Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday 31 July 2009

Another piece from Barth as Willimon writes about this "All" of salvation.

Barth gives thanks that he is preaching "in a house where there are so many closed doors," where he doesn't have to expend much homliletical effort explaining the word "prisoner." He then reminds the inmates that the text says that "all" are prisoners - some enslaved by socialist Utopian dreams, others imprisoned by illness or the deprivations' "of the so-called 'free world,' not to mention death." Barth implies that the prisoners have an advantage in understanding the Scripture since their imprisonment is undeniable, unlike the faithful at First Church Basel.

I cannot imagine being in a prison. I have heard that the sound of the iron doors closing after you enter is a frightening moment. There is no getting out. There is no you were living. The door is closed. And yet, that is where this story of God's Reign begins. Doors are open and all who are prisoners are released. No one is left behind - not one.

Open up our lives, O God, and pull us into places and times within our lives where we will be needed to display your loving presence that your image may become clear to those around us. Amen.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thursday 30 July 2009

Here's an opening piece from a section called "All" in "Who Will Be Saved?" by William Willimon.

On a late September Sunday in 1957, the great theologian Karl Barth once again preached to the prisoners in the Basel jail. The title for his sermon was simply, "All!" His one verse text: "For God has imprisoned all inn disobedience so that he may be merciful to all" (Romans 11:32). Barth told the prisoners that here was a lofty mountain "which we cannot climb, in our thoughts or in a sermon," a mountain "from which we can only climb down." Barth focuses first on the second phrase of the text - "God has mercy on us. He says 'yes' to us, he wills to be on our side, to be our God against all odds.
...Then Barth notes that this "all" is without qualification - Gentiles, atheists, believers, nonbelievers, those who have been formally incarcerated, and those who sit in judgment upon them - "all." Barth confesses that sometimes he is guilty of wishing that this "all" did not include, "this fellow-creature beside me, in front of me or behind, whom I don't like. Then he admits to the intention of his sermon: "The one great sin from which we shall try to escape this morning is to exclude anyone from the 'yes' of God's mercy." All are prisoners; all are shown mercy.

This may be a digression but I often hear people say that there are many ways that lead to God. It is often described as a journey up the mountain. This piece by Barth made me look at all that talk in a very different way. Yes, there may be many ways up the mountain...but our God comes down to us. Our journey is not to God. Our journey is with this God who is "with us" and "for us" no matter who we may be. The journey is one in which we are already set free - from the start. "All" is without qualification. That is a powerful word...not simply for each of us who hears it...but for how we then are opened up to a new way of viewing all others. When all are shown mercy, the day can become something quite unexpected for everyone because we do not need to be stuck within the way we evaluate others and the world. Instead, we come to the realization that we are all prisoners and when God is the liberator...God liberates all - without condition and without judging degrees of goodness and badness. All is all.

Connection: Is it really all?! The answer to that can change within moments. It is so based on how I see myself and how I am able to see others. One minute it is all....right. Next minute it is definitely not him or her or them...or me. It is really all....try that on.

Without qualification you embrace us and promise to never let us go. Then, O God, you gather in all of that we will not be able to say it is just for me or my own. You gather up all...all and then you invite us to live there in your Reign. We give you thanks. Amen.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wednesday 29 July 2009

This will be the last piece taken from the section "Divine Abundance" in Willimon's book "Who Will Be Saved?"

At the end of one of his most demanding, exacting sermons, requiring that his disciples turn the other cheek, refuse to divorce and remarry, carry others' burdens not just one mile but two, and to pray for their enemies (Matthew 5), Jesus extravagantly demands that they be " your heavenly Father is perfect" (v.48). But then he characterized the Father's perfection as one who "makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends the rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous" (vs. 45). It is of our nature to make careful distinctions, to draw accurate lines between people, to conceive of reality as characterized by scarcity and insufficiency. But it is of the nature of this God to blur our proper divisions by indiscriminately, profusely sending rain and sun upon all without distinction.

Perfectly graceful. No bias. No special interests. No favoritism. No pecking order. Graciousness poured out upon all. It is that act of unconditional grace that begins to shape the character of the community of saints called the Church. When we leave out this very vital piece about who we are within the Reign of God we begin to shape our character around that which will suit us. As we all know, that means the divisions go up, wars break out, the number of poor increase, people turn their backs to one another. What is most amazing about how we try to run things is that we speak of the vision of God's Reign but we walk away from it as though we have a "better take" on what it is to be among us. It is a grand comedy that is also the greatest of tragedies.

Connection: On the evil and the a way to consider all that we move by today.

From the beginning when you called the unfolding of your creation "good," O God, you continue to remind us of the way to care for all things and let your grace be the source of new life day after day. Inspire us to see with this vision that opens up the future to new ways of encountering all things. Amen.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tuesday 28 July 2009

Our focus continues to be on the Divine Abundance - William Willimon.

