Friday, January 30, 2009

The week comes to an end with this strong piece by Robert Bertram in A Time for Confessing.

This systematic demoralizing of people at the very base of their existence, hence their ultimate destruction, is met by Augustana's classic reply: "...we do not become good in God's sight by our works, is only through faith in Christ that we obtain grace for Christ's sake." With this radical re-valuing of sinners solely on the strength of their faith, which renders them valuable because of the One it trusts, the most basic disparity between oppressors and oppressed is effectively undercut not just between one ethnic or sexual group and another, but the most insuperable inequality of all - the gap between the righteous and the ungodly, the good and the bad.

Bertram makes a valuable statement for us. Each of us - baptized in Christ, Jesus - are rendered "valuable because of the One" we trust. No other criteria stands before this. No other criteria diminishes this foundation that is Christ, Jesus, who is eternally for us. When we sing "for all the saints who from their labors rest," it is not merely about those who have recently died. It is for all of us who, need not labor in order to be embraced by the fullness of God's Reign. We can rest in God alone and begin our lives within and through that resting place. From this place there is still is the law of love. No other law can transform and renew and enliven the people of God. It is the power to wipe away all the tears that our divisions and judgments and fears and anxieties have whipped up in order to keep us from being the image of God in the world. Here is an equality that undoes all the gaps...all the gaps.

Connection: Rest, be loved, and know that you are free to be the beloved that you are in God's Reign that is already at hand.

When we are a divided people, O God, you Reign showers down upon us that we may see one another with new eyes and begin to live within the freedom of your love that opens us up to your future. We give you thanks and for the rest you have provided for us. Amen.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thursday 29 January 2009

Today's piece is introduced by post yesterday's quote from Robert Bertram.

What was then at stake, in other words, in the struggle between "slavery" and "freedom" was the question of people's ultimate worth; what value of their own, if any, entitles them to life rather than death? And what assurance have they of being so valued? Such questions had assumed particular poignancy in that "time for confessing" because the dominant system of secular-religious authority, as the confessors encountered it, was oppressive most of all in how it ascribed value, ultimate value, preferentially to some persons rather than others on the strength of their religious and moral performance.
As a consequence, the Augustana protests, "poor consciences were driven to rely on their own efforts, and all sorts of works were undertaken. Some were driven by their conscience into monasteries in the hope that they might merit grace through monastic life. Others devised other works for the purpose of earning grace and making satisfaction for sins. Many of them discovered that they did not obtain peace by such means."

I had a dear friend who was always looking to be accepted within the bounds of the church...and accepted for who he was - not how he acted and how well he treated others. He was a saint within the arms of our Lord whose love of the church and other saints and his pursuit of justice and mercy, kindness and forgiveness was admired by me and those around him. But, he was quite literally living in exile within his own community. Everyone found him to be loving and kind and yet few if any people knew that he was gay. That...was not to be shared...nor could it be. What showed to others was the life he would say came from the Christ who loved him. But he lived within a church closet because he knew that if he came out - even to some of his best friends - it all would be over and he would be seen with different eyes - critical, judging, frightened eyes. One time he talked about the distress under which he lived. He so much believed in the grace of God but when he had attempted to become vulnerable he found that the church was more about earning grace than freely announcing the gracious Reign of God. I no longer have this saint within my life - only the memories of his baptismal smile.

Connection: Too many people live in self-imposed monasteries because the fullness of their lives are not welcome. And yet, it is not is really because they live under constant threat within an community of people whose life is to be Good News.

By you loving hand, O God, you welcome us and hold us tight within your eternal grasp. Without that bond with us, it would be so easy to slip away and be lost in the tempests of the time. You make us whole and free and beloved. You encourage our lives. Amen.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Again from Robert Bertram in "Confessing as Appealing for/to the Oppressed" in A Time for Confessing.

What was then at stake, in other words, in the struggle between "slavery" and "freedom" was the question of people's ultimate worth; what value of their own, if any, entitles them to life rather than death? And what assurance have they of being so valued? Such questions had assumed particular poignancy in that "time for confessing" because the dominant system of secular-religious authority, as the confessors encountered it, was oppressive most of all in how it ascribed value, ultimate value, preferentially to some persons rather than others on the strength of their religious and moral performance.

There must be great concern among us when some people are more valued than others. Another way of saying this is even more contrary to the good news of the Reign of God, that is, some people are to be valued less than others. Less in such a way that they are denied full participation within the body of Christ simply because of their gender identity and/or the people they love and to whom they are attracted. For in this case, they are considered less in their being. Even if they would live within the same relational guidelines and boundaries, they are not valued on par with others. On many fronts within the church GLBT saints are not considered saints and their value - their ultimate value - is dismissed...unless, of course, they can turn around and "act" differently. Usually the oppressive powers would say "be" different. They forget that no one can be different. A GLBT saint is all that s/he is to be - a whole person beloved of God and a follower of Jesus. This is not an issue of morality. When we talk of morality, then we can put all of us into the same boat and say "this" or "that" is how we live with the Reign of God. Unfortunately, too few will speak as though we are all saints without qualification. When we waffle in such a way, we become a part of the oppressive structure that is involved in the destruction of life - we become proponents of death not the life we have been handed in Christ.

