Monday, October 31, 2005
Community rests upon the fact that Christ's sacrifice of love makes the believers one body or "one loaf" with Christ and therefore also with each other. Existence for one's self ceases; it is replaced, however, not by mystical absorption into each other but rather by full sharing of life through love.
No individual has strength or weakness, righteousness or sin, peace or trouble, without all being involved. (p.304-305)
If we are going to talk about begin stewards in the Reign of God, we must talk about community. We do no live outside of that context. There is no way to call myself a steward within God's Reign without brining in my participation in a common body of saints. It is there that my gift can be used and enhanced. It is there that I am able to receive from you the benefits of the community. I find that this view of the community of love is nothing more than the promise of our God for the people of God. When we take part in the Lord's Supper, the simple movement of the people each coming forward from their places in the sanctuary and taking part in one meal without distinction begins our journey of promise that will become real among us. In no way am I an island that is simply fed to go on my way. The whole action of the community coming to the meal (or the meal bring brought to me as a part of the community) creates a pattern for faithful participation in the communion of saints. Maybe it is good that we end a month of looking at how we are stewards of God's Reign on the eve of All Saints. Through water, the meal, the Word, and the command to love, we make for more than a social group. We come alive as the body of Christ.
Connection: It would do us well to expand our notion of who we are. That may mean we look beyond ourselves and out into the cadre of saints who gather with us as we remember together the stories of God's faithfulness. In that remembering, there is no isolation and there is always the opportunity to call out to another saint when we need the gifts of others to see us through the day.
Come, O God of Many Gifts, and continue -by the power of your Holy Spirit- to remind us of the many ways you bring us together to embody your loving presence among us and to make each of your saints rich within your fellowship of love. Amen.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
(Speaking of merchants)...they have a common rule which is their chief maxim and the basis of all their sharp practice, where they say: "I may sell my goods as dear as I can." They think this is their right. Thus occasion is given for avarice and every window and door to hell is opened. What else does it mean but this: I care nothing about my neighbor; so long as I have my profit and satisfy my greed, of what concern is it to me if it injures my neighbor in ten ways at once." (LW 45, p.247)
Love of neighbor is not merely something that we "try to do in the context of the church building" only. It is our life. As followers of Jesus, this love is to shape all that we do. Yes, we all want to make some profit and be able to care for our families and...have some sense of security for those of our household. And yet, this love of Christ that is our love cannot be isolated or restricted. No matter what vocation we enter, there is always a place within that context for this love that brings with it healing and an inspired concern for the welfare of others...the strangers and all who we serve through our vocations. The love of Christ that spills over into lives and then into the lives of those around us is a power for transformation. When we talk about Christ abiding with us, it is here as we go through the routines of our day...it is here as we put our skills and abilities and trades to work for others. Luther writes: "The rule ought to be, not, "I may sell my wares as dear as I can or will." but, "I may sell my wares as dear as I ought, or as is right and fair." Imagine what this change in a sentence would mean if it was a change that also took place in our hearts and our actions.
Connection: Go ahead and imagine...and then...see what it would be to have this sacred imagination lead the way.
By your love, O Lord, the day changes even as we walk through all that we will face within this one day. Remind us that you love and the power of your love rests with us to shape our every move. Amen.
...all the commandments of the law depend on love (Matthew 22:40). This is to say, if they are not done out of love, they are contrary to God and are nothing; that's what you should go by. It is not done for the sake of other works, for your eye should be kept only on the work of love, and your should break all the laws rather than see your brother suffer want or affliction. For Christ imputes everything to love and our whole life should consist in this. (LW 51, p.106)
Now do we just call this idle talk or do we take it as the gospel truth? This is especially important to decide as we continue to talk about and live within a church that has problems with the full acceptance of gay and lesbian (let's say GLBT) saints within all aspects of the life of our congregations. I say this because what is winning the day is the idle talk. Talk about..."fall out" in the church in regard to numbers and money...doing something we have never done before...what the impact would be on our children...keeping a tradition in place so that we will somehow remain truly Lutheran. How is it that we are able and willing to press on and accept so many people by "bending" or "loosing" the law for the sake of the love of Christ in the life of the community, but we insist on, and even make more pronounced, rules/laws forsaking this focus on love when it comes to our GLBT fellow saints. How do we take part in the the process to prayerfully bring about a consistent love ethic among us?
Connection: It takes courage to press us beyond our boundaries. But the love of Christ is the food for such courage. It would do us good to sit down to a hearty helping of this law of love.
