Sunday, May 31, 2009
What is the gospel? Karl Barth says that when we say "gospel," good news, we are talking about salvation, about the mighty acts that god has worked 'pro nobis."
Barth says what the gospel is not - not religious experience, not moral platitudes, not an attempt to straighten out the world, not a deeper appreciation of nature, not something personal and subjective, not ancient history - in order to say that salvation is "the mighty acts of God in history for the liberation of the cosmos."
God is acting to bring about a life that is always becoming a part of the image of God's fullness. Our humanity is the medium that is used to bring this image into the day. In that way, we must be ready for whatever will take place that seeks the liberation of the cosmos in this day. For me that means that I am to keep my eyes open and my ears open and for the places in which God is still bringing about liberation even if I do not think those things and people need to be liberated. God's action is beyond my understanding and yet it is all quite part of a pattern of wholeness that serves to bring us all into the same liberating presence of God who does not let anyone be chained to the oppressiveness of a world separated from God.
Connection: We do not have to look in strange and distant places to see God's liberating action for God is setting free all of us to live new lives even as we are reading this today
Friday, May 29, 2009
Salvation is not only what God does in Jesus Christ (what theologians speak of as grace) but also who we are in that converting awareness that God is not only God but also God "for us and for our salvation" (justification and sanctification). When the God who was presumed by us to be an enemy against us is known as god the friend 'pro nobis,' that is salvation in its fullness. To be saved is the fitting human response to the stunning divine move on us. This is why Peter can say to the street mob, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation" (Acts 2:40). Though we are not the agents of salvation, God's salvation is meant to be received, embraced, and enjoyed.
Have you ever head of salvation as God's "stunning divine move on us." What a way of making this all sound so directed and intentional and real. My wife and I go round and round about this "making a move on me" image. I never see it. She sees it and then asks me if I noticed that I was being "hit on." Duh...I don't see it and actually don't believe it. She now has taught me what to look for...duh. Well, this God of ours is always making this "stunning divine move on us" whether we see it or not. It is not something we have to feel...it is something that is. God moves in on us and is constantly (eternally is another way to say it) wooing us into a life that God's grace makes readily available to us. That action by our God need only be "received, embraced, and enjoyed." It is enough.
Connection: Be ready to be wooed today. God is really on the move.
By the wind of your creation, you bring life to all your people, O God. We long for your holy presence that enlightens the way in which we will move through this day and how we will be swept up by this gracious wind of life. Amen.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
In saying that Christ's incarnation was "for our salvation" we see the major reason why the church so strongly asserted that Jesus was truly, fully human. If all we needed for salvation was a helpful moral nudge, then God would have sent a skilled teacher, another Moses to instruct us. If our problem were simply liberation from unjust social structures, God would have surely given another ranting Amos. Knowing that our need was greater than the didactic or the political, the agent of our salvation is both fully divine and fully human; any less complicated a Savior would have been unhelpful.
Several weeks ago we started talking about 'the suffering of God' in our adult Sunday school. One of the ways it is being talked about is that we must see God's action - becoming human with us - as one that is best understood by focusing the discussion around the Trinity. In that sense, we are reminded that - all of God - God's totality - God completeness is within this storytelling that comes so close to us it is here and now. There is no mere envoy sent to be with us. God is with us. In the middle of the humiliation and death and utter abandonment that takes place in human life, God is in the middle of it and God take us through it all. In that closeness, God pulls us into a new place in which our humanity can be seen as that which is always ready to face death without letting death lead us around and attempt to rule all that we do.
Connection: It is okay for this notion of God as Savior to be 'complicated.' What it gives us is a real way to encounter the fullness of life that is handed to all of humanity and still know that we can face all that will come...not with simple quotes or bumper sticker realities.