Connection: There really are people who are dying under the oppression of cheap theology that will not stand only on what is necessary.

Lord of Life, we call on your power of love to be the spirit of our life together. Nurture in us the vision of your Reign that sees the wideness of your grace and the fullness of your mercy. Amen.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tuesday 27 January 2009

For the rest of this week we will look at Robert Bertram's thoughts on 'Confessing as Appealing for/to the Oppressed."

The oppressed with whom the Augsburg confessional movement identified are those whom "Christ has set free," as Paul says, "for freedom," and who therefore should "not submit again to a yoke of slavery," to be oppressed all over again by "false brethren secretly brought spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage." Augustana's liberationist emphasis was centered around its plea for sola fide, that is, that what justifies sinners before God is entirely their faith in Christ independently of the good work their faith does.

Interesting that it notes that the oppressed are those whom "Christ has set free"...."for freedom." That not only serves to remind us of the expansiveness of the authority of the Reign of God in Christ, Jesus, it is the identifying banner that is wrapped around us when the cross of Christ is traced on our foreheads after we have been buried with Christ and raised to new life in our baptism. So as one is in the ranks of the baptized saints within God's Reign, not one of us should therefore be made to live under another rule or measure. Our measurement is secured in Christ. We have taken part in all that is necessary - baptism in Christ, Jesus. We are already the beloved of God and that is our status for life. But too often there are those who would like to utter the ever-present "yeah...but." It is one way to control who gathers among us and who is able to be involved in all the work that is handed to us within God's Reign that has come near. Rather than 'by faith alone' we too often find that a "yeah...but" clause is introduced in order to keep some outside the gathering of saints where freedom is to reign for all. It is no wonder that those GLBT saints who have gone through the rite of dying and rising with Christ and are mark with the cross of Christ - forever - and live within the realm of that grace, find that the reality within the church is one of oppression - exclusion - mandated by those who are to make sure that the freedom of Christ Reigns among us all.

Connection: Ask yourself if you see yourself as being free in Christ. What does that do for you each day? What life does that place in your hands? Then again, imagine not having that freedom made real for you - imagine still being under the slavery of that which is not necessary and yet it is used as just that?!

Come, O Light of Life, and guide along the way of your gracious Reign. Keep us from being anxious and afraid in the midst of the freedom you pour upon us. Amen.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Monday 26 January 2009

This post was meant for last we begin the week with more from Robert Bertram.

...the confessors in the Augsburg tradition were not confining their protest to what ecclesiastical authorities merely said or did not say, but also to the consequences in praxis of what they did, and of what their victims suffered them to do. If what they exacted from the church was the operational equivalent of saying, "Submission to our brand of authority is 'necessary for righteousness,' necessary for being truly acceptability in the church, or else," then regardless of these authorities' reassuring rhetoric, the practice in question was being "forcibly imposed on the church as necessary and as though its omission were wrong and sinful." Then "the door has been opened for idolatry, and ultimately the commandments of human beings will be put...not only on a par with God's commandments but even above them." And what the concordists here mean by "God's commandments" is the one gospel-and-sacraments, which is all the authority Christ ever gave the church for its wholeness, that being "enough" - satis. Anything more than that, once it becomes "necessary" for the church to be church, is less than the gospel or, as Paul said, is "another gospel" altogether, and needs to be exposed as such.

We must always be willing to look at how what we do is shaped by our words. When we make something more than the "one gospel-and sacraments" necessary for one to be a part of the gather of the body of Christ, we are not shaping our community around the likes of this Christ. We become a "Christ-Plus" church. This is not the church of the followers of Jesus. It becomes the church of conditions that is willing to step back from the gospel and set itself up around other concerns and issues that are fastened onto the body. Some might say that the "issue of GLBT" saints in the church is something that a group is trying to add onto the gospel. No...not at all. Rather, I would suggest that those who would define complete participation in the life of the church is one that precludes GLBT saints from this participation is something that steps away from the gospel and declares that the gospel is not enough. What we do with GLBT saints in the church is the same work that is done in any witch hunt or scapegoating. Rather than welcome without adding conditions...we too often spend too much of our time living within a conditional community. What often is said to this kind of unconditional gospel community is that it is one that has abandoned the law. Nonsense. We expect a gospel life from all who are pulled into the life of the gracious Lord of all.

Connection: What does it hurt us if our arms are open? Some say we look to soft. Others may say they are experiencing that grace upon grace that they have heard but only now see.

Shower us with your grace, O God, and when our hearts are open to your Reign, let no other word take control of our lives. Lead on O God Eternal. Amen.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thursday 22 January 2009

The longer I continue to comment on Robert Bertram's look at the Lutheran Confessions and how I see the way we act toward GLBT saints in the church I know that it may not sound very "devotional." It is my understanding, though, that as we contemplate the faith, we do so devotionally - with reflection and contemplation on words and actions. So let's go again.

