Monday, December 29, 2008

Monday 29 December 2008

I will be taking a break until Monday January 5. Have a blessed beginning to 2009.

We will start again with a new source for the daily reflections.;

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tuesday 23 December 2008

A personal reflection by Cornel West.

When I went on that operating table for cancer surgery, I was thinking of all the unbelievable blessings that I've received in my life. I didn't know whether this was going to be my death or not. I had to wait to see what was going to be. But I refused to let death come in like a thief in the night and steal the joy and love I had already given and received.

It is wonderful to see someone who approaches death filled with joy. That doesn't mean "happiness." It means a sense of fullness and wholeness. Death, we are told, cannot steal that from us. Death cannot steal the love and joy we have experienced in our lives and it cannot deny us the love and joy that is promised. That must be why we say death has lost its sting. We never know how we will entertain the possibility of our own death or the death of those close too us but we are encouraged to walk into this day without limiting our lives because death is drawing near in some shape or form. West writes of having to wait to see what was going to take place with his surgery. We are reminded that we wait in hope...we wait with hearts open...we wait knowing the end of the story...we wait in the presence of love that abounds even when we are alone. One of the great gifts we can give one another as death is to be present and stand alongside and help love and life and hope endure even as death plays out its hand.

Connection: I've always thought death does. And yet, the love and joy that is remembered causes a smile to burst across my face within a moment of a fond memory or promise.

Lord of Eternal Life, as we are showered by your grace, remind us to soak up your presence and keep your love close at all times. When we are afraid - be our comfort and our strength. Amen.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Monday 22 December 2008

Some days Cornel West is just good for me.

Gratitude always pushes out ego. When all these other folk are coming at you tooth and nail, you can look them in the face and say, "You're not going to make me bitter. You're not going to make me bigoted. I have work to do in the little time I'm here. I have a smile on my face because I've been so blessed." Thankfulness and praise don't provide the self with a whole lot of space for the ego to operate.

There are so many things that can pull us down and make us throw mud and never see the light of day. And yet...we are blessed - we are the beloved of God. With that on our side, all the powers of evil and hell cannot have the upper hand on us....unless of course...we give it to them. We are invited into a life of thanksgiving. When we take up that invitation, all the times of our lives become opportunities for change. Change that can happen to us and change that can happen to others and change that can happen to every relationship we enter. From gratitude and thanksgiving come avenues of peacemaking - justice - forgiveness - kindness...the ways of God's Reign.

Connection: Some is much too easy to bitch and gripe than to give thanks and be surprised by what is handed to us.

Stir up our hearts, O God, and open us to your living presence. Amen.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday 19 December 2008

The week ends with a powerful piece by Cornel West.

One reason whey the Garden of Gethsemane is so very important is because, even thought God comes into the world in human flesh to love, serve, and die, even God had to choose.
Jesus said, "Let this cup pass from me." He still had to choose to have his will conform to the will of God. The greatest living preacher - Gardner C. Taylor - has a grand sermon called "Gethsemane: The Place of Victory." Once you get humanized, fleshified, and concretized in space and time, you are in a choice-centered reality. To be human means choosing to have the courage to think, love, hope, and fight for justice and freedom.

I may use part of this quote for Christmas Eve. The act of becoming human brings the fullness of God into this context that is call our home. God comes home for Christmas and enters into all that makes us family, neighbor, nation, enemy, friend, companion... Along the way - even in the place that appear to look and feel like Gethsemane - we like our God-in-the-flesh - must choose where we are to go and how we will get there. Both parts are quite important. We work together to understand where it is that God is bidding us to come. And then, we must wrestle with how we get there. It is not going to be like the way the powers of the world will be within the Reign of Peace. Together we choose to go that way. Alone it is quite difficult. With others, the Spirit whips around us that through us to clarify who we will become so that we do not fall into the ways that are so easy for us to stumble - violence, unrest, despair...

Connection: This God who comes to be "with us" make our humanity a special gift. What bit of that special-ness in you will you let loose upon the world today? Your choice.

When you stir up our hearts, O God, we are transformed and we are awakened into a new life that reflects you Peaceable Reign. Stir us up again this day. Amen.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thursday 18 December 2008

Here's one that may stir us up. West on The Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

As the right-wing political Ice Age begins to melt, the prophetic possibility inside the black prophetic church may begin to erupt. Reverend Jeremiah Wright is one example. He terrifies the white mainstream. When he says, "Not God bless American, God damn America. That's in the Bible, for killing innocent people." The white mainstream only hears, "God damn America."
They say, "He's so unpatriotic, he's so ungrateful...he's a hate-monger. Why does he hate America?"
Any God worthy of worship condemns injustice anywhere. To be anti-injustice in America is not to be anti-American! If to condemn injustice in America is to be anti-American, so be it. To be Christian requires being maladjusted to injustice, which is the bottom line.

When we are caught up in our flag waving - for any country - we may find ourselves walking farther and farther away from the way of Jesus. Too often, in the name of country, we lose respect for some people and forget the need to honor all. When that happens, we can easily enter into a life of injustice even when we are not directly responsible for the injustice. From a prophetic perspective, the God of liberation and justice does not tolerate injustice even when those who are involved in the way of injustice think that their ways are the saving ways for the world. West is right in reminded us that most people only hear "God damn America." When we only hear that, we are able to condemn his words from the perspective of the state...we can lift up words like "traitor" because our flag has been offended. And yet, what is really most alarming is that the words uncover how we have become a people who live in a way that is contrary to the ways of our God...and yet, in line with the ways of a flag-bearing people. Rather than yell at Wright's would be good for us to pause, go back to the Scriptures, and try to get a feel for what he was saying and why their was such heat to his spoken word. It would be responsible for the Christian community to hear his words as words that make some parts of the church comfortable at the expense of others. His words, I hope, were meant to sting the people in his parish just as much as they would sting any one else.

Connection: It is important to be able to hear stinging words and begin to wonder why they sting and what must be out of line in the lives of the faithful community.

Come, Liberating Lord. Come and remind us of the invitation to be a light that brings justice and peace to this day. Remind us of how your light exposes that which is not a part of the vision of your Reign. Amen.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wednesday 17 December 2008

A different way to look at church and state...and the cross - Cornel West.

Since America is well-adjusted to injustice, the flag is no longer subordinate to the cross, the cross has become subordinate to the flag. In the end, the blood at the cross that ought to serve as a critique and judgment for all human beings becomes Kool-Aid. It serves as a refreshment for those in search of the American dream, of living large in some vanilla suburb, and enjoying a certain kind of status and power.
Any time you make the cross subordinate to the flag, you have idolatry. Americanized Christianity is shot through with forms of idolatry, making it difficult for people to keep track of the blood at the cross, the need to love, sacrifice, and bear witness to something bigger than nation, race, or tribe.

I often return to the phrase "strangers and aliens" to describe the life of Christians in any country. We can never be completely at ease and at home because just as that becomes the case, the flags of our countries will seduce us into leaving the way of Jesus for a way that will give up all things for the welfare of the flag. West points to the blood at the cross as the Kool-Aid for those in search of the American dream. He links it to life within a "vanilla suburb" and living with a "certain kind of status and power." I would add to that picture the 'hip-hop culture' that also subordinates the cross to the style of an idolatrous trip through life. It is another side of an American dream that is just as distant from the blood at the cross as is the "American vanilla Dream." As strangers and aliens, Christians are invited to be willing to live within a tension between the vision of God's Reign and the ways of a world so caught up with itself - it serves no one - loves selectively - sacrifices only when there is something to gain - and must keep up walls that restrict community.

