Tuesday, January 31, 2006
In order read the Bible honestly, we have to avoid entrenching ourselves behind official positions, whether religious or cultural, whether for or against the Bible itself. The book is surrounded by every possible kind of myth and superstition, whether religious or anti-religious, theistic or atheistic, scientific or anti-scientific. The modern reader is plunged into a field of conscious and unconscious tensions even before (he) opens the book. (He) has to take this into account, too, and try to live with it. It is nothing new, and it is not even peculiar to modern (man). It was known even in the so-called ages of faith when the Bible was set up, not against Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche, but against Homer, Virgil and Sophocles.
Again within the past day I have been especially aware of the different eyes we bring to scripture. Those eyes are blinded by many things. Issues of the day that we use to define right and wrong throw a veil over the Word...political ambitions distort what the Word may be offering us...fears and anxieties within our cultural setting can send the Word into another world of thought and action, and the Word of God that is there...always there...to make for new life and to bring a vision of the Reign of God within our sight can be overshadowed. This does not mean that we should not study the Bible. It does not even mean that we should not take advantage of biblical scholarship that helps us to unpack what is presented to us. Rather, we may need to be more involved in the more difficult task - checking our cultural, religious, psychological, and political baggage at the doorway of the Book so that we can hear its prophetic and life changing message that is not controlled or motivated by the gods that we usually let have a bit of influence on us. Lately, I have enjoyed playing with a text in the Bible. By that I try to imagine what is not there in the text...what might be the next part of the story...what took place prior to the story at hand...and then...what in the world is this story going to tell me about being a follower of Jesus - one who is transformed by God in the flesh for all people...and the whole creation. I'm not very good at this exercise.
Connection: Pray that the profound simplicity of the Good News of the Reign of God will bring light into our lives...not as we would direct it to shine...but as it shines in each and every generation. And then...we need to talk about that with one another.
Come, Lord, Jesus, be our guest...be our way...be our light...be our starting point...be our ending...be our renewal...be our transformation...be the Christ of God who brings peace to all by being the embodiment of Gracious Love. Amen.
Monday, January 30, 2006
Perhaps many modern readers of the Bible will never get around to the classic questions and challenges of faith. Before one can seriously ask about theological belief, one may have to struggle with a more human question: "Must I believe that this is a good book? Must I believe that this is great literature? Must I claim that this book interests me more than my favorite magazine? Can I honestly affirm that I get more spontaneously involved in the Bible than I do in TV commercials?" Once again, this may be made more difficult by the superstition that the Bible has nothing to do with ordinary life and that it is enshired in a special, sacred sphere, that in reading it one is somehow lifted out of time and space and transported to "eternity."
During my third read through of these comments, I was transported back to my youth. My father was given a Bible in a wooden case. I don't remember if it was after my grandfather died. Anyway, I went into my parents room. I knew right where the bible was. I had just watched a Walt Disney show that told the story of Johnny Appleseed. I noticed he carried a Bible with him. I had never read the Bible. I was Roman Catholic and in those years, the only religious reading that we were exposed to was the catechism. I opened the book and tried to read it. It was bad. I wasn't the best reader...but this was nonsense. I don't remember what part of the book I was trying to read. What I remember is that my dad came home and found me sitting on the bed reading that book. For a man who didn't go to church and a "macho" kind of guy, he simply asked me what I was doing and I showed him...end of conversation...end of my interest in that "book." I still do not "long" to pick it up. I find it to be work. I find it to be revealing. I find it to be something that can cut me to the heart and raise my eyes to a new way of looking at life. I must admit...I like TV commercials - some of them. I also must admit that the Bible does help me get a glimpse of eternity. Not something far off, but the eternity that is already all around us and is the place and time in which the Reign of God does open up the day to new possibilities. I also like a good novel...and most time more than a read in the Bible.
Connection: The Bible helps to take us into this day. This day is also a part of eternity. Unfortunately, it takes quite a bit of work to hear what the book brings to us. This may take time and commitment and...patience.
Come, Lord God, and grant us the ability to hear your word of promise and to have that be the word that brings us real courage, love, and mercy into the eternity of our lives that has already started to unfold. Amen.
Sunday, January 29, 2006
...quite apart from the question of theological faith, modern (man) may find himself wondering, in all honesty, whether the Bible is even readable. So much of it is archaic. So much is seemingly exotic, utterly alien to life as we know it now. True, our own civilization is still full of resonances from Judeo-Christian culture, therefore from the Bible. True, that in "searching the Scriptures" we may find, if not Christ as a living reality , at least some echoes of familiar ideas. But should we read the Bible merely for the comfort of discovering the source of a few religious cliches?
