Wednesday, November 30, 2005

1 December 2005

From The Sins of Sin-Talk in "Do No Harm" by Stephen G. Ray, Jr.

Today we continue with the discussion of the "welfare-queen.
...the conditions of grinding poverty that many in our nation endure are spuriously attributed exclusively to the pathological communities of the welfare queen and her scions. The problem is thus framed in terms of dealing with the irresponsibility of the welfare queen and not in terms of the need for society to interpret what equality and opportunity mean in a postindustrial age.

It is as though we work at missing the point. As long as there are people we can "label" and there are those who actions we can dirty with our talk of sin, we do not need to deal with the real needs within our society. It is so easy to point at the so-called "welfare queen" than it is to make sure we as a society look after the welfare of all. I am always amazed that even when there are attempts to discuss and then plan for ways to deliver such basics as a consistent and thorough healthcare system, there are still those who laugh at the conversation. This is done by simply spending time developing a system of sin-talk that will show us why it cannot work because we will have so many of "those" people taking advantage of the program because that is what they essentially do. It simply may be to difficult for us to turn our backs on the power we can try to take when we have someone else that we are able to put down or upon whom we can place the sins of society. Christian love is a love that begins with a vision...and that vision is the face of Christ in the face of all those we encounter.

Connection: One way to deal with sin-talk that puts a heavy weight on those around us who become the victims of such talk is to counter that talk with talk of one's worth and dignity and the image of God.

Lord, make us those instruments of peace that begin to draw us together into one people who are blessed by our diversity and blessed by your power to bind us together for new life. Amen.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

30 November 2005

Sin-talk continues to be a powerful force in Ray's book "Do No Harm." We continue with the constructed images of the "welfare queen."

The irresponsibility of the welfare queen is taken as a given; the job of the society, in this account, is to figure out how to make her "responsible." Within this depiction of a social reality, we clearly see the discursive construction of a social margin...
I am highlighting the way a liminal social space is constructed and persons are essentialized into it: The very terms that become the referent to this figure create a situation in which the only discourse possible is one that is purely negative psychosocial analysis.

Again, we must see that there develops a sense of "I and "it." Those people marked in such a way become objects that are kept at a distance. When that happens, all we do is turn the "it" into a negative object...a nobody...a pest...a negative force in society. Do you see how quickly it moves to making "them" appear to be destructive to the life of the society. And yet, it is fed by nothing more than "talk." Yes, there are "welfare queens" and they come in all colors. But not all poor folk fit into the stereotype. Unfortunately the word is already out there and the word is associated with "sin" and the sin is something that we can avoid or attempt to eliminate...somehow. The next thing that happens among us is that we build wall around our homes, family, social groups...and worst of all...our hearts. We will not allow "them" to have a place within our hearts...a place in which we can see them in the image of God so that we will have a new and inspired way of making them our brothers or sister...and not merely objects at which we point or walk away.

Connection: Always attempt to define the "them" and put real faces to "them" and talk directly to "them." It is an exercise that may turn "them" into real people...real parts of the whole image of God alive in the world with us - as is promised.

We know that you are always present with us, Abiding Lord. We need help to recognize you when your face is wrapped up in the lives of those we would sooner forget. Help us to see you present in the many ways you come to us in all your people. Amen.

29 November 2005

Today we look a bit closer at how sin-talk spins the image of the "welfare-queen" in "Do No Harm."

One writer notes that the images of the welfare queen cast her in the role of sinner.
First, there is the image of the sexually irresponsible woman, which brings along with it the image of unsacramentalized sexual activity ("children out of wedlock"). Second, there is the image of aberrant matriarchy. ...these women preside over weak families who are prone to misanthropic social behaviors, that is, families who produce offspring better termed urban predators than children.

It is so important to realize how quickly these thoughts can move through the minds of people who have been hearing years of sin-talk directed at these women. Without thinking...simply at a glance, often woman of color or women quickly seen as being poor whites are underfire. This is the worse kind of fire under which one can fall because it not only damages the one woman, it is a part of the ongoing degradation of other woman who may fit into a stereotypical picture. In a glance, we damage many. Unless we break through the aura presented by sin-talk, by actually meeting and spending time with these women, that image built up through our sin-talk will win the day. This is the reason people in the Church must keep pushing ourselves beyond our own kind. We must, at all times, find ways to move through and over and around the words that have become the death of a whole group of people...and unjustly so.

Connection: Yes, there are people like the ones depicted in a stereotype. That is how stereotypes get made. But, our use of sin-talk expands that vision to all. Is there any way to reach through that wall today...reach through and see things in a new way?

