Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tuesday 30 June 2009

More on this love of God - William Willimon.

Salvation, from our side, is acceptance rather than decision, result, or program because salvation is, in the words of Paul, "free gift":
'The grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for many...If, because of one man's trespass (Adam), death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.' (Romans 5:15-17)
Note that Paul uses the more passive "receive" (lambano) rather than the more active "decide" or "choose," stressing the work of Christ rather than our decision. When asked, "Where were you saved?" Barth replied, "On Golgotha."

For many of us, the notion of deciding and choosing our salvation is strange. I know that many folks are so in the boat of salvation being a complete gift that decision kind of theology seems odd and self-centered. Like "I did it." Then again, we must remember that many followers of Jesus are of the mind that we must choose to follow...that it is up to us. Most often we see this in churches that baptize only adults or teens - because they can actually come to a time of decision and it is more "meaningful" and more deliberate. Infant baptism is still considered odd to many folks. We hold up infant baptism because it is a living and breathing reminder of who it is that does the choosing - our God. Our salvation is thus, in God's hands - not ours. We do no work...we do not do a certain amount of study...we do not need to see someones life change around as proof of this salvation. Instead, we respond to what God has announced and how God has drawn near and who is gathered into this community of the lost now found. I continuously await those moments in the day in which this unbounded love reminds me of my place before God and then it becomes the power to remind me of the same place held by others...even those who are not like me. Salvation is a surprising power and the Spirit sees to how it will unfold among us.

Connection: Now that everything is done...what do we do for the rest of our lives? Maybe - simply let ourselves be surprised by how God's driving love for us is the power that can move us into life that is beyond anything we try to make for ourselves under our own power.

Be the wind that directs us and move us, O God, it is your Spirit that carries us into the shadow of the cross and through death to new life. Continue to grace us with your loving presence and power. Amen.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Monday 29 June 2009

In writing about the Eros of God, Willimon writes about creation.

Creation implies donation. In a world that is created, all is gift. This is a difficulty truth for those of us who are modern and who have, therefore, been taught to believe that all good is an achievement of our sole fabrication. Knowledge is reduced to power, a possession, the accumulation of which enables us better to dominate the world. Plato (and Augustine) taught that in order really to know something, the would-be knower must be willingly seduced by the object of knowing, to fall in love with what is to be known, to enjoy erotic participation in the object of our knowing. We, however, want to know in order to dominate, to use. In a world of utility, there is paucity of gratitude and little real joy.

So we are invited to "fall in love" with this creation. In that way, we will be united with creation in a way that seeks the welfare of the creation. We will see to the well-being of things before we jump into the arena of seeing how creation can serve us and provide for us and give us all that we want under any conditions we see right. Not only does God love the world and creates out of an endless love, we are invited to love this creation that has been handed to us as a gift. We are a gifted people and the giver of this gift shapes us so that we may be a gift to one another. If we are a part of creations, you could say that we too are donated to one another. Odd thought. Then again, it is a powerful one. We enter into the communities of our lives with a life to offer to others. When we donate money to a cause of which we are supportive, the donation is sent off in the hope that it will be used for the building up of that organization and those who benefit from the presence of that organization. So, as one of the many gifts of creation, we are here within a web of love that invites us to find ways to love one another and our whole creation...and the whole of creation begins to reflect the original donor.

Connection: This is a call to more than environmental care and love. It is much more. Love of creation is a radical adventure because it will mean that we will stand in contradiction to any power that simply attempts to use the gifts of creation for self-satisfaction.

Within the vast creative power of your Reign, O God, we find that we are handed and we become an element of our that creativity and the love that is behind it. Increase in us the ability to lovingly embrace the gift that we are and to share this gift with others. Amen.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday 26 June 2009

I really like this piece by William Willimon.

Christians have the intellectual means for devising one of the most pessimistic assessments of human nature, We really do believe that all of us, all, are sinners, all the way down, gleefully on our way to hell in a hand basket. Believing this enabled me to say - when George W. Bush told us that we were going into Iraq for the very best of motives to do the very best of work - "Probably not." When told that the purpose of our war was "Enduring Freedom," I responded , "Probably not." By the way, when someone said that I was one of the most selfless, godly bishops ever, "Probably not."
We are able to be pessimistic about human motives and achievements (most especially our own) because we are optimistic about the ultimate triumph of a God who saves the ungodly. Ephesians says that we are as good as dead but that, in our salvation, God pulls off nothing less than resurrection. Confidence in the salvific triumph of God enables us to tell the truth about us.