In these Bible stories a central character emerges. Unfortunately, well-meaning commentators have placed titles on the stories, subheadings in your Bible like, "The Prodigal Son," or the "Laborers in the Vineyard." Yet in reading the stories, we are surprised to find that all the stories are about God. They render an agent, a personality so that they ought to be called, "The Prodigal Father," or the "Ridiculously Gracious Farmer." Most of us have been conditioned to listen to Scripture anthropologically rather than theologically, asking, "How is this story about me?" Therefore, we need a general interpretive principle for reading the Bible: Scripture always and everywhere speaks primarily about God, and only secondarily, that then only derivatively about us.

It is in seeing these great stories the God who is "for us" that we are caught off guard and surprised and, I would say, thrown off of our base. The graciousness of our God is a ridiculous reality that cannot be handled easily by us. We all know that we live with conditions - ones put on us and ones we put on others. To have a love that is as unconditional and gracious as the God who we are able to see within the parables can confuse us and cause us to have to re-view all that we expect from God. Too often, we come at these stories expecting God to be too much like us. That means there is still love...but it is limited, that means there is grace....but it is limited, that means there is mercy...but that too is limited. We need to hear about the God who is as God would be - strange but down to earth...beyond our control and our games.

Connection: Just watch how easily God is turned into an image of us without letting the fullness of God's love show through. Stop and listen.

Continue to help us to let go of the way we would have your Reign come among us, O God. We will always try to turn it into our way and try to sell it as your way. It is by your Spirit that we are given the ears to see the vision of your Reign and hear the News that is eternally Good. Amen.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Monday 27 July 2009

Here are a few more days at the beginning of this week that will will look at Divine Abundance - by William Willimon.

There is a pervasive nihilism at the heart of modernity, a sense of scarcity. We are on our own, making our way in a world of want as best we can with insufficient information and not enough love. Freud, who did much to form the modern mind, spoke of "obscure, unfeeling, and unloving powers" that determine our fate, reviving the early Greek view that we are, in Homer's words, mere "toys of the gods." If there are gods in the heaven above, they do not reveal themselves to us and have no benevolent intent for us here on earth below. This is a story that captivates modernity.
A Christian is someone who looks upon the world, the passing scene of current events, the sweep of history, her own life, and believes that there is, despite our first impressions of nothing, not just something but Someone. There is a discernible pattern. We look, with non-Christians, at the same events, the same history, and yet we see a distinctive movement in a particular direction, a surfeit of meaning. Salvation is the story, the whole story, from beginning to end, the discernible shape of the narrative that is being told by God, not just the end of the story. Christians become protagonists in God's story. This is what it means to be saved.

We are a part of this unfolding of God's living story that is at hand. Here it is called a "pattern." I think this pattern is also something we may know as the character of God's Reign. We are not left without a vision. The vision is that of the unfolding of life and the shape that is that life. When we say things like God is love, that is definitely about our God. And yet, as we say that about our God, the character of that love is the power that opens us up to receive such love and also to become such love. We are not pushed into this life. We are not like chess pieces in a cosmic game. We are the way in which our God makes known the way God's hand enters into the scene and how that touch or embrace uses us -as we are- to bring about the life that vision calls forth from us and all creation.

Connection: What part of this character of God's Reign will be a driving force within this day as you move along the way of our Lord, Jesus?!

Keep us in our place, O God, but carry us into the domain of your will so that as we engage the world, we will do so from a place in which we are beloved and from which we begin to love in your name. Amen.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Friday 24 July 2009

This will be a lengthy piece from Willimon...this Divine Abundance!

....The Master seems to be more into careless sowing, miraculous growing, and reckless harvesting than in taxonomy of the good from the bad, the worthwhile from the worthless, the saved from the damned.
"Which one of you?" to paraphrase Jesus' question in Luke 15, "having lost one sheep will not leave the ninety-nine sheep to fend for themselves ...until you find the lost sheep?
"Which one of your women...if you lost a quarter will not rip up the carpets.."
"Which one of you fathers, having two sons...
"Which one of you, journeying down the Jericho Road...

The answer is that none of us would behave in this unseemly, reckless, and extravagant way. These are not stories about us. These are God's stories... Jesus thus reveals a God who is no discrete minimalist. Abundance is the nature of this God.

We would not and we do not go where this Reign of God is and will always be. That is we cannot and will not on our own. We call out for the Spirit to move us and encourage us. We hold on to one another to muster the courage to face scarcity and still know that God abundantly opens up life that we never would have expected. In the life of the Church and in the life of an ordinary congregation, it is too easy to resist this life of abundant joy and hopefulness. We can become to entrenched in thinking that we must do more or we must expect more or we must press for more...rather than giving thanks - a life of thanksgiving that gives as freely as God gives of God's love. Lately, this abundance...this strange abundance...this overwhelming God who keeps embracing and holding and pulling, has been much needed and has made me think again and again about who we are to be as a people who bear the name of Jesus within the world.

Connection: The answer to the questions of our lives can be: We Will.

You abundantly give us new life, O God. We give you thanks. Again. Amen.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thursday 23 July 2009

Continuing with Divine Abundance - Willimon.