Within all your children, O God, is your face. And yet we become lazy and resist the opportunity to see how your face takes on different textures and shapes and comes out of life situations that are not our own. Give us the gift of seeing with the eyes of your blessed Reign. Amen.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

28 November 2005

Stephen G. Ray, Jr. enters into a discussion about Sin-Talk and the Drama of the Welfare Queen in "Do No Harm."

During the 1980's and 1990's, headline accounts described the problem the nation faces as the abandonment of responsibility. According to this depiction of our nation's "sin," society has abandoned its responsibility to create self-sufficient citizens by establishing an artificial environment in which whole segments of the population are "taken care of."
...In their dependent state, they lose any sense of social responsibility. While this particular discourse could have used a number of images, it is instructive to note that the central image that has come to symbolize this pathologically dependent person is the welfare queen - a sexually irresponsible, young, urban (code word for non-white) woman on welfare.

And...may I ask...places this label on people who are within the welfare system - Those who have enough and those who want to keep what they have. Unfortunately, that is all of us. If we don't say it we think it and even worse, we say nothing when it is inferred or even said aloud. People with power and wealth (yes, even the most modest wealth) tend to keep silent and let the sin-talk about poverty and irresponsibility rule the day. As followers of Jesus, we are all the more called to speak up. Yes, there are always people who are willing to pick up stones and begin to put to death those people who do not fit within our well-kept society. And yet, we, the followers of Jesus, must follow Jesus and put an end to the abusiveness of a well-groomed system. No matter if there are abuses in that system of tangled bureaucracy, remember that there are people caught in that system and they are like us....made in the image of God. How dare we speak of them as though they are less than us...unworthy of the honor and respect due to all who present the face of God to us. I know that it always takes time for me to sort through my quick judgments. And yet, it is necessary to do that. It is necessary to give myself the opportunity to think again...pray again....and then come with new eyes to those I too often judge as being worth less than me.

Connection: Take a second look...take a second or two...take time to prayerfully consider the worth of the "other" as we all stand before our God. We may begin to have a new sense of vision.

Come, Lord of All, be for us the power for life that pulls aside the curtains and walls that attempt to divide us. When we become intoxicated by the drug of separation and status, remind us of the cross and the life that comes through that way you walked among us. Amen.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

23 November 2005

This being the week of Thanksgiving in the U.S., we will make this the last posting for this week. Again it is from "Do No Harm" and looks at sin-talk.

...demonization depends not on an observation of how people actually live their lives, but only on how their essential identity is rendered in public discourse. So for the set of relationships represented by the idea of defilement/essentialization, what we have is a depiction of persons who, because of the way their very being is discursively rendered, are deserving of extraction from the social body.

We must realize that we all who do things...actual expressions of our original sin...actual sins, that need to be addresses in each of us. Often that means that someone helps us...becomes our mirror...our confessor...or serves to take on the task of an intervention in order to help us turn from our ways that are harmful to others and self. But here, Ray is talking about "those" people who become "those" people because they have been labeled that way by others within the everyday talk of life. For example, have you ever heard the comment about someone who was able to bring a price down from what was an asking price. When I was growing up, we simply said - without thinking about it - "I jewed them down to...." It became so common in our speech that I didn't even know I was using it until someone pointed out the use. This is just a small example of another way we depict people in a way that defiles them in language we don't watch. Imagine what happens when we intentionally take our sin-talk learn to project images of hatred and defilement on a group of people. I find it frightening - even as I look in the mirror.

Connection: Language can shape how we look out at the day but it can also bring ideas and images into the minds of others. Therefore our language needs to be something to which we direct our attention along the way.

Remind us, O God, of the many ways we see one another. Remind us of how we are to hold all people as beloved and honor their lives as we would honor our own. Remind us also to not be afraid to talk of sin but to be wary of how that talk has and will continue to damage the lives of whole groups of people and it will be done quite often in your name. Forgive us and inspire us. Amen.

23 November 2005

22 November 2005

Today from "Do No Harm" the topic of sin-talk is defilement - by Stephen G. Ray, Jr.

The perceived disruption of the moral order caused by the defiling presence of an "unnecessary" group is of the gravest significance can result in a situation where "the blessing is withdrawn, and the power of the curse unleashed," leaving only "barrenness, pestilence, confusion." The upshot of this presumption is that persons who, by their mode of existence, disrupt the moral universe are presented as a danger not only to themselves, but to the whole of society. Consequently, it becomes a significant moral responsibility of society to police, and in some instances destroy, those who defile the social order by disrupting the moral order with their presence. This responsibility holds even when the persons or communities so identified are apparently contributing members of society. We see this phenomenon in situations like the Jewish citizens under the Nazi regime or gay Christians in contemporary North American Protestant church life.

