Thursday, June 28, 2007

Friday 29 June 2007

Walter Brueggeman notes four necessary components for the practice of hope shared by Jews and Christians. Today we look at #1.

Hope requires a Source and Agent of newness who is, in inscrutable ways, generative, who is not imprisoned in old habits or present-tense commitments. That, of course, is a theological statement about the character of God that Jews and Christians commonly confess. Thus I begin with the affirmation that hope is theologically grounded, which of course stacks the cards at the outset. But the alternative to such an agency that stands outside present arrangements is to find ground for hope within present life arrangements themselves, a strategy that inescapably produces the absolutizing of some power arrangement that soon or late becomes idolatrous and self-destructive. The Exodus narrative is clear assertion of hope introduced into the slave community from outside the Pharaonic system of abuse and exploitation.

Our present day atheist voices would argue that we can and must have faith not in a god but instead place our hope in the arena of the greatest of humanity and it potential for creating new and just ways of life among us. I would say that is always good too. And yet, it has been our humanity that has clutter and ruined the vision of hope within the story of our God for us. The example of the Exodus is a good one to take up. The story of our God who can turn things around and liberate those who are oppressed in this world is one of great encouragement and hope. It was to be the beginning of a whole new way of being people. This liberation would bring Israel into a new light - a light to the nations...shall we say. A light that would lift us into a new way of being people in community. A light that would carry the world into a place in which the oppressive structures of Pharaoh would not be the structures that continue to be the witness of God's people. But, the people not the vision falls short. As soon as Israel has power they use it not for the welfare of all and not as a long-hoped-for light to the world. Rather, they stumble and fall because they are a people who, like all of us, are turned-in-on themselves. Justice falls to the side. Peace is ignored. Mercy is forgotten. That is the biblical witness. If we go beyond that witness, we can see the both Christians and Jews lift up the vision of hope and then somehow fall into the pattern of the world rather than stretch out into what is promised. Hope does not let us be content with what is or what is simply on our list of wants. Hope builds a life beyond our expectations. Hope is something that will forever be new and our God is the agent who continues to place that in front of us - calling us.

Connection: Today can be a day when we settle into the way things are. Well...don't let that attraction to what is win the day. Keep open to the surprise that continues to bring peace, justice, mercy, kindness, and unbounded love into our world.

We are safe in you, O God, for you never let us stay tied up within ourselves. You continue to take us out to look at the horizon and imagine life that is not yet but is always within your promise to us. Remind us that we presently on the way along the path of faith in you alone - and that will always bring us change and new life. Amen.

Thursday 28 June 2007

Today we will begin to look at the reality of hope as depicted again by Walter Brueggemann.

I reflect here...upon the ways in which Jews and Christians share a common inheritance of hope, albeit with elements of contestation, a common inheritance that makes its way in and against a dominant culture that is, by design and conviction, a venue for hopelessness and despair... He goes on to say that he will begin with a text from Hebrews 11:1:
Now faith is the assurance of things hope for, the conviction of things not seen.

This, as you know, is a Christian text; it is, however, a Christian text that is preoccupied with the history of ancient Israel and in fact makes only a passing christological claim... I submit that it is a present task of Jews and Christians together to focus on "things not seen" but promised, in a context that is mired in and mesmerized by present power arrangements. It goes without saying, of course, that such unseen things are not otherworldly, but pertain precisely to the gifts and the tasks presently in our midst.

Here we must remember that this hope is not, as he writes, about things that are otherworldly. In the world in which we live we have much that would leave us with a sense of hopelessness. And yet, it the face of such a reality, we are being reminded of another reality that is a part of our heritage. A reality that is not seen completely but it continues to beckon us to come and take part in its promises even as the world pushes and pulls us along its ways. We walk, as yet, by faith. We walk with a step that does not have the visible proof of the way in which we go but we share a story of those who did walk off into a hope-filled day even as the day presented itself as completely empty and bankrupt. Even if some do not take the stories of our scriptures as "actual events," the stories are ones that are told to ignite a life that will stretch beyond the many ways we can be imprisoned by the values and powers of the cultures in which we walk. I find that such storytelling is a reminder that there were people before me who could be overwhelmed by hopelessness and yet, they continued to be moved and pulled by the call of our God to come out into this kind of world and live a new life that will indeed prevail among us.

Connection: We might want to ask, 'What is this life?' Well, today is one day to begin stepping into its domain. I will be new for you as it was new for every faithful person before you. And yet...we are called into its life as it is promise for us.

Lord of the New Day, encourage us to face this day wrapped up in the vision of your hope-filled Reign as we go about the ordinary events of our lives. Amen.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Wednesday 27 June 2007

We continue with Walter Brueggeman's comments in the chapter "The Fearful Thirst for Dialogue" in "Mandate to Difference."

My simple thesis is that the church - summoned, formed, and empowered by the God of all dialogue - has in our anxiety-driven society an opportunity to be deeply dialogical about the most important issues, dialogical in a way that keeps our judgments penultimate before the holy throne of God.

Brueggemann goes on to cite several stories from scripture that demonstrate the necessity and the power of dialogue (Moses' challenge to YHWH at Mt. Sinai, Jeremiah's complaints about his unbearable prophetic vocation, God in dialogue with Abraham about the fate of Sodom, and...of course, Job).

If we are not willing to face off and attempt to draw one another into conversation about the issues of our day, we will be led along a way that will be much less creative than one that comes out of a good wrestling within an honest dialogue. This is not the easiest thing to begin or enter or end. And yet, the church must call us out of our self-indulgent world view and begin to take a look at the many sides of these issues. When we do not take on such a discipline of dialogue, we will become overruled by one-sided powers who demand that life must be lived in one way...that's it! This takes us back to how silence allows those who think they have the power to speak for all go ahead and do their thing. We are being called on to speak and not be silent. In addition, though, we are to make sure that we also listen. That is the best form of dialogue. If we do not speak up, who will bring to the table our side or our views? Who will speak up with and for those who have no power? Who will be the advocate against the powers of life. Even God needed someone to step up and speak up so that in all God's power and might, there would be an opportunity to exercise that grand mercy that we say is a vital part of our God. The smallest voice needs to speak up for none of us know what will transpire when more voices are added to the conversations of our lives.