As you continue to come alongside us and participate in the fullness of our humanity, O God, we long to be sustained by your breath of life. There are too many ways for our breath to be taken from us as we move through the day and yet you continue to revive us and fill us with the life that is needed to shape again in your image. Amen.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
In an aside in his "Dogmatics in Outline," Karl Barth wonders why a political hack like Pontius Pilate made it into our Apostles' Creed. Why do we have to believe in Pilate while we are believing in Jesus? Pilate is affirmed, says Barth, in order to remind us that Jesus is always "hic et nunc" (here and now). Jesus was not some mythological figure who hovered above this grubby, politically infatuated world. Jesus went head-to-head with Pilate over who is inn charge. Jesus came to deliver people, to save people from Caesar's power, to transfer their citizenship to another Kingdom. The kingdom of God has come near and, in so doing, rescues people from the grip of politicians. Salvation thus conceived is not simply that which believers receive when they die and go to heaven but rather that present dynamic in which we pass from death to life here and now (1 John 3:14). Salvation is thus a given, decided, present reality, not a yet-to-be-accomplished work of God. "We are not left alone in this frightful world. Into this alien land God has come to us," says Barth. To discover who sits on the throne is yet another way of saying that God is salvation.
I like this talk of an emphasis on Jesus being "here and now." Nothing abstract about that. Nothing distant about that. The Reign of God and the salvation that comes within that Reign is at hand as some would say...it is breaking in...it is all around us. It is, a life that is handed to us in which our lives become something quite out of the ordinary even as we are right in the middle of the ordinary. Therefore, we live within a gracious freedom to already be the beloved that our God sees as God comes to be for us. We are then free to be "for others" in the image of our God. That becomes the way in which our humanity begins to shine as it is truly meant to shine from the beginning of our storytelling of our origins. Made in God's image for here and now! That's powerful.
Connection: What a difference we can be in this world in which we will move today!
Come, Holy Spirit. Come and revive us so that we will step away from our fears and anxieties in order to come near to those around us and do so in the way of our Lord, Jesus. When we are unable to see ourselves living in this way, touch our hearts and pull us close so that we will be able to rest and then to go. Amen.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
John Duns Scotus said that although, in the Incarnation, Jesus died for sinners, God would have become incarnate for us even if we had not sinned, our sins not being the whole point of the Incarnation but rather God's determination to be with us.
I have to say, I have never had anyone put it quite like that. It makes sense. God is always determined to be with us - we are God's beloved. Most often we are the recipients of a word about our God who saves sinners...and we are those sinners. Well, that is fine. But to also note that our God does not save us just from sin but also is a saving presence for us in that through all times is a powerful word. God will be God as God is "for us." It is through this kind of perspective that we begin the most important journey of affirming our humanity and the grand potential for new life that is within the realm of our humanity. Too often, we can hear so much about being sinners that we doubt that we can be a part of the transformation of our humanity. There is a wonderful hopefulness that comes when we are able to embrace our humanity because it is what God comes to embrace also.
Connection: When we take on the responsibility of being "sinners" it would be good for us not to leave off the reality of being "saints." When God is for us, our whole humanity is engaged and we are given a way to walk into this day with a spirit of new life.
As you take us into your full embrace and remind us again that you are eternally for us, O God, this day begins to be shaped anew. Inspire us to see you gracious embrace as the beginning of a day full of grace. Amen.
Monday, May 25, 2009
It's the Nicene Creed that states explicitly that all Christ did and said, including his death and rising, was done "pro nobis" - "for us and for our salvation." "Who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven," is how the Nicene Creed characterizes Christ, the Incarnation. To be near us, Christ has to come down to us. There is distance between us and God. We are not with God in heaven, much less are we gods who dwell in the vicinity of deity. Even though we were created by God, in the image of God, God must risk opposition, overcome something, go somewhere in order to come near to us sinners, in order to replenish, restore, and resurrect God's intended image in us. In salvation, God comes, becomes Immanuel, and fully embraces what the human can be. "God with us" is yet another way of thinking about salvation.
When I hear people say that some people cannot or should not be a part of the life of the church, this note by Willimon is a good one to remember. We have no say in the matter. It is God who comes and is "for us." There are no guidelines put on where God goes and to whom God offers life abundant. That is what the good religious folks tried to do to Jesus...and yet, he would not be stopped and would continue to be "for us" through the end and into a new day. It is a strange image to hear about God who must "risk opposition" from us. And yet, even as God attempts to open up the world to God's healing, it comes under great threat from us. Too often we do not want God to save and mend and renew the world. We would rather go to war in order to keep it just as it is. We would rather act contrary to the wide-open plains of salvation than experience the joy of running about within its grandeur.
Connection: Be full of this wonder-filled presence of God for us.
Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Is it any wonder then that one of the earliest and most persistent charges against Jesus was, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them" (Luke 15:2)? Jesus is crucified for welcoming sinners to his table, not only welcoming but also actively seeking them. At the end, with whom did he choose to dine at his Last Supper? Sinners. and in his resurrection, at a new beginning, with whom did he choose to dine at his first meals (Luke 24:13-35)? Sinners. His door was too wide to suit many of the faithful.
I like the connection between the people with whom Jesus spent time before his death and then the ones after his death - the same people. What he was about in life...is held up again after death. Death has no power over the work of this saving God in Christ, Jesus. The early church will be bands of folk who are not made of the most influential people. Rather, they are people who have seen love alive and healing the brokenness that can destroy a people. They, by the power of the Holy Spirit, continue to be the presence of Jesus - saving us all that we may be part of the saving movement of people that will let no one be left out or abandoned.
Connection: How wide is your door? Who is welcome into your life and into whose life do you let yourself enter? I find this is always a two way street - a boldness to welcome and a boldness to walk into the rooms of strangers and "others."
When your Reign comes down upon us, O God, let it shine within us and create a light within the world so that as we are embraced by your love we will also be that love that embraces our world. Amen.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Jesus begins his famous sermon with, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God" (Luke 6:20). to those who can do nothing to purchase the kingdom, he gives it to them for nothing. Matthew is not spiritualizing the Beatitudes when he adds poor "in spirit." Poor is poor. to those who haven't got much spirit, to those who are inept at spiritual matters, who can do little to further their case before God, who by their poverty have no control over their future, Jesus promises everything, his whole glorious kingdom (Matt 5:3).
The whole healing of all things is a gift. The Reign of God that many think will be the time of complete harmony and well-being...is a gift. It is important to note that all of us are invited into that life. There is no dividing line. When I am poor or when I am rich, the Reign of God is handed to me and as God is present within it, my life starts to be shaped by it. The shaping that takes place is different for each of us but it is all done so as to build one vision - one rule - one life that is the healing of all things.
Connection: So the question for this day is always the same one - how will this gift to us transform us into a gift along the way for all with whom we come in contact?
Bring all your people together as one, O God. You uphold each of us so that we can become the fullness of your Reign interacting within the world as we will face it today. Amen.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
The story of Jesus gives content to the meaning of the word salvation. Jesus doesn't speak too often about salvation, rather more typical is for Jesus to talk about the kingdom of God coming near. His message was a simple, one-sentence imperative, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near" (Matt4:17; Mark 1:15). God's initiative (kingdom of God) demands human response (repentance and discipleship).
The Greek verb "sozo" can mean both "to heal" and "to save." Jesus sets things right, rebukes the demons, and stretches out his hand, touches, and commands (Mark 1:41).
This kingdom of God is the reality that comes to restore all things to the way God intended them to be. Therefore, all things that are broken or separate or divided will be healed. Salvation is something that can be touched - seen - and something in which we are invited to live. When the world is fractured, we can be a part of a saving presence because our God is working through us, in the name of Jesus, to be this Reign of God put to life.
Connection: We are invited to live in this new life that is available to us even as we step through the mire of the day. We are a part of this living Reign that God has offered us.
Lord, God, you bring about new life even when we are not able to see it being sown among us. Open our eyes to see the many places you are already at work. Amen.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
The Hebrew verb root "ya sha" (save) is found 354 times in the Old Testament, usually with God as subject. Proper names derived from the root - Elisha, Joshua, and Hosea - indicate "God saves." later, Matthew will underscore the theological significance of Jesus' name (Hebrew - Joshua) with a commentary by the angel "he will save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). When Jesus is welcomed into Jerusalem, people will shout "Hosanna!" (Mark 11:9), "Save us we pray," from the Hebrew "hosi anna."
I find it remarkable that salvation appears most frequently in Psalms and in Isaiah. In Israel's most dismal days, Isaiah dared to speak of God's promised deliverance. when the sky is dark, Israel discovered the God who saves. this is only one of the reasons it can be truthfully said that "salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22) for Israel keeps teaching the world what it means to rely upon God for our ultimate significance.
