Thursday, August 31, 2006

1 September 2006

September begins with Dietrich Bonhoeffer writing about "costly grace" in "The Cost of the Discipleship.

Such grace is costly beause it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a person (his) life, and it is grace because it given a (person) the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies sthe sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of (God's) Son: "ye were bought at a price, " and what has cost God did cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon (God's) Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.

Here's another argument for the importance of the incarnation. Before there is the suffering and the death and the resurrection, God takes a chance on being human...being one of us in the midst of us. What a predicament...and yet it is our predicament through which we must all pass. God so loved the world that God...came into it all. What a story! This was no step down 'in the spirit' so as to float around through life but not really deal with the down and dirty - ordinary and common - the corruption and the death. God so love the world that this love was to be among us in order to see how contrary such love really is...and to show what the power of the world will always do to it. This is costly grace. Step in...enter the game...get dealt the same hand as any other...and do it all with a love that is beyond my comprehension but is now quite human. God for us, Emmanuel, what a radical idea. This is not God trying to make us "do good." This is God being God and showing us the way to be in union with that life that is as real and me.

Connection: Some days it is difficult to see how God is present within the world around us. Sometimes we are looking to far and not looking in the mirror or at those all around us. Take a look around today.

O Lord of Grace, we long to touch your love and yet we so often remove ourselves from others. How can you touch us if we are not willing to be touched and held and encouraged and supported by those around us that come in your name. Remind us of your presence in the very flesh and blood all around us. Amen.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

31 August 2006

Today we will begin the transition from talking about cheap grace to costly grace in "The Cost of Discipleship" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

... Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a (person) will gladly go and sell all that (s/he) has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ for whose sake a (person) will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows Jesus.

This is costly grace because it is quite then end of our control of the story.We go on being the gifted and beautiful person whom God created but we now turn to walk along a pathway that brings our personhood into the bountiful expanse of what life can be as it is embraced by God's love. To take that take that leap - from our way to the way of the Christ - is so contrary to who we say we are and who we may want to be that the turn will cost us our life. What is so difficult to imagine is that the gift is so great that the risk that may cause us to turn around and live our own lives ust be taken as part being in touch with the gift. Today I was telling some colleagues that some of Bonhoeffer's images and writing about this grace is too much for me. It is as though I see myself as some of those followers of Jesus who...decided to stay behind and walk their own way. You know, good message...but...maybe not a life for me. Unfortunately, the walk in the way of Jesus is already a part of the gift that enables us to walk more...and to wander into the presence of others who are also stepping off to begin a daily walk with this Lord who claims us and gives us way to move through this day. Whew!!

Connection: Some days it is good to simply shake our heads and praise our God for being so graceful and loving that we can let go of all the many ways we attempt to control our universe...which is really not our universe at all!

Lord God, enable us to enter this day by singing "O Day Full of Grace" so that we will remember whose hands hold all things and whose love sustains all things. In the singing of those words, let us be supported by its truthfulness and thus be fed the bread of life that brings your love into this day. Amen.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

30 August 2006

Before we can talk of costly grace Bonhoeffer continues to spell out what "cheap grace" looks like.

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before.
...That is what we mean by cheap grace, the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs. Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.

Cheap grace sounds like an incomplete job. There is no new life...just life made to feel good for now...for this moment...the way we want to feel good. It sounds like cheap grace never helps us move on and face life from a new perspective because we have really never moved into a new space. Cheap grace is so me centered, it has no power to change me. It may have a sweetness to it like a scene in a movie that can move me to tears, but it cannot transform those tears into abundant new life. Cheap grace seems to do a good job at keeping people just where there are. Maybe that is why it is so wonderful to see people with some years behind them find themselves tackled by God's grace as though it was never a power in their lives. When we are fed by cheap grace, it appears as though we are not really fed and satisfied. When someone is satisfied - fed -by new life, there is a deep sense of peace that passes all understanding. This cheap grace does not bring that gift to our lives.

Connection: Sometimes it is good to reflect on what it is that really brings us peace and helps us to turn around into a new life just waiting for us.

We long for your love to hold us and change us and bring about a new reality that we cannot bring about on our own, O God. Often we think we can do this...but we really never move into something new. Lead us into that newness and bid us to follow your way. Amen.

Monday, August 28, 2006

29 August 2006

We will continue taking from Bonhoeffer and his writing on grace - cheap & costly.

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth the love of God taught as the Christian "conception" of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins. The Church which holds the correct doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, ipso facto a part in that grace. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.

It sounds as thought he general concept of a God who paints everything nice and clean just because that is what God does is all a part of what can be so cheap about grace. We have all heard such a word and probably been a part of it. It is really a mushy word that may have an immediate impact on someone but has no substance upon which we can build our lives in a new way. Even though we have yet to hear Bonhoeffer talk about costly grace, we can hear in his description of cheap grace the voice (of costly grace) that is calling for - a life shift - a remaking of life - a transformation - a letting go of what we like to control and a turning to that which is in God's hands. I often find that as I am talking about the love of God it is so very easy to leave off the cost that comes in, with, and under the word of grace. It is like forgetting to tell the story of the night in which our Lord was betrayed as we enter into the Eucharistic banquet. The banquet must tell the whole story which is also the story of our lives - the utter brokenness and the amazing grace that opens up space beyond our fall so that we can step into something very new and yet very much out of our control.

Connection: We must all learn to say "yes" and "no" and to live with the tension of taking both of these words to heart. It is also important to note that in every "yes" there must be some shape of "no" that needs to be heard - and vice versa.

Come, Lord Jesus, and take us up within you gracious Reign so that as we face this day we will continue to look at where we will walk as your followers. Encourage us as we see the many places into which you carry us so that we will not run away from the expansive love of your way. Amen.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

28 August 2006

Today begins a walk through the first few sections of "The Cost of Discipleship" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I could easily quote every word he writes but I will use some self control We will begin with a look at Costly Grace.

