Tuesday, March 31, 2009
The great changes are not mere political and sociological shifts. They represent the passing of systems that were born in injustice, nurtured in inequality, and reared in exploitation. They represent the inevitable decay of any system based on principles that are not in harmony with the moral laws of the universe. When in future generations men look back upon these turbulent, tension-packed days through which we are passing, they will see God working through history for the salvation of man. They will know that God was working through those men who had the vision to perceive that no nation could survive half salve and half free.
God works in and through history for the "salvation of humanity." I find this to mean that God continues to inspire us to be truly human - truly the image of God. Whenever other humans are treated as less than human by others, those who treat people as less than human really are displaying how antithetical their actions are to the Reign of God that is the dwelling place of the truly human one. When the time comes in history for people of differing colors to see one another needed piece of the vision of the fullness of human, we are then becoming a saving people. Saving people rock the boat and walk on water and will not stay away until all are included in this love of God that is the shape of the history of the Reign of God that is already unfolding. We look back in time and wonder how we could have been so brutal and so unloving and so willing to tolerate and silently endorse the sin of segregation. Racism is an ugly reality to look at and to own. It is my hope that soon and very soon, we will also admit to the ugliness and the brutality of our fear-filled actions that keep GLBT people out of the church - or within a less-than position. We are a saving people who forget that salvation in Jesus' name is for all - boundless - in and of itself the power to bring life?
Connection: If I am a white, middle class, heterosexual male who is tired of our devilish brokenness, I cannot even image the pain and frustration of any who are cast out of the fellowship of the church for reasons that cannot stand up to the vision of God's Reign.
Be our light, O God. Be our light in the middle of our fears. Be our light whenever we attempt to pull down the curtains in order to live as something less than your beloved community. Amen.
Monday, March 30, 2009
In our own nation another unjust and evil system, known as segregation, for nearly on hundred years inflicted the Negro with a sense of inferiority, deprived him of his personhood, and denied him his birthright of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Segregation has been the Negroes burden and America's shame. But as on the world scale, so in our nation, the wind of change began to blow. One event has followed another to bring a gradual end to the system of segregation. Today we know with certainty that segregation is dead. The only question remains how costly will be the funeral.
I cannot read this without pausing to consider the present situation in our country - no worldwide - in regard to the rights of GLBT people. We have let a tradition of convenience and fear and ignorance allow us to keep in place systems that keep folks living as though they are not worth as much as others. In fact, we seem too comfortable living with the notion that GLBT people can be disrespected, cast out of our fellowships, and denied the rights that are to be held up for all. There is, as William Sloan Coffin once wrote and spoke on a number of occasions, one last acceptable prejudice...and it is even backed up by the people who are to be the image of God's dynamic love - the church. As I write this, I'm trying to remember if I ever encountered the kind of racist that were standing in direct opposition to the segregation - so direct that they would become violent. I know a number of people who have been so bigoted against blacks that what I heard come out of their mouths and what they threatened to do is sobering, frightful, and disgusting. But today, I hear bright people content to live within a world that cast GLBT people out of the communion of saints or accept them under a veil of conditions that really means they are not accepted for who they are. I remember dealing with a couple who said they "didn't mind" having gays and lesbians in the church, but they didn't want them to be in relationship and have the church support those relationships. They could not listen to the call to responsible relations or the way we would value all relationships that demonstrate the love and justice and hopefulness of the Reign of God. The only thing they could envision was sexual activity that was not their manner of expressing intimacy. The wall went up, the bias of ignorance stayed in place, and some well-educated and critical-thinking people let the vision of God's Reign fall short in favor of tradition and "what we know and think is right."
Connection: Do we ever move beyond segregation? Or are we always ready to push someone out in order to keep our lives just as we would want them?
Reigning God, take us up into your domain of shalom and the creative power of your rule that inspires justice and the healing of the community of your people. We are not able to go this way alone - we need your life-giving and life-renewing presence. Amen.
Friday, March 27, 2009
An evil system, known as colonialism, swept across Africa and Asia. But then the quiet invisible law began to operate. Prime Minister Macmillan said, "The wind of change began to blow." The powerful colonial empires began to disintegrate like stacks of cards, and new, independent nations began to emerge like refreshing oases in deserts sweltering under the heat of injustice. In less than fifteen years independence has swept through Asia and Africa like an irresistible tidal wave, releasing more than 1,500,00 people from the crippling manacles of colonialism.
