Monday, August 31, 2009

Monday 31 August 2009

More on Hope - William Willimon turning again to Karl Barth's reflections.

To the person who doggedly, persistently denies the lordship of Christ and turns away from the open hand of salvation, "God does not owe eternal patience and ...deliverance" says Barth. But if there are limits upon the love and patience of God, those matters are in God's hands, not ours. Though we must not expect certitude in these matters, says Barth, we can still "hope," because it is a matter in the hands of the sovereign God. " may know...the hope to which he has called you...God put this power to work in Christ...And he has put all things under his feet...the fullness of him who fills all in all" (Ephesians 1:18-23). Such hope is not wishful thinking but rather engendered in us by scripture such as Romans 12:29 on the irrevocable gifts of God and 2 Timothy 2:13 on the desire of God.

If we cannot expect certainty. Then we live a conditional life...a maybe life...a questionable life...a life that always makes us doubt what will be. I may be reading this all wrong, but it sounds like there is a little door open that allows for something other than the salvation of all - that is...a complete announcement of Good News - not withstanding the doubt and troubles of the world. When we talk about hope it is a hope that contains all that will save us...all that will save. When this word is not boldly and even recklessly thrown out as a gift for all, it is so easy to fall back into some other word that keep us running in circles of conditionality that really are the conditions we seem to want to put on an unending announcement of God's Reign over all things. We do not limit God when we speak of God's unlimited grace and welcome. In fact, it is so beyond us to know about this grace and welcome that we cannot full grasp it...but it keep unfolding among us and surprising us like a fresh breeze that turns our heads again and again.

Connection: One word - forever - without end - unbreakable promise. The day can be shaped in new ways under the rule of such a word.

Creating God, you bring us into life with the promise that the fullness of your Reign is available to each of us. A life we have and a life we can share and a life that continues to blossom in unknown ways. Amen.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday 28 August 2009

The wideness of this hope in salvation continues as Willimon calls upon Karl Barth's insights.

Of course there are people who resist or deny this cosmic, political claim about sovereignty. But how much credence ought we to give to human resistance and denial? If Jesus Christ died on the cross to defeat human sin, Barth is reluctant to concede much continuing power to human sin, which is why Barth was charged by many as guilty of "universalism." Barth denied the charge, saying that he was willing to concede that self-damnation might be an "impossible possibility" but to assert "universal salvation" would do "violence to the New Testament."
What Barth denied in the idea of apokatastasis (the hope of universal restoration) was to make universal salvation inevitable. To in any way imply that God must save would be to make our salvation a law or a general principle and to do so would be to limit the freedom and sovereignty of God.

When it says here that Barth was willing to concede that self damnation might be an "impossible possibility," it reminds me of a prominent Lutheran theologian who when asked if he believed in hell hesitated for a moment and said "yes, but I don't think anyone will be there." This is all up to our God who is God...not us. What does it hurt us to look at others as though the Christ who saves us...saves all. In some ways, it unleashes the power of hope...hope that can and does already liberate all of humanity so that we might more fully be human - the image of God - to and with one another. We are not to draw from the New Testament witness laws that are not a part of the Good News. When the Good News of God's gracious activity is turned into something we can chart and therefore seem to control, we have lost the wonderful surprise that is the power to overwhelm and change and make new all things...without our say so.

Connection: This makes me wonder what are some of the "impossible possibilities" that contain and limit who God can be among us. I'm sure it happens daily - at least.

Your saving power, O God, does not hold back and overflow on merely a few or even - most. Instead you simply overflow with a love that makes all things new. It is a love we cannot control and a love that keeps touching your creation in ways that brings life within the bounds of your unbounded love. Praise to you, O God. Amen.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thursday 27 August 2009

Willimon continues to quote from Karl Barth - on hope.