It is so important to be reminded of how people of the faithful communities of the past have found a blessed assurance of God's ability to save and God's presence even when the sky was falling down. Rather than being a community of "chicken little" that runs around screaming that everything is going bad and we must arm ourselves and take drastic measures to save ourselves, there was this reminder of God's promises. Because we believe in a God who saves, it doesn't mean everything will look good or go well. it is easy to believe in that kind of "good times" god. We are reminded that our God is a never abandoning God who will see us through all that may prevail in this day. Imagine the faithful people Jew and Christians who, in the middle of death camps, still were filled with life when life was being sucked from them. They would not stop relying on God even when they were facing their end.
Connection: It is not always easy to lift up our heads and greet the day with a word of thanks for the God who saves.
For some reason I thought of this prayer at meals. "Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest and let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen.
Monday, May 18, 2009
We would never know who God is if it were not for our having seen, touched, and tasted God's salvation in Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1). Though we could not come to God, god came to us in a stunning and peculiar act of salvation, and thereby showed us as much of God as we need to know.
I planned to continue with a longer quote but was quite caught off guard by Willimon's comment about God coming close and "thereby showed us as much of God as we need to know." This is again why it is so important to go back to the gospels to get our picture of this God who is with us. Do we need to have all the answers about how God created? It is more important to see how God among us lives within God's creation and the many ways God's being, in Jesus, is a relational event that cracks open the way in which we are to be truly human. I can sound like a broken record but when it comes to the way we honor and welcome and hold up others, we must go back to the story of God in the flesh. It is in that story that all separation is eliminated and there is to be one community - one household - one body - in which there is unending exhibition of love to the max. No excuses...no limits...no exceptions. So many of the churches arguments for drawing lines and becoming more gatekeepers than followers of Jesus will wash away.
Connection: What do you need to know about God that will abide with you through this day and help you to walk along the way of Jesus?
When you touch us with your presence, O God, we begin to see and feel and hear how our humanity is both a gift and a promise. Keep us along the way of your beloved, Jesus. Keep us within your power of new life that Jesus so vividly portrayed. Amen.
Friday, May 15, 2009
As Charles Wesley put it in a Christmas hymn, Jesus Christ is God "contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man." All of our lives are lived in the light of a prior choice - not our choice, but God's. Early on, even before we got here, God chose never to be God except as God with us, God for us in Christ Jesus.
"And let the skies rain down righteousness;
let the earth open, that salvation may spring up...
I the Lord have created it. (Isaiah 45:8).
God becomes known in and through our space and time. That space is the space of humanity. When the Incarnation becomes more of a reminder of God's way of re-creating all things and bringing humanity into the fullness of God's image, we may begin to celebrate the feast of Christmas without all the huff and puff that triggers guilt and consumerism rather than the sheer wonder of God being eternally for us by entering into our space. It is quite comforting to hear again that simple proclamation that "before we got here, God chose never to be God except as God with us. Therefore, already in all things we enter, we enter with our God alongside us to take us along the way of God's Reigning life that is available to us through the Spirit of our Lord, Jesus. We are never alone. We are never left to go it on our own. We are...empowered and we have a companion who teaches us how to break bread and be participants in the wonderful ways "salvation springs up" by the power of God alone...a power that is called love.
Connection: God with us and God for us. That is the defining factor of our life as we move through this day.
Let you Reign come down upon us, O God, just as you have promised. Though we may be apprehensive about following, guide us with your Spirit and pull us onto the way of our Lord, Jesus. Amen.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Theologian Karl Barth taught that salvation was the whole point of Creation. God creates humanity a world so that God might have a grand stage on which to enact the drama of redemption. When the God who brought forth the world comes so very near to us in Jesus Christ, salvation is the name for that decisive encounter. John 1 implies that Incarnation is salvation, and intensification of what God has been doing since Genesis 1. "The Word became flesh and lived among us" (vs.14). When God goes to work, makes a move, come close (Incarnation) that work (God in action) is salvation (God triumphant).
Is salvation the coming together of our complete humanity - being the humanity created in Genesis? Salvation (God triumphant) seems as though it would be the making of humanity in its fullness. That is a day to day - in the flesh - reality. We see this wonderful work of God through the one we call Jesus who tells us to follow in his way...to love in this way. The grand stage is lit up and we are front and center following a Lord of Dance who continues to invite us to leap and twirl and move with such freedom, it becomes quite literally a wonderful life - a witness - a gift for all. I love that lead in phrase: When God goes to work. It really is an attempt to help each of us see the power for life that is around us and pulling for us.