Connection: We may not do it eloquently, but we must insist on dialogue within this day. That may mean speaking up and it may mean asking those who have not spoken to speak up and help us all find our way through these days....together.

Lord of All Possibilities, we are so quick to bring things to conclusion and insist that nothing new can be added to our world. And yet, you invite us to speak and wrestle and demand that all your people be given a voice in our life together in your name. Continue to move us and shape us and give us courage. Amen.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Tuesday 26 June 2006

We continue with some introductory pieces about the importance of dialogue (over monologue)within the church and our society. Walter Brueggeman in "Mandate to Difference."

Such monologic practices seeks to silence, and such imposed silence kills. The hope of U.S. imperialism is to silence voices to the contrary, most recently even those of "old Europe." The manipulation of the media, moreover, is an effort to still the critical voice of a free press...

The same effort as silencing is alive and well in the church. (He notes that this takes place from both the right and the left)

A subset of such singular silence that kills occurs when individual persons arrive at absolute certainty and claim to identify their own view with the mind of God; such persons are characteristically engaged in profound denial about the complexity and conundrums that constitute the self.

We hear these kind of voices quite frequently in a society that is saturated with religious talk that is used like a bat or a device to control what is right and good and proper. Some voices silence others. Some voices only know how to exist in a mode of promotion. Under such a life view, there is much silence - at least from one side. How unfortunate for all of us when we let the church be a place of one way communication. Not only are we led to believe a limited view and interpretation of life, we are also denied the grand openness that comes when there is prayerful dialogue. Prayerful dialogue for me is simply when dialogue really happens. I think when there is dialogue - there will be prayerfulness because we are doing as much listening as speaking...and that has the power of changing us.

Whenever the voices in our lives deny us the opportunity to discuss the life we enter together, it is easy to let some people become controlling becomes easier for us to be controlled. In such places and times, dialogue becomes an instrument of resistance. When one voice attempts to rule and interpret life and then set the parameters of what life can be, other voices must resist. Someone else - maybe me, maybe you - need to remind us that the emperor has no clothes. There may appear to be power within a monologic community but it is so vulnerable to the power of truthfulness and questions and open conversation that insists on honest dialogue.

Connection: Dialogue is a part of every aspect of our life together. You don't have to wait to practice those skills that help to create dialogue.

Word of Life, you make your Word into flesh and we all are draw more closely into relationships because we hear and see how your Word among us renews life and keeps pulling us beyond ourselves and into your Reign of wholeness and peace. Amen.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Monday 25 June 2007

This week we will look at a few pieces from the chapter "The Fearful Thirst for Dialogue" from Walter Brueggemann's book "Mandate to Difference."

Brueggemann begins the chapter with a quote by George Steiner:

It is the Hebraic intuition that God is capable of all speech acts except that of monologue, which has generated our acts of reply, of questioning, and counter-creation. After the Book of Job and Euripides' Bacchae, ther had to be, if man was to bear his being, the means of dialogue with God, which are spelled out in our poetics, music, art.

From that note, he then goes on to write:

My thesis is that the church is a venue for dialogue in the midst of a monologic culture that finds such dialogue to be an unbearable threat that must be mightily resisted. Dialogue, I shall suggest, is not merely a strategy, but it is a practice that is congruent with our deepest nature, made as we are in the image of a dialogic God.

We, in our society and in our churches, are sore tempted to monologue. Such a temptation imagines absolute certainty and sovereignty, and uncritically imagines that any one of us can speak with the voice and authority of the monologic God. There can be no doubt that such a shrill voice of certitude, in any arena of life, is an act of idolatry that is characteristically tinged with ideology.

And yet, the voices we hear so often from within the church is this non-dialogical voice. It is simply the statement of what one side thinks - and often just one person who is held up in a position of ultimate authority beneath God. Therefore, that kind of voice, thunders what is to be the truth and the reality of life and nothing else is to be considered. This voice can come from the right or the left within our present religious context. When we forget how creative is the word spoken among us and to us and through us, we lose the vitality of the Word we claim is so central to our lives. I recently read a letter from a woman who threw in a few words that were meant to defer any attempts at a diaolgue to a simple statement about God - and it seems a God who distrusts questions and differences and conflict. What is so unfortunate is that such a one sided-conversation often leaves out any ability to discern what is truthful and what would be creative in the life of a community. I also recently noticed that every time we are not able to enter into dialogue in the church, the life of the body whithers. We need that tension that comes from a room of people who are willing to risk discussion and the chance that opinions will be moved and life may actually begin to shift and move and be a creative piece of art.

Connection: We all like to be monological to some point. We just cannot afford to stay there. Try to find ways to question and risk raising your voice and listening to something other than "my side" of a conversation.

O Word of Life, you announce the beginning of all things. By your word we are thrust into a world of words that shape and create and cause change that bring about new life even when we thought everything was just the way it should be. Help us to listen to other, engage in dialogue, and be open to how our paths may not lead us to a place we would like to go - but rather to the life within your blessed Reign. Amen.
Though I said yesterday we were touching on #5 of the accent points for considering the life of the church, today is actually the move into #5 - again from "Mandate to Difference" by Walter Brueggemann.

