Tuesday, May 30, 2006
This restlessness may make us want to throw in the towel - or to pull up our socks. You can play it either way. You can either be creatively restless, as before the unknowable, or you can simply collapse into futility. One of the goals of the Christian message is to join together the people of the way, the way of an eternally given restlessness, and to win from that restlessness the participation in God, which is all that our mortality can deliver.
I find that it can be the same type of experience that causes me to want to throw in the towel as it will be an experience that will cause me to "pull up my socks." In both cases I know that our God is with me and will be with me and will see me through whatever might be at hand. And yet, at one time I fizzle and at the other I stand up to be counted. More and more I think it is as I live within the reality of the vision of the Church in which we "join together" to experience what ever will come that I am able to resist simply "throwing in the towel." This restlessness then becomes a journey and something through which I am able to walk and not back down from what I think might happen. More and more I turn to the baptismal font - the simplicity of the image of water and the encouragement of those words of eternal love - and I find nourishment that is able to sustain me. Part of that nourishment comes from looking around the room and seeing the others who stand at the font...the years of faithfulness...the many trials that have been faced...the victories and the defeats. And yet, there we are made fresh from the water sprinkled or dabbed or simply place on our forehead - fresh for life even within our eternal restlessness.
Connection: No one can tell us how to face this restlessness. Each of us can only tell our stories to others. From there, we take bits and pieces and those other people around us and we begin our own movement through the restlessness that calls us beyond ourselves. Enjoy the journey.
Lord God, continue to pull us into your Reign that is beyond our imagination and yet within the realm of the imagination of the saints gathered as one body. In this day we count on your Spirit to turn us into a searching and holy people who are willing to face the day and step into the possibilities of life you have waiting for us. Amen.
Monday, May 29, 2006
This transcendental restlessness has two parts. First, I cannot unfold, the the totality of my possibility, to the level of that which I dream. Second, the one who placed the dream in me is the Creator. We are made in the image of God. We are made after the image and the likeness of the ultimate thing itself. Our whole life is an effort to approach, to appreciate, to some degree to participate in, the absoluteness of God himself. But we can never do it; that's why our whole life is a restlessness.
Too often the word that comes from the faith community is one that does not want to go beyond into the possibilities of the day or that which may come to be. Rather, there is, as I noted on Friday, a desire to pull back and settle for what is or...what has been. It is as though humanity's limit and goal have been met and we should not go any further. What a shame to think so little of the Creator in whose image we are made. One of the wonderful aspects of our humanity is that we are so much more than what we have been. We may not reach the limits of our humanity, but we can soar within the place we have been given. Just as new insights emerge in so many areas of our lives, so to are we inspired to view our status as God's beloved in new ways that continue to fit within the shape of the day but also to expand our lives into new realms of being. It seems as though it is quite alright to be a part of this "restlessness" - quite realistic - actually quite necessary. For within this restlessness, we take the courageous leap of faith that moves us beyond ourselves and into the constant waiting arms of God.
Connection: We may not be able to unfold "the totality of my possibility," but there is always something that can be unfolded. In that way, life is always being filled with the freshness of an adventure that will take us into a new life that may surprise us and lead us into another adventure for life. Restlessness can be a very hopeful experience.
In your light, O God, we are invited to see the possibilities of life that we do not let ourselves see when we are confined to simple expectations that have been handed down to us. You lift us up so that we will see a glimpse of the fullness of your image and thus the fullness of our potential and our lives. Amen.
Friday, May 26, 2006
We are formed for God; we are formed to be in relation to that which was before we were, from which we proceed, and in which we will ultimately end. Faith is a longing. Humankind is created to grasp more than we can grab, to probe for more than we can ever handle or manage.
These are real words of wisdom in a time when religious faithfulness often comes across as quite contrary to these life unfolding images. Today, on a number of religious fronts, it is as though people are pulling back...afraid to face the turning of new pages of our history. We are in relation to our God "in which we will ultimately end" but too many people want to control the journey and in essence say that they control who will experience this ultimate end. Unfortunately for these controlling religious powers, the end they attempt to control is not ultimate...it is limited and closed and guarded. Therefore, it is not the end that will come in the fullness of time when God who begins all things and enters into relation with us is also the God who welcomes home all of God's beloved - because that is God's way that we see so graphically in the loving life of Jesus. Christian literalist, sometimes called fundamentalists, seem to be deathly afraid of the unfolding of life and the possibilities that are always coming into reach within God's Reign. They reach back and try to hang onto another age or they refuse to understand that we cannot handle all things - thank God. But we can be responsible and faithful even as all things change.
