Sunday, April 30, 2006

3 May 2006

A look at how the Church becomes offensive in this struggle with the principalities and powers - "Christ and Violence" by Ronald Sider.

...Is it correct to say that we should witness to the state and other principalities and powers but not take the offensive against them? I think not. I doubt that the absence of offensive weapons in Ephesians 6:10-20 means that we are merely to defend ourselves against the powers. Everyone agrees that we are to witness boldly to the powers. But surely that is an offensive act, not a defensive one. One can take the offensive with words just as much as with actions. Ephesians 6 calls us to arm ourselves with the truth, with the gospel, and with the Word of God. The kinds of words we are summoned to speak to the powers surely involves taking the offensive unless one wrongly supposes that bold proclamation is merely a defensive approach.

To speak of the vision of the Reign of God is to speak in a way that will be offensive to the powers and principalities. Offensive vision is a vision of truthfulness that the powers cannot permit. The Good News is always offensive because it calls forth an alternative life that the powers and principalities cannot accept for they must relinquish their power as they have it. The voice of the martyr - the witness to the Good News - is a voice of one crying out in the wilderness and the one who will eliminated as long as that voice continues to cry forth with a witness that does not go along with the ways of the world's powers. Again, that tension that will not go away - the truthfulness of the Good News of the Reign of God - must be lifted up in all the arenas of our lives so that the powers are exposes for what is really their concern...more power in the same old way power has always tried to rule us.

Connection: This may sound far fetched and not applicable to each of our everyday lives. But please, don't let that thought win over your thinking. Each of us in small ways can carry this banner of truthfulness. This is another reason to be exposed more and more to the vision of God's Reign.

Stir us up, O God of All Truthfulness. Stir up our hearts that your light of life will shine forth from us and we will be aware of when and where your truth is found in others. The light of your love brings into our lives a truthfulness that cannot be conquered or coerced from us. Praise to you, O God. Amen.

2 May 2006

We continue with Baptist theologian Ronald Sider in "Christ and Violence.

To announce Christ's Lordship to the principalities and powers is to tell governments that they are not sovereign. It is to tell them that whether or not they know or acknowledge it, they are subject to the risen Lord Jesus who summons them to do justice, to seek peace, to promote shalom on the earth. It is to tell governments that Jesus Christ, who is one with the Father, is on the side of the poor and that He is at work in history pulling down the rich because of their oppression and neglect of the poor and exalting the lowly. merely witness in a biblical way to the principalities and powers is to engage in dangerous, subversive political activity.

The principalities and powers can be told this news of Reign of the Lord, Jesus, but they do not have to abide by it. In fact, they will not. What is also very important for us to consider is that the followers of Jesus are not demanding that the principalities and powers fall in line with the way we see the world needs to be. They will not! I think we must consider at least two pressing concerns. First, if the church attempts to side with the powers, what is the church giving up?...what is being compromised?...what power is really taking shape? Second, if the powers (government) tries to win over the church, what is the purpose? Is it to make the government follow the rule of the Prince of Peace? I Doubt It!!! Rather, when the powers try to woo the church, it is merely what the powers always do...take over...rule...seduce...overwhelm. The followers of Jesus - Jesus as Lord of All - must maintain a tension so that no power or principality can claim to be the Reign of God. Such a stand as this will be dangerous because the seduction of power is so great it is difficult for any of us to resist it.

Connection: We must keep our eyes and ears open to what the powers and principalities try to do with and to the Reign of Christ, Jesus. I find it to be quite frightening at times. That is when we must always say "No Way!"

Stir up your Power, O God, and deliver us from the temptation to seek the establishment of your Reign among us by turning to the powers of this world. Continue to inspire us to seek the upside down Reign that comes only through the Cross. Amen.

Friday, April 28, 2006

1 May 2006

In addition to "living out the full reality of Jesus' new community" as a political action in and of itself, Ronald Sider also add this from "Christ and Violence."

Equally political is the proclamation that Jesus Christ is Lord. Ephesians 6:10-20 makes it clear that in the battle with the principalities and powers, we are to fight with the gospel, with truth, and with the word of God. It is central to the biblical word that precisely the One whom the principalities and powers crucified (1 Corinthians 2:8) is now their Lord and Master. The risen Jesus is Lord of the world as well as the church.