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting to-day for costly grace. Cheap grace means...The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost!

I suppose one could say that there is also situations in which the church offers no grace at all. In other words, it is all about me and what I can do to be right with God. But here, we see something different. Cheap grace as that word from the Church that is afraid to call for action and new life becomes something hollow and worth little to any of us. It is a part of a feel-good trap in which people are not really invited into the new age - the Reign of God - the life of the body of Christ. I find myself in a constant battle with myself over just this way of being Church. We must remind ourselves constantly that we are called by our Lord, to follow him. That is quite direct - Follow! "Come and see" does not have tacked onto it..."If you all want to." No, this is an invitation to take part in a joyous life that does and will walk to the cross. Cheap grace seems to be afraid to ask deep questions and to say "Yes" at time and to also say "No" at other times. Cheap grace means "the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner." Transformation and new life does not take place if we simply paint over the offense - the break - the fall. Rather, it takes place when we - our whole being and everything about us - turns around and begins to live a new. That is not a conditional is a reality.

Connection: We are handed eternal life. It is offered to us. We stand at the beginning of this and every day with that reality in front of us. So...what do we do!?! Use the invitation as a way to get away with living the life we always want for ourselves. the invitation a power that grabs us and leads us - for now - into a life we probably would not choose for ourselves.

Lord of the Resurrection, we know that we are invited to follow you. We are aware that we only do that to the degree would like. We also know that you call us beyond our vision and you empower us to go there and reside in your Reign. Be for us that sustaining power that enables us to live with the new domain of your gracious love. Amen.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

25 August 2006

The week comes to an end with what will be the last of our run through a section of Douglas John Hall's book The Cross in our Context."

Christians, we have maintained, are those who through confrontations with death are given a new freedom from the sting of death and so a new freedom for voluntary service to others. Surely if this claim has any truth in it, then it is not our own suffering but the suffering of the world beyond us that must claim our attention. Indeed, is not the whole purpose of our liberation from excessive personal anxiety the creation within us of a new consciousness of and care for others? Just here we encounter the transition from theology to ethics. The theology of the cross is intended to give rise not only to an ecclesiology of the cross, but to an ethic, the essence of which it the attentiveness to human and worldly suffering that is made possible in those who have been and are being delivered from self.

25 August 2006

The week comes to an end with what will be the last of our run through a section of Douglas John Hall's book The Cross in our Context."

Christians, we have maintained, are those who through confrontations with death are given a new freedom from the sting of death and so a new freedom for voluntary service to others. Surely if this claim has any truth in it, then it is not our own suffering but the suffering of the world beyond us that must claim our attention. Indeed, is not the whole purpose of our liberation from excessive personal anxiety the creation within us of a new consciousness of and care for others? Just here we encounter the transition from theology to ethics. The theology of the cross is intended to give rise not only to an ecclesiology of the cross, but to an ethic, the essence of which it the attentiveness to human and worldly suffering that is made possible in those who have been and are being delivered from self.

When we walk from the gathered saints who are present to hear the word and share the Lord's Supper, we walk into an arena of people suffer in many and various ways. The stories we hear in worship are not ones that tell us how we are to use power to overcome the world. Rather, we use this odd notion of love - Jesus' love for the lost and the least and the lowest - and it is given away so freely it is down right offensive. In some of my most recent reading, I'm seeing that many of the growing "Christian" movements in our country do not know of the way of the cross. They can only pull from Scripture ways that give them an excuse to want to take over and rule other. No longer are they drawn into the lives of others in order to serve - rather they come to create conformity and to rule with an iron hand that can only see the world in black and white. I don't think I have ever noticed that Jesus' love was black and white. It was and is unconditional. That is what puts him up on the cross. Had Jesus been a part of the movement of some of the extreme and powerful forces of today's Christian right, there would have been no crucifixion...excuse me, maybe Pilates.

Connection: I think the sign out from our church building says: Dialogue is the beginning of love. I really do think that is part of the ethic of the followers of Jesus who move out into the world. We do not go out into this day armed with a mindset that is ruled by fear. We engage and enter into the lives of any.

When you send us out into this day, O Lord, send us with your Spirit. Send us as ones empowered to love rather than rule. Within that loving presence, shape us into the way of your beloved, Jesus, so that the world may see over and over again - your presence alive among us. Amen.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

24 August 2006

Hall brings in some clarification to what it is to suffer as the church as he bring the chapter "The Church and the Cross" to an end.

...the suffering of the church can be badly distorted if it becomes interesting in itself. It is for this reason that I claimed...that where the theme of Christian suffering has been acknowledged in certain Christian (especially Lutheran) traditions, it has been too marred by introversion and subjectivization: "See how I suffer, see how we suffer, life is a cross," etc.
The necessary corrective to this kind of melancholy self-preoccupation on the part of Christians and churches is their being made newly conscious of the suffering that lies outside their own person and communities. Surely if it is truly Jesus Christ whom we follow, that is the direction in which we must move; for in the scriptural sources we never hear of a Jesus preoccupied with his own pain. Even on the cross itself he is conscious, chiefly, of the pain of others - of the thieves on either side, and the pathetic little group of his followers standing beneath the cross, devastated.

How good it is to be drawn back into the stories of Jesus in Scripture. There, as Hall notes, is a Jesus always focused on the other and how the other is suffering in any shape and form. This is a focus for our contemplation. How can we begin to help one another deal with the realities of life that can and is painful for us at times and yet, keep our focus on those around us who are in need of others to stand with them when oppressed and thrown down by the world. One of the ways I always talk of the life of a congregation is to mention its "ministry and mission." We cannot be engulfed in just one and not the other. We care for ourselves so that we are liberated and free to care for others in need. Both sides of this coin are needed. Unfortunately, it is quite easy to get stuck on spin down into that spiral that does not let us see the needs of others - only our own anxious and troubled lives. The church is a people who guide one another out of that self-indulgent spiral and out into a life that is given and shed for other and also fed in the middle of that adventure.

