Thursday, March 30, 2006

31 March, 2006

Text: Galatians 5:16-21
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolotry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before, those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

In the previous passage from Galatians, Paul told his friends not to use this "freedom" as an opportunity for self-indulgence. If you look at the laundry list of the works of the flesh, rather than try to put people you know into each category, look at them as examples of self-indulgence. Lives that exhibit a character in which "I" or "my own kind" will be the very center of all things. I tend to think that one of the other character traits of such a world will be the simple fact that if I am for me...and you are for you...we will usually find ourselves at war over this or that. Even if I am talking about simply gratifying my own desires (put the name of a desire in this space _____), I lose track of my ties to you. Instead of being a part of loving relationships, I readily turn to that which places me at the center of my existence. Trusting in me alone...trusting in my powers and abilities and resources for the sake of what they will be able to bring to me. I see no better way to create a broken world! When there are laundry lists like this it is better to look at the vision of the list rather than trying to pin point a "fleshy act" and then avoid that "act." How quickly such a list makes us yearn for the Law...for with the law, we will be able to define what is right and demand that people live "right lives" and not these fleshy lives. Unfortunately, under the law, we will continue to try to look the part and even point out the fault of others that may be greater than our own.

Connection: An exercise of the day is to simply see how often the rhetoric around us is laced with the self-centeredness that thrives on words of divisiveness and sin. What does it take to build another character for the day? Paul would say the Spirit.

Lord God of each new breath of life, within a moment's time we can find ourselves wandering around the brokenness of our own making. We need your Spirit to breathe into us the vision of your gracious reign and the lives that dance within that Reign. Amen.

30 March, 2006

Text: Galatians 5:16-21

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolotry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before, those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Very quickly, when there is a list of stuff like that which is in this text, we can easily jump in to discuss the kinds of things in life that are not a part of the life we have been invited to share as children of God in Christ, Jesus. In fact, we Christians, are often ones known in the world as people who have a preoccupation with the things we should not be doing in our lives. We have become a witness to the world of life that is "this or that" ... "black or white" ... "good or bad." Then, the word we tend to offer to the world is stay away from "that" and then you will be able to get "this." But we must see with new eyes. For Paul, living by the Spirit is a life that we cannot possibly live on our own means. It is a gift. It is the love that loves us as God loves the world and no love can separate us from that love. It is a complete break from what we do so much like the flesh. When we speak of the flesh, there is so much baggage that comes with that word that it is as though we cannot see passed it! Most often we think of sex or overdoing eating or drinking or dabbling with "stuff" - whatever "stuff" that may be. Instead, what if we spend our time "considering" the life of the Spirit? Our lead within the Spirit is Christ's love for the world - unbroken and never ending. Rather than starting off by asking what we can stop doing, how about asking how may I love and how may my loving reflect the Jesus of the scripture. Obviously, we may simply say "forget that" and move onto some acts of anger, jealousy and the rest, but then again, this Spirit may just blow into our lives the love that we hear "will not let us go" and then...and then...and then...

Connection: I obviously am on the side of the works or the life that Paul says is ruled by the flesh - or at least plays on that side of the street! Then again, we have a Spirit that will not let us stay there. In this day, we can pray, like the simple table grace: "Come Lord Jesus, be our guest..." Be our our our our loving - for we certainly find other ways to be! And maybe, just maybe, our day will be filled with a bit of newness - a taste of the feast to come.

Come, Lord, Jesus, be our guest and let this day be blessed with your presence and alive by the power of the Holy Spirit. Help us to see how you stand with us and continue to call us into your loving domain even as we pull away to live for ourselves. Be our foundation and our guide. Amen.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

29 March, 2006

Text: Galatians 5:16-21 ( for a while)
LIve by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiouseness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and thing like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before; those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

I read this section again and after I read it and said...what?!? I read it again and Yes! I buy it. In fact, I'm going to leave this for next week. During next week, I plan on dealing with this little text. Most of all, I want to share with you how much I agree with the ending portion "those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." Yes, it may take me a few days to deal with it all but I found it very important for how we view being followers of Jesus in the Reign of God ( or kingdom of God as it is noted here).

Connection: The Reign of God...the Kingdom of God. What is it that we will not inherit about it? Suggestion - the life. The life is not something for is for now. Look back over yesterday's reading and the comment from Paul about self-indulgence vs. love of neighbor. What we do here in the next days...will be for the life of the community - now.

Most precious God, what you are able to do with your people is a miracle. Your willingness to rescue us from the many ways we run off and jump into the piles of our own making and yet you never stop picking us up and abiding with us - all of us. In the moments when we know we are the most pitiful creatures - you embrace us and bring us home and remind us (without end) that we are your dearly beloved. Amen.

Monday, March 27, 2006

28 March, 2006

Text: Galatians 5:13-15

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment. "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Many who hear of the freedom that comes with the Good News immediately think that there needs to be some guidelines, rules, regulations or else....

It is understandable to think that freedom must be controlled or else...who knows what might happen. This is precisely why Paul raises the note about using this freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence." The freedom we have in Christ is freedom won for us through Christ's self-giving love of the whole world. In fact, the law as we understand it as law given to the people of Israel is also a love that nurtures self-giving and care and love of others. The freedom in which we live as followers of Jesus is a reflection of a life beloved and cherished by God. There is no need within our freedom to be self-indulgent or self-focused or though we are free to cut ourselves off from others or free to live as we choose no matter what consequences that produces for myself or the world around me.