The question "Is there salvation and who is it for?" is an inquiry into the identity of God. Who saves? It is not a matter of what we think we need or deserve in order to give our lives some measure of sustainability and permanence. Salvation requires an inquiry into what God wants. Salvatin is the peculiar "yes" that is spoken to us, spoken even before we ask, in Jesus Christ. Salvation is God's projection of God's desires upon us.

We know this only on the basis of the stories of Jesus. A farmer goes forth to sow seed and - carefully, meticulously - prepares the ground, removing all rocks and weeds, sowing one seed six inches from another. No. The farmer, without preparation, begins slinging seed. A dragnet is hauled into the boat full of creatures both good and bad. Should the catch be sorted, separating the good from the bad? No. The Master is more impressed with the size of the haul than with the quality of the harvest. One day, not today, it will all be sorted.

I don't think we want to hear this. There is too much judging to do. There are too many people unlike me that must be corrected. There are too many people like me who need to be changed. there are those who have done that or live like that or speak like that or act out like that. Too often we cannot even tolerate typos in a church bulletin let alone understand that "those folk" over there want to be in the same boat we're in. This dragnet image is...well...quite wild and beyond our control. That image of the farmer may be the way seed was scatter back then...but we have better methods with more controls that allow us to be more selective about what is right and good and what is...well...not.

Connection: How do we learn to settle into a boat filled with a dragnet of possibilities? Let's pray about it.

Your Reign, O God, is expansive and we are not all that sure that we want to be the way you are. the meantime, inspire us and open our hearts and help us to see your image in all the strangers who seem to be everywhere! Amen.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wednesday 22 July 2009

We continue on with Willimon's comments on Divine Abundance.

As we discovered after being assaulted by the parables of Jesus, salvation is not what we asked for. If we were merely projecting an eternal destiny for ourselves, we could have projected a more benign future than the one that meets us in Jesus! As Calvin said, the human mind is a permanent factory for idols that we find more agreeable than the Trinity.

Face it, we do have better ways to be saved... and we have any number of ideas about that from which we need to be saved. It's always a little bit more of this or a little less than that. There are good ideas that will suit us...there are reasonable expectations in which we can feel both comfortable and challenged...there are set guidelines that show a path to live and, though difficult at times, we like where we are going. Then...there is the Reign of God as it is spilled out for us in the parables. I used the image of being spilled out because when a parable is told, it is never neat and is a random dumping that splashes over everything we have been trying to keep neat and clean. The Reign of God is about a love that is not shaped by us...and that...becomes troublesome for all of us.

Connection: Who knows when thing might get spilled on us today...and who will bring about the mess.

When your Spirit whips around us, O God, we are not able to see what will come next. But you take us and move us no matter who we are and where we have been. You are our next...and we are blessed each time you pull us along with you. Amen.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tuesday 21 July 2009

I'm taking quite a bit of time with William Willimon but it keeps me thinking. Today we will begin a section on Divine Abundance.

I have a friend, a lawyer, who is something of a theologian. he finds it a salubrious spiritual exercise to sit in an airport waiting lounge and to focus on people - as they walk by or sit across from him - and ask, " Did Jesus Christ die for this person?" He attempts to expand his gaze, focusing on the oddest person in the lounge and ask, "Jesus Christ died for him?"
He explains, "It's my little discipline to see just how much I can swallow about Jesus Christ without choking."

What a exercise. Although I don't even think you have to go someplace special to start asking these questions. Much of what we must be willing to do is to ask this kind of question in, with, and under all the places in which we find ourselves. That for me is what I have been calling "urban spirituality." We need not go on any journey or retreat away from everyday life in order to be grasp by our God and shaken - yes, shaken and awakened - to the abundance of God's love and the real life impact it has on us. Each step and each path we take is an adventure that shows us time and time again how life comes into shape under the loving Reign of God. Too often though, this is not what we ask. We have enough ways to stay at arms length from this "divine abundance" as we attempt to build whatever it is we often call the church - something about God the way we want God to be...or the one way God has been taught to us.

Connection: How much about Jesus are you able to swallow without choking?

We come to you again and again, O God, to question and to try to come to grips with your love. And yet, it is too easy for us to run to other measures of the world of people and ourselves. Teach us again to be a peace under the grand umbrella of you gracious Reign. Inspire us to be open to your abundant and never-failing love. Amen.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Monday 20 July 2009

William Willimon ends his section on The Eros of God with this.

All we know of salvation, our final end, our ultimate hope, is Jesus Christ who keeps trying zealously to eros us, sozo completely, rescue us, heal us, perfectly to have us be all that he intends. Salvation is, therefore, also the name for the adventure of being the objects of the love of a God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit pro nobis. Charles Wesley's hymns are about as sensuous as most of us Methodists get. Wesley knew that to be loved by God is to be changed in the embrace.