In some ways I like to think that we are a people who are invited and able to laugh at ourselves and all the grand plans we attempt to put in place and even those we try to make the final word about what is to be among us. "Probably not" is a good way to go about the day. It doesn't mean that we cannot go forward with plans to change the world and work for justice and peace and the welfare of all. Rather, it means that the plans we have - may not be it. There may just be other ways and other viewpoints and other paths. What happens when we are able to say "probably not" is that we are given the opportunity to enter into dialogue with others. That, as I have mentioned time and time again is where the miracles of the day take place because our Lord is right there in the middle of our dialogues - when all sides are willing to consider this "probably not."

Connection: It is not easy to face the times of the day with this open view of what we say and do. And yet, it is so vital for the life of all of us. It is the way of shalom - the way of healing and wholeness.

When your Reign is among us, we become a part of the creative power of your Holy Spirit. Keep us open to your Reign and how we are the elements of it joy and creativity. Amen.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thursday 25 June 2009

Here is another image of the Eros of God - William Willimon.

God erotically risks, desires union with humanity. So God comes close enough to be not only God for us but also God with us. In what biblical writers call "the fullness of time" God steps up, steps in, and steps out in a most amazing overture of love. The God who was from the first so joyously creative extends that divine creativity to become Incarnate. A defiant young woman (Mary) submits to be a fellow conspirator in God's dramatic, miraculous move on humanity (Luke 1:46-55). Swept up in God's invasion of God's world, she bears a son with the revealing name, "God with us." (Matt. 1:23)

Divine creativity....becomes Incarnate. That is within our story. That is what our God does. God becomes creative among us and with us and for us. That means that we are the tools of that creativity. When God becomes truly creative among us, we are the medium God uses to reveal the fullness of God's divine intention for all creation. We are, as St. Francis is said to have written, "instruments of your peace." That's us. Among us God's love becomes a visible and tangible reality. In Jesus, God's beloved Son, we see how God is God for us and among us. There is to be no distance - we are so close to one another it is as though we are loving partners - that's close. It is also how we are to be with one another. We are this beloved and loving community. We are all about a down-to-earth presence of the Reign of God that takes us on a journey in which we will risk our lives to make it a living reality.

Connection: Mary is swept up in God's invasion - what a way to look at the day at hand. We are always being swept up into God's Reign. It is a life that carries us along by the Holy Spirit and takes us beyond what we considered possible or realistic. Let's see how that plays out today.

When you come to be with us, O God, it often so close we do not expect to see you among us. Open our eyes. Open our hearts. Open our our hands. Empower us to greet you as you come among us in many and various ways. Amen.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Wednesday 24 June 2009

Here's an interesting look at the church as we continue with William Willimon's take on the "Eros of God."

It is scandalous too that the NewTestament dares to call the poor old church Christ's "bride." The church is invited by God to do what husbands and wives do in marriage. the bride nervously awaits the full consummation of Christ's love, recipient of a kind of arranged marriage. she is besmirched, unworthy of such adoration by one so pure and good. Still,, she knows that she is betrothed, spoken for by the Savior who will keep his promise to fulfill his passionate intention to make love to sinners (Rev. 21:2,9). Jesus looks upon the poor old church the way a proper groom looks upon his bride.

I know there can be all kinds of issues of this kind of portrayal of brides and grooms, but let us give some space here to the last line I just quoted. Even though there can be all sorts of baggage to images of grooms and brides and expectations we are really getting to this line: "Jesus looks upon the poor old church the way a proper groom looks upon his bride." Like a gift...like one who is beloved beyond expression...like a gem...like the best of a side-by-side partner....forever. And we are invited to enter into that relationship as deeply and profoundly as the intimacy of bride and groom. This means with all the surprises and all the joys and all that will come. Christ's promise to fulfill Christ's "passionate intention to make love to sinners" sets up a whole new image for the life of the church and all who are baptized in Christ, Jesus.