Connection: The blood at the cross it not some magic juice that will juice up our lives and make things turn out on the winning side. It is a complete identification with all that confronts our humanity every day.

Stir up our lives, O God, so we do not fall for a cross that leads us in a victory lap in life. Rather, keep us on the way of the cross that is seeking the welfare of all no matter what the consequences may be to our lives. Amen.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tuesday 16 December 2008

More from Cornel West.

People tend to think that religious talk is different from political talk. You can talk about the kingdom and say it's just a metaphor. But actually, it's very real. You have to have deep, deep religious faith to stay in the struggle for a long time. Ask anybody who's been in the struggle for the long haul. You have to have deep faith. Faith is our primary source of empowerment. If you haven't dealt with the bondage of death and despair, then you're going to be disillusioned after the first laps. This is not a sprint. This is a marathon.

Whenever we talk about real life situations...things get political. The great prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures talked about vision and the glorious rule of God. But don't think for a moment that they were not talking about real life. The prophets were all about the life within the Reign of God - that religious talk. Then again, they did not see any difference between the life of the Reign of God and the life into which we are called to live. If the Reign of God was just a far-off place that could be isolated from the real day-to-day world I would expect that the prophets would have never lifted their voices. But they did...and the way they called the people into a new life -here and now- was as though their every act reflected the reign they followed. Injustice in the land was injustice within the Reign of God and it could not be tolerated. This reality of the Reign of God being as real as the day-at-hand demanded a grounding that help God's beloved people to prevail as the image of God's Reign in, with, and under the very life of the world. To remain grounded is to remain faithful. To remain faithful is to have a place from which we can act as a beloved community and a place in which we rest until we act again.

Connection: Another Advent word would do well here - patience - the time to act will come and you will be ready.

Reigning God, as you invite us to live within the homeland of your Reign, guide us so that we will become aware of how it is to blossom around and through us. Amen.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Monday 15 December 2008

This week we continue with Cornel West from "Hope on a Tightrope."

The very notion of humane treatment is inseparable from the historic struggle for love and justice. Humane treatment four hundred years ago was very different from what it is now. Thus, the Christian has a mandate to identify with the downtrodden, the dispossessed, the disinherited, the exploited, and the oppressed.
To be a Christian is fundamentally to live a sacrificial life, a love-informed life, a life of caring, and a life of giving.

I some ways, the Advent admonition to "Stay Awake" and "Keep Alert" are one that demand that we bring into view and keep in view those who are in our day - the downtrodden - dispossessed - disinherited - exploited - oppressed. If we only look back at older views, we will miss those who are so close to us now...we cannot or will not see them. Humane treatment is nothing more than the simple and yet profound life of not letting anyone go - not letting any person be see or treated as an object - not turning our back from one person so as to build a community of exclusion. As we act from that which is truly human, there can be nothing that separates us from the humanity of others. In fact, as we are caring and giving and love-informed and sacrificial, we give shape to the fullness of our humanity. Within such lives as this, the world begins to get a picture of who we each can be and what such a life does for the well-being of all - no exceptions.

Connection: Just a few Advent words: Stay Awake! Keep Alert!

You call us to be the beloved you have be truly be a witness to the glory of your creation. Inspire us to walk in our own shoes and identify with all who are called your beloved. In such an inspiring day as that, we may find ourselves living within a promise. Amen.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday 12 December 2008

I used this quote in a sermon a few weeks ago - from Cornel West.

A Christian should be able to go to the White House, a crack house, their momma's house or any other house and come out with their integrity, vision, compassion, and commitment to justice intact.
If the Kingdom of God is within you, then everywhere you go you should leave a little heaven behind. People will know you to be a heaven leaver. You can learn to love your crooked neighbor with your own crooked heart because you're connected to a power and grace greater than your ego.

I really like the image of being a "heaven leaver." This is not a better than thou adventure. Rather it is living as though the vision of the Reign of God is truly at hand and you are walking around as a part of it as you move through the day. Leaving a bit of heaven means people will be touched by your presence. This does not mean some grand show of religiousness. It is the living presence of a compassion and kindness and peace and pursuit of justice that makes an impact on others. When we are heaven leavers, it is good to think of the reality in which other may pick up a bit of what is leavers - leave. For then, more heaven leavers begin walking around within the vision of the Reign of God as a daily reality. The more - the merrier.

Connection: Go ahead, heaven abounds - be a heaven leaver...there is enough to go around forever and ever.

When your Reign comes down upon us, O God, we are moved into a life that is new. Wet from the waters of baptism our days are full of opportunities to share the life into which you invite us. Encourage us with your Spirit that we will walk with a gait that show that your Reign is indeed at hand and among us. Amen.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thursday 11 December 2008

More from Cornel West on Christianity and democracy.

Democracy goes hand in hand with Christian faith. You have an ethical obligation as a Christian to fight for equal rights for all. Prophetic thought has to do with putting your life on the line, with the help of your faith. True faith means you are not looking for a quick fix or a victory overnight. You do the right thing regardless of the consequence - because you want to be a decent and compassionate person before you die.

Well I liked this until we move to the last sentence. Christians are not people who want to be seen as a "decent and compassionate person" before we die. We want to follow Jesus. We want to be the beloved of God as we already are in the eyes of God. We want to live within that image. Nothing has to "get done" before we die. We are free to live a new life now and always. I do think that we are, as West notes" a people who are not looking for a "quick fix or a victory overnight." In fact, we are a people who are not afraid to live in times that are full of tension when many things are unresolved. It is in those times that we are reminded of the true place we play in the world. We take the powerful healing and liberating promises of our God and we live within them even when the world does not. In fact, our living becomes a contrary life - a revolutionary life - a prophetic life. This is simply a part of who we are when we follow Jesus.

Connection: Don't worry about the victory....enter into the Reign that is already at hand today.

Stir up our hearts, O God, and carry us into your Reign. Amen.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Cornel West comments about evil in "Hope on a Tightrope."

For Christians, the problem of evil means: How does one respond to, and resist all forms of evil, especially institutional evil? Christians must seriously consider sin on both the personal and institutional levels. In fact, grappling seriously with institutional sin has allowed me to arrive at some very radical democratic values - such as the need for accountability for all of us.

Sounds like a good way to look at the "bailouts" or "loans" that have been thrown out at some of the biggest institution in our country. We must make them accountable. I often wondered why it is that we make small time criminals pay so heavily for crimes. A good example is the three strikes and your out laws that have thrown small time criminals into prison for long times - long times in a brutal system. On the other hand, corporate business folk seem to be able to get away with ruining the lives of others and nothing is done to them. To make matter worse, we simply give them the go ahead to keep marching to their tune. Even the way institutions are held accountable is different. A blue collar industry is vilified and their worth as a segment of our society is drawn into question and they must make sure that each of their next steps is closely watched. And yet, we simply threw funds to the banks and Wall St. without any accountability.

Connection: Evil comes in many forms. There are some aspects of evil we can never touch as individuals and yet, we must always be listening and watching and working with others to make our whole society just.

Lord of New Life, it has been the flow of the story of your commitment to you people to demand that both individuals and the systems in which we live will be just and fair and honorable. Inspire us to work for justice and shalom even when we think our own lives are settled and in place. Amen.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Again from the West's way of looking at the world and hope.