Now I must insist that we do not read this last sentence as though we are to be people who try to control the world governments by "making them Christian." That is one of the moves made by religious powers that do not want to follow Jesus to the cross...they want to use the cross to gain power in a power-full world. Rather, I would submit that we become instruments of peace and justice so that no person is ever outside the realm of God's love. This may mean that we resist the powers and principalities when they attempt to divide us so that our lives have to be lived separated from one another in many and various ways. The principalities and powers - even religious ones - work in the realm of separation. When we see that happening...when any power attempts to separate in order to build power...or maintain power over others...or subvert the well-being of all people in order to establish a rule that lives on biases and prejudice, stand up and say "no"...even if we say it silently. That is the beginning of the kind of resistance that comes within the Reign of Jesus, our Lord.

Connection: It may be difficult to say "No" or to resist powers that are draped in the language of religion...but today is as good as any other day to give it a try.

Lord of our Life, encourage us that we will follow you through your gracious Reign that runs through this day and incorporates the ordinary so that it becomes a part of the blessed life you have promised. Amen.

28 April 2006

We end the week with Ron Sider's insights on how we engage the powers and principalities in his book "Christ and Violence." aggressive should we be in our confrontation with the fallen principalities and powers of the marketplace and the forum? Should we merely give our witness and prepare to defend ourselves our should we take the offensive?
...In a fallen world where the powers have erected hostile dividing walls of class, race, sex, and age, merely living out the full reality of Jesus' new community where all relationships - whether psychological, economic, or social - are now redeemed is a profoundly political witness.

We live out the "full reality of Jesus' new community" and we will be confronting the fallen principalities and powers. I started to read Taylor Branch's book "At Canaan's Edge" and it is amazing how the powers and principalities rise up to attack those who are willing to embody the love of Christ by breaking down the walls that are set up to divide people. When I say attack, it must be seen as violent attack - that is the only way the powers know how to stay in power. Those people who were living as though the unjust laws of the land were not to be followed and that the way of justice and nonviolence was the path they would follow, were beat down, spit upon, ridiculed, threatened...and yet, their witness to the Prince of Peace still shines brighter than any of the principalities and powers will ever shine. This does not mean that it is the work of the followers of Jesus to somehow gain power over the fallen principalities and powers. If we do that, we are simply playing their game. Rather, we walk in the way of Jesus. That is no pie-in-the-sky walk. It is a down-to-earth, loving embrace that is shaped by the embrace given to us through Christ, Jesus. We need to remember, though, that living out the "full reality of Jesus' new community" will not be met with open arm...but rather violence that is meant to threaten us into putting an end to this faithful following of our Lord, Jesus.

Connection: We will always need to walk in the light. This might not be the best strategy for standing in the face of the powers of the day, but it is a necessary way to be who we are called to be. Therefore, sometimes when we stand within the realm of God's love put to life among us, we will not be appreciated and we may even be considered as doing something wrong. Therefore, once again, we need the community of faith to help us discern our actions every day.

You bless us, O Prince of Peace, with another way to move through the days of our lives. It is not always clear how we are to face this day and yet, as we return to the story of your life, death, and resurrection, we are drawn into a new light and a new vision for life among us. We give you thanks for being our strength and our guide. Amen.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

27 April 2006

Today an image from the Apocalypse is used by Ronald Sider as he continues to consider Christ and Power.

The vision of the final consummation in the Book of Revelation confirms the view that the principalities and powers will finally be reconciled rather than destroyed. No biblical writer stresses the fallen character of the state more than the seer of the Apocalypse. But he also writes that in the Eschaton, the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into the New Jerusalem... To be sure, the nations as we know them will have to be mightily transformed, for nothing unclean dare enter the Holy City (Rev. 21:27). But that will certainly happen for the tree of life stands in the midst of the New Jerusalem and its leaves are for the healing of the nations (22:2).

The nations "as we know them" will have to go through a transition into a whole new way of being what they are to be. The powers of the world and the way they move through life attempting to be in control of all that is, will have to come to an end. Again, this is not destruction...this is transformation. We are still taking about the structures of creation...and this will not be destroyed. Rather, creation and all the powers therein will face a necessary redesign that will be much like a return to the creative energy and intention present at the very beginning of all things. We must remember that as we talk about the "nations" or the "powers" - we are also talking about ourselves. The whole world - all things - will be changed. We sometimes say "in the twinkling of an eye" which means already and yet as we look around not yet. In other words, the change comes and we cannot ever control its timing and its revolutionary transformation of the greatest and the least of the powers of the world.

Connection: I would hope that none of us is satisfied with how we are living our lives. Self-satisfaction seems to carry with it the notion that all is well in the world and therefore we do not stretch beyond ourselves into the life of God's Reign awaiting our participation.