I must admit that there are far too many people - even preachers - who simply look to scripture for religious cliches. Something that can be thrown out as though the phrases or sentences quoted are meant to solve the problem of the day simply by saying it...or saying it enough. Reading the Bible looking for just such a catalog of quotes is abusive to the book and to the people at whom people will throw those quotes. We have all been witnesses to proof-text fights that seem to only leave the Bible weaker than either of the sides trying to prove their point or trying to defend themselves. The Bible brings us so much more than a good quote now and then. It brings us a life. When Merton says that the life the Bible brings is alien to life as we know it. He is not using that word to describe a people who deliberately live contrary to the powers and values of a self-consuming world. Jesus for example lived in the world context of his day but in many ways he lived as an alien...as someone participating in the life around him but making choices and acting quite differently than the prevailing winds of the day. Merton is using the word alien as in strange or out of touch with the life around us. Unfortunately, if we are not able to be critical thinkers when we approach the Bible often we will be left with the decision that none of it makes sense, or we will attempt to bring the life of the Bible into the life of today. That is a tragic task.
Connection: Don't be afraid to read the Bible and to read it as 21st century people. This will not mean that we have to throw out most stories. Rather, it means we have to translate them so that we will expose ourselves to the breath of the Spirit that grabs hold of our stories through the telling of old, old stories.
Be our guide, O God, as we attempt to pull from the Bible the life that is promised so that this life will be opened up before as we step into your future. Amen.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
In saying that we must expect to be outraged by the Bible, I am not trying to maintain that we must let it insult our intelligence. The Bible may be difficult and confusing, but it is meant to challenge our intelligence, not insult it. It becomes insulting when it is distorted by fanaticism and by foolish religiosity; but we must not blame the Bible for the distortions imposed on it by others.
It is unfortunate that so many voices in the religious circles are so afraid of life and the movement of time and the wonders brought into our lives in a modern world that they can only see the need to become dumb. By dumb I mean that folks turn to a fanaticism that doesn't let the liberating word of the Bible continue to liberate us as the years unfold. Instead, we are to stay in another world. This is not the world of the Reign of God...that is already breaking in and transforming life by the power of the Holy Spirit. Rather, these voices attempt to say that nothing can exist in a new way that is not see in the Bible through their lens. Therefore, thinking and insight and new expressions of faithfulness that are caught up in the vision of the Reign of God are not accepted because they do not stick to a literalistic interpretation of the world. What is odd is that these voices are willing to see the world as round and not flat (that is they disagree with the Book they idolize) but they are not willing to see how God could act in the unfolding of life through evolution. Sometimes, we lock ourselves into our own limited version of the Biblical stories and then we attempt to put up a defensiveness that calls people to "lock and load" if others do not go along with our way of twisting the Bible into a story that is most comfortable for us.
Connection: Next time you hear someone throw out a comment about the what the Bible says, let yourself be comfortable with saying "it does?" or "that doesn't sound like that to me" or simply feel free to say "baloney." Baloney is only offensive to those who must have their view maintained as the only view. That...is really a good sign of baloney at its best.
When you challenge us through your Word, O God, we often spin around not sure where we will come down. Save us from ourselves whenever we attempt to control where your Word is taking us. Help us to fear not. Amen.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
This divisive and destructive pattern of life and thought is not the Bible message at all. The message of the Bible is precisely a message of unity and reconciliation, an all-embracing and positive revelation from which nothing real is excluded and in which all receives it full due and its ultimate meaning. One-sided distortions of the Bible have made it seem partial, and have restricted it to narrow, exclusive areas of "the sacred" and "the devout," as if to understand God's message one had to shut out God's world and (man) and history and time. As if faith meant the formal acceptance of the irrational and the absurd. As if one had to live by reason and common sense while at the same time repudiating and ridiculing them.
Merton does such a good job bringing this image of the use of scripture to light. Just as the incarnation was meant to draw us into a story in which there is no split within our existence that makes a person have to act or try to act as though s/he is a part of two world - and preferably the one. Rather, the Reign of God participates within what would be considered mundane and ordinary and also incorporates all that is not seen. That sounds like a line from the first article of the Nicene Creed that talks about God the Father..."maker of heaven and earth, of all seen and unseen." To be faithful doesn't mean we turn our noses away from a whole part of our existence. Everything within our lives is included in the adventure we enter as we are God's children. Did you notice that in the stories of scripture, we happen to be reading through Mark's gospel right now in worship, Jesus stays away from nowhere and nobody. The Son of God in the mix of it all and for that he catches it from those who expect that there are two realities and we are only allowed to exist in one. And yet, in those stories, we see the image of God revealed to the world in ways that are within our frame of reference - real life without exception.