Connection: Maybe if we look at the relationship of the church and Christ in this kind of way, it may have some influence about how we look at all the relationships of our lives.

Loving God, as you pursue us, your love is the power to transform us. To be so caught up in the love you have for us is to be placed in a position of great potentiality. Help us to be a passionate partner in the life of your Reign. Amen.

Tuesday 23 June 2009

Today we move into material on 'the Eros of God' and William Willimon starts this by taking a look at the Song of Songs (3:1-4).

The church has traditionally taught that this Hebrew love song, which at first appears to be the erotic thoughts of two heated adolescents, is actually an allegory of the love of God for his church. Isn't it scandalous that the closest analogy for the love of God in Christ is the infatuated, sensual ramblings of two adolescents consumed with lust - I mean love - for each other? Love is costly, consuming, and fanatical, says the Song of Solomon. Apparently, God has got this thing for us almost like lust. Just before being hung by the Nazis in Tegel Prison, Bonhoeffer wrote that "nothing calamitous can happen" when we are loved by such an "ardent, passionate, sensual love that is portrayed there." Nothing calamitous - as as catastrophic as the Nazis - can happen to the person who has been ravished, claimed, embraced by such salvific love.

In May I used these images of the Song of Solomon at a wedding - costly, consuming, fanatical. What a way to look at love. Not just love between two people...but love between God and all of humanity. Nothing will stop this God from coming after us to embrace us and surround us with a love that will not let us go. This is a powerful image. Many folks don't like the image of lust. Sometimes it can sound a bit overboard. Then again, we can really argue that our God goes a bit overboard to be in a relationship with us that would bring God alongside us and then strung up on the executioner's crucifying beam so that no one of any status would ever be outside of this blessed grasp of God. Within such a relationship, it is quite obvious that we who are pursued like this and embraced like this and loved like this would be shaped by such passionate love. This is the power that can and does change us and transform us and free us to be able to follow in the joyous steps of this wild, loving God. In and through all things, even as Willimon notes -the Nazis, nothing calamitous can happen to us. For this is a once and for all love that endures all things.

Connection: I wish I had this in front of me yesterday when a young man was at the church asking for help. I attempted to assure him of God's never-ending love even when he thought he was worthless and that thinking was bringing him deeper and deeper into self-hatred. We must say this kind of crazy stuff to one another...and act on it.

Lord of Life, when your love and grace shine upon us we are enriched. The day at hand can be the beginning of something new even when we are feeling oppressed by the old. Inspire our hearts to accept this love and to then let it overflow to those around us. Amen.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Monday 22 June 2009

William Willimon continues to discuss creation and today looks at how God graciously saves us and graciously invites our active participation in the drama of salvation. He uses the story of the people of God at Mt. Sinai to share that point.

The God of Scripture is not an impersonal, absolute sovereign with whom there is no argument. God is free to be dissuaded, free to be in conversation even with a tongue-tied earthling like Moses, free to change God's mind and repent, because God is determined to be God for us, determined to be the means of our salvation.
At certain key moments, Scripture is thus a kind of dialogue, not by equal partners, but still a dialogue that is God's grace.

When we are in dialogue with our God, it becomes the way we are invited to be with one another. It is in the dialogue - the listening, the instructing, the disagreement, the confusion, the action - that the creativity of our lives come forward and we begin to be a part of the image of our God. It is always a dialogue that seeks the salvation of all people. Sometimes that means we will not listen because we do not want all to be within the saving community with us. Sometimes that means that we will push our God and one another to open up the gates and remove the gate keepers so that the fullness of God's Reign will wash over everyone - without exception. The dialogue cannot end. We cannot simply throw up our hands and say God will do it. Rather, God will do it - with us. In the meantime, we are invited to be engaged and at times enraged but always willing to bring ourselves to the table of discussion - even if it is on some mountainside in the Sinai.

Connection: When we sing "take it to the Lord in prayer" there is an element of saying that we are not going to let our God be as distant as we something try to make God. Rather, God is at the table with us, quite like when we say at the dinner table, "come, Lord Jesus, be our guest." Not distant...right within the discussions of the day.

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest and encourage us to see our God as with us and pursuing us so that we will be a part of this dynamic saving community. Amen.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday 19 June 2009

Here's a short bit to end the week - again William Willimon.