Connection: Balance. It is not only good to be able to practice physical balance in order to maintain good health, it is good to consider what it is to be balanced in regard to our identity as followers of Jesus. Balance a little bit today!

Lead us Lord, beyond our ways. Lead us Lord, throughout this day. Lead us Lord, when we know not where to go for we need you Lord to make us whole. Amen.

23 August 2006

Again from "The Cross in Our Context" by Douglas John Hall.

We all suffer, individually and corporately. To be human is to suffer. Some of our suffering is integral to our creaturehood; without it we could not become fully human. And some of our suffering as Christians and as churches is integral to our becoming mature disciples of the Christ - it belongs to the tradition named conformitas Christi (being conformed to Christ). One dimension of the suffering of the church, therefore, is its appropriation and internalization of the pain involved in being identified with the crucified one - what the Reformers called its "continuing baptism" into his death.

I appreciate the reminder that "to be human is to suffer." In commenting about the Apostles' Creed when it says "suffered under Pontius Pilate," Marva Dawn once said that we would do well to put a comma after suffered because as the creed presently stands it appears as though the only suffering worth mentioning is that within the time directly before his death as he was sentenced to be crucified. In reality - if Jesus was human like the rest of us...if he was indeed one who knew all of our suffering - Jesus suffered throughout his whole life. Jesus suffering in ways that are completely human and ordinary because he was - human. Then again, he also faces suffering, like under Pilate and the other power players of the day, because he took on the brokenness of the world and faced it and would not be a part of its workings even if it meant he would take on suffering that most people would avoid. It is this last "taking on the world and resisting its power" kind of suffering that brings about the suffering during the three days around and through his death. We - the Church - is invited to join Christ there in the midst of that "continuing baptism" from death into new life.

Connection: Some time within the ordinary movement of this day, we may be invited to set into the pattern of this continuing baptism. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we step forward into its live giving water.

In the middle of what is ordinary, O Lord, you embrace us and you invite us to be a part of your loving presence in the middle of an unloving world. Inspire us to face the world with that love even as we come to understand that the consequences of that love may lead us into trials we could otherwise avoid. Praise to you, O Christ. Amen.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

22 August 2006

Today we continue with more on the seventh mark of the church (suffering) in "The Cross in Our Context" by Douglas John Hall.

This seventh mark of the church, surely, is one that ought to exercise a good deal of critical guidance today as the churches struggle to overcome their internal conflicts and their penchant for excessive concern over their own institutional survival. Surely the only survival in which the church as Christ's body can be interested ultimately is the survival of God's groaning creation. The whole ethic of justice, peace, and integrity of creation, not a mere addendum to Christian faith and life but stands at the center of our identity as communities of Christ's discipleship.

Hall's remarks today remind me of how much time and energy congregation spend on themselves. That is not to say that this time is not used well. What I have noticed so much lately is that issues like justice and peace and what I would call the well-being of all of creation do not come very much to the center of our life together. It also makes me think that this would be one of the reasons that this seventh mark of the church is little to be found among us. When our concern looks outward or inward so that we care for the well-being of those in great need - those put down or run over - those whose lives are given little care because the funds for appropriate care are not shared with them...then we will find that few will like our focus or our concerns. We might even lose members or be told that we need to focus on our own...much like an exclusive club. When we as an institution have eyes only for ourselves, we will be that club that simply works to make itself a stable and prosperous group with little willingness to stand with and alongside those with whom few are willing to stand. How much of our life together is as a light to the world and how much of it is as a light to ourselves? Then again, we do need to shed some light on ourselves as part of the preparation to serve out in the world. We often don't make this last step.

Connection: Some people do not like the idea that church folk get involved in politics. And yet, it is often in that arena of our public life that we can help to move resources and care out to those who really do not make it on the radar of our church communities. Therefore, I would think we really need to talk about "how" we will be involved in politics and how that is a part of that mark which we rarely see around us.

Come, O Healing Lord, and as we venture out into this world following your way to the cross, be our source of comfort and healing and well-being that in this new day we may again walk with those in need and become a present source of your loving kindness for all. Amen.

Monday, August 21, 2006

21 August 2006

Douglas John Hall writes of Luther's comments on the place of suffering in the Church.

...Luther insisted that among the so-called marks of the church there is only one that is indispensable - only one whose absence would automatically call into question everything else claimed by such a church, including its unity, holiness, apostolicity, and catholicity. As Von Loewenich writes:
"Luther lists cross and suffering among the marks of the church. ...Luther counts seven marks by with the church can be recognized, and he would prefer to call them the seven sacraments of the church, if the term 'sacrament' had not already taken on a different meaning....As the seventh mark of the church, Luther mentions 'the holy possession of the sacred cross' ...suffering; a church of which that cannot be said has become untrue to its destiny."

We do not hear this kind of emphasis among churches today. We are in a time in which our history has been so woven into the pattern of empire that suffering has to do with the suffering that comes to many of us as we age or are injured or become sick or are troubled in spirit. Suffering as a mark of the a life mark that demonstrates that the Christ is the one we follow, is not well known among us. The cross comes into the picture as we stand with others. The cross comes into the picture as that stand is one that is offensive to the patterns of acceptability today. The cross comes into the picture when, for the sake of another, we forego our status, our position, our benefits and do what Jesus did so regularly, eat with the outsiders - the rejected, touch those who are "by law" untouchable, stand up against the status quo of a system that does nothing for the actual well being of the people. When we talk about this "mark of the church" we begin to talk about the need to be empowered by the Spirit...encouraged...uplifted...supported...forgiven.