Barth says, "There is no one who does not participate in him in this turning to God there is no one who is not...engaged in this turning. There is no one who is not raised and exalted with him to true humanity 'Jesus Christ lives, and I with him.'" Salvation is not so much a commentary on who decides for Christ ("Since I gave my life to Jesus") as it is a celebration of those for whom Christ has decided (You don't so much give you life to Christ as Christ takes it.). Barth says that it is important for the church to admit this salvation of God "is for each and every human being, and not merely for the people of God."

I find that there is usually a line of people who are attempting to make sure that some folks are not a part of those people who are grasped by God. It might be a part of who we are. We want God to be for us and with us. It can be quite difficult for us to see others in this same embrace. the sheer wonder of this story - this reality - this Reign that is not ours to control. For even the person who runs from anything that has to do with the stories of our God for us and the life-death-resurrection of Jesus, is already a brother and sister. We do not have the opportunity to pick and choose. God's net is broadly thrown. In that way, even those who are quite at odds with us in what they say and do are already those who are claimed by God - eternally claimed. With that in mind, we are given the power to live with them with new eyes. This might be what makes it possible for Jesus to say "love your enemies" since they are first of all the beloved of God....just as I am.

Connection: In some ways when we are asked how many members there are in our congregations, we need only responds...more than we can imagine.

When your love rules, O God, we are brought into a reality that is far beyond what we usually allow ourselves to see. To see our enemies and the other...the stranger...the "those folks," as being with us around the table of your banquet feast is a gift you continue to attempt to feed to us. Help us to sit and eat at this table. Amen.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wednesday 26 August 2009

Today is a continuation of this hope that is available to us - again William Willimon.

Politically, this means that Jesus' victory has left us with only one realm - the kingdom of God. Other principalities, whether they be those of the United States, the United Kingdom, or Satan, exist now only in our minds, in our constrained imaginations, as mere shadows of their former selves. Barth says that Satan's realm is a "shadow kingdom," a pseudo-kingdom that is no longer a significant threat to anybody now that Jesus Christ rules. "This kingdom is behind us and all (people). We and all (people) are released from ...this prison." The world has been exorcised. That's one reason why at baptism, we ask candidates for a renunciation of participation in the realm of evil and wickedness. Baptism is a sort of transfer of citizenship. Baptism into Christ saves. (1 Peter 3:21).

This really emphasizes the way we are of another kind. We are followers of Jesus - who brings life in and through all times. This is also why some authors call us "aliens" as we go about following Jesus. To be baptized into the is life sets us free from the powers that would try to make us into something other than the beloved of God. Therefore, our hope is not in what can happen within the powers of the world, our hope is in the One who creates and redeems and sanctifies who is pulls us into a life that does not depend on how well we can conform to the world. We are a people transformed into that which we cannot see clearly...but is a part of the promise - the hope - of life that shines like the Lord who leads us along the way. It is important to remember that as we walk in the gift of this new life, there are times when we must renounce evil and wickedness. Usually people see that as a need to point fingers. No. I think it has more to do with taking a step away from those powers and stepping in the promise of life already at hand in Jesus. It is a contrary way to go and yet it is a reality that is present. I like the sound of baptism being a "transfer of citizenship." It has that feeling of "among us..." Among us we welcome...we offer ourselves....we forgive...we embody justice and peace...we become mercy alive for all...

Connection: Baptism gives us a vision of how to live...and what is promised. Not a bad way to face whatever will come before us.

Lord of Life, continue to bless us with this water that drenches us and makes us citizens of your eternal Reign even as we live within the temporary powers of the day. Amen.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tuesday 25 August 2009

Today we will begin a section of "Who Will Be Saved?" that deals with "for what might we hope." Willimon uses some thoughts by theologian Karl Barth.