Deliver us, O God, into your loving Reign so that we do not deliver ourselves into hands that seek to separate and divide. For as we stand within your loving embrace, the character of your people begins to see the world through new eyes - your eyes of love without end. Amen.
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
...it is certainly true that a person is not rightly fasting, praying, crying to God, and doing other things, if (he) does not first love God and (his) neighbor. If the works are not done out of love, then they are absolutely nothing; then there is nothing good in this love, and the outward works are performed and put on in order that the person may prove that (he) loves God or (his) neighbor and that in all these things he is devoting himself to them. (Luther's Work Vol. 51, p.105)
This says two things that I find important. On the one hand, there is nothing that we do that is of any importance if there is not love among us - that is the alpha and the omega of our character. On the other hand, this love is not a possibility for us. We can work like mad trying to be loving but this character is a gift given to us. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we can love our neighbor. There is no reward for acts of love...for just as quickly as we act, we are not acting out of love but out of a desire for a reward...or recognition...or simply a nice warm feeling - for ourselves! Love is just as easily turned into something idolatrous as are the other things in our lives. Therefore, again and again, we face up to who we are and how we will remain people "turned-in-on-ourselves" even when we try to make it appear as though we are a loving bunch of folk. That doesn't mean we are not to be loving, on the contrary, we can expect that God will shaped us into a love that is completely beyond our capabilities. Love becomes not a work among us, it is the life of us and that life is always a gift. We are stewards of this loving Reign.
Connection: The most powerful thing we can do within this day is to give thanks to our God for the life we have been handed as the baptized community in Christ. From there, God already will be shaping and moving us. In the meantime, converse with one another about what this love of God means in terms of our daily lives.
Lead us, Loving Lord, even as we attempt to walk our own ways and claim that they are yours. The pathway of your love may not be the path we would choose for ourselves and yet we long to walk in your ways. Let your Spirit pull us into the vision and life of your love. Amen.
The Law of Christ is the law of love. After redeeming and regenerating and constituting us as His church, Christ did not give us any new law except the law of mutual love [John 13:34): "A new command I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you." To love doe not mean..., to wish one well, but to bear someone else's burden, that is to bear what is burdensome to you and what you would rather not bear. (LW 27, p.113)
After everything is done for that can be done for us...after we have been called and named as the beloved of Christ...after all that ever needs be done for us, we are free to love one another. Not before this...not in order to get something more. Rather, to love is to be exactly who we are in the light of the Christ. We love neighbor by making sure we are a part of the well-being of our neighbor. I find Luther's statement to be quite strong. We don't simply love another by doing things for the other person that are things we like to do. That is wonderful to do such things, but we are neighbors who love when we step in and do what we would rather not do and we do it for the benefit of the other. Sound quite like the way of the cross to me. This reminds me of the movie "Gandhi" in the scene when his wife is not willing to take her turn at cleaning the latrine. It is a job nobody likes to do. And yet, it is a job that must be done for the welfare of everyone. The scene was harsh and yet that kind of "taking up for others" that which we would rather leave to others is not an easy road. Most of the time, we need a mentor or other saints who help to make this Law of Christ - the rule among us.
Connection: Within the routines of our day, there are more opportunities to put to life this law of love than we might imagine. Through prayer, our eyes are often open wide to see them and then by the power of the Holy Spirit, we may even take up the cross and follow Jesus.
Blessed Lord, you shape us by your love and you call us your Beloved. Now by your Spirit, shape us into your love as we walk in the midst of friend and foe, family and stranger. Amen.
Sunday, October 23, 2005
The Christian acts in one way in matters that affect only (his) own person and in another way when (he) fulfils (his) official responsibilities in behalf of others. However, it is one and the same love that works in both realms: and it must act differently, precisely because it is love. (p.77-78)
The radical nature of the love is where we must begin this reflection. In both cases, love prevails. It simply means that how that love is translated must be appropriate for the case at hand. This might be the way that a parent works with two different children. Those kids are both beloved but it may be that the parent embodies quite a different expression of love with each child. So that...the love will be conveyed as strongly and as genuinely as is possible. I would expect that a judge in a courtroom would be able to consider what it is to love the world as one beloved of God. And yet, I want that judge to be able to find a way within the bounds of that court system to see to a proper use of justice, punishment, and mercy. But when a judge simply carries into the courtroom his or her own ideas about what must be an absolute rule of law based on a limited and often personal view on an issue, maybe that judge needs to reexamine what kind of love is really being brought to light. As a pastor, I may want to act in a certain way as a way to be a loving presence to certain members in our congregation, but in the context of the whole community, I must prayerfully contemplate how I am to demonstrate the love of Christ also to a wider and more diverse people.