Connection: In the middle of the day, upon waking, at the end of a day's journey, there is the simple sign of the cross that reminds us of who were are and the way we are called to live and who is present with us. Sometimes the courage to be the church begins with such a simple sign.

Deliver us, Lord God, from the many ways we turn our backs to the way of the cross and the new life that you offer to us as your followers in this time and place. Though we never find suffering a goal or a pleasure, we know that in the midst of being your people in this world we will experience the joy of your presence and we will face the cross that our world will place in front of us. We give you thanks and praise for your promise to be alongside us through all that we will face today. Amen.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

18 August 2006

We will end the week continuing with the theme of suffering and the church as presented by Douglas John Hall in the book "The Cross in Our Context."

The point is: the suffering of the church is not the goal but the consequence of faith...
The church is a community of suffering because it is a community whose eyes have been opened to the suffering that exists. The first assumption of this ecclesiology is not that the church should suffer but that it should be..."attentive" - namely, attentive to the suffering of that is simply there and that is usually bypassed by the world, as in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Bible assumes that human and creaturely suffering is perennial and manifold. If the church does not see this suffering and if, seeing it, it does not take the burden of it upon itself, then its whole life must be called into question.

We can choose to look away or we can be attentive to the world around us and look more deeply at the world. We can choose to walk away or we can choose to walk right into the middle of the condition of the world. The way of the cross is to keep our eyes open and to walk into the needs of the world around us. This is not at all easy. It is like the young Union soldier who was on trial for desertion. When Lincoln talked to him about it the soldier said he was sure he had the heart like that of a great epic warrior but when the battle started his legs would take off running. The church must be a courageous bunch of people as we enter into the trials and suffering of our world. Everyone can easily criticize the Priest and the Lawyer in the story of the Good Samaritan, but it is not easy to walk across that street and tend to an unknown situation even when it is crying out for help. Therefore, we continue to listen to the stories of those who stepped over the lines to be with those who suffer...we continue to look again at the vision of God's Reign and how the world longs to be saved from its present suffering and live within God's shalom...and, we continue to pray with one another in order that we will remember to keep our eyes and ears aware of the things we would usually walk by if we were to live along our own way.

Connection: Yes, the day is filled with the stuff that calls out for assistance and intervention. Yes, we cannot do everything. And yet, there are many ways to reach out into the lives of those who long to be uplifted by the lives of others.

Lord, when we are afraid to take a look at the needs and the suffering of those around us, rest your reassuring hands upon us so that we will re-view those needs in the light of your walk to the cross. Help us each to find a community of people who will encourage us to live boldly within your gracious Reign even as walking along such a path will place us on your way that leads to the cross in our day. Amen.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

17 August 2006

Again, Douglas John Hall attempts to put suffering into a perspective that is meant to engage all of us.

The suffering of the body of Christ no means a fate, and where it is genuine (as in the case of Bonhoeffer, or of Simone Weil, or of Martin Luther King Jr.) the element of choice is prominent and vital to it. The church does not have to suffer, as if there were no other possibility - indeed, the fact that the historic church has so regularly and characteristically managed to avoid suffering ought to set to rest any insistence that Christians always and necessarily suffer. However, whenever the church has made good its claim to Christ's discipleship, it has at least known the call to suffer.

There is in the above piece the important "however." The church as the followers of Jesus from age to age has "at least known the call to suffer." We are not to live to suffer. That is not our goal. And yet, when we follow the one we claim brings us new life, Jesus, we will come to know how closely suffering comes into our lives. One of the aspects of the many of the claims of Christian Dominionism (usually coming from conservative/literalistic churches) is that the followers of Jesus are meant to be in power. They are the ones who complain that they are suffering because they are see that Christianity is not in as dominant of of position as it once was. The suffering is the they cannot have a manger scene on public property or that people are contesting things like "God" in the pledge of allegiance (even though it was added out of sheer fear in the 1950's). this is not suffering. This is privilege wanting to keep its standing. This is not suffering. No one on the Christian right is going to face the cross like those listed above in Hall's piece. The church is called to follow Jesus and that is all the way to the cross. That will mean that we will not settle for gifts merely given to us...we will walk the way of justice and mercy and peace for all. We walk on behalf of and with all. That will bring suffering because few people and even fewer "powers" will settle for life that takes care of all. Special interests...even religious ones usually find a place to thrive and grow and stay safe.

Connection: Read or listen to the gospel story again...and again. Then listen to what is out and about in the religious communities of the day. It is my bet that the growing national religious power is living a life that is quite out of step with the way of the cross. It is a way of desired privilege.

Deliver us Lord, whenever we begin to claim a right to power because you are the Lord of All. Deliver us so that we can see that your lordship is not like that of the powers of this world but of the gracious life that comes when all people are considered a part of your sacred rule. Amen.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

16 August 2006

Douglas John Hall notes that there is this ability to decide to follow the way to the cross.

...let it be remembered that Jesus in the Gospels is conscious not only of this "must," which he clearly associates with the will of God, but also of the fact that he himself is left to decide the matter. He is not simply born to suffer; he is born as one whose gift for compassion and justice will probably in the natural course of events lead to great suffering, but he is not presented as one following a script written by Another. Were he such a one, he could in no way be considered (as Paul considers him) the second Adam - the only other human fully free, like the first Adam, actually to choose not to sin (Romans 5). Jesus' decision for the cross, which he makes only with the greatest difficulty precisely because he is perfectly free not to make it, is a voluntary decision on his part, and this same volition belongs, in some real measure, to the community that Jesus calls the body of Christ.