Karl Barth revived the question of whether we can hope, whether we should hope, that in the end all will be saved. Let me quickly sketch Barth's take on salvation. Barth loved the phrase "Jesus is Victor!" even more than the biblical "Jesus is Lord." Jesus is not just love but active, resourceful, victorious love that has defeated principalities and powers, stripped them of their pretense, and forever secured all creation as his territory. Although many (most?) of the human beneficiaries of Christ's saving, victorious work may be oblivious to Christ's triumph, that doesn't change the fact. God's Genesis assault upon chaos was brought to glorious fulfillment in Jesus' victory on Golgotha. The providential grace of God that many experience in their day-to-day lives is the same as the redeeming grace of God that confronts us and saves us in the cross of Christ. Both divine actions (creation and redemption) have the same divine purpose - to draw all things unto God.

"God's Genesis assault on chaos" - what a vivid description. The powers and principalities that keep binding up God's people and throwing them around as though they are worthless is remade into the image of God. It is not a violent assault, just a very thorough one. No one is left out of that image because God brings all things into new life and makes room within creation for all...never, ever just some. Our God busts things wide open and remakes all things. This also, when added to the life of Jesus, is an active power...the power of love that transforms all for all.

Connection: We are each, therefore, a living word of hope. How can we speak anything other than that eternal truth for all?!?!

Lord of Creation and Redemption, you have completed all things and continue to shape us by your life-giving power so that your love will be the image of our life together - a witness to all and for all. We give you thanks. Amen.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Monday 24 August 2009

I'm always amazed how "things' seem to fall together. Here is a continuation of William Willimon's notes on who shall be saved. After a week at the ELCA Assembly it is a blessed picture to consider.

Picture Paul preaching this bodacious, universal claim to a little group of Christians huddled together at their house church in Colossae:
"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers - all things have been created through him and for him all things hold together... For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross" (Colossians 1:15-20).
To unite all things in him. To reconcile all to himself. All. Just when we settle in - just me and my friends who are saved - here comes Jesus proclaiming. "I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also." (John 10:16)

Time and time again it is so easy to be comfortable with what we have and who we are. I really do think that all of us would love to spend our time with those like us. That may be a large group or a small one. The defining point here is that they will be somewhat like us. Maybe we are drawn to one another because we have shared a bit of the same pathway on our journey through life. I could be that we shared an experience together - at the same place - in the same way - at the same time. Then again, it might be that once our comfort zone has been reached we settle down and attempt to keep what we have among us.
Then, we keep telling stories about this Jesus character who tickles us...makes us look around...invites us to open our eyes and look into the eyes of people who are not within the limits of our designated group. Jesus goes on and keeps talking about all. This all will not be like the "all" we consider "all of us." Rather, it is a never-ending expansive all that stretches each one of us so that we begin to catch onto this character of Jesus. This is how the church is formed. We are stretched beyond ourselves without losing our own gifts that are then shared with all.
This all stuff...this salvation that will not let us go...stands ready to move us within reach of one another and there we will see a glimpse of God's Reign as it becomes us.

Connection: Uniting does not mean we lose our self...but it does mean that we find more of ourselves within the full embrace of the other...who helps us see what our Lord sees in us. That is a different way to see where we are going.

Blessed Lord, re-united us even as we attempt to stay away and live for ourselves and only with those who keep us just as we are. Stretch us...again. Amen.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Saturday Blog from Columbus - ELCA Assembly

When the final vote was taken on the fourth Ministry Proposal Bishop Hanson asked to address the Assembly. The fourth Proposal passed (68.48% For; 31.52% Against). The Bishop continued in a very pastoral address. It was profound, direct, honest and meant to be a word from the Word for all sides of this issue. Bishop Hanson brought it down to visits that must be made in a congregation.
The First is to a household/family that has suffered a great loss and those in the family are distress with grief and sadness. He said he would read from Romans 8: "What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ, Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who love us. For I am convinced that neither.....nor......will be able to separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

The Bishop then said what if he also had to visit with ones who were now welcome after being left out of the family for so long. He read from Ephesians 2: " in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is. the hostility between us."

And then the Bishop wondered what to say if together with those who had suffered loss or had dividing walls coming down were others who were worried about what now be in the life among them. He read from Colossians 3: "As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body."

