have no need for patterns of separation that so often rule our society, we may find that the freedom of life within the Reign of God will run quite at odds with values of the community. Imagine the problems within the family that begins to break down the barrier of race and culture and ethnicity. Imagine the problems within the family that does not go along with the prevailing economic expectations of the society. The teachings of Jesus may indeed work against the cultural picture of family that is so accepted among us. We suffer from the "affluenza" in our society and we probably suffer from a touch of some kind of "family-uenza" that works to keep us separate from one another rather in touch with one another.

Connection: We are a people who do not fit in with the cultural demands placed on us in order that we conform to the rest of the people around us. The Church must be the church even when we are people who do not settle into the patterns of our neighbors or our own family.

Lord of All Lands, you have called out a people who will shine within the light of your blessed Reign. When that light shines it will not be welcome by all of us. Keep us steadfast in the ways of your Reign even as we must walk along a path not chosen by the people around us. Amen.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

29 August 2005

Some more reflections on Stanley Hauerwas writing about God & America.

...surely the gospel should have something to say about how to go on as a people who can have a shared past by confessing their sin. Here it seems Christians have something constructive to offer to our politics. We have a story of sin and forgiveness forged in the practices of confession and reconciliation that at least offers the kind of hope...we need. The claim that the first task of the church is to be the church, even in America, could turn out to be good news if the challenge before us as Americans is learning how to be a people who can make our past truthfully ours. That the first task of the church is to be the church, therefore, is anything but a withdrawal strategy.

Unfortunately, many faces of popular Christianity have no need of the confession and reconciliation that is outside of a "personal" confession that is between ''me and Jesus." We will never resolve or come with an honest heart to the great dividing lines within our world if we assume we are too go for other because we are "right with Jesus." This past week, the comments by Pat Robertson show just how far the TV and public image of Christianity has become the whore of the consumerism and nationalism of the United States and the powers of the world that want to continue to rule and direct all of life on our planet. Are we so afraid of the truthfulness of our lives that we must find scapegoats who we can blame for all that is wrong in the world!? As people in the the church, we must be quite sure to speak out about the horrors of our past and about the ways we are fooled into being involved in the horrors of the present because we have not had the courage to face ourselves and the many ways we attempt to place our wants and so-called needs above the justice and peace and mercy of the Reign of God. More and more, the voice of Christianity is associated with small minded people who will fight to the death about issues that have little to do with the quality of life within our world. We need to step forward and engage the world from a different perspective than U.S. endorsed Christianity. We need to step in line with the cross of Christ. Odd way to go isn't it!!! We have so much to offer the well being of our global community if we would only come out of the closet and witness to the peaceable Reign of God.

Connection: Speak up in the prayers you offer today. Speak up and do not let the name of the Resurrected Lord be attached to the worldly and self-centered ways of any government power. How do we begin? Simply by beginning to speak up and entering into the fray in ways that we each are able from our own gifts and talents.

Lord, make us instruments of your peace and make us bold to walk and speak with others who go out on the limb of the cross to let you mercy and compassion and justice and peace prevail. Amen.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

26 August 2005

Again, the week ends from pieces in "A Better Hope" by Stanley Hauerwas.

The tragic character of American history is unavoidable,since rights cannot help but conflict with rights; yet the very moral commitments that shape such a conflict produce a people incapable of recognizing, much less responding to, such conflicts. America is at once the name of an aspiration to liberty and equality of rights and the name of the power that stands in the way of that aspiration. As a result Americans find themselves at war not only with one another but with themselves.

So what do we do as followers of Jesus when, for example, our notion of "rights" conflict with one another. How do we enter into discussion? How do we help one another look again at what we hold so dear to us so that we can draw our own actions into question? There was a man in the coffee shop the other day who was making bigoted statements about gay and lesbians because he wanted to get the autograph of a well known athlete in the cafe. He was handed a copy of the local GLBT newspaper to use. He wouldn't have it put on "that" paper and then hung on his wall. When confronted by the women behind the counter he went on the offensive and said it was his right not to use that paper. He backed it up with the fact that he was a "deacon" at his church and he "believed in the Bible." He thought it was his right to act as he did. And yet, the women behind the counter thought it was there right to speak up for what they believed. I was briefly brought into the conversation but realized quite quickly that we were all talking past each other and therefore a dialogue of any substance was not happening between the parties that differed in opinion. But then...we all have a right to be there in the coffee shop. The battle still rages within in me. How do we talk within our different views of the rights we say we hold so dear?