In the 60s, we saw Christians engaging in anti-racist struggle, as with Martin Luther,Jr., and later with various black liberation theologians, like the great James Cone. In each instance, Christians were called forth to plunge to the depth of their understanding of the Christian gospel, which affirmed the dignity and sanctity of each and every individual. But these kinds of Christians were always a minority.

To press and affirm the dignity and sanctity of each and every individual is a path that is narrow. Too often, we are knocked off course because we are so fixed on our own self-interests that we fool ourselves into believing that others are not like us. Truth is, others are not like us. This doesn't mean that we are not to affirm their dignity and sanctity. Instead, as followers of Jesus, we are a people who never stop pressing on and seeking the welfare of all. The arms of the Reign of God are always wider than our own. We need to remember that grace will trump our arguments for a narrow inclusion or a limited embrace. If we look around at the church today, there really are few instances where the followers of Jesus never cease to "plunge in to the depth of their understanding of the Christian gospel." It is too easy to stop short and settle with something less or become content with the battles once fought.

Connection: Plunge in to the depths and see what takes place around us.

Faithful God, your inexhaustible grace is the power that brings us together as your people. Within that power comes the ability to enter into the works of love that make up the face of your people. Continue to nurture us in the pathway of this work. Amen.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Monday 8 December 2008

From "Hope on a Tightrope" by Cornel West.

American Christianity, in many ways, is a market form of Christianity. It's all about identifying with a winner. That's why Easter Sunday the churches are full, but Good Friday they're empty. Constantinian Christians like to show up when the victory is won.
Don't tell them about the main protagonist - Jesus - being treated like a political prisoner by the Roman Empire. Don't tell them about a senseless death based on injustice with greed, hatred, and fear trying to crush the truth and love!

Another picture of this market Christianity is the "finger pointing" to the heavens after a praise to God or Jesus for a victory over the other team. I want to (and I often do) shout out or stand up and say God and Jesus has nothing to do with your athletic successes. What if you were the one who could not play as well as you play or what if you were not a part of the best team? What would be your attraction to Jesus? Jesus was a loser when it comes right down to how he fit into the societal and religious manifestations of success. That's why the dude was executed. I love the fact that Easter worship is full - as long as we who gather remember what God raised up on that day. It was life that was not in sync with the prevailing powers or values or definitions of success. Good Friday is not a day that is comfortable for many people because of the death and the violence of the act of crucifixion. It is also not comfortable because "picking up one's cross" does not mean that we make the best of the "hardships" in our lives. Rather it has to do with voluntarily entering into the life of pursuing justice and standing for peace and being compassionately involved with the outcasts.

Connection: I like to win. I also know that it is vital for us to make sure that life is fair and just and honorable for all. This is not so easy to balance. Winning and being successful has a seductive edge to it. We must simply be aware and help one another through the day.

Lord of Compassion and Hope, in all things you promise to lead us forward into the ways of your Reign. When we move away from you, we move into only the things we are able to control and that is so often so far from the character of your Reign. Guide us. Amen.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Friday 5 December 2008

Today's selection from "Hope on a Tightrope" contains language that was difficult to read and even more difficult to share - but it comes from Cornel West a prophetic voice in the the U.S. and among African-Americans.

The priestly black church tended to be a highly niggerized black church where the black pastor, although often eloquent, was so scared and intimidated by the white supremacist power structure that he was subordinate to it. this is why when King started his movement he knew that he would only get roughly 10 to 12 churches out of 85, because the other 75 were just scared. They'd been niggerized to the core.
They said, "Look, you don't mess with the white power structure. These folk will crush you. We're not going to win. We can't work together." They said all the different things that come out of the colonized, niggerized mentality. It's understandable, but it's not justifiable.
The prophetic tradition that Martin was trying to galvanize in Montgomery said, "No, we're going to fight this thing. We want to de-niggerize Negros. We're going to shake the nigger out of them. Quit being scared. Walk. Quit being intimidated. Stand up. Quit walking around laughing when it ain't funny and scratchin' when it don't itch. Be a human being."

It was the final sentence that convinced me to use this piece. Be a human being. That is - be who you were created to be. Biblically I would argue that this means be one who is the beloved of the Creator. Be that one that no one can treat as something other than God's own - because we are each God's own and we are made in the image of God. Being a human being can be a ruthless creature if we do not remember that we are shaped to be God's image that is made recognizable in the shape of humanity. When we are these "truly human ones" -ones Walter Wink connects to the image of the son of Man - humanity becomes what it is intended to be. Within that reality created by God, there is no separation - we are one people reflecting the image of God's Reign. But remember, human beings can be ruthless. The white supremacists were human beings not animals. Only humans can attempt to elevate themselves to gods who think they have the right and privilege and obligation to judge others and take away life as they choose. Only humans can be so full of themselves that they would eliminate millions in order to come up with a world they thought would be good for their own kind. When we are the truly human beings in the middle of a world that would like to make new gods, that new humanity West speaks of will be a witness to something greater than the powers of bigotry, bias, and oppression. Today we must listen again to such a call to be human beings created as the beloved of God and in God's image. I was just reading about a woman used "God language" to make sure that LGBT people were people who could be treated as less than the humans beings they are. She categorized them by what she said they do and what they choose to do. She missed the point. She missed their humanity. Her fear-filled humanity has not allowed her to see and touch the fullness of humanity of members of this community of people within the fabric of our humanity. We will always be looking for the truly human one to come...and as promised that one does come again and again and in being a human being there is great cost.

Connection: Sometimes the greatest idol is that which we say carries the truth. Unfortunately, the truth will set everyone free - not just some - everyone - no exceptions - ever.

Come down, O God, and encourage us to be the beloved you see in us for as we live within the realm of your vision, we will begin to see how beloved our neighbors and enemies really are. Forgive us for attempting to rule over our brothers and sisters who also are gifted to be creatures call human beings. Amen.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Thursday 4 December 2008

More on faith and the spirit from Cornel West.

The spirit of the Lord still empowers those who have been cast aside to struggle and not lose hope. It is this spirit that supports those who care for the socially invisible and politically marginalized.

Being cast aside is like being thrown into the refuse pile. Once it is thrown - it is forgotten - it is gone - it is out of sight. This is not a hope-filled place to be when you are the one who is going through the experience of being cast aside. Too many people have this happen to them on a regular basis. Some live tossed-aside lives and it seems unbelievable that than can go on and live. And yet...they do. Hope is a gift for those who find themselves put out and put away. Hope works from is that blessed assurance that binds up wounds and lifts us up when there seems to be nothing more. Hope also works through external sources - like the people who do not turn their backs on those who are cast aside. Here, hope is a hand that is there to assist - hope is a word of support and encouragement from the lips of another person who cares - hope is an advocate who faces the reality of being cast out for being in solidarity with those already cast aside.

Connection: Hope...a gift for this day...a gift that may be - you.

By your Spirit, O God, you uplift those who have been knocked down and you bring home those who have been cast aside. We give you thanks for your mercy, justice and the hope of your Reign. Amen.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Wednesday 3 December 2008

From Cornel West in "Hope on a Tightrope."