Connection: Love is not a easy way to go. It is not a sweet journey or a greeting card adventure. It means we must be thinking and praying people who, for the welfare of other, seek first the realm of Christ's love in a world that loves to live on many sides of the road. How will that come to life for you today?!
Be the Lord of Love within the day, O God. Be the One who takes us and leads us and keeps your love fresh in our hearing so that we will have the courage to be a loving presence, however it must be within the common movements of this day. Amen.
Friday, October 21, 2005
...a Christian, properly defined, is free of all laws and is subject to nothing, internally or externally. But I purposefully said" to the extent that he is a Christian: (not "to the extent that he is a man or a woman"); that is, to the extent that he has his conscience trained, adorned, and enriched by this faith, this great and inestimable treasure...
Thus the Christian is greater than the entire world. For in his heart he has this seemingly small gift; yet the smallness of this gift and treasure, which he holds in faith, is greater than heaven and earth, because Christ, who is this gift is greater. (LW 26, p.134)
There are many times when Luther uses the word Christian very distinctly. It is not so much as I hear it used today. Today it often sounds meaningless or it is filled with so much baggage that is filled with issues of morality or political grappling in the church that I hear or see very little of the Christ alive among us. But we have this gift that has been given to us that takes us and makes us into a new people. There is no magic here. It is the gracious movement of our God blesses us and brings us into a wealth of life that is as available to us as the present day. Here Luther is making sure that we understand the gift of life that is handed to us outside of and with help from our works. Some may say this gift is faith in Christ, Jesus. Then again, it can be argued that the gift can be seen as the faith of Christ, Jesus. This slight changing in how we word this gift does not alter the gift that is ours - a gift that is the power for new life. It may change in how we bring this gift to the people around us.
Connection: Christian is not heavy laden with an agenda that makes us legitimate Christians. Rather, the gift is very light and at the same time, a gift so grand it is the whole life of us. Sometimes we simply must prayerfully remember how we are being swept up into the presence of Christ - this gift of new life.
We long for you to break into our day, O God. And yet, we know that you already have and you are with us even now. Sometimes we simply need to be made free from our blindness and our willingness to remain blind so that we do not have to take the risk to trust how bountifully you bless us with your life. Amen.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Central to Luther's theology is that in faith the human being really participates by faith in the person of Christ and the divine life and the victory that is in it. Or to say it the other way around: Christ gives his person to the human being through faith by which we grasp it. "Faith involves participation in Christ, in whom there is no sin, death, or curse.
And, in Luther's point of view, faith is a victory precisely because it unites the believer with the person of Christ, who is in himself the victory. (p.32)
This needs days of unpacking so let me start and, if need be, we will bring it around again tomorrow as good way to end the week. More and more, I am caught up in that simple word "really." Without it, I find myself quite inadequately situated within the day at hand. That may only be because I have always seen myself as quite the coward and the only times I am able to be anything close to courageous is when I remember that I am not alone. Not only that. As a part of the Body of Christ I am invited - along with you - to walk within the presence of our Lord as though I am a part of that presence. There, in that kind of "participation," the Lord of Life both enfolds me and sends me. There is something mystical sounding in that image. I don't use that language often and yet in the first petition of the prayer in the Burial of the Dead we hear these words "...you have knit your chosen people together in one communion, in the mystical body of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. We need not be afraid to let ourselves become a part of something beyond our grasp and our control.
Connection: Mystical images are not of another world. Rather, it is a way to be within the day we walk through even now. Maybe it involves taking another look, a new look, an upside down look, and even a look with Christ in mind...as our mind. It may be worth some consideration in the midst of things today.
Lift us, O Lord, for we long to be held by you and sent by you and picked up by you when we do what we do so well...stumble and fall. Praise to you, O Lord. Amen
Monday, October 17, 2005
One can characterize Luther's position in contrast to the position of the Formula of Concord also as follows: For Luther evangelium is not proclamation of the cross and/or of the forgiveness of sins only, but the proclamation of the crucified and risen Christ himself. It is one of the main themes of Luther's theology that only the crucified and risen Christ himself as present can mediate salvation. Thus, we must clearly note the organic connection between the doctrine of justification and Christological themes in the theology of Luther. (p. 29)
When we gather for worship, we gather as the living body of Christ. We are what we are fed. We are pulled into the body of Christ by the gracious favor of our God and we are simultaneously a part of the full presence. I find that to be, if I may, the backbone of our identity in the world. We are drawn into this presence and we are given all that is needed to be a gift to our world. Of course, we stumble, come up short, and simply become the knotheads we can be...but that doesn't destroy what God has done and is doing and will do among us. Always among us, fully, Christ lifts us up and we remain the beloved, the community of saints, and the saving body of Christ. I intentionally used the active sense of "save" for it is among us that the witness to the Christ continues. We participate in that life and that life becomes a light for others.