I will keep with me two comments from this short piece. For years we have had as one of our "add on" phrases in our mission statement the note that we are on "an adventure for life." Here Willimon writes of the "adventure of being the objects of the love of a God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit pro nobis. We cannot see how that adventure will go. It will unfold and we will be called to face the day at hand with the deep conviction that we are beloved. How will that shape the adventure?!? The other phrase used here is about Wesley and that he knew that "to be loved by God is to be changed in the embrace." God is that close. There is no distance in an embrace. In fact it is right here and now and so close we can catch the texture of the one that loves us...we can smell the real presence...we can fell the wrapped arms and hold us tightly. From that embrace we enter the adventure. It is an embrace that is eternally available to us. Therefore, it becomes the energy that brings us into the realm of resurrection. Never are we left alone in the tombs of our lives.

Connection: After being embraced and knowing that the embrace is ever-present and available, is it something we can share with others as we encounter those who long to be affirmed and brought into new life?

When your love takes hold of us and will not let us go, O God, we are given the space to take our first steps into the world as one who is beloved. Each step is a gift to us and also a gift to the world in which we begin our adventures for life. We breathe more fully when your Spirit is with us and continuing to lift us up to face whatever will come. Amen.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday 17 July 2009

Let's end the week with this piece by Willimon.

Willimon tells the story of the segment in "Crash" in which a police office abuses a woman in front of her husband and then at the end of the movie he is the one who saves her from a gas soaked car wreck.
Salvation is complicated because of the complicated trinitarian God who saves. We are saved by the one whom we despise. Unlike in Crash, we are saved not by the one who abused us, but the one whom we abused. The one whom we crucified in a desperate attempt to be left alone becomes our savior who refuses to be God without us. And in being saved we are also indebted, enlisted, and bound in discipleship to the one who has suffered because of us and yet suffered for us in order to save us. Our salvation by the crucified Christ thus presses upon us heavy responsibility to live with the risen Christ. His salvation makes our lives more complex than if we had not been reached to and embraced by him. Even now God is searching through the large collection of divine fishhooks for just the right lure to catch you in order to embrace you in order eternally to enjoy you.

I'm most caught by the final image of this piece: "in order eternally to enjoy you." I love it for at least two reasons. One is that God already enjoys us and therefore is always about catching us and wrestling with us and bringing us into the fullness of God's Reign...even now. The other is that God will eternally enjoy us no matter what comes...God's enjoyment does not end no matter how we deal with this pursuing love. If we reject it - there is God enjoying our run and continuing to tickle us. If we take it and hold it dear - there is God squeezing life into us and willing to be around for the grand laughter that is God's grace alive among us. This trinitarian image of God cannot be limited by the words we use in this name (father,son, spirit). Rather it is the notion of the fullness of God that never lets up...never stops making a way to our hearts...never retreats from us.

Connection: One way to enter this day is to consider that God enjoys us already as we move along the way. It may mean that we will be open to experience joy within all the ordinary parts and patterns of the day.

You bring joy to the world, O God. You tell us that we are a part of that joy and you enter into this joy as fully as is possible...and then, again. Remind us of this love you have for us so that we will begin to see how it unfolds within the life of your saints. Amen.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thursday 16 July 2009

From the section "Learning to endure the love of Jesus" in Who Will Be Saved by William Willimon.

Paul cries out in anguish, "Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24). This cry (uttered well after "conversion" on the Damascus road, I remind you) is quickly followed by the celebratory, "Thanks be to god through Jesus Christ our Lord!" I also note that Paul says, "I know in whom I have believed." Paul does not say, "I know what I believe," as if he believed in a system of ideas. Nor does he say, "I know that I believe," as if his belief were a free floating belief in belief. Paul's belief is personal trust in an engaging person - Jesus Christ.

This "engaging person" is also an engaging love. In a forward to a book a read that the editor was talking about the movement in the church to be completely inclusive of gay and lesbians. He wrote that this is "bad theology." Knowing the editor I was not surprised by his evaluation of the Reign of God among us. For some, the system of our knowing overrules the love that pulls us - like a dragnet - into the eternal embrace of our God. That dragnet is salvation. I guess. Unless of course if you think a proper theological argument is the real salvific event. Paul, as Willimon notes, trusted in an engaging person. This one - this Christ, Jesus - is one that does not limit love and welcome and participation in, with, under every aspect of life so that all might be made whole and one. When we are unwilling to see the way Jesus comes to us and take us into new life and does not wait for what other think or rule appropriate, we miss out on the living power that is handed to the church. We can be so concerned about not stepping into a pile of this or that...that we forget about following in the steps of Jesus - who quite often stepped in the worst of smelly situations so as to be profoundly for us...all.

Connection: What does the love of our Lord do to the shaping of your encounters with others...right now? Is there anything that is more powerful for you than this love and what it hands to us?

Within your loving embrace, O God, we find that you come to us and you hold us and you welcome us and you walk with us and you...will not let us go. Grant us the courage to be your living image among those with whom we live this day. Amen.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wednesday 15 July 2009

We turn to the Creed to continue out look at God's love in which we are shaped and held.