The room was silent and I thought our Presiding Bishop was one of the most pastoral leaders I have ever seen stand before a body divided and yet -- united in Christ. This is not to say all things are well and good. There is still division. There is still the miracle of healing that is always a part of the promise of God's Reign.

To be quite honest, I am still a bit shaken by the whole week and the actions taken. Those of you who know our congregation know that we have been through many of the dynamics of change that come when the doors are held open and we take up the task of walking together faithfully and within the gracious embrace of our God in Christ, Jesus. We are all aliens. We are all adopted sons and daughters. We are all parts of one body. In time, things change. The solid rock never changes and the vision of God's Reign never changes. But as time passes, we are given new glimpses of how that Reign unfolds around us. To live an see in new ways is not at all easy. That's why we pray. That is why we continue to draw near to the Scriptures. That is why we throw water and speak of dying and rising in Christ...again and again. That is why we come to the table to eat and drink the life that is ours in, with, and under all things.

This Tuesday all the rostered leaders will be meeting with the Bishop. I'm sure all synod Bishop's will be drawing rostered leaders in for conversation. We must all pray for the well-being - the wholeness - the peace of the church. That's what is always needed when we are called to walk together faithfully even as we differ.
Christ's Peace! pastoral

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday Blog 4 ELCA Assembly

A simple word: All Ministry Resolutions passed. Bishop Hanson brought us together over a Pastoral word that was blessed and holy. I will share it at a later time.

Friday Blog 3 ELCA Assembly

I thought I would comment about something other than the sexuality stuff. At worship today, the Presiding Minister spoke Arabic throughout the words of institution and the Prayer of Thanksgiving this was also the case when the Presiding Minister from a few days ago spoke these Words in Chinese. In both cases, I was overwhelmed. The catholic movements of that prayer and the holding up of the bread and wine and the gestures of welcome reminded me that we really are more than we think we are. It made me look around and observe how very different people respond within the action of the Eucharist. Very different piety. Very different ways to reverence. Very open body language. All quite good...this need not change as we move forward in the midst of our differences. The Lord of the Church is still the only power that makes us one.

Friday Blog 2 ELCA Assembly

Here are a few of the highlights for this morning as the Ministry Proposals were brought before the Assembly. Right from the start there was a motion to consider Proposal #3 as #1 (...that in the implementation of any resolutions on ministry policies the ELCA commits itself to bear one another's burdens, love the neighbor, and respect the bound consciences of all). It was then moved that the Assembly would "substitute" the following for the new #1 "Rostered leadership of this church who are homosexual in their self-understanding are expected to abstain from homosexual relations and practicing homosexual persons are precluded from rostered leadership in this church." This motion was defeated. Had it been accepted, the rest of the Ministry Proposals would have been null and void.

Then, #1 was amended with a few grammatical notes (underlined above) It passed 77.02 for; 22.98% against

As we were ready to deal with what would now be Proposal #2 (the ELCA commit itself to finding ways to allow congregations and synods that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships) a voting member made a motion that the remaining three proposals must meet a 'super-majority.' Even though we dealt with this on the opening evening, it was allowed to come to a vote here. It needed a 2/3 majority and was defeated.
Proposal #2 came to a vote and passed 60.63% for; 39.37% against.

We presently have the new Proposal #3 on the table (the ELCA commit itself to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church. Debate started and the lines were long. We finally had a lunch break and will return to the debate in the middle of this afternoon. In this debate, I though both sides attempted to be quite gracious. At the same time, there were some very definite "threat" sounding exchanges from some who do not want to make this change. One pastor noted in his opening line, "I'm a pastor in the ELCA - at least for a few more hours." After considerable conversation there was a motion to call for the close of debate (needing a 2/3 vote) and it fell short with a vote of 62.05% - for; 37.95% against.

During the lunch break I was called by the Dispatch for some of my thoughts. I never know what they will print. I started and ended my conversation with a quote by Bishop Peter Rogness when he greeted the assembly the first night. He noted that we are "A Pentecostal fugue - many voices, one song." If that is all she quotes from me - I will be honored.