The poetry (of Isaiah 56:7) anticipated inclusive worship in the Jerusalem temple, and evokes the now-familiar phrase, "a house of prayer for all the peoples." We may identify three remarkable aspects of this conclusion to the poetry.
First...The centrality of prayer constitutes a total reconfiguration of human life in the world as life is now to be lived "before God."
Second, the temple is "for all peoples," specifically including the aforementioned foreigners and eunuchs.
Third... It is usual in the phrase, "house of prayer for all peoples," to mean a place where all peoples come to pray... It is possible, however, to read it as a place where prayer is said on behalf of all peoples, that is, a petition and intercession cohere with the inclusiveness of YHWH's rule.

It is so important to stay aware of how worship before God places our whole life "before God." Here we find how our coming together and praising God is vital to how we see ourselves when we are in all the other days of our lives. We are not people simply moving through life on our own, we are people who life as though our God is pulling us into God's Reign of shalom. That is why it is so important that our worship be utterly inclusive. We are all...not just some...not just the right ones...but rather, we are all being pulled into God's future. The bounds of that "all" is literally beyond us because it is so easy to limit our outreach and our inclusiveness. And yet, I find this third point to be so important. As we all know, it is not easy to be together with those who are not like us. Simply look at how our politics divide us and turn us sour toward others. And yet, in this house of prayer for "all" we are being pulled into consideration of those with whom we would not choose to spend our time. It is within that prayerful embrace - even from a distance - that we begin to be a part of the promise of shalom. It is in that prayerfulness for all that we each step closer to one another. And then....who knows what will take place.

Connection: Worship shapes us. It may not at times inspire or be exciting. Therefore, we must remember to be responsible to put ourselves into that time together and then take time to remember what was done in worship as we now face the next day of our lives in this week.

Lord of All, how often we would yearn for there to be peace among all your people. As we gather for worship, remind us again and again that we are the instruments of this peace and it is within the vision of our worship that we begin to see ourselves as these instruments within your Reign. Amen.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Thursday 21 June 2007

We continue with Walter Brueggemann's five accent points we can consider when we think about the future of the church. Today we move on to #5 and more of what is required of those who were once considered outsiders but are now welcome among God's people.

For both the eunuch and the foreigner is was necessary that they would keep the sabbath as a part of their life in the community.

I suggest that the reason for this particular accent is that sabbath in that society, as in our own acquisitive society, was the most radical discipline that could be practiced, made more radical in the provisions of the year of release and the jubilee, procedures that are sabbath writ large.

The reason that sabbath is a radical discipline is that it is a regular, disciplined, highly visible withdrawal from the acuisitive society of production and consumption that is shape only by commodity. Work stoppage and rest are public statements that one's existence and the existence of one's society are not defined by the pursuit of commodity, and that human well-being is not evoked by commodity but precisely by the intentional refusal of commodity.

This is an invitation into what is at the very heart of this community of Jews - sabbath. Think of Jewish communities where you live. Sabbath is a visible sign - a public sign. These outsiders are not only welcome into the community, they are expected to take on the life of the community. This has always been one of the most essential aspects of how I view inclusion in the church. Those who come are expected to take on the life we call essential. Therefore, not only is there the utter "freedom" in the gospel, there is the life that is called forth from that gift. Too often, we can focus so much on what people must stop doing and we forget about the life we are asking them to enter. It is not a conditional gathering, it is an expectation for life that will grow like fruit within communities of grace and hope. This invitation to sabbath is an invitation to take part in a relationship of promise. It is not so much a requirement with penalties as it is a gift that carries daily expectations that are contrary to the expectations of the dominant culture. Such life within this gathered community build character that becomes known. It has a face to it. Recently I find this to be at the center of how I think we must face the church when we gather in those among us who are GLBT saints. Together we have a character. Together we love our God and our neighbor. Together we up hold the dignity of one another and seek after the welfare of all. Together we live as though we honor life and pursue justice.

In some ways you can say that is sabbath living. By that, I simply mean that we deliberately "take a break" from the values of our society and allow ourselves to be refreshed by a vision that causes us to turn our lives completely to our God whose love for us continues to become our love. I would think such "breaks" would provide us with a living memory of such a gift so that we would follow its ethic even on the rest of the days of our lives.

Connection: Keep in mind that Jesus, Christ, has died for you, and is risen from the dead. That is the beginning of our rest and the beginning of how we can follow our Lord into this day.

You bring us rest, O God, and too often we run away from it. Our running so often takes place as we attempt to find another way that we think will make the day for us. Keep us steadfast in the promise of your Reign that, even now, is shaping our character. Amen.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Wednesday 20 June 2007

Today we continue with Walter Brueggemann's five accent points we can consider when we think about the future of the church. We are still on #3 and it moves into the commands that "pertain to economic welfare for the disadvantaged in society. The text is Deuteronomy 24:17-22. Four times in this passage reference is made to how the people of God are to care for the resident alien, orphan and widow.

The cadence of the text reiterates the "triangle of vulnerability," widow, orphan, immigrant. The triad refers to those whithout a male advocate in a patriarchal society who are, for that reason, dangerously exposed to economic disadvantage. The command provides that those with prosperity and produce are obligated to devote a portion of their produce to a welfare program for needy neighbors. The series concludes...with a reminder, "You were a slave in the land of Egypt." and therefore a recipient of the produce of Egypt at the behest of YHWH.

Welfare has become a bad word to many folks. When we put it in the phrase the "welfare of all" we have a standard idea of the movement Gandhi led and then it inspires works of justice and peace. The welfare of the least is the way we judge a soceity. When I was in Detroit, a priest who operated Focus Hope noted that we can determine the morality of a country by the way we treat the elderly and the poor. Amazing how so much talk about morality has been turned from these vast needs to a few trigger issues that seem to want to ignore the devastion thrust upon so many people by economics that do not consider and care for the least among us. Even prosperity gospel preachers find a way to lift up the rich and leave the poor behind as though they caused their poverty and choose to live there. Armies of people are fed up with how we treat the unborn but do not consider how we are to come together to work for the welfare of all...all those born...all those living in poverty...all those subjected to disrespect and abuse in a patriarchal world...all those who have lived long lives and are not honored as elders should be.