The winds do change and systemic evil does meet its day - its Waterloo. But we must also be aware that power that replaces power is not always for the benefit of all. As we saw the elimination of the oppressive powers of colonialism, we have also see the devastating powers of abusive structures in these same place. Evil always finds a way into every system and will make off with the hopes and dreams of people. We must not simply point fingers at what is evil. When we do that and a new power comes to be, all we will have learned is how to point fingers. We must be a part of a new creation that continues to drink from the well of new life where justice prevails and evil is made to stand back and be ruled by the way of nonviolent peace. Yes, you may say, I'm a dreamer.
Connection: Evil must be resisted by a creative force of nonviolence or else we will become a part of evil within a new day. This is the importance of the Spirit of Life that is the power to lead us to new life even when we are tempted to win the day rather than remake the day.
By the wind of your Spirit, O God, fill us up with the vision of your Reign so that as other powers attempt to rule us, we will continue to take in your wind of life. Amen.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
In his graphic account of the Battle of Waterloo in Les Miserables , Victor Hugo wrote: "Was it possible that Napoleon should win this battle? We answer no. Why? Because of Wellington? Because of Blucher? No. Because of God....Napoleon had been impeached before the Infinite, and his fall was decreed. He vexed God. Waterloo is not a battle; it is the change of front of the universe."
This is like the words of the great prophets who wrote and spoke of the powers of Assyria and Babylon as though they were able to devour the people of Israel and Judah but ultimately they were confounded and defeated and God's people were set free. It is easier to say such things after they have taken place. What is most important is to be actively involved in the present confrontation of evil. When we do not take part in resisting evil, it moves on and on. Yes, it will eventually fall, and yet for now, it does not act like a brute about to fall. It was not until the end of the Third Reich that people knew it was over. Evil will not stop its relentless push to devour and rule and create chaos. God empowers God's people to act in a manner that reflects the power of creative justice that works for the welfare of the all the world's people.
Connection: In time - that means in the making of this day - evil will fall...again and again. It will continue to get up and try to rule us but we are daily invited to remember our baptism and the power for life that resists the way of evil among us.
God of Justice and Mercy and Peace, always help us to see the way you step into the world to walk with us even as evil prevails. Help us to walk as though you are alongside us to hold up the living witness of your Reign. Amen.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Let us notice also that God is able to subdue all the powers of evil. In affirming that God is able to conquer evil we admit the reality of evil. Christianity has never dismissed evil as illusory, or an error of the moral mind. It reckons with evil as a force that has objective reality. But Christianity contends that evil contains the seed of its own destruction. History is the story of evil forces that advance with seemingly irresistible power only to be crushed by the battling rams of the forces of justice. There is a law in the moral world - a silent, invisible imperative, akin to the laws of the physical world - which reminds us that life will work only in a certain way. The Hitlers and the Mussolinis have their day, and for a period they may wield great power, spreading themselves like a green bay tree, but soon they are cut down like the grass and wither as the green herb.
Within our corporate confession we admit that we are a part of this evil just as much as we are a part of the beloved ones of God. Just as evil wins us over at times, so too can evil win the day in the world. But we are told that our God is able to resurrect life that has been beaten down by injustice, intolerance, hatred, and all the ways of evil among us. Therefore, even when the day appears to be won by what is in opposition to the love of God's Reign and this evil will outlast me or you, God is able and will raise up new life in which love and justice and mercy will again shape life and bring about a day where hope becomes quite visible. It is good to hear King remind us that evil contains the seed of its own destruction. Even when it is riding high, it will not remain there. Evil will be exposed even when it wears the masks of respectability. At that time, once again, God is able raise up new life...even from the stones of ruin around us.
Connection: It takes patience and action to stay vitally alive when evil is at hand. We must be patient to see the many sides of the evil and we must act from a place of peace when the evil is to be confronted.
God, you are able to subdue all the powers of evil. And yet, in the day at hand, we cannot see that evil is being put in its place and your rule has become the order of the day. Guide us so that when evil is present we can be a part of your rule of new life that resists the powers that attempt to rule your beloved. Amen.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
After writing about the place of a man-centered universe and the advancement of science, King writes:
But alas! something has shaken the faith of those who have made the laboratory "the new cathedral of men's hopes." The instruments which yesterday were worshiped today contain cosmic death, threatening to plunge all of us into the abyss of annihilation. Man is not able to save himself or the world. Unless he is guided by God's spirit, his new-found scientific power will become a devastating Frankenstein monster that will bring to ashes his earthly life.