Black people were moved by the image of the God of history who sides with the oppressed and the exploited - a God who affirms one's own humanity in a society that attacks and assaults black intelligence, and black beauty, and black moral character through white supremacist ideology. This message spoke to black folk very deeply.
There was also a political reason that black folk held fast to Christianity. Through its message, black people could engage in a critique of slavery, of Jim Crowism, of second-class citizenship, while holding on to the humanity of those whom they opposed. This is the great lesson that Martin Luther King, Jr., who is a product of this tradition, taught us.

This is not my storyline. And yet, it is important to hear how the Good News was and is "good" in and through lives that were not seen as "good" by the dominant culture. Behind the strength to love is the God who promises liberation. Within the act of liberation is the gift of seeing the other not as someone to destroy but someone who must be seen as another part of the humanity that is within all of us. It is not an easy way - this way of seeing the humanity in the other when the other is an oppressor. And yet, it is a part of following the way of Jesus. It is a way that may end at the cross...end at one's stand with and for and alongside others...end and become a part of the promise of resurrection. New life is always waiting to break loose. New life breaks loose each time we do not act like the old us or in them.

Connection: We are always being invited into a life in which we re-view all things. In that action we are never sure of what we will see...and yet it may be a part of the promise that is always available to us.

Come, Lord God, and stir up our hearts. Just as you have promised to lead us to the promised land of your Reign, remind us in this day that your Reign is at hand and you have promised to to abide with us in and through all things. Amen.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tuesday 2 December 2008

From "Faith" in "Hope on a Tightrope" by Cornel West.

Constantine was the Emperor of Rome during the early years of Christianity. He took the underground religion that was persecuted and made it a state religion. Then he persecuted all other religions, and thereby forced Christianity on the population to make religion a weapon of the Roman Empire.
In these days of modern Constantinian Christianity, the blood of the cross has been transformed into Kool-Aid, and many are dipping in for upward mobility. It is a very different way of talking about spirituality. That's the truth not just for Christianity, but for religions across the board.

In a recent publicity piece for a conference in January one of the speakers seems to becoming well known and successful at what he calls getting rid of the "churchy" feeling of church. I wondered what that all meant. Was he talking about the ancient liturgical rites? Was he trying to make the music and mood of the worship or community more in step with the movement of what interests many people today? Then, what I really wondered is if this was simply a way to make church and the vision of the followers of Jesus something that will sell. I will want to ask what is being taught. I will want to ask if this un-churchy church was teaching the typical and simple morality that passes well for religion but is not the way of the cross. What does the spirituality of the church have to do with what sells in the marketplace? Better yet, what is the spirituality behind not being "churchy" and why must one spirituality be call outdated or old? I would want to see what is being put in the "Kool-Aid."

Connection: We must always look beneath the way things are packaged and attempt to anticipate the life that comes from the very core of a religious body.

When we are too much like the world, O God, we are too much like fools who run away from the simplicity and power of the Good News of your Reign. No matter where we walk in our life journey as we follow the Christ, keep us walking in the way that is defined by the cross and not the feel of the day. Amen.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Monday 1 December 2008

Since we last posted on Wednesday of last week, here is the piece from that devotion with what will follow as today's - from Cornel West in "Hope on a Tightrope."

Christianity itself comes out of prophetic Judaism. Persecuted early on, Jesus ended up on the cross. This unarmed truth and unconditional love in the face of catastrophic circumstances was seemingly crushed, but the love bounced back. That story is what has attracted black folk - and others.
When we feel like we are being crucified every day like that first century Palestinian Jew crucified at Calvary, we hold on to that unarmed truth and unconditional love. It looked as though Jesus couldn't bounce back. Black folk have been locked into that long Saturday after Good Friday. We ain't had Easter yet. All we have is each other, and the promise of Easter, the promise of freedom.

Alan Lewis, in "Between Cross and Resurrection" writes about Holy Saturday - the day in the tomb...dead and gone...cold-stone death...buried and without any hope of revival. It is a place that our God must enter and does. Otherwise, our God does not know the place of humanity and the plight of those who are oppressed, forgotten, moved aside, and simply left to rot. In a place like that...from the story we tell of Easter, even those "locked into that long Saturday after Good Friday" see the promise of freedom. It may not be a reality...but it is a promise from the God who keeps promises and never forgets us. Lately I have been troubled by how easy it is to be a part of a people who simply let some people go. We forget about them or ignore them or cast them as characters who are not to be given space within our story. In my life, I am a person who is given quite a bit of space to move around and live as well as I am able. Therefore, I must be aware of Holy Saturday. I must be aware of those who are abandoned by a world that thrives on discrimination and bias and utter hatred of others who are not like them. I must be aware so that I can enter into that place even when I am not sucked their by death itself. We all arCheck Spellinge invited to be in that place for we are a people who trust that our God leaves no place abandoned and forgotten and therefore no people abandoned and forgotten. It can be too easy to "make gains" in life and then forget those who do not have life as I might have it. Oppressed people become oppressors when this circle of folly is forgotten. Holy Saturday reminds us of the story common to all of us.

Connection: Look around. It is a face of life that there are those around us who are in that place that is buried and forgotten. You and I might be the life that comes to abide with them so that we all march into a promise together.

Come, O God Who Stirs up Our Hearts. Come and lead us into and alongside the lives of our neighbors. Come and empower us to see how you see in each of us your beloved coming to life again and again in all and every time. Amen.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wednesday 26 November 2008

With thanksgiving at hand, this will be the final devotion for this work week. More from Cornel West.

Christianity itself comes out of prophetic Judaism. Persecuted early on, Jesus ended up on the cross. This unarmed truth and unconditional love in the face of catastrophic circumstances was seemingly crushed, but the love bounced back. That story is what has attracted black folk - and others.

I remember an African-American Lutheran theologian making the case for being a follower of Jesus in the midst of other religious traditions. After talking about Jesus life and the way he was treated for being who he was and after being executed and humiliated and being buried in a borrowed tomb...he came back. That's right. No leaving to a place where we might eventually enter. He came back - "love bounced back." We confess that our God is forever present among us. Love is not something we do in order to make it "up" to the presence of God. Love is the life that is full of God among us. So full, it still cannot be tolerated in a world that would rather keep divisions and prejudice and bigotry and injustice in place among us. Truthfulness may be something we talk about...but it is a road that is often closed for fear that things may change. And yet, truthfulness and love still abides and will abide and will find its way out into the open even when the gates of hell try to be reconstructed again and again. For this love and this truthfulness will always tear down those gates and make God's people indeed.

Connection: Bounce back again...go for it.

Come, Spirit of Life. Come and remind us of this way that is so often pushed to the back of our minds and hearts so that we forget the truth and the life and way. For as you way is made known among us, the light will attract all who long for new life and a deep reservoir of hopefulness. Amen.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tuesday 25 November 2008

We continue with Cornel West.

Behold, that first century Palestinian Jew was born in a funky manger. He had some funky working-class parents sometimes dealing with unemployment and underemployment. He walked on some funky and dusty roads, didn't he? He brought together 12 funky folk.... He picked them right from around where he came from. It's so easy to forget the funk in Jesus' life because our church can become so easily deodorized. The funky gospel of funky Jesus can become so Americanized that it is reduced to marketplace spirituality, prosperity gospel, and Chamber of Commerce religion. No! We want to keep focused on the funk of Jesus, especially that funky blood on that funky cross.
If you don't find joy in serving others, if you don't understand the joy in loving people, then come back to the cross. Get down in that funky blood and understand what it means to be at that funky tomb that was empty when that prostitute Mary Magdalene showed up and had a message for the world. You can't be committed to that funky gospel if you're not willing to pay a price. You need to be willing to bear a burden. You need to cut against the grain.