Again, note that Hall directs our attention to this gift for compassion and justice that will - if lived out to its fullest - would lead to great suffering. His role is not to suffer. His role is to live in the way God intends to have God's children live even when the world is a broken mess that wants to stay broken even if it means killing one another to remain separated, divided and broken. Therefore, when Jesus chooses to live with the outcasts he is turned into one himself and...he is thus, treated as one. Hall lets us consider what it must be to be free to choose one's next action and yet to choose to live in such a way that you will take some hits for being out of sync with the rest of the world. Jesus was not a puppet on a string - nor are we! If Jesus did not have to make choices like we must make...then is he really the one to lead us to the promised land? The promised land or the promise of new life or the promise of the great banquet comes alive in every day as we are grasped by God's promises and enter into them no matter how it may differ from the ways of those around us. I'm not simply saying we are called to be different. Rather, we are invited to hear with new ears the announcement of God's Good News that has a way of wrestling with real life and making a go of the love, mercy, justice, peace, and loving kindness that is characteristic of that News. It will be different - but being different is not our goal. We are called to be faithful.

Connection: Today is a good day to fill our decisions with the vision of God's Reign and the promise of the Holy Spirit to lead us to those visions.

We know we are not able to make the best decisions in life and we ask that you, O God, would coach us in your way so that in all things we will consider the life within your Reign as we go about the life that is before us each day. Amen.

Monday, August 14, 2006

15 August 2006

When we consider obedience in the Church, we will have to consider what suffering may take place and why...Douglas John Hall again.

It is true of course that both the newer Testament and some very important theological traditions accentuate the theme of necessitas in relation to our theme, the suffering of the church. When these traditions are informed ones, they make once again the important connection between Christology and ecclesiology. The Christ, too, as he is presented in the Gospels, was conscious of a necessity carrying him ever closer to his passion and death: "The Son of Man must suffer and be rejected" - the so-called predictions of the passion. The suffering of the church is seen and should be seen under this same necessitas.

The invitation is not merely one that says come suffer. Rather it is one that says come and be a part of the Reign of God. The suffering comes as one begins to live within the dynamics of our world as one who is ruled by the Lord of Love. Suffering comes when we no longer can go along with how much the world depends on separation and war and division among people for any number of reasons. I'm listening to a book on tape called "The Team of Rivals." Its about the Lincoln presidency and how he pulled together people of diverse opinions to shape his cabinet. It also gives a bit of the history of the Civil War and the great divide over slavery. I have been overwhelmed by the announcement of the death toll after each of the battles. Remarkable that one nation once united would find itself thrown into the bloodiest of wars because of some people's need to lord over others and keep the world in patterns it had learned to love. If we are to change the patterns of our world it will take conscious work and prayer deliberation - and always daring action that will not be well received by all.

Connection: Some of the conscious work is simply a part of the day to day aspects of our lives. It is saying "yes" and saying "no" when the world is pulling us this way and that way. It is knowing the story of God's love in the flesh and then...prayerfully facing the moments ahead with a sense of direction and purpose.

Guide us ever, Great Redeemer, through this day and within the vast expanse of your gracious Reign. We are so easily pulled away from the domain of your love and it is only by the power of you Spirit that we begin to chose a life blessed by your creative openness and peace. Amen

14 August 2006

Today we begin a section that looks at Suffering as Consequence of Obedience in "The Cross in Our Context" by Douglas John Hall.

There are those who complain of Christians that they are much too interested in suffering. They ought to be listened to!... The source of the complaint is of course related to the first point that I have been making, namely, that there are some forms of the church that manifest a certain fixative and glorification of suffering. But the objection also relates to the fact that the connection between true faith and suffering seems to be so deterministic, allowing for no decision on the part of the faithful. Feminism has been especially critical of this, because such a theology has been used to persuade women of their duty to accept their lot as long-suffering wives and mothers, in much the same way as this theology has been used to keep enslaved races or economic groupings from complaint or revolt.

I had an interesting conversation with a friend who noted that when I preached one Sunday I used the expression "give myself/yourself away to others" and "self-sacrifice. Both were used as part of the path I was painting in regard to how the Church is to walk. Well, I came to realize in that conversation that I was painting a picture that could quite easily be used to keep women and others in their place. What I was saying may have more to say to men coming from their position of power within a society that gives men that power to greater or lesser degrees. Being an introvert, I had to breath and take that in and listen and attempt to process it within the conversation. Yes, I was addressing a group from one position - the one of men who very often do need to turn and walk into a place of sacrifice because we so often have so much given to us we therefore are called into greater sacrifice. Others, may need to do just the opposite - walk into a place of power and take it on even though it has been denied them. So, preaching thus becomes an exercise in knowing and hearing many voices of life and then - making the news that is Good...really good for all. We all then can act freely when we do something like serve others. It is not the mandatory obedience. It is a gift because we are gifted...and sometimes one group of people must suffer in order to work with another group as they are liberated from oppression and given opportunities for shaping a new life.

Connection: Watch the roles we take on today. How is it that some of our expectations deny people the opportunity to enter into an obedience that is not able to come from a place of freedom and a more full expression of self-power?

Lord, you have created us all as your own children...all in your image. Show the way that brings all your children to a place of honor and strength, service and weakness, bold witness and humble influence. Show us the way to build up the life of Christ in the community of saints who as diverse as the stars in the sky. Amen.

Friday, August 11, 2006

11 August 2006

The week ends with Douglas John Halls last words on Death's Orientation Toward Life in "The Cross in Our Context."