We say in the Apostles' Creed that Christ "sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty." It is a statement about rule, authority. But it's also a statement about the nature of God and what God is up to, not only in heaven but on earth. Seated there, at the right hand of the Father, it's hard for me to believe that Christ sits there in serene complacency. The son who sits next to the Father is none other than the one who sought the sheep, intruded among the sinners, reached toward the unloved, the one who stooped to the wounded in the ditch. Now this one sits at the right hand of the Father, now in the power of the Holy Spirit works with the Father as embodiment of the Father's full eros. This is great comfort.

It is so good to be reminded that the Christ, Jesus, we hear about in Scripture is not about taking a vacation. Rather, we continue to be approached by the one who will not let any of us go. We now use language about the Holy Spirit to show how God's power to work among us is still as alive as it have ever been. The Spirit of our Lord is still the Spirit of the Church and that means we are a people who can expect to see the saving acts of God continue to wash through our lives and refresh us so that we will be the followers of the one who is now in the position of power that makes resurrection a reality for each of us. This "Lord" of ours is eternally for us and eternally becoming us as we take on the image of the God whose love we have seen in Jesus and within the Church when it is free to walk in the way of Jesus. Thirty years ago today I was ordained in Detroit, Michigan, at St. Olaf Lutheran Church. I am a person of limited skills. I am quite ordinary when I see some of my colleagues. I am also regularly comforted by the eternal presence of Christ who will not let me go and will not let me let go of this gift of mercy and love. That is what has sustained me. Sometimes It is not a pleasant journey and many times I am quite sure I am not up to what will come. Then again, it is a journey that never never stops asking questions of makes me re-view everything with an eye that is brought into focus by the absurdity of grace and the open spaces of mercy.

Connection: Today needs to be a day in which we are turned over by God's love for us and within the same breath that can turn us over....we are comforted so that we can continue along this way.

When you inspire us, O God, it is within the vision of our Lord, Jesus. We are transformed not into angels, we are transformed into saints who are more and more fully human and blessed by you. Help us to embrace the individuality of our humanity so that we too can lovingly give our lives away to others. Amen.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tuesday 14 July 2009

Here's a short piece as we continue to hear how William Willimon writes about "Learning to Endure the Love of Jesus."

Most of the people in my church are fairly content and happy - until Jesus shows up. The trouble starts when they discover that salvation is inextricably linked to vocation. They experience awareness of their salvation not only as future blessing but also as present assignment.

It is a way. It is a path. It is a life that is handed to us right when we thought we knew exactly what we wanted our lives to be. The way of salvation is one that takes each road we walk and begins to reinterpret how we walk and who we are as we are walking along the pathways of our lives. In this sense, the work of the followers of Jesus is not left to those who are professional religious workers. Quite to the contrary, all of us, in all of our experiences in life, are a part of the wonderful unfolding of a life that is inspired by the love and mercy of our God. Therefore, that love and mercy has many venues to enter into the world and become quite real...just as real as me...and you. If we ask how God will do that with each of us, we need only take note of how the Reign of God becomes visible in who we are and how we take hold of the life that is to be shared with others and for other and alongside others.

Connection: So what is the "resent assignment" that is right within reach today?!

When we are able to see that you are the one who shapes us in the middle of our everyday lives, O God, your Spirit begins to move us in ways that we may not have in mind. Continue to interrupt our thinking and acting as you show us the way within your Reign. Amen.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Monday 13 July 2009

Today we are moving into a new section of Willimon's book (Who Will Be Saved) that is about "Learning to endure the Love of Jesus."

Pastoral care in the church is the sustained attempt to be with the people whom this God has erotically turned, those who are being snared in the great dragnet of God's grace. Alas, much that passes for pastoral care is mere adjustment to the cultural status quo, adaptation through therapy or chemistry to governmentally sanctioned definitions of reality. True pastoral care in the name of Christ consists of encouragement to rebel against the illusory world that is produced by the modern state and its salvations and join God's revolution. I expect this is what Barth meant when he said that the mercy of God was much more demanding and difficult for humanity than the judgment of God. To be actively loved by God, really to know that God has decisively moved in with us and taken up our cause is desperately to need pastoral care to assist us in enduring such severe mercy.

Jay Bakker (son of Jim and Tami) started a church in Atlanta, Georgia, called Revolution. He now has one in NYC. From what I have seen, he is drawing in those folks who have had enough - even too much - of the way churches rip off people with their theology of greed and money and forget about offering the love of God that cracks open new life even when we are lost and hopelessly unable to do anything about it. It really is a revolution - this grace of God that is. Nothing is able to be as it once was when God has "moved in with us and taken up our our cause." God's mercy takes our usual way of dealing with one another and dismantles it all so that we will face the illusory world that so often has such a hold on us it is next to impossible to pull ourselves away and be renewed and reborn and resurrected to new life. And yet...nothing is impossible for God...even when it means changing us and redirecting us and empowering us to be responsible within a new world of life.

Connection: This revolution of grace is and will be that which will turn us over and help us to see this day with new eyes and to also act within the way of this contrary love and mercy.