Connection: We really do need to spin our lives in a way that is counter to the ruling dynamics that continue to perpetuate a systemic brutality upon the least among us. I wonder what would be one thing that could be done by each of us today to begin to raise up and liberate the forgotten ones around us?!?

O Lord, how are we to break the cycle of economic injustice that serves many of us so well and yet is the weight around the necks of those who cannot bear anymore burdens in their lives. Can we hope when we are witnesses of such division and such oppression and such poverty? Guide us, O God. Amen.

Tuesday 19 2007

We pick up from last week with Walter Brueggemann's five accent points we can consider when we think about the future of the church. We are still on #3 and it moves into the command for a "year of release" - again in Deuteronomy (15:1-18).

This commandment provides that debts within the neighborly community of covenant shall be canceled and forgiven after six years. The effect of the command is to subordinate the economy to the social fabric, so that the economy has no autonomous life in the society. The intent of the command is that there shall be no permanent underclass; every member of the covenant community should be able to maintain economic and therefore human viability. The members of the community with resources are directly obligated toward their neighbors...

Of interest in this command is the recognition that "the poor will never cease in the land."

As we know it today, the economy doesn't just have an autonomous has a ruling and controlling life. Just take note of how much of our life is tied to and dependent on "Wall Street." The saying we use today is "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer." It is as though that is the way it is and will be. But in this command from Deuteronomy, that is not and should not and must not be the case among the people of God. Such a community creates liberation. It is one of the grand assets of the people living together under such a command. When there is nothing in your hand, the community would take up the responsibility to make sure you were not abandoned without resources or hope. Our open hands are to be open to the poor in the community.

When I think of this within a congregation, it seems to me that we must all be aware of those among us who are not "making it." Our role in those cases is to at least make sure that they are given as much help needed to provide for their well-being. Then, it is also a part of our community life to help them "get on their feet" and have a chance to supply what is needed in that household. At Redeemer we have what is called a "Good Samaritan" fund. Often, we help people out in the general community when there is a need. On the other hand, I find that the most important use of those funds (that are given by members and friends) is to see to the welfare of those in the community. Over the years, families have been assisted and it really did make the difference between making it or not making it.

Connection: It is important to remember that each of us can be a part of overall structure that helps another person or household "make it." And...we do it as a sign of whose we are.

Compassionate Lord, turn us into instruments of justice and aid so that we will never forget those around us who are in need. Very often we wrestle with what we "want" and forget that we are invited to place on our "want" list the welfare of our neighbors. This makes their need - our need and our work. Amen.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Monday 18 June 2007

We pick up from last week with Walter Brueggemann's five accent points we can consider when we think about the future of the church. We are still on #3 and "the conditions of inclusion."

Today we look a bit closer at what it means to "hold fast to the covenant." This comes primarily from the book of Deuteronomy. Brueggemann notes that the core of being a "holy people" in the tradition of Deuteronomy is about neighborly generosity that is an imitation of the God who practiced neighborly generosity since the exodus. He uses two texts here.

So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord you God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being. (Deut. 10:12-13)

For the Lord you God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. (Deut.10:17-18)

The text offers remarkable vision of the God who presides over the great synod of all the gods and yet who is the one who does justice for widows and orphans who have no advocate in a patriarchal society, who gives attentive mercy to strangers who do not really belong, and who responds to material need for food and clothing.

If we are talking about inclusion, our God has invited us into a tribe of people who will be attentive to and responsive to the least and lowest who must be honored among us. In a world of gods and lords, the least have no place because such gods and lords must do everything they can to find ways in which people can be coerced into propping them up. Our God challenges us to risk stepping out of the culture of power and might and into the realm of benevolent love that will not only welcome...but will also provide for life.

Brueggemann does such a good job at bringing these texts from the Hebrew Scriptures right into the life of the church so that we might be reminded of the radical kind of roots that are a part of what shapes the radical reality of the church. This God...this God who provide and resides and does not forget the ones the world so easily passes by, is the God about whom we proclaim: God is Great. This God is "attentive to societal justice" and that is the character that distinguishes our God from the gods who want to bring themselves into power. It may not be easy to bring that eye and that work of justice into a congregation, but it is so vital to the whole life we live together as saints of God. We may not be able to turn the powers around, but we can have eyes open to the needs of the least among us and then....act to set them give them set a place at the table and experience this life we have been offered by our inclusive God.

Connection: Look around - we have been given a life that is freely given and can be freely given to others. There will be many ways -large and small- to walk within the wideness of God's Reign.

You, O God, invite us into life that is meant to blossom within the fields of life that surround us. You have planted us so that we would flower and give witness to your eternal Reign. Make this a day full of your brilliance among us. Amen.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday 15 June 2007

Walter Brueggemann notes that Isaiah 56 suggests five accent points that we may consider in our thinking about the future of the church. We reflected on two of them. Now we look at #3.

It has struck me that as we ponder the church that gathers the others, we must pay attention to the conditions of inclusion, for this is not unconditional love. There is a realistic, hard-nosed requirement of what it takes to maintain a community that is genuinely alternative.
Brueggemann then turns to Isaiah 56:4 and 56:6 and notes:
The first and surely principal condition is that those to be included - foreigners and eunuchs - are to hold fast to covenant. That is, to be included one must be singularly committed to the covenant. This uninflected expectation is perhaps illuminated by other phrases in this invitation.
+ "Choose the things that please me."
Those to be included are to bring their lives into coherence with the inclination of YHWH;
+ "To love the name of the Lord,"
which in context refers to the first commandment of exclusive loyalty.
+ "To minister to him."
That phrase means to exercise worship leadership, or perhaps as laypersons to bring offerings to be publicly seen in YHWH's presence.