I readily return to this turn of phrase: Jesus didn't die for us...Jesus dies before us. We are invited into a way. A way that is already blessed...a way that Jesus walked and then when it was rejected, beat up, brutalized, and hung out to dry on the cross...God said, "Yes!" This funky gospel has already made a place for us. It is a place that has been and will be judged as blessed - no matter how funky it looks or feels. I often use these words from the group Osibisa about the road we will travel as followers of Jesus (even though I know they are not singing about "church"): It will be long I know, and the road will be muddy and long, but we'll get there, heaven knows how we will get there, we know we will. The "there" is here already -and the fullness of someday- so we can cut against the grain and turn upside down to view things with a new lens for life.

Connection: This journey of following Jesus is all about life...our life together...all the way.

It is as we remember the cross and how funky this world can be that we begin to hear and seen and smeall and tough and feel that you are present eternally to be our God, our Savior, our Companion, our way in and through all time. We give you thanks. Amen.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Monday 24 November 2008

We continue with the piece from Friday from "Hope on a Tightrope" by Cornel West.

Behold, that first century Palestinian Jew was born in a funky manger. He had some funky working-class parents sometimes dealing with unemployment and underemployment. He walked on some funky and dusty roads, didn't he? He brought together 12 funky folk.... He picked them right from around where he came from. It's so easy to forget the funk in Jesus' life because our church can become so easily deodorized.
The funky gospel of funky Jesus can become so Americanized that it is reduced to marketplace spirituality, prosperity gospel, and Chamber of Commerce religion. No! We want to keep focused on the funk of Jesus, especially that funky blood on that funky cross.

So...part of this deodorizing has to do with sell-ability. What can the marketplace sustain...what will it permit...what can get by and connect with the consumer!?! If there is no money to be made or no immediate or self-gratifying pay-back for the consumer, we often look elsewhere. And yet, it is not the task of the followers of Jesus to market a message or a product. We are invited to point to the "funk of Jesus." The "funky blood on that funky cross" show how far our God goes to show the worth of humankind. By that, I would suggest God points us to a way of life that has great worth. The way - which may appear funky at times - stops at nothing to let itself be known. The blood and the cross demonstrate the distance we go as people made in the image of God for that is how far God goes with us. That is a dramatic move. The Gospel never pulls us away from the cross to some 'adventure in prosperity." The Gospel will pull us into the way of the cross so that the well-being of all the funky people -like me- will have room to dwell in the house of the Lord.

Connection: Don't worry about what will sell...consider what will bring people life in the midst of a whole community of others. Then, there will be peace in the land.

By the blood of your Beloved, O God, you lift us up and brush us off and make us your own and remind us that such a way of life is the Reign of God making itself known and present among us. Thanks be to you, O God. Amen.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday 21 November 2008

Here's a piece from Cornel West I offered as part of the devotion at church council last week. I will bring it here in three pieces that will run into next week.

Behold, that first century Palestinian Jew was born in a funky manger. He had some funky working-class parents sometimes dealing with unemployment and underemployment. He walked on some funky and dusty roads, didn't he? He brought together 12 funky folk.... He picked them right from around where he came from. It's so easy to forget the funk in Jesus' life because our church can become so easily deodorized.

I was going to put the whole reading here today but for some reason I was really struck by the comment that "our church can become so easily deodorized." It can. It does. I think our Lutheran theology tries hard to keep out the deodorizer. The Good News as grace unbounded, (as Robert Farrar Capon calls it- radical grace) really says that the whole community and that which is beyond it may be funky but it is one, big, household - an alien nation in which no one needs to find a way to fit in. Unfortunately as we all know, there are many ways we make sure that the funky-ness a of some is enough to keep them out. That happens when we do not listen to the profound and eternal word of God claiming us and never leaving our side - even if means God is crucified and left for dead. Remember, deodorant only lasts for awhile and when the day at hand demands that we be the image of God's love in the world, we are invited to act and love no matter how funky we may be or how funky those around us may appear.

Connection: We all spray too much deodorant around...we all want our folk to be like us. What would happen if we shared space and time unconditionally. That might be the Good News - alive.

You, O God, abide with us in all things. With you so close it is amazing that we try to push you so far away. Help us to see how you abide within that we have called the funky world around us. Amen.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thursday 20 November 2008

Today I pushing on into a new book by Cornel West. Most everything I read of his is full and rich and evocative. In "Hope on a Tightrope," he offers bits of wisdom in many areas of life. We first will be wandering through he reflections on "Faith."

I stand fundamentally on the profoundly Christian notion that we are each made equal in the eyes of God. a single mom on welfare has the same status as a corporate CEO and they both have the same right to human flourishing regardless of race, regardless of religion, nation, or gender. It is a deep, spiritually based notion of equality.

This deep, spiritually based notion of equality is not merely something floating in the air. As Christians we find it based in the story or Jesus which we call the story of God in the flesh. Our status rests on the fact that God is with us and will never be outside of the room. And as long as our God is among us demonstrating what it is to live together in a love that will not let any of us go, then no one in the room is pushed to the back or pushed out. In fact, the depth of this love enables us to leave the room and be that love incarnate in the world. That sense of love cannot get any more deep than that...and it makes all people into recipients of the life that comes in the middle of such a rock-solid base to our lives. When we are beloved of God and as we see beyond ourselves to others and see others as beloved, we each exist in a realm of possibility that will bring about a fundamental shift in our communities and our world. As was noted when we were reading Stanley Hauerwas - we teach the world how to be the world. Among us, the world is not to be broken - it is to be a part of the healing of all things for we honor the other who is also beloved - even though they are nothing like us in other areas of our lives. When we honor...we protect...we support...we act and live on behalf of those who are our brothers and sisters in the eyes of God.

Connection: Quite a day is laid out before us...and to think we are invited to be walk around as ones beloved as we meet and greet the world around us.

Within your eyes, O God, each of us shine with your image. When we turn to see others, help us to see that shining image in all who join us in the adventure for life that will be in this day. Amen.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wednesday 19 November 2008

This is a good way to leave Stanley Hauerwas' work for awhile - enjoy.

The church therefore is a polity like any other, but it is also unlike any other insofar as it is formed by a people who have no reason to fear the truth. They are able to exist in the world without resorting to coercion to maintain their presence. That they are such depends to a large extent on their willingness to move - they must be "a moveable feast." For it is certain that much of the world is bound to hate them for calling attention to what the world is. They cannot and should not wish to provoke the world's violence, but if it comes they must resist even if that resistance means the necessity of leaving one place for another. For as Christians we are at home in no nation. Our true home is the church itself, where we find those who, like us, have been formed by a savior who was necessarily always on the move.

When we, as the church, have no reason to fear the truth, we become an image given in the Quaker hymn "simple gifts." It goes like this: "When true simplicity is found - to bow and to bend we shall not be afraid - to turn, turn, will be our delight - til by turning, turning - we come down right." This hymn calls for quite a bit of movement. But it is the movement of clarification and communication and discernment so that the way of God's Reign will be the way in which we walk. It is a constant task and a constant gift. Some of that bowing and bending is done in order to create a new order. Some of it is done to listen more closely to the voices of others. Some of that bowing and bending is to give us space and time to welcome what is not a part of our own way. At that point, we are not people who are in allegiance to any power. Rather, we listen to find a place in which we can put life to the life of the one we follow within a world that has a history of not wanting to give a place to such a contrary life and voice.