As the negative biblical thought is always present for the purpose of serving the positive (think of the role of Satan in Job), so death is there in order to enhance life and the beauty and joy of life, and in some sense death has to be gone through before life can be experienced in something approximating its fullness. Just as light presupposes the experience of darkness, and love of lovelessness and aloneness, and hope of despair, and faith of doubt, and so on, so life becomes the miracle it is only as we confront its antithesis. But the end, always, the bleakness of the means notwithstanding, is the positive pole in this dynamic - the yes, not the no. Therefore a pietism of the cross that ends by basking in unrelieved, morbidly enticing sorrow must certainly be seen as a contradiction and misrepresentation of the theology of the cross.

"Life become the miracle it is only as we confront its antithesis." Death is not that in which we glory. Rather, we glory - we live within the great gift of God's glory - as we live in the face of death and everything that comes through the brutality and finality of death as seen in the cross. Therefore, we take up our lives even as death attempts to play with our lives. We are invited to not play with death - but to live. How often have you heard people refer to the cross they must pick up as one that is coated in this sorrow? It is as though that is the way of life that one takes when a person follows Jesus. I find that Hall does a good job and making sure we deal with death and all its power and all of its ways of enticing us into its games, and yet, we go beyond death to "the yes" beyond death's grasp. It is life that is full because it lives in the face of death no matter what death attempts to do with us. We are always invited into the life that comes out the otherside of whatever might be the game death plays today...the side of new life.

Connection: It is not easy to see what the "yes" might be in the middle of the power of death when it is flexing the power that we have given it in our lives. What is the "yes" you see today? What is the new that was hidden in all the things that attempt to negate life?

You, O God, are always present to bring life. We give you thanks for another day in which we can rest in your promise of new life in the face of all that we will encounter. You lead us through that valley of death - you give us space in which we can live - you provide for us even as we fall short and cannot see around the next corner of this day. Thanks be to you, O Lord. Amen.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

10 August 2006

Again from "The Cross in Our Context" by Douglas John Hall.

The literature of the Judeo-Christian tradition...takes death so seriously as the end that it can only counter this ending by a beginning that is not found tucked away within this ending in some natural way but must be introduced de novo as God's possibility for us, not a possibility residing already within us. Grace and not nature counters this ending.
But it is countered. And its countering is already anticipated existentially and eschatologically whenever trust in the God of Golgotha takes us beyond the incapacitating fear of death and offers us some semblance of new life - some new courage to live.

So in our story the end does come and it is the end. But the story goes on by the grace of God and that alone. Rather than jump to the notion of the end of physical life, what if we simply look at this within the grand miracle of forgiveness. The end of a relationship is dead and gone...broken beyond repair in the eyes of those involved, and then there is a movement of forgiveness where hearts are moved through this death and to the surprise of all, life emerges. It is new life because it is not what was previously. Also it is new because it is being shaped by a power that was not present with such life-giving force. Our God is not ruled by death. Quite the contrary, we must trust this God who has dominion over death even when we so quickly let death overwhelm us. As always, this is much easier written about then walked through. But our inability or unwillingness to walk into and through death doesn't mean that God's dominion that we know in Christ, Jesus, is not present as a power for new life.

Connection: Sometimes, new life comes by stepping backwards into what was the death of us and taking hold of it in another way. Forgiveness and reconciliation are two ways to reach into death's power be present with the resurrected Lord. Within this day death will try to lead us and direct our ways. We are invited to step in a contrary way through those times.

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let this day be blessed with your life that spring to fullness even as we are able to see nothing more coming among us. Amen.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

9 August 2006

Today we look at what it is to have faith in the crucified Lord - again Douglas John Hall.

Faith in the crucified one, which means both trust in him and conformity to his death and life, delivers us from the sting of death - not as a once-for-all deliverance but as an ongoing liberation. Or, to say the same thing in another way, such faith frees us from the kind of self-preoccupation and morbid anxiety that hold us back from the abundant life that the Creator intends for our creaturehood. And such faith is brought about...when the divine Spirit takes us by the hand, so to speak, and puts us into the company of the crucified one, where we are caused to face, finally, our utter vulnerability, mortality, and impermanence but in the company therefore of one who befriends us and shows us that the ending is also the beginning, that this death is the entrance into newness of life.

In worship these past few weeks we have been hearing about the bread of life from John's gospel. In some ways it is difficult to hear because mixed in the images of bread and eating are the realities of death and life that comes through death. It is not always easy to understand life coming through death. Usually life comes we are able to stir clear of we are able to defeat the threat of we are able to pull ourselves up by our "bootstraps" and make something of ourselves. But for John the gospel writer and what I hear in Hall, the power of death is overcome by facing it. We face death and are not pushed and pulled by it because we trust that the resurrected Lord walks with us through any form of death so that we will not give death power over us. When power is given to death and its many faces, we lose what both writers have called the "abundant" life. This kind of life is what has been given to us. And yet, it is so often cut short and abandoned when we are unable to face death and literally move through it into the life that awaits us whenever death is denied its power over us.

Connection: It is always good to meet and talk with faithful people who do not seem to be run by the many shapes of death that attempt to hound us. It is good because they are people just like all of us. Death has and does try to smack them around and own them and it is able to create anxiety and fear. Then again, we can learn that even brave looking faithful people must do what everyone else must do - face death everyday and greet the life that is given to us through death. Remember your baptism today.

You, O God, abide with us so that we can face this day open to being vulnerable and confident that you will be with us in and through all things. We give you thanks, again today, for your love that will be our guide in all we do. Amen.

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

8 August 2006

Once again from The Cross in Our Context by Douglas John Hall.

When an entire culture is held in the grip of a worldview in which death is allowed no voice, death's power over life is immensely increased. Such a society is greatly in need of (shall we say?) liberation...- this society that perennially searches for "the enemy" outside itself because, perhaps it half recognized how painful it would be to confront the enemy within.