Connection: What move is God making on you today? What will it make happen within all the rest of the moves you were planning on carrying out?
Work on us, O God. Work on us and move us into this grand drama that will bring about a life that begins to carry the impression of your Reign. Amen.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
In Scripture, salvation is what God does. ...salvation is creation, or re-creation. In Genesis, God does not really create the world out of nothing, ex nihilo, but rather works on the dark and formless void. Creation is that good that would not be there is God were not the sort of God who God is. God addresses the chaotic, formless stuff of darkness with, "Let there be light!" God speaks to the chaos, and in that address there is evocation of a world that God calls "good." Creation is depicted in Genesis as a series of divine addresses. There is something about this God that speaks something out of nothing by commanding, summoning, addressing, calling, and preaching. Salvation, seen from this perspective, is a primary product of divine love, the grand result after a creative God goes to work with words.
God works on the dark and formless void - ever been there?!? There are days and places and situations in which any of us may feel as though the void is all that there is....or darkness is being pulled down around us when light would be a wonderful gift. But there...in that place all of us may find ourselves at one point or another...our God works. God addresses the day and makes something happen that will bring a resounding "Yes!" In the dark days and when the day is mired by this formless void, the Spirit of our God reminds us of the "Yes" that is spoken about humanity...all of humanity...even me...stuck in the mud! God works on the chaos and is always available to create and re-create no matter what the day may look like from our perspective. As we all know, it is not easy to see God with us and shaping us. And yet, there is that promise that uses the story of Genesis to show us how much our God is for us and what power there is when God is eternally for us. In and through all things, God works with us and God's work begins to present us with new opportunities and new ways of seeing the chaos we think will consume us.
Connection: Just imagine what God is going to be doing with you today...and then, trust that what God does will be called Good...and you will be a part of that good day.
Create in us, O God, a day of new life that brings us into the domain of your grace. We may not know how to live there but when your Spirit pulls at us day after day, we may find ourselves in the middle of the encouragement that creatively deals with chaos. Amen.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Look up 'salvation' in the concordance and you will find a wide array of images. Luke-Acts uses the word 'salvation' rather frequently, Matthew and Mark almost never, though we ought not to make too much of that. All of the Gospels may be fairly read as stories about the rich, peculiar nature of salvation in Jesus Christ. Salvation is a claim about God. God's self-assigned task is "working salvation in the earth" (Ps. 74:12). God is addressed as "God of our salvation" (Ps. 65:5). For some, salvation is rescue, deliverance, and victory. For others, it is healing, wholeness, completion, and rest. Isaiah speaks of salvation as a great economic reversal in which God gives a free banquet for the poor (Isaiah 55). Whatever salvation means, its meaning must be too rich for any single definition.
We already have too many voices out there trying to define salvation in one way or another without letting any other way be heard. It is why more and more people look at the church will skeptical eyes. We have let ourselves become "control-freaks" when it comes to talking about salvation and quite honestly, I find that to be idolatrous. Needing to control salvation - jeez that's scary. And yet, such control sells in the marketplace. Salvation becomes like a commodity that can be given out to some but not all or recalled! Strange way to talk about our God. What is salvation? Is it okay to say "all of the above" and then enter into a faithful discussion about what that all means? How is it that the church is so eager to take possession of the task of defining what God claims? Maybe we need to listen more to what we are being told of God's claims through the stories of the one we say is God With Us - Jesus. We might then have our eyes and ears opened and find ourselves speaking words of loving kindness that heals and liberates and rescues and feeds and completes all of God's people.
Connection: Don't every be shy about telling yourself that God claims you and will always claim you. It does help shape the character of the day and our part in the saving journey we are invited to enter.
Come, Creating God. Come and remind us to walk with you and to remember how you have promised to be our guide and shepherd and teacher. For when we hear your promises, our lives are made new and whole. Amen.
Monday, May 11, 2009
Most Christians think of salvation as related exclusively to the afterlife. Salvation is when we die and get to go to heaven. to be sure, Scripture is concerned with our eternal fate. What has been obscured is Scripture's stress on salvation as invitation to share in a particular God's life here, now, so that we might do so forever. Salvation isn't just a destination; it is our vocation. Salvation isn't just a question of who is saved and who is damned, who will get to heave and how, but also how we are swept up into participation in the mystery of God who is Jesus Christ. Get a biblical concordance and check the references to heaven and you will find that almost none of them are related to "death." heaven is when or where one is fully with God - salvation.