Connection: Don't let yourself be put off and at a distance from the stories within the Bible. Rather, bring them close...so close that you are able to see how God dances in the world in which we live so that we can really live here in a bold new way.
Gracious God, Martin Luther reminds us of a journey and a life you entered for us. We sing at Christmas "from heaven above to earth I come" as a reminder of how this story of the Christ child is the story of life around us and with us and for us. Inspire us to see your glory shine all around us and within our lives. Amen.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
From the very start...we must clarify the meaning of the Bible's basic claim to the "the word of God." We must understand that this claim does not mean that the Bible is an entirely unworldly book, a message from eternity, a contemptuous dismissal of the world in a promulgation issued from "out there" beyond the confines of time and space. The Bible is not a denial of the world, a rejection of (man), a negation of time and history and a condemnation of all that has been done by man in his world and in history. Nor is the Bible something that is meant to be superimposed upon the world, (man) and history from outside, an added revelation of a hidden extra meaning, something entirely beyond (man's) everyday concerns and (his) ordinary existence, something that has to be accepted even though superfluous, and given preference over the ordinary familiar reality which seems to us more relevant.
What a wonderful way to look at the Bible. At the same time, there are many who would read this and think it was terrible - even blasphemous. The real blasphemy is to deny the earthiness of the Word made flesh and the way God participates in the life of ordinary people...not to make them something other than the people they are...but to make them extra-ordinary...to make us the creatures we are. One of the great misfortunes of literalism today is that people have become afraid and disenchanted with the ordinary...the common...the broken that is embraced by God. Therefore, people try to make the "story" into something that will somehow take us out of the ordinary or make the ordinary dirty and "unholy." Why would it be then that the God of the Bible becomes nothing more than ordinary...human...even someone that the state would find fitting for execution. The more I listen to preachers who try to turn our eyes from the glorious revelation of God in the ordinary and the mundane, the more I wonder about how much fear religious people place in the hearts of people. It is as though who we are is wrong...what we do is wrong...how we go about being is wrong...unless we abandon all that is exactly what we are...our humanity. God is "with us" not separate from us. God enters into all that makes up the world as we live in it. This takes place not to pull us from our lives...but rather, to give us a fullness of life within the reality that is our humanity and to carry us beyond all the limits and powers of the day. In the meantime, blessed are we.
Connection: So what will the God who comes in the flesh be doing to shape you today. What can we bring with us into all the dynamics of life today that will help us to give praise to God within the glorious ordinary of our lives?
Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest within this day that we will begin to see how holy are all the moments of our lives because you have made us to be here and now as your beloved children. Amen.
Monday, January 23, 2006
The Bible is without question one of the most unsatisfying books ever written - at least until the reader has come to terms with it in a very special way. But it is a difficult book to come to terms with... We approach the Bible cautiously, taking into account the claims that are made for it by others. And the claims cannot be ignored. But they are the claims of others, who tell us what we ourselves need before we have a chance to determine our own needs and formulate our own questions. And they tell us what the Bible demands of us before the Bible itself has a chance to make known its own claims.
There are so many layers of expectations and interpretations laid on any of the texts we would read in the Bible that too often it may be quite difficult to hear how the word is addressing us. This does not mean that there should not be good biblical scholarship used to help us read the text. Rather we need to be watchful of the "claims" that are put on the texts. Those claims can leave people imprisoned and lifeless. Those claims can lock people into the despair of their brokenness rather than lift them into the gracious domain of our God. The grace of God is not always what people want to hear. Many times, we want to hear of the God we know and mold and hold and are able to control. But with that need of ours, we are bound to read the Bible and come away not hearing its word or wanting to hear of its alternative life that is not the life we have been living. The Bible bring questions into our lives. That, is hard to handle if we are people looking for answers...any answers...but answers. It is no wonder God comes in that still small voice...a voice that cannot be heard when the world and its many voices are trying to direct what the word of God is to be. The still small voice - usually will knock us off our feet. Just like Saul on the way to Damascus.
Connection: When you have been told what the word must be, listen again. Do not be held hostage by the claims put on the word of God. Rather be inspired by the word that tickles us and sometimes shock us with its unbounded love and grace.
When the wind blows, O God, let that wind be the Spirit of life that takes hold of us and begins to create something new right in the middle of the ways we think the world should be going. In that wind, you have brought to so many people new life and wisdom and encouragement and hope. Let that wind bring such gifts to us now. Amen.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
"What kind of book is this?" Such a question cannot be answered without taking into account the very peculiar claims that have been made for the Bible by Christians, Jewish and even Muslim believers: claims which, to many modern (men), are outrageous. Claims that this book is unlike any other, and the (man's) very destiny depends on it.