Friday Blog 1 ELCA Assembly

Yesterday there were two items upon which I will offer some reflection. The first is another comment about the Quasi Committee of the Whole (on the Ministry recommendations) that I mentioned yesterday. After being in small groups for 90 minutes, the voting members came into the hall for the continuation of this part of the Assembly. In the usual fashion, people lined up at the microphones. A different part of this adventure was that the chair would sprinkle throughout the discussion time for people from a 'resource panel' to address themselves to questions that were gathered up during the 90 minute small group meetings. I could have used more of those folks speaking - but like all things here, there is a schedule and actions must keep moving.

Today, Friday, we will come back to the plenary discussion/debate/vote on the four Ministry proposals. It must be remember that even though the original intent was to move through these proposals in a sequential order, since they may be amended before any voting takes place, the order may thus change. We shall see. One comment from the floor yesterday was to encourage the Assembly to pass #3 - which talks more about the tenor and vision of what we need to live together - to which he added some folks would more likely vote for the others.

I must add part of one of the comments offered yesterday. A pastor who said he works primarily with youth said that he may take the discussion to another level. He spoke about the "children's' movie Lilo and Stitch. I haven't seen the movie and luckily he spelled out a bit of the action. The two characters pick up what they think is to be a new is not. It is an alien. This alien in the midst of their lives and their household - changes everything. The changes are wonderful and there is much growth... I have not captured his storytelling. But the point of...the alien...the foreigner...the stranger...bringing new and unanticipated life - quite by surprise....seemed to fit the day discussion quite well.

Another big action from yesterday was that the Assembly voted to enter into full communion fellowship with the United Methodist Church. It will not receive the play of the human sexuality business but it is something important for all of our congregation on the ground through the U.S. We have a new partner and more and more of us are finding it right and good to become more closely aligned. By the way, the UMC Bishop who preached at the daily Eucharistic worship - simply rocked the house!

Friday 21 August 2009

We will continue with the Ephesians text from yesterdays devotion.

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us...he has made known to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." (Ephesians 1:7-10)
You can't miss that to gather up all things in him. Paul has poetically sailed beyond the merely personal, "Jesus died for my sins," or "I know that I will be in heaven." God's desire, in Jesus Christ, is akin to God's cosmic desire in Genesis 1 and 2. God is still busy bringing worlds into being that were not. The restless Creator became the relentless Redeemer. The Redeemer is the same fabricator of the chaos whom we met as Creator. The work of the cosmic Christ is cosmic salvation.

I find it interesting that the Creation story is often used to draw boundaries. Willimon takes from that marvelous creative story the wide open power that is saving all. This God who brings all things into being and sets us into God's creative purpose is the God who is relentlessly chasing us all down so that we will enter the party and be fed with the bread of life that is eternally available and ready to provide us with all we need to live within the fullness of God's Reign. There is a part of me that wants to alter the name of our congregation (and I may as I refer to it "in house" and beyond) to Relentless Redeemer Lutheran Church (RRLC). Because our God is relentless in redeeming the world in all places and all times, so are we therefore to be a relentless cadre of people who will not stop bringing in all....for all are the beloved. And yet...what will relentless mean to the shaping of our life together? I think it is worth the adventure.

Connection: Be relentless in the redeeming adventure.

Wow. You never stop, O God. You are always for us and with us and loving us and pulling us on board this boat of your Reign that is meant to sail to all people in all times and places. Grant us courage to push off and begin again on these travels in grace. Amen.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thursday Blog 2 ELCA Assembly

The Quasi Committee of the Whole concluded. It started with a very good observation from last night. After the Social Statement passed, there was a loud and sustained applause. In the context of the Assembly and the request to refrain from such responses, the response was inappropriate. I thought about that last night and felt a bit odd that it happened - even though I did stand up from back in the peanut gallery. Today's conversations had a tone of civility that popped up here and there. It was good to see and hear. As for right now, we are about to go into worship - such a wonderful highlight of these Assemblies. Later today the Assembly will vote on some of the "implementing resolutions' that now come into play since the Social Statement on Human Sexuality passed yesterday.
Christ's Peace!