We are free - to love - to be loved - to step into a life that is no longer an opportunity to "make it for myself" but one in which all relationships will be shaped by the command to love. Paul is attempting to teach of a communal love that seeks reconciliation (he deals with that quite a bit in Corinthians) and serves...and in the middle of all that, there is Christ in the midst of us.

Connection: It is easy to be self-indulgent! That doesn't mean we should not do things for ourselves. But when our self-indulgence removes us from others and sharing our lives with others...our world...our vision...shrink and often we can quickly be ruled by fears. Fear that we may lose what we have. Instead, it is good to practice giving life away...sharing goods...sharing love....sharing thoughts...sharing wealth....sharing time. The list can go on. Imagine a "love command community." You may be giving to others and yet, others are giving to you. A circle of love in which individuals are loved and honored...and so it the whole group.

Living Lord it is your love for us that inspires our loving and our relationships with all your saints. Give us eyes to see the loving ways that call us into life so that our days of fear and biting may be transformed into days of peace and mercy and love. Amen.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

27 March, 2006

While Pastor Al is away this week to be with his mother who is ill, we will be re-posting selected devotions for 2000.

Text: Galatians 5: 7-12

You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth? Such persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough. I am confident about you in the Lord that you will not think otherwise. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty. But my friends, why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettled you would castrate themselves!

Ouch! getting a bit emotional here. In some ways, it is quite comical. Paul is so certain about the unnecessary following of the law (he concretizes it in the form of the rite of circumcision) that he gets a bit graphic about what might just happen to those who are too preoccupied with circumcision. Oops...sorry!
Paul is more concerned about sharing with people the free gift given in Christ to all who trust God's love in Jesus. For Paul, that trust is in itself a gift from God - therefore it is a free gift...for freedom of life. Paul realizes that if he would have kept this one Jewish rite within his teaching, no one would be persecuting him. But he will not and he does not...for to add anything to the free word of God's love in Jesus would mean he would be speaking some other good news which is no good news at all (see chapter 1). I am very aware for myself that it takes only a tiny bit of reliance on the law to eventually cause me to disregard the truth of the Gospel and attempt to cling to something else. We are either people of the Good News of the Reign of God as seen in Jesus, or we are lost wandering around looking for something else we can claim to be that which will save us and make all things well. Ha.

Connection: We cannot rely on anything to make us God's people. It is a gift or it is not from the God of our Lord, Jesus. If a gift, we cannot claim it as something that is to be credited to us as though we did something to earn it. Instead, rather than playing with various ways to enter into the community of saints, we need only give thanks to our God for opening the door and bidding us to come to the table. Beware of the many little times within a day we can be hooked by something other than this radical grace that Paul is attempting to bring back into the minds and hearts of his friends in Galatia.

Carry us into this day O God of constant love and amazing grace. Let the game playing of the world around us not have the power to sway us into the games of life that do not give us the true life as only you can give. Remind us that you are the God who Adopts and welcomes and not the one who looks for reasons to cut us off. Amen.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

24 March 2006

Walter Brueggemann writes of two interpretive strategies of obedience to the command of God in "The Covenanted Self."

Believers are those who love God with their whole heart, or more colloquially for Christians, "love the Lord Jesus." Such "love" is to be understood in all its rich implications, both as agape and eros, as true heart's desire. This is imagery not often utilized in....Calvinist inheritance, beset as we are with a heavy sense of duty. But alongside duty, in any serious relationship are desire and delight, the energetic will to be with the one loved, to please the one loved, to find in the joy of the one loved one's own true joy. Thus one in love is constantly asking in the most exaggerated way, "What else can I do in order to delight the beloved." In such a context one does not count the cost, but anticipates that when the beloved is moved in joy, it will be one's own true joy as well.

Quite a beautiful way to look at a covenantal relationship. Such love we would say is visible to us on the cross. There, the intensity of God's love for us - God's loving covenant with us - is seen without concern for the cost. Therefore, we too are invited to come into this way of love and we look at the journey and contemplate the cost of discipleship...and we too can throw ourselves into a loving relationship with our God that will be a delight. This is like the loving relationship we enter in our own lives. Hearing this strong and beautiful language makes me think that it matters not who the people are who enter into such a covenant. The duty, the delight, and the desire creates a relationship that breaks the boundaries of gender. There need not be any anxiety or fear when another relationship does not look like mine. A covenant relationship of any kind needs to find within its life, these powerful aspects of a loving relationship that can only make the couple and the society and the church a better place to raise up new generations of God's people.

Connection: Find the delight in your covenant relationships...honor the desire...fulfill the duty. Then, let us talk about the beauty of a covenant with one another and with our God whose love is beyond all of our anticipations and expectations.

Lord of Love, by your love we begin to see the power of relationships that our self-giving and able to simply delight in the presence of the other. Keep us mindful of the responsibility within our relationships and the joy that grows as we enter more deeply into the love your have shown for us. Amen.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

23 March 2006

Walter Brueggemann writes of two interpretive strategies of the command of God in "The Covenanted Self."