We must remember that God's spirit is not what we want or what we think will be the best for us. It is the spirit that moved over creation making all thing "good." It is the spirit that honors life without being ruled by self-centered notions of what is right or good. It is the spirit that takes into account what our actions may be doing to the lives of others. What is good for us from our own eyes can be the most destructive ways to live when we line them up with the vision of God's creative spirit. In this way, all of our personal and corporate decisions need to be guided by the spirit of life that is not the spirit of me and my own. God's spirit will consider the care of all and the ways to make the day-to-day parts of our lives be shaped around the peaceable Reign of God - where monsters do not choose to live.
Connection: We all take part in some of the monstrous games of the world. We do so with many different ideas of what is good and what is not good. One of the reason we are told to keep going back to the vision of God Reign within Scripture is that monstrous ideas and actions are often exposed there...so that we can see them in our own lives.
When you rule us, O God, we live as though the monsters of the world really do try to own us and use us. It is by living within your Reign - even now - that we can face all the trials that will try to devour us. Continue to revive us by your spirit of life. Amen.
Monday, March 23, 2009
At the center of the Christian faith is the conviction that in the universe there is a God of power who is able to do exceedingly abundant things in nature and in history. This conviction is stressed over and over in the Old and New Testaments. Theologically, this affirmation is expressed in the doctrine of the omnipotence of God. The God whom we worship is not a weak and incompetent God. He is able to beat back gigantic waves of oppression and to bring low prodigious mountains of evil. The ringing testimony of the Christian faith is that God is able.
Able...to heal the universe through a love that, as Tillich writes, reunites the separated. Able...to see to the welfare of the intrinsic power of all so that no one is trampled for the sake of another. Able...to oversee to integrity of each person. God is able. But so often, we will have nothing to do with what God is able to do. In fact, we turn away from this power that is available to make for the well-being of all things. God is able to create new life. This is not a God who is to be used to make sure that my passes are on target or I can run and get into the end zone. God is able to bring life...and does not need to fill our lives with what we want. Our God is able to withstand time and carry a people into the depths of promise and establish glimpses of promise within real time. Many leaders of the civil rights abided in the presence of this able God even when the evidence of the day made it seem as though God is not able to topple the injustice of the world. We may fall and we may be pushed down and we may not finish this race completely, but God is able to bend creation to shape a new day of hope and brilliant vision.
Connection: This is not magic. This is a living reality in which we are invited to abide. It is not able me and my own...it is about the fullness of all life.
Come, Lord of Creation, come and remind us of the presence and reality of your Reign. For as we can remember your promises, that which tries to destroy us today will not have power over the lives we live as people of promise. Praise to you, O God. Amen.
Friday, March 20, 2009
And those who have gone to the church to seek the bread of economic justice have been left in the frustrating midnight of economic deprivation. In many instances the church has so aligned itself with the privileged classes and so defended the status quo that it has been unwilling to answer the knock at midnight. The Greek church in Russia allied itself with the status quo and became so inextricably bound to the despotic czarist regime that it became impossible to be rid of the corrupt political and social system without being rid of the church. Such is the fate of every ecclesiastical organization that allies itself with things-as-they-are.
I wonder how we so easily become known as a white church or black church or glbt church and yet i rarely hear a church being called a poor church. We know they are there. We know that some churches are made up of people who are struggling from day to day at the very bottom of the economic ladder. Those churches often don't have the voice that will carry any weight to change the economic prejudice of the land. What they do so well is welcome others in need. On the other hand, for most of us, it is not as easy to be concerned about the lack of economic justice for all. We are blessed with some church agencies that do that quite well in the name of the rest of us but when it comes to the work we are doing from the buildings in which we praise God and are sent out into the world, economic justice for others often fall off the charts of our concerns. In that way, the church does mirror a society that tries to keep such topics off the table. Why is it that we have such a fear of putting aside money for those who need the essential of life - food, health care, housing? It is so good to see more and more churches lifting up our heads and beginning to step up on behalf of those who come knocking for this bread of economic justice. We need to keep growing those numbers of active saints.
Connection: When we have the opportunity, it would be good to step out of our box for the welfare of others. No one solution is available and not all of them meet all the needs. But we need to at least step out of our boxes engage our world in need.
When you give us the wealth of our lives, O God, it is a gift. When we are people who live in your image, we are invited to give as you give - graciously and abundantly. By the power of your Spirit, open our hearts and our lives to help be a part of the caring of all your people. Amen.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
In the terrible midnight of war men have knocked on the door of the church to ask for the bread of peace, but the church has often disappointed them. What more pathetically reveals the irrelevancy of the church in the present-day world affairs than its witness regarding war? In a world gone mad with arms buildups, chauvinistic passions, and imperialistic exploitation, the church has either endorsed these activities or remained appallingly silent. During the last two world wars , national churches even functioned as the ready lackeys of the state, sprinkling holy water upon the battleships and joining the mighty armies in singing, "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition." A weary world, pleading desperately for peace, has often found the church morally sanctioning war.