Connection: Let yourself long for the presence of God. Let yourself soar beyond what is and take note of how faithful people really engage the unknown and that which we cannot control. It may turn out to be an amazing day of grace.
O Lord, you are beyond us and you pull us toward you. When we refuse to let go of the day as we would have it...or our lives as we would want them to be, nudge us and pull us again so that we will understand what it is to leap into your waiting arms. Amen.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
St. Augustine, at the beginning of his Confessions, makes a great and beautiful statement: "Thou has made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee." Back of that statement lies a proposition which says that the human is created for transcendence. It is the Jewish and Christian belief that we are meant for a selfhood that is more than our own selves - that we are by nature created to envision more than we can accomplish, to long for that which is beyond our possibilities.
What a wonderful insight. When I look around today at so called "people of faith" I find that I am looking at many people who will not "long for that which is beyond our possibilities." Many times, we are seen as people who would rather step back rather than leap forward into lives that are not what they once were and yet they are still in the loving arms of our God. "Rest in thee" has come to mean that we are to stay away from the movement of time and science and the many ways that we continue to move through the changes of the day. It is so important for us to remember that our hearts can rest in God alone no matter what is going on around us. In fact, we can continue to press on for the peace and justice and mercy that may not be visible in the world around us because we know that it is a part of the promise. Too often we use the faith to secure what is or what was and we do not let ourselves step into the people we are able to become - the people we are not yet...but the people that continue to unfold in the image of God.
Connection: Fear not. We are a part of a blossoming new creation that is always available to us so that we can experience the peace that comes as we put our trust in who God calls us to be rather than what we feel safe becoming.
Use us as faithful instruments of your will, O God. Help us to look into that which we cannot see and to dare to walk into the light of your creation that continues to arrive new each day. Amen.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
The gift of the Spirit is not just a vaporous cloud of unknowing, but the gift is given when obedience is demonstrated. The assignment of a task is the occasion for the specificity of the Spirit; the precision of the gift is accommodated to the acceptance of a duty.
The gift of the Spirit is always available. And yet, it is given as one is obedient. Now...does that mean that the Spirit pulls us into deeper obedience or....do we, being moved to faithfulness by the Spirit, step out into a new life that really cannot be entered without some sort of obedience of faith that causes us to stretch beyond our own limits into a realm where the Spirit is essential and the Spirit will be present with the appropriate gifts. Having just written that sentence, I'm a bit confused. Then again, the pulling is there...and the obedience is there...and always there with us is this Spirit that will not leave us wanting when we are called upon to step into the faithful way of following Jesus. As we obediently move into that way of love, we need not fear what will be waiting for us. The promise is the Spirit. The Spirit is the power to move again along the way of Jesus even if we were not ready yesterday. Today...is the day in which we are called out to follow Jesus and the Spirit will be here ready to move us to a place in which we can accept all that will come and all that will be expected of us.
Connection: Enough...think enough...remember that the Spirit of Our God will come to feed us and transform us and lift us up into the vision of the Reign of God. Yes...all of us. No matter where we are or where we see ourselves in comparison to others. Today, the Spirit is with us.
Within the great whirlwind of your power, O God, we are greeted with a vision for life that honors where we are and invites us to take another step into the domain of your love that is always a bit beyond what we are even able to imagine. Give us the courage to trust in you and to walk in your ways. Amen.
But note the text, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted;...to proclaim liberty to the captives." May I suggest with some boldness of interpretation that the Spirit gains specificity in relation to a focal duty, that the Spirit is given with a task. In New Testament times lepers had to be pronounced clean by a priest before they could be readmitted to society. When Jesus told ten lepers crying to him from afar to go show themselves to the priests, he was absurdly promising them that they would no longer be leprous. Yet despite the absurdity of the command and the promise, we read this wonderful sentence: " And as they went, they were cleansed" (Luke 17:14). The did not receive the gift and then take off; they took off in obedience, and the gift was given in relation to the obedience.