Today's reading needed to be longer in order to let the defining situations unfold. Ray will go on to say that the demonization doesn't depend on how these people actually live their lives, but only on how their essential identity is rendered in public discourse. In that discourse, they can be wiped out verbally and that can then become the case essentially. The Nazis tried to eliminate the Jews and other groups they labeled as defiling their "race" and the church in many places is working very hard to remove brothers and sisters in Christ because of their sexual orientation. Again it must be emphasized that the actions are not taken because of what a person actually has done or what they have allegedly done. Rather, it is simply about who they essentially are...their being. Their sheer being is drawn into question and their worth is considered less than others. That is a bold and demonic step. And yet, remember that it is usually done by people who think they are helping to rid the world or the society of "bad" elements in order to protect the society as they have painted it. Their self-defined righteous actions actually become the most heinous of actual sins. They become what they say they abhor.

Connection: Again, we are back to listening. There will be people or groups that really do things that harm others. Then there are those who simply are bundled into an imaginary monster presence. It happens over time. It is as though its happening is right and good. Look again.

We count on the power of your Holy Spirit, O God, to lead us into the way of truth so we will be able to do battle with the lies that we so often find as a part of our lives. Lies that damage everyone and yet cost some groups of people their essential dignity of life. Forgive us and continue to call us into your loving Reign. Amen.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

21 November 2005

We will continue in "Do No Harm" by Stephen G. Ray, Jr. and how he deals with the false attributes of defilement/essentialization.

...defilement/essentialization relies on a powerful presumption... This presumption is that there are those persons and groups within society who by the very way that they exist, apart from any activities they may engage in, exemplify social and moral decay and disruption. Their presence is one that challenges the presumptive moral order of society, and hence is viewed as unnatural and dangerous.

I want to stop short on this quote and I will pick up the rest tomorrow. But here, already, we have this casting of social stones at those whose existence can be and is depicted as dirty, wrong, and out of place among us. This is the kind of nonsense that is cast in the likes of some strong voices on the religious right who tried to blame 9/11 on feminists or gays. It is as though there are people who can be discarded and, as some might suggest, be eliminated because of the threat they are to society just by their being. It is this kind of sin-talk that reveals that the one who cast these stones, in the name of "good religious life," are really dabbling in blasphemy...attempting to be the eternal judge and savior of the "good" people and those they say are people of "faith." I often laugh at these accusation because it simply shows how little they trust in the power of the one they call Lord. What Lord, needs to be protected. The one we call Lord can live among us even when we are not sure of what is at hand. Instead though, some like to throw around sin-talk as a way of controlling the situation and trying to play at being God...when really they are loud-mouth gods.

Connection: Before you go on into this day, give thanks to the God whose grace is wider than we can imagine...and then...imagine yourself and those around you -all of them- within bounds of that grace. I might have an impact on who you are today.

Lord of All, as we wonder about how your blessed Reign will take shape among us, we long to be a a part of its life now. Lead us and guide us into this life even as wander through this day. Amen.

Friday, November 18, 2005

18 November 2005

In "Do No Harm" Stephen Ray, Jr. is having us look at sin-talk. He has used two pairings of false attributions that will play heavily in his work. They are irresponsibility/marginalization and defilement/essentialization. Yesterday we linked welfare and sexual orientation to these pairings. Today we'll hear a bit more on this first pairing.

...irresponsibility/marginalization...relies on the presumption that there exists two primary groupings of persons within society: those whose presence is necessary and who therefore contribute to the well-being of society, and those whose presence is ambiguous and who therefore are potentially harmful to social well-being. Typically, those in the first group are persons who generally occupy places of social and economic privilege, while the latter designation is reserved for those on the bottom rungs of society's ladder. ... More often than not the fissure between the "necessary" and the "not necessary" groups is mediated not in the language of class, but rather in the discourse of social morality - values. So the moral fabric of society is what is understood to be at issue when this distinction is drawn.

Just think about the difference in how a middle class teen and a lower class teen are treated when one becomes pregnant or is found to be having sexual relations. One is trash...the other is just feeling his/her youthful "oats" as young people will do. Even when we look at a upper or middle class neighborhood and a lower class one. The two often do not come together because of the difference in values or the lack of morality that comes with being from "that" neighborhood. Several years ago, we put up two basketball courts in our church parking lot. One of the issues that generated the biggest comment had to do with some of "those" people from over "there" are going to be driving through our neighborhood. It was almost as though the morality of the neighborhood was going to go into the pit. Little did some of the complaining people know. Their "middle class" kids in our neighborhood were not acting with such a high standard of morality or values. Expensive clothing and a flash of money doesn't strengthen one's morality or give them good values.

Connection: We have all kinds of names that we use for people who are simply from an lower end of the economic spectrum within our society. We all know them. Resist the images and the use of those degrading labels. This will be the beginning of dealing honestly with one aspect of our sin-talk.