Lord God, it is by your mercy and grace that we are able to see what new life is like. It is not always the way would choose to go. We want your Reign to be a comfortable place for us to continue living as we have lived. And yet, to live in your Reign offered to us is to take steps into a life that will turn over all that we have considered the safe patterns and places where we can remain just as we are. Take us along this new way and open us to the life that will unfold before us. Amen.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday 10 July 2009

Here is a wonderful way to end the week as we consider the meaning of salvation and God's love for us with William Willimon.

Salvation comes to the empty-handed. "Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me," as we sing. The church is not here to produce a product - to make disciples, produce converts, or win people to Christ (not the capitalist metaphors). God in Christ is already doing that. We are simply ( did I say simply?) to point to this particular God, to testify to what has happened in the invasion of our humanity by this God, and to show the world what life looks like when a life submits to the reality of Christ. We have been shown something that much of the world is waiting to see, even when the world doesn't yet know for whom it awaits.

Again, making sure we see what is being done among us. God is at work. We get mixed up in the stew. In the midst of God's work among us and with us we are the seasoning to this wonderful mix of God's Reign. Our lives simply bring this life and love right to the forefront of what the world longs to taste...peace, justice, mercy, loving kindness. We are this salt or seasoning - not the master of the meal. I find Willimon's note about the capitalist language to be something to sit back and consider for awhile. Are we sales people...or...the life that is available for the taking as God's love overtakes us? I think there is a difference here.

Come and get us, O God. Take us as we are and open us up to the wonder of your Reign. Even as we may have no idea of what you will do among us, encourage us to leap into your surprising presence. Amen.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Thursday 9 July 2009

Saved? Here's what Willimon thinks.

The smug "I'm saved, how about you?" betrays the grace of God as a daily, ongoing, continually awakening, and surprising gift of emergent awareness. We are saved by the completed work of Christ, yet it is also true that we are graciously, moment-by-moment being saved. We thus may joyfully anticipate that time, that place when we shall be fully "saved," closer to the heart of God than we ever dreamed or dared imagine. Paul says that he, and indeed the whole creation, is "groaning" in agony for such complete redemption (Romans 8:22).

This image of salvation be stuck back to a particular place and time reminds me of a term a use quite a bit to talk about salvation. I am not "saved" as though I now have a membership card. Rather, I am a part of God's saving community - having my life shaped by this ongoing love of God that graciously encounters all of God's people in every place and time. It is ongoing. It does not come once, tickle us, and then go away. Being God's saving people does not mean I am out there hunting folks and trying to get them in an eternity club. I would say it is more like the love of God that keep grasping me and holding me and molding me, presents me and you to the world as love alive. It is never the complete love of the Reign of is active, moving, stretching, leaping, and learning how to become flesh among us. It is in that incarnate form (that's us) that others see what God's love bring to life in us...forever.

Connection: Therefore, in and through all things of this day - we are a part of this loving God who finds ways to open our hearts to express that love and alter the shape of how life can be lived. What a surprise we may be to others!

Within what is simple and so regular within this day, O God, let the seeds of your saving love begin to show forth through our lives as blossoms of new life fed by your love. Amen.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wednesday 8 July 2009

Again we are staying in the area of this Eros of God.

God's love desires not only our assent but also our participation. Jesus doesn't just want us to adore him but to follow him. We are told by Jesus that we are to take up his cross daily (Luke 9:23). Every day we must wake up, jump out of bed, and be surprised by the scope of our salvation in Christ. Our "yes" thus becomes "yes" again-and-again, more-and-more as we grow in grace. As Barth said, we are all "amateurs" when it comes to our faith in Christ. We keep having these fine moments of recognition and recognition in which we once again are "surprised by joy" (C.S. Lewis). In the Lord's Prayer, note that we again and again, as if for the first time, ask God for the gift of our daily bread.

This love of God sounds organic. It fits Luther's use of in,with, and under as he talks about the real presence of our Lord in the sacraments. God's love is the pulse that brings us to life. It is not distant - it is the very essence of this "God loved" life that is ours for the living. This is where I think the joy is found. We are in constant touch with that which God love - stranger...the whole creation. At hand in every moment is the opportunity to experience the joy of the Reign of God. It is already at is already among is already bringing forth gift upon gift even as we meander through the ordinary and everyday stuff we can so often walk right by looking for something else. I find that we must expect to be surprised by even the mere twinkling of God's Reign being exposed within this day. It will not take much and yet it will bring us back to the remembrance of grace offered boldly for all.

Connection: I'm never sure how I will be surprised by God's love. I do know that when I am not able to consider its presence, I will look away and look for something else to shape me. I like to say that the Holy Spirit "tickles" us so that we will look again at the ordinary and see God's gushing love in ways we usually would not consider.

Tickle us with your Spirit, O God. Tickle us and keep us awake to see your power of love present and available for each of us as we move through that which is so often routine and mindless. Amen.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Tuesday 7 July 2009

More ideas about how our God is with us and leads us into life eternal - William Willimon.