O Lord of New Life, you change the way the powers attempt to rule lift us up so that we can see the broad horizon of your gracious forgive us so we, your people, can approach all the powers of the world with a disarming humility and truthfulness that will bring all people to your glorious rule. Amen.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

26 April 2006

Ronald Sider in "Christ and Violence" take a look at Colossians 2:15 as a way of looking at what happens to the principalities and powers.

This verse contains Paul's most explicit statement about what happens to the principalities and powers at the cross. Paul says Christ "disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him." Three key verbs stand out. The first one tells us that the principalities and powers have been disarmed. To disarm someone is not to destroy him. Rather it is to strip him of his power to do evil. The second verb in this sentence means to expose or make a public display of someone - e.g., to publicly disgrace an adulteress. The last verb is the most vivid of the three. means to lead a triumphal procession. This verb refers to the practices of the Roman army. "When a Roman general had subdued another nation, the rulers of that nation had to march into Rome on their bare feet, behind the chariot on which the conqueror rode." The principalities and powers were part of the good creation but they rebelled against God. At the cross, Christ stripped them of their power, made a public display of their weakness, and forced them to follow humbly as conquered enemies in His triumphal procession.

So the way we take on the principalities and powers is to help show who and what they really are, to not let them have the power over us that they would like to claim, and to let it be known in a public manner that these powers will not rule over us. The cross of Christ becomes the power that guides our actions and that of the whole community. We monitor the powers and principalities and our won power in light of the cross. It is within the humble and peaceable Reign of Christ that we are encouraged to face any power in the world within the domain of truthfulness and love that insists on the well being of all. The powers around us must not be given free reign. Rather, we must remind one another that we are the vehicles of change and resistance and reconciliation that leaves no power in place - just as it is. At all times, we are to pursue justice even when it is at great cost to us. For in such living, we are already following the way of the cross that does not honor the powers of the world when they attempt to dominate and rule over us. Rather we live as though we are calling the powers and principalities into a new life.

Connection: There is always the need for each of us to be ready to disarm the powers that attempt to rule this day. This work may take many forms and yet it is necessary so that we are not simply pulled along a way of life that does not consider those beyond the walls of my own home.

Lead us, O God, so that in this day we will be encouraged to stand up and give a witness to the life that moves through the cross into a whole new way of being and building community and the life that honors all and sees to the care of each person within your Reign. Amen.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

25 April 2006

Today we continue with the discussion around what will happen to the principalities and powers in the writing of Ronald Sider.

...Does not 1 Corinthians suggest that the principalities and powers will be destroyed rather than restored? ...1 Cor. 2:6 says that the rulers of this age are "doomed to pass away." And 1 Cor.15:24 declares that Christ will deliver the kingdom of God the Father "after destroying every rule and every authority and power." But is this the proper translation? The key word in both passages is the verb katargein. This verb means "to make ineffective or powerless." It also means "to abolish or destroy."...
But the verb does not always mean "destroy." In 1 Cor. 13:8, Paul says that our present prophesies and knowledge are imperfect and will therefore pass away (same verb). But he does not mean that knowledge will be destroyed; rather, he means that the imperfections of our present understanding will be removed.

I did to a bit of jumping in the text here but it was in order to show that the Christ of God is of a power that is greater than all powers and all principalities and it can therefore not have to function as we are likely to function. Nothing need be destroyed. Within the power of the resurrected Christ, all things will move forward with imperfections removed...or...with destructive powers made ineffective or powerless. What a vision! This must be a part of what so many people of resistance are able to see. The Christ leads us into a new creation and a new life even in the face of all the powers and principalities because we can exist contrary to their might and force because we are a part of the transformation that is already moving along its way. Think about the civil rights movement. Those folks walked in the face of the powers of the day and did not let those powers have their way and their say among them. They lived in a new light. Yes, it often meant that they had to face much brutality. And yet, the principalities and powers were quite ineffective in trying to make their power rule the lives of these saints. I am always in a state of complete awe when I hear about and see such people.

Connection: In little things we begin to live contrary to the powers and in that, we do, indeed, make them powerless. Remember, the little things where we all might be able to begin the journey to the cross.

Come, Lord of New Life, and make us bold within the ordinary ways and days at hand. It is by your power that we are able to stand and live within a vision where you rule both now and forever. Amen.