Connection: Bow and bend and turn and let's see where we come down today.

Gentle and Persistent Lord, you bring us together under the blessed Reign of your grace. It is here that we are free to lift up our voices and begin to engage our world and one another. Within that grace, we become open to differences and expect to be surprised by the joy that comes when people once separated are finding that we are really quite bound to one another. We give you thanks. Amen.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Let me start with the concluding part of yesterday's piece from Hauerwas and then....push on.

Christians are engaged in politics, but it is politics of the kingdom that reveals the insufficiency of all politics based on coercion and falsehood and finds the true source of power in servanthood rather than dominion.
This is not to imply that the church is any less a human community than other forms of association. Just as in other institutions, the church draws on and requires patterns of authority that derive from human needs for status, belonging, and direction. The question is not whether the church is a natural institution, as it surely is, but how it shapes that "nature" in accordance with its fundamental convictions. "Nature" provides the context for community but does not determine its character.

So like other communities, we will see that the church muddles around in that which is a part of the nature of every community. It is within that universal context that we bring the story that shapes us - the story that provides us with a character that begins to work with what we have by nature. That can be a revolutionary journey. Whenever the vision of the peaceable Reign is brought into the ways of any institution, it carries with it the danger of being utterly rejected in favor of those elements of human community that can so easily become that which feeds our egos and has the potential to tear apart the fabric of our institutions. This vision also carries with it the possibility of something new coming into being. That newness will be something distinguished from everyday business and goals that do not consider and act upon the life of God's Reign of which we are entrusted.

Connection: I had a friend who would always say that when two people get together politics is involved. That conversation was after I said I hate the politics in the church. Well, when we come together, there are always differences and that can be a blessing or a curse. It really depends on our character. It doesn't eliminate the politics - even in the church.

Lord of All Life, we long to carry into this day the imprint of your loving character on our lives. Too often we let it go for other things that grab us and influence us and give us what we think we want. We need the reminding presence of your Spirit to keep us within the vision of your Reign. Amen.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Monday 17 November 2008

A few more days from Stanley Hauerwas on "The Church is a Social Ethic."

...calling for the church to be the church is not a formula for a withdrawal ethic; nor is it a self-righteous attempt to flee from the world's problems; rather it is a call for the church to be a community which tries to develop the resources to stand within the world witnessing to the peaceable kingdom and thus rightly understanding the world. the gospel is a political gospel. Christians are engaged in politics, but it is politics of the kingdom that reveals the insufficiency of all politics based on coercion and falsehood and finds the true source of power in servanthood rather than dominion.

We really are not to be something other - that is a people who try to be separate from the world. The church being the church is to be right in the mix of things. By being there - as the church - we bring to light what the world is within the Reign of God. In that sense, we will always be turning heads simply by being who we are. The strangeness in our living will not be some strangeness that comes with being stuck in certain place in time and never changing our "look" or our worldview. Rather the strangeness is that we take on a path in the world that is a living witness to how the Christ is alive within the everyday movement of the world. That is a political movement because we will not be a people who go along with how the politics of the day and the mechanism of states and governments attempt to rule when they do so in ways that are contrary to the Reign of God. We are political because we continue to live within this world community with a strangeness that will ruffle feathers and witness to other ways to be the world.

Connection: This day awaits the presence of the church and how we will bring light and life to the world.

Within your Reign, O God, you are inviting the world to re-view itself and come to see the life you have set up within the power of our humanity. Within that life comes the possibility to re-shape how the world goes about living toward a vision of peace. Guide on on that life journey. Amen.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday 14 November 2008

Again we must wrestle with the church being church in the world - Stanley Hauerwas.

...the church serves the world by giving the world the means to see itself truthfully. The social ethic of the church is, first of all, an affair of understanding rather than doing. The first question we must ask is not "what should we do," but "what is going on?" Our interpretation will determine what we are to do. Our task as church is the demanding one of trying to understand rightly the world as world, to face realistically what the world is with its madness and irrationality.

Remember, we are called to be a light. We are not better than the world. We are the church. We are invited by the water of baptism to participate in the truth-telling that calls into question everything about the world in us that creates the great divides that make the blessedness of creation less than that blessedness. So, as we pause and look around we look around with an eye that looks through the lens of God's Reign. It gives us a perspective on "what is going on" and in that, we may find ourselves as witnesses to what is called the "madness and irrationality" of the world. It is then that we become a part of the world that lives in a contrary manner as it appears alongside the world as it is. When the world is content to discriminate and live within that madness and brutality, we -the church- live as though there is no partiality. That....has a biblical sound to it...but a sound that is also the life blood of a world living within the realm of shalom.

Connection: Don't forget to hold up that lens and be aware of the ordinary that may often times be a brew-pot of madness!!

Within you Reign, O God, we see the wonder and beauty of your creation. This is where we live and this is where we are invited to live within your image. We know we are not a people waiting to escape all this...but we need the reminder that we are able to be the image of your Reign now so that the world may know the ongoing wonder and beauty of your creation.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Thursday 13 November 2008

Stanley Hauerwas makes me spin around and see things with new eyes. Christians we may not only find that people who are not Christians manifest God's peace better than we ourselves, but we must demand that they exist. It is to be hoped that such people may provide the conditions for our ability to cooperate with others for securing justice in the world. Such cooperation, however, is not based on "natural law" legitimation of a generally shared "natural morality." Rather it is a testimony to the fact that God's kingdom is wide indeed. As the church we have no right to determine the boundaries of God's kingdom, for it is our happy task to acknowledge God's power to make his kingdom present in the most surprising places and ways.

"As the church we have not right to determine the boundaries of God's kingdom." Wow. And yet, that is how we are so often see by the people outside the church. We are too often a boundary-focused people. I think of proposition 8 in California. On many fronts I'm hearing that church folk played a big part in the banning of the right to marry among gay and lesbians - even though the right was already in place and practiced. Are we so afraid of being surprised by the presence of God among us that we will not and cannot rejoice in the unexpected ways in which God brings about new life. We need to give thanks for the many people outside the church who are inspired to act in ways that are meant to be the ways of God's Reign. In some fashion, we -the church- are given a glimpse of who we are to be when our life really does reflect the image of our God. The wideness of God's Reign must surprise us...otherwise we will think that we are the ones who are able to declare its borders and also guard them against all who are not one of us. Right when we attempt to do that...surprise...the grace of God's Reign show through and the vehicle of its embodiment is someone on the outside...surprise.

Connection: Take a look around, there are many ways God is making sure that we will be surprised by grace even when we demand to control the day.

Open our eyes, O God, to the many ways you show your glory among us. Amen.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wednesday 12 November 2008

I find this ongoing note about church and world by Stanley Hauerwas to be insightful for all of us who follow Jesus.

Church and world are thus relational concepts - neither is intelligible without the other. They are companions on a journey that makes it impossible for one to survive without the other, though each constantly seeks to do so. They are thus more often enemies than friends, an enmity tragically arising from the church's attempt to deny its calling and service to the world - dismissing the world as irredeemable, or transforming its own servant status into a triumphalist subordination of the world. But God has in fact n redeemed the world, even if the world refuses to acknowledge its redemption. The church can never abandon the world to the hopelessness deriving from its rejection of God, but must be a people with a hope sufficiently fervid to sustain the world as well as itself.