God may be pro nobis, for us, but God is also extra nobis, outside us. Whether we know it , like it, response to it or not, something has occurred in Jesus Christ that is not determined by us nor limited by the boundaries of our imagination. We must not make the effectiveness of God's work on the cross and in the Resurrection contingent on human responsiveness. The reality of salvation by Christ precedes any human possibility of salvation in Christ. Redemption is an accomplished fact, pro nobis. But God's determination fully to have us and completely to love us makes this an event also in nobis. Though reconciliation with God is a gift of God, it has yet to be fully accomplished until God gets all that God wants - to have us, all of us, in communion. Salvation is the good news, "Become who, by the grace of God, you really are" rather than the bad news, "Try hard to be someone who, with enough strenuous spiritual effort, you might eventually be."

Last week I was sitting in the B.M.V. waiting to take a test for my scooter license. There was a twenty-something guy sitting next to me. He noticed that in the stack of papers I was holding was this book by Willimon (Who Will be Saved). He said, "The answer to that question is easy." I thought he was commenting about something in the room. I said, "What?" He said the title of that book. "Those who believe and bring their life into submission to God and leave behind their evil ways." He added another line, but it was filled with what we have to do in order to be saved." Rather than get into a discussion we could never finish before one of our numbers was called I simply said that wasn't what the book was saying so far. I am always amazed at how much "bad news" is out there circulating under the banner of God's Reign in Christ, Jesus. Unfortunately, it is not merely in other churches. There can be this kind of "we gotta get it right...get it better" right within the walls of mainline churches. We forget about the truly amazing part of grace. It is amazing because it needs nothing from us to make it complete. The gift that is continually being brought forth in new ways even today. "Become you!" Isn't that what is so beautiful about the story that reminds us that we are created in the image of God. It is done for us and all that needs to be done has been done. We need only go along with the adventure and be the gift God has given to the world through us. A liberating and powerful notion.

Connection: Become you! What does that mean for you in the middle of things today - take note.

You become for us, O God, the power to live within your Reign that is already moving down the road. Your spirit continues to breathe into our lives the reminder of your creative will that seeks to make us the gift we are in your eyes. Praise to you, O God. Amen.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Monday 6 July 2009

Within the bounds of his discussion of Eternal Life, Willimon throws this out to us.

Why does my church talk so little about salvation? We preachers speak before people who neither conceive of themselves as dying down in the ditch nor a God who is able to stoop, a God who not only loves to heal, but even to raise the dead. Able to solve most our real problems by ourselves, fairly well off and well fixed, working out regularly and watching our diets, we come to church only for helpful suggestions for saving ourselves. As Jesus would have said of someone in our circumstances, "You've already had your reward" (Luke 16:9-18).
I'm reminded of that dramatic moment in the Exodus when Moses tells Israel "stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish" (Exodus 14:13). "Thus the Lord saved Israel that day" (Exodus 14:30). Note that all that is required of us is to stand and to see. The rest is God's. God forbid that this book be written or read as just another of our salvation projects. Better that these pages be part of our standing, seeing, and adoring the salvation of the Lord.

"Stand firm and see." I do not hear this as though we are to be a people who watch the story go by. Instead I see this unfold as a story in which we are already involved. We do not control the story but by the grace of God's invasion in, with, and under our lives, we are already a part of the saving drama that God has in motion. A drama that will bring all things to their creative fullness. The 'stand and see' part has to do with being aware of how God intends life to go on as we move into God's Reign that is already at hand. Stand and see how ordinary folk who are beaten and left on the side of the road will be given new life by one who -under our usual controlling judgments - would have no place in our storytelling. We are always at the beginning of what is going to be a life we have not been able to bring into being. In fact, we cannot bring it into being on our own. Sometimes the beauty of this 'standing and seeing' is that we will be surprised and we will have our world turned upside down even when we think we are the ones who turn things upside down. It is so easy to put ourselves in the seat of control and forget that this kind of thinking usually stinks - for everyone.

Connection: So how do we go through this day living as though our primary role is to stand and see because "The rest is God's." Do you feel less or more empowered?

Be a part of the transformation of our thinking and living, O God. We can be so turned in on what we want and what we know and how we want the world to move that we are left bound up in our own worlds and unable to experience the joy of your eternal Reign that is constantly breaking in upon us. Amen.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Friday 3 July 2009

Here are a few contrasting images about eternal life from William Willimon.

Immortality is attractive because it acts as if eternality is something that we possess as human beings. Resurrection is humbling because it is pure gift to utterly mortal beings like us. Immortality usually assumes continuity in the next life with this life - if we enjoyed rose gardening in this life, we'll get to garden in the next. Resurrection promises a whole new world, a radical discontinuity with the pain and frustration of life in this world, discontinuity that occurs because wee are now near God in a healed, restored, wonderfully refashioned world.

This makes resurrection available today - now. It is the life that breaks through what is now at hand for us and takes us along a new path. Thus, resurrection brings eternal life right into the present and promises to make it a part of what will also come. It is not something for which we wait. It busts into now and never stops busting in to transform and bring to life something new. Rather then waiting - we enter eternal life and the life we enter is not under our control. It is is not like Lazarus brought back to his life as it was before he died and was buried. It is new as it takes the ways of life we find comforting and discomforting and liberates us to move in a new direction that will bring us more fully into the promises of our God.