The one whom Israel calls Yahweh and the church knows as Trinity is so great as to be utterly personal, available, and richly present to us. This God is against detached reserve. "God never rests," says Luther, constantly pursuing, presenting to us. You can't get much closer to us, to the real us, than a cross.

"God never rests" therefore we are never alone and never forsaken and never without the power of creation with us. It is always a powerful image to see someone of great talent, strength, personality, wealth, influence, etc. step aside from that and be utterly present within the ordinary and available to those who may not have the sames skills or wealth or power - but they understand the oneness of our humanity that makes us so close to one another. God does not need to act under the cover of facades. Our God chooses to step away from the fronts and cover and make sure that we are aware of God's eternal presence even when we think no one else would be close to us or the world is really quite against us.

Connection: If God never rests - what does that mean for me? We probably will all deal with that reality in many different ways. It is good to talk about this for I may one day be in your shoes and I will need to know how this never-resting God was with you.

Come, Holy Trinity, come and venture into the deepest part of our lives and continue to lift us up so that we can see your future in our lives and begin to live anew. Amen.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Thursday 18 June 2009

More from Willimon on Creation.

The most important decision in Christian theology is to decide whether you will speak of God as a person or as a concept, as a name or as an idea.... Name God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and God will enlist you in God's move upon the world. That's one of the things we mean when we say that "Jesus is Lord" or "Jesus is God's only Son." This God is shockingly personal, available, and present. It's also what we mean when we say that "Jesus is Savior." This is in no way detraction from the Father's immense deity. There are gods who could not risk getting close. We are killers who tend to resent our would-be saviors. Anybody who would love me risks great pain because of me. So most "gods" are careful to keep their distance through abstraction and idealization.

(I must first say that we must suspend our criticism of the traditional Trinitarian patriarchal images in this name. For today, use whatever words you need to name our God - the use of name is the important point in Willimon's words.)
This takes us back to the importance of relationship within the story of our God with us. It is not only a story of relationship between people, it is also the story of God available and present and insisting on being a part of all that we do and all that we become. That is not a safe place to be. We all know what pain comes from being in relationship. When we love and then face the loss of those we love - pain. When we love and then face the wounds of others and begin to see our own wound more clearly - pain. When we love and and in that coming close we are pushed away - pain. And yet, we are told again and again that God comes close and does not let us separate ourselves from the love of God. Love like this is not abstract - it is courageously creative and sustaining and is able to resurrect new life in the midst of certain death.

Connection: So, is there a way we will step out of our abstraction and idealization and become truly real with the people who are around us within this day!?!

Present and Eternal God, there is no time that is not within your hands. Therefore, even now as we contemplate the day in which we begin to move, we are really within reach of your loving presence that is the power to shape us into your image. What a wonderful act of creation you bring to us. Amen.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Wednesday 17 2009

Today we push into a new section of William Willimon's work in "Who Will Be Saved" called, Creation Continued.

The point of the whole world is to be the Creator's dialogue partner in conversation, in connection. Calvin said that God could have created us for God's usefulness but the great thing about God is God created us for God's sheer delight. God delights in having conversation partners, even poor dialogue partners like us. The Revealer who delights in revelation desires recipients for the revelation. So a first response to the question, "Who shall be saved?" might be, "Well, who is created? What creatures are so beloved by the Creator that the Creator cannot let them alone? Who is God's favorite conversation partner? These are the ones God saves."

Try this: look around the room the next time you are in a room filled with other people. No matter what the the group may be and no matter who may make up the room of people. Now, what happens when you let yourself prayerfully consider that these folk...all of them - without exception...are created for the sheer delight of our God - as partners in dialogue. That doesn't mean that we are all really good folk. Rather, in the mix of things and in the mix of all of our brokenness God delights in being a part of it all - with all - alongside all. What might be a room that we would choose to avoid, God settles in and begins to engage everyone with nothing else in mind than to be delighted by the dialogue. It is in this kind of dialogue that the miraculous takes place - doors open, healing occurs, minds change, people are pulled into new life.

Connection: I need to have eyes that see what delights God for I can too easily miss the delight and go right to judging. How about you?