Connection: So...you've come to worship and are placed into the presence of our Lord as the community gathers for the Meal. Now, continue on this way. How will the body of Christ be expressed among us as we encounter our world today?!
How we have longed for you to be present with us and guide us, O Lord. And yet, we forget that you are present and you do guide us and lift us up and become for us our place of rest and our power to live again, today, within your gracious Reign. Praise to you, O God Most High. Amen.
The favor of God (i.e., the forgiveness of sins and the removal of God's wrath) and the "gift" of God (donum, God himself, present in the fullness of his essence) are united in the person of Christ.
In contrast to Luther's theology, forgiveness, (favor) justification and the real presence of God (donum) in faith are in danger of being separated by the one-sidedly forensic doctrine of justification adopted by the formula of Concord and by subsequent Lutheranism.
In Luther's theology...Christ is both the favor and the donum. And this unity is...both inseparable and unconfused. (p.28-29)
Personally, I have no problem with the seeing the forgiveness of sins and the presence of the fullness of God as being an essential part of the community as we are a part of the Lord's Supper. Yes, it may sound a bit mystical as I have said before, but does that mean we do not consider it. Can we sometimes attempt to be so exact in our language that we enter into a bit of theological game playing that must see itself as always "on guard" against what might happen rather than "open to" what might happen. I understand that in the early days of Lutheranism, there needed to be a crisp distinction between how people viewed the mass and the sacrament of Holy Communion in the Roman church and how Luther had opened up the eyes of the whole body of Christ as to the primacy of the doctrine of justification. But in that wonderful work, as with all bits of work done by even the greatest minds, there is always another way to view what is present. Yesterday in worship I was particularly caught up in the presence of the Lord at the Meal. It was in one of the regular images of the prayers that I was once again convinced of this power that makes the body - the body of Christ...really present.
Connection: Forgiven and Christ fully present...that sounds like a powerful way to begin this day and to view all things as we carry on the way.
Your presence among us is vital to our life together, O Lord. It is how we find our way through what we encounter and it is the way we encounter all things. As your fully present and we are fully renewed in you, we find peace and become your peace for all. Amen.
Sunday, October 16, 2005
In patristic thought and the Orthodox Church there is a doctrine of "theosis" (indwelling) that rests on the presupposition that a human being can participate in the fullness of life that is in God. In the Formula of Concord Lutherans hear that ...this indwelling follows the preceding righteousness of faith, which is a precisely forgiveness of sins and the gracious acceptance of poor sinners on account of the obedience and merit of Christ. Well, Mannerma notes the Luther does not separate the person of Christ from his work. Rather, Christ himself, both his person and his work, is ground of Christian righteousness. Christ is, in this unity of person and work really present in the faith of the Christian. (p.28)
In our congregation as we spend a month considering the fact that we are stewards of life within the Reign of God. it is easy for me to press us to hold onto this full sense of presence in which Christ is right in the midst of the very life of the community and we are in the mix of his presence. To separate the forgiveness of sins from the indwelling of Christ seems unnecessary and a less than bountiful consideration of the Lord's Supper. It is as though there is a fear of bringing the these two realities into one. I find that is is inconceivable to think about the forgiveness of sins and the gracious acceptance of poor sinners with there being abiding and full participation of our Lord in the Meal. We are who we are because of this wonder of the unity of the person and the work of Christ that makes us the Holy Community.
Connection: When we offer forgiveness to someone, nothing is more powerful than to be present, really present, with the one to whom we are extending forgiveness. Yes, there may be something mystical about thinking of Christ participating in our lives. But then again, what a precious way to see our lives - alive with the indwelling of our Lord. How will that change the shape of this day?!
We give you thanks, O Lord, for you not only give the gift of yourself to all of your beloved, you also grant us the favor of your presence which is a stream of forgiveness that is able to renew our sin-sick souls. Praise to you, O God. Amen.
Friday, October 14, 2005
In speaking of the indwelling of Christ here are two classical formulations.