Thursday Blog 1 ELCA Assembly

Last evening I sent out a very brief note about the outcome of the vote on the Human Sexuality Document. there was much discussion around a long list of amendments to suggestions made by an Ad Hoc committee who attempted to take into consideration all of the memorials from Synods. The work of that committee was meant to bring a better document to the table. Well...after various attempts to change verb tenses someone finally came to the microphone and stated the case for accepting all the suggestions by the Ad Hoc Committee. That passed and that then brought the Human Sexuality document itself onto the floor to be considered and then brought to a vote.

As you might expect, the discussion was intense and filled with images attempting to make the argument for and against. I thought one argument against the document had an interesting backfire. A member of the Southern Ohio Synod tried to make the point that if the Assembly voted in favor of the document, we would put our worldwide ecumenical relationships in jeopardy. This person asked if some of our ecumenical officers could offer information on communications they have already received. After a pause to find that information, the officers said that there were only two letters sent from church leaders (and it was note...they were not even about this document -but rather the proposed Ministry changes) and that other church bodies were not voicing strong disfavor with what might happen.

It seemed at that point the vote came quickly. Bishop Hanson took the voting members through their usual voting procedure on their electronic voting machines and there was a bit of a silence before the results were projected for the whole Assembly to see. The Bishop looked down at the results - paused - seemed to take a breath and then asked for the results to be shown. Now...when they show results, it is in the form of a bar graph with the actual numbers and the percentage at the top of each bar. I think the whole Assembly stuttered for a moment. But there were the numbers:
66.67% For the the Human Sexuality Document - 33.33% Against. How could that be? When a vote needs 2/3rds, it needs only that amount not one vote more (as in a regular majority vote). I think part of all the stuttering was that many of us didn't know what this meant. That must have been the reason for Bishop Hanson's slight pause before he asked for us to see the results and to announce that the document passed. Later we heard that it actually passed by seven votes - which recorded as the exact 2/3rds.

Last evening I noted that i saw a group of CORE members (against the sexuality study and ministry recommendations) clustering around one of their "leading" voices - after the vote it was an interesting dynamic. I also must say that there was activity around the Good Soil group (for the changes) and their "leading" spokesperson. We are talking about two very faithful, and very political organizing groups at the Assembly.

Another dimension to last night's votes was all the discussion about what would happen if the Social Statement was defeated and the Proposed Ministry changes passed. Or...what impact would a defeated Social Statement have on the votes around the Ministry changes. Well, now we are left with a strong statement on the document that will lead us into today's Quasi Committee of the Whole for the conversations on the Ministry Proposals. The votes on these proposals are scheduled for tomorrow.

One note about the Eucharist that was held at Central Lutheran Church. Good Soil organized this event without knowing what would take place earlier that day. This is after the tornado touch down right outside the convention site and damage Central Lutheran's steeple. It was noted that the Spirit war REALLY blowing during the discussions and vote (we were restricted to the meeting room - no potty breaks....stay in the room). And then...when the vote was over and we were released from the room - there was calm outside and the sun was shining. Interesting.

The gospel for that liturgy was the story of Jesus in the boat sleeping and the winds and the waves terrified the disciples so that they didn't know what to do because they were afraid and did not believe. Wow. Talk about a text being picked way ahead of time that fit the tenor of the day and the actual weather at hand.

I will write more later. Christ's peace!

Thursday 20 August 2009

Keep on expanding...keep on expanding - again from William Willimon.