Connection: When do we keep silent and when do we talk when there is a clashing in opinion about this or that? A good exercise would be to speak up but also make sure that we can listen closely enough to the other side to see if we are able to catch what their world holds dear. It is not easy.

Lord, you teach us to be maker of peace and yet we have so many fronts within our lives that are set up for warfare of various kinds. Deliver us in to the realm of your peace. Amen.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

25 August 2005

We continue with another piece about being a Christian and an American with Stanley Hauerwas.

Hauerwas writes: What (Martin) Marty finds admirable about American life - that is, our desire to get along by being likeable people - (Alasdair) MacIntyre finds our greatest defect. MacIntyre observes:
This wanting to be liked is one of the great American vices that emerges from this refusal of particularity and conflict. Americans tend under the influence of this vice to turn into parodies of themselves - smiling, earnest, very kind, generous, nice people, who do terrible things quite inexplicably. We become people with no depth, no depth of understanding, masters of technique and technology but not of ourselves. ...we, become superficial people, people with surfaces, public relations people

If all we want is to be liked - and many times that is a pressing concerns that can rob us of our authenticity - then we may find ourselves living in this kind of a superficial life. I know I walk there quite a bit. That is why it is so necessary to have people who help us look in the mirror. This is not for the sake of covering up who we are - like a make-up artist. Rather the mirror is to be used to show us, as closely as possible, an honest of depiction of who are at any one moment. When we call ourselves a part of the baptized community, we do not have to fear what we will see and we can admit to all the blemishes and bruises and frailties that stir up in us in many and various ways. We are not a people who are called to be like a flat line on a heart monitor. We can be and must be a disturbing voice and life within the run-of-the-mill days in which we walk along the way of the cross. That "way" will always be disturbing in and of itself. We must be people who cherish community but we expect a community of character and vision that our world would rather keep silent. We are not PR people. We a people who risk our lives for the welfare of others and that does not create good PR in our world.

Connection: We all like to be liked. I know I do. And yet, it is a demon that will take us prisoner whenever it can. Please find someone, at least one other....hopefully many, who will walk along the road to the cross with you.

Lord of the Day and Love of Our Lives, you continue to walk with us and to invite us to be within your presence. Empower us and lead us and pull us by your power so that we will continue to see the vision of your blessed Reign. Amen.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

24 August 2005

Today we continue Stanley Hauerwas' comments On Being a Christian and an American in A Better Hope.

(Martin) Marty's story remains the optimistic story of America. He expects the conflicts to continue but believes that, in the longer future, "every story well told, well heard, and creatively enacted will contribute to the common good and make possible the deepening of values, virtues, and conversation. ... We have been speaking throughout of the "re-storying" of the republic and its associations. The advice for every citizen who wishes to participate in American life and its necessary arguments: start association, telling, hearing, and keep talking." In short, Marty seems to think all this will work out if we just learn to be "civil" to one another.

I don't think I agree with Hauerwas when he says Marty seems to want us to simply learn to be "civil" to one another. Marty has, from my limited reading, a profound sense of what it means to be baptized and live within the fabric of history and the culture of the day. In that story (baptized), "civil" need not be a bad word.. Rather there is radical faithfulness and new life bursting in and around us. In addition, I don't find anything "optimistic" in Christians who constantly live within the daily remembrance of their baptism. Since we have already died and been raised from the dead the life we face can and must be met with truthfulness and we can live within the vision of new life that is already ours. That will mean dialogue. That will mean we listen to other stories and it will mean that we tell our story. We don't tell our story as a story that is used like a bat in a discussion we plan on "winning" by beating up the other side. We tell the story of dying and rising. We therefore, do not need to fear other stories or be pushed around by them. We live within our story of water dancing on our heads and leaving no power in the world free from our storytelling even if it is the death of us. Yes, that may be done in a "civil" manner in which we are informed by the water of our baptism and face death for the well being of the "other." That sounds like a radical notion of "civil."

Connection: We need not fear those around us who do not live within the story we bring from our baptism. Instead, we can be engaging people who so honor others that we honor them with our presence, our interaction, and our death-defying love.