Gracious God, help us all to see this delight-full creation in which we are a part of the delight. It is not easy to see such things and yet it is your will that we too can be delighted in the presence of one another. Amen.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tuesday 16 June 2009

As I said yesterday, more from Willimon on the 'gospel of salvation."

...Karl Barth said, "God is the God of the eternal election of His grace." Scripture tells us that which we could never know on our own, namely that God has elected to be our God not only at the beginning but also at the end. God has decided, in grace, to be for us. This is not only something that God sometimes does, or once did; this is who God is now, God pro nobis. The whole doctrine of the Trinity is our attempt to name the God who has met us in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was not just an aspect of God or a good indicator of God; he was God. In him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, all of the glory of God in him.
And our reaction to such close-quartered glory? In unison we cried, "Crucify him!"

"This is who God is...now." "God has decided, in grace, to be for us." This is not a conditional statement. This comes with no conditions or qualifiers. PRO NOBIS...in and through all times...with all and alongside all...for us even when we have done only that which would make someone want to be against us. It is not easy to let go of our desire to have a God we can place far away - a God we can make into the kind of God we want - a God whose task among us is to judge us and evaluate us and weed us out. What is tough for us too often is to be aware of the God who draws close and abide with us and despite who we may try to be...still embraces us and loves us and shapes us into the beloved that we are. Jesus - as the living God in our reality - brings God a bit close...makes us have to come to grips with the Reign of God and the life we really are invited to share - here and now. Wow.

Connection: It is tempting to say in one way or another "crucify him." That's when we would rather go our way and have things go our way - which is most of the time. Our God stands with us and for us so that we can begin to take on that character that is really at the core of our humanity.

Continue to be for us and with us, O God. Even when we walk away again and again, continue to be the only God you can be...for us. Your character is the power that opens up our future and lets hope Reign among us. Blessed are you, O God. Amen.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Monday 15 June 2009

I want to take a couple days to finish up this section from William Willimon on the "gospel of salvation" before venturing on into more of his work.

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12). and as 1 John puts' it, "We know love by this, that ihe laid down his life for us - and we ought tolay down our lives for one another" (1 John 3:16). Jesus was "in the form of God...taking the form of a slave...he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death" (Phil. 2:6-8).
This way is the way? This puts in context Jesus' words that he is "the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).
"This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3). what the Savior revealed is not just God in general, deity in the abstract - that is, a God without soteriological punch - but a very particular, very peculiar kind of God, a God who is, in a number of essential ways, most "ungodlike." Here is no "god" who divinely floats above the grubby realities of this world but rather a God who, in love, locates pro nobis.

Our God is "for us and for our salvation" (pro nobis) and that means alongside and never outside of our history like a god long off waiting for something else to happen. Our God reaches in, takes a seat next to us, goes through hell as we go there, and in, with, and under that engagement, our God becomes more fully known to us. This is why the surprise of the Reign of God is not something outside the ordinary. The extrordinary is something in which we expect to see something or experience something strange. But our God comes within the ordinary and the common that is so much of who we are. In the middle of that...in the middle of God for us in the thick of what can so often bind us and hold us back, we are taken back and can re-engage within our everyday life because it is here that we are so close to the Reign of God that breaks into this day to make the day new even as we wander through the "grubby realities of this world." I need that promised presence to help reshape me and the world.

Connection: Today, within all that is ordinary may come the surprising news of how God will be on your side - even when you were not anticipating it.

Be present with us as you have promised, O God. Be present with us so that we will not fear being present within this day no matter what we face. Just as you Spirit has continually opened up the lives of your people in every place and time, send your breath of life around us. Amen.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday 12 June 2009

William Willimon comments on the verse from Luke that ended yesterday's devotion (If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me).

Why would Jesus commend such a way? He seems to do so, not because of its potential human benefits and rewards, but simply because this is the way God is. This is the way reality is. This is the grain of the universe. He is thereby revealing the way the world is meant to be, all the way down. Without consideration of benefits or consequences, this is reality. A seed can only germinate and come to fruition when it falls to the earth and dies (John 12:24). Being most fully alive, being most completely who we are created to be, is a matter of self-expenditure. Self-giving is self-fulfillment. Whosoever loses a life, finds life. "Whoever does not love abideth in death" (1 John 3:14). The greatest of all is servant of all. Whoever wants to become great must turn and become as nothing but a little child.