The first is that the commands of God are the disciplines essential to the revolution that is Yahwism. Every serious revolutionary movement requires exacting disciplines of its adherents... A revolution has no chance of success unless all of its adherents are singularly committed to the vision and the project and are willing to play their assigned role with unquestioning reliability and responsiveness.
The revolution to which the biblical community is summoned is to enact in the world of social affairs a new practice of social relationships marked by justice, mercy, and peace, which touches all of life. In order to engage in such a practice, all those committed to this revolutionary vision are expected to enact the daily requirements concerning self toward God and self toward neighbor in order to "advance the revolution."

In other words, if this is who we say we are, watch how our words become our actions. It takes discipline to have our lives reflect the vision of God's Reign. Discipline is not a bad word. And yet, discipline has room for humor and the reality of how well we fall short of goals. At the same time, the discipline gives us direction and guidance and encouragement. There would be no need for a discipline if it was not something that we could put into practice. No matter where we might be, there is always a more complete expression of God's Reign waiting for us to enter. On the other hand, it is important to remember that the Reign of God is constantly breaking into our lives and bidding us to walk within its domain. We do not make it come. It comes upon us and, as I like to say, it pulls us or will woo us into its life. I suppose it is good to call it a revolution because it really does bring us into life we would not receive as we follow along the ways of the powers of this world.

Connection: The revolution is already here. Today will simply be another day in which we are invited to enter its dynamic life. The part that takes discipline is that we may not want to go where it takes us or be who it is making us.

Come, Lord God, and make us into the living presence of your glorious Reign. Let justice and mercy and peace be the building blocks of our day as we greet your coming among us. Amen.

22 March 2006

More liberating words from Walter Brueggemann in the chapter "Duty as Delight and Desire."

It is our desperate effort to reduce or "Solve" the wonder of "the Holy one in our midst" that leads to such distortions as law and grace, freedom and servitude, unconditional and conditional. No such pairing can adequately contain the inscrutability, liveliness, danger, and unsettled quality of this relationship. Israel thus knows that Torah is guidance, in order to be joyously "on the way," a way that constitutes the well-being of the relationship.

How often do you hear the idea of Torah as "guidance, in order to be joyously 'on the way'"? It happen occasionally but not enough. Too often, Torah is see as law and law becomes the opposite of grace and the end of the story. It is as though we do exactly what Brueggemann suggests - we distort...we reduce. When that takes place we miss the beauty and the liveliness that come into our lives when we look again at the way of life we are handed with something as foundational as the words of covenant at Sinai, for example. Sometimes I become discouraged when talk of the faith is so caught up in nailing things down that we begin to lose the imagination that has helped to liberate faithful people throughout time. At first, I think of fundamentalism or literalism. So much is "nailed down" that life looks is walked through not wears blinders. There can be so much fear and anxiety created within a covenantal relationship that we miss the grand and beautiful experience and freedom of the love that creates the covenant. But we need not go to the fundamentalist to experience people trying to "nail" things down to one may to live. We can look at our own Lutheran church. There can be enough anxiety produced that we do not let ourselves be dialogical with texts and with one another. We do not let ourselves be as free as Luther looking at the decalogue. One sees "thou shall not" and then the other see...thou shall...look what we are invited to be...look, live, expand. And yet, those ten words are still kept in our hearts as guidance or even steps to a dance for life as one writer put it.

Connection: Remember if we get too involved in "nailing" things down in our life...we don't go very far and we miss the great expanse of God's Reign. We nail pictures to a wall to remind us of good times, hold onto beautiful images, be amazed at talent, to make the life around us shine with color and brightness, and keep us aware of who we are. But in the meantime we are free to travel, experiment, change, and reaffirm whose we are. Remember, picture nailed to a wall can also be taken down, given away, and simply discarded. Lives nailed down can be a more difficult project to undo.

Come Lord of Life and lead us beyond what we want to see and how we think life is to be led. Lead us into the depths of the joy of your love that calls us out to be a new people, gives us a way to walk, and then invites us to dance a bit on the way. Amen.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

21 March 2006

Today we continue in "The Covenanted Self" by Walter Brueggemann.

The "Other" in this (covenantal) relationship is a real, live Other who initiates, shapes, watches over, and cares about the relation. The "Other" is both mutual with us and incommensurate with us, in a way not unlike a parent is mutual and incommensurate with a child, or a teach is mutual and incommensurate with a student. This means that the relation is endlessly open, alive, giving, and demanding and at risk. This Holy Other may on occasion act in stunning mutuality, being with and for the second party, and so draw close in mercy and compassion, in suffering and forgiveness. It is, however, this same God who may exhibit God's self in unaccommodating incommensurability with rigorous expectation and dreadfulness, when expectations are not met.

This relationship with our God is "endlessly open, alive, giving, and demanding and at risk." It has life to it. It is not a static affair that never changes. The relationship is always changing and growing and moving beyond what is into what is about to be. On the other hand, this Holy Other is always for us - with out end. Even as this is the foundation of the relationship, the relationship still is organic and moves through time as though it is able to mature, back slide, or make leaps of unimaginable distances. I wonder how many of us actually let this covenantal relationship with our God be as alive as this. Too often it seems as though the relationship is defined and there it stays. Unfortunately, I would suggest that there is left to us at this point very little of a relationship. In fact, it doesn't sound very dialogical at all. It is fixed and becomes much like a verse that is memorized but is never grasped in its fullness because we are not free to look at the meaning as the years change and people change and our way of viewing the world changes. A simple verse merely memorized does not show much dialogue or engagement. A simple verse that is alive and calls forth our comment and interaction brings is always surprising us with new possibilities for the relationship.