You know how, through the ark of Noah, God rescued a righteous remnant, allowing the many to perish. But do you know the full implications of the story told by 1 Timothy, suggesting that God's plan is now more bold than to rescue a religious elite (that is, everyone in this room) from an otherwise botched creation? No one is more convincing than Paul in proclaiming that God's present desire is restoration of all things in Christ:
"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us...he has made known to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." (Ephesians 1:7-10)

Even as I hold strong opinions about those in the church who will not - at any cost - open wide the doors of our church to the full inclusion of GLBT saints among us, I know that they too are the beloved of God. Sometimes my anger and my impatience wins the day and I find myself thinking we would do better to let those go out the door who are unwilling to keep the doors open for all! At those moments, I am another one of the elites who will only have room for my kind who live in my world and hold my opinions. And yet, we teach about a "Grace that God lavishes on gather up all things in him." There's that "all things" again. Not some...not all only after we have acted in the right way. This is "all" so that it befuddles me and you and sends us into a spin so that when we stop spinning in our own worlds, we come down in a place that is of God alone - God Reign where all are welcome.

Connection: Spin around for a bit before you head out to rule the day.

As you push us off into this day, O God, do not let go!! Continue to have your Spirit of Life tickle us with the reminder of whose we are and the character of life that is handed to us. Amen.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Wednesday final blog - biggy

The Human Sexuality Statement needed a 2/3rds vote to pass. The vote: 66.67% for....33.33% against. No kidding. It could not have been closer. Since it was an electronic vote, and is automatically considered a division of the house vote. It stands. This is utterly amazing. I was a witness to a leader of the CORE movement who was holding court after the vote. Streams of CORE (a conservation ELCA group very much against these considerations) members with their buttons on were busy in conversation and deliberation.
More reflections tomorrow morning. Tomorrow we start the quasi committee of the whole on the Ministry recommendations (all of which need only a majority).

wednesday Blog 3 ELCA Assembly

This is amazing. the Human Sexuality document needed 2/3rds to pass it passed: 66.67% to 33.33% A division of the house was called for but under electronic voting, a division of the house is automatic. Wow. This is really quite unbelieveable. More comments later or tomorrow a.m.


In the mix of amendments to amendments and all sorts of other wrangling over this and that as the Social Statement on Human Sexuality is being discussed, a tornado touched down right outside of the convention center (yes...a tornado). Everyone inside is fine...a little damage to the center and Central Lutheran Church across the street had damage to its steeple and the outside tents in which they have been serving breakfast and holding other outside activities.

Now...if I was someone who tried to teach that God brought along the storm because of what we were discussing inside the convention center I'm sure I would be lobbied by both sides that it was because of what the other group was trying to do. Alas, a storm is a storm...that is all.

It seems to me that as the Assembly works through this document it is hard to understand how we will get to an end by the conclusion of this week. The next two days will be packed and they will be filled with historic action. Pray for the whole church.

Wednesday Blog 2 ELCA Assembly

I love to be at the ELCA Assembly to be a part of the daily Eucharist. It is a real mix of music and styles. They use the common setting we all do, but WOW they add layers I cannot anticipate and it seems to work just fine. In this blog I simply wanted to share the words to the last hymn. As we started singing it, I was reflecting on all the things to which we are being witnesses and I became a bit overwhelmed. I sang a verse and then was simply overcome with emotion (silly me...being emotional). Here are the words...the vision.

Let streams of living justice flow down upon the earth;
give freedom's light to captives, let all the poor have worth.
The hungry's hands are pleading, the workers claim their rights,
the mourner's long for laughter, the blinded seek for sight.
Make liberty a beacon, strike down the iron pow'r;
abolish ancient vengeance: proclaim your people's hour.

For healing of the nations, for peace that will not end,
for love that makes us lovers, God grant us grace to mend.
Weave our varied gifts together; knit our lives as they are spun;
on your loom of time enroll us till our thread of life is run.
O great weaver of our fabric, bind church and world in one;
dye our texture with your radiance, light our colors with your sun.

Your city's built to music; we are the stones you seek;
your harmony is language; we are the words you speak.
Our faith we find in service, our hope in others' dreams,
our love in hand of neighbor; our homeland brightly gleams.
Inscribe our