Here we have the vision...the way. It is a fullness of life that may appear to be sheer folly. To give oneself away to others?!!? Won't people take advantage of us? Well, yes. Then again, need that anxiety defeat the coming of the Reign of God among us? I think Jesus would say it does not and it cannot defeat the coming of the Reign of God - for this Reign is sown and it will grow. It may only sprout up here and there...but it comes among us and invites us all to grow along the way. I am especially thankful for this insight: this is the grain of the universe. Good politics may be something else. Effectiveness may be something else. Prudent use of life may be something else. But then there is the way of Jesus and the coming of the Reign of God - a new way - a way that goes right to the root of the love of God that is the power for life to begin again and anew.

Connection: The vision is vital for how any of us walks into this day. It is a alien vision...but we are aliens in many and various ways - that's us...followers of Jesus.

Take root among us, O God, and help us to come to blossom with the life or your blessed Reign so that among us there will be a witness to the life that is the way you have invited us to take on and share the adventure of our lives. Amen.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Thursday 11 June 2009

Continuing on with this notion of Jesus expending everything we continue from yesterday.

In so doing, Jesus was not simply being a great ethical teacher; one is impressed by the impracticality of what Jesus commands. if you give everything you've got to the poor, eventually you will have nothing to give. And how does self-giving better the lot of the poor after they have consumed everything that you have given? Will such liberality only produce character flaws in the poor? If you so thoughtlessly give to the needs of others in this way, you will eventually be used by others who will take advantage of you. Take to the extreme, it could lead to your death.
But then Jesus says that this is exactly where this should lead. "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:13). Love, as Jesus embodies love, is reckless self-expenditure. "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23).

I came to the end of this piece and I wanted to do exactly what the rich young man does - walk away dejected. Jesus is all about life and that means he is all about death. There is no holding back and making secure what I want to secure and then handing over a part of my life to the Reign of God. It is a whole life adventure. This is where I begin with the "yeah, but..." "yeah, but..." And yet, Jesus is not interested in the qualification I use to keep from picking up that cross daily and being a follower of Jesus. Whew! Jesus' love being defined as being "reckless self-expenditure" is as radical of a statement about the Reign of God as can be made. It goes right back to this love of God for us that is truly the beginning and end of all things. Nothing more can be added - it is out-of-the-box living that counts on the power of the Spirit of God to swirl around us again and again as we move on down the road.

Connection: All I can say is "whew." Then we begin the day.

When we are overwhelmed with the love that greets us with each breath, O God, continue to remind us that you continue to be the breath of life that will encourage and sustain us in and through all things. Amen.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wednesday 10 June 2009

Willimon continues with the "Gospel of Salvation."

"And if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you" (Matt 5:40-42). Note that Jesus has not defined love as bringing out the best in other people, or love as making the world a better place in which to live, nor is love something that comes naturally from good people like us. Love is more demanding than a pagan virtue like justice. Jesus' love is what Jesus commands, something enabled by who he is. He expended everything. He laid down his life for a bunch of stupid, wayward sheep, friends who were also his betrayers.

Earlier Willimon comments about the Jesus saying, "Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor." He says it was "a ridiculously extravagant demand, except this is exactly what Jesus himself was soon to do on the cross." Giving up ones life for the welfare of the other - no greater love is there than this. We can have our ethical virtues in line but then there is the necessary way of love that will not let go anyone for any reason - even if it is so absurd it will be thrown out and ignored for something more in line with the way we think and live. We are invited into this kind of an adventure for life. The church rarely goes there...but it is the way into which we are being invited and pulled by this Spirit that will abide with us even when we turn our back and become more and more self-consumed.

Connection: We need not judge one another. We are only to invite one another to follow this loving way of Jesus and then hold hands as we walk together into the mess of things.

For us, O God, you have acted again. There is no day and no time in which you turn and walk away. Instead, your love wraps us up and continues to shape our loving and living. Amen.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tuesday 9 June 2009

More on the good Samaritan...and our God - by William Willimon.