When we were in Europe the European poll came out that listed the ten greatest threats to stability and security in the world. The poll did not receive much attention here at home. That could be because the United States was number one and number two was - terrorism. We are very good at acknowledging how often and by what amount we are able to achieve the status of being number one...but when it is not on the "sunnyside" of our showing, not much is said. In fact, when nations begin to be seen in a negative light - that is, the truth that simply shows the rest of the story - we tend to turn away and not listen. It is quite like the comic gesture of a child stick his/her fingers in both ears and yelling, "I'm not listening." No one wants to hear the dark side of the truth. That is too close to death. No one wants to be called the enemy. We want to be the savior. And yet, in our many ways of trying to be the savior - the good guy - there is often much that we destroy or ignore or simply eliminate so that our mission will appear right and good and pure. Lies often come in such colors. We often lie because the enemy within does not want to be seen in the light and exposed as a power that wins the day by the power of death and not new life.

Connection: More and more I find that I can be ruled by some ugly powers within me. Most of the time they are not seen - some times...I think you can actually see their ugly heads come flying out of my mouth. Actually they are my ugly heads of fear - fear of death - and therefore it is death pulling my strings. Have you ever seen that part of you? We need to help one another see it and not be moved by its power.

Lord of the Light and the Darkness, it is because you create and rule in all times and places that we come to you to lift us up to face that which will destroy and that which will bring life so that we can see what it is that pulls us and tries to rule us. We ask that you encourage us to face the life with a holistic vision in which we move along the way graced by your love and peace. Amen.

Monday, August 7, 2006

7 August 2006

Douglas John Hall continues to speak of death in the middle of all the life given to us in Christ.

..."the sting of death" - must be applied not only to individuals but to whole societies. Our society perhaps more than any other in history, is engaged in a massive denial of death. (And remember that for biblical faith death does not just refer to the termination of life, biological death, but stands symbolically for a whole Pandora's box of fears and negations that become particularly virulent when they are repressed or denied.) This was the point of one of the most insightful books written in our era, Ernest Becker's The Denial of Death. The more fixated the human spirit is upon its morality, its vulnerability, its nothingness or apparent insignificance, the less capable it is of participating freely and joyfully in the life that it has been given. And this condition is most grievous, most overwhelming, when it is covered up with a show of shallow positives.

There are so many ways to reflect on this piece from Hall. I immediately thought of something as real as global warming. Even though most (if not all) real scientists are concerned with the reality of what is happening to our earth, the cultural psyche tries to do everything it can to deny it. How do we deny it? We ignore it and go along with life just as we would want it to be. In fact we are facing not only a crisis in fuel in our country (that we ignore by way of our insistence on staying the course with fuel heavy technologies), we are attempting to prop ourselves us within the world community with a aura of bravado that that attempts to swagger into town and demand attention and honor. It would be better for us if we would be more willing to admit the presence of death around us and not fight it but enter into a face to face acknowledgment of its presence and then stop running from it by way of using power instead of a dialogical means to face the crisis. I find it disheartening when "patriotic" bumper stickers and "patriotic" speakers and groups live in a world of positive platitudes that help to keep many folks from dealing with the power of death in a way that might really benefit everyone and bring about change among us. Isn't odd that in our country, believing in God is often associated with an arrogance of privilege that is willing to do most anything to deny or even destroy anything perceived as a threat. So afraid of the power of death, we run and put our heads in the sand or we beat our chests thinking we can build something that will keep death away from us.

Connection: Sometimes, our denial of death is acted out in some of the most mundane choices of the day. We would do ourselves well if in the decision of the day we considered with others how it is we came to these decisions so that we will begin to learn a bit more about what is driving us.

In a world frantically running from the power of death, we long to be safely within your embrace, O God. Sometimes we let go of trusting in you alone only to trust in any power that will promise life but is never able to make it materialize for us. Help us discern what are the things and powers to which we turn when we are living in fear and anxiety. Help us to then return to you. Amen.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

4 August 2006

Today is a bit more on this look at the power of death and the pull of new life in "The Cross in Our Context" by Douglas John Hall.

When Paul in Romans 6 writes of our baptism into Christ's death, he surely has in mind precisely this debilitating concealment (the power/sting of death) and the profound need in all of us to be able at last to bring to consciousness this confining, draining, subconscious awareness of our total vulnerability, our nothingness, that we expend so much psychic energy holding down. The God of Israel and of Jesus the Christ wants life for us, and we are kept from life on account of our preoccupation with death and all that death stands for by way of life negation. So, say Paul, we are thrust down beneath the waters of baptism - we are brought that close to death - so that we may at long last face it and see through it to the life that is God's gift for us.

I could move into a discussion about baptism. Maybe I will. It is the one about how much water needs to be used for baptism. Is it enough to be able to plunge someone into the depths...or must it be a stream of running water...or a pool in which one can stand and there have water pour over one's head...or is a font over which we hold a child or lean our head? In reality, no water is enough and yet any water will do. It is the story that brings life. It is the saving story of God's love that is so for us that it brings new life to us now. We are a community that faces the truth about itself - each member - and then in the face of that truth of brokenness and lies and how death controls us, we then turn from the power of death to live again. I often wonder if the wetness at baptism is a sign that we have just come from the power of death over us...or is it that we now walk within the wetness of a refreshing new Reign. Maybe it is fact, it must be both. We must be able and willing to face off with the power of death that we let rule us and also face and walk into the power of life that God makes available in each moment.

Connection: I have never heard of a study that has been able to show the difference in how one lives and faces death and how it correlates to the amount of water in which one was baptized. I hope I never hear of such a study. We would try to make a rule as to the quantity of water and then we would argue over whether enough or too much was used...and death would always be the winner - dividing us again. Instead, let us simply try to daily remember that we are baptized and now we can be ready to face the day and all that it brings.