Brueggeman says this doesn't give us much in regards to specifics and he will say more later. But we are able here to step back and realize that the inclusive and gathering community is one that must carry expectations of all who come to take part in the wideness of God's merciful reign. That may sound odd. Then again, I think of the people who took part in the many non-violent demonstrations during the years of the active civil rights struggles. Those who joined (and anyone could join) had to adhere to a very disciplined life of non-violence. In the face of those threatening mobs that rule like the powers of the world, the protester were not merely resisting the threat, they were there as an alternate reality. They would not and could not act out of their fear and our of their hatred. They were told to love their enemy. That was a necessary part of this contrary life. this would be the "light of mine" what would shine in the midst of the dark days of oppression and hatred.
So too, we are now being told of such a need to be an alternative community. To establish and sustain such a gathering, our vision must be such that we keep ourselves focused on that which will shape our lives and make all who come one people. Yes, the doors have been thrown open and God gathers God's people. For those who come to such light and grace and love, there is the expectation that as one of God's own, we will become that light and grace and love. We are pulled by love and that love creates in us a new heart and a new life. In all of that, we obviously need guidelines and direction that keep us focused on the one who gathers us all together.

Connection: A covenant is a relationship. Loving homes exist within a covenant in which everyone has a place and everyone helps to shape the ongoing loving context of that home. We all will walk in the midst of covenant relationship this day. We all are expected to take one our part in that covenant.

Lord of All, by your grace you hold us and gather us and then, by your love, you hand us a vision for life that makes is possible for your love to become our love and our graciousness to those around us. Keep us steadfast in this covenantal relationship we have with you and one another. Amen.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Thursday 14 June 2007

Today we will continue with #2 of the five points we may consider in our looking toward the future of the church. Again we will continue a look at being gathered in (#2).

Brueggmann links Isaiah 39 and 56 by the word eunuch. In 39 "your own sons who are born to you shall be taken away; they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the Babylon" (6-9). Chapter 39 is the last chapter in "First Isaiah" which anticipates how the royal persons will become powerless servants. The next use of eunuch comes in Isaiah 56 - the first chapter of "Third Isaiah":

...chapters 39 and 56 with their two mentions of eunuchs bracket the powerful poetry of Second Isaiah in Isaiah 40-55. This literary arrangement suggests that Isaiah 56 aims precisely at rehabilitating the princes of the Davidic house who had lost their power and their royal credentials, who had become powerless, nameless nobodies in a foreign court. They are nobodies out there, but in here, in restored Jerusalem, they are to be made welcome.

...Thus, the inclusion of "eunuchs" pertains to all those, gay and lesbians, straight and successful, all those ground down to lost self in a relentless environment of production, the gains of which go to the stockholders and not to the producers. The summons of God before us, I propose, concerns the gathering God who will gather the scattered to a new community.

A whole new community that is not held back from what God is able to do among us - that is outrageous and gracious and out of our control. God makes room. God always has. God does not go along with the injustice and cruelty and abandonment and exclusion that seems to be the way the powers of this world are held together. Our life together is within a vision that takes up a new path. This path is not dependent on those who have come to trust in the power and influence they have to make the world as they would have it. Rather, God rules. Yes, there is still the invitation for all to come and enter this life and take up this way of life even when it goes contrary to how we would like our lives to go...but still we are invited. We are not the gatekeepers. We are to be the light...the salt...the gathered...the beloved...the sons and daughter of our God.

The way we live is one of separation and division...even in the life we call the church. But this God who frees the captive and heals the wounded and causes justice and peace to embrace and delivers the oppressed and nameless and worthless - is the God who still Reigns and still reaches out to gather even when our arms will not serve that purpose. Our God gathers despite us. That is the glory that shines around us.

Connection: This vision of God's Reign is meant to make our day free to live as though we are the beloved of God. Imagine what that may mean today!

Lord of All Hopefulness, you have become our light and our strength and our life. As you continue to abide with us, open our eyes to see those around me as the children you call your own. Amen.

Wednesday 13 June 2007

Last Friday I noted that we were going to look at five points Walter Brueggemann suggests we need to consider as we look to the future of the church. We continue with another look at #2:

In yesterday's quote from Isaiah 56, we saw how the "foreigner" and the "eunuch" were to be gathered into the people of God. Brueggemann goes on to say that these two actions were a "direct and plausible interpretive challenge to the teaching of Moses in Deuteronomy 23:3-6 (foreigners) and Deuteronomy 23:1 (eunuchs).

The Mosaic theology of the book of Deuteronomy was very much on the minds of fifth-century Jews at the time of Isaiah 56. That theology (Deuteronomy) was intentionally exclusionary and had not forgotten anything about previous affronts. In that Torah provision Deuteronomy 23, there is no opening for forgiveness or reconciliation.

...our text from Isaiah 56 breaks from the commandment of Moses in an interpretive maneuver that must have been as radical as was that of Paul in Acts 15 in the welcome of Gentiles into the community of faith.

...the second category of inclusion in our text of Isaiah 56 is even more astonishing: eunuchs... Our text challenges that teaching of Moses. Now it will occur to you, as it has occurred to other interpreters, that the text may, in a relatively frontal way, pertains to current issues of gays and lesbians, as it is a case of reversing exclusion on the basis of sexuality.

The argument I hear so often about why gays and lesbians can be excluded from the church or from certain areas of ministry in the church is that there is no passage that counters the traditional texts that have been used to exclude. And yet, here in Isaiah 56, we do not see texts that deal with homosexuality and the need to include. Rather, we see a better vision. A more broad vision of how through the generations and in new times and new days, that which was written "in stone" as some say...can be let loose. This Isaiah text takes us beyond the nailing of individual notions about sexuality and makes more of a point of gathering in even those who are way out of the bounds of acceptability from another time. Yes, this text only deal with eunuchs, but look at the movement that is made toward bringing all of God's people home. How is it that we cannot bring home and gather in those among us who are loved by the Lord, God, and whose love for the Lord and neighbors is the same as it is among any of us? Well, maybe that hesitation and that long restriction needs to be seen again - in a new day - a day within the Reign of God where Jesus is Lord and this Lord is simply gracious about gathering us in.