Irenaeus say succinctly: "Because of his great love (Jesus Christ) was made into that which we are, so that he might bring about that we be what he is." ...Athanasius: "He (Christ) became man so that we might become divine." (p. 27)
Next week we will spend some time looking at why these kinds of statements are not receiving complete agreement from some Lutherans. But for now, we must remember what a place the Meal had in Luther's theology and just what changed in the life of the church through his work. The Meal that was once so centered around the clergy and one's need to reach a "bar" of goodness and righteousness before on could come to the table is now greatly altered. With this Orthodox doctrine of indwelling, that Mannerma says is quite like Luther's teaching, The work that is done is the work done by the one who promises to be present with us in the Meal. In this presence, Christ is not merely "alongside" us or "in the room," Christ comes to bring the divine reign into our lives. It can sound a bit mystical - and that is not all bad - but it is more so a strong statement about the shape and calling and life that is to be the community of saints. Remember that this takes place not by magic or works, it is enough that we believe those words "for you" as we are handed the meal. There in the midst of the community of the whole congregation or in the room of a person with in that community who takes the meal with a representative of the congregation, comes the Christ who makes us a part of the divine presence of God in the world.
Connection: We are new people and we are brought into a life in which Christ become know within our living. We are living witnesses of the Christ and the love of the Reign of Christ. When we prayerfully remember this through the day, I really do believe that we are given eyes to see how this presence in us leads us into new ways of being who we are in all we do.
As you move us by your Spirit, O Lord, and create in us the life of you precious Reign, let our hearts be lifted as we find within your gracious presence new ways to be instruments of graciousness that that bring to this day a witness to your Reign. Amen
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Then do not doubt that you have what the sacrament signifies, that is, be certain that Christ and all his saints are coming to you with all their virtues, sufferings, and mercies, to live, work, suffer and die with you, and that they desire to be wholly yours, having all things in common with you. If you will exercise and strengthen this faith, then you will experience what a rich, joyous, and bountiful wedding feast your God has prepared for you upon the altar... Then your heart will become truly free and confident, strong and courageous against all enemies. (LW 35, p.61)
When we talk about the communion of saints present at the Lord's Supper, we are not simply referring to those who are visible in the pews or chairs all around us. We reach out into the vast history of the faithful whose lives have been shaped by the presence of our Lord in the meal just as the Lord is present each time we gather at the table. Luther doesn't say, "Try to imagine this or that." Luther says, "...be certain that Christ and all his saints are coming to you..." When the bread is handed to you and it is "for you" and when the wine is presented to you to drink and it is "for you" be certain that generation after generation trusted that promise and their lives walked out onto that promise and they now will be our encouragement to walk out in faith as that will lead us through the highs and lows of our everyday life. Within that embrace - that reality in which we can be certain - we will be given the strength to follow Jesus where it is most difficult - our everyday experiences.
Connection: Be certain of the life that is available to us through this day. We are not alone. We are part of a promised life through which many have gone before us and in which we now move, inspired by the God who is so on our side that God did not shy away from being put right into the middle of all the "stuff" that is contained within our lives. Be certain...be certain....be certain that with us today is this promised Lord.
Come, Lord, and be our guest within this day so that as we move along the way you will be for us the one who upholds us and calls us beyond what we would want and into the domain of the wealth of your promised life. Amen.
Whoever is in despair, distressed by a sin-sicken conscience or terrified by death, or carrying some other burden upon his heart, if he would be rid of them all, let him go joyfully to the sacrament of the altar and lay down his woe in the midst of the community [of saints] and seek help from the entire company of the spiritual body. (LW 35, p.53)
When the Eucharist is the center of the community of saints, I would press us to consider that Luther is not only speaking about coming forward and taking the meal as a way to be unburdened of despair and the like. The promise of the presence of the Lord in the meal does indeed bring comfort and forgiveness of sins beyond what anyone can offer and thus the simple participation in the meal is enough to "heal the sin-sick soul." And yet, as I am carrying burdens upon my heart and come to the meal, I come within the embrace of the community. It is there within that body that the Lord is present and the people around me become for me the living presence of the Lord. both in the taking of the meal and the participation in the meal with others I am given the gift of the many sided expression of Christ's presence...and that...can save my life and heal me for life.
Connection: If you have time today. Stop for just a short time and imagine yourself in the sanctuary during the liturgy when we move our attention to the table and then to the distribution of the Lord's Supper. Don't just focus on the distribution of the bread and wine - but do make that the center of your imagination. In addition look around at the community of the holy who move forward and return from the meal. In this little adventure, may you be reminded of the Lord's presence with you even now.
We give you thanks, Gracious Lord, for not only do you give of yourself to all who come to the meal. You also make this community your own and we are thus a living part of your healing and reconciling body that brings peace, encouragement and comfort to the rest of your people. Praise to you, O Lord. Amen.