Though we are not in the middle of a classic "world war," we are at war. Unfortunately, this war has been mingled with religion and the many ways we can become anxious about what religion is to be the dominant religion. Most often, this at least means there is scape goats everywhere. Though many of our church leaders have been quite bold in the way they have denounced this war, the many of us who make up the church have been more silent than outspoken. There have been too many rationalizations about this war that have been exposed as down right lies. That has made war look as though it is the only thing we can do in a violent world. What I do see happening is that more and more people are very willing to say this is all wrong and there are far too many victims on all sides. The bread of peace is a bread that can be eaten by all at the same table. That is what we long for when wars and the making of war attempts to be the prevailing discipline among us. The bread of peace calls for a discipline that holds side accountable for what they are doing and have done and makes sure that people are in constant dialogue even when it would be so much easier to let the bullets fly.
Connection: The bread of peace is also available to us in the middle of all the events of this day that can turn into battles if we let them.
You invite us into your Reign of shalom, O God. It is there that we can find the rest that enables us to think again before we act in violence toward another. We need to eat that bread of life that brings peace and nourishes us for the life you have handed to us. Amen.
When the man in the parable knocked on his friend's door and asked for the three loaves of bread, he received the impatient retort, "Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything." How often have men experienced a similar disappointment when at midnight they knock on the door of the Christian church where they seek the bread of social justice, have either been altogether ignored or told to wait until later, which almost always means never. Millions of American Negroes, starving for the want of the bread of freedom, have knocked again and again on the door of so-called white churches, but they have usually been greeted by a cold indifference or a blatant hypocrisy. Even the white religious leaders, who have a heartfelt desire to open the door and provide the bread, are often more cautious than courageous and more prone to follow the expedient than the ethical path.
Unfortunately this is still the environment of the church in too many situations - more cautious than courageous - more prone to follow the expedient than the ethical path. In such a church we must be the church to one another and pull us into the gracious Reign of God where bread is plentiful and all who long to be fed are welcome to the table as one who is a guest for whom we have waited with high expectation and love. It is my expectation that I will go the ELCA's national assembly. I will go to listen. I will more than likely close my eyes at times and just listen to us. I deliberately say "us" because I am a part of this church even when we do not model church as I would pray we would. I long for word of invitation to be spoken and then actions taken that make it absolutely clear that all - without exception will be grasped by our God who claims us from beginning to end and beyond. In that grasping and holding, all of our lives will be transformed by that very love that exists only within the realm of life where the bread of social justice is always on the table ready for all to eat.
Connection: We cannot point fingers at others. We must act as church - all of us. Even when we are not willing to put bread out on the table we must also be willing to stand up and say that we cannot sit down until all are welcome to eat and drink...and be the body of Christ - one body.
You feed us with your love, O God, and we become aware of the many ways this bread needs to be passed on to others who long to be filled and made whole. Remind us of how interconnected we are when we pass that bread of justice to one another. Amen.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
And there is the deep longing for the bread of love. Everybody wishes to love and to be loved. He who feels that he is not loved feels that he does not count. Much had happened in the modern world to make men feel that they do not belong. Living in a world which has become oppressively impersonal, many of us have come to feel that we are little more than numbers.
I haven't given much thought to the feeling of being unloved being linked to being not counted. Duh! What really touches me here is to be reminded that the position of people of color and people in the GLBT community so often carry with them a history of being not counted and with that, as one would expect, a feeling of being unloved or even unlovable. This bread of love is the what is meant to sustain the community of God's people in a world that chooses not to provide the love and care that is necessary to nurture the well-being of all. King's words are also important to hear next to the well-known reality that infants who are not held and cuddled and not treated as though they are precious will not grow up with the kind of confidence that is a part of those who are. We long for that bread...that touch...that love felt or spoken...that food that feeds the spirit for life.
Connection: Be the bread of love for someone today...and take note when you are being fed!
Lord of Love, before we open our eyes and begin this new day you are already the one who embraces us and promises to be with us in and through all things. We are a beloved people fed by your loving kindness. Thanks be to you, O God. Amen.
Monday, March 16, 2009
There is also a deep longing for the bread of hope. In the early years of this century many people did not hunger for this bread. The days of the first telephones, automobiles, and airplanes gave them a radiant optimism. They worshiped the shrine of inevitable progress.... But then a series of tragic developments, revealing the selfishness and corruption of man, illustrated with frightening clarity the truth of Lord Acton's dictum, "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This awful discovery led to one of the most colossal breakdowns of optimism in history... Many concluded that life is an endless pain with a painful end, and that life is a tragicomedy played over and over again with only slight changes in costume and scenery... But even in the inevitable moments when all seems hopeless, men know that without hope they cannot really live, and in agonizing desperation they cry for the bread of hope.