Walt Bouman used to say we are God's 'saving' people. It makes every moment of our lives a part of the wonder-filled experience of living within God's Reign. We are people who are invited into a "particular God's life here, now." We can look back at the history of God's people and the stories of the Scriptures and we get a taste of what that saving life is all about. It is first of all something into which God invites us before there is any "scorecard" on our lives. It is one of the reasons I am so moved at baptisms and especially infant baptisms. With infants, the accent is so dependent on our God. The infant says nothing...does nothing...acts up and acts out...and yet, that child -by the power of the Holy Spirit- will take part in the unfolding of God's Reign. Salvation is about life - it is the domain we claim as our own because we have been pulled into its life by our God who will not let us go even if we choose to run away. Taking care of the poor, feeding the hungry, touching the untouchables, eating with the non-influential and forgotten is all a part of this grand participation in life that is called salvation. We do not take part in these things in order to be saved...this is all a part of the saving life handed to us so that no other life will control us and no other power can turn us away from the God who never ceases to call us beloved.
Connection: How will our salvation find expression in and through the life we live in the midst of the people around us? Don't get preachy now...get real...really in love with God's other beloved - that's salvation.
You bid us to come to you, O God, and share in the bountiful life that comes in the midst of your love for your people. Within that loving embrace we are saved for life that is filled with gracious acts and words of hope. We bless you, O God. Amen.
Friday, May 8, 2009
Since that dreary night in 1956, Mother Pollard has passed on to glory and I have known very few quiet days. I have been tortured without and tormented within by the raging fires of tribulation. I have been forced to muster what strength and courage I have to withstand howling winds of pain and jostling storms of adversity. But as the years have unfolded the eloquently simple words of Mother Pollard have come back again and again to give light and peace and guidance to my troubled soul. "God's gonna take care of you."
This faith transforms the whirlwind of despair into a warm and reviving breeze of hope. The words of a motto which a generation ago were commonly found on the wall in the homes of devout persons need to be etched on our hearts:
Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. There is no one there.
Some days, all that is needed is that "reviving breeze of hope." In the middle of all that can and does overwhelm us, remember there is that breeze that cannot be shut out. It is present, has been present, and will be present whipping around us. We may not feel it - for we do not want to simply count on our senses to be assured of its present - but it is part of a promise that is in place even when there is no evidence that it is swirling around us and ready to pull us into life that is deeper and richer than we could have ever imagined. In the meantime, it is vital for all of us to recognized the torment and the travails and the turmoil that is present in our lives and the energy it takes to simply stand up and be counted. It is as we are honest with our predicament that we can humbly begin life anew - within the power of the Spirit of our God. This is even as we do not know where that will take us or how we will get there. Instead, when fear is staging its grand events all around us, our God nudges us to remind us that no one is there. That is the power for new life.
Connection: A reviving breeze of hope - when was the last time you were whipped up by its presence. Remember, it is always whirling around us...we just have too many other things that grab our attention and attempt to lead us as they would like.
Come, Holy Spirit, take us up into your swirling presence so that we will be encourage to step beyond ourselves and the fears that often hold us and step into the every growing fullness of your Reign. Amen.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
On a particular Monday evening, following a tension-packed week which included being arrested and receiving numerous threatening telephone calls, I spoke at a mass meeting. I attempted to convey an overt impression of strength and courage, although I was inwardly depressed and fear-stricken. At the end of the meeting, Mother Pollard came to the front of the church and said, "Come here, son." I immediately went to her and hugged her affectionately. "Something is wrong with you," she said. "You didn't talk strong tonight." Seeking further to disguise my fear, I retorted, "Oh, no Mother Pollard nothing is wrong, I am feeling as fine as ever." But her insight was discerning. "Now you can't fool me," she said. " I knows something is wrong. Is it that we ain't doing things to please you? Or is it that the white folks is bothering you?" Before i could respond, she looked directly into my eyes and said, "I don told you we is with you all the way." Then her face became radiant and she said in words of quiet certainty, "But even if we ain't with you, God's gonna take care of you." As she spoke these consoling words, everything in me quivered and quickened with the pulsing tremor of raw energy.