In your eyes, O God, you see your children. In your eyes, we all are embraced by your love and blessed for the day at hand. Help us to see through those eyes and to imagine the image of your face upon the face of our neighbors and the strangers around us. Amen.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

17 November 2005

Stephen G.Ray, Jr. continues with sin-talk in "Do No Harm."

After noting that sin is increasingly focused on the actions of persons who have the least social power Ray writes: This means that the "sinners" of our popular imagination have been those least able to contest the labeling of themselves and their social environment as sinful. Two examples of this are the current public discussion of welfare ands sexual orientation - discussions in which people who receive welfare and gay people have frequently been silenced or discounted.

Ray goes on to say that sin-talk regarding these two groups focuses on irresponsibility and then disease, corruption and defilement. These are heavy weights put around the necks of these people. In addition, these tend to be people who do not have the power to brush that sin-talk away. Rather, we let it stick on them as though we must find someone on whom we can push our notion of sin and keep it away from ourselves. It someone is seen as being irresponsible, trust can easily be withdrawn from them. If they are poor, it is much easier to withdraw from them than if we we dealing with the powerful who often are very irresponsible...but we let them get away with it. The same happens with defilement. Someone seen as being dirty as in "dirty in regard to sexual activity" is easily isolated. But the dirty hands of politicians and corporate executives rarely are considered. We simply joke about it and let it continue. Sin-talk can and does destroy lives when we use it for just that reason. And nothing is easier to destroy than those with no power...and it gives people the satisfaction of having done something to put an end to "sin." What a joke.

Connection: Keep your eyes open to the many ways the brokenness, the sin within our world finds its way into so many levels of life. Sin-talk is good when we remember how it is a part of us all and all of us need to face up to that quite natural way of living in the world - claiming to be a god of sorts.

Come, Lord Jesus, and teach us the ways of your peace. When we walk that road, it is more likely that we will walk humbly with one another and be able to face up to our own brokenness and shine a light on the brokenness of our world wherever it takes place. Amen.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

16 November 2005

In "Do No Harm" we continue a look at the sins of sin-talk.

In the history of the doctrine of sin, there is a consistent tendency for sin to be downwardly localized. For example, the cultural discourse about sin has increasingly focused - often subtly and imperceptibly - on the actions of persons and groups within society who have the lease social power and are therefore especially vulnerable to social and economic injustice.

It is easy to label as "sinners" the marginalized of our world. For example, we put people of color into prison much more routinely - and for minor crimes - than we do white collar criminals. In fact, we rarely use the word sin or criminal in relation to politicians and corporate executive. They simply did not use good discretion...they cannot lumped in with "those" people who are sinful in what they do in society....common criminals and the like. When you have no voice or little voice within the a culture or society or even the church - watch out. When we need someone on whom we can blame the troubles of the world, you will be the will be the one around whom the word and the image of sin will be thrown. Some people must live with the identity of being "bad" or "sinful" even when those labels make no sense and are false. But when you have no power, it is simply amazing what the powers of our world can make stick to you.

Connection: Look again at sin and the powers around us. Watch the news and read the paper and try to figure out at whom the sin-talk is being directed and what it is doing to them.

Lord, you make us all in your image and yet we cannot and will not see how all of us fit within your blessed image. Instead, we cast stones and they hurt...and even kill others. Save us from ourselves and from the powers that seek to divide us and treat some people as gods and others as "nothing at all." Amen.

16 November 2005

Monday, November 14, 2005

15 November 2005

More from "Do No Harm" and conversations on sin-talk.

...the impulse to act against sin harbors deeply destructive potential. Douglas John Hall captures this dimension of sin-talk in his signaling of the potential dangers that attend Christian views of sin. "The vocabulary of Christian faith suffers from misunderstanding as every turn, but no term is as badly understood in both society and church as the little word, 'sin.' Nor is this misconception an innocent or merely 'religious' affair. Lives are ruined by it. Sometimes it destroys whole communities."

It doesn't take long to come up with a list of people (individuals or groups) whose lives have been shaped by those who have cast upon them the word "sin." There may not be a better way to create cast-offs. There may not be a better way to remove people from our presence. There may not be a better and "cleaner" way to throw others into the garbage heap of humanity. In other words, the word 'sin' or 'sinner' can ruin lives...destroy them. Sometimes sin-talk is not even about actions done by others. Sometimes it is simply about a person's or a people's being! And yet, it is enough to destroy them. It is quite odd that there are only some sins or sinners that really grab our imagination and allow us to do things that literally destroy their lives. Systemic sin is often overlooked. In fact, we have been able to clean it us so well that it is down right respectable and becomes a part of the powers that make the rules about what is sin and who should be condemned for being "sinful." We will get into more specifics as the week marches on.