King could be writing about the world in which we live in 2009! I was talking to someone this week who was concerned about the welfare of older folks who are looking at their retirement funds going down the tube in the stock market fall. He mentioned how in a previous day, suicides went up among these people. It was a way to make sure they left something for their loved ones. It was a way to not have to face the loss of the lifestyle in which they were accustomed. We all need to live within a sense of hope. It is what feeds our ability to move forward with a sense of life that is full even when it looks and feels empty. It is knowing that our worth is established no matter what the evidence of the day hands us. We need to be fed with the bread of life that keeps us from being swallowed up by all that does not look like the best or the most positive. This is not merely dealing with our economy. There are all the parts of our lives that don't look as good as we would like. Such things - such daily things - can bring us down and make us look at the day as though we are in a hopeless time. Our God continues to offer us bread to eat...life to live...ready for us to take and eat and live.
Connection: Eating the bread of hope is needed within the common and ordinary of this day. It is right here and now that we all deal with that which tries to suck us dry of life and hope.
Lord of All Hopefulness, hold us and lead us and remind us that in and through all things you promise to hold us up and keep us faithful when it is so easy to turn away from your word of promise and trust other things. Be with us this day, O God. Amen.
Friday, March 13, 2009
The traveler asks for three loaves of bread. He wants the bread of faith. In a generation of so many colossal disappointments, men have lost faith in God, faith in man, and faith in the future. many feel as did William Wilberforce, who in 1801 said, "I dare not marry - the future is so unsettled," or as did William Pitt, who in 1806 said, "There is scarcely anything round us but ruin and despair." In the midst of staggering disillusionment, many cry for the bread of faith.
The bread of faith is meant to sustain us in and through all the times of our lives. This loaf of bread is often difficult to find. There are so many voices and images and hard evidence that shows that times are not good...that the future is in question. It is very easy to listen to these voices - they are ubiquitous. In such times as King notes and the times that are at hand, we all need this bread of faith to nourish us so that we will listen to the one voice that promises us life no matter what the evidence of the day is providing. This bread of faith is meant to be the power behind a life of faith. It is not magic. It is the actual life that wakes up in the middle of the way things are and we step forward as though God's claim on us is just as grand and powerful today as in any day.
Connection: This is not always easy to do. Sometimes we forget that the bread of faith is not a statement we try to say is true. Rather it is a reality we can chew on and be made aware of who is the one who provide this bread for our life.
In days when we wonder about where the world is going and the guns of war can be heard alongside the economic troubles bubbling around us, we turn to you, O God. It is in you alone that we are lifted up and held and encouraged and reminded of the power of life that comes from you in order to meet the day as your beloved - always. Amen.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
After writing about the growth of the church in the Soviet Union, King writes
This numerical growth should not be overemphasized. We must not be tempted to confuse spiritual power and large numbers. Jumboism, as someone called it, is an utterly fallacious standard for measuring positive power. An increase in quantity does not automatically bring an increase in quality. A larger membership does not necessarily represent a correspondingly increase in ethical commitment, millions of people do feel that the church provides an answer to the deep confusion that encompasses their lives. It is still the one familiar landmark where the weary traveler by midnight comes. It is the one house which stand where it has always stood, the house to which the man traveling at midnight either comes or refuses to come. Some decide not to come. But the many who come and knock are desperately seeking a little bread to tide them over.
I don't want to take swipes at large churches - so please yell at me if I do. What I really want to say today is a bit about who we are as church. There is an element of being vulnerable when we make ourselves available to those who come at midnight - under the cover of dark - in an atmosphere that makes many anxious. The church is a place that will open its doors for there is such a need for life and a need to be feed. But when our doors our open to those who come out at midnight, others may be anxious about being associated with a place and a people who - though afraid - still open the doors and take the risk to be available. Then again, the life of a congregation can be one in which the doors are open and a welcome is available and life is led on a vulnerable edge...and then...others come. A light shines even at midnight when we are willing to be as our Lord was all along the way to the cross - living as though the Reign of God is breaking in and present as a place for the weary and worn and lost and least to find rest...along with the rich and famous and well-placed who also need rest. There is no shame in being a small or large church when the doors are open and the needs of the world are being addressed.