The Spirit does indeed bring about the creation of something out of nothing. But then...the Spirit works within this creation to create a quality of life within creation. Now that we have life, the Spirit brings into life the essential and vital elements of justice, care for the outcast and poor, mercy, and the liberation of those who are captives within our creation. As was said yesterday, there is something intentional about the work of the Spirit. Here in Isaiah, it becomes quite a bit more specific. Maybe that is why we so often avoid what it says? If spirituality is only something that has an impact on me - in private and as an individual - how does new life become a part of the Spirit's presence among us? Spirituality has to do with life and when we are people moved and influenced by the power of the Spirit, we cannot help but take on the world and its brokenness and begin to bring elements of God's Reign into the world. This is not always a simple task or one that is easily defined within our own context. That is why we must always be looking to scripture and looking to the world as we encounter it in order to understand how we will move out by the power of the Spirit of God.
Connection: We don't have to take on the world. Then again, we need to realize that the Spirit of God may be giving us skills and abilities and opportunities to reach beyond ourselves to bring to life a glimpse of the the Reign of God through the actions and movement s of our lives. That is a powerful notion to prayerfully consider - ah...spirituality.
Blessed Lord, you brighten the world by empowering and encouraging your saints to step out into the middle of the many needs and joys and brokenness and sorrows of the day to serve those around us. We may not always have the eyes to see the need or the ears to hear how we can be a part of your healing presence but we pray that the Spirit will touch us so that we can touch the lives of others. Amen.
Monday, May 22, 2006
In another usage of the word (spirit) Isaiah said, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me" (Isaiah 61:1). The Spirit of God is something I cannot define, much less enclose. We so often think of that Spirit as a generally dispersed and gaseous holy presence. It is simply there. We breathe it in, we breathe it out. There is a sense in which the Spirit of God is simply a wide term for the creative presence of God in everything that God has made.
The Spirit is that breath of life. That is the beginning...as in the beginning. And yet, within that breath, there is intention and design and vision. Even in the opening scenes of the creation scene put together in the first chapter of Genesis, there is this brooding presence that seems to be hovering over all that is not...yet. If it was just a brooding presence nothing would happen. In this case, this presence is what is happening. That is, this Spirit is in place to bring something into being...and as we know from the story, it bring something out of nothing at all. Yes, Spirit is something we cannot quite define like so many things, but it is that to which we can point after it has intentionally moved into space and time and been a part of creating something new...a new movement...a new direction...a new insight into what is possible...a new step along a path that keeps moving through the unending presence of God's Spirit. There is this creative presence and there is more...so much more and so much more specific, that the movement of this Spirit will even appear offensive to some as it reaches in to transform us.
Connection: Sometimes it is within the pause during the day when we literally let ourselves breathe that we are able to re-view what is happening around us and to see where we must go next. That is how close this Spirit of God is to be seen - the possibility that is so much a part of what we will become that we can take hold of it within a breath.
Breathe again upon us, O God, and as your Spirit engages our lives, take us into your ways of hopefulness and new life that always moving us into communion with others and with the whole of creation. Be for us the breath of life that encourages and brings peace. Amen.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
One reason (spirituality) is difficult to comprehend is that there are terms, as there are indeed, realities in which the terms point, which are incapable of specification - for which we can have no definition of sufficient inclusiveness that it leaves no remainder. Some things I can define very precisely, but there are words in our language - indeed in every language - that elude definition. The word imagination is not capable of definition; yet we all know the world and recognize its referent when it appears. And the word spirituality - the power, presence, dynamics of the spirit - is not a definable reality.
I must admit, I use the word Spirit quite a bit. I use it when I talk about the power that moves us or pulls us into God's future. I use it when I talk about faith and how it is the power of what is called the Holy Spirit that brings us to faith. I use it as I hear it used in scripture when it is said that the Spirit comes upon someone or a group and moves them into a new place or a new vision or a new way of living. At the same time, spirituality doesn't always find its way into my vocabulary. I think it has to do with some of the ways I hear it discussed. For me, it can be defined is such a narrow way at times that it appears as though spirituality is something one must achieve by going through a certain pattern or exercise or discipline. I must say that I really do understand that many people have a great sense of personal spirituality when they follow such practices. Sometimes it takes a discipline to move us into the fullness of life that we so often miss when we run through the "things of the day" that must get done. Then again, I find that in the midst of the "things of the day" even as I am moving through them, here and there, I am able to experience something I cannot quite describe...but spirituality seems to be one way to put a word to the experience and the reflection that takes place. Too often, I find that it is important to realize that when we reference words like spirituality, we are bringing quite a bit of variety of practice and experience onto the table. Maybe spirituality is, in part, being open to listen to whatever helps people envision the Reign of God...or our meaning in the whole realm of existence itself. Quite broad...eh!?!