24 April 2006

Sorry for the glitch on Friday...and one today (Monday)!
Today is more on the principalities and powers in Paul's thought in "Christ and Violence" by Ronald Sider.

The Pauline view that the principalities and powers are part of the good creation would seem to support the view that government is not merely a necessity because of the Fall. Rather, government is necessary and desirable for human existence, not just fallen human existence.
The expectation that the principalities and powers will ultimately be purged of the corrupting effects of the Fall underlines Paul's view that they are part of the good creation. After noting in Colossians 1:16 that all things both visible and invisible in heaven and earth were created through Jesus Christ, Paul goes on to declare that "all things, whether on earth or in heaven" will finally be reconciled to God through the cross.

I was going to continue with this quote but I was caught off guard by this last statement. This seems to be describing the most radical transformation that is possible. If the powers and principalities and all things, whether on earth or in heave are reconciled to God through the cross, this means that the way of the cross becomes the life among us. This means that sacrificial love will be the way - not a dream but the way - that the principalities and powers will be transformed. To be quite honest this seems impossible unless life in this world is turned upside down. That is, unless the powers hand over power to those who do not use power to overwhelm or rule over others, then things will go on as is always for us. And yet, there is this promise - this vision - that the cross will reconcile all. Can that be possible? Today I was once again shaken by how often power corrupts and makes common, ordinary, and gifted people into shades of demonic power. Power in the way power is created within the systems of our world never give power up or let it be transformed. And yet, we live by a promise and therefore must begin living as though just such a transformation is coming. That would mean...that we are a part of what is not yet. Sounds like resurrection life to me.

Connection: It is never easy (or even possible) to be a part of the life of reconciliation that makes up the transformation of all power. Then will offer all of us many opportunities to practice just such a vision in our lives.

By your cross, O God, you called us all into a new life and you promise to bring about the radical transformation of all that is. When we are overwhelmed by the destructive nature of the principalities and powers, encourage us to show forth the life that follows the way of your cross. Amen.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

20 April 2006

More on principalities and powers by Ronald Sider in "Christ and Violence."

In spite of the pervasive evil that he perceived in the principalities and powers, Paul insisted that they were no innately evil. The principalities and powers are a part of the good creation: "For in him (Christ) all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities (powers) - all thing were created through him and for him" (Colossians 1:16). If the principalities and powers are part of the good creation, it would seem to follow that power itself is not evil. It is only when power is used for an evil purpose or when the methods used are not compatible with the methods of Jesus' kingdom that the Christian must say no to power.

This is why we pray for those in government as we gather in worship and offer up the prayers of the Church. We want them to be empowered and directed by the Lord of Creation. We want them to be corrected if they have gone astray. We want them to seek the good when they have gone bad. In other words, we want them to be a blessing to all people so that injustice will not prevail and violence will not be the way of our lives. Even within the worst situations, the powers are to be included in our prayers and we are to seek the good working of those powers for the welfare of all. But...when they led us along evil ways - we must resist even if at cost to us. This is where it is so important for the Church to look after the welfare of all people and not simply one's own people. When the powers act in a evil way, remember that doesn't mean only if they treat me badly. It includes how the powers act among other powers in the world. Sometimes it appears as though the church only knows how to whine when the powers are corrupt or evil. It is as though we whine until we are given some power ourselves. And yet, when we are called to resist the principalities and powers, it is with our life and that can mean that for the welfare of all, we stand our ground until the powers work to benefit and protect all and not merely some. Few go that far in resistance.

Connection: At all times, pray for those in power in our world and every aspect of our world. And the, in the meantime, watch what is taking place around us and who seems to be brought in and who seems to be left out. This will give us all a bit of a picture as to what the powers are doing and not doing.

We are blessed in so many ways by the powers that are in place to protect and serve your people. We ask, O Lord, that we will become bold when the powers around us begin to act contrary to the vision of your blessed Reign. When that happens, give us the courage to stand and speak and continue to walk within your Reign today. Amen.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

19 April 2006

Now we move to a look at Paul's concept of the "principalities and powers" as we continue in the chapter called Christ and Power in Ronald Sider's book "Christ and Violence.

There is growing agreement that when Paul speaks of the principalities and powers he refers to both the sociopolitical structures of human society and to unseen spiritual forces that undergird, lie behind, and in some mysterious way help shape human sociopolitical structures. That the principalities and powers are not merely superhuman spiritual beings is quite clear in Colossians 2:8-23 where the principalities and powers that Christ disarmed include things like philosophy, human traditions, and religious regulations about dietary laws and Sabbath observance. That the principalities and powers are not, on the other hand, merely sociopolitical structures of human society is also clear. Ephesians 6:12 says that we contend not "against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."