Connection: Spend a little bit of time today remembering those people and groups whose lives have been sent into the fiery furnace of condemnation because of how they were associated to the sin-talk of the day. The faces may change...but they are always the beloved of God. Somehow we choose to forget that and listen only to how they can be cast in a demonic light. Let's lift them up in our prayers today.

Lord of All of Creation, within the brokenness of our lives you call us to forgive and live with those who may not be like us. Encourage us to approach all people with your eyes of love and justice so that we are drawn to them and with them instead of against them. Amen.

14 November 2005

We continue with work by Stephen G. Ray, Jr. in "Do No Harm."

...theologians have long been aware that getting it (sin-talk) wrong can be a serious matter. Why? Because of two claims deeply embedded in the Christian worldview - sin destroys, and God punishes sin. Sin-talk is therefore serious business because once the source of social sin is named, the impulse to stigmatize it is strong and the desire to destroy it even stronger. In this regard, how we define sin in concrete terms strongly determines the character of our social actions against it.

If we can push someone or some group of people to the edge of our community by pointing at them and using sin-talk to describe "them," then it seems that we have put up another divide between us. This action does little or nothing to heal the separation created by what we have labeled sin. We would do well to remember that sin is not simply what a group of people want to call a "bad" thing to do. Sin is that which separates us from God and one another. Unfortunately, we use sin-talk as Ray says, "to stigmatize" it...but then we also seek to destroy it. We stop short. We do not allow ourselves a way to understand the life situation of those who have been labeled with the talk of sin. In that way we don't give ourselves the opportunity to see and hear if what we have called sin is really what we have called it...or is there something more that needs to be addressed...something that may be bigger and more ubiquitous than what we first attempted to call sin.

Connection: When it comes to sin-talk, it is good to simply ask: What is the sin that is being pointed out here? How is it sin? Is sin-talk in this case being used to create greater division between people? Even, what would be good for me to know about those we are trying to stigmatize? Who, if anyone, benefits from talking sin about someone else?

Lord, as you attempt to bring your people together as one, we know that we are a people at war with one another. We are also the ones who fight against your power that unites by being a power that divides and separates even as we use your name among us. Forgive us and let your Holy Spirit guide us into the ways of your blessed Reign. Amen.

Friday, November 11, 2005

11 November 2005

A selection from "Do No Harm" by Stephen G. Ray, Jr.

...sin-talk is a challenging business. While theologians often have no problem defining sin in the abstract, when actually describing sin in concrete terms they find its subject matter more elusive. Once defined, sin seems neither univocal in nature nor transparent in character. When the term is applied to lived experience, there always seems to be a nagging voice saying, "Hold on a minute! Is it really that cut-and-dried?" It is precisely this cautionary voice that reminds us that while as Christians we must engage in is a precarious enterprise - it frequently misses the mark. We are prone to get it wrong. Our experiences resist it.

When we throw out that word sin and try to pin it on an action or a person or group, it is quite easy for us to become what we want to pin on others. Ray's remark about how our sin-talk "misses the mark" is another way of saying it is sin itself. Sin is described as unfaith but the Greek word for sin is also one that carries the image of "missing the mark." Our sin-talk, especially when we do what we like to do - talk about the sin of others - becomes an activity quite worthy of being the topic of our talk...Sin. How quickly the self-righteous and the observers of sin in the world slip down the slope into a position of being the poster child of sin defined "in person." And yet, some may say that all they are trying to do is show what sin is. Well in that sin-talk, we have a history of revealing how we are able to damage others with our talk and we become the first ones damaged.

Connection: It is good to listen how sin-talk is carried out by those around us (for we do it also). If you have the opportunity, listen to what we say and what power it has when we link the word sin to a people or a specific action. It is not that we should not use sin-talk, it is simply that it would do us all well to listen to what it can and does do...That may not be the good use of such talk.

We find that sin is such a big aspect of our lives that we often try to find a way to narrow it down to a people or an action that is outside of us. On the other hand, some try to limit it to our own person and simply the actions of my life. Help us to rest and be calm and trust in how you "take away the sins of the world," O God. For when we see your power redeem us, we begin to see the world with new eyes. Amen.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

10 November 2005

Stephen G. Ray, Jr. writes about social sin and Christian responsibility in "Do No Harm."

I begin this book about sin-talk by bringing attention to the eye because sin, and our discourse about it, has everything to do with how we see the world and one another. What we name as sin, how we respond to it, and the culpability that we ascribe to the sinner correlates strongly with the interpretive framework through which we see those persons and their actions. If we otherwise think well of certain sinners, their sin likely gets a different sort of scrutiny that does the sin of persons to whom we are less well disposed.
...the behaviors of societies, peoples, and churches are conditioned by the types of assessments they make of sinners in their midst. There are very real systematic and material consequences to the way that sin and sinners are named.