We cannot understand anything about the Bible unless we face the fact that these claims are made seriously, and that the outrage taken at them is also fully serious. Neither can be discounted. It is of the very nature of the Bible to affront, perplex and astonish the human mind. Hence the reader who opens the Bible must be prepared for disorientation, confusion, incomprehension, perhaps outrage.
The book we say we turn to so much for comfort must be the book that also tears us a part. It tears us apart because whenever we read it, we are being confronted with ourselves. That is not always the best thing to see clearly as we can be a self-indulgent people who live under the guise of being a wonderful and loving people. Within our adventures into the reading of scripture, we also begin to meet up with our God and the life into which we are invited to make our own. Then again, the Bible brings us that story over and over again from the Jewish scriptures through the Christian scriptures. And yet, no matter who brings the invitation to come and follow, this history of those who are found in the stories and the ones who read them is the same...we always have a better way - or so we think. At a retreat this weekend, one of the participants talked about being a people who understand that our hearts will be broken as we take part in the community of saints. They will be broken because we will continue to see the vision of the Reign of God and we will be invited to face up to what has been winning our hearts. It is then that our hearts may be broken. What we will must break so that the will of our God will be our home and our life. Then again, our hearts keep breaking because we so quickly and in many and various ways turn again from the life of the vision of God's Reign. Broken hearts are good...as is confusion at times or disorientation or, as Merton suggests, outrage.
Connection: Might I offer the most obvious connection. Stay connected to this book that holds promises and offers heart breaking adventures through which we all must travel again and again as we are handed the gifts of God's Reign.
Come O Light that shines as a beacon that opens up our path and a light that brings sight into the ordinary movements of our Day. Come and help us to see the gift of your blessed Reign and the ways your Word presents each day to us as a gift. Amen.
Friday, January 20, 2006
Babylon has been the great enemy and threat. But two generations later, in the time of 2 Isaiah, the imperial threat had become the great seduction. Babylon had become home. Jeremiah had urged that it had happened. These Jewish families...had entered into the public life of Babylon, with some economic successes, no doubt with educational and cultural attachments. Jewish rootage and identity were still significant. There was still a general liturgical longing for Jerusalem. But such a general liturgical longing is not easily translated into the concrete act of going back home from the relative security of a well-defined Babylonian situation to the shabby, chancy Judean situation.
The political and cultural realities of the day can become quite seductive. Even people who have well defined boundaries that are meant to lead them into a life that is focused around a contrary community will find themselves taking on the appearance and the attitudes of the life of the land. That is not all bad. In fact, one way that we respect those around us and their worth is that we learn to live with them. We do not separate ourselves as though we want to avoid any "contamination" from their kind. Rather, it is good for us to enter into the culture and the society and be a good part of the context. On the other hand, that does not mean that we become like that which is all around us and let go of our foundation...our rock. Too quickly and too easily, we can find ourselves lost in love with that which is all around us and no other story but that of the powers around us begins to win our hearts and our lives. The Jewish community in Babylon had to work at keeping itself grounded to the story of the faithfulness of their God even as they participated in the life within Babylon. Such a grounding was needed in order to hear and understand the voice of the prophet who would call them home.
Connection: Look around and we will see that there is much about the powers of the day that have become a part of our lives. We need not become partners with such power. We need not attempt to become one of the powers. Rather, we are called to be faithful to our God who promises to raise up a people in any place and in any time. Why try to be a part of the powers that continually try to seize the day when we are handed the day by our God who bids us to come home.
Liberating Lord, we are so easily persuaded to turn from you and find our place among the powers of the day. As we become good citizens of this world remind us also of the home you have given us and the life that we share no matter where we live and who might be our neighbors. Teach us again to be like the loving presence you are for us in all times. Amen.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
After the first deportation of 598 (when the Jews were taken from Jerusalem to Babylon), Jeremiah and Ezekiel had developed a second theme. Not only is Babylon the agent of God's destruction. Babylon is also to be the habitat for faithful Israel. ...which announces that the community of Jewish exiles in Babylon who obviously were the displaced ones are in fact God's special people who are the wave of the future for Judaism. The displaced ones are to become the faithful ones and finally the blessed ones.
The empire would not prevail. Even exile would not be able to have the final word for these displaced people. I don't think Christianity in the U.S. knows what this means. Faithfulness like that of the exiles did not depend on being people of special privileges. In fact, whatever the empire wanted to do they did. The faithful in Babylon also learned that they too would have to do whatever it was they needed to do to be God's people in a strange land. Odd today that some Christians want to turn our country into a Christian nation of sorts. And if not that, at least let the Christians have a place of prestige in order to shape the country in the way they would have it be. Today, I hear a lot of wailing and crying and complaining about how Christians are an oppressed people in the U.S. I would suggest that this kind of talk demonstrates that many Christians have become people of the empire and the privileges therein. We don't even know what persecution is and therefore we make up petty pieces of persecution in order to be handed more power within the power of the empire. Isn't it odd how so called people of faith, look to the empire to provide them with their sense of status. As an alien people....as displaced people within the world of empires, we find our status in our baptism. That baptism does not seek our privilege among any powers. Rather, our baptism makes us servants of all even if we must turn or servant love toward those who are the enemy or the oppressor. Babylonian captivity was the time when the faithful Jews learned to be faithful Jews, not a powerful element of the Babylonian empire.