Connection: Now and then, it would do us all well to look at the common with new eyes...or do something out of our pattern...or simply breathe with a bit of intentionality. That may be what spirituality comes to mean for us...at least for now.
Spirit of Life, as you whip around us and lift us up and carry us away into new ways of viewing life, remind us of the power that comes within a simple pause or reflection or even adding a walk down the street to allow ourselves a space and time to be refreshed by your creative wind. Amen.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
To build, we reinvestigate, see whether or not the new language can interpret more profoundly the old episodes and words. The task is never done. "I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24). That's exactly where we all stand - even Luther, for example. time and again in his own confessions, Luther talks about moments of what he calls Anfechtungen, when he had the horrible fear that he might have been wrong. We resist the notion that the struggle toward the light is lifelong, but that is the fact.
And...the struggle need not be alone nor a burden too heavy to endure. Trusting in the promises of God is a lifelong gift to us for God's promises never end and will never abandon us to our own ways. Therefore, we are assured that as we continue to pursue the way of this love that will not let us go, we will always be within the grasp of this God who promises to see us through all things. On the agenda for today is exactly what was on the agenda yesterday...and will be tomorrow. We are invited to believe that this love for us transforms us into a whole new being again and again even when we fall flat on our faces and live quite opposite of such love. Then again, there is no end to this abiding love and promise of our God who will today...be with us and sustain us...without end. In that promise is the freedom to give ourselves away to others and it is not a burden to do so. This is how justice and mercy begin to emerge among us. We are loved and we are free to love others to such a point that justice for all become the pattern of the day and mercy is the way in which we extend ourselves.
Connection: Go for it...again! The promise is available for the taking. The ride we take is sure to be glorious.
Come, O Lord of New Life, and liberate us through the power of your promises that reshape all things and bring peace to a world longing for new life. Amen.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
All the theology of the church came later as a way to explicate and account for this reality. The fundamental records are a witness of faith to faith. We stand in the continuity of the faith , not of its demonstrable certainty. What is demanded of me is no less an act of faith than was demanded of Peter, Paul, or John.
To be a Christian is to to sail on perilous seas. We live by faith, and it's never a finished faith. Mine has been collapsed and lying around me in shambles time after time. I've had to stop and reconsider and slowly build it up again, inasmuch as one builds it by oneself.
We trust what those before us trusted. We do not need to find the remains of the Ark in order to have faith as those before us had faith. We do not need to be able to secure power in the world in order to know that our faith is resting in the proper place. We are out on the edge of something promised and we take it by faith that the promise will bring new life. In that way, we are much like the faithful that have gone before us. Even though we say we are baptized in Christ, Jesus, and have new life, it doesn't mean that the story is over. Rather, the new life of faith begins anew every day. Every day we are invited to have faith in this promise that God is love and the witness of that love we have come to know in Jesus is a real way of life that is open to us. Unfortunately, it will be a very vulnerable pathway that may not appear to be the best way to go in this world...and yet, like those saints of old, the invitation is still ours and we are encouraged to trust in its way. This faith in the is promise is not like having a diamond ring or precious stone we can hold onto for security. Rather it is something that can be moved by the wind of the day. Our prayer therefore, is one that asks that we might be anchored to this promise so that we will again and again be able to return to this promise that is...for ever...even when we cannot be faithful in every time and place.
Connection: We are not followers of Jesus because it is becoming popular or has become some sort of cultural status symbol. We have faith in this story of God's promise alive among us and - to be quite frank - we never know what it will do with our lives. We are simply invited to travel with those who have trusted in this promise before us and thus passed on the story for us.
Be for us that anchor, O God. Be for us that anchor that allows us to go our own way but also gives us a way back into the realm of your promises. We doubt and we have faith...and then the cycle comes back again. In the midst of it all, be that anchor that reminds us in all things that there is this promise of new life that begins and ends in your love for us. Amen.