Wow! The church must be "a people with a hope sufficiently fervid to sustain the world as well as itself." What an honor. To be such a people of hope...a people whose hope is so bold and concrete and open to all that comes our way, that the world may...may...turn and see something new...something that was previously out of sight. Hope is like that. It is not fully in sight and yet it attracts us and pulls us and opens up the day to a future we did not know was unfolding on the horizon. There is nothing pushy about such a hope. It simply comes to life. There is nothing threatening about such hope. It simply is revealed as we walk through the day. Therefore, we, the church, have a daily agenda. Walk in hope. Dance in hope. Be the hope that turns heads in a world that doesn't know it is going in the wrong direction until it sees the hope of a new day - the Reign of God - graciously coming to life...already.

Connection: Be for the world today...the church...the Reign of God at hand...the character of the new age...hope in the flesh.

Lord of all Hopefulness, sustain us and move us and encourage us to step forward into your promises in a world that may not see or hear you word but longs for the reality of your Reign. Amen.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tuesday 11 November 2008

The world and the church...more angles and more comments. is particularly important to remember that the world consists of those, including ourselves, who have chosen not to make the story of God their story. The world in us refuses to affirm that this is God's world and that, as loving Lord, God's care for creation is greater than our illusion of control. The world is those aspects of our individual and social lives where we live untruthfully by continuing to rely on violence to bring order.

It drives me nuts and I am embarrassed and I simply shake my head when I catch myself in the act of relying on violence in any of its shapes or forms. This even includes the mean words that are meant bite and stereotype...words that are meant to control others under the illusion of my rule. I know the life of the church and yet, I am so much of the world it sometimes causes me to turn red at my own actions or inaction. Then again, the church is also a community of forgiveness that teaches just such forgiveness by forgiving. The most difficult task seems to be forgiving myself in order to turn to the promise that is already my as part of God's "good" creation. The wrestling match is a daily endeavor. To live within the truth of God's creation is to resist every attempt to control the world so that all things go my way...or at least close to my way.

Connection: It is so easy to fall into the natural way of division and attempt to keep the divisions of the world in place by insisting on maintaining control. Ease up...rise up...and enter into God's Reign with an open invitation to all with whom you gather this week.

When you hold our lives in your hand, O God, you shape us so that we will remember whose we are and how that identity is the ground upon which we set up our tents and take on the day. We do not remember well - be our guide. Amen.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Monday 10 November 2008

Here's more of Hauerwas' argument for the church to be the church.

...the first social task of the church - the people capable of remembering and telling the story of God we find in Jesus - is to be the church and thus help the world understand itself as world. That world, to be sure, is God's world, God's good creation, which is all the more distorted by sin because it still is bounded by God's goodness. For the church to be the church, therefore, it not anti-world, but rather an attempt to show what the world is meant to be as God's good creation.

He says this in a number of ways. I hear a strong message of stewardship here in this latest comment about the church. First, there is the reminder of what is God's - all that is! Therefore, when we are the church, we are not merely an "in house" gathering. Rather, the way we are out in the day-to-day world is a witness to the intention of creation as that which is God's and not ours. In other words, we help to bring clarity to what it is to be human within God's creation. It is good to be human. It is good to be in the world. The world is good...but it often refuses to claim the goodness in which it was and is created. Our message to the world is the life we live. The life we live is not one that demands that people must jump through a bunch of hoops in order to be one of us. It sounds like the way of our living is a constant invitation - without bounds - into a reality in which the daily character traits of the Reign of God are really the essence of the life of the world. There is no us and them in this. There is an eternal 'we'

Connection: Rather than try to teach the world what it must be...we are invited to be who we are when we claim to be followers of Jesus - the church.

Within this day, O God, continue to shape us and open up our lives to the spirit of your gracious Reign. Amen.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Friday 7 November 2008

So, when there is disunity in the church...what is the message we send to the world!?

The scandal of the disunity of the church is even more painful when we recognize this social task (pointing too the kingdom of God). For we who have been called to be the foretaste of the peaceable kingdom cannot, it seems, maintain unity among ourselves. As a result we abandon the world to its own devices. And the divisions I speak of in the church are not just those based on doctrine, history, or practices important though they are. No, the deep and most painful divisions afflicting the church are those based on class, race, and nationality that we have sinfully accepted as written into the nature of things.

The other night it was amazing to see the sea of people in Grant Park in Chicago. We are witnesses to something happening in the world that has everyone across the world quite literally looking at our country. That is a wonderful image. And yet, I want to remind us all that we, the church, have not been the leaders in such expansiveness - such openness - such vision - such boldness - such hope. We are to be just such a light simply as we step into our character as followers of Jesus. Can it be that we, the church, resist the daring notion that the divisions that are so easily drawn are not to be a part of who we say we are?! In many ways, we are pulled into new life by the world rather than, as Hauerwas noted in yesterday's devotion, the church is to "help the world understand what it means to be the world." Too many of aspects of our witness in the world are ones that show us to be a power of division and fear and anxiety. I don't think that is the kind of light that we are meant to be. So we need to keep reminding ourselves how we can walk together into the day as a people among whom war and violence that comes with division will not be the witness we offer to the world. Instead, we must pause again and again to re-vision who we are and what life comes with that new being that is the church.

Connection: We are the witnesses of a new world. The world needs us to be that witness and to applaud when the world acts within such newness.

Be our vision, O God, so that we may see the signs of your blessed Reign as we present our lives as living witnesses to the life that comes as we bear the name the church of Jesus, the Christ. Amen.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Thursday 6 November 2008

Part of today's piece from Stanley Hauerwas' work made it into my sermon a few weeks ago. It is really thought provoking (his piece that is).

By being that kind of community (that is the "church") we see that the church helps the world understand what it means to be the world. For the world has no way of knowing it is world without the church pointing to the reality of God's kingdom. How could the world ever recognize the arbitrariness of the divisions between people if it did not have a contrasting model in the unity of the church? Only against the church's universality can the world have the means to recognize the irrationality of the divisions resulting in violence and war, as one arbitrary unit of people seek to protect themselves against the knowledge of their arbitrariness.

When our witness is one that brings together the entire spectrum of people among us (think wider than wide and higher than high) the world begins to look out of touch with the wonder of God's gift of life that spread over all humanity. The church is the contrary vision that is alive. The church is the agent that pulls the world into a new light. Now...are we this church alive and pointing to the reality of God's Reign?! That is why we constantly pray: "your kingdom come, you will be done." We are being invited to be exactly who we are as ones who are called followers of Jesus - the church. As we can expect, this does not mean that people will understand or go along with the way we lead. And yet, we must lead...we must care for the world...we must let our light shine...we must be how the Reign of God is demonstrated in terms of real life within real communities that reflect the universality of God's image.

Connection: Wow...what a day we have before us as the church alive in this time!

Be for us our guide and strength, O God. Be for us our backbone and our confidence...our imagination and our practical embodiment of your Reign. Praise to you for this new day in the age of your coming Reign. Amen.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Today's piece will be continued with an addition tomorrow - from "The Church is a Social Ethic, by Stanley Haurwas.

The church is where the stories of Israel and Jesus are told, enacted, and heard, and it is our conviction that as a Christian people there is literally nothing more important we can do. But the telling of that story requires that we be a particular kind of people if we and the world are to hear the story truthfully.