As we stand within the waterfall of our baptism today, hold us O God Most High and support us so that when the water reminds us of death we also stand within the wetness of new life that is the foundation of this day. Praise to you, O God of Grace! Amen.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

23 August 2005

Today begins a venture through various parts of Stanley Hauerwas' book A Better Hope.

In a chapter called "On Being a Christian and an American" Hauerwas draws on Martin Marty as part of the discussion on telling American Stories. He writes that Marty cannot bring himself to abandon the attempt to create a common "sentiment" (within the differences of our common culture) through what he calls the "commensurable possibilities in storytelling."
(Marty) thinks this is possible if we learn to think of the nation less as a community and more in terms of Michael Oakeshott's understanding of a "civil association." An association does not demand a credal bond or personal intimacy but rather requires us, like porcupines, to stand at a distance from one another learning the delight in the other that only distance can produce. ...Marty suggests that we best understand a commonwealth not as a community of communities but as an association of associations. This would allow people in various groups to live in partly incommensurable universes of discourse and yet to find it valuable to interact in ways other than military force and cultural conflict. Rather than reaching for guns, people will learn to "reach for argument, and the telling of stories from different perspectives is a form of argument. One cannot have a republic without argument."

In a world and country set on warfare and threats as a way to deal with life on this planet filled with diverse ways of being humans, who will take the lead in this "association" of porcupines...or story tellers who speak and then listen so that many sides will be open to our hearing and our investigation and our argumentation? If Christians really do want to stand up and be a part of the cultural development of our country then doesn't it make sense that we would never agree to any kind of preemptive actions that cause us to remove ourselves from the intensity of dialogical arguments just so we can use military might as a way to disassemble true community conversation? But then again, if we are afraid, as a country, to enter into the give-and-take of global communication that honors the other voices at the table, we may simply end up with a table that will only have room for our own voices. That sounds like a self-destructive scenario that will also create destruction all around the world.

Connection: I know that listening to the stories of others can be time consuming and difficult to sustain interest and a critical ear. It is always worth a days worth of effort...than another...and another until it becomes somewhat of a natural way of being with others.

In the midst of our stories, O Narrator of Life's Possibilities, we miss so many other stories and can become self- absorbed to the point that we make ourselves enemies of the strangers among us. Grant us wisdom to be patient, critical, respectful, and bold so that we will live our lives engaged by the voices of your people. Amen.

22 August 2005

Though this is a chapter before the end of 1 Corinthians, we will conclude this look at this letter with the final verse of chapter 15.

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:58)

When a promise is made by the one we call the Creator of all things...the one who endures and takes into God's self the very pit of the suffering experience of humanity and then blows it away with the action of the resurrection, we can stand and be immovable. That is not a statement of how rigid we are to be in our beliefs. Rather, it is a place of comfort and confidence. Our days need not be filled with what people call excellence. We can fill our days with the loving work of the one we call Christ, Jesus, because no power can sell us their goods. We can count on God's promises to us to be just a full and completed as they once were and will be forevermore. Don't allow anything but the grace and mercy of God be our foundation from which we begin to be an alien and blessed people right in the middle of this day.

Connection: Find others who are amazed by this grace and stand up with and for one another so that the world around us will be graced by the presence of our Lord through our ordinary and everyday kind of life.

You, O God, bring light into our lives so that we can see with new eyes what is before us and all around us. By your light we see life that gloriously witnesses to your love. Pull us into that light both now and forever. Amen.

19 August 2005

There are more aspects of the resurrection than we may ever consider...but Paul sure does in 1 Corinthians 15.

Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body put on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where O death, it your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:51-57)

The mystery...is the mystery of Christ...the work done and the promise of new life in place without anything done on our side. Therefore, there is that sense of excitement ( I would call it pastoral excitement) when Paul writes, "Listen, I will tell you a mystery!" Everything within our world and within our mortal framework wants to work things out...in a way that will make sense...and in a way that we can somehow manage a bit of control. But, death has been swallowed up. It is powerless. The ways death seems to move us is not the way that our God moves us and lifts us and sets us down at the great feast of God's eternal love. The whole thing - all the ways of brokenness and division and sin - do not get the last word...and never will. Thanks be to God.