We have no access to Jesus. We have access only to the witnesses of the community that he called into existence by his presence, his person, his power. That is not disputable; that is a fact. I stand in a faith relationship exactly where they stood. They had to believe in him - just as I do. They were no better off than I am, nor I than St. Peter, St. John, St. Thomas. John said, "We hve beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father" (John 1:14). There is no proof of these things. The Christian community arose because its members believed Emmanuel; and they are the ones who reported to us directly.
We have a firm foundation. At the same time, that foundation is built by the witnesses of ordinary people who trusted their lives to the promises of God in Christ, Jesus. This is a witness with some fluidity due to the fact that each witness sees through their own eyes of faith and then must use their own abilities to transmit that story to others. In reading this brief piece, I wondered about the witness of the Church today. Are those around us today encountering the presence of Jesus through our communication - our lives - our witness. Each Sunday as I serve as the presiding minister I greet the people with words from St. Paul that we call the Apostolic Greeting: The grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all." I find that to be a powerful greeting. I also find that we who gather for worship have been brought into a community that offers this kind of a greeting of welcome and grace and love to all people. That is how we faithfully follow along the way of those who came before us. We are invited to bring our lives into the historical line of faithful people whose love and grace and welcome become that which was offered to the world by Jesus. Is that how we are perceived today? If not, what has become our witness and how do we move back into step with such faithfulness? Jesus is "with us" and we are invited to be the followers of Jesus...no matter how alien it may be to be a witness to such love.
Connection: We have to trust in Jesus just as any of the saints who have gone before us. We must also remember that such trust has as much transformative power today as back. That is something to contemplate in and about today's life together.
The glory of the witness of your Beloved, Jesus, is still a light that shines for us. Lord of All Faithfulness, we pray that this day will be another day in which we find in your light a way to walk through all that we will encounter and we will do so with a simply and yet, profound, faith. Amen.
Sunday, May 14, 2006
The word faith is often misused. I remember a form that college students had to fill out. On it was the question, "What faith are you?" They meant Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, or whatever. But Lutheranism is not a faith; it is a particular formation within the family of Christian believers with its own mores, liturgy, confessions. Faith must refer to something that is redemptive. A Lutheran church is not redemptive. It may be a servant of the message of redemption, but only God is the redeemer. Faith is a word that refers only to an object worthy of absolute trust. It is in God that one must have faith.
So what is that object worthy of absolute trust? Also, what do having faith in that object do to our lives? How does it shape how we act? Does it transform our lives and the lives of those around us? In addition, we must clarify just what this faith means to the living of our days. Being a Lutheran, I find that I am able to talk about the God who is the redeemer of us all. I could do that as a Roman Catholic, but I have been given some gifts from the Lutheran church that has helped me to clarify this amazing God and God's amazing grace that simply is the power to make all things new. Within the variety of people who claim Jesus as Lord, we must always remember to be good listeners so that we can hear when the God who rescues and redeems is lifted up. We also must listen for when that God is not lifted up and something else is lifted up in God's place. The faith invites us into a living dialogue with the scriptures and with others. It is there in the middle of all the interaction with others that the love of God becomes known among us and known to the world.
Connection: What is it about your "denominational" background in the Christian faith that has helped you to see a vision of God that show the transformational power of the God who redeems us all?
Lord of All Life, how often we pray that our lives might be caught up into your everlasting grace. Then we remember that through our baptism and your promises, we are caught up and need only acknowledge that promised rescue and how it makes for all things to be new...even us. Amen.
Friday, May 12, 2006
Not every historical context permits political activity (governed by kingdom norms) directed toward the creation of more just social structures in secular society. When the historical context does not permit that kind of political activity, then obviously it is not an obligation. But the fact that it is not done in one kind of historical setting surely does not suggest that it should not be done in another. In a democratic society, political activity designed to promote structural change is possible. Even in many contemporary settings far less free than our own, the constitution theoretically provides for freedom of speech and political activity. Hence it is possible to appeal to the government to respect its own principles. Jesus and the apostles incarnated a passionate concern for the needs of the whole person in a way that was possible in their historicopolitical context. We should do the same in historically appropriate ways in our different historical setting.