I find myself going back to the notion of us being a people who tell stories. In fact, in the Bible studies that are going on in the congregation I use the language "in the storytelling of Israel...or the early church" we are handed a great gift. The stories - whether we think of them as literal reporting or faithful accounts of an inspiring story - are what gives us something to offer a word of direction as we move through our day. Even when the story is dated and we do not "catch" all of the information that critical biblical study has handed down to us, the story is still a vehicle for powerful shaping of the character of a people. It is around these stories that our discussion must be free and open and never bound up by one way of looking at that story. The storytelling in scripture is like the storytelling we may offer within our own lives as we attempt to be just who we have been called - the church.

Connection: The story of the Church is being written even within this day...we are the story...imagine that.

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest and let this day at hand be blessed. Amen.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Here's the continuation of yesterday's piece.

The church is where the stories of Israel and Jesus are told, enacted, and heard, and it is our conviction that as a Christian people there is literally nothing more important we can do. But the telling of that story requires that we be a particular kind of people if we and the world are to hear the story truthfully. That means that the church must never cease from being a community of peace and truth in a world of mendacity and fear. The church does not let the world set its agenda about what constitutes a "social ethic," but a church of peace and justice must set its own agenda. It does this first by having the patience amid the injustice and violence of this world to care for the widow, the poor, and the orphan. such care, from the world's perspective, may seem to contribute little to the cause of justice, yet it is our conviction that unless we take the time for such care neither we nor the world can know what justice looks like.

What a day we have at hand. That is the perspective of everyday when we call ourselves followers of Jesus. We are called into life that is handed to us through the water of baptism. I heard a "evangelical" preacher say that poverty and war and economics are not as important to Christians as abortion. I disagree. We are not that limited in our concerns. Our character is one that finds its life within our movement toward peace and our movement toward economic justice and our movement toward justice for all. As we are involved in that movement, it is our care for the elderly and the orphaned and the poor that our character really hits the street and the lives of those around us. When we are caring for the least among us, we are the church and when we are the church, the world will turn its head and wonder why we live as we do... and why we care as we do. That turning of heads will be a witness to others that something among us is real.

Connection: Care for one another and then reach out and care for those beyond our own groups.

Lord of Love, shape us by your Spirit...move us into the caring domain of your rule...settle our hearts so we will be able to open them for those around us. Amen.

Monday 3 November 2008

Today we start a section of Hauerwas' book called: The Church is a Social Ethic.

Surely in social ethics we should downplay the distinctively Christian and emphasize that we are all people of good will as we seek to work for a more peaceable and just world for everyone.
Yet, that is exactly what I am suggesting we should not do. I am in fact challenging the very idea that Christian social ethics is primarily an attempt to make the world more peaceable and just. Put starkly, the first social ethical task of the church is to be the church - the servant community. Such a claim may well sound self-serving until we remember that what makes the church the church is its faithful manifestation of the peaceable kingdom in the world. As such the church does not have a social ethic; the church is a social ethic.

So often we wrestle with what we must do as Christians in the world. The "to do" list can grow quickly and it can become quite long...and it can become a source of guilt about what is not being done...or it can become a list we use to belt each other around for one reason or another (which doesn't sound very Christian to me). Rather than thinking in terms of "doing" we are first a people who claim an identity. We are the Church. Within that reality where we are claimed as beloved of God and baptized into a whole new life, we are handed a character that is vital for the life of the whole world. It is like Israel being a light to the nations. There are a light because that is what God says they are. Sure there are ways that this light is to shine brightly in the world but it all comes from the first word "I am the Lord , Your God..." That is the word now put in motion in the church. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, we are claimed (all of us) by this God how is eternally on our side and with us and continues to call us God's own. We are asked to be nothing more than the people who are beloved - that, being the church, is enough. And, I would add, more than we can ever imagine.

Connection: Claim who you are. That is what is expected of us today. From there, we can all be amazed at what comes to life.

Precious Lord, when you take our hand and lead us and guide us and call us your beloved, we too often hesitate and resist the life that is already ours through the power of your gracious love. It is as we remember the gift of life that is handed to us that we are being transformed within the ordinary events of this day. Amen.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday 31 October 2008

The week and the month closes with a good word about Scripture - by Stanley Hauerwas.

...Scripture stands over the community exerting a critical function, but that it does so is an aspect of the community's self-understanding. Scripture is the means the church uses to constantly test its memory. That is why it can never be content with using just one part of the Scripture, but must struggle day in and day out with the full text. For the story the church must tell as well as embody is a many-sided tale which constantly calls us from complacency and conventions. Scripture has authority in the church, not because no one knows the truth, but because the truth is a conversation for which Scripture sets the agenda and boundaries. Those with authority are those who would serve by helping the church better hear and correspond to the stories of God as we find them in Scripture.

This way of looking at Scripture can drive a literalist to the breaking point. We can never be "content with using just one part of the Scripture." When we do that, we pick our own "sacred" pieces of Scripture that are considered "sacred" because we think they agree with where we are and what we believe. We must be a people who look at the whole book - the grand themes that penetrate time and link us with those who have gone before us holding onto these stories and those who will follow and turn to the same stories. We believe that the Spirit of the Church is the power that brings together all of the followers of Jesus so that we can discern what will be the path we follow in every place and time. The work of the Spirit includes the conversations we enter as we attempt to move into this day as a people who continue to look for the ways the Good News can be put to life among us. Scripture is our starting point and our guide in the midst of our conversations and wrestling with the day.

Connection: When someone says, "the bible says..." Listen to them, but also feel free to turn to the wider themes of Scripture that often overturn some of the interpretations of a passage here and a passage there. So...homework for all of us is to grasp those themes as gifts to our life.

Living Word, you guide us by the stories given to us by the faithful who have gone before us and the opportunity to listen to one another as we share those stories. In the midst of our conversation and prayer, lead us into new ways of seeing the fullness of your Reign. Amen.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wednesday 29 October 2008

More on the tie between our story and the story that we tell in scripture.

"...the existence of Israel and the church are not accidentally related to the story but are necessary for our knowledge of God. You cannot tell the story of God without including within it the story of Israel and the church. So it is not so odd that as part of the creed we affirm that we believe in the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. We believe in the church in the sense that we know that it is not finally our creation, but exists only by God's calling of people. Moreover it is only through such a people that the world can know that our God is one who wills nothing else than our good. To be sure the church is often unfaithful, but God refuses to let that unfaithfulness be the last word. God creates and sustains a peaceable people in the world, generation after generation."

I find great comfort in the reminder that even in the unfaithfulness of the church "God refuses to let that unfaithfulness be the last word." Rather than let ourselves be overcome by what the church is "not," we can remind ourselves of what God intends to do with us. It can be very easy to think about giving up and moving away from the church because it is not and doesn't seem to want to be a part of the living vision of God's Reign. And yet, beyond our bits of wisdom is the living God who does not give up on what God will do in, with, and under the lives of God's people. That is refreshing to me - especially when I'm not feeling hopeful. This is another reason why our story telling is so important. We have been here before....! We are not the first ones to have to face our own un-faith and the predicament that is all around us. It is our history to fall short. It is also our history to have our God lift up a remnant and continue on the way. In the meantime, we can turn to one another and together be prepared to be surprised by what God can do with the likes of you and me.

Connection: Hope is never defeated no matter how hard we fight against it or try to deny it.

You, O God, are the rock upon which we can enter this day. Again and again you provide a safe place to begin the life into which you are always inviting us. We give you thanks - again. Amen.