Connection: How sweet the sound of this mystery that is always attempting to help us put on a set of new lenses through which we will look at all things...even death. So, today, put on the lens of the promise of resurrection and don't let any other way of seeing life and death win your heart.

Lord of the Feast and Eternal Ruler of All, you are the beginning and the end of all things. With that in our minds and deep within our hearts we find encouragement and we are filled with hope even when we face discouraging days and those horrible times that appear to be quite hopeless. Thanks be to God. Amen.

18 August 2005

It would be very much like "Paul" to say "Let's press on" and so we will do so in 1 Corinthians 15.

What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. (1 Cor. 15:50)

After such long passages in the previous days, this seemed to be enough. I'm most drawn to the what it means to inherit something. Inheritance is a gift. I suppose you could argue that people can be coerced into giving a way an inheritance. But in the case of the Kingdom or Reign of God, it is already God's action to give it all to us. That is a part of the water of baptism. It is the entrance rite that reminds us of that promise that will abide with us and make a way for us along the many pathways of God's Reign. The Kingdom of God is ours. Nothing we do...none of the "hard flesh and blood work" we do helps us fall into that inheritance. It is ours. It is that promise that is the power to bring newness to life and to build a new character among God's people. Likewise, when we try to talk about the resurrection, we attempt to talk about its fullness in terms of things that do not last and things of which we have knowledge and, shall we say, some control. Well, what is promised is always more than what we know or have or control or want. All of those expectations we have that seem a bit precise and exact can fail us and they can disappoint. On the other hand, that which is part of God's promise - the Reign of God - will not disappoint...even when we are a disappointment to ourselves and to others. The promise will stand and its power for new life will be the never ending embrace that cannot be dismissed.

Connection: There are so many disappointments in our lives, it is enough to rejoice in the one certain event that is for us - the resurrection. That is, God's eternal promise to be on our side without a doubt. Let that lead the way for you today....it is an imperishable gift.

O Solid Rock, it can be so difficult for us to hold onto your promises. When we cannot hold on any longer and begin to fall away from your invitation to come and rest in you alone, we ask that your Spirit of New Life be the power that will sustain us and remind us of your love. Amen.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

17 August 2005

Thoughts on the resurrection continue within the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians.

So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, "The first man, Adam, became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Cor. 15:42-49)

Paul spends much time attempting to deal with the resurrection of the dead. I must say we do quite the same. Death and its utter finality has a power that threatens us to the very core of our existence. And yet, it is such a difficult task to help people be aware of and then trust in the promise of new life that is available now and forever. We can attempt a well thought out argument that makes much sense....but then, in the end, we are invited to throw ourselves into what may even seem absurd to some. Of great importance is that we take a look at what this "story" does to the life of us - now. Do we live as though the promise has captured our hearts and therefore our lives and we thus live with anticipation for a promised future we cannot comprehend along with a present moment that also has great potential for new life.

Connection: Fear not and take on the clothing of the promise of the resurrection. Let it be for us this day the story that helps us enjoy the fullness of God's Reign.

Trusting in you alone, O Lord of New Life, we enter this day and begin again to face death and all of its power with the promise of your new life. Inspire us that we may be bold in our stance within your power of life in the face of all other powers. Amen.

Monday, August 15, 2005

16 August 2005

Paul's discussion of the resurrection continues in 1 Corinthians.

But someone will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come ?" Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. There is one glory of thee sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory. (1 Cor. 15:35-41)

So many people want to know the details. Details of what!? Details of what it will be like beyond death. That usually means that people want to hear things put in terms of the present day. That is to describe what it will be like by using the images and movements and ways of living that make up the life we now know. This is like trying to define God and being able to only use human images and descriptions as we know them in a physical sense. It just doesn't do us any good. All we need to know about how the dead are raised is that they are raised...do not fear. Even as that is said, we all know what it is to be raised up in baptism. Therefore, we have a glimpse of the life that is beyond us. Maybe not a photo of it...but a glimpse of the character that goes with being raised from the dead and brought into new life. It will all be glorious just as it is all now quite glorious in many ways. With each person raised from the dead to new life, glory shines all around us in ways we may not have considered.

Connection: Take a look at those around you who are a part of the body of Christ. Even when they are so different from you as the sun from the moon, glory shines from them. It would do us well to take another look at such glory that is not us...and yet is glorious indeed.