This power is - more than meets the eye. It is much like what I see in the present political system in our country. Whether one looks at one party or the other, the principalities and powers are working the crowd and they are trying to get things done in a way that will keep the principalities and powers able to control as much of the world as possible. I am particularly aware of how a force like the so-called "religious right" is both common powers working the room to have their way and a force that is at work beneath the scenes and yet playing a vital role in how the world turns. No matter what face the principalities and powers take on, we must be very diligent at keeping watch over how they move and what they attempt to do with us. This is a part of the faithful work of the church - to discern the activity of these powers and make sure we do not take on their life and their false promises. We have one Lord - Christ, Jesus - and the rule that is set forth before us.

Connection: Keeping a watchful eye on when and how the powers work among us needs to be a part of our daily discipline. We need to share that responsibility for the welfare of all of us.

Lord, God give us eyes to see and ears to hear how the principalities and powers move among us and attempt to use our lives for their benefit. And then, when we must stand in opposition to those powers, give us the courage to stand up with love that will not be broken. Amen.

18 April 2006

Today's devotion follow Ronald Sider's remarks on the "clear and costly love" with which we are to respond to an enemy. From "Christ and Violence."

One should respond with the kind of astonishing, unexpected love from the evil person even when he strikes one's right cheek with the back of his hand, which was considered the most insulting of all physical blows. But that does not mean that we cannot offer any form of resistance to the evil person. The would contradict Jesus' own rebuke of the soldier who struck Him on the cheek. Rather it means that Jesus' kind of resistance to evil will be of the sort that refuses to exact equal damages for injury suffered, that refuses to consider anyone an enemy no matter how outrageous his offense and therefore that continues to demonstrate active aggressive love controlled by the need of the evil person. Thus Jesus' saying (Do not resist one who is evil) is compatible with the use of economic, legal, or political power to oppose evil as long as love for the oppressor as well as the oppressed is both the means and the end.

Just that we call this other person who threatens us or does evil to us - our enemy, seems to make it quite hard to make something positive of the situation. That is a difficult designation to "get over." And yet, what an amazing way to have the world in which we live be transformed. This will mean that we cannot be in our own world the way we would usually be here. Being transformed ourselves by the Love of God that Jesus brought to life and continues to bring into our lives through the resurrection, we are a part of the new age - we are baptized in Christ, Jesus - we are a part of the living presence of the Prince of Peace. That sounds lofty but it is quite mundane. The healing and peace making that is a part of the Reign of God begins in the ordinary, everyday aspects of our lives. The day is full of opportunities to practice this life. I think that this way of nonviolent resistance is so strange, we don't even see when we are acting contrary to its ways.

Connection: Simply look again...take the second look at the life we are putting into motion in all the things we do today. How different can it be and what will it mean to us and those we encounter - especially when we encounter someone we would consider the of those.

We long for your love, O Prince of Peace, and yet we turn away from your ways of life in order to follow our own ways - sometimes at any cost. When we are a warring people, help us to review our lives and turn away from the temptation to repay evil with evil. Amen.

Monday, April 17, 2006

17 April 2006

Reflections on another selection from "Christ and Violence" by Ronald Sider. is not to place oneself against an evil person in the way indicated in Matthew 5:39 (You have heard it said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'), which was the normally accepted way - i.e., by exacting equal damages for injury suffered. In fact, one is to respond to evil by refusing to place the person who inflicts evil in the category of an enemy to be hated or injured. Instead of categorizing the person who harms one as an enemy, one is to love him. And the love is to be so clear and costly and so singlemindedly focused on the needs of the other person that it will even accept additional insult and injury from the wicked person.

Imagine being able to be carried to a place of peace so that you would not categorize the one who inflicts evil as enemy. This is no simple task. It is as though we must go against every fiber of our being. I suppose that is absolutely correct if we know ourselves only as broken beings. But we are also sons and daughters of God. Therefore, we are given the capacity to love even those who we would usually call enemy. Unfortunately, we must be very disciplined to act in such a way. This does not mean that we simply go through the motions of loving one who harms us. Rather it means that we really do love them. If this is not the case, it would be easy to keep score of what our enemies are doing and rather than loving them and calling them enemy no more, we would be monitoring their behavior to see it they really are our enemies and not worthy of our love. To see a love like this, we have traditionally gone to the cross and heard the words of Jesus forgiving those who have placed him on the cross and all that it meant in those days.