I read this page in the introduction and decided I needed to press on into the rest of the book. Investigating something like sin-talk is very different than writing about sin. It appears as thought sin-talk may become destructive to the lives of people within a community and therefore, this sin-talk becomes that which breaks apart community and relationships. How we see someone and how that seeing agrees or disagrees with how we view sin can have a great impact on how we live in community...or with whom we choose to live...or worship...or commune. We have a group of 39 people going to see the newest Harry Potter movie in a few weeks. I know that there are some people in churches that think this is though we are handing ourselves over to the powers of evil. Harry and his friends are primarily seen as wizards and witches. That instantly puts them in a category of people that are to be outside of our contact. Even if the characters are fictional, we cannot associate with them...even though they are only in books...or a movie. Some good religious folks can view some things and people as so deeply a part of their definition of sin that they cannot see anything else but what their eyes have been trained to see. A more horrible example would be the people who live around us whose skin is a different color or they live in a different part of town or go to those schools. They are viewed differently than our "own." Therefore, we cannot see and will not see who they are....just what they are....and that vision quickly turns into sin-talk.

Connection: It is good to ask another person what they see. It may often help us to see things in a new light. Then, ask someone who is quite different from yourself what they may be quite different and we can then begin to talk about the wider picture of how we see the day.

Lord you give us a way to view others. That is not always simply by seeing with our eyes. We also see with our heart and emotions. In all the ways of our seeing, help us to be gracious and able to see your children in a new light...the light of your Blessed Reign. Amen.

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

9 November 2005

A last word from Richard Jenson on preaching and the doctrine of the "indwelling of Christ" (theosis) as seen in Luther's writings. (Currents in Theology and Mission)

Proclamation, the heart of the sermon, announces a promissory event of God. God's word so announced is a creative word. God's word is always creative! It creates what it promises (Isaiah 55:10-11). It is a word that can make humans divine. It is theosis. The sermon focuses on divine agency, not human responsive agency. I lean toward the idea that preaching effects transformation of human agency; teaching is the community at work discovering ways in which people who have been divinized might best give shape to the new life that has taken root within them. (p.437)

First it is important to note that the announcement of "a promissory event of God" is at the heart of a sermon. There may be other things in the sermon, but that Word of promise is what is proclaimed loudly and clearly. It is the action of God who is for us that transforms us. We do not transform ourselves to fit into the shape or mold of God's people. That Word that does that must be put out for the hearing of the gathered community. This is why as we talk about stewardship, we do not focus simply on our response. Any group of people involved in any organized group can do that - fundraisers abound. But for those who are called to be stewards of life within the Reign of God, there is promise...there is God for us and never cutting and running from us...there is the very breath we breathe. What is...draws out whose we are and who we will be. Stewards have been divinized and their lives are made new before we act. Therefore, the responsibility of being a steward of the Reign of God is simply a part of what the proclamation of good news does to us.

Connection: So, good stewards, welcome into the gracious unfolding of the Reign of God.

For the welfare of your creation, O God, we give you thanks. You create and you entrust us with the ongoing work of this creative process in which we become a part of your blessed work. Continue to encourage us with your promise of new life so that we do not fear walking into it and living as your stewards each day. Amen.

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

8 November 2005

Richard Jenson writes of the word and sacraments as the means of grace. He uses Luther's words about the sacraments in the small catechism to speak of preaching in "Currents in Theology and mission."

In preaching, the word is associated with the finitude not by the presence of earthly elements but through the presence of the human preacher who with his/her bodily voice brings Christ into the lives of believers and deifies its recipients. (Jenson then quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer.) "The proclaimed word has its origin in the incarnation of Jesus Christ himself. As little as the incarnation is the outward shape of God, just so little does the proclaimed word present the outward form of a reality; rather, it is the thing itself. The preached Christ is both the Historical One and the Present One...the proclaimed word is not a medium of expression for something else...but rather it is the Christ himself walking through his congregation as the Word." (p.436)

It must be very clear that Jenson and Bonhoeffer do not say that the preacher is the Word. Rather Bonhoeffer refers to the proclaimed word as Christ walking through the congregation. The voice brings the Christ and the voice enters the life of the recipients. In all that we have been saying about the indwelling of Christ, it is here as the Word cuts us to the heart that our entire being is transformed. In past days we have talked about divinization taking place. I would like to push that a bit and come around to the notion of how we are stewards of the life within the Reign of God because that life...that Word for life...has been passed among us in the mere speaking of the truthfulness of the Light of the World. The Word may be the Christ walking through the congregation, but the congregation is also, you could say, the Christ walking through the world as we take the story that grasps us and changes us and we then become that life changing word all along the way.