Lord of the Universe, as you spread out the stars in the sky you also spread out upon the earth elements of your glory that bring life and help us to consider the wealth of you love. Be with us this day as we venture through your glory filled life. Amen.

15 August 2005

We pick up with material from 1 Corinthians that continues the discussion on resurrection.

And why are we putting ourselves in danger every hour? I die every day! That is as certain, brothers and sisters, as my boasting of you - a boast that I make in Christ Jesus our Lord. If with merely human hopes I fought with wild animals at Ephesus, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." Do not be deceived: "Bad company ruins good morals." Come to a sober and right mind, and sin no more; for some people have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame. (1 Cor. 15:30-34)

And we "put ourselves in danger every hour" because the life within the Reign of God...the life within the promise of resurrection pulls us into a living reality that is often quite contrary to the way things are run all around us by the powers of the world. Why do that? Why stand up and live with such an agenda of hope? Why risk loving the outsider in an insider world? Why help the neighbor and the stranger as though they are our beloved? The resurrection is life not simply an idea about what may happen. It is what moved Paul through his life...it was his life. At the present moment we have the opportunity to participate in what will be. At the present moment we are invited to live as though death is defeated and God's Reign is the way for us even when that way is not well received by the world. We still press on. We live within a standard of love and hopefulness that gives us a backbone for justice and peace and mercy and forgiveness and never ending care for one another.

Connection: Living contrary to the way life moves along in our world is not easy. Why do it? Well the promise is that we will have an abundant life and be a part of the well being of all things. It still does and it always will take courage and risk to step within the bounds of resurrection life. Today is once again an opportunity.

When we lose sight of your promise of new life, O God, we lose sight of what can be a part of this day. Inspire us so that we may find in the story of the resurrection the power to live within the face of death but not be owned by it. Amen.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

12 Augsburg 2005

We will end this week with the long passage used yesterday from 1 Corinthians.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom of God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For "God has put all things in subjection under his feet." But when it says, "All things are put in subjection," it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Cor. 15:20-28)

"Then comes the end." Yes, all things will be in subjection to Christ. It will be and already is to taste like grace abounding and the resurrection declaring how firmly God is with us - forevermore. We must remember that we, nor any power in our lives, can have a say as to how that gracious rule will come to its fullness. It is an abounding grace that is beyond us. Unfortunately, we are always being pulled to live within the realm of Adam and run from the Reign of God in Christ, Jesus. But...forever...beyond all of our imagination and short-sighted expectations, is the Reign that will and already has the final word about us and for us. In the meantime, we are invited into life that must deal with the world as it is and the promise as it is handed to us - graciously. There is before us a bountiful beginning within what is usually called the end...and we are there already.

Connection: Be ready to be a part of what is at hand and is a part of the promise of what will be. That will always have an impact on who we will be among those around this day.

Lord of Our Whole Lives, encourage us to enter into your domain and the promises of life that are available for us even as we walk through these moments in time. You tell us in many and various ways that we are your people and we will forever be your beloved. Praise be to you. Amen.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

11 August 2005

This portion of 1 Corinthians 15 is the bedrock, the promise, the reality that is set down and ours even when we do not want to see it or hear about it....it is. We may give this text two days of reflection - still leaving us with much to consider.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom of God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For "God has put all things in subjection under his feet." But when it says, "All things are put in subjection," it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Cor. 15:20-28)

"...so all will be made alive in Christ." That follows the statement about all living in sin. We usually refer to that as "original sin" or sin that is a part of what it is to be human and there is nothing we can do to rid ourselves of it. This is a universal type of an image. And yet, with that simple use of "so"...that transition into the next part of the sentence...there is something that is also universal. In fact, it is the power that has say over the power of sin. In Christ - in that story that Paul has been turning to call the gospel - there is a new reality in which we live. It is as gift and it delivers us from the power of that pull to set up our day according to the power of the Adam story. We are now "in Christ" for God has set up a new reality in which death (the greatest power of death - the great sting that cannot be stopped) is made impotent because God raised Jesus from its grasp on humankind. So now, we can live according to the One who is the power over death. Therefore, when people want to give into the power of death and separation and division and scorekeeping, that is no the ruling story anymore - for anyone. I tell our youngest children in worship, we need to remember to say "Baloney!" when we hear something about our God - that we come to know in Jesus - that is filled with conditions . Too often, we are so caught in the Adam story that we forget that we live within a new story that will always rule us. In fact, it is in itself (that is the story of God raising Jesus) the power to make our lives new even when we stumble and fall or are unable to meet the demands that the power of death presses upon us. Adam...it may be some story. Jesus, raised from the dead by God...there is a story that cannot be overcome by any power.