Connection: Relationships that stay in one place and never explore the depths of their form and meaning often become quite static and unbending. How can we honor those relationships and trust what will come as we engage each other in new ways along with the forms we already know?

From age to age, O God, you stay with us and your love remains steady and sure. And yet, along the way you expect that we will grow and our love for one another will be shaped by your love. Let your Holy Spirit inspire us to step beyond what is presently our way of seeing you and others so that we might be amazed by the life all around us. Amen.

Monday, March 20, 2006

20 March 2006

This week we continue to look at the Walter Brueggemann's chapter Duty as Delight and Desire in "The Covenanted self.

Trying to speak of obedience in a self-indulgent society can be problematic - the first problem as stated on Friday is the dichotomy of "grace and law."
The second dimension of our problem is the Enlightenment notions of unfettered freedom of "Man Come of Age." slough off any larger authority to which obedience is owed, and that with special reference to the traditional authority of the church.... This Enlightenment ideology has received its popular form in a Freudian theory of repression in which human maturation is the process of emancipation from communal authority that is extrinsic to the individual person and therefore fundamentally alien to mature humanness. Thus the human goal is movement beyond any restraints that come under the category of repression.
It turns out, of course, that such a model of unfettered freedom is an unreachable mirage. The individual person is never so contextless, and in the end the fantasy of such freedom has culminated in the most choking of conformities.

It is as though we see one group that is so wrapped up in legalism that there appears to be no freedom - or even - freedom is viewed as a part of what will cause our demise and fall into chaos. Then...on the other hand, it is as though we dropped into a permissiveness that any attempt to write in limits to our actions and call for restraint will be clobbered as being oppressive. In many ways, I wonder if both these extremes are really a popular as one side tries to paint the other. What I see most often is a selective use of law and freedom. It is usually set up to benefit whomever it is that is trying to create a living environment - such as a family or church or community. We must enter into the work of talking about obedience by bringing it into everyday life and showing how one can be obedient and free. In fact, for a community of any size to grow and mature, it must maintain a tension between these two. We must not be afraid to say "yes" and to say "no" so that we do not squash people under a perpetual "no" or let them float away with an uncontrollable "yes."

Connection: Think good parents...think good teachers...think good neighbors. In each of these cases, there will be opportunities for great freedom and use of boundaries and limits. Both of them used together really does begin to shape the character of individuals and groups.

Lord God, you hand off to your people the beauty of community. Then, you call us along a path in which we are bound together as one people whose consideration for the welfare of all causes us to deliberate about how it is that we will live together so that we each are honored and encouraged to continue to grow. Within our life together we ask that your Spirit will guide us when we find it difficult to do just that. Amen.

Friday, March 17, 2006

17 March 2006

With the opening text for this Sunday being the Exodus story of the giving of the "10 commandments," it seems appropriate to switch into Walter Brueggemann's discussion of Duty as Delight and desire: Preaching Obedience That is Not Legalism, in The Covenanted Self.

Trying to speak of obedience in a self-indulgent society can be problematic.
The first dimension of the problem is the Augustinian-Lutheran dichotomy of "grace and law," which runs very deep in Western theology. In his treatment of Paul Augustine considerably upped the stakes of the issue in his crushing opposition to Pelagius, and Luther solidified that theological claim by boldly inserting the word "alone" in his reading of Paul, thus "grace alone." It is clear that by "law" Luther meant many different things, seemingly focused especially on life apart from the gospel. The result, however has been a remarkable aversion to "works," as though obedience to the commands of God, that is, performances of "works," is in and of itself a denial of the gospel. Luther is of course much more subtle and knowing that this, but so he has been conventionally interpreted. The outcome has been a notion of gospel without demand, a notion that plays well in a "therapeutic" society.

We heard in last Sunday's gospel that Jesus invites those around him - not just a select few, but the crowds - to pick their cross if they are to follow Jesus. In other words, this is the way we go on about the life within Reign of God. This is the gospel way. Does it mean that we must go this way in order to be a part of this blossoming Reign of God among us? Stop right there. Don't think timeline...think presence. As people living in the presence of our gracious and loving God who claims us, liberates us, and delivers us we are already living as the children of God. Now...come and follow along within this life-giving, life-shaping, life-sacrificing gathering of people we boldly call the community of Christ. Here is where we will speak of the cost of following and the demands of the gospel. We are always being invited into this life that springs up from God's love in Christ, Jesus. I find it to be a good and biting comment when Brueggemann says that such demands or such a call for obedience is a notions that doesn't "play well in a 'therapeutic" society." We really wouldn't want anyone to think that s/he needs to change or do something in any specific way...that might discourage them...

Connection: Obedience need not be avoided. In fact, for the welfare of all people each of us is called into a degree of obedience simply to make the society run well. On the other hand, in a grace-filled story we are people who are also invited into the life that grace brings up among us. It is a life and it takes discipline to follow its way. If anything goes, there is no need for us to refer to new life within the Gospel or the Reign of God...for there really isn't a new life at all.

Lord of Love, by your grace you already pull us into the life you hand us. We pray for the boldness to walk with you in the light of your Reign and be forever transformed by your loving presence in each and every day. Amen.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


16 March 2006

Today we move into material in the chapter - The Daily Voice of Faith: The Covenanted Self by Walter Brueggemann.