In the midst of God's people we will be considered the same - beloved of the Lord. This does not mean that we are saying do as you want or live as you want. Instead, we begin by saying welcome, welcome home, come in with the rest of us. Then, we by our living and loving in the name of the Lord, teach about the way the great command to love God and love neighbor comes to life in any and all of our relationship. Only as a community that blesses are we blessed. In that blessed gathering in, we take the shape of the one who blesses us and we begin to be that light to all...a light that illuminates the city of God.

Connection: We live within the bold welcome of our Lord, Jesus, and that is how the day comes into order and that is then the witness we unveil to those around us. No fear...simply an unbounded gathering in that is the power for new life.

As you take hold of our lives and call us your own and gather us into your loving presence, O God, we are uplifted and introduced to life that is beyond our own capabilities. But as you love us, that power becomes for us the power to entertain strangers and call one another saints of the Lord. We give you thanks for your great outreach of love. Amen.

Tuesday 12 June 2007

Last Friday I noted that we were going to look at five points Walter Brueggemann suggests we need to consider as we look to the future of the church. Here is #2:

The church's place is in exile with other displaced persons, practicing the gathering that is the work of the gathering God. But that poses the urgent question: Who can be gathered? This most astonishing Isaiah 56 names two most objectionable classes of folk to be gathered in that ancient society:
Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
"The Lord will surely separate me from his people";
and do not let the eunuch say,
"I am just a dry tree."
Foreigners and eunuchs! People most unlike "us"! My thesis is that the church's work is the gathering of the others, not the ones that belong obviously to our social tribe or class or race.

There appears to be no limits to that "gathering." Usually we gather our own. Usually we make sure that everyone in our family or our group is safe and on board before we take off to do our own thing. And yet, the gathering is to have no limits. We are invited to gather everyone home. That may mean that we are given the opportunity to turn any place into a home - a home that will be home to more people than I can imagine. Gathering takes in the scattered and the excluded and the ones who have been included forever.
In our church building, we have a "gathering" space. I still call it the narthex. During our last building project, this kind of space was probably the item highest on the list of things we needed to do with our building. A space to simply gather. That meant a place to meet and greet and a place to spend some time talking. To our amazement, it works quite well. Sometimes, it is difficult to bring people into worship because of all the "gathering" going on. But then again, what is often the case is that few people actually extend themselves out to the "others" who come to worship. That can mean visitors or even members who are not very outgoing. There are those who come in and are left in a corner or standing alone without being engaged as people who also belong to this place.
It is always a wonderful sight to see people who are not labeled as "greeters" take the lead to make sure that the stranger is made known among us. That gift of hospitality becomes such a community treasure because those who question their ability to be there are assured of their place within the community without qualification.

Connection: It doesn't take much time or energy to step out of our circle of self-concern and engage those who are not connected or seem to be outside of any other circle. Sometimes it is that important connection that takes place as we pass by one another along the way. From that moment, new moments to connect will present themselves to us.

When you gather in your people, O God, we don't often see the expansiveness of your reach. Rather, we only see how long our own arms are. Lift up our eyes so that we can see those outside of our reach and then we can move out of our reach to those you are already inviting into our gathering of saints. Amen.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Monday 11 June 2007

In dealing with the situation of the Jewish Exiles coming home to Jerusalem from Babylon, Walter Brueggemann uses Isaiah to offer us a word about welcome. He will have five accent points to help us consider our own thinking about the future of the church. I will spend a few days on #1.

He continues by setting up this important notion of the reality of exile and how the "homegrown props of established society are now largely gone"....and "that reality of loss generates enormous, amorphous anxiety among us.

Thus, I propose that the church is now God's agent for gathering exiles of which I can think immediately of two groups. First, there are those exiles who have been made exiles by the force of our society, those who are rejected, ostracized, and labeled as outsiders. This, of course, includes the poor, and inevitably we would also think in one way or another of gays and lesbians. We have and exile-producing culture that displaces some folk who are variously visible and vocal among us. But second, after the obviously excluded, I suggest that the category of "exile" also include those whom the world may judge normal, conventional, establishment types. For the truth is that the large failure of old values and old institutions causes many people to experience themselves as displaced people...anxious, under threat, vigilant, ill at ease, and so in pursuit of safety and stability and well-being that is not on the horizons of contemporary society. It is not obvious among us how the dream of well-being can come to fruition among us.

Wow. When he throws the net out in order to bring folk home, he throws it out. This second group of people is one of the best ways of describing the anxiety and fear within our society and church. For many reasons, some folks have been left behind and unable to deal with how we are moving into the present and setting our eyes on the dreams of a new age of grace. It is not wonder that we are so at odds when it comes to discussions about gay and lesbians in the church. One group has been pushed out and the other group has is unsure of what it is that keep us all afloat. That is a legitimate concern. And yet, the only way to become a community of hope is to walk together through this great gap that is between us.

Both side, as Brueggemann suggests, seem to be wounded. The wounds may be different but we are still wounded people who long for the saving grace of our God to establish this blessed Home. In the present, it is difficult for some people to see how we can be the Church if we make changes in regard to who can be among us - especially if it changes the way we have walked for so long. Then again, even after a long period of time, we must remember that God's Reign continues to unfold and become known to us in new ways that keep us grounded in this God who gathers and call us out into a new dimension of life that is not a mere reflection of the world and its powers as they go on their way. We live in a community that needs this tension...a tension that demand honesty, faithfulness, and a love that is generated from our God who saves us - all.