What God still does command, however, and what even in his New Covenant is never optional is what he has commanded through his "Word of God," through the historical Jesus Christ, namely, "the fresh teaching of the holy Good News." That "teaching and all that pertains to it, according to the Word of God," that teaching of the Good News "in all its articulations, including "the right use of the sacraments," depends for its very truth - for how truly good its news is - on how truly it is spoken, yes, but also on how truly it is acted out in churchly praxis.
That is why Paul, who ordinarily could take or leave circumcision, made a point of acting out publicly his refusal to circumcise Titus, all for "the truth of the gospel." For "the false apostles...wanted to impose such things on consciences as necessary" (Gal. 2:4,5). When something so doctrinally neutral as an adiaphoron changes, as it often has, from being the gospel's servant to being the gospel's partner to being the gospel rival to being the gospel's undoing, just when in that subtle shift does the reversal occur? Answer: when this adiaphoron assumes the importance of being "necessary."

Long quote...but I wanted to get to this last sentence. One's sexuality has become a "necessary" concern in the church and it has nothing to do with the gospel. I say that with the conviction that ones sexuality is a part of one's very being. Anyone of us can abuse who we are as sexual people. That, I would suggest, is what we must focus on when looking at the responsibilities we give to people in the church. If one is straight or gay, we are each held to the same standard. When two people choose to be committed to one another because they are attracted to each other and love one another, they are called into a blessed relationship that is to reflect the character of the Reign of God. The fact that a person is gay and in a relationship that reflects this character we are blessed as a church when that person is also called into the ordained ministry. To say his/her same-gender commitment and love precludes this person from serving is like placing something extra on their heads and claiming it has to be with the gospel. It has nothing to do with the gospel. It is something that we do not need to place as a necessary part of our life together. It is...I think...adiaphora - a discretionary church practice that we have - for whatever the reasons - made a necessary part of the life of the church.

Connection: We are always a people who are invited into the graciousness of God's Reign as was made know in Jesus and continues to be made known through the witness of those who follow Jesus. I find that this grace - when placed before all else - has a tendency to alter the way the day moves along its way for us.

Be our light and our way, O God, for we wander here and there and are often unwilling to stop and rest in this light of your Reign. Amen.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Wednesday 21 January 2009

A bit more on adiaphora - Robert Bertram.

As for adiaphora, they are defined as those discretionary church practices which are "neither commanded nor forbidden by God," or "in the Word of God." Offhand, that may give the misimpression that adiaphora are whatever is neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture, so that if Scripture did command a particular practice, that practice would still be mandatory and not an adiaphora at all.

But no, the Formula of Concord's term, "Word of God," should not in this case simply be equated with Scripture. For in Scripture God did explicitly command such practices as circumcision, the Sabbath, even women's head coverings. Yet all of these, no matter how biblical, the Formula, like the Augustana, freely regards as no longer binding but discretionary, or even as "the precepts of men".

We all have a way to be selective listeners. We all do that - even with Scripture. It is today's note about adiaphora that makes me take another look at how we make some things binding and then let loose of others. As we look at some of the images from the Hebrew Scriptures and take note of the world view from several thousand years ago and how we look differently at that which was so much a part of why people did what they did and what they expected from what they did. We quite literally have take some of those images and we do not believe them. The heavens as a ceiling with holes in it...the underground as a place of the dead, doesn't get much play today - if any. Yes, I suppose you can have that kind of world/universe view today and be a part of the celebration of the Good News. is not a necessary view that we must hold to be in the church. Such is the case with our battles around homosexuality. Our view of things have changed. Yes, some may think that gay and lesbian relationships are "unnatural" and therefore against God's will, but not all must believe that and it cannot be used like a law that would preclude people from complete incorporation in the life of the body of Christ. There are those scholars from may disciplines that would argue that the view presented in Scripture is not dealing with much of what we are looking at today and there would be others who would even say that the passages in Scripture do not condemn homosexuality but use it as part of a larger argument - for which we could use some other activities more universal to all of us. So...what can we say is a "discretionary church practice?" And what does that mean for the shape of the church among us?

Connection: We continue to move along into a new day. Unfortunately, we do not allow some of the parts of our lives to move along in time and be shaped anew. This is especially the case in regard to things we label "religious." In the meantime, we deny ourselves the opportunity to be the loving presence the Scriptures unveil without hesitation.

When you call us to follow, O God, we follow you in our time and we follow you with hearts that are open to how your Spirit breaks open each day and uses the gifts of your saints to re-view all things in accordance with your Good News. Continue to grant us courage and wisdom as we prayerfully consider the life of the body of Christ among us. Amen.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tuesday 20 January 2009

More from Robert Bertram and a time for confessing.

The time for confessing arrives when adiaphora (non-essentials) are imposed as a necessity, but not only adiaphora! Perhaps more often than not what is forced upon the church by its authorities was not an adiaphoron in the first place, was not something neutral as that, even potentially, but was simply, intolerably evil.
For instance, there are institutional policies and practices "which are basically contrary to the Word of God" and equally perverse, which are submitted to simply in order "to avoid persecution" or in order to "create the illusion" that the oppressor is not really oppressing the gospel. Such evils never were adiaphora to begin with and certainly dare not be disguised as such.
Moreover, any attempt by religious authorities to force such outright evils on the church must be met openly with Paul's strategy of withdrawal and disengagement: "Do not be mismated with unbelievers...Come out from them and be separate from them..." The church is "not to be associated with and not to support impiety and unjust cruelty.