Connection: There are so many ways to be stewards of the Reign of God. It may begin by simply hearing any of the stories of how God rescues and saves God's people simply because God has this love for us that will not end. All of the sudden, we are handed that word and we become a part of its life unfolding within...yes, the ordinary stuff of this day.

Our hearts long to be fed by your promises that enable us to live with confidence so that we will never be afraid to be vulnerable to others just as the Word was so vulnerable, it became flesh among us. Breathe on us, O God, and let your Spirit take us and make us as one with you. Amen.

Monday, November 7, 2005

7 November 2005

Richard Jensen, a preacher, finds that the doctrine of "theosis" (the indwelling of Christ) may have an impact on how we view our preaching - from "Currents in Theology and Mission."

How shall we preach? There are some things I think I know and some things that still dance on the edge of my imagination as regards theotic preaching. It seems clear to me, for example, that preaching theosis requires a sacramental view of preaching. Preaching as a sacrament is not new to Lutheran understanding. The finite in preaching is the instrument of the infinite in the lives of those who hear. The Holy Spirit works with finite words to bring infinite reality to life within us. (Vol.31,6 p.436)

It is easy for us to talk about the "real presence" of the Christ in the Lord's Supper. That has been what we have been taught for years...or at least some people may know that there is an historic battle of interpretation over just what that means. But now we begin with an understanding of Christ no merely really present at the Meal. Now we look around the community that is gathered for the Meal and to hear the Word and here, in each of us is the indwelling - God so present that each of our lives are shaped and moved by a Lord so close to us that the presence is our touch, our sight, our hearing, our taste. When I first read Jensen's take on what he calls "theotic" preaching, I thought it was a bit much - almost too much...too much much expectation. Then again, I realized how ordinary it really can be. As ordinary, as I think Jenson will say, as story telling. Words, common words, that are able to feed us like the Eucharist. Words, common words, that are able to set hearts on fire, like Jesus teaching on the Mount or on the Plain. There, bubbling up within the preaching is the Christ whose indwelling brings life by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Connection: If we wanted to take Jensen a bit farther in his notion on preaching, imagine what even happens to our everyday conversation as we bring with us the Christ whose indwelling begins to shape us more and more.

As you enter our lives and bring forth your Reign within these days, O God, we expect to be surprised. In your coming, Lord, lift us up to catch a glimpse of your promises unfolding within the ordinary of this day. Amen.

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

4 November 2005

We will end the week with a longer piece by Jenson in "Currents in Theology and Mission." Jenson notes that the Finnish scholars draw on what Luther call the "happy exchange" to describe what we have been looking at as theosis. He quotes Simo Puera as he describes the divine indwelling in of Christ in the believer.

"When Christ gives himself to us, he indwells us and becomes one with us. Thus, redemption is something that happens not only on the cross but also in all believers whom Christ indwells through faith."Then Jenson notes.
According to Luther all this is effected by the Holy Spirit through baptism, and the necessary precondition for baptism is preaching of God's Word. In baptism God joins Godself with the sinner and becomes one with him or her. And preaching is the precondition. To which Jenson then comments about preaching.
Theosis means that preaching: ...effects the "happy exchange."...brings Christ as grace/favor and gift. ...mediates God's indwelling in the believer. an instrument for divinization of the believer. ...transforms human agency. birth to new hearts within us. ...mediates union with God/Christ. ...donates Christ to us. the "real presence" of Christ "for us." ...fills us with God. ...creates our participation in God. (p.434-435)

It sounds like too grand of a task for any is! That is why we always call on the Holy Spirit to speak for us. That means that the congregation must speak up when this fullness of God is not being preached. We cannot be silent about the task of preaching...and it is a community task as much as it is the task of the preacher. And yet, know this. The one who indwells will be the one who brings this Word of God even when we fail and fall short.

Connection: Listen and listen again and begin to speak up with the Word that brings life where there is no life.

Lord, by your Word, transform us and lead us within your promised land this day. Amen

3 November 2005

Here is how Richard Jenson looks at how we will deal with divine and human agency in preaching if we seriously consider the indwelling of Christ among us.

In such preaching divine agency (that one is justified) doesn't need much emphasis. That's taken for granted. That's objective. That is finished by Christ. That is outside of me. The preacher can take care of justification (or whatever metaphor for the divine deed of God in Jesus Christ we might summon) with just a few sentences.
Theologically what is happening here is that the Christ who is for us is separated from the Christ who is in us. Christ is outside. We are inside. We are the human agents. That's where the problem lies... Preaching shaped by this theological conviction seeks to convince congregants that they must act in response to divine agency. They must summon the faith to believe... They must repent and put their lives right... (Currents, p.433-434)

Where we find ourselves in this scenario is stuck in a rut. What is it that we must can we become better...will we ever be good enough...faithful enough??? It is my hope that what the doctrine of theosis (indwelling of God) brings to preaching and to our hearts that long for new life are not the same games of "getting it right" in order to be the followers of Jesus. Rather it is a sense of peace that prayerfully pulls us into a new life because the Christ in us and abiding with us is actively, like the breath of the Spirit, transforming our lives. In this sense, being a human agent is not something done merely from our own powers and abilities. It is, from the Christ who is in us. Therefore, the power for new life has no ending point or place of completion. We are always coming into a fresh being for our whole being is in Christ.