Connection: So we must remember that there are two least two sides. The day will be filled with two or more sides. All sides are longing for life. What we must look at today is whether life is grasped at the expense of the "other" or is this life something we all work toward together.

Come, O Lord of All Life. Come and help us to face our fears and everything that attempts to break us down and separate us. When we come up with the best reasons for excluding the other side, draw us into the vision of your love and remind us to walk prayerfully forward into this day. Amen.

Friday 8 June 2007

In dealing with the situation of the Jewish Exiles coming home to Jerusalem from Babylon, Walter Brueggemann uses Isaiah to offer us a word about welcome. He will have five accent points to help us consider our own thinking about the future of the church. I will spend a few days on #1.

The problem that the dispute addresses is the reality of exile, the pain of deportation, and the acute sense of displacement.

(The dispute is between those who have been in exile in Babylon, those who remained in Jerusalem, and those who were deported to other places. Now they must deal with their differences as a people who are called to be one.)

Here are the words of God in Isaiah (56:8)

Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel,

I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.

The God present to the dispute is the God who gathers. The term "gather," a technical term for ending exile, is used in the verse three times...The statement is a disclosure of the intention of God who wills that all should be gather home to well-being.

There will be no more separation. It does not matter where you have been. It does not matter what has gone on in your live previously. This God of our - gathers...puts an end to the displacement and separation and all the places considered privileged and those considered worthless. Our God gathers. What we hear from God in Isaiah is a voice that does not care about the good, sound thinking of those on any side of this dispute. Yes, they all have their own voices and those in power tend to be able to make the most of their thoughts. And yet, the only voice that brings a vision and a word of hope is the word of God announcing the way God will be gathering.

A person may be able to come up with good reasons why someone is to be shunned or put to the back of the bus...but they do not fly within this Reign of God. The only place that this kind of life together is able to take place is where God sets it up - according to God's standards. It is God's will that all will come home. There are to be no road blocks put in front of anyone. God wills that all God's people -no matter what the situation may be- will come home.

There are many reasons to want to maintain control of who is in and who must be kept out. It is also important to some that there would be a way that those unlike us would have to go through some type of experience in order to come home. But this God of ours who opens up the lips of Isaiah is the God who proclaims the reality of home for all - a gift - a mandate - a blessed spite of what we would argue is best for us.

Connection: It is so easy to gloss over the differences that must have existed in the middle of these way back in time. Scripture brings us an ancient voice and sometimes we keep it out there at a distance. Then again, who is in and who is out...who is like us and who is different - becomes the agenda of every day. Constantly, we must remember how God's will to bring us all home shapes how we go about the everyday routines we run through along the way.

Come, O God, and unite all who are separated. Remind us of your will to have us all gathered into your Reign and to be made well and whole within your sweet home ruled by your love and your wisdom and your gracious law. Come, Lord God, Come, and inspire our living. Amen.

Thursday 7 June 2007

Today we will enter the chapter "A Welcome for the Others" in "Mandate to Difference" by Walter Brueggemann.

This chapter uses as one primary text, Isaiah 56. It deals with the exiles in Babylon coming back to the city of Jerusalem. It is filled with hope and the reality at hand.
As they approached the future in the city, the returning Jews from exile immediately entered into dispute, a contest between various notion of the future. One claim in the dispute had to do with the constitution of the community. They asked who in fact now constitutes Israel, the restored community of the people of God. And that question pressed them to ponder, "Who is in and who must be excluded?" The people who undertook that dispute, moreover, were those who returned from exile and to Persian auspices. They are the ones labeled, in current scholarship, "the urban elites" who monopolized power and who thereby had the capacity to define the community and its constituents.

I find it important that the question that is held up here is the negative one. It is not "Who is to be included." That was not the issue. There were strong feelings about "them" and "us." It seems we always base the future of the world on what goes with me. It also looks like the elites of a society are the ones who have the ability to define who is in and who is to be out. It is in situations like this and in our own day that the voice of prophets must be lifted up. We will spend time looking at the words of the prophets within the next week. For now, it is important to take a look at how we "define the community and its constituents." We all do it - even if it is simply the community that is most closely drawn into our lives. This can be and is something as basic as family. The need to protect and care and help those who are like us and close to us is so very real to each of us. This is the primary piece of our lives that we consider when we look out into the future. How do we keep them safe? This question is often set within a world that is filled with "them." I just finished writing a short article about living together faithfully in the midst of our disagreements. This assumes that we are not all alike and we do not all agree on what is to be. I have found that it is most difficult for people to expand the circle of the community when there is anxiety about what could happen to my own - even if the speculation has no basis in fact or experience. It is at that point that we begin to see what we are willing to do to placate our anxiety. It is often a picture of projections and judgements that are not grounded in real life community. Rather than set up community with everyone inside so that we can actually live through life together and find out what is the truth about who we are, it is easier to exclude...shut the doors...keep our own close and untouched by others.

Connection: There are so many ways to open up the doors of our lives. Every time we do it, it is a risk - that is life. And yet, in that risk within even the smallest exchanges, we begin to have our world view opened. The risk is that we put ourselves out there and may be rejected. We also may find that there are some folk with whom we would rather not spend much time. All in all, we can still be a part of the same community.

O Lord who Gather Us In, you make us a people in your image and we long to have your love be the light of our life together. When we are afraid of this brilliant vision of life, be our courage and helps us open the doors or walk through into a new experience of the fullness of your Reign. Amen.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Wednesday 6 June 2007

We will end this section on Sabbath with a short chapter ending note directed to all who live by the promise of this rest we are handed by our Lord.

As you come to the table, expect yourself to be subverted by abundance, and by freedom and by truth and by hope...