Connection: It would be good to find people who could prayerfully help us to stay away from the strong temptation to exact equal damages from those who harm us. We must always be available to new ways to carry on in the face of evil of any kind.

By your death and suffering, O God, you continue to transform the face of our humanity and you call us into a new way of life - a resurrected life. As we wrestle with how we are to be your people, pray that your Holy Spirit will bring us peace and in that peace we will find the strength to love all people. Amen.

Friday, April 14, 2006

14 April 2006

Today Ronald Sider writes about the meaning of Matthew 5:39 "Do not resist one who is evil" as he continues to write on Christ and Power.

What then doe Matthew 5:39 mean? It means two very radical things: 1) that one should not resist evil persons by exacting equal damages for injury suffered (i.e., and eye for an eye); and 2) that one should not respond to an evil person by placing him in the category of enemy. Indeed, one should love one's enemies, even at great personal cost. The good of the other person, not one's own needs or rights, are decisive.

In some ways this is very similar to what Walter Brueggemann was saying when he wrote of the "other." Even though the other is not me, I need the other and must engage the other with respect and honor and in a way that creates the possibility for dialogue. So too with one who is evil. That does not sound pleasant and yet there is no other way to bridge the gap between myself and the other. Unfortunately, as Sider points out, the cost of such a gesture and stance may be great to the one who extends one's self in love to the enemy. But there, is the hope of a new age. We are being asked to seek the healing of the break and the restoration of relationships. If we respond with resistance that attempts to "get them back," the battle never stops and it will, in fact, rise up again when the winds of power change.

Connection: I must admit that a very difficult part of "not resisting evil" is the initial moments. The reactive part that wants to "get them back." Then again, with the help of others who know this way of peace, we can move past the reaction and begin to work on a new way to respond and live together. Unfortunately, we often hang around people just like we really have to work at this.

It is not easy, O Prince of Peace, to follow you along the pathway of reconciliation and peace. It is often too easy to be violent and to seek revenge and want those "pay backs" when things go wrong in our lives. Lead us in your ways and let your Spirit of Peace grab our hearts and lives. Amen

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

13 April 2006

More on Christ and Power in "Christ and Violence" by Ronald Sider.

Love must also be the goal or end of acceptable forms of coercion. An economic boycott to end oppression has the loving aim of liberation and justice for the oppressor as well as the oppressed. And, as we just noted, it can be conducted in such a way that one genuinely loves the other person and respects his freedom as a person responsible to God. For coercion to be acceptable, then, love must be both the means and the end. It is undoubtedly wrong to use power over others simply because of a desire to coerce and dominate. But it is not wrong to use nonlethal forms of coercion if the end and means are love for all parties.

This is not a sentimental love that is being discussed here. This is a love that seeks justice and aims to bring all people onto a common footing that does not seek the demise of the other. This does not mean that the coercion or the force will not inflict pain and hardship. Even the best change that takes place for the welfare of all people bears the pains of transition. No one really likes to go through such change whether forced or if the change is that upon which people have agreed. I find this kind of loving coercion to be very much on the level of what we saw in the teaching and action of Gandhi in which the welfare of all really meant all - even the oppressors. And yet, this love can look as though the present structures of order are not being honored and this is not acceptable to the status quo. In reality, the present structures cannot be honored as is. Rather, they are honored for their participation in the process of change and dialogue along with those who have not been a part of the power structures. To sit around the table and to demand that all are heard and all are a part of what is to be demands a love that can seem beyond us.

Connection: We must keep praying for the strength and wisdom to engage our world with a love that alters even our view of the other. In that way, there is a chance that all of us will grow into the vision of peace that is a part of God's Reign.

Come, Holy Spirit, and change our hearts so that as we encounter the world around us it will be with a love that draws us together and enables us to honor those around us, even our enemies, so that resolution of conflicts and our creative imaginations will be a part of the building of communities of hope. Amen.

12 April 2006

Ron Sider on Christ and power in "Christ and Violence."

There are many kinds of force or coercion... I believe that one can distinguish between forms of coercion which love and respect the other person as a free moral agent responsible to the Creator and forms of coercion that do not. It is possible to use psychological, sociological, or economic coercion in a way that respects and preserves the other person's freedom to persist in saying "No." A law with legal penalties does that because the person can decide to disobey and accept the penalty... A consciously constructed Christian community also does that even though (as sociologist rightly points out) enormous coercive power is at work. One can engage in all the above forms of genuine coercion and still lovingly appeal at the same time to the other person as a free moral agent responsible to God to choose to repent and change.