Connection: Don't expect that today will be just like all the others. We are followers of Jesus and that means we will be a resurrected people who know what it is to be in the tomb and we can expect that the next moment the stone will be rolled away and we will begin living within the embrace of the resurrection. How will the resurrection tickle you today?

Bring us into your life, O God. Free us from the way we want to control eternity and teach us to open our arms to greet the blessed surprise that is the power of resurrection you promise for all your beloved. Amen.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Thursday 2 July 2009

Today we move into a section on Eternal Life in "Who Will be Loved" by William Willimon. This is a longer selection as a story is used to make his point.

It is this miraculous, gifted quality of salvation that is lacking in popular pagan views of death and the afterlife. Most people I know believe in the "immortality of the soul" - there is in a divine spark that goes on and on even after our physical death. That's Plato, not Paul. Greeks like Plato taught that human beings possess an immortal, imperishable "soul" that goes on, in some shadowy sense, beyond the ravages of physical death.
"I believe that my daughter has now become the rain, the wind moving in the trees, the stars that shine at night," said a woman to me after her daughter died of leukemia. I'm sure that her notion of immortality was comforting to the grieving mother. And yet, I feared that it would ultimately turn out to be false comfort. First, it seemed to me a sad denial of the horror and the tragedy of a young woman's death. Wind moving through the trees is small potatoes compared with a living, breathing, loving, adorable person. Paul said that death is hated, the "final enemy" (1 Corinthians 15:26), and I believe him right. Second, wind moving through the trees is leftover small change compared with the treasure of a distinct, embodied personality whom we have known and loved, loved not so much for her general humanity, but loved personally in her delightful particularity. I feared that this grieving mother was settling for too little. But mine is a point of view prejudiced by Christian salvation.

We will hear in the days to come what else Willimon has to say about this. For now, I know that this is a topic that causes a bit of conflict among us. It is not easy to have a loved one die. It is dreadfully painful and it becomes difficult to move ahead in life when we have lost the companionship of one so close. I know that it is that "delightful particularity" that keeps someone present and in mind as I move through the stages of grief and continue on my way as a follower of Jesus. If this was a blog that was responsive, I would imagine that comments would run wild in regard to this aspect of how some see death and immortality. Alas, we are each left to consider this by ourselves or how ever we choose to walk through a dialogue about death with others. To be quite frank, I like Willimon's comments about how insufficient and inadequate he finds this woman's comments. For me, don't give me wind. It cannot be the powerful presence of, let's say, my mother. It is her living presence with me and her way of looking at me and her way of calling my name and her way of kissing me and her way of being at the other end of the phone or just a trip up I-71 that cannot be contained in wind or the rain. I hold the memory of her in my heart. She is dead and gone - as I one day will be. So now - along the way - I live within the promise of being beloved of God who has given me such gifts as my mother so that as I continue along the way, her "delightful particularity" continues to spark a smile and a tear and fond memories.

Connection: Beloved of God, be free to walk forward into this day and be grasped by all the real life people who have been and still are helping to shape you and love you and call forth your loving response to them.

When you love us, O God, it is complete and everlasting. When we love others, there are times when the sadness surrounding their loss can bring about such grief that we cannot let go and trust that they are at peace and we will be also. Help us to remember the importance of the presence of those around us so that our days will be filled with more and more real-life particulars that remind us of the gifts of your creation available to us in our companions on this journey through life. Amen.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wednesday 1 July 2009

Today Willimon turns to C.S. Lewis for more words on salvation and this love of God.

To glory in salvation as a possession, to boast of it as something achieved and now owned, is to show that one is fundamentally confused. C.S. Lewis speaks of his conversion to Christ as an act that God worked in him that was almost coercive in its effect, that time when "God closed in on me" and he came to the cross as "a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction as a chance for escape."
Today there are many who argue that we are smart enough to know that this "God" thing is ridiculous in a thinking and advanced world as ours. And yet, here is this brilliant star who comes to an insight that created a radical new adventure that brought him into a completely new way of living. It was not his intellectual insights that did this. It was when "God closed in on me." It was when Lewis found himself embraced by this expansive love and unable to resists it life-resurrecting power. We can all read much of what this God of ours did to his life as we look the many books he wrote. But it would also be exciting to see what it did to his day-to-day participation with the people who were around him. We are all grabbed by our God and our gifts are used to bring real life to the Reign of God among us. When we are so moved, the joy of that life is that we each are moved in ways that fit our gifts and therefore the community benefits from each one of us as we our lives become shaped by the One who will not let us go.

Connection: So how has this love moved you off of yourself and into a realm of Glory that is promised to us? I would think that we are daily being moved into glory upon glory and it take place right in the middle of each of our matter what we are doing.

Gracious God, you insist on loving us and moving us and shaping us and making us a people who will become the living image of your Reign. Most often we insist on not going along within the way of your will. We pray that your Spirit will continue to nudge us even as we resist and seek to continue along "my way" no matter how that is for us. Amen.