Connection: Even the doors of our hearts are not always open when someone comes at midnight and asks for us to be present. It is a place to start within the next breath of our lives.
Lord of all time, you call us into the living presence of your Reign and invite us to be fed by your grace and become for others a source of such graciousness as we hear others knocking at the doors of our lives within the church. Continue to make us bold and hold open the door. Amen.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Midnight is the hour when men desperately seek to obey the eleventh commandment, "Thou shall not get caught." According to the ethic of midnight, the cardinal sin is to be caught and the cardinal virtue is to get by. It is all right to lie, but one must lie with real finesse. It is all right to steal, if one is so dignified that, if caught, the charge becomes embezzlement, not robbery. It is permissible even to hate, if one so dresses his hating in the garments of love that hating appears to be loving. The Darwinisn concept of the survival of the fittest has been substituted by a philosophy of the survival of the slickest. This mentality has brought a tragic breakdown of moral standards, and the midnight of moral degeneration.
Sure sounds like the morality of Wall St and the Banking industry. How is it that a person who is caught with a bag of grass gets thrown into jail or prison and the likes of those who get caught devastating untold numbers of families and investors - get nothing at all. In fact they...get by. At midnight there seems to be confusion. If stealing and dealing in death is done in a suit, with a tie, and under the guise of being the American way, we only punish people if we can say it is isolated to one person - which it never is - and if the evidence is so loaded no one can look away. We are teaching our children that slick is best. We forget that one demonstrates one's morality or ethic - when no one is watching. Today, being slick and working the system as the system is unfortunately set up to work, becomes a goal...a virtue...an expectation...a sign of success. Just today I received notice of a ELCA clergy person who was in and out of several parishes in our Synod. He has now been caught and charged with rape - kidnapping and more over a six year timeline. He was able to "not get caught." At midnight when no one is looking some of the most demonic acts take place even within the dress of those who would be giving witness to the Reign of God. To be quite honest, I'm feeling a bit ill. To think someone passed through two parishes before he was "caught" doing what he did to a child in a previous parish.
Connection: It is not good to point fingers. Then again, it is okay to grieve and wonder and pray and hope that the courage of a young girl to speak up may be the courage in all of us to stand up and bring light to the midnight theives of life.
O God who cares for the least and the lowest, have mercy on all who are robbed of life and liberty and who must now patiently heal because of the abuse of those who are able to be so slick they run through life using others for their own good. Have mercy on us all and continue to bring us into the light of your Reign so we can be advocates and protectors of those who are being sought after by the powers of darkness. Amen.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
It is also midnight within the moral order. At midnight colors lose their distinctiveness and become a sullen shade of gray. Moral principles have lost their distinctiveness. For modern man, absolute right and absolute wrong is a matter of what the majority is doing. Right and wrong are relative to likes and dislikes and the customs of a particular community. We have unconsciously applied Einstein's theory of relativity, which properly described the physical universe, to the moral and ethical realm.
We all do a good job at making sure the moral order within which we live our lives fits us. We like to have the world defined by the colors we know and like. Therefore, all sides make arguments as to how the world is to be viewed and judged. Too often though, we do not bring those differing views together to see them side by side. They are left to our own building and support and justification. In such a way, that is how they can be seen as being quite relative. But the task of the followers of Jesus is to bring all of our ideas about right and wrong into the light of the life within the Reign of God. When this takes place, there will be gray...and much of it. But it will be gray only as long as we fail to bring the light of the vision of God's Reign into the picture. In those days of the early 60's sides were able to move away from one another because of race - the color of a person's skin. Therefore, people had differing ideas of what was right on the basis of what they liked to think or learned to think about race. Thanks be to God that some folks were willing to turn on the light of the Reign of God and say "NO" to the notions of the 'right of racism' that were absolutely contrary to God' image being displayed in, with, and under, all the colors of our skin and all the backgrounds of our upbringing. Even at midnight, we can make light shine together.
Connection: When you feel as though you are being pushed into a corner and made to pick this or that as "right or wrong," it may be time to step back and seek help in bringing out the image of God that is meant to be among us. It may bring some much needed discipline into our character.
When you give us the vision of your Reign, O God, we are able to see well beyond the images of life that appear all around us. To often, we settle for what we see and hear within the immediacy of the day. Hold up our heads to welcome in your Reign and bring us into a new vision. Amen.