If we want justice to reign among us...if we are concerned about the welfare of all people...if the well being of the whole person is a part of the vision of the followers of Jesus (and I think it is), then we are blessed to be a people who will find ways to bring about such light within the every darkness that can prevail at times. To be quite frank, I know that this is often a trial by error adventure. Creating and working for change does not mean that every venture into new life is one that will work among us. Having said that, it is also important to realize that when we choose a path that does not work or is not hear or cannot create a liberating presence, it is our calling to communicate...enter into a dialogue...so that we will be able to return and face the powers with another new way. When we are attempting to create something new, there is nothing that says that the way we are working must be the new way. Rather, along the way our openness to bringing forth justice must include a flexibility that make for many more options to serve with one another in making a society or group in which we will live honoring all people and making sure that all are secure as we move forward together - all of us.
Connection: Sometimes one of the most difficult parts of being a part of a new movement or direction within the groups of our lives is having the courage to begin the change. Being quite the coward myself, I find that extensive private prayer and conversation with others is one way to act and be open to other insights even in the face of my reservations.
When you liberate us, O God, you make us into liberators. For once we are aware of the new life that is available to us even in the midst of the power and principalities that would simply like us to follow their ways, we come to see others who are more desperately seeking liberation...and we can be your instruments of liberation in our time. Encourage us, O Lord of New life. Amen.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
(The objection) "Neither Jesus nor the apostolic church engaged in economic boycotts of civil disobedience to challenge and correct social injustice in the Roman Empire. And neither should we." What can be said to this important objection?
...one response. The political situation in first-century Palestine was vastly different from the political situation in North America, Europe, and many other parts of the world today. Roman emperors were dictators. There was no place for a friendly opposition or for the expression of political dissent. Subject populations like the Jews could collaborate...or they could rebel... Jesus, as we have seen, rightly rejected all these political options. After He had rejected all the unfaithful modes of political activity in His particular historical context, there was no other viable political stance tolerated by the ruling dictatorship other than that of building a new community based on different values. That is exactly what He did.
There in that last sentence we see a bit of who we are to be as the followers of Jesus - we go ahead and begin to live as part of the new community. Yes, it may be alien in its life and values...but we go ahead and live there. We do not try to turn the world into us. Rather we live within a whole new realm and, if need be, take on the consequences of such living. I I have said previously, this is what is so different from the biblical model of being Church and the one we see in some of the prevailing religious attitudes of our day. Some segments of the Church want the government to become like their model of church and when their vision of the Church is not followed, they complain and scream persecution. Theocracy is not the vision of the Church in the scriptures. Just recently I saw a quote in which someone wrote that the God blessed the United States and that we were chosen to be a Christian nation. Where does that come from?!? I would suggest it comes from what I would call an anti-Christ vision that has nothing to do with the Jesus who was crucified....except to use the emotional pull of that horrible event to win people to this perverted notion of power.
Connection: How do we each begin to go about building what Sider calls this new community that was the way of Jesus and therefore, our way also? There are ways and as is always the case, it takes more than one to walk along that path.
When you make us a bold people, O God, it is that we will forever remember to live as though your beloved, Jesus, leads us into this day. We need to be inspired to walk with Him and to become a part of the radical way in which He loved the world. Amen.
Tuesday, May 9, 2006
This distinction between resistance and rebellion is by no means merely semantic. The person who resists, resists only the oppression of injustice and continues to accept the government's authority. Furthermore the one who resists respects the government and calls on the governing officials as free moral agents to change and end their rebellion against the shalom willed by their true Sovereign, the risen Lord, who is in fact King of kings and Lord of lords. On the other hand, the one who rebels denies that the government has any authority and abandons any hope that the unjust rulers can be anything other than enemies to be removed.
This is one of those comments that must be seen from a number of angles. For example, those of us who are in the Church can glean much from this discussion. The Church is a blessed institution and yet it has many flaws. Some of those flaws create a system that is unjust and oppressive. Yes...the Church. Therefore, to be a part of this blessed institution, it is a blessing to the whole body if there was a voice that would rise up and offer a word of resistance when the Church seems to be dealing with life in ways that are a witness to the way of the cross of Christ. In this way, we continue to stay in the middle of all that is going on and yet we do not "go along" with the prevailing winds. Resistance may be the way to witness to Christ when the Christ is not being revealed by the body itself. But know this. Just because we resist, it doesn't mean that we are right. I think it simply starts the dialogue. It is the tipping point that carries the potential for differing sides to come together and somehow...discern the truth and find new ways to live together under the banner of the Reign of God. To rebel is to simply throw stones and not care where they land. To resist is to understand that the resistance may change or it may change the the institution...it is to also understand that the witness may be utterly rejected and even crucified. Resistance keeps moving ahead willing to be available to where the resistance may lead us.