The full drama (of assertion and abandonment) is ....demanding....because in this two-fold drama, we (and this surprising Thou) are always changing position and reversing roles. In a voice of lament, we may occupy a position of authority over against God and dare to address God in insistent imperative. This is an awkward posture for us and , even if necessary, we sense its peculiar inappropriateness. By contrast, in a voice of praise we occupy a posture of glad subordination to God, and address God in God's full authority. Moving back and forth between lament and praise means always shifting positions, getting up out of our seat and changing roles, sometimes moving quickly in a single poem or song, in a single voice or utterance. Live communion with an initiating and responsive Thou requires precisely such vitality, energy, freedom, and courage.

This not only sounds like a healthy way to interact with our God, it is also a healthy way to interact with the other in our community. Health comes because of the ability to let ourselves welcome something outside of ourselves. By welcome, I don't mean that we agree with this other. Rather, we are open enough to enter into a give and take that may move us quickly between elements of lament and praise and therefore keep us within a critical mind that does not let the world or the other simply move by us. We are always placed in dialogical situations that call us into participation. When we go there, we grow, we stretch, we deal with abandonment, we are built up and we let go of some of the things we have held onto without question. I find it quite important that we know how to change positions and roles and do not fear coming down in a place in that is different from the one in which we started. That is a sign of the live communion mentioned by Brueggmann.

Connection: I don't know about you but I do not place my self in many situations during the day in which I am willing to go through an honest give and take that pulls me into a position of assertion and abandonment. I know we must all do that internally to a bit, but what about with God and with the other in our lives?

Raise us up to be your beloved community, O God. For there in the middle of your people we are encouraged to share our lives. When we share our lives, our differences will also be shared and we will be called to deal with them and come to understand the glory of your creation and the work that is needed to live in harmony with one another. Therefore, as always, we pray that the Holy Spirit will surround us with your power for new life. Amen.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

15 March 2006

We continue with more about the "othering of self" as part of what Walter Brueggemann writes about "The Covenanted Self.

This assumption of the covenanting of the self with the self is evident at least in some texts in which the self converses with the self. Thus in the familiar opening of Psalm 103, the speaker says, "Bless the Lord, O my (soul)." Thus the self issues an imperative invitation to the self. And in the parable of Luke 12:16-20, Jesus has the rich man address himself by saying, "I will say to my soul (psyche), 'Soul, you have ample good laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry'" (v.19).

Last evening in our confirmation class we were talking about prayer and at first it sounded like prayer had an element of simple "self talk." For example, if a person is frightened and prayers for courage, in the praying of the prayer, that person can become encouraged to face whatever the source of the fear or scare. Can this be a part of this covenanting "of the self with the self" that we hear in the above passage? But in prayer, this is not merely self talk - we are talking to our God. Then again, when I pray to God, I am listening to the prayer as it is spoken silently or aloud. The audience, you could say, is my self. The audience can be all the voices that attempt to move me this way or that way. The prayer then is one voice taking the lead. At the same time I say that, this voice is not always the voice that wins the day. I may want to draw up all my "soul" into a faithful journey during this day, but that voice is not the one that is followed....and yet it continues to issue forth itself in the prayers of my life.

Connection: How many voices within your self come out during the day? Obviously there may be the one that comes in prayer like "make me a instrument of your Peace, O Lord," and yet, at the first opportunity to be a peace maker, what voice do we let run us? How many times during the day can you hear or see this attempt at covenanting of the self with the self?

O God, we come to you and lift up our lives and call on you to give us direction and vision and a sense of worth as we move through the avenues of this day. As we pray, let the words of our prayers direct us so that our lives reflect the vision within our prayers. Amen.

Monday, March 13, 2006

14 March 2006

Today we will move into a few days on what Walter Brueggemann calls a third zone of covenanting - the othering of self, in "The Covenanted Self."

Now it may sound odd to speak of self as other, because we tend to view self as a unified integrity with a single identity. I shall insist however, that the self is a conundrum of fears, hurts, and hopes that most often are in important ways unsettled, conflicted and under adjudication. And if we do not recognize that they are unsettled, conflicted, and under negotiations, it is likely because we do not know ourselves well enough.
I shall argue that with all of this unresolve and adjudication, we get through the day because we have arrived at some covenantal arrangements, within the self or among the selves, that are often tenuous and provisional, but enough to get through the day.

This almost sounds like the apostle Paul writing about his internal conflicts and how he knows what to do but doesn't do it. One of the most essential aspects of our human personality is that we are not afraid to see how many voices are able to exist within our individual lives. It is as though we are constantly in dialogue and yet all the conversation is taking place without others. So it is fitting that Brueggemann wants to discuss the "othering of self." Some people talk about peeling back layer of an onion as a way of discussing the self. It is meant to show that we are complex beings who cannot be see completely simply by getting to know one layer or one side of our lives. To be quite honest, I find that I carry on an extensive internal dialogue when attempting to move into a new action in my life or take a risk or step beyond a position of comfort. And yes, arrangements are sometimes made between myself and myself. It is not always easy but the dialogue is necessary and I find that over time I change. The arrangements change. My ability to face myself more directly and deal with or expose a dark side becomes part of what brings on a bit of new life.

Connection: So are you able to realize when you are in dialogue with that "other" that is your self? How often does it happen and when it happens, what impact does the conversation have on how well you are able to deal with new situations? By the way, when you carry on an covenantal conversation with yourself, you don't have to move your lips.