I do not tend to use the word coercion in a positive light in my own conversation. Here it is simply on par with the concept of force that has many sides to it. Let me share little example of the "enormous coercive power" that comes within the Christian community. Last evening I returned home from a short stay in the hospital. I was not feeling very strong after being in bed for so long. I received a call from a friend in the neighborhood. He said that he thought the guys who play basketball on our church parking lot were playing too late a too loud. He is a tall guy who carries himself confidently and was driving in "official city car." I'm not so big, drive a hybrid, and probably looked a bit mousey last night. Within five minutes, I was able to approach all of the groups, explain the situation at hand, ask for their assistance, and lay down a warning that held some consequences. Why do I say this? Well when I approach one dark car with two guys sitting in the front seat, I tapped on the window to ask them to lower it. The person sitting closest to me simply looked through the tinted window as though I was interrupting his life. The other guy recognized me and said, "It's the preacher." The window open, we had our discussion, and all was well. Even though I was not the pastor to any of these young men, there was still this "enormous coercive power" in the air that these young men respected and it allowed me to help create a pattern of behavior in that lot. Knowing that, it is so important to understand what this power can do for both the good and the bad...and I'm sure we can all tell stories of both uses.

Connection: Within the bounds of a single spoken sentence, we can carry quite a bit of power in what we say. It is so important to prayerfully weigh our position and the words we use before we use them. Even the gestures and words of parents who is seeking certain actions from a child must be used in a responsible and creative way rather than a way that destroys and damages our children.

Lord God, guide us this day in all we do and all we say. Make us instruments of peace who honor and respect others and yet who are able to stand up and defend the rights of all so that no side is diminished to the point of losing their sense of worth and hope. Amen.

Monday, April 10, 2006

11 April 2006

Today we continue with Ron Sider in "Christ and Violence" as he deals with power.

Simply announcing the full biblical word about sin, which has institutional as well as personal forms, is profoundly political. At times nonresistance has degenerated into silent support for an unjust status quo. But when that has happened, nonresistance has been unfaithful to its own best insight. Nonresistance is not apolitical even though it rejects the use of economic and political force as acceptable means for social change.

Last week I quoted a book by Daniel Goldhagen as a way of showing that we cannot be people who are silent in the face of the powers of our day. Goldhagen's book had to do with the masses of people who said nothing during the reign of the Hitler. Yes there were those that planned and implemented the horrors of that regime, but there were those who said nothing and did nothing. Nonresistance is not silent. Nonresistance is not silent support for the status quo. Nonresistance remains a part of the truth-telling that we must all hear and speak. When that takes place, both the individual person and the "groups" in which we live will have to face what we all may not want to hear. Nonresistance will speak and in that speaking those who do no resist the "powers" with power - but rather attempt to speak the truth with love - will have to deal with the rage of those are not able to hear such truth even if it comes with a loving presence. Christians need not fear speaking up. In fact, we do great harm to one another when we attempt to hide behind the sweetness or non-offensiveness of a story line that has little to do with the truth telling that put Jesus up on the cross. Sometimes we have bought in to a religious quietness that becomes so lost within the debate of when or whether we should speak up - that we find ourselves cooperating with the powers of the day...silence has a way of doing that.

Connection: I know that sometimes I am quiet when I do not know what I would offer as another way. What is most important is that I not shut up simply for that reason. Sometimes we must say "no" to the prevailing wind even when we do not have all the ideas about how to go another way. Then again, it is so important to also speak up and say "yes" when we do see or hear another way that brings forth a vision of what will take us to a new age.

Come, Lord God, and ignite in us that Spirit that stirs up our hearts and makes us long for the truthfulness of your blessed Reign even when we can see no evidence of it in the world around us. Amen.

Sunday, April 9, 2006

10 April 2006

Sometimes I go way back in order to make myself be very present. Today I will begin reflections on a short book by Ronald Sider, Christ and Violence. He has been a voice for justice and peace and reconciliation for as long as I have been in the ministry.

The nonresistant person believes that the Sermon on the Mount precludes the Christian's use not just of lethal physical violence but also institutional force such as codes of behavior and laws with threats of punishment. The death principle is at work not only when a factory owner exploits his workers, but also "when a community tries to impose its standards of morality with the penalty of law." It is crucial, of course, to understand that this nonresistant stance is by no means apolitical merely because it rejects the economic power of boycotts and the political pressure of organized lobbying . Merely living out the full reality of Jesus' new community where the Old Age's dividing walls of race, class, sex, and nation have been transcended is a powerful political statement.