In the life of our church today there are many decisions made about who can and who cannot be a part of the complete fellowship of the church. The most notable, as I have stated previously in this series of devotions, is the full inclusion of gay and lesbian saints into the complete ministry and mission of the congregation. I would suggest that there is so much diversity of opinion about how Scripture addresses or does not address this situation of our day that we must act as though the whirlwind of actions put into place to excluded full participation are a part of the "non-essential" work of the church. Rather, in the light of the radical grace of the Good News, show no partiality and welcome all. Then as we are the gathering of the saints - as we move along through the days ahead as one body - we will gain the wisdom necessary to see if or what actions will help to guide us as a community of Christ. It may be that some of those who have wanted to restrict complete fellowship will find that their arguments can no longer hold up in the face of the visible life of the congregation. Then again, those who push for inclusion may find out that some of their arguments for inclusion may also demonstrate a partiality that does the church no good. So...for now, we may be a church or congregation open to receive saints once excluded because of issues of sexuality that cannot be considered a part of the gospel message that is to be shape of our life together.

Connection: Listen to the reasons behind the need of some to restrict some saints from a complete involvement in the life of the church. It may really have nothing to do with the Good News...but if it does, we must lean forward and enter into more discussion.

Creator of the Universe and all that is, the life you bring to us is full of your grace. We are free to be pulled into your Reign that ignites a life in which all your people have a place to be shaped and sent in the name of your beloved, Jesus. When we are becoming that good news shape, make us bold so that no one will be pushed away from that which is our life and hope and joy. Amen.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Monday 19 January 2009

As you may be seeing, I'm playing with Robert Bertram's writings on the Confessions. In my reading, I'm finding some room to invite us all to move beyond church rules that may be at odds with the essential gospel of the Church - especially when it adds something to this gospel. the Formula of Concord came to see, it is quite another matter when practices which in themselves may be neutral or at least negotiable are instead insisted upon as essential, "necessary," even "necessary for righteousness and salvation," and are imposed "by force or chicanery." When that happens, it is time for Christians to refuse submission - "for the truth of the gospel" (Formula of Concord, 10-13). but in their calling now for such public disobedience, the concordists are still only carrying out the implications of the original confession at Augsburg, which likewise had repudiated any and all religious authority which presumed to demand more than the gospel: "...we have God's command not to be obedient in such cases." (Augsburg Confessions XXVIII,23).

The language that is used here sparks images of Ash Wednesday and the "imposition of ashes." That cross that is placed on our foreheads reminds us of the truth of the gospel story and the story of our lives. The saving work of Jesus pulls us into new life even as we are marked by death. No other other word, can be imposed upon us. And yet, too often that which becomes primary in the political working of the church is that which is not the essence of the Good News. Rather, we pick and choose what we cannot tolerate - often what we fear - and we let go of the grace that moves us and guides us through fears...rather than be controlled by them. I would again submit that our insistence that people abide by certain ideas and rules and opinions takes us beyond the good news of the Reign of God and calls for something to be added to the gospel. These other views and rules abandon the Good News for another word that does not open up the life within the Reign of God in Christ, Jesus. When that happens, we need not be quiet about saying "No."

Connection: Radical grace shines brightly. From day to day, we are invited to re-view the gracious rule of our Lord, Jesus. This will help us all to see what is being added and at least question and discuss where we are going.

Reigning Lord, you invite and you re-create by your grace. Within that realm we are faced with such love and forgiveness and new life that we are given the vision to see when your Reign is being turned into something less than that which is ruled by the resurrected Lord, Jesus. Be the encouragement that sustains us in these days. Amen.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday 16 January 2009

Yesterday, Bertram, noted that some confessors started giving in to the notion that some things instituted by human being "should be observed uniformly." Today we follow up on this:

It was this sort of manipulating the Augsburg Confession against its own intention, for the sake of an easy church unity without paying the price of protest, that the Formula of Concord eventually intervened to protest. On the one hand, the concordists freely acknowledged that "we can with a good conscience give in and yield to the weak in faith in...external matters of indifference" (FC X,9). So far the Formula is simply reiterating the stance at Augsburg. there, "in this very assembly," as Melanchthon reminded the opponents, "we have shown ample evidence of our willingness to observe adiaphora with others, even where this involved some disadvantage to us." For, he adds, "we believe that the greatest public harmony, without offense to consciences, should be preferred to all other advantages."

I can go round and round on this one. I had a colleague tell me that the reason he cannot go along with complete inclusion of gay and lesbians in the mission and ministry of the church is that we must be watchful of those "weak in faith." In the sense that such controversy within the church would confuse and discourage them. Well, I wonder if people who think this way are willing to tell those who are against such complete inclusion that they are the ones of "weak faith" and that we are doing what we do with our limits for an interim time - until they mature. Hmmmm.
I would also agree that "the greatest public harmony, without offense to consciences, should be preferred to all other advantages." And yet, this is often used as an excuse not to offer an evangelical confession. We are too often willing to back off the witness to the Good News, in favor of a peace that is not the peace that is promised in the Reign of God. Unity must come about through a constant conversation about what is central to our life together in Christ. We play with the boundaries. We challenge what is and boldly enter into what is not yet - but what appears to hold the graciousness of God's Reign. We are people within constant dialogue and living within the nuances of the day that demand pastoral attention and loving kindness.