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Hence it is that Christ and all the saints are one spiritual body...
The fellowship consists in this, that all the spiritual possessions of Christ and his saints are shared with and become common property; and thus love engenders love in return and [mutual love] unites. (LW 35, p.51)
Remember that the saints are the living and those who are now gone who were once a part of the living. We are not talking about saints who have a special designation because of the lives they lives and the things they did. Saints are "the baptized." We are thus more able to refer to the one body, the fellowship. We may be quite diverse and even appear strange to one another, but we stand on this common ground that makes all things among us common. Because we are brought into the fellowship by a love that is beyond our imagination - for we tend to imagine things just a bit out of the ordinary and in baptism God works even beyond the most we can imagine to make us one - the love within the community of saints can now overcome any barrier to love being the life among us. Our common property, the gift to the community in, with, and under the Lord's Supper is this love for the sake of loving. The gift makes those who receive the gift, gift-givers who are free to move beyond the barriers once in place around us. Of course, there will be risks with each action of love comes from the Table into the community.
Connection: We receive life...for life. Imagine what this day would be if it was embraced by people who have been claimed by God in baptism and then encouraged to live a within that baptismal promise as we take the Meal that is given "for us." Well, let your imaginations go for it...we are in this situation...it is a gift to us for the living of this day.
By your love, O God, we are brought into a community that is willing to face one another with the love you have for us. As your love becomes our love, the community of saints continues to be transformed beyond our expectations for you love will not fall or fit into merely our expectations. Let you Spirit of love pull us into your Reign. Amen.
Sunday, October 9, 2005
The medieval church simply could not understand the church as a real community because it was dominated by the moralistic principle that everyone must take of (himself). "Love begins at home."
Moralism is selfish in its very essence because it does not allow the community of saints to come into existence. Instead of establishing the community, moralism destroys it. (p.302-303)
I quoted these pieces in my sermon yesterday. The more I contemplated them, the more I saw this medieval church still alive today. I must admit I see it alive in many ways today (conditional love - manipulative god and the like) but this was one that really hit home. When we allow ourselves to fall back into a moralistic principle that will attempt to become the guiding force in the church, we lose the life that is called the body of Christ. Instead we become like any other self-centered group that cannot even be a "group." Have you noticed that the grand talk of "morality" within many segments of the church does nothing to establish community in the name of Jesus? Community in the name of Jesus is one in which morality does not come into play as a force that makes up the community. Rather, grace makes up the body of Christ. The community of saints is a holy bunch of folk because that is what we are called...that is the gift given to us...that is the really of the boat in which God places us. In that "boat" and in our churches will be the "good and bad." The so-called voices of morality we can hear on the air waves of our cultural/religious battles are trying to start our story with a demand that is really a gift. Morality cannot build community because we will always be looking over our shoulders at what others are doing or constantly doubting whether we can be in this community because we do not meet up to the life that is requested. We do not have to get ourselves in the boat, we are given a seat and placed into it - by grace. That is what it is to be a part of the holy community. We are placed into it...we are a part of it. Enfolded in such a story we take on a new life that flows from God's action. Let the moralist beat their chests and raise their pious heads so that they appear to themselves as being worth of God's love. For us...let us simply praise God for a gift so simple as Bread and Wine - the body and blood of Christ - given for life.
Connection: Praise give thanks to God first...praise and give thanks to God in between...praise and give thanks to God at the end of all things. In the middle of that kind of a day, we will be surprised by the life that begins to unfold around us...a life the moralists will never know as they continue to run around trying to make something of themselves. That's why it is good to invite these people to join us at the banquet...so that they will not be frustrated by their moral crusades and might find rest and life in Christ alone.
Lift us up, O God, so that we will stand on your gracious acts of love that become our acts and our life. Amen.