Connection: The next time you hear people complain about how Christians are persecuted in this country, take a look at who is speaking. I have yet to see in their faces or their bodies or their well groom clothing any signs of persecution.
Make us a faithful people, O God. Feed us with your love so that we will not turn to the powers of the day to find our nourishment for life. In all things, we turn to you for life. Amen.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Second Isaiah lives at the other side of the exile, as the signs accumulate that there will be a homecoming. The anguish of Jeremiah and the heaviness of Ezekiel have been established as reality and do not need to be reiterated or doubted. This is a new generation. A new word needs to be spoken to it, yet that new word does not nullify or retract anything that came before.
First I must say excuse me for not having a devotion published yesterday - life circumstances sometimes take away the energy we have for what are the patterns and movements of the day.
Our God who liberates finds a way to speak to the people who will be liberated. The people of God had been defeated and rejected and taken away to live in a foreign land. This was like being stripped of everything and having to find a new way to live...a new way to identify one's self...a new point of reference from which a new generation could be raised with a sense of purpose and meaning. In chapter 54 of Isaiah, the exiled people are addressed as a people who are barren. This is a people who stand at the edge of a new adventure and yet they carry with them the past that has placed them far from their homeland. The past cannot be simply eliminated. We must remember it and find ourselves within it even as we hear about new possibilities for what is to come. Looking back and remembering the whole of our lives - the whole adventure of the community - helps us to hear the voice of God who is for us through even the times that have been completely against us. The voice of Second Isaiah must be able to pull the people through what has been and set a vision out in front of them so that they will be able to be shaped by the promise of what is to be even as they remember what has brought them into exile.
Connection: Our stories are complex and yet we must be willing to embrace each part of the story so that we never see ourselves above or beyond the many adventures that have brought us thus far in our lives. Knowing who we are helps us become who we are being invited to be by our God.
Lord we pray that we can hear your word as it comes to us to shape us in various ways throughout our lives. Your word of love for us is constant and yet it changes as we move through time paying attention to the world and its ways rather than hearing your voice of love and compassion. Give us the ears to hear your word and to be fed by it all the days of our lives.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
...Yahweh is a God who speaks, whose word is effective and whose decree is carried out in the world. In Isaiah 55:10-11, the speech of Yahweh is not futile. Yahweh does what Yahweh says. Yahweh must therefore be taken more seriously than the Babylonian gods. What Yahweh speaks is the fall of Babylon and the corresponding liberation of Israel. The same word that frees Israel is the word that creates worlds.
"Yahweh says." What a powerful way to describe who our God is and how our God functions. Just as in the story of the creation, a word uttered by God is enough to make a reality take shape. Bit by bit and word by word...creation's order is established and our God is the one who brings all things into being out of nothing at all. It is important to hear that it is not the people of God who bring things into being by their "saying." Some religious leaders think that. Some try to take the place of God or the prophets of God who are given the word of God to say to all who will hear. Most often, we hear nothing more that self-indulgent words that are bias and full of an agenda that has lost the power of the God of Grace and Peace who delivers all who are oppressed. To often those who say they speak for God - and therefore have many people waiting to hear their every word - rarely have the vision of the Reign of God in mind. Too often it is their own reign they are attempting to build or increase. A word that really free God's people is a word that set us off into a domain we have yet to experience because we tend to be a people who simply try to preserve who we are and what we have right now. Yahweh calls forth justice and peace and it will be. We are called into that reality...a reality that does not exist just yet...but remember, Yahweh speaks.
Connection: We must step into that word that creates the Reign of God even as the power that be continue to play their games of politics and religion. When we are confused by what might be the way, a good place to start is with what John's gospel puts on the lips of Jesus, "I am the way, the truth, and the life."
Lord God, speak to us with the words of your blessed Reign so that we will begin to look beyond our own vision and live beyond our own self interests. You are the one who calls all your people into the unfolding glory of your promises in which we can live in truthfulness and peace no matter what might be the sounds of things around us. Amen.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
The word of the word is utilized negatively concerning false gods who can speak no word. The lawsuit form of Isaiah 41:22-23 taunts the other gods. They are challenged to speak: "tell us...tell us...declare...tell us." But there is a long silence in heaven, because the other gods are mute and dumb. Speech is power. To have power, a god must speak. Such speech must be a serious decree that causes something to happen. But Babylonian gods are silent, have no word to speak, because they can cause nothing.