Connection: What if we stated that our categories of sexuality (homosexual/heterosexual) would only be ways of adding description to who each of us is? After that, we are all the same within the body of Christ and we are invited into a life that is as new as God's Reign that transforms and brings new life.

Lord, God, you abide with us in the middle of all the chaos of our lives. And there...among us, you are the power of life that creates reconciliation, peace, and an abiding love that never stops seeking the healing of all our brokenness. We give you thanks for continuing to light up our lives with new ways of understanding how we come to live within the Reign of our Lord Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thursday 15 January 2008

Today I want to continue to play with some of Robert Bertram's thoughts on confessing.

...the Augustana (Augsburg Confession) continues, "it is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that ceremonies instituted by human beings should be observed uniformly in all places" (AC VII,3; also XV). For in the last analysis such ceremonies are really only "adiaphora," as already the Apology called them. But before long, crucially at the Leipzig Interim (1548). some of these very confessors - including Philip Melanchthon, the Augustana's and Apology's chief author - seemed to capitulate to imperial pressure and to Roman ceremonial impositions after all.
Ironically, these compromisers excused themselves by exploiting the Augustana's satis est. For, they argued, aren't even the oppressors' unpalatable practices mere non-essentials (adiaphora)? Then why not for the sake of public peace, put up with them? Now suddenly some of the confessors were speaking as if "ceremonies instituted by human beings should be observed uniformly" after all.

Many concerns come to mind as I read this. In one way I want to address myself to the notion that whether or not a congregation decides to make "same-gender covenant ceremonies" a part of the ministry of its life together may be considered "adiaphora" - non essential to the life of the congregation. At the same time, I am also pulled to suggest that the larger church attempting to make much of the prohibiting such action is also part of this dealing with "adiaphora." Having said that, I realize that I may not be in any one's camp. What I would press for is the way that the Good News of Jesus, Christ, comes to life. That life, I suggest, cannot come to be if congregations are pressed into doing such things as part of their ministry and mission - just as you cannot press a congregation into making a commitment to community organizing a part of its ministry and mission. Yes, I my eyes, both could be very beneficial to a congregation and both would be a way of coming to rest on the Gospel alone. On the other hand, those who would argue that the complete inclusion of gay and lesbians into the life of a congregation is forbidden are really standing for something "more" than the gospel witness. For now, human sexuality becomes a condition of one's place within the baptized community and the life of the Reign of God that is ours to enter. This wider expression of the church would do well to drop its sexual adiaphora and uphold all congregations that faithfully call one another into the life of grace within God's Reign.

Connection: It is enough to bring us together in Christ. When that takes place - when Christ is the center - we can handle the "other" stuff. That is part of the life we have been handed. We bring light to that which appears to be chaos. That is the saving journey we all enter every day. That is how we have an impact on the world around us.

Blessed Lord, you have given us a life full of brokenness and bitterness and fear, and yet you invite us to be your blessed people who bring healing and peace and joy to all. Continue to inspire us so that we are living witnesses to a grace that has no stopping point. Amen.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Today we will move on to Bertram's comments on "Confessing as Protesting Gospel-Plus" in "A Time for Confessing."

"Where there is too much," says a Jewish proverb, "something is missing." "More is less," went the credo of architect Mies van der Rohe. For the Apostle Paul, to demand that believers in Christ also be circumcised is to negate Christ. Gospel-plus is gospel-minus, no gospel at all.
In "a time for confessing," it is the gospel which the authorities are adding to - presumably embellishing, reinforcing, safeguarding - and thereby diminishing, in fact subverting altogether. At Augsburg, where the Reformers were still appealing to their imperial and ecclesiastical superiors not to hereticize them or to count them out of the Roman Catholic Church, the basis of their appeal was this: so long as the gospel and sacraments of Christ are being communicated evangelically, the sole condition of church unity is being satisfied. "That is enough," satis est (Augsburg Confessions VII, 2).

I find it interesting that it was the authorities who were "adding to" the gospel. And yet, it was the Reformers who were being accused of heresy - taking a stand contrary to the teaching of the church. And yet, to be accused of heresy does not mean one is not teaching and speaking and living according to the gospel. On the contrary, the heretic is often the only one in the room who is able to rest on that gracious "that is enough." This is not to say that some heretics are off-base in their teachings. Rather, it says that there are times when reformers really must speak up and resist every attempt by the authorities to add to the gospel that is the power for life among us. I go back to yesterday's comments about the trial and defrocking of Pr. Brad Schmeling. He and the congregation were teaching and preaching the gospel and administering the sacraments - the sole condition of church unity. But, he is a gay man in a loving and committed relationship which the authorities have set up as a measure of one's worth within the role of pastor. It is "not enough" to be a faithful teacher, preacher, and presiding minister at the sacraments...hmmmm. Sounds like a bit of witch hunting becomes the order of the day. Who is next to be removed and for what reasons?

Connection: When we fear the time at hand because we think we are losing control of how things will move along, it might be good to check ourselves and see if our longing for control has become a bit idolatrous.