This reminds me of the direction I will begin going next week. William Willimon writes about this God of ours who is pro nobis - for us. In the middle of any kind of day or any travails we must face or any deep hole we're walking in...God is gonna take care of you. That is a presence statement. It does not mean that all will go as we would like it to go. Rather, we will be walking in the embrace of our God whose Spirit will hold us up and keep moving us along the way within God's Reign even when the powers of the world try to upset the cart. No matter what might be the power that stands up against us, our God is for us. When God is for us, we are free to listen and to speak and to change our ways and to keep to our ways. Once God has claimed us - the story is over and the story is all ready to get started...all at once. King's reaction to Mother Pollard shows how we need all the voices around us to teach us about ourselves and about the God who promises to make us God's own. That "pulsating tremor of raw energy" is, I think, what the Scriptures refer to when it speaks of the fear/awe in the presence of the Lord, God. There was Mother Pollard and yet there was the God of Creation uttering -through her common character- the truthfulness that makes mere humans bold and courageous.
Connection: It is important to have people who can see us in the midst of our fears and help us acknowledge them. Fear is real and it can rob us of life if we do not know it is attempting to win us over.
Within the ordinary and common, O God, you continue to come and abide with us so that your Reign that you have promised becomes a reality within the steps of our lives. Grant us a measure of your encouraging presence and hopefulness. Amen.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
One of the most dedicated participants in the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, was an elderly Negro whom we affectionately called Mother Pollard. Although poverty-stricken and uneducated, she was amazingly intelligent and possessed a deep understanding of the meaning of the movement. After having walked for several weeks, she was asked if she were tired. With ungrammatical profundity, she answered, "My feets is tired, but my soul is rested."
When we are able to rest within the promises of our God the issues of the day that can overwhelm us can be seen with new eyes and experienced with a new heart. I cannot imagine walking day in and day out during the Montgomery bus boycott - but I can imagine seeing and hearing someone like Mother Pollard and in the hearing and seeing of this saint, gaining energy and commitment and courage. We need these saints who keep moving along the way even when the way is cluttered and there are all sorts of things to make moving along a tough way to go. It is not simply thinking "if she can do it." Rather, it is more in line with seeing what our God does among us - even the least among us - to encourage life that will not let the powers of death claim the day and claim us. Instead, we are reminded of this rest that can keep the very center of our lives grounded, empowered and ready to walk in God's Reign.
Connection: Oh what strength is all around us as we go through the ups and downs of this day. We need to remember to look up and be blessed by the saints who are moving around us with a living courage and hopefulness that will expand all our hearts and souls.
Be our vision, O God, and show us your living word that is present in the lives of those around us who step into our pathway to offer us a glimpse of your Reign. Amen.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Herein lies the answer to the neurotic fear of death that plagues so many of our lives. Let us face the fear that the atomic bomb has aroused with the faith that we can never travel beyond the arms of the Divine. Death is inevitable. It is a democracy for all the people, not an aristocracy for some of the people - kings die and beggars die; young men die and old men die; learned men die and ignorant men die. We need not fear it. The God who brought our whirling planet from primal vapor and has led the human pilgrimage for lo these many centuries can most assuredly lead us through death's dark night into the bright daybreak of eternal life. His will is too perfect and his purposes are too extensive to be contained in the limited receptacle of time and the narrow walls of earth. Death is not the ultimate evil; the ultimate evil is to be outside God's love. We need not join the mad rush to purchase an earthly fallout shelter. God is our eternal fallout shelter.
In the face of all that can frighten us we can "never travel beyond the arms of the Divine." This is meant to assure us in times of anxiety and fear. That assurance is the power of life that enables us to face whatever will come down upon us and try to become the master of our lives. Though today's piece can sound like we are waiting for another time outside of this time, it is really a reminder that the day of promise...the unfolding of God's love...is already at hand and it will be one that can fade away or be destroyed. This promise becomes our resting place (fallout shelter) so that we can face whatever it is that attempts to drive us away from the life we are encouraged to grasp. I don't want this to sound trite. There are many ways that we face the power of death in our lives. The death of the positions we hold, the ones we love, our relationships, the respect we have earned...it can all blow up around us. And yet, in the face of this our God continues to provide us with the place and time to be renewed for life and not let death hound us into limiting our life together.