If you are a person of faith - a person who trusts in the promises of our God and the word of our God for new life - are you bothered by the nonsense over the teaching of "intelligent design" in the science classes of our schools? Ohio has affirmed, again, their position to teach this "stuff" as part of the science curriculum in our schools. As people of faith, we have to remember that even when their are religious sounding words and claims being made (such as the creationists) it doesn't mean that we are hearing the "word" from them. Rather, I think we are in a time when some "religious" folks are afraid of the culture...afraid of the gifts God has given to humanity...afraid of a mind set that is not stuck with ancient images and ancient world views...afraid of trusting God and wanting instead some kind of fantasy or magic to rule us. I think ancient images and ancient world views are powerful even as we move into the day at hand. But...we must be able and willing to translate those words into the words that bring the presence of God into our lives as a God who moves through time and keeps on making things new. The creationists of today are like the Babylonians of the days of Exile. They worship the gods of their anxieties and fears. In the past, one would make a sacrifice in the belief that a piece of wood carved into a certain shape and adorned with gold would be able to make a couple fertile. No wood with gold can do that! We do not bow down to such false gods as the ones that seem to be needed by the "creationists." They can speak no good news to us. They can speak no good news because those who must have the story told in just one way forever...must spend all their time propping up their god rather than being sustained by the one and only God. Creationist are grand advocates of a god they must sustain for fear that their god and the story of their god will not survive. On the other hand, People of Faith in the Creator of all things know from the very depth of our hearts that our God will prevail in all times. Even as we use the fullness of our imaginations to let God speak life to us in every time and place.
Connection: We never have to prop up our God. So do not worry and live today as though you are firmly standing of the Rock of Life that is always ready to surprise us with new life.
Come, O Timeless One, so that we may once again hear your word of life that cannot be owned by any people...a word that is not based in fear but rather the glory of your promises. Amen.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Scholars have long noted that the poetry of 2 Isaiah is bounded by "the word." At the beginning in 40:8:
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand for ever.
The grass presumably refers to the pretensions of the Babylonian empire. That empire, contrary to appearances, is incredibly transitory and not to be feared or respected. The purpose of God will outlast the empire and all of its posturing. At the conclusion of the corpus, the poet returns to the theme:
So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth.
It shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I propose.
The promise of God over the historical process cannot be defeated.
We must remember that in the present - in the middle of the dangers and threats and confusion of the day - it is not so easy to hear about how the promise of God cannot be defeated. In fact, for the most part, we will not listen to it and take it to heart. Instead, it is much easier to go along with whatever is the prevailing wind of the day. That is precisely why 'the word' must be repeated and the vision within the promise announced again and again. It must not merely be spoken. It must be announced as though it is indeed the truth that cannot be defeated. What a powerful thing to hear when we are in the darkest of days: '...it (God's word) shall accomplish that which I (God) proposes." The poet is the one who will not let us forget that. The poet is the one in the community who is not completely overwhelmed by the powers that attempt to rule us and take our lives from us. The poet knows the reality of such a place in life...but the poet, having been beaten down and discarded, is inspired to write and speak again the promises of our God.
Connection: Poets do not need to be the folk who write poetry. Few of us are gifted like that. Rather, we all run into people who see and speak like poets who are able to unravel the lies and assertions of the day and then...make eternal sense of your promises within the ordinary times of our lives. Lend an ear today and try to notice when you are hearing that voice of that which will 'stand forever.'
Come, Lord, Jesus, be our guest and let this day be filled brim full with the promises of new life and inspire us to make those promises our lives. Amen.
Monday, January 9, 2006
The God who is the subject of the word is also the subject of transformative action in the experience of Israel. The tradition of Isaiah in its early rootage had insisted that Yahweh's decree is more powerful than alien empires. That word is rooted in God's primal intention, but it comes to fruition in concrete historical experience. As Yahweh had created the world by decree, so the history of the Near East and the life of Israel begins again by that same speech.
Sometimes I wonder if all this talk about the power of the word is really an exposition on propaganda or public relations...like political spin. That kind of thinking has to do with the fact that we see the impact of all the words of advertising and the comments about comments about other comments that it is easy to become suspicious of more words. I immediately counter my own thinking at that point by looking at the substance that is contained in the 'word.' The word from God that breaks nothing out into something was meant to create life...abundant life...diversity in life...life out of love for what is created. The world created by that kind of word from God is not the same as the way the word is used in the world to cheapen the lives of people either by treating them as objects who consume or objects that are consumed. The word of God is meant to pierce through the power of alien empires that attempt to sell us the goods of their making. Like the word that came from Isaiah, the word of God exposes the word of the empire as false...hollow...temporary...made by humans and thus no greater than the artisans that whip them up. It is very real to be silent in the face of the many words of the empire. They can sound so official and so "put together" that no other word seems to be a match. And yet, we like the Jews in exile are called out to listen again to the word that makes life begin as it has yet to be lived.