The life of the Jesus new community is a radical jump from the powerful communities that try to tell us everyday that they can and do rule us. It is a jump - or rather a leap - that trusts that the New Age of the Christ is already available to transform life. Whenever the power of the day attempt to rule us and control us we are invited to leap and then stand upon the promises of the Christ. In that way, this notion of a community that tries to "impose its standards of morality with the penalty of law" become an absurdity and it must be called that. Just take a look at how a few - probably two...maybe three - issues seems to have been raised up to a status in which we can be judged good or bad - eternally good or bad - depending on how we stand on these issues. Who cares about the welfare of all God's people...where do you stand on stem-cell research!?! I am so often in complete confusion as to how I am to enter into conversation with other followers of Jesus who want to turn our New Age life into mere antics about morality. It seems to me that as that continues to be the driving force in our public rhetoric, we continue to lose the meaning of the cross and the life that take us to it and through it to something radically new...forever.

Connection: I know I need a lot of help in keeping myself from being violent with my tongue. We cannot simple go along with whatever is said with the name of Jesus tacked onto it. At the same time, we must be able to listen to how each one of us can help the whole make some Good Friday sense of who we are to be.

Lord, God, there are so many ways to be sucked up into the powers of this world. We ask that your heart become our hearts so that as we look out into this day we will be pulled by one thing alone - your eternal love that brings peace to all. Praise to you, O Lord. Amen.

Friday, April 7, 2006

7 April, 2006

Text: Galatians 5: 16-26

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.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.

I love the simple line: "There is no law against such things." It comes after the list of character traits (fruits) of the Spirit. It would make for a good comedy routine if there were such laws. "Stone her, she's being patient!" And yet, this life that is filled with the fruits of the Spirit is indeed life that is not readily accepted and appreciated. Oh, it is on paper...but take another look at the vision of this list. It is depicting a radical life. Radical here means root...a life rooted in the one we say we follow - Jesus. It is a well documented fact that the list of self-indulgent ways of life -though we don't promote them- will bring us much...stuff...power...prestige. The list of the fruits of the Spirit, may place us at odds with the world and the ways of self-centered concern...therefore, pray that we be guided by this Spirit that will stand with us as we love one another - and share in the life we have inherited as God's beloved.

Connection: Each day we rise at the foot of the cross. Each day we ris7 e with Jesus to new life. Each day we have before us the invitation to walk within God's Reign. It means dying and rising.

Great God of the new day, break in on us and give us your life. Amen

Sunday, April 2, 2006

3 April, 2006

Text: Galatians 5:16-21, 22-26

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.

And now let us add the next verses:
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.

Let's talk about life. Paul say throws up to the reader two lists of words that draw a picture of the character of life that is of the "flesh" and that which is of the "Spirit." Paul is talking about life. The warning that speaks of the possibility that those who do such things as the "flesh" list, will not inherit the kingdom of God must be seen within the vision for life. Remember, when we inherit something, it is ours - now - completely. If Paul says we will not inherit the kingdom of God, he is commenting about the life that is available to us now - completely in Christ. We tend to see this kind of talk as something about the time after our death. Therefore, we have a wonderful way of turning the good news into nothing more than a fire insurance policy that will kick in when we die. What if we prayerfully consider the fact that the kingdom of God is breaking in all over the place? Therefore, the life we live as self-indulgent people keeps us playing around outside of the life that is ours - completely ours - as followers of Jesus and the beloved of God. Just look at the difference in the vision of the list of words that describe way we can be present - in the "flesh" and in the "Sprit."

Connection: In the Prayer of Thanksgiving that is used when we are gathered for the Lord's Supper there are several responses we use. I would suggest that they are not only "liturgical" responses. They are life responses so that we may be nurtured in the character of God's Reign now. We say, "Come, Lord, Jesus" and we say, "Come, Holy Spirit." Come today to walk with us within God's promised Reign (kingdom) for we find it so easy to walk down other paths. Remember to ask for this presence for life today so that we can each dance in the middle of our inheritance.

Promising God and Creator of each day and the very wind that brings us life, how great is the opportunity for life that you place before us. As we move through this day and contemplate the wonder of your life giving power, fill us with your Spirit that our lives may be a witness to your gentle and never ending Reign. Amen.