Jesus reacts to our situation in the ditch, not with more rules and regulations, not with harsh condemnation, but with a sort of love that can only be called reckless, extravagant, prodigal. There is, dare I say it, a kind of promiscuous quality in his extroverted love.

This God of ours will rescue anyone. Oh my!! Yes, anyone. What a love! What a way onto which we are invited to live - being surprised by God's endless extroverted love that we see and hear in the life of Jesus. It is no wonder that too many people shy away from church. They cannot see this love among us...and...they are not willing to be involved in such a feast of love. Too often it is easy to be merely critical of the institutionalization of our God (where the love seems to get lost or so closely monitored it may well be lost). We must also consider whether those who do not want to be a part of the way of Jesus may not want to be associated with that radical, promiscuous love.

Connection: Ever wonder about a love so deep and wide we could get lost in it? A love that covers us so thoroughly it is like the young boy who jumps down into the latrine in the movie "Slumdog Millionaire." Love caked on so completely that folks are repelled by it!

Lover of Life, you are not afraid to be with us and hold us and care for us even when we are a part of all that many would want thrown away. And yet, you are for us...again. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Monday 8 June 2009

Here is more from the story of the good Samaritan from "Who Will Be Saved" by William Willimon.

Like most the Scripture, the story of the man in the ditch is a story about God before it is a story about us, about the oddness of our salvation in Christ. I've used this interpretation of the parable of the good Samaritan before, and I can tell you that my congregation didn't like it. They like stories about themselves more than they like to hear stories about God. They are resourceful, educated, gifted people who don't like to be cast in the role of the beaten poor man in the ditch. They would rather be the anything-but-poor Samaritan who does something nice for the less fortunate among us. In other words, they don't like to admit that just possibly they may need to be saved.
Why is this not about us? Doesn't the story end with Jesus saying to his interrogator, "Go and do likewise?" "Go" and "do" what? I'm saying that more difficult even than reaching out to the victim in the ditch (which is hard enough for us) is coming to conceive of yourself as the victim, learning to live as if your one last hope in the Savior whom you tend to despise.

I cannot say that I ever thought of this parable with this important note. It is not a "go and do likewise" story. This is again all about our God and the place in which our God enters to be with us - all of us. There will be no boundary - no "other side of the road" for our God who will be with us to rescue, restore and save. This is not a story that lifts us up onto a moral high road. Anyone can do "good Samaritan" kind of stuff. It is much needed. This is rather about the the way God makes a people by coming to bring us life even though in that coming we are handled and touched and cared for by someone who is not thought of as a 'moral' character. Because of this action by our God, we therefore are brought into the realm of God's Reign and in that reality that is already ours, it is a reality that encompasses all who are lost and left to die...not some...but all. That is a scandalous story. God coming for all - no matter what the good folk would say!?!

Connection: It can be easy to fear those who come to be with us and to fear those outside our pathway. But these are the kind of places in which our God has found us and brought us into the realm of God's healing presence. How will we see and experience the out-of-bounds God within the common elements of today?

When you lift us up, O God, we are made whole and we are reminded of the reality that comes to life as you insist on stopping along the way and leaving no one behind even when you must risk being see as not God at all. Come, Lord, Jesus. Amen.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Friday 5 June 2009

Sorry for the miss yesterday - duh. Today it is back at the good Samaritan story from "Who will be saved?" by William Willimon.

The loathed Samaritan risks all, extravagantly responds to the need of the man in the ditch. So this is not a story about a person who stops and give the man in the ditch the use of his cell phone in order to call the highway patrol - we would have done that. It's a story about the odd, threatening, humiliating, and extravagant form by which God draws near to us for our rescue. And, in noting our reaction to the story, it's a story about our shock at the peculiar One who risked all for us.

The Good News is shocking. When God will stay away from no one that is peculiar. When God will take on the shape of everything we would reject that is quite peculiar. We usually say it is a scandal. The Church not only is called to take on such an odd shape, we are also invited to see in others who are odd and rejected - the way God comes close to us...humanity in all its predicaments. Our God does not back away from us - any of us. Even if we would prefer that God does not come close except in the way we want God to come close, God still attempts to walk across the road and touch us with a healing presence, lift us up to comfort us, and take us along the way to wholeness - salvation.

Connection: When we are down, do we let ourselves be aware of how God come to be with us?