Bring us within the Reign of you Good News, O God, and make us bold as we continue to step upon nothing else but the power of your promises that we know are visible in and through Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. Be the power of our future and the freedom of our present. Amen.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tuesday 13 January 2009

More from Robert Bertram in "A Time for Confessing." need not be that in a confessional situation there literally are ecclesiastical trials, actual forensic proceedings with formal charges and evidence and judicial verdicts. Sometimes there are, but even then these are often so rigged as never to allow the gospel martyria a fair hearing. Just as often there are no trials at all, except perhaps through a controlled church press, for fear that the authorities' own pseudo-gospel might be cross-examined. That was complaint already at Augsburg.

When a friend, Pr. Brad Schmeling, was on "trial" because he was a pastor in the ELCA but also was someone who fell in love and entered into a life-commitment with his partner, I saw what I would consider a lack of consideration of the gospel and the life it brings and the polity of the church and what it cannot allow within its structure. In essence, though Brad and the people in his congregation and colleagues around him and across the country gave a powerful witness to how he and his congregation embodied the Good News, it was all dismissed - thrown out - because of his sexuality. As I step back from what I saw and heard, this saint was let go because of what was really an extraordinary life of faithfulness to the church and most of all the life-giving Good News of Jesus, Christ. It cause me to pause and wonder what we are looking for as the guiding light of the church catholic. The centrality of Christ crucified and raised from the grave and the life that this action gives to the world without condition, becomes something subjected to other word - a pseudo-gospel it sounds to me. If we are to be a reforming people, we must be willing to see our way through all that which tries to rule us rather than create the life of grace that is the Reign of God already making life whole among us.

Connection: I have this picture in my head of an old-fashioned balance on both sides is the Good News but 'things' get added to the other side and those who insist that they are needed then also want to change the weight of the Good be something else. But would not be the Good would be another gospel...but there is no "other" gospel. Listen to how things are spelled out as we talk of our life in Christ. Listen for what is being "added" and is it necessary.

Come, Word of Life, keep us wrapped up in your promises so we do not fall for other words and other promises that are really quite contrary to your gracious Reign. Amen.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Monday 12 January 2008

I may have a little fun with this piece today that once again comes from Robert Bertram in " Time for Confessing."

In face of that ultimate impasse (where a confessor appeals to God's authority must do so in front of oppressors who are in positions of authority that seem to be installed by the same God), the only recourse of Christian confessors is the promise (and threat) of the Matthean Jesus: "So everyone who confesses me before human beings, I also will confess before my Father in heaven, but whoever denies me before human beings, I also will deny them before my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 10:32-33). But those two options, and the fact that those are all there are, only underscore all the more how high the stakes are: either fidelity or apostasy, either divine acceptance or divine rejection. No wonder the situation is pictured as a case at court as if, behind and above the intimidating secular authorities of church and society, sat an unseen, still higher Authority who is waiting for the "witness'" testimony to be spoken - not into his ear secretly, as in the privacy of prayer, but publicly throughout his world, "before human beings."

We are to confess that Jesus is Lord...that the Reign of God is already upon us through the power of the resurrection...that grace upon grace is the pattern of this Reign as Jesus is already the one who judges all things by grace alone. I could go on. So to call someone an apostate is to accuse a person of not teaching and preaching this Good News of the Reign of God. Well, several years ago, a pastor in our Synod called a group of pastors apostates because they put forth a resolution that offered support to a gay clergy person who was being removed from he ELCA roster. We were labeled that not because we spoke a word contrary to the central word of Scripture - Christ, Jesus, crucified and risen Lord. We were labeled that because of how we viewed the presence of a gay pastor faithfully teaching and preaching such Good News. Nowhere was there an accusation or any evidence that showed that we were denying or changing the Good News. We were being accused of being outside the faith - because of our way of seeing how the Good News makes room for faithful saints to go about the work of God's Reign. Unfortunately, this clergy person was never made to put forth evidence to support his accusation and we were never given the opportunity to defend our actions once those words were placed before the body of the Synod. Odd. The accusation stood and was left as the last word. Any yet it is not. For now it is necessary to press the issue and make sure that such a public accusation will be met with just such a public confession.

Connection: For those of you who are like me...slow thinkers and slow actors...the time does come to act and speak...and it is never too late.

Open up our hearts, O God, that we may be encouraged to lift up your promises and let your gracious Reign burst forth among us as we live and speak within your Reign that is already at hand and already setting free your people and bringing new life to those who have been left out and forgotten. Amen.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Friday 9 January 2009

Something on confessional "risk" - again from Robert Bertram.

The confessional risk has longstanding biblical precedent, all the way from Job's "Behold he will slay me; I have no hope; yet I defend my ways to his face (13:15)" to Jesus' "cry of dereliction": "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34; Matt. 27:46; Ps.22:1). At Augsburg, likewise the confessors were not unaware of that same risk. As Melanchthon reminds his accusers, "Certainly we should not wish to put our own souls and consciences in grave peril before God by misusing his name or Word". The life-and-death dilemma which confessors face is that the God to whose authority they appeal to vindicate their witness is the same God who has installed their oppressors in positions of authority and who seems now to be vindicating that authority instead.