Living Water, as we pause to enter this day, hold us again within the story of your saving love so that we will start all things within that embrace that never ends and always is ready to shape us into something new. Amen.

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

3 August 2006

Let's continue with this look at the cross and the church with Douglas John Hall.

The cross, which through the illumination and spiritual power of the resurrection becomes for us "gospel," is gospel, good news, because it frees us from the bondage to death and decay that is our spiritual condition. It does this through confrontation - through causing us to face and to enter into the negating reality that, because it is repressed in us, exercises an inordinate influence in our lives. The power of death - "the sting of death" - is a power that it has chiefly because it is so deeply concealed in our psyche.

We must always remember that this death is the death we will all face and it is also the many ways that death takes away our life as we are still alive. Unfortunately, we too often do not know how and when and how often our lives are being reduced and the abundant life given to us is not allowed to come to fruition. It may be in something as subtle as loving or reaching out to others. When we are afraid of what might happen to us if give ourselves away to another, we lose that wonderful opportunity to be more deeply related to another person. The cross is that brutal reminder that death does not rule so therefore we are free to get out from under the power we give death. Yes, we must acknowledge its power - it is real! But then, when we see its power, we are free to act in a contrary manner than what death expects - because it does not rule us.

Connection: Liberation from death is knowing its is all around us and we tend to bend to its weight but we need not bend. Rather, today we are free to stand up to its weight and not be overcome by the fear it attempts to pour into our lives. Think liberation some small some small, insignificant way. Then, take note that there is no smallness to liberation from the power of death. That's why we say Alleluia! at the mere mention of the resurrection. Liberation, Alleluia.

Come, Lord, Jesus, be our guest at the table of this day. Set before us the banquet feast and encourage us to eat from the table that is set and ready for us even when death attempts to make us forget its reality to come and already present. Amen.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

2 August 2006

Douglas John Hall again leads us into today's devotional reflection.

The great objection of the Bible is in fact not to death in itself and as such; it is to the power of death over life - a power given it not by God but by us, human beings, who in their state of "finitude in anxious self-awareness" are fixed upon death. This anxious preoccupation with mortality detracts from our capacity fully and joyfully to enter into life. If you like, God's problem with death is not death itself but our human fascination with and temptation to and anxiety concerning death. Not death but our death wish or...our nervously deliberate avoidance of the thought of death: that is the thing that the gospel of the crucified one want to eradicate. And we do not learn this only from the resurrection accounts; it is there all the way through the biblical witness.

The power we give to death is the death of us! Our lives are shortened for fear of death...our relationships suffer over our anxiety about death...our ability to rise up against injustice is sacrificed because of our insecurity in the face of death...our potential to be loving of others is cut short because of the notion that giving ourselves away to another just may be the death of us. That is where the water of our baptism is so vital for our living. In that water and the promise made to all of us, even that which can be the death of us is not given the power to do so and therefore, we are open to a future filled with new life where death cannot direct us. Our God brings such life and our God always has. I like the fact that Hall make sure that this message about death and life is not merely something from the story of the resurrection. In reading segments of the Hebrew scriptures with a small Bible study group at church, I am always profoundly struck by how we, human beings, make such wild life choices because we do not trust what God says about us and for us and to us. Rather, we try to defeat or run from death all on our own. It never works and it usually brings about more of the consequences of life run by death's power.

Connection: In the ordinary moments of the day we are called to do battle with the power of death - the power we give death - power to make us less alive. In the ordinary moments of this day, we can live courageously in some very everyday kind of ways.

Grant us courage, O God, that we will not fall prey to the power of death and let our lives be drained of the fullness of life into which you are always leading us. And then, grant us wisdom to discern the powers of life and death that visit us this day. Amen.

1 August 2006

Another look at death and the theology of the cross from Douglas John Hall in his book "The Cross in Our Context."

The theology of the cross "calls the thing what it actually is." Death is death, not sleep, not an automatic translation into the realm of the immortals, not the after-all quite beautiful thing that the funeral industry on this continent has so cleverly made of it. Death is real. For biblical faith it is perhaps even God's creature and servant, like Satan... Like the Bible's other negatives - evil, sin the demonic - death too can serve, under God, life's positives. Where would love be without death? it belongs to the heart of love to know that the beloved like oneself is mortal, that we love only under the condition of chronos and mortality. Genuine love, as distinct from mere infatuation or passion, contains a large measure of compassion born of the recognition of our common finitude. So death is not wholly despised in this tradition - which is why we do not end up with a dualism, life/death, darkness/light, and so forth.

I can simply go out into the flower garden outside our house. What were beautiful spring flowers are dried out and brown stems with leaves struggling to make it in the now August heat. But oh how some of those now dead and gone flowers provided such life and color...and more than likely, their seed will provide a plush patch of flowers come next Spring. The reality of death makes me think of what is next for me. It is an opportunity to look at what it is to become a responsible part of the world and the relationships to which I am committed. Usually I cannot speak of death in such a positive manner. It is still the still brings that sting. And yet, that is precisely the way it must be seen. That is a realistic way to view death. It is also realistic to view it as the enemy that has no power over us. It is much needed for perspective and to encourage life at times...and yet it is that traitor that steals what is so often so beloved - even life itself.

Connection: I've always found it important to say that someone has "died." Other terms don't make it for me - like: passed away, passed over, s/he's gone. As hard as death can sound and feel, it carries that potential for life renewal for those now ready to press on as followers of Jesus whose lives are full of the signs of the Reign of God.

By your great love and compassion, O Lord, you have taken on death so that we will not fear its power - but rather find within its domain the limits of our lives and also the grand vision for life that unfolds even as death is embraced. Walk with us, through every valley of death so that we will face its sting and yet, lean into your power of new life. Amen.