Connection: Maybe the question for day will not be "What would Jesus do?" as though we are asking a question about another time and place. But now we can ask it as though there is a sense of liveliness to the question. What is Jesus about to do with us and among us? For now, we are drawn - pulled - held - within a new reality that is fresh for our living.

Come, Lord, Jesus, be our guest and let this life that is ours be blessed by your ever-present Spirit of new life. Amen.

2 November 2005

From Richard Jenson in "Currents in Theology and Mission"

Yesterday I quoted Jenson about a problem in preaching that could be created from a division between divine agency and human agency that could lead to false preaching. Today let me step back and look at those two terms within the the Finnish Interpretation of Luther. Jenson writes:
Simo Puera (writes) "According to the Formula of Concord the doctrine of justification includes only God's favor, that is imputed righteousness...This means that God is not really present in a Christian when declaring him or her righteous through faith for Christ's sake." This forensic (legal) understanding of justification gives justification a thoroughly objective ground. The problem that Puera sees, however is that justification become something external to the Christian. Divine agency is separated from human agency. The divine agent has asserted that one is justified. The human agent is then called upon for a response. This is quite different from a view of theosis wherein the divine agent divinizes, transforms, the human agent!

I find that as we see ourselves as steward of the Reign of God we do indeed need to act by the power of the gift that is given to us. We have been and will always be justified by God's grace through faith. Done deal! At this point it is so easy to jump into the boat that says, "So now what are you going to do to show that you are justified!?!" Do we pull up our boat strings and get to work? Do we begin to keep score to see how well we are doing? In this new way of looking at Luther's writings, there is more than what do we do as humans. It is what do we do as humans in whom God dwells and brings about transformation. The tough word for many folks might be the last line in the quote above: "the divine agent divinizes...the human agent." And yet, if we are willing to call ourselves the saints of God is it so difficult to also say that our God who is our hope will be the source of our new life, our purity, our Christ-like work in the world?

Connection: Knowing you are "saved by grace through faith" now what. Knowing that this action is also an indwelling of God with us always, what might that mean for how the day falls in place for you? What's the difference!?!

When you come to make us your beloved community, O Lord of Life, you do not leave us. Your breath become our breath and the hope that shapes all things becomes our hope. We give you thanks for making us a home within your gracious Reign and bidding us to walk within your gift of new life. Amen.

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

1 November 2005

In the past month I focused on material by Tuomo Mannerma and his use of the doctrine of theosis or the "indwelling" of Christ in the community and one another. Today, Richard Jensen brings this discussion into the arena of preaching.

First, he draws out this quote from Mannerma:
(Luther) claims that if the person of Christ and that of the believer are separated from each other in the locus of justification, salvation is still within the framework of the order of the law... When it comes to justification, therefore, if you divide Christ's person from your own, you are in the Law; you remain in it and live in yourself, which means that you are dead in the sight of God and damned by the law.
Jenson then comments:
I am particularly struck by Luther's words "if you divide Christ's person from your own, you are in the Law!" Marking a division between divine agency and human agency leads to a false preaching of the Law. (Theosis & Preaching in Currents, vol. 31.6, p.433)

If we would follow this doctrine of theosis (the indwelling of Christ) there is not merely something done to us in the name of Christ. Rather, the Christ of God is a part of us - an indwelling that not only justifies but brings about the life of the Christ among us. In the discipline of preaching, this would demand that we would speak as though the life that we enter as followers of Jesus would be a life that is a part of Christ being with us. There is no outside action on our behalf and then we are left to go on from there an be a follower of Jesus. I understand it to mean that as I preach, I am to speak of the Christ whose faith becomes my faith and whose life become my life and the life of the congregation because of the power for life that is present as Christ comes among us. Personally, it adds a new dimension to the response in the Eucharistic liturgy, Amen. Come! Lord Jesus! The coming is one that is the life of us. That puts the idea of real presence in the meal in a very new and powerful way.

Connection: When we live within this day as though our Lord is present not merely by what has been done for us for all time but also in the sense of an indwelling for life how is our day shaped?

Your coming among us, O God, is rich with grace and love. Make that richness be a part of what we carry with us as we then move among our neighbors. Mold us by your grace into the presence of your beloved, Jesus, even as we walk through this day. Amen.