Lord, sometimes the most frightening voices we hear can be our own. They can be voices that never bring us peace. They can also be voices that pull us into your ways - voices we resist and voices we slowly learn to engage in meaningful dialogue. Encourage us when we must face ourselves even when it is in the simple exercise of prayer. Amen.

13 March 2006

Another selection from "The Covenanted Self" by Walter Brueggemann.

Truth in love does not mean simply using another tone of voice. Truth, when uttered in agape, is a changed subject, for the truth about the neighbor, as the truth about me, is an evangelical truth of both command and promise. It is a mode of truth that summons us to become whom this Thou has always summoned us to be. The growth required for such maturity is not some fuzzy, pious business, but concerns the dailiness of how we have ordered our shared life and our common identity.

This sounds like a rare experience but it also sounds like the inbreaking of a whole new way of being with one another. This is that love of neighbor and self that makes all of us more human in the manner in which we were created. Truthfulness like this must come from a source of strength that is able to humble itself in order to not be afraid of what will transpire when the truth is spoken. It sounds as though the only way we come to such truth telling is when those to whom we speak the truth are seen as the beloved - just as we would see ourselves. In that way, it seems quite apparent that we would be truly looking after the well being of all sides - even our enemies...who now are within the bounds of those we love and to whom we thus can speak the truth.

Connection: Maybe this is another example of necessary it is to "count to ten." I also know there are occasions when I really need to count much higher than ten. Sometimes it takes much counting to help bring a sense of love into the truthfulness of this day. Maybe some days we will be counting more than attempting to "speak the truth." The important piece is that we do speak it.

It is within the power of the good news of your Reign, O God, that we begin to speak and act within the domain of the love you have for us. Help us to be vehicle of your love and a carrier of truth. Amen.

Friday, March 10, 2006

10 March 2006

The week comes to an end by focusing on another piece by Walter Brueggemann from "The Covenanted Self."

Paul writes:
But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)
Covenanting requires maturity to be "knit together in love." ...And with God, it takes some maturity to move readily and appropriately between complaint and praise. And so with neighbor, this visionary mandate from Ephesians requires that there be growth as the parts of the body are increasingly joined together in trust and loyalty and forgiveness. The writer understands, moreover, that such growth is not happenstance or accidental or automatic, but must be pursued with intentionality.

This love that speaks the truth is no superficial love. It is well-worn by time and sacrifice and suffering together. Speaking truth in love means that the whole story will be told and the whole story will be embraced closely enough so that when we tell that truth - as hard as it may be - there will be this love that will not come undone. When the love within the community is that mature, the possibilities for life together are amazing because people are less afraid to risk their lives in many ways. This risking may be on the most basic level of risking to greet and meet and welcome one another . This risking may be on another level where one person risks her/his life or reputation for the well being of the other. What shows in these two ways of risking and all others it that there is enough of a connection between the people - time spent...lives shared...fences mended - that the love overcomes brokenness and reunites even the separated. This...takes work.

Connection: So bruised saints of God, how will we dig into today and build the relationships that are known to us best by the love of Christ, Jesus?!?

Draw us into your way of love, O God. Draw us in that we may draw in the others around us as your love becomes our love. And when your love is our love, we may even be willing to engage everyone without condition with a loving truthfulness that makes us all a bit more whole. Amen.

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

9 March 2006

Walter Brueggemann is turning to Paul to bring to life the notion of 'othering' within the life of the community of faith in "The Covenanted Self."

It is true that "all things are lawful," and that comprehensive freedom must be asserted, insisted upon, and cherished. the dialectic of "othering," however, includes self-abandonment for the neighbor, not needing to be first or best or most advanced or having one's own way, or whatever. And so Paul speaks of "a more excellent way" that he intends for the concrete life of the church. It is a tricky thing to know when in the presence of God to sound self-asserting complaint and when to offer self-yielding praise. Covenanting is to know when to do what. In parallel fashion, with the neighbor it is right to asset one's freedom, and it is right to yield one's freedom for the neighbor. The demanding work of covenanting is to know when to do what, and that requires a thoughtful, disciplined practice of negotiation.

"When to do what." That is really quite an important piece to the whole notion of community and entering into a covenant relationship with others. It is tough enough to know what to do. To have to also know when to do what we are going to do demands that all of us must be in some common union with one another so that the timing can work for the welfare of all. It almost sounds like a dance. To make a good dance number, everyone is quite aware of what to do and to do it when it is appropriate in the context of the work of the whole troupe. Even a basketball team can give us a good example of how to be community. One good player trying to take the ball into the hoop or take every shot from the outside misses the benefit of the others who play within their range and at times will be the only good shot on the court. Pass it around...assert when necessary...yield when necessary, and the team will do quite good. And if they don't, they at least come away feeling and knowing that they are a team and they created something not many groups are able to build - a covenant of sorts.

Connection: Give and take...and see what it does to everyone around you. Give and take and do so with a sense of respect and honor and see what it creates within the groups you encounter today.

Lord God, help us to reach beyond ourselves to receive from you the gifts you give to us and to others. And then, help us to hand off our gifts to those around us so that we will all benefit from the way you graciously gift your people. Amen.

8 March 2006

Paul's pastoral word to the church is a part of the "othering" Brueggemann describes in "The Covenanted Self."