Connection: Resistance is an insider action that needs to be a part of every group - even families. It is often the family member who resists the status quo of the group who becomes the one who helps take a family into a whole new way of being family.
Lord of the Cross, through the way of your suffering we find a power that does not try to overwhelm others...but rather tries to open up the future to a movement of grace that turns the world upside down within the simplicity of conversation, dialogue, and community. Keep us on the way of the cross as we claim to follow our Lord, Jesus. Amen.
Monday, May 8, 2006
We should resist the evils promoted or perpetuated by governments. We dare not rebel against government and cast off it authority. We can and should try to make our government - no matter how good or bad it is - more just. We dare not - however unjust it may be - try to destroy it. We can engage in political demonstration, civil disobedience, tax refusal, even total noncooperation and still be subject to our government. As long as the methods are those of loving nonviolence, as long as we refuse to consider the oppressor an enemy, as long as we submissively reject rebellion and instead respectfully accept the penalties that are imposed, we remain subject to government. Scripture commands us always to be subject to government. It does not command us to obey without condition.
There are so many ways to resist...and we must. At the same time, there are so many ways to show support and honor the governments and ruling powers. The most difficult part is to do both things: resist and honor. This will take constant prayer and conversation so that we will be able to discern the action appropriate for any time and place. For those of us in the Church this means that we bring the witness of Christ, Jesus, into our process of discernment. I don't think I am saying we simply ask the WWJD kind of question. There are so many situations in our day that Jesus doesn't address directly. Therefore, conversation and prayerful deliberation helps all of us look to what would be the way of peace and justice among us. We will also need to know how mercy plays into the vision of who we are to be. I am also hearing Sider saying that that if we are going to resist the actions of the government we must be willing to face whatever will be thrown at us or our unwillingness to continue on our side the realm of the power that is in control. That will mean that there will be victims and I'm never sure of what all that means.
Connection: And yet...we speak up again today. At the same time, we need to recognize that there are some of us who must do more speaking and acting in order to protect those who are unable to act or speak. There must always be allies who prayerfully consider the welfare of all and take the risk to begin paving a new road of reform which is always first a pathway of resistance and never utter rebellion.
God of New Life, you are the power that moves us forward into your living presence. Too often we cannot see where we are going or how we will move there, and yet, you promise to bring us into your glorious Reign. Amen.
Saturday, May 6, 2006
Neither Jesus nor the early church ever supposed that to be subject to government meant to obey its every command. Jesus and the apostles knew that whenever government commanded what was contrary to God's command, it must be disobeyed. "We must obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29) was their working principle. But even in their refusal to obey, even in their civil disobedience, they continued to be subject to government. They did not rebel. They did not take up the sword to overthrow government. On the other hand, when government commanded things contrary to God's will they regularly refused to obey, and then accepted the penalty for their disobedience. When Paul says that we are not to resist the authorities, he does not mean that we are never to disobey... He means that we are not to rebel against government and deny that it has authority over us.
Once again I heard the slogan that was repeated back in the days of the Viet Nam conflict. "Love it or Leave it." It was directed toward people who are coming into the U.S. illegally from Central and South America and are complaining about the movement to restrict their entry. It also voiced in the discussion about learning and speaking English and the greatest of sins - singing the National Anthem in Spanish (by the way, why do we allow the National Anthem to be sung by a soloist who sings it in such a way -in English- that no one else can join in?!?). Why must that be the choice? As Christians, that is never our only option. We can "love it and reform it." We can "hate it and reform it." We can "love and hate it and resist it." But, we do not take to the streets and rebel against the government structures...we take it to the polls...we vote...we take part in nonviolent resistance...we march. When we act contrary to the government, we must also realize that our actions of disobedience may bring about consequences we would not appreciate. I think we must also consider why we would enter into acts of disobedience. As followers of Jesus, we are inspired to act on behalf of others. Our disobedience is not merely to get what I want. Rather it is in order to bring an end to a condition in the government that is unjust to other citizens. We dare, you could say, to lay down our lives for others...just as Christ, Jesus, laid down his life for all.