Thursday, October 6, 2005
There is a question as to how one is to interpret the word communion and whether it...means a congregation, group, community, gathering, and assembly, or refers to "participation" in the ordinary sixteenth century use of the term, that is, to being bound together with, participating with someone, an act of common participation, and having a common right to something (p.294)
Luther probably had an understanding of this communio as made up of saints, "a community of the holy," "a community of holy people," perhaps best expressed as a "holy community" or "a holy people." (p.295)
The community is shaped by what we call the meal. It is not simply an action "done up front." It is the life of us that is informed by the actions of the breaking and self-giving that we hear in the story of Jesus with his disciples as he moved forward to face whatever was to happen to him in Jerusalem. We know what happened...we know the details as we hear from the faithful witnesses of that day. And yet, this action and these words combine to make us a part of the whole life that is given and shed for us. We are not simply called a "church" or a "congregation" because we gather together with one another. We are called the "church" and followers of Jesus because we enter into the experience of the crucified one who invites us to take up his life and the freedom and vitality that comes from trusting in this way of utter graciousness. We are not a better-than-thou community. That is not the meaning of holy. We are a people set aside...or even...set into the middle of everything else as a gifted people who can live within a new realm even when that is so different from the many ways we can be pulled around every day. What a bold image it is to see ourselves as a "holy community." It is bold because it already has us defined by the one who dies before us and for us. That is some life to have among us...and we need an "us" to walk along as such a people.
Connection: As people who regularly are shaped by this Meal in worship, we are invited to go out and be a part of the shaping of the world. We don't do that with just words. In fact, we do it with life...just as our Lord did. How will we fit into that Eucharistic language today!?!
Holy are you, O God, and blessed are we to called your people and invited out into this day to walk along the ways of your beloved, Jesus. In the meantime of this day, we need to be inspired by your Spirit that we too will walk boldly into the loving service of others simply because we are called your own - a holy community. Amen.
Wednesday, October 5, 2005
Luther begins to renew the concept of the "communion sanctorium" in two ways.
First, Luther brought down the community of the saints - in which he knew that he himself was a member of this community - out of heaven and down to earth.
...he recovered the fact that the saints in the New Testament, and particularly in Paul's letters are not a particular group in the community but all its members, that is, all who believe in Christ are saints. (p. 298)
This has a great impact on how we look at what takes place when we gather as the followers of Jesus in worship and around the Lord's Table. We are standing in the midst of the saints who are, in fact, all of us. There is no separate table set aside for a special group. There is only one people: the body of Christ. As we look around the room at the ordinary folk who have come to hear the gospel and take in the visible word of the Sacrament of the Altar, we are invited to remember those who have gone before us and share in the meal even as we sing and pray and move with those at our side. This reminds me of the wonderful Episcopal church in San Francisco that has a ring of people - saints throughout time - dancing around on the walls of the worship space. The community of saints are not present because of who we have been able to become. There are no box seats or sky-boxes reserved for some of the community. Rather, we rub shoulder and shake hands and sing and pray and laugh and cry as one people who have no need for special privileges or special treatment. This special event of worship with the Lord's Supper at its center makes all of us special because we have been invited by the Lord of All who longs to make us one - believe it and come gather together as though it is the only word among us.
Connection: There are too many places and situations in our daily lives that call for special handling and special passes and special dress and special connections. When the community of saints gather as the body of Christ in worship, there is no one who is not considered the blessed and cherished of God. Remember that today...because that is the power for new life no matter what the world may say about us.
Come, Lord of Life, and as you gather together your people, inspire us to be gracious to one another so that as we celebrate the feast of victory, we can appreciate how you already are shaping your blessed Reign among the ordinary saints who sit and stand alongside us. Amen.
Tuesday, October 4, 2005
This faith of all things is the most necessary, for it is the ground of all comfort. (He) who does not possess such faith must despair of (his) sins. For the sin which remains after baptism makes it impossible for any good works to be pure before God. For this reason we must boldly and without fear hold fast to our baptism, and set it high against all sins and terrors of conscience. We must humbly admit, "I know well that I cannot do a single thing that is pure. But I am baptized, and through my baptism God, who cannot lie, has bound (himself) in a covenant with me. (He) will not count my sin against me, but will slay it and blot it out. (LW.35, p.36)
What a powerful image to keep close to our hearts when we doubt or find fault in all that we do or can only see the brokenness of our world - "God, who cannot lie, has bound (himself) in a covenant with me." The world may not look better. The situation at hand may not be resolved so that everything turns out just the way we would want it. And yet, this God of ours makes life where death rules and promises that no power will win the day because God rules in all days even forever. It is because of this action of God that everything that could and does and will bring us down and try to defeat us and make less of us - can be dismissed because just one thing is true - the covenant made with us in baptism. This is the same God who has a long history of rescuing and delivering and liberating and suffering and dying and rising again. We are a part of that history as it unfolds with us acting each day with words of promise holding us up and sustaining us even when there is no evidence that would show us that God is indeed here. And yet, this God of ours...does not lie. That is a bold statement that I cannot make about anyone else.