In some ways this may be what is at work in the "silence" that often takes place when wrongs are left as they are in the church. We are taught that those in places of authority are put there and serve as representatives of our God for the sake of good order. So...we suck it up and let the way things have been going....continue. But we are a people who trust a "living word." That is, a word that is reshaped in time. The truth of the Good New word is always in place but we come to see it in new ways as our context changes and we are gifted with insight and more grace. The "confessional risk" means that we will not stop at what is. We will hold up the lens of the Reign of God in Christ, Jesus, and begin to see how our systems often fall short of this Reign in order to maintain enough control that the grace of our Lord, Jesus, Christ, becomes a theory rather than a reality that set people free. Unfortunately, those who bring such a witness will not be treated lightly. It may be simple may be may be crucifixion. And yet, faithful actions continue to erupt among us as living confessions to our one Lord, Jesus.

Connection: Listen...always listen to what words attempt to lead us. Then breathe and prayerfully consider if those words lead us into the Reign of unfolding and endless grace.

You, O God, promise to make all things new. Even when we would rather live within the old ways that are so familiar to us, you bid us come across the borders of our lives to see and hear how the Good News of your Reign really does make for a new world. We praise you, O God. Amen.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Wednesday 8 January 2009

We continue with Robert Bertram on "confessing as martyria."

While the term "martyrdom" should not be taken here to connote, as it often does in popular usage, an exaggerated, self-pitying sense of persecution, neither should it lose the connotation of extreme - yes,ultimate - jeopardy. Emil Fackenheim, marveling at the difiant faith of the Holocaust martyrs, calls them "witnesses go God and man even if abandoned by God and man." That, also, for Christian confessors, suggests what their ultimate jeopardy is: witnessing to a God who to all appearances is abandoning them, exactly because of the way they are obliged to witness to him.

I find it interesting that martyrs are very often those people who witness to a reality that is more broad than what the present systems are willing to accept. It makes me ask, are martyrs ever ones who come from the empowered group within an organization, religious body, or country?!? There may be some...but I only hear of those who attempt to witness to something other than what has become the official rules of the house. When the institution claims to have the defining word about our God - no other word is able to stand with those claims. But I would suggest that if the Word of the institution and community is the Word of God as Jesus, incarnate, then the whole community needs to be aware that a witness to the Word may not always come from the official channels. Rather, there are always people who hear the Word anew and that hearing may draw into question the manner in which the system has defined itself. So, for example, what was once taught as being wrong according to the way the Word was defined by the systems of the church are found to be nothing that has to do with the Gospel. Rather, biases, interpretations, fears, tradition, and community preferences become some of the building blocks of the church's positions. That is not always bad. But when the life of some of the saints is cut short on the basis of these positions and the Gospel is short changed, a time for "witnessing" may come into being by those who cannot live by anything short of the Gospel - alone.

Connection: A daily discipline to help all of us stay within view of the Reign of God is to simply be willing to ask if this or that action is truly a witness of grace upon grace as in the Good News of Jesus, Christ. If it is not...then what we may not be living within the realm of that grace. Daily questions keep us focused.

Within the Reign of your grace, O God, we begin to see that which is necessary and those actions and things that are not. When you give us that vision, all things are seen anew and life beyond our expectations begins to blossom. We thank you, O God. Amen.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Wednesday 7 January 2009

Today we enter a section call "confessing as martyria" - by Robert Bertram.

The term "confession" in the context of Augsburg, as in dominant biblical contexts, connotes not just any declaration of one's faith - the sort of declaration, for instance, made by a candidate for baptism or in response to some friendly inquiry about "the reason of the hope that is in you." No, " a time for confessing" is more embattled than that. It is an adversary situation. In such a context confessing implies that the confessors are on trial for their faith before a superior critical tribunal from whose higher authority they must nevertheless dissent. The dominant metaphor is forensic: the confessors are defendants on a witness stand (in statu confessionis), martyres, and their confession inn that case is a martyrological act.

Within much of the church today, brothers and sisters in Christ who are LGBT saints are "on trial." Though they are baptized in Christ, Jesus, they must not allow their true self to be alive and free to live within the covenant of their baptism. Many in positions of authority have made it clear that who they are and who they love and who makes up their family and with whom they share the fullness of a committed not acceptable among us. Is it that they do not leap into the promise of the future of our Lord, Jesus, as Lord of All? No. Is it that they are unwilling to have Christ be the shape of their relationships with friends and enemies" No. Is it that they are more "turned-in-on-self" than any other saint who counts on the grace of God to bring them to life eternal? No. Than what is the charge being brought against these baptized saints within the church?!? What is the charge that is used to throw them out and down and forbid them to take part in the full life of the ministry and mission of the church? It appears as though the tribunal that raises up their voices against them have let themselves focus on something that is not central to the faith. Rather than accusing our GLBT saints of following another way, they are shunned and pushed aside for being who they are. Yes, they may be a minority population...they may see relationships differently than I may see them...they may be attracted to people of the same sex....they may find themselves most complete as a son or daughter of God when in a loving relationship with someone of the same sex, but they, like I would hope all of the saints, trust in Jesus, Christ, alone and live within the grand domain of grace upon grace that is the Church of Jesus Christ. So why are they defendants on a witness stand - day in and day out...with grace withheld until they act differently from that which makes them whole. Odd is seems. The community of truth and grace prefers to live within the community of the world where lies and conditions are upheld rather than the radical news of the Crucified and Risen Lord, Jesus that bring light to the all peoples.