Healing Lord, your willingness to be for us in and through all things is the power for new life that we are meant to breathe so that as we go off within this day we may be for others just as you have been for us. Grant us courage to welcome you and courage to respond to those in need. Amen.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Wednesday 3 June 2009

In writing about salvation, Willimon leads us into the Scripture to see the shape of this saving story.

A good place to begin is with attention to one of Jesus' greatest hits, the so-called good Samaritan (Luke 10). A man on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho is victimized by thieves who rob him, beat him, and leave him half dead and in the ditch. Down the road comes a priest. This officially religious man will surely be the salvation for the man in the ditch. No, the priest passes by on the other side. If the clergy won't save you, who will? Then come as pious Bible-believing layperson - who passes by on the other side. last comes a despised Samaritan. You have lost a lot of blood. This is your ultimate hope for rescue but you are aghast to learn that your hope, your salvation is none other than a good-for-nothing, anything-but-poor-and-pious, lousy Samaritan.
"I'm OK," you protest. "It's just a flesh wound. Don't bother yourself," muttering under your breath, "I'd rather die in this ditch than to be saved by the likes of you!"

I find it interesting how the tone of a day or the agenda at hand can find its way into the reading of Scripture. For example, I really liked the way Willimon puts the emphasis on the person beat up and left for dead. For one...it is me the reader! The one who comes into my wounded and bloodied state is the worst of the worst...the blasphemer...the rejected one...the outsider...the no-good...the "other" (and we all have a list of them). But then I was caught up on how I started to apply it. In the ELCA we are trying to work our way into and through a discussion and then a decision about whether we can let gay and lesbians who are in loving, life-long relationships become or stay in the office of pastor in our church. For some it is a deafening "NO!" that includes a denunciation of "them" and what they "do" and some king of purity of the office. But here in this story, the one who saves and comes close and risks life and nurtures and cares beyond what is considered enough...is one of these ones to whom some would shout "NO!" Sometimes, age-old, written in stone, cannot accept notions and laws must pass on so that the saving action of our God can break through to all of us and this God of ours will truly be "pro nobis" - for us....for us all.

Connection: Who would it be difficult for you to have come and be your aid in times of trouble. We really do all have a list.

Risking God, you come to be at our side even when we refuse to see you in the form in which you come to us. We would change you to fit our ways and yet you persist and come as the God who is crucified, buried, and raised from the dead so that no one - no one - would ever have to live without you at our side. Thanks be to you, O God. Amen.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Tuesday 2 June 2009

More on The Gospel of Salvation - by William Willimon.

The first book of the Bible says that the world is initiated solely through an act of God and the last book of the Bible is a sustained hymn that sings the great triumph of God in which creatures in heaven and on earth sing that "salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne" (Rev.7:10). Crucified Jesus is the one who brings "Salvation and glory and power" (Rev.19:1)
A Christian is someone who lives in the light of this story. A Christian and a Buddhist (or for that matter, a Republican or a Democrat) differ primarily on the basis of the stories they are living. These stories tell us what is going on in the world, what we might reasonably expect and who really sits on the throne.

There are so many stories that influence us. Not all stories bring new life and a wholeness that helps to heal the world. In fact, some stories lead us into acts of violence and life that is quite contrary to what we call the peaceable Reign of God. I like language within the life of the Church that accents the fact that we are people who walk and live in the "way of Jesus." This is the light for our stories - the light for our lives...and it is meant to be the light that shows among us and through us. With that in mind, it is important to consider who sits on the throne of our lives. There is a character of life that comes with the one we say is on that throne leading us and calling us forward into this day to be fully alive within this domain of grace and peace and mercy. For me, it is important to say that our God, incarnate in Jesus, is the blessed character that is handed to me as a gift. You may not always see how that gift is shaping me - that's my stuff. What you may see at times is a glimmer of this ruling power being made known in, with, and under how I am in the world with you.

Connection: A good inventory to take each day is to simply reflect on who is sitting on the throne of the power that leads us through this day. What does it look like and who does it make us?

Lord of All Life, you promise to take us up into your Reigning power and bring among us a life that is as real as your beloved, Jesus. Open our hearts that this story will be the guide for the living of our lives. Amen.