Monday, March 9, 2009
This midnights in man's external collective life is paralleled by midnight in his internal individual life. It is midnight within the psychological order. Everywhere paralyzing fears harrow people by day and haunt them by night. Deep clouds of anxiety and depression are suspended in our mental skies. More people are emotionally disturbed today than at any other time of human history.... Bestsellers in religion are such books as "Peace of Mind" and "Peace of Soul." The popular clergyman preaches soothing sermons on "How to be Happy" and "How to Relax." Some have been tempted to revise Jesus' command to read, "Go ye into all the world, keep your blood pressure down, and lo, I will make you a well-adjusted personality." all of this is indicative that it is midnight within the inner lives of men and women.
King is writing in 1963 - could be today. The fear and anxiety of the day is like mud that gets all over everything. Odd how we turn inward during these times. The real need is to open our eyes and move toward one another. This often takes place through the discipline of prayer - endless prayer. This is a discipline that brings that which frightens us and disturbs us out into the open so that we can face it all within the embrace of our God who calls us into prayer. A life full of prayer is one in which we continually remind ourselves of whose we are and who we become when we remember such things. Prayer is the foundation of our living. It shapes us and reminds us of the ethic among us and the power for life that is available to us even when the world around us seems to make us power-less. It can be easy to fall for the vision of life that is portrayed by pundits and politicians - but that is not how we are given vision for the day. In place of the threats that try to disturb us in a "Wolf Blitzer type Situation Room" where everything is urgent and desperate sounding, we are reminded in our prayer of the character of life that is available to us in and through all times.
Connection: However you pray - pray. In that prayer, keep in mind whose you are.
Come, Lord of Life, come and hold us again. When the time at hand seems like it is fright-filled, we need your word of promise to echo within our lives so that it stays fresh among us when we are tempted to fly away to simple and soft ways of facing the day - ways that never give us the rest that you promise. Be our rest and inspire us into fresh life within your Reign. Amen.
Friday, March 6, 2009
At times we need to know that the Lord is a God of justice. When slumbering giants of injustice emerge in the earth, we need to know that there is a God of power who can cut them down like the grass and leave them withering like the green herb. When our most tireless efforts fail to stop the sweep of oppression, we need to know that in this universe is a God whose matchless strength is a fit contrast to the sordid weakness of man. But there are also times when we need to know that God possesses love and mercy. When we are staggered by the chilly winds of adversity and battered by the raging storms of disappointment and when through our folly and sin we stray into some destructive far country and are frustrated because of a strange feeling of homesickness, we need to know that there is someone who loves us, cares for us understands us, and will give us another chance. When days grow dark and nights grow dreary, we can be thankful that our God combines in his nature a creative synthesis of love and justice which will lead us through life's dark valleys and into sunlit pathways of hope and fulfillment.
Over and over again this is the message I try to pass over to our young children - I must say with the hope that it makes its way to our older folks. It is so important to understand that there is a love that is so deep and wide that it "will give us another chance." Within that breath of fresh air we have the opportunity to remember the life into which we have been called. It is through that loving kindness that we are brought intimately close the vision of the Reign of God that can and does turn our hearts and lives around. Young children may not "get" the concept of love...but when they again and again are welcome and honored and greeted and made much of, they "get" it. Maybe all of us do. It is within the safe space of this love that people are shaped into people with tough minds and soft hearts. It is in the domain of this love that we learn the way of justice.
Connection: Being a part of this loving community may not be what we would choose to be. It is a daily exercise that needs the gifts of God's Reign - patience, kindness, forgiveness and more...
By the power and presence of your love, O God, you shape us and invite us into the way of our Lord, Jesus. It is not always an easy way to go...for love can be seen as such a useless way to live within this world of violent power. Continue to shower us with your love. Amen.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
At times we need to know that the Lord is a God of justice. When slumbering giants of injustice emerge in the earth, we need to know that there is a God of power who can cut them down like the grass and leave them withering like the green herb. When our most tireless efforts fail to stop the sweep of oppression, we need to know that in this universe is a God whose matchless strength is a fit contrast to the sordid weakness of man.
This understanding...this knowledge, is the foundation that gives God's people the ability to resist tyrants and oppressors. When powers of violence and hatred and separation and lies appear to have the upper hand and there does not appear to be any power that can contain them or defeat them, God's people are to assure one another that God Reigns. This is not a pie-in-the-sky vision. It is a reality onto which we are called to cling and from which we take our next steps along the way of our Lord. We trust that God Reigns. We trust and no matter what may take place we are invited to continue our walk of trust and hope within the blessed assurance that our God prevails over all powers. This is why we can walk forward in a non-violent manner. When we do that, we befuddle the violence of the world. When Gandhi's followers kept walking forward, line by line, are were beaten with sticks by the British, they walked forward as though the power being displayed was not the power that would prevail. When King marched in the face of those who seemed to rule all that was he walked with the blessed assurance that injustice, with all its claims to power, would fold and justice would prevail within a realm of peace. We are no more than grass but so are those who attempt to be something more at the cost of God's Beloved people. So in the face of that which looks like the end, we are a people invited to live as though we are entering the beginning of something new.
