Thursday, March 29, 2007
He said therefore, "What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed it in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in it branches." (Luke 13:18-19)
What is the kingdom of God like? This parable follows a wonderful story of Jesus healing a woman who was bent over for 18 years. Jesus initiates the healing and completes it all on the sabbath in a synagogue. Get this, the leader of the synagogue is "bent out of shape" over what he has done on the sabbath, "there are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath." Compassionate leader, isn't he!? It may be that he also needs to be healed...or at least have a better vision of God's Reign. That is the immediate context of this parable and then one with a woman and yeast in flour. One commentator picks up on the very common imagery of the mustard seed (and the woman with the flour).
This God who Reigns over all things and make people whole is among us in our daily images and in them...making life flourish beyond what is imaginable. A shrub is called a tree...and it comes from a small seed...and on top of that feat...it becomes the home for birds. The Reign of God is not something that can be contained in images that we come to expect - like rules for the sabbath that do no allow for the great and triumphant vision and expression of God's Reign that blows the lid off of what is seen and takes us into what has not been imagined...and is yet so...common.
Connection: The Reign of God is unfolding and providing for life by bringing life even to days that appear to be empty and ruled by everything but God's gracious love - even today.
Within your gracious Reign, O God, you press upon us with your healing presence...you enter our space and you call us to live new lives. Inspire us to see how your Reign breaks into our lives today and begins to bring people who are bent out of shape into a gracious experience of your growing love. Amen.
Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down. (Luke 13:6-9)
Mercy, mercy, mercy...and then again...mercy - life within the Reign of God. For the fig tree there is still the expectation that it will be a fig tree. That is, there will be figs hanging from the tree when fig trees would usually be identified by figs hanging on the branches. Nothing out of the ordinary is expected of the tree. To bring forth figs is enough...and it is also a grand event. this is not a tree that produces figs...it has no history of doing what it is intended to do. And yet, even with this kind of unresponsive history there is still opportunity for a future. I always have to remind myself that at the end of the parable, the tree does not have to do anything on its own. The gardener will care for the tree. The gardener takes on special actions for the sake of the tree. The gardener will supply the tree with this great loving care that goes a bit beyond what it expected. In addition to that, we have an owner of a vineyard who is already known to be merciful. Come...let us simply be fig trees!
Connection: Today is another day in which this gracious God who loves us without end - loves us into new life. What will be the life that comes from such mercy?
Again we are fed by your love and mercy, O God. Again we are invited to take part in the Reign which is already ours to share with all your beloved. As the Spirit takes us and shapes us into the fresh fruit of your Reign, may we boldly blossom into faithful people. Amen.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."
There are lots of voices that try to tell us who we are and what we should think about ourselves. Nearly every television commercial tells us, at least implicitly, that our value as people is determined by the products we consume and the stuff we buy. If we want to be people of refined taste, we'll have Kohler faucets in the bathroom and a Lexus in the garage-or at least those are the things we'll want to have. And maybe we don't have to have a white picket fence anymore, but conventional wisdom still tells us that I'm only on the right track if I've got a romantic relationship, a lucrative job, and a well-developed portfolio to ensure my comfortable lifestyle into the future. Political voices tell us the same. If we want our opinion to count, our identities need to fit the molds presented to us with labels like "freedom-loving" and "patriotic" or "modern-thinking" and "progressive"-and then we have to buy into the agendas that go with them wholesale. And if we listen closely to those voices, they'll all tell us that we have to do something first and only then will we be people of status. My worth is then either grounded in my tenacity in getting the best for myself, or my ability to fall in line with what some other group calls "good."
The word from 1 Peter, and from the whole witness of Scripture, turns that whole logic on its head. Our worth and our identity do not rest in whether we have chosen the right things or come from the right category first. Rather, they are grounded in the God who has first chosen us and brought us into a new people. Our identity is given to us as a gift of grace, and our value comes from the unswerving declaration of God that we are loved. That faithful love redefines us-it says we are precious when conventional wisdom calls us damaged goods. And it gives purpose and meaning when television can only advise us to aimlessly acquire more and more stuff in the pursuit of happiness. It can almost be scary to live in the freedom of that love, since we no longer have a checklist of things to do or have in order to guarantee our status-only the simple promise of God that we are "God's people." But maybe-no, more than maybe-that promise is enough.
Connection: What might I freed from as I see that other claims do not have the final say on me? What might I be committed to as I let the claim of God take hold of all of who I am?
Gracious God, tell us who we are again-we forget so easily. Open our eyes to see that you have already brought us into you marvelous light, and let us see the possibilities of this new day.
1 Peter 2:2-3
"Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation-if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good."
The shoes were enormous. I must have been in third or fourth grade when my father bought me a pair of tennis shoes that was at least three sizes bigger than the ones I wore at the time. At first I thought he'd forgotten my size-or gotten me confused with a young Goliath-but he told me that he got them so big intentionally. They were for when my feet got bigger with age and I grew into them. All I could do was to grow into them by drinking enough milk (that's the standard parental prescription for developing children, right?) and by just being the boy I was. And in the mean time, there those tennis shoes would sit, a sort of signpost toward the future, a rubber-soled promise of who I would become. But while I waited, I didn't have to do anything to make those shoes my possession-they were already mine. All I could do was to grow into them.
I can't help but picture the same shoes when I read that line from 1 Peter about "growing into salvation." It's not that salvation is some fixed material reward handed to us in a cardboard box at the pearly gates on some distant day. No, just the opposite-God gives it to us even now, even before we have grown into it. Paul would put it to the Romans by saying that God's love came to us in Christ "while we were still weak." But the idea is the same here-salvation is given to us in the present, plain and simple, and all we can do is to grow into that gift, the gift we have already received. We use words like "salvation," "hope," and "redemption," as signposts pointing toward God's future, a future God is drawing us and all this hurting creation into. We use those words as shorthand for the promise that God has loved us now, even in our infant-like weakness, even in our childish self-centeredness, and that God will not rest until that love has had its way with us, taken root in us, and come to fruition. In the mean time, all we can do is to grow into that love.
Connection: Salvation is already ours as a gift from God. And because of that, in this day, we no longer need to stew over whether we're "in" or not in God's book. Instead, we can look hopefully to how we will be changed in this day and how the love of our God will take hold of us in surprising new ways.
Gracious God, let us drink you in deep and taste that you are good. Give us the freedom to trust that you are leading us and making us to grow into who we are-your very children. Amen.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Friend who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." (Luke 12:13-15) Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."
He has no community: No one with whom to go for consultation...no one to pull him out of himself...no one but the image in the mirror...only what he thinks he possesses. He is living in utter poverty and yet, he thinks he is the riches person in the world. No community and left to live the rest of his life (which he thinks will long and luxurious) alone...as alone as someone talking to him/herself. Again, this is a good descriptions of Luther's turned-in-on-self. Remember, this all starts with a person demanding that Jesus help him get his "stuff" from his brother. Stuff over family...stuff over relationship...stuff over vision...stuff over life that is as abundant as the grain and goods he thinks are making him safe and sound. It is very easy to let this happen to all of us. Stuff can pull us and hold us and demand our lives. Yes, the gods of our lives really are those things that we must have to prop up in order to keep them. So grain and goods demand complete attention and we could say, life sacrifice. I once hear a person define a "god" as something to which we bow down and then spend our life trying to support, prop up, and keep alive. This was used to describe the cold war build up of nuclear weapons. Once in the arms race and then claiming to have this great, life-saving power, a nation and its people must give up much in order to sustain the weapon program - even when people go hungry and schools are underfunded...because there is no longer the money to supply those in need, for we have spent it on our gods.
Connection: We all take part in the turned-in-on-self game. In many and various ways...by what we do and what we leave undone. Therefore, everyday we are reminded to bring our baptism into focus to show us a new way to be humans and to consider the great gift of life handed to us by our God who builds us up in community.
Great Light of the World, we too often get lost in the darkness of our wants and our demands. Continue to be that light we need in order to see the life into which you call us. Amen.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Friend who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." (Luke 12:13-15)
First of all, this brother really isn't that interested in having the appropriate split in the inheritance. He wants the money - that's it! He wants someone who can make it happen and happen now. Probably all of us have heard of families who go into a tailspin when there is an inheritance about to be passed on. It is as though the potential to have something - even a gift...a pure gift - takes on the power to twist our hearts and minds so that all we can see and hear...all we can care about and love...is nothing more than our own lives. The gift of family can quickly be pushed down as the inheritance - the goods - become all consuming of our hearts. Imagine if this brother had asked Jesus to help him and his brother discuss how the inheritance could be used...how it would honor the parents memory...how it could be used to help others in need...how it could help them come closer to one another. Instead, we hear a demanding voice - a voice that betrays a focus on life that has as its primary focus possessions. This can happen very quickly to any of us. And yet, as one person notes, Jesus came not to divide but to reconcile - to bring the separated together.
Connection: It is always good to be in conversation - prayerful conversation - about how possessions come into our lives and how we find our selves becoming possessed by them. Today is a good day to begin opening our eyes and taking another look at ourselves.
Lord God, you bring so much wealth into our lives. It begins with life itself and then you add other people and then all the many gifts of creation. As we journey in this day, keep us mindful of Your gracious gifts and then help us to view them as your children - with grace and reverence. Amen.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" (Luke 10:25-26) He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this , and you will live." (Luke 10:27-28) But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, he passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:29-32) But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. (Luke 10:33) He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. (Luke 10:34) The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend. (Luke 10:35) Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise. (Luke 10:36-37)
The lawyer was playing with the law and life. It is one thing to ask questions about things like eternal life and to want to enter into discussion about how or when or who inherits such life. We could go on talking about that forever and never settle on a thing. What must you do? Well as we saw earlier in the parable, the lawyer read the law correctly but he was not able to see that law in life. It was a banner statement that one could use for one's own good or one's own objectives if you wanted to. "Love the Lord your God....and your neighbor as yourself" is quite nice to hear but if all you know is the banner and not how it is alive, what good is the law. So, as we have seen, Jesus must speak of life - real life - and in the midst of that story the neighbor comes to light within a context that is so real it hurts to hear it and it brings tears of wonder and compassion. The lawyer answers correctly about the neighbor. How could he not? And yet, if we live only within the bounds of a law, we often do not give ourselves the space to see how it become much more full when we actually open it up with the vision of every day life. Jesus' final statement to the lawyer is so good for all of us to hear. Did you hear that loving story...did you hear what one person can do for another person...did you hear how neighbor takes us beyond laws that limit, in fact it takes us beyond our imagination?!?! Go and be that neighbor...be that compassion...be that love...be that risk-taker...be that witness to life that is truly eternal. Ah...so inheriting eternal life is to live as though it is ours - handed to us - and ours to pick up and make our own.
Connection: Go and do likewise. That can certainly take us out of our heads and into a whole new way of seeing and being with those around us...our...neighbors.
You sweep us off our feet, O God, and we are lifted up to see how your love and grace become a part of the day and the life we live as we move from places like Jerusalem to Jericho. Teach us your ways and empower us to walk along those ways. Amen.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" (Luke 10:25-26) He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this , and you will live." (Luke 10:27-28) But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, he passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:29-32) But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. (Luke 10:33) He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. (Luke 10:34) The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend. (Luke 10:35)
This is called a witness. The Samaritan not only brings the man into a town and to an inn and takes care of him, he makes arrangements for others to continue the care. The innkeeper could have simply booted the man out of the Inn. The Samaritan makes it worth his time and effort to keep him there. More than likely, the story was told about finding him on the road, not knowing who it is...and that this was a Samaritan who may have been helping out a beaten up Jew. Even if it was a beaten up Samaritan, this traveler still acted in a way that showed compassion and concern and care for another human being. The innkeeper is now witnessing how deeply human compassion can run. He is given money to keep up the care. Even if the innkeeper was a "low-life", he is seeing the witness of humanity blessed and being a blessing. The circle of care becomes greater...the story telling will become greater...the Samaritan's life is a witness. In the parable, it is simply called the witness of - a neighbor.
Connection: People really do watch and listen and gain insight into the worth of life as we all go through the day being who we are - blessed and beloved of God. This is not because of our religious convictions or how we can quote scripture or what we don't do. It is because of who we become in the middle of all the ordinary travels within our day. People notice acts of mercy and kindness...and there can never be too many of those acts. But it does make a witness for others to another way to be human - in the image of God.
Lord God, you bind us together and call us to make sure that those around us are a part of us. In that way, there will be no refuse among us because we each are bound to one another and invited to share in the well-being of those whose paths we cross. Grant us the courage to be vulnerable and caring in this day. Amen
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" (Luke 10:25-26) He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this , and you will live." (Luke 10:27-28) But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, he passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:29-32) But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. (Luke 10:33) He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. (Luke 10:34)
To come near and to have pity is one thing...it is a beginning...it is what we so often do not do. But then, to move - not away but toward the trouble or danger - is an action not taken by many. It is at this point that our live come in direct contact with others. This is the place where healing begins to happen. This is the time when transformation is possible. The Samaritan does what is immediately needed. Who knows what wounds there were? What we know is that humanity becomes full in that action of one person taking on the responsibility for the welfare of another - and that other...is no known. This is a bold step. I'm not recommending as action for us to take. I am taking time to wonder about what this means today. How do we enter into risk...become vulnerable and in that movement become more human - in the image of God - unsettled until all are well? I am complete amazed at how far this Samaritan goes to see to this other person's needs and care. This is an act of mercy and grace. Some people say mercy and grace are fine but justice is the most important thing. And yet, what saved this brutalized man was mercy and grace and a heart filled with the meaning of how God's humanity is meant to act when needs arise.
Connection: We may not have to bind up someone' wounds and take them to a shelter, but we may find ourselves in a situation today when we are the ones who are given the opportunity to be a blessing to another person simply by being utterly human - in the image of God.
Lord, within your compassion you walk with and alongside and even in our shoes so that we might have this glimpse of how the Reign of God looks when humanity is swept up into its gracious power. We give you thanks for the many people who lead the way to bring a light of hope and love and care into a world that can be so disconnected and self-centered. Praise to you and blessed by the Spirit of Life that creates new life among us. Amen.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" (Luke 10:25-26) He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this , and you will live." (Luke 10:27-28) But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, he passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:29-32) But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. (Luke 10:33)
I know it is only one new verse and what can one verse add, right!?! At this point in the story any person going down that road is not going to have a good picture of who is lying there - naked and beaten to the point of death. But now we see something that vital to this story and vital to all that it means to be the children of God. The Samaritan "came near him." We are created to be relational people. We cannot be relational from a distance or by simply passing by with a glance. The Samaritan "came near him." We have no idea what this traveler was thinking. We simply know that he "came near him." The only way that we overcome our prejudices and fears and hatred and bias and rules used to keep us separated (and in sin) is when we cross over the road and come near to one another. When we come near, we see our humanity. We see how fragile we all are. We see our mortality. We see that the tales told and the stories whipped up to divide and the fingers pointed at others - do nothing to help us see that we are all children of God. When we do not give ourselves the opportunity to "come near" we lose our ability to act like the humans we have been created to be. Instead we settle for manufactured worlds that never bring peace - never bring healing - never bring deliverance - never extend a hand to help - never accept the aid of another... In coming near, the Samaritan is like Jesus who guts were stirred up when he saw all the people running along the seashore as he was in the boat. Compassion pulls us out of our self-indulgent and self-possessed adventures and allows us to face how connected we are and to act as though the connection is vital to who we are.
Connection: We never know when it is time to come near to another person. It is by guess that the time is always at hand...when we let ourselves look up and around...we are being handed opportunities to live as the children of God.
As you come so near to us in the incarnation, O God, you draw us near to one another. We give you thanks for in the many ways you come near and never leave us behind, we are given a new way to walk through this day. Open our hearts that your love may be our love for neighbor. Amen.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" (Luke 10:25-26) He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this , and you will live." (Luke 10:27-28) But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, he passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:29-32)
We could always start by saying "You can never be too safe" or "Who knows what could have happened" or "I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date..." Then again, we can stop and we can be the love that loves us. Yes, people do fall into hard times and are brutalized in our world. Yes, those kinds of things can happen to any of us. Does our God keep us from bad things happening to us? No. Does our God invite us - call us - inspire us - to be the presence of God's love in a world that can be brutal, oppressive, and down right nasty? Yes. There are many ways we can find excuses for turning our back to our world and trying to make our faith in God a personal and individual experience that will somehow keep us and our own kind safe. But that is not what it means to be a neighbor...to love neighbor and to love God. Neighbor is an adventure that pulls us out of ourselves and helps us mix it up so that we can come to experience the living presence of God. Unfortunately, we so often learn that there are the good and the bad and we must always be on the alert to avoid "them" - because they are not us and we are, of course, the good. It is not easy to break out of that quite natural way of preserving ourselves. Following Jesus is never a road of preservation and building reputations and making ourselves a part of the "better party." Following Jesus is stopping alongside the road to tend to the world...to listen...to investigate...to question...to turn love into action...and...with all of that, risk our lives for the sake of others.
Connection: There are many ways to stop alongside the road today. We can still be safe and yet see to the safety and healing of others.
Be our Love, O Lord. When we walk along the ways of this day, be the breath that causes us to pause and look around and take note of the many ways you love can be our life and our life can be the unfolding of love for you and our neighbor. Amen.
Monday, March 12, 2007
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" (Luke 10:25-26) He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this , and you will live." (Luke 10:27-28)
Can it be just as this? The lawyer will come back with "who is my neighbor?" and yet, the question that most often comes up among religious people is "what is love" or "Love to what point" or "love under what conditions" or "what does love mean" or... Eternal life is ours already. It has been, his now, and will be handed over to us as though it is ours without condition. We are the ones who put the condition on having this eternal life. We are the ones who put conditions and qualification on this love of God and of neighbor. In this loving...of God and neighbor...is this life, eternal. There is no chicken and egg here. Eternal life (this love that is God's eternal way of being with us) is a reality that is present for us - we enter it - we are moved by it - we trip over it and are made aware of it even as we fall down - we are wrapped up by it - we extend it to others & others offer it to us. This love that helps us to define neighbor within God's Reign punctuates everything. Like the simple breath we take as we praise God, eternal life is already in the making...in the question...in the time it takes to journey from Jerusalem to Jericho...every step...every breath...every action that reflects the one whose love is...quite eternal...eternally for us.
Connection: So how's eternal life going to look today!?!?
By your love, O God, there is no time without your presence and no time when we are outside the Reign that is your Reign...forever and ever. Praise to you, O God of All Ages and beyond all ages. Amen.
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" (Luke 10:25-26)
Well we could start by questioning the lawyers motives in his testing of Jesus. Let's not. Rather, note that Jesus doesn't appear to question him either. Nor does Jesus give a lecture on what one must do. Here we are blessed again with the way Jesus honors others and takes the time to be engaged but also to engage. Too often it is easy to simply not listen and bite back or assume motives or allow ourselves to be threatened by questions...even if they are a bit testy. Jesus honors the lawyer by asking for his take on the question. What might Jesus and others in the room learn from this lawyer and what discussion might begin because of he asks such a basic question that most people would not ask because it is assumed that we should all know the answer. The lawyer is not simply asked for the rule...the measure...the law as it is written. The lawyer is asked to address himself to what the letter of the law says. "What do you read there?" Obviously he reads the words that he knows are printed on the scrolls. But...what do you read in those words on the scrolls...what life do you read...what relationships do you see...how is this about life and what is the life it contains?
Connection: Being patient with those who question and those who seem to be wondering about who we are and what we do and what we intend to do or why we do what we do may bring all of us into a deeper dialogue about the wideness of God's Reign and the people within it.
Lord God, by your law you direct us into new life. By your gracious rule you hand us life and invite us to enter it. Then in the midst of the direction you place before us, you give us the freedom to listen and wonder and review and reconsider...and then you wait with us as we take our steps out into our lives. Your grace is our foundation upon which we often stumble and fall and yet it is there to cushion our fall and lift us up again into your embrace. Amen.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him (Jesus), he said in parable: "A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold." As he said this, he called out, "Let anyone with ears to hear listen. (Luke 8:4-8)
Jesus has been teaching and healing and forgiving and having a few "situations" with some religious leaders. In this parable, of the adventure of one sower, we see a number of outcomes and yet we do not see everything that happened to the life of the seeds - though we have a glimpse. This is one sowing. It occurred to me that people who sow...keep on sowing. That is what a sower of seed does. Of course the seed is being thrown across the land and not in nice neat rows that are controlled and can thus be guided and weeded and evaluated as is necessary to produce a bountiful crop. These seeds are thrown. Like the grace of God it flies out of the sowers hand and there is no telling where it will go. There is no word forbidding it from being tossed on the roadway, or in an area of potential thorn growth...or on the best soil around. It is sown - thrown - without condition. We don't even know anything about the sower. Is this a good sower...a lazy sower...a sower with problems?!? What we do hear a bit later in this chapter is that the disciples looked at Jesus and went, "huh!?!" Jesus notes that to them has been given "to know the secrets (mysteries) of the kingdom of God, but to others I speak in parables...." Could it be that we become so tied up with the details...and questions about this and that...or these seeds and those seeds...or judgments on the seeds or the land around them - that we simply miss the wonder of the one who sows and how it will befuddle everyone that the Reign of God ever comes. And yet...it does... always coming... always taking root... always with some context for which we have made no plan. The grace of God - as much as we would like to control it and see to its proper sowing in the world - will keep on being thrown around and nothing will diminish the expansiveness of its sowing. Often I grow weary of seed counters - so watchful of every seed and every place in which it is sown that they cannot see the harvest that comes outside of their control.
Connection: Have you ever noticed how tightly we attempt to control the Good News? Some days it seems like we would rather lock it away or make it into our own image - rather than throw it around for any and all to experience.
Lord of the blossoming fields of life, you bring to your people a wealth of new life and it is so often a surprise to us. We can attempt to control your grace and yet...you still count on us to rest and find peace and to let go and trust your ways of reaching and touching all your beloved. Amen.
Friday, March 9, 2007
(Mowinckel) proposed that eschatology is a projection of hope into the future out of a cultic enactment that never fully met expectations. Because present realities were short of expectation, Israel's hope was delayed and increasingly displaced by the future. That projection into the future...is not inappropriate to the cultic act itself. That is, the cultic act, which is an act of liturgic imagination in and of itself, opens to the future that was in tension with "business as usual." In that context, the very enactment of the narrative of the cult is itself an assertion of an alternative world that permits a basis for hope . All such liturgical activity , and especially praise, is an act of embracing an alternative future.
This is not only an aspect of Israel's praise. As I was typing, I started to sing "This is the Feast of victory for our God..." That "hymn of praise in our Lutheran liturgy is filled with future images that contrast quite dramatically with what is all around us. In our praise we are being pulled into such a future and that future is, as we often say, breaking in all around us. "Liturgical imagination" gives us something more to which we can look forward. It puts a vision within our lives that is not always a part of the day-to-day life of our society. I remember being at a bar mitzah years ago. One of the inspiring aspects of that liturgy was the use of words and images. I remember that it sounded like we were all being called into a vision for life that was still beyond us but not beyond what God can and does do among us. The future is painted within the praise of God and hope that God will indeed finish the painting for the welfare of all.
Connection: Next Sunday in worship listen to the images presented to us. Better yet, imagine what they are lifting up for us to enter and to take part.
Within the fullness of time, O God, you continue to bring your Reign before us and in time we begin to experience that vision already. Continue to lead us into the unfolding of your promises even as we simply begin with words of praise. Amen.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
...to pursue the notion that in addition to being responsive, praise is also constitutive of theological reality. It not only addresses the God who is there before us but also is an act of constructing the theological world in which we shall interact with God. Because praise is constitutive as well as responsive, practitioners of praise would do well to be critical, knowing, and intentional about the enterprise of construction.
We praise the God we envision. That is, in our praise, we can hear the vital characteristics of the God to whom we offer our praise. With that in mind, it makes some sense that we are also shaped by the praise. I suppose it would be like praising a warrior God who lead us into battle and enables us to conquer others. If our praise is to such a God, don't we begin to step into the role of being a warrior-like people. In fact, it could be that we would begin to make war and the elements of war a central part of our lives. Our God would go before us and we...we would follow as the army of God. But what if the God we praise is praised for making peace...caring for the outsider...pursuing justice...building up the broken-hearted...and restoring the people to life? Would we then be a people whose lives unfold into just such an image? If we did go into war, it would be with the vision of life listed in the previous question? It could very well change how we enter war...if we enter it at all? Just a thought.
Connection: During the day it would be a good exercise to take a look at what we are doing...what decisions we are making ...what tasks we take up, and then reflect upon how we shape our praise of God...maybe even what hymns of praise seem to have a shaping impact on our lives.
Come, Lord of Life, and continue to shape us as we praise you. Amen.
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
As praise is appropriate to human community, so praise is appropriate to the character of God, for our praise is a response to God's power and mercy. Nothing more can be said to God. Nothing more can be added to God. Nonetheless God must be addressed. It is appropriate to address God in need, by way of petition and intercession. But address in need occurs in a context of lyrical submission in which God is addressed not because we have need, but simply because God is God and we are summoned to turn our lives in answer to God. It is appropriate that we should address God in submission. It is inappropriate that God should not be addressed. This is a God who evokes address of gratitude and awe, simply because of who God is.
We all have needs at various times of our lives. But...that does not mean that we will automatically address God with our needs. After watching someone like Bill Maher on his HBO series "Real Time," I've come to realize that there are folks who really want nothing to do with addressing God or thinking about God. But for people like me who count on our God to be exactly the God who rescues and brings life and transforms life and forgives without condition, addressing God is at the very heart of my way of moving through life. Even as I think of putting together these devotions, making a point of addressing God and being moved to see life anew seems fundamental to how the day will come together. Therefore, addressing God with words of praise is already to keep in mind the vision of God's Reign that is a part of the nature of the God to whom praise is directed. Praise is, therefore, the beginning of an ethical statement - words that come before the life that God calls forth from all who turn to God as the power of our lives.
Connection: When did you first think of addressing God today? Maybe it take place before you are able to say to are turning to address God. Maybe it is part of the fiber of who you are. It is quite vital to our lives within God's Reign to walk there even before we thing we are walking in God's presence.
O Lord of Life, we already trust that you are the one who will bring life and nurture life within your blessed Reign. Now we ask that you encourage us to walk there with you guiding us. Amen.
Monday, March 5, 2007
As praise is appropriate to human community, so praise is appropriate to the character of God, for our praise is a response to God's power and mercy. Nothing more can be said to God. Nothing more can be added to God. Nonetheless God must be addressed.
When we turn to God, we turn to something beyond ourselves. Praise is not offered to God because this is the way we are able to make God do something for our benefit. We praise God because we are reminded in story and in the community of faith, that God is already the source of life and the power that brings life even in the face of threatening moments that cause us to worry and fret and become less than the children God calls us to be. God is addressed and in that address, we are already placing ourselves within the realm of God's power and mercy. The praise of God is that "already" action that shows that we are not so tied up in ourselves that we cannot see this power for life that pulls us into something more than we think we can be. In some ways, I see praise as the way we throw ourselves up in the air not expecting anything but to simply demonstrate to God that we do see God's impact on our lives. Praise is a liberating action. Praise is a grand exercise in letting go of our lives and receiving them back again - reshaped and revitalized.
Connection: Sometimes, the best we can do in the worst situations in our day is to praise God. The day may begin to look differently...or maybe we will look differently...or maybe the way we move next in the day will take on a new shape.
Come, Lord of New Life...come and tickle our hearts and remind us of the power for life that comes from you alone...even when we are grasped by the darkness of the world around. us. Amen.
Sunday, March 4, 2007
Praise is the duty and delight, the ultimate vocation of the human community; indeed, of all creation. Yes, all of life is aimed toward God and finally exists for the sake of God. Praise articulates and embodies our capacity to yield, submit, and abandon ourselves in trust and gratitude to the One whose we are. Praise is not only a human requirement and a human need, it is also a human delight. We have a resilient hunger to move beyond self, to return our energy and worth to the One from whom it has been granted. In our return to that One, we find our deepest joy. That is what it means to "glorify God and enjoy God forever."
On some level, this is a new journey for me. I am not familiar with talking about praise. I know it is the foundation of our worship - we gather to praise God. And yet, as I read (again and again) that we find in praise "our deepest joy," it is as though I must be missing something because my notion of praise has not been elevated to the level of being my "deepest joy." Even as I make that last statement, I am also aware of the fact that at times I associate joy with happiness. It could be that I don't tend to associate praise with being happy. Most of the time, for me, joy is the experience of all of life coming together - making sense - having worth - being challenging - filled with meaning. When that is the case, praise is an encounter with joy that is given a context and a direction. The meaning and purpose and worth of life comes from the One who calls me beloved no matter what the situation at hand might be saying about me. Therefore, this deep joy is like a fountain that provides a connection to a truth declared to me and to all of us by the One who brings all things into being - the Creator. Praise might be the moments when I come to this realization...and from that point...everything becomes a response to a gift and action by God. Praise therefore comes in worship...but it also comes to be a part of our everyday lives. When we are given a gift praise and thanks seem to be a quite natural and much needed response.
Connection: What part of your day would you consider as a time of praise to God? We need not look to far. Life...carries with it the gifts we are handed each day. We may need only acknowledge them and the praise will come.
You, O God, know our need and you understand what it is that brings us delight. When you call us your children, there is no other word that can rule us. Be with us as we praise you and as we more fully walk into the life you hand us forever. Amen.
Friday, March 2, 2007
Most American Constantinian Christians are unaware of their imperialistic identity because they do not see the parallel between the Roman empire that put Jesus to death and the American empire that they celebrate. As long as they can worship freely and pursue the American dream, they see the American government as a force for good and American imperialism as a desirable force for spreading that good. They proudly profess their allegiance to the flag and the cross not realizing that just as the cross was a bloody indictment of the Roman empire, it is a powerful critique of the American empire, and they fail to acknowledge that the cozy relationship between their Christian leaders and imperial American rulers may mirror the intimate ties between the religious leaders and the imperial Roman rulers who crucified their Savior.
In this critique, it is important to remember that West is going after the notion of empire and, as the book jacket notes, "winning the fight against imperialism." When he addresses the church, he seems to do it as one trying to help us see what we get ourselves into when we (as church) do not come into the public square knowing how this system of power can and does use the church to help move along its agenda. What he doesn't touch on is how in Jesus' day, it was not the church but some of the Jewish leadership who were playing the game of power with the Romans and the thus maintaining the power of the empire. The ones who resisted were the the Jews who were killed by Rome for rebellion. The ones who went along with whatever Rome wanted in order to keep what they thought was the status-quo in tact, would never think of offering a prophetic word in their day. Instead, they would do whatever needed to be done to keep their place secure. We must remember that for Jesus, there was no need to go along with anyone. The powers of empire and the religious powers of his day needed a new word and he was more concerned with living within that word. Therefore, every one of his actions - even healing the sick - was seen as some sort of rebellion...some sort of movement against the system and thus a threat. He was not being threatening, he was being the Child of God he was designated in a world that wasn't all that interested in the radical loving ways of Jesus and his followers.
Connection: Being faithful today involves a critical eye. That eye must have in view the prophetic teachings of Jesus and the cross and resurrection. Then as we go along through the day, we can look at what the powers of the day are doing and where they go a ways quite different from Jesus...and how we are so very often going with them.
Lord of New Life, you really do bring life that is transformed from our simple need to be in control and secure. You pull us into your Reign in which life longs and works for the shalom - the wholeness - the peace - of your promised land. Encourage us in this day. Amen.