This is God's gift. This is the reality of the Reign of God when we also live within the world of the powers that attempt to reign over us. We we come to the table of the Lord's Supper, we are taking part in the subversive Reign that becomes more than just a meal. It becomes for us - our life. Within this life we can be assured in all times that there will be enough - for our God is one who fills lives to overflowing. Does this mean "cash" is coming our way? No. It means our God of abundance, who creates all things -even when there appears to be nothing from which anything can be made- will provide for life that will bring rest and satisfy our wounded lives. It is within the promise of that abundance that we experience freedom from those "brick yards" of oppression that always attempt to reestablish themselves over us. When we are certain of God's gift of life, our lives and our tongues and our actions are set free to live as though there is one Lord, one God. Out of this present Reign, we are then able to walk out into a future of promise that bids us to come and rest - come and live. This simply may be a symbolic meal to some. And yet, for me, it is the promise alive and the life available and the community ready to live together through all things.

Connection: As this day goes on the way it usually moves, remember that we have come from a table that sets up life in a new way and in a new order. From that position of hope, live!

Lord of the Table of Life, we are moved by your love and we leap into your future already aware of how you shape what will be. Grant us the courage to abide within the promises of your Reign. Amen.

Tuesday 5 June 2007

Once again we will use Walter Brueggeman's comments about sabbath.

Sabbath - actual, concrete, visible, regular discipleship - is a sign. It signifies an alternative life. It is an invitation to get our public performance in sync with our inner selves so that there is no need be no gnashing of teeth or self-hatred or sense of failure. But it is more than public and personal congruity; sabbath is an invitation to get our public performance and our personal brooding both in sync together with our true self in the Gospel:

To come to trust in assured abundance that characterizes our creation;

To embrace freedom that is given that our culture resists.

I not sure when and how we arrive at this vitally important time - this sabbath rest that renews our mind and our spirit. I do know that it is so important to kkeeping me in touch with what is noted here as "our true self in the Gospel." I do know that setting aside a specific time as a "sabbath" time is not always the way to move into this space and this life. Set aside times, can often be nothing more than time that does not refresh and refocus and renew. I think about the times I go to read on a Sunday afternoon. I do it to relax or to be challenged or to be taken up into another realm of thinking about my life.

Sometimes I sit at the coffee shop and simply fall asleep...going over the same paragraph or sentence...again...and...again...and... Trying to force a time to serve as a sabbath time in the way I want it to be sabbath time seems to contradict the very spirit available in such a gift of time.

Then again, I remember a grown man talking about his mother when she would go to worship. She worked a long week. In worship she fell asleep - every week. At her funeral he acknowledged that he was embarrassed of her sleeping. He then said he learned that this was just what a gracious God would accept. God would not care that she was sleeping. In fact, I recall thinking about Jesus urging those who are heavy burdened to come and rest in him. She did...and her son "got it."

Within the Reign of God we are offered this time to rest and to be assured of how the abundance of our God's creation allows us to rest and sleep and dream and imagine. All this takes place in contrast to a world that pushes for precise logic and patterns and strategic plans for success as it is defined by the ways of our world.

Connection: We all need some time to enter into a forgiving and life-respecting rest so that we will be able to experience how God grants us vision and pulls us into God's hopeful Reign. Let yourself rest and review all things.

Blessed Lord of Vision and Hopefulness, it is by your assurance that we can let go and begin to experience the wide open and welcoming arms that you extend to us so that we can enter the peace of your promised Reign and then walk out into this world in your name. We give you thanks. Amen.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Monday 4 June 2007

Today is another one of those texts that can help us all to live in the midst of hope even when there appears to be evidence that we can stake a claim in that wondrous life - from "Mandate to Difference"- Walter Brueggemann

Take sabbath rest by taking a break from our contradicted life of silenced coercion. A you tell the truth that breaks denial, so become a "hope-teller" that breaks the spell of despair. Do you imagine, as many do, that there is no way out of our moral morass, our ideological fantasies, our burden of a world mismanaged and irreversible? Do you imagine a church so preoccupied with ideological passion that it has no energy for mission and leaves you weary and without hope? Well, take a sabbath rest and become hope-teller, a poet of "assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Take a sabbath from despair by the staggering truth that Christ is risen and that creation surges with the Easter power of new life that God is now giving.

Telling the truth demands that we begin to speak. We are invited to "break from our contradicted life of silenced coercion." That break happens when we step up and speak up. In some ways, it is like a sabbath rest. To speak up and witness to the truth rather than being coerced in the silence that kills is to step out of that silence and begin to be refreshed within a domain of hope and renewal. We take a rest from the work of the world when we take part in the life on the sabbath. Well, we also can take a rest from the world of silence that goes along with the ways and coercive powers of the world. We do not have to live as though we must pledge allegiance to any power that attempts to rule by coercions and fear. Sabbath rest from such a life means that we resist what is. The rest -within that resistance- is that we do not put up with its definition of life...we do not remain in the prisons of despair that is ruled by a story that does not allow us to imagine a different way or a new life. Sabbath rest, gives us the space to dream and imagine and hope...and then we are ready to live within our world with a voice. That voice comes because we have experienced an atmosphere of life in which we are not beaten down in an attempt to keep things as they are. Sabbath rest is the beginning of all hopefulness. I simply would say it happens because we give ourselves the time and space to let our minds wander and wonder without limits. Out of that expansive world of sabbath rest, the boxes in which we often live our lives begin to collapse because we have come to see that they are not necessary to keep our lives together.

Connection: I would say rest. No only that...dream. It would be my bet that if we would rest, we would dream. There is no work involved in such a time. We may regain some energy for living and find that we have a spark for life that we did not let ourselves see.

Lord of Life, as you ignite our lives by your Spirit, encourage us to stop and listen and feel the breeze of your Spirit. Guide us so that we may be moved by your Reign and step aside from the rushing lanes of a world trying to move ahead of itself. We long for the rest you promise and the hope that revives us - even now. Amen.