Connection: It is not easy to stand up and stay standing in the face of injustice. Sometimes I like to look down and see my feet on the ground. It is a simple reminder of my place to be a child of God and to open my mouth or move forward. It doesn't always work...but it helps.
You, O God, are the ground upon which our lives can open up and take part in the peaceable Reign that you promise for all your beloved. On such a ground, injustice will fold up...violence will lose its place, and your people will stand within a new life that is a gift. We thank you, Life-giving Lord. Amen.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
I am thankful that we worship a God who is both toughminded and tenderhearted. If God were only toughminded, he would be a cold, passionless despot sitting in some far-off heaven "contemplating all," as Tennyson puts it in "The Palace of Art." He would be Aristotle's "unmoved mover," self-knowing, but not other-loving. but if God were only tenderhearted, he would be too soft and sentimental to function when things go wrong and incapable of controlling what he has made. He would be like H.G. Wells' lovable God in God, the Invisible King, who is strongly desirous of making a good world, but finds himself helpless before the surging powers of evil. God is neither hardhearted nor softminded. He is toughminded enough to transcend the world; he is tenderhearted enough to live in it. He does not leave us alone in our agonies and struggles. He seeks us in dark places and suffers with us and for us in our tragic prodigality.
What I now like about King's images is that he is talking about an ever-present God. A God who does not abandon us but rather joins in with us in all that causes suffering and despair. In some ways, I can interpret the idea of toughmindedness to be God being tough for us. That is...no power...no principalities (sounds like Paul) can separate us from the love of God. If you want to try to be that power...beware because God's love is so everlasting God will be right in the middle of any attempt to do us in. God will be toughminded about the powers of evil so that mercy and kindness and forgiveness and reconciliation will be the sustaining power in our lives....nothing else. I often wonder if that is what King could see. He could see God alongside the marching and speaking and truth-telling in the face of the powers of evil. He would then act as though this toughminded and tenderhearted God was and is and will be the very ground of new life.
Connection: We are invited to enter this day assured that our God prevails in all time and abides with us in and through all things.
Blessed are you, O God, for as we move through the days at hand your promise to abide with us knows no end. We are therefore granted a new day to live within the power and character of your Reign. We praise you for choosing to carry on with us. Amen.
Monday, March 2, 2009
The greatness of our God lies in the fact that he is both toughminded and tenderhearted. He has qualities both of austerity and of gentleness. The Bible, always clear in stressing both attributes of God, expresses his toughmindedness in his justice and wrath and his tenderheartedness in his love and grace. God has two outstreched arms. One is strong enough to surround us with justice, and one is gentle enough to embrace us with grace. On the one hand, God is a God of justice who punished Israel for her wayward deeds, and on the other hand, he is a forgiving father whose heart was filled with unutterable joy when the prodigal returned home.
Even in God there is the display of different sides. And yet, I would have to disagree with King in how he draws this picture. Traditionally we use words of "punishment" when we read what happened to Judah and Israel. They were a "wayward" people and they were punished. So God is seen as a Santa Claus type being....watching to see if we are living rightly or wrongly. Truth is, we would never -any of us- walk the right way. If we use King's image here, we can fall into that trap of some TV evangelists who have tried to link 911 or Katrina to an act of God "punishing" a people or a nation for not acting a certain way. In reality, even within the Hebrew Scriptures, the unfaithfulness of Judah and Israel, put them in the realm of all the other powers of the world. Had they been the covenant people whose lives were a light to all the world...would they have suffered as they did? We don't know...because there were not this light of the image of God in the world. Punishment, if we want to use that word, is what happens to ourselves when we put our trust in the way of the world. God's wrath is simply the fact that we are allowed to be who we are and trust what we will for life. As we do that, we walk away from the covenant of God's love and chose another way. The toughmindedness of God is a gracious love that will not impose itself on us...not force us to "be good." That is tough love. It is a love that is eternally gracious and eternally present with open arms even when we refuse to trust that love.
Connection: God's grace is the breath of our day that is also the power to refresh us and revitalize how we see all of life within God's Reign. Rather than try to judge between wrath and grace, breathe in the grace of our God that is always a welcome home.
Lord of Life, we have a tendency to walk away from you and move close to other powers and voices within our lives. Encourage us to turn around and see that you are the constant one...the eternal one who is present in and through all things. Amen.