Connection: Wherever we go today - "we can never travel beyond the arms of the Divine."
When you embrace us with your love, O God, we are given the strength to face all that will come upon us - even the power of death. It is as we are upheld by your love that we begin to make the day something new for ourselves and those around us. Continue to be our foundation and our hopefulness. Amen.
Monday, May 4, 2009
Religion endows us with the conviction that we are not alone in the vast, uncertain universe. Beneath and above the shifting sands of time, the uncertainties that darken our days, and the vicissitudes that cloud our nights is a wise and loving God. This universe is not a tragic expression of meaningless chaos but a marvelous display of orderly cosmos - "The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding that he established the heavens." Man is not a wisp of smoke from a limitless smoldering, but a child of God created "a little lower than the angels." Above the manyness of time stands the one eternal God, with wisdom to guide us, strength to protect us, and love to keep us. His boundless love supports and contains us as a mighty ocean contains and supports the tiny drops of every wave. With a surging fullness he is forever moving toward us, seeking to fill the little creeks and bays of our lives with unlimited resources. This is religion's everlasting diapason, its eternal answer to the enigma of existence. Any man who finds this cosmic sustenance can walk the highways of life without the fatigue of pessimism and the weight of morbid fears.
I am always drawn to statements like this: "(God's) boundless love supports and contains us as a mighty ocean contains and supports the tiny drops of every wave." It is a love that cannot be calculated and therefore, we can never know when or if it ever ends. Rather, we can be quite sure it never ends - those wave never stop coming and the drops within them are beyond anything we can picture. This is a love that will not go away. It will persist so that even the rocks of intolerance and bitterness and hatred are worn down to bits of sand and stone. This is a grand love we trust when we say we live within the Reign of God. To be washed by the endless surging of God's love is to be shaped by this endless power that will not vanish or cease to be. When we are reminded of this love - and it happens to us all in many and various ways - we are empowered by this love to become a part of this love that will not let us go...any of us.
Connection: A daily reminder of this life power that comes through God's love is as available as each time we touch our hands to the water that flows through this day. From the water we use in bathroom upon waking - to hands submerged in dishwater - to making coffee to wake us up - to a splash in the face to refresh us....we can remind ourselves of this love that is meant to see us through all things.
Wash us again, O Lord, so we might always see in this moment the way of your loving embrace and in that, see the many ways we can embrace the world and being the work of peace making in a world that thrives on violence. Amen.
Friday, May 1, 2009
Irreligion, on the other hand, would have us believe that we are orphans cast into the terrifying immensities of space in a universe that is without purpose or intelligence. Such a view drains courage and exhausts the energies of men. In his "Confession" Tolstoi wrote concerning the aloneness and emptiness he felt before his conversion:
"There was a period of my life when everything seemed to be crumbling, the very foundations of my convictions were beginning to give way, and I felt myself going to pieces. There was no sustaining influence in my life and there was no God there, and so every night before I went to sleep, I made sure that there was no rope in my room lest I be tempted during the night to hand myself from the rafters of my room; and I stopped going out shooting lest I be tempted to put a quick end to my life and to my misery.
Like so many people, Tolstoi at that stage of his life lacked the sustaining influence which comes from the conviction that this universe is guided by a benign Intelligence whose infinite love embraces all mankind.
It is important to note that Tolstoi doesn't say this about religion. He says this about this infinite love that embraces everyone. It is a love that is beyond us and not limited to our expressions. It is a love that -as I like to repeat again and again- will not let us go. That ongoing and never ending love of God is for us the power to face all that the day will offer us even when it all things of the day threaten to devour us. There is no alone when we trust that our God abides with us. We actually begin to see that our God experiences all the things that we face - but our God never ceases to let God's rule of unbounded love be subverted by any power.
Connection: It is very easy to see ourselves as the Lord of the Day - controlling all things and thus having to create all things within our limited powers. There is no rest there. There is no freedom to fail. Today is in the hands of our God who continues to shape us to meet and walk through all things with eyes that are not limited by how we see ourselves.
Lord of Love, shape us again this day so we will not fall for the illusions of power that attempt to fool us and often lead us into the realms of hopelessness. Grant us your peace. Amen.