Connection: When the day comes to an end, it ends with God "for us." That is also how it begins and no other word can have the last say or the opening word. In between, it will be a battle and during that time be assured - without a doubt - of who is on your side.

Lord of the Resurrection, you lift us up and take us into your eternal Reign and we give you thanks as our lives are empowered by your love when our brokenness tries to control us. Continue to let your Spirit of new life guide us and keep us as you have always promised. Amen.

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

10 August 2005

Just what do we do with death in the face of the promise of resurrection?!?

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised, and if Christ has not been raised; and our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ - whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith if futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

This death of Jesus was a real death. It wasn't pretend. There was no divine escape before death so that only a body or shell was left on the cross. Jesus was executed. If we had to come up with a terrible way to die - physically, spiritually, psychologically - we have that picture in the execution of Jesus. So...this dead and gone Jesus (as dead as dead can be) is raised up from this death - by the God who rules over all things. Jesus being raised from the dead means that death -real death- is left powerless. Does death still happen? Of course it does...but the story of God in Christ Jesus tells us what God does in the face of death. Raising Jesus from the dead is a scandal so great it is beyond our comprehension therefore the Holy Spirit empowers us to trust/believe that it is the truth around which we can live our lives. Paul's strong comment about how we are to be "pitied" if we do not trust this action by God is so good to hear. It is good to be reminded of this because the promise of God's power over death...the death of Jesus and therefore, also, power over the death of each of us, puts a new order into this day. Without that action of God raising Jesus from the dead, death could claim to have the upper hand on us. But for today...this day...when the powers of death take on many shapes in order to destroy us - oppress us - humiliate us - frighten us, we can say "No!" that is not the way this story of our lives goes. This power over death is for life...now. Don't let another storyline win this day...otherwise, we are to be greatly pitied.

Connection: Just how can we help each other face the powers of division and brokenness and death when they attempt to fracture us? Well, notice the use of the pronoun in the last sentence...we. Someone else must always be ready to remind us of the power of God over the power of death so that we too might have life eternal (beginning already).

When you rule over our lives, Creator of All Things, death also must submit to your call to life that cannot be stopped. As this day unfolds around us, guide us in the pathways of your liberating love so that the threats of the day will not have power over us. Amen.

Monday, August 8, 2005

9 August 2005

Here is the good news story told again through the eyes of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am. and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them - though it was not I but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe. (1 Cor. 15:3-11)

Paul tells the story but then he becomes the story. He is pulled into its power because the grace of God gives him life beyond what he ever expected and it is a life full of grace and founded on the love of God that free us up to live a new life...no matter what might have been the life we led before this day. How could it be that someone who was such a persecutor (not simply a back-biter or gossip -- but someone who would look to have you killed!) could be one now called an apostle - an up front disciple of Jesus who claims immediate and personal contact with the Lord, Jesus. Well...Paul says it: by the grace of God. Here again is where the whole story telling begins and ends. But more than that, this is where the power of the gospel is made manifest in the flesh. Real life "nobodies"...real life "bottom dwellers" have a place...and a place of honor because it is where God would have us. The story of Jesus may just be a story but...to those who know that it is a story that reveals God's forever being for us...it is a source of life that can take whatever has been and turn it into a fresh start. At the same time, "by the grace of God, I am what I am." We do not need to deny our own story...or hid it...or condemn it. All of it is redeemed by God. the whole of us is saved...the good, the bad, and the even worse.

Connection: Too often it is a temptation to try to rid ourselves of what has gone wrong in our lives. It might be bad decision, less than wise investments, poor choices, or actions that are quite contrary to who we know we are in God's eyes. And yet, by grace we are urged to remember it all and walk forward into this day knowing how our whole life is open to new adventures.