Connection: Listen to the voices around us and let us all try to discern what is a word that shines out into the future. Then let's listen for the sound of justice and mercy and loving kindness and that hope that pulls us beyond all hopefulness. It is as we are able to discern this kind of agenda within the words all around us that we will be able to make choices that lead to the new life God's word continues to lift up for us.
Come, O God, and whip us up so that we will not settle for the weakness that is so often dressed up to look like the power in our world. We pray that your word will deliver us into a new conversation for life. Amen.
Second Isaiah has remarkable things to say to his contemporaries that have no point of reference in domesticated reality. What he says is not derived from his Babylonian experiences. His poetry is indeed about the powerful overriding word of God which will finally have its say in history. This theology of the word refers to a sense that there is an indefatigable agency at work in the historical process that takes its own free course and has its decisive say without conforming to the power and processes of the day.
I don't hear the word "indefatigable" very often. That could be because very few people have that quality so it has no use. We all let down...rest....waste a day...turn into bed early...stay in bed a bit later in the morning. But this word is available - always. It is not simply something that is said. The word is what makes something come into being even when there is no evidence showing that the word can bring about what it has laid out for us. From what we can hear from second Isaiah, the word does not need to be accepted by anyone before its truthfulness and creative power begins to act. It will bring us along...even all those who doubt and refuse to listen. This is one of the reasons I like the expression "make all things new." The word of our God does not settle for making a few people and a few parts of creation new. We are told that ALL things are to be made new. I cannot grasp that...but I do know that it means there is more that can and does come into this day than what I am taking time to hear. From the word comes the ability to imagine and from that word inspired imagination, we begin to catch a glimpse of how God intends to move a faithful people.
Connection: In some ways I think that one of the things we can do in the face of this "indefatigable" word is to listen. The promise of God's word is that this word will produce new life. Therefore, it makes sense to listen...and then again. I cannot tell you what you will hear...so listen.
Come, Almighty and Gracious Word, bring us into a place we can hear of the vision of life into which you continue to call us. We have plans of our own but we need to be moved to see beyond what our day will look like in order to see the life you offer to us forevermore. Amen.
Friday, January 6, 2006
...Consider the phrase, "freedom of the pulpit." ...it means that we are agreed that what is said here is to be said out of the power and freedom and affront of the gospel, without accommodating the conventions of the day... Such speech is not imperative or exhortative or coercive. It tells no one what to do, but it redescribes the world so that Babylon, which looked so benign, is now seen as exile, so that Palestine, which was loved and lost, now looks like home, so that we who looked like docile slaves are on our way rejoicing. The central task of ministry it the formation of a community with an alternative, liberated imagination that has the courage and the freedom to act in a different vision and a different perception of reality.
The good news must that news that grabs our hearts and begins to help us to see anew. That new vision may not be complete with a strategy and it may have no specific tactics in mind...but it moves us to redefine our lives and to look with new eyes at the things of our lives we have only been able to see in one way. Brueggemann speaks so clearly about the task of ministry as the formation of a community "with an alternative liberated imagination that has the courage and the freedom to act in a different vision and a different perception of reality." We are brought into a way of seeing all things and when we see things differently, we will need the courage to do more than write about it. We will need to be give the gift of courage that will cause us to act within the vision of this "liberated imagination." We are given the stories of those who have gone before us along faithful pathways of life so that we will be inspired to walk within this "perception of reality" that begins to transform all things.
Connection: It is always good to remind ourselves that the "comfort, comfort" spoken through the mouth of Isaiah was not to provide comfort in what was. It was a comfort that comes from knowing what will be as we begin to step into the promises of our God. What is helping you to see the God's future and to begin expecting its arrival....even now?
Call us out, O God, and move us expect to hear new stories of life that pull us beyond ourselves. Then, when those stories are told, guide us as we find ways to become a part of your gracious story for life. Amen.
Wednesday, January 4, 2006
We mostly are scribes maintaining the order of the day. We mostly are appreciated by and paid by people who like it the way it is, who do not sense our exile and resist discerning it, who do not yearn for a homecoming because we have fooled ourselves into thinking this present arrangement is our home. To accommodate such social reality, our language becomes prosaic and didactic, because it helps keep the lid on things. Our language becomes descriptive, because it is better to tell what is, than to trust what will be. Our church talk becomes dull and contained as all other talk in such a flat imperial society as ours.