Connection: The wonderful journey of being a Christian within any country is that we are given eyes to see what is often not on the radar of the powers. Therefore, we are given the opportunity to act in the ways of our Lord in order to bring forth some sense of justice and peace and mercy into our world.
Come, O Spirit of Life and breathe into your people the courage to stand up within the midst of the powers of this day with the vision of your glorious Reign and announce its coming again and again. Amen.
Friday, May 5, 2006
Is this kind of vigorous offensive compatible with Romans 13? Does not Paul call Christians to a nonresistant attitude toward even tyrannical governments? Again I think not. To think of nonresistance is to overstate the Pauline demand... Instead we are to be subject to whatever government exists for us.
...however, "to be subject is not at all the same as "to obey." ...the word Paul uses for "be subject" is not one of the normal words for "obey."
...it means surely recognizing that one is placed below it by God...It will not be uncritical, not a blind obedience to the authority's every command; for the arbiter of what constitutes "be subject to" in a particular situation is not the civil power but Christ.
We always return to Christ. In that power of our Lord, we find the way we are to walk within the realm of the principalities and power. That is not a lay down and obey. We respect the authorities but only as we are able to live within the Reign of Christ's love. Therefore, the power of the Church is a power that is cross shaped. We will not go along with abuses of power that treat people as objects. Imagine if the Church in Germany was able to stand up against the way power was being used in the middle of the last century. On the other hand, imagine what would happen in this country when elements of the Church align themselves so fully with the government - so as to become a power within it - that they model less of Christ's body and more of just another power with an agenda to put in place over other people. We are an offensive people and offensive people often find themselves on the cross or in the cross hairs. In the mean time, when the poor and the maginalized and those who do not "live" the way most "live" out their lives, are treated with less honor than the rich, the ones in control and the majority, we are called to follow the way of the Christ. Sometime that will be with a simple "no." At other times, that will be with our votes. At other times, it will demand our lives.
Connection: There are many ways to say "no" to powers and authorities that attempt to rule over us with a heavy hand. Each of us must prayerfully consider how that will happen in our own lives.
Lord, be for us the encouragement to follow you alone so that we will more fully see how we are to be involved with the powers of our day. When your rule takes us in a direction of resistance, remind us that you stand alongside to help us to prayerfully consider how we are to be faithful to you above all powers. Amen.
Thursday, May 4, 2006
To say that we are not to take the offensive against the powers is to ignore the whole thrust of god's actions in history. In the incarnation, God Himself steps into history to join battle with the forces of evil. Jesus took the offensive and constantly battled with the demonic forces during His public ministry. He took the offensive against the Pharisees and also against the Sadduccees because of their economic exploitation in the temple. He continued His offensive against the principalities and powers when He disarmed them at the cross and led them as captives in His triumphal procession. As the body of Christ, we are to continue the mission of the incarnate One in the world today and that includes an ongoing offensive against the fallen principalities and powers, a vigorous, active use of power in the search for greater justice in society.
This offensive action must pursue truthfulness and be open and clearly visible for all to see. The risk of such openness is that the principalities and powers and those people who dare not to disagree or move away from these powers will use all the power they possess to put an end to such offensive moves. Therefore, the work at hand for the followers of Jesus is to continue on with the witness even in the face of the repercussions that may take place against such an offensive witness. Hear also the second way to understand the word offensive. It is first that movement that is in opposition to the ways of the principalities and powers. It is then also offensive to them in the sense that "no one resists the powers." Everyone is to honor the powers and principalities and yet we dare to live contrary to their games and the way power is used in the world. When we do not give the principalities and powers the respect they want...or honor them as they want...we enter into offensive actions that are viewed as disruptive and inappropriate. The truth is, resistance to the powers is disruptive and inappropriate to their rule...but justice and mercy and peace are usually disruptive and inappropriate to those who want to hold onto the power they have and claim to have made for themselves.
Connection: One of the best ways to be offensive is to be truthful. Then again, we must always be willing to hear the truth when it is directed toward us.
Lord, make us instruments of your will so that we will boldly walk along the way of the cross and stand for a vision for life that may work in contrary ways to the way the world's powers seek to move us. Amen.