By the power of you love, O Blessed Lord of Life, you embrace us...all of us...every part of us and you invite us into a way of life that is radically new and outside of our expectations. Continue, O God, to walk along with us. Amen.

Sunday, August 7, 2005

8 August 2005

Today we skip over conversations about tongues in 1 Corinthians and move on to chapter 15.

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you - unless you have come to believe in vain. (1 Cor. 15:1-2)

After a long section in which Paul talks about the building of the community and the various uses of gifts and how each one is so vital for the life of the whole body, he now pauses and steps back. This step is not into another community issue, it is back to the base - the foundation. It is as though he say "having said all this...now let me carry on with what is most essential." It is and it will always be - the good news. The story that brings life. The story that is not held back until we act correctly. The story that is for fools and losers and...everyone...simply everyone. Without going any further it is as though we are once again being wrapped up with the news that is to be our life. Not only was this good news announced...it was taken in...it became the way of seeing and hearing that shapes all the rest of the seeing and hearing of those who follow Jesus. Then to press the point of what this good news has to do with real life we are invited to consider if this trust we have placed in the good news is of no worth...in vain. We should read an emphatic NO here. It is the news that makes our lives what they are and what they will be and we can count on how this story will never leave us without a storyline that will take us from here to...anywhere and everywhere.

Connection: Sometimes, it is so very important to simply stop in the day and remember the promise and the story that we have come to call the good news and the fact that it is news that can and does change all things among us...forever.

Lord of the Promise, as we move here and there and often wonder what is way of life we are to travel, your Spirit continues to keep us steadfast in your word of promise that is so good it is like a banquet feast ready to be enjoyed. Amen.

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

5 August 2005

Friday is upon us and Paul is still working on building the life of the community as we continue in 1 Corinthians.

Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy. For those who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people but to God; for nobody understands them, since they are speaking mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the church. Now I would like all of you to speak in tongue, but even more to prophesy. One who prophesies is greater than on who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up. (1 Cor. 14:1-5)

Let's not read prophecy as the ability to look into the future and be able to see what is going to happen...like magic. Rather, the gift to be able to read the times...to read how people can play a part in the community...to be able to see what is needed to make things within the community fit together...to also be able to see how we lack things and therefore, what we must give more attention. For example: if we are not caring for the weak in the community, they will easily be pulled into lives that will not be good for them or others. Those who prophesy are able to pick up on where we need to pay attention to the needs of the community...but also, what kind of lies are out there that can become very seductive to people. On the other hand, these tongues of which Paul speaks are a good thing. One friend once described "tongues" like crying & weeping & wailing that cannot be understood but the profound depth of pain, sorrow, joy, freedom, and such often comes without words to express it completely. These "tongues" are a gift to cherish for oneself and nothing to be forced on other as though a person is not "really" a Christian or baptized unless these "tongues" come to them. I would suggest that all of us would do well if we allowed ourselves the freedom to simple give up on our words and open up to the babblings of infants...we are all in such need of that we do not know. But for the sake of the life of the whole community it would be good to hear from some of the prophets among us.

Connection: Sometimes we do not listen to the words of those who prophesy for the welfare of the congregation or the whole church. When was the last time that you heard someone speak the word of the Lord God...maybe you didn't even catch it as it happened.

Your bring your word of life to us so that we may live in peace and harmony and create new expressions of you love in each of our days. We give you thanks, O God, for the many ways and times you inspire people around us so that they can offer insights into the vision of your unfolding Reign. Amen.

4 August 2004

Once you start into this "Love" chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, we just have to see it through.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophecy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13:8-13)

I can hear the water of baptism being splashed and I feel its refreshing beads of water flying in my face to remind me that no other story and no other way of being in the world is the same as this water based freedom for life that come by way of the extravagant love of God. This is a love that is a gift to us so that it will be the gift we open up for the world...a gift that comes in the shape of each one of us so that it will be easier for others to hear and taste and feel its fullness. There are many things we experience within our lives that expand us and push us and take us into new pathways of life. But then, there is the love of God that is....forever...it never ends. No matter how well we seem to "get it," there is always more to get...we never see it all in place and set forever. The forever nature of the love of God is beyond our grasp and yet it keeps grabbing us and revealing itself to us anew every day. What is so odd and precious about this love is that I can never quite understand how it keep bringing new life...again and again...