Connection: We have sisters and brothers who are embattled and living as though they must hide rather than be free within the realm of God's grace. What are we to do within such a system that has so much power over us all?

We give you thanks, O God, for the witness of those who know whose they are and are convinced of you never-ending love that brings shape and meaning and character to life. For as they are pushed away, they return again and again facing ridicule and brutality in the same manner as the one we call Lord, Jesus, when he was all that he was created to be and nothing less. Remind us all of the beauty of your gracious love so that we who are not confounded by the the powers around us might step up and stand with those who are being beaten down and denied the fullness that is already promised to all the baptized. Amen.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Tuesday 6 January 2009

Today is the Epiphany of Our Lord. Now, more from Robert Bertram in "A Time for Confessing."

...Augsburg (1530) has also been epochal for subsequent history. Enough so, that it suggests a paradigm for such recent events as the Kirchenkampf in Nazi Germany, the Christian resistance against apartheid in South Africa, the resistance of Christian seminarians in South Korea, the civil rights movement in the United States, the "authority crisis" in today's Roman Catholicism, the current grassroots anti-bureaucracy in the mainline denominations - for understanding these situations as themselves "times for confessing." That historic moment which took voice in the Augsburg Confession and which later came to further self-awareness in the Formula of Concord's Article X provides some clues - half a dozen, at least - as to what might constitute such confessional "times" also in our own more recent history.

The time for confessing is not in the past. When I first started reading this, I realized that we may be in a time when many of us will be put in the position of saying we cannot be the church when the church appears to be moving from its wonder-filled power of reformation that insists on nothing less than Jesus, Christ, and the grace upon grace that is the foundation for life and the power that pulls us into the approaching Reign of God where the crucified and risen one is already ruling within the clouds of such grace. What comes to me in this reflection is the ongoing manner in which the church sanctions, supports, endorses, and makes rules that do not reflect the unbounded mercy and grace of God's Reign. Specifically this has to do with outright backhanded way we deal with baptized saints in the church who choose to stay in the church and be a faithful witness to the Reign of God and yet they are excluded from full participation because of something that is a part of who they are as the baptized - their sexuality. The GLBT saints within the church are ones who have to put up with remarks that are condemning, actions filled with prejudice and fear that continue to nurture more of the same, and, sad to say, ongoing support of their exclusion - all ow which gives witness to some other gospel - not the one of Jesus as Lord of all. I hear well-spoken leaders in the church who have much to say about wideness of the ministry and mission of the church but when it comes to our life in Christ with GLBT saints, there is always a "yeah, but." It is time to remove the "but" and let us say a welcoming "yeah" as in "yeah," it is good for you to be home.

Connection: Confessing the faith is tied to action. It is when the words of our faith become the life that they shape. How today will our lives be shaped by the overflowing grace that is poured out over all of us? It may be to simple treat everyone as though that is how we see them - wet with the love of God's Reign. The day may change right before our eyes.

Come, Stir up our hearts, O God, and open our eyes and ears to the sound of your grace that becomes as real as our Lord, Jesus, among us. Amen.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Monday 5 January 2009

On the last day of the Christmas season we will start with a new source for devotional reflections. it will be from the writings of Robert Bertram in "A Time for Confessing."

Some of the most constructive moments in recent history have been those times, ironically, when Christians have had to disobey secular authority, including the church's own, in order to testify that for the one church of Jesus Christ his one gospel-and-sacraments is authority enough. Such moments for Christian disobedience, fateful times of last resort, are what the Formula of Concord called "a time for confessing," which at that "time" (1577) had already begun a half-century earlier with the "confessing" at Augsburg (1530). This Augsburg "time of confessing," from 1530 onwards, is one more reminder of how the church from its origin - for example, up against the authorities in its own native Judaism who opposed it - had to be, over and over, a confessing movement.

I was drawn to use Bertram's work not because I am deeply involved in the confessional documents of our church, rather I was drawn by his introduction of the term and the life behind a "time of confessing." I'm not a confessional scholar - not even a scholar, but something is ringing a strong note here about how we are church and how we are or are not living within the expansiveness of the grace of our Lord, Jesus, Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit." More and more I find that it is not acceptable for us to be a church that is willing to be directed by what I will say is adiaphora - human sexuality. We are living within a realm of fear and yet we will not admit to it. We are once again able to survive because we have a scapegoat that can create a rallying point for the sake of keeping the system in place and immovable. It appears to me that a confessing movement has come into existence when the ruling order mandates that some may be left out of the full participation in the life of the community of Christ - or that the Church may take part in action that is quite contrary to being a living witness to the our Lord, Jesus. Therefore, on behalf of the Jews and in the name of our Lord, a small confessing movement said "No" to how the German authorities were acting as a civil rule and also using the Church to place it seal on what was being done - even though it was contrary to the gospel. I pray you stick with me in these next weeks of reflection.

Connection: Yes we can be more than we are....more expansive and more abounding in grace than we ever thought possible. Today that can already be our future within the church.

Lord of the Good News that breaks open this day with new life, remind us of how that news breaks open the day and how you have shaped us within the power of the gospel to continue to reform that which can become quite contrary to this news that is so changes the world and all that is. Amen.