The not and should not be a community of many rules. On the "liberty of the Christian person," Paul is largely without scruples. At least here, "Be free in the gospel." The problem of course is that such freedom taken by itself characteristically works to the advantage of the stronger party, and if in the exercise of such freedom somebody else gets hurt, that tough.
Except that Paul's pastoral sensitivity curbs such gospel-given freedom. The curb is the conscience of the other member. Or more covenantally, the curb is the well-being of the community, before which the liberated and strong must yield to the membership, a membership that defines even the strong and the liberated. Thus the reality of the community comes before any liberty, and certainly before the liberty of any autonomous individual.

Reading this piece strikes right at the center of so much of how I have come to see the congregation on the very local level and then the larger denomination on the other. There will and there must be a tension among us at all times so that everyone in the community is honored in such a way that the welfare of the community is not jeopardized. The freedom of the gospel must never be limited. It must be preached. It must be taught. It must be shown to be a living reality. But then...within such freedom there is the freedom to step down or step to the side or to stand up and give a seat to one who needs it more than me. Is it the love of God in Christ, Jesus, that becomes the love of the community of saints that inspires us to allow curbs to this freedom? Can it be that the curbs put in place in one time may be removed in another...and new ones put in place? This is where the pastoral sensitivity comes into play and, I think, this is why it is so important for pastors to understand the immensity of the freedom within the church, to never stop preaching its life, and to always be willing to prayerfully look again at whether or not a particular situation in a congregation needs to change. The pastor must then be the one who teaches and leads the people into and through that freedom and then right into the middle of a pastoral community in which we love one another. This love carries us into the experience of justice and mercy and the recognition of how varied the saints can be and how important it is for us to prayerfully contemplate the shape of the whole - for now.

Connection: Today it may be in the smallest task of the day or the most brief interaction with others that we are given the opportunity to really be free with our lives. So free, that we become slave to the other - for Christ's sake. It isn't always easy to discern when and how far we are to go. The tension must be there.

Within the freedom of the vision of your Blessed Reign, O God, you bind us together as one people. Therefore, we need the power of the Holy Spirit to aid us as we move within the many relationships we have in the church and in the world as we are your beloved children. Let your Spirit rest upon us. Amen.

Monday, March 6, 2006

7 March 2006

From Walter Brueggemann as we continue in "The Covenanted Self."

...Paul writes twice,
"All things are lawful," but not all things are beneficial. (1 Cor. 6:12, 10:23a)
"All things are lawful," but not all things build up. (10:23b)
In the first of these passages, Paul is concerned with the abuse of the body, apparently in self-indulgence. In the second Paul addresses the vexed issue of illicit food. And while Paul champions great freedom, seeming to agree in principle with his Corinthian opponents, his pastoral sense of the well-being of the community overrides such freedom. He counsels the church to attend to the conscience of the more scrupulous members of the community.

When we are drawn into a community - and the followers of Jesus are always a part of a community - there is so much need for openness and flexibility and conversation. For as we are a community of people together as one body, there must be a way that we honor one another. This honoring relationship may mean that I consider not having the world go "my way" to the point that I exclude the other. Rather,it is in our willingness to enter into conversation with the other - no matter how 'other' this other may be - that will help to build the community into something beyond our expectations. Too often, we only expect what we can control. In the context of the Church, the Spirit blows things around so that even our expectations may be expanded by the others around us and that takes patience and peace to consider.

Connection: The "other" is not always right...nor am I. And yet, somewhere in between...somewhere outside of me and outside of the "other" could be the place where we come down just right. The only way to know that is to enter into the conversation in the first place.

Spirit of New Life, when you send us from here to there and mix us up with others who are not at all like us, we can become frightened and turn to our own ways to build our lives. Send you Spirit to keep us assured of how in the middle of the unknown and the other we may just see a glimpse of your life that is eternally available to us. Amen.

6 March 2006

We are in a section of "The Covenanted Self" call "Othering with Grace and Courage.

...Paul envisions that members are bound together at the extremities of life, at the strong seasons of joy and sorrow where we live anyway, at those times when we are being exiled and brought home, crucified and raised to new life... It is the work of "joy and sorrow" that makes us timeful creatures, and not just effective, present tense automatons. Jesus is like that in his contacts with people. He works mostly at the extremities of peoples' lives, or by his presence he articulates and creates extremities where they thought none existed. Paul believes that an effective othering agent can indeed turn loose of his own sorrows and joys enough to attend to others, because in mothering intimacy and in holy transcendence we have had our own career of "joy and sorrow" fully valorized.

At the extremities of life it seems that we are at the place of vulnerability. Even if that extremity is "joy" we are wide open and extended emotionally. When we are vulnerable in one another's presence and we honor that place, the opportunity for becoming a community - one body - would likely grow. I particularly like the way Jesus is described as someone who "creates extremities where they thought none existed." We may indeed think none exist until our facades are pealed back and through story or action we find ourselves looking at ourselves with new eyes and...all of the sudden...our hearts are pierced and there opens a place for us to be connected to the extremities of others as they are now connected to the ones we could not see in ourselves. Having said that, it also occurred to me that I can be so lost in the "joy and sorrow" of my life that will not let myself enter into the lives of others. Rather than seeing my place and condition at the extremities as a potential place to encounter others in community, I can quickly retreat into myself and abandon the community. This can happen even if the others in the community attempt to draw us into the life of "joy and sorrow" that all of us experience and must share.

Connection: How will we each attempt to work at the extremities of life today - at the strong seasons of joy and sorrow? We can only find out be entering into them.