Connection: How has the love of God grabbed you today...Surprised you today...turned your head today...showered you with grace that has been like a door open to new life?

Take us beyond our expectations and deliver us into the everlasting embrace of your gracious Reign, O God of Delightful Visions. We long for the promises you offer us. We long to be patient and yet to begin, already, to taste the feast that is to come. With your love you bring hope into our days and add a skip to our walk even when walking is even a dream. Thanks be to God. Amen.

3 August 2005

The "love" chapter continues - 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:4-7)

First stop for a second and check any notion of a sentimental love at the door. This is love that is to be the building block of the church. It is the long-haul love that will not abandon us and therefore we are nurtured in such a way that we then, do not abandon others. Looking around at the shape of Christianity in our country, it appears that this kind of love is easily abandoned because so many people want and expect a "religious" experience that they can dictate for themselves and others. When it is so easy to just push the "other" side off and away from us, who is going to take the time to bring them closer and engage them in prayerful conversation? And yet, we are called to be patient. Within that patience, there is more time to consider the way of Jesus' love and how when we say we follow Jesus, we are talking about this love that heals and hopes and works within a new set of boundaries that always contain more than we think they can. For this kind of vision of love, we will be able to endure all things. I take that as a promise.

Connection: Rejoice in the truth and watch what begins to take place with the dark corners of our lives. Things become lit up and we do not have to fear what may be said about us or done to us. We can let go of our way and trust that the way of this Jesus love will lead us into life beyond shallow existence of so many parts of our world.

Come, Lord, Jesus, and lift us up into the loving domain of your eternal rule so that our present will be transformed by your love and prepared for tomorrow. Amen.

Monday, August 1, 2005

2 August 2005

The thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians always seems to bring light into the day.

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Cor. 13:1-3)

Central to who we are is the power that never ceases to bring people together - love. There are many powers that come up with many reasons to be divided or stay divided or simply try to make one's self bigger and better than others...but only love never ceases to bring the gifts of God's people together. In fact, to suggest that the power of God's love allows or permits us to separate from one another is to use the name of that power for something quite antithetical to its definition. If we do not have love...we are nothing...we gain nothing. That is the case because without the love that binds us together, the community is as good as dead. It is not resurrected, it is simply dead. We can trust/have faith in all sorts of things but without love active in our lives to demonstrate that faith, what is there...nothing.

Connection: We will not know what there is to gain by loving one another unless we begin to take on the invitation to do just that...love one another. Then even as we are pulled into that love, the fullness of it is always just beyond what we would make of it. So go for it.

Lord of Love, you continue to use your power to take us in the depths of our separation and begin to bind us together into a new life. Inspire us to welcome you love and avoid the easy ways of separation and division. Amen.

1 August 2005

Today we will bring chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians to a close.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. (1 Cor.1:27-31)

Some read this as the transition piece between chapter twelve and the conversation about the body as many parts and chapter thirteen "the love chapter." Well, it is that. It is also another strong word about the foundation upon which these many gifts take shape. The unfolding of the gifts and how people attach themselves to these gifts and quite possibly use them as a way to "consider themselves more highly than others," can make the community a place of division. So we are pointed beyond the necessary tasks and gifts needed to run a community and Paul begins to remind us of those foundational gifts no one can claim over and against another. Love, as we know from chapter thirteen will be one of those. Without it - the gifts will fade. It is essential to also remember that if the gifted people do not have the "faith of Jesus" - that abiding trust in the promises of God that shape us everyday, gifts will and can be corrupted. As people speak of gifts and the ordering of gifts, we are invited to remember the rock upon which the body is built. Churches may enter into fierce conflict over the appropriate way to do this and that, but we must stay firmly planted in that faith, hope and love that can and does take our conflicts and bring them to resolution, compromise and peace. Sometimes I think we are too afraid to reach down and touch that foundation and remember what it is for our life together.

Connection: No matter where you on the gifts or talents ordering system, we are counted for being one set upon the rock and invited to stand there forever and let the love of God we see in Jesus, shape how we exercise our gifts - whatever they may be.

Lord of All Gifts, let your gifts that you give to us find a proper place in our live and then within the community of the followers of Jesus so that we may find it easier to honor and respect one another as sister or brother. Amen.