Connection: So if that is the truth - we are baptized in Christ Jesus - then we all the more need to let no other word pull us along its ways. Rather, we need to learn to speak that truth to ourselves and to others. I am baptized. You are baptized. We are baptized. From there the day can take on another dynamic in the middle of the same-old, same-old.
Lord of All Truthfulness, we long to be liberated - daily - from the powers that attempt to step in and act as though they can rule us and move us and direct our lives. Just as you have promised, touch us with the words of your promise of new life in your presence. Amen.
Monday, October 3, 2005
Faith means that one firmly believe all this: that this sacrament not only signifies death and the resurrection at the Last Day, by which a person is made new to live without sin eternally, but also that it is assuredly begins and achieves this; that it establishes a covenant between us and God to the effect that we will fight against sin and slay it, even to our dying breath, while (God) for (God's) part will be merciful to us, deal graciously with us, and - because we are not sinless in this life until purified by death - not judge us with severity (LW 35, p.35)
We trust that we are in the midst of it...that is...in the midst of the Reign of God as it is unfolding among us...not only that. We are an active part of that living Reign so that there is a witness in our world to something other than the brokenness that so easily becomes the pattern of our lives. Trusting in this baptismal promise, we take up another pattern for life that never ends. This means that in all of our days, we will trust that our God is the merciful God we have come to know and that we will be judged by this merciful God. Therefore, even as we are taken up by the sinful patterns of unfaith, we are always being pursued and welcomed by our God who makes covenants for life even when we try to run from them. Within that reality of our baptism, we are encouraged and strengthened so as to trust anew each day...as though the covenant is as new as the moment at hand. It is as the baptized that we are able to rest on our death bed and in that rest deny the powers of sin their victory for death has already been defeated - that is promised.
Connection: We will face many moments in our lives that will attempt to pull us away from trusting our God in all things. Then again, the promise is that our God will prevail among us and we can therefore rest...yes...rest....and begin to live the life we have been promised.
Within the blessed embrace of our baptism, O God, we begin to see this day in a new light. You have promised to be with us and lead us and we pray for the the courage to follow in the way of our Lord, Jesus. In the midst of the brokenness of our world, make us residents of your Reign and bid us to live as though your Reign brings us a new character in which we will encounter the days of our lives. Amen.
Now is this covenant (baptism) did not exist, and God were not so merciful as to wink at our sins, there could be no sin so small but it would condemn us. For the judgement of God can endure no sin. Therefore there is no greater comfort on earth than baptism. For it is through baptism that we come under the judgment of grace and mercy. Which does not condemn our sins but drives them out by many trials. (LW 35, p.35)
You ask, "How does baptism help me, if it does not altogether blot out and remove sin?
The blessed sacrament of baptism helps you because in it God allies himself with you and becomes one with you in a gracious covenant of comfort.
In the first place you give yourself up to the sacrament of baptism and to what it signifies. That is, you desire to die, together with your sins, and to be made new at the Last Day.
In the second place you pledge yourself to continue in this desire, and to slay your sin more and more as long as you live even until your dying day. This too God accepts.
Let me begin by saying that through baptism, we already are a part of a new domain - a contrary story. Death does not rule us anymore. And yet, because we are claimed by our God and a covenant that has no end has been set up between us, we are shown a new way to walk through the days of our lives. Therefore, when Luther says "you desire to die" that is not a suicidal thought. Rather it is, to me, the beginning of a separation from the way the world and its brokenness would have us go along in life. We know, just by looking around and by being honest with ourselves, that the covenant life must be one in which we stay focused on what life is like as children already a part of the Reign of God. This is a battle. I immediately thought of people who have lived lives of resistance. People who lived within the bigotry and hatred and patterns of violence within our world and yet, they lived in this world as though they were aliens. Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to mind...and Mother Theresa. I'm sure there are many less known baptized people who do indeed continue to remember their baptism and in that turn their backs on the kind of stuff that tries to rule us. Most of all, we turn our backs to unfaith. That is, when we remember our baptism we are brought into the vision of God's Reign and we are welcome into the domain of faithfulness. Every time we go back to that memory, even if it means saying to ourselves "I'm baptized," we are already in the arena of resistance and this stance is ours for life.
Connection: It is not easy to remember our baptism and the One who abides with us as Lord of Life. We have so many lords wanting to become something of importance in our lives. So, today could be a day when we thing a bit about water and the word of promise that makes our encounter with that water - a whole new life ready to be entered no matter where we might be.
Abide with us, Lord God. For when we are easy targets for the gods of the day to make us into their own, we need your word of encouragement, hopefulness, and joy that is able to make us resist all the powers that try to take us out of the loving embrace of your love. Amen.