These words have a bite to them. They must. It is far too easy to maintain the order of the day. We need to be pushed...pinched...and somehow awakened to what is still possible once we have become quite comfortable with what is. We must remember that the promise of homecoming is always a place and time that is to come. We find our rest in its coming and yet it is not fully ours. Therefore, we become a people who are willing to keep our eyes open and our ears ready to hear the story of what is to come - a story that already shapes us and brings us a feeling of hopefulness no matter what imperial power is claiming to own us and the whole world. But when we are satisfied with where we are and expect to go no farther than the world in which we have lived or even live right now, how can we expect to be caught up with the images of poets and the promises that are made to us. In those images and promises, not only do our heads turn, our whole lives begin to turn and we need only take the first step to be a part of what was never ours previously.
Connection: Once the words bite, relax. Once the words bite, seek out someone you can trust and tell that person how it feels...how it hurts...how it may have opened your eyes. Once the words bite, it is difficult not to hear them again and again...and each time they will bite again and demand our attention. Repeat the process of feeling their sting.
Come, Lord of New Life, and turn our heads. Turn our heads even if it means the turn may set us spinning. Spin us by the power of your Spirit for we have been assured that when the spinning stops, we will see all things with new eyes. Amen.
Out of the daring poetry of liberated black imagination, social reality began to crack open and homecoming became possible. The social reality that seemed to be eternally ordained now appeared to be only a doubtful social contrivance.
+ The poetry of 2 Isaiah dreams of homecoming and begins to nullify Babylonian definitions of reality.
+ The parables of Jesus initiate dreams of homecoming and begin to subvert the oppressive social institutions and presuppositions of his day.
+ The oracles of Martin Luther King, Jr., dance about Stone Mountain and begin to cause trembling in the racist structures of the day.
It seems as though poetry that liberates and moves people from the present satisfaction of the day to new life must be a daring word. It dares to speak differently about the everyday acts and language that is used to keep the present powers and structures in place without question. Poetry questions what is - by speaking of a reality that is not a part of the dominant social or political arena. In a very simple way, think of the song writers who are able to pierce the veil of how the world moves along its way by drawing into question the most basic elements of human relations. I remember hearing union songs. They would speak of courage in the face of something like a mighty river...their words would speak of being planted and being firm like a tall tree - staying put! Well, if you are someone who rarely has the courage to stay put...these words can help stir up that which is necessary to bring about a new reality within oneself and that often led to a new reality in the community.
Connection: Who do you turn to hear poetry that inspires? We can alway turn back to the great prophets. Their words are now with us forever. But what about words of the day? Are you hearing them and are they able to turn your attention to new possibilities?
We long to hear the power of your Word, O God. We long to be drawn into the vision of your Reign of Justice and Peace so that our lives may reflect the light that brings new vision to all of us. Amen.
Monday, January 2, 2006
In referring to King, Brueggemann writes:
...he had the tongue of a poet and the cadence of liberty in his speech. He was able to summon an exiled community out beyond the imperial definitions of the day which held his people in bondage. When he issued his famous poetic proposal, "I have a dream," that was just such a summons. He did not have a concrete notion of how to enact that dream, but it was a beginning point of energy. The dream functioned as an act of incredible hope, but it was also an act of heavy critique which asserted that the present social reality is not working. It was an announcement that things would not stay as they were.
The "dream" was the "beginning point of energy." Once the lives of the people can be redirected or merely turned to see another possibility for the way reality can operate, there is a wealth of gifts that are now opened up to be used for going in that new direction. Dreams and imagination work for the least among us and those who may have the greatest gifts. With each life that is pulled into the vision of the Reign of God more and more people begin to see a dream or a vision a bit more clearly because parts of it begin to take shape among us. Not all dreams are as big as the visions of second Isaiah or Martin Luther King, Jr. And yet, inspired by the Holy Spirit, even the little bits of imagination and hopefulness that help people see something beyond what is and begin to be able to be critical of what is, we are helping to life each others eyes and lives into other ways to take part in our world even if they appear a bit alien to the status quo.
Connection: There is no age limit on dreaming and there is no age limit on stepping into the actions brought forth from a dream. We each have a place - that's the beauty of the Reign of God. Within time, like today, we are given the opportunity to both dream and to act.
Sometimes we need to be shaken by your gift of new life, O God. Sometimes we settle into the way the world turns and we do not think that there can be other ways to live while all this turning is taking place. By the power of the Spirit of our Lord, Jesus, stir us in us faithful imagination that brings a critique of what is and also a hope for what can be. Amen.