When you heal us, O God, you heal the whole community of your people and you bring us into a new place from which we begin to see our lives in union with those who once were beyond us because we often made ourselves beyond them. Grant us wisdom to reveal ourselves so that we can play together in the seasons of your love. Amen.

Friday, March 3, 2006

3 March 2006

In discussing neighbors, Walter Brueggemann writes about three phrases from Paul and Deutero-Paul.

"If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it" (1 Cor.12:26).
As you know, in 1 Cor. 12 Paul had just completed his eucharistic chapter 11 on then new covenant, and has considered the problem of pluralism under the rubric of "varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit" (12:4). He is on his way to the agape manifesto of chapter 13... And Paul has just written in 12:24-25,
But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body but the members may have the same care for one another.
Paul's subject is membership, all belonging to the same thing, being members of each other. But notice, it is not as though there is a body, and then you sign on as a member to an already existing body. No, "members of each other."

In this kind of talk, we are being drawn into the "other" so that among us, the "other" will now be a part of the body that is "us." We are each still other to one another because we are indeed still separate. But here we, though other, belong to the same thing...we are one. I can spot a danger here. As with any body, those outside the body can be viewed as a threatening "other." But for Paul, he is attempting to bring the variety of people within the embrace of the one Lord...under one baptism...into the one body. This will not be an easy task. It wasn't for the Corinthians and it is never easy for any of us even when we say "Jesus is Lord." For in the meantime, we still tend to view "them" as "other" even if we are told they are now one with us. In this first phrase and the one that comes right before it in 1 Corinthians, I took note of how the people in the community were told to "honor" one another even when there were among them the typical differences that appear among people in community. Already Paul is turning the community upside down as he encourages people to honor the inferior members. You could thus say that they are no longer inferior among us...for they are honored by their presence. In addition, to be able to have a people take on the suffering of others seems beyond expectation. Any yet, when we suffer for others, we are already taking the responsibility of honoring them very, very seriously. The "other" is not only one that I honor...I will suffer for the other.

Connection: This is no picnic when we are people who would rather leave the "other" up to others. It is only as we begin this prayerful life within one body that we find such wonder unfolding among us.

In many ways, O God, you bind us together and we so often refuse to be held together even as you bless us when we are together as your children. We ask that you continue to announce the vision of your Reign in Christ, Jesus, that we will begin to walk in the ways of the Christ and change the face of the other into the face of the beloved. Amen.

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

2 March 2006

Now we look at the other as neighbor and as God in "The Covenanted Self" by Walter Brueggemann.

It judgment that we have no human neighbors who are as unlike us as this othering God is unlike us, and if in complaint and praise, in assertion and abandonment, we are genuinely at risk and in faith with this God, we shall find great resources of grace and courage for living with the neighbors, even the neighbor who is blatantly other.

What an interesting way to look at how we are to face our neighbor and deal with the stuff that we would usually want to ignore or reject. No "other" can be as "other" as this God of ours who is with us and separate from us and will not be owned by us or controlled by us or dominated by us. Therefore, as we come to experience this "other" who is God, we are being stretched so far beyond ourselves that the "other" who is our neighbor is not such a far place to go in order to find some common ground upon which we can begin to build a relationship. And yet, we all know how hard it is to step across the great abyss that separates me from you some times.

Connection: There is such grace available to us so that we can leap across any separation that attempts to establish itself between us. Some days we simply have to work at letting grace rule. At other times, we simply have to realize that grace will rule even as we try to stop it.

Come, Lord of the Lenten Journey, take us a bit farther out into the realm of the others within our life so that we will become more aware of you presence that is so close even as we see you so far away. Amen.

1 March 2006

Walter Brueggemann comments more about neighbor in "The Covenanted Self."

It is my suspicion that if we have not learned healthy othering in the intimacy of mothering, and if we have not learned the daring of othering with God's transcendent fidelity, then we are bound in our neighboring to miss out on much of the othering that belongs properly to the gospel. Indeed, around the matter of neighbors, our clumsiness and fearfulness, often lead us to avoid others who are unlike us, to whom we do not want to give gifts, and from whom we do not intend to receive gifts and under whose command we do not want to live. We organize our several phobias, resentments, and ambitions in order to be mainly with others, who are not very otherly and so constitute no threat of otherness.

I must admit, it is quite easy to "avoid" others. In fact, I know that I have to work at making sure that I do not go on living a life of avoidance. It can be so easy and so comfortable but I find that I do not like who I become. Usually it is as I am able to extend myself beyond myself do I find myself becoming more than I had anticipated. It is no wonder that we are able to pin our phobias and resentments on others. In that way, we give ourselves permission to not only avoid others for the sake of being alone or with my closed group, we also are able to give reasons for the many ways the world is going to hell...or simply slipping down a slope into an abyss. What Brueggemann writes about organizing our "phobias, etc" with others "who are not very otherly and so constitute no threat of otherness" is a strong reminder of how really do work very hard at making our own world that which we know will not be filled with or touch by the likes of "those" others. But we miss the world in which God creates us!

Connection: Sometimes slipping down a slope is not a bad thing. Sometimes, it helps us realize that we are not so right and good and those into whom we slip can be quite helpful and much like us even when we do not, at first, see it.

Mix us up, Lord. Pull us into the crowded space in which your people, though appearing strange to one another, are your people and those who are known in your presence as brother and sisters and your beloved children. By your Spirit help us to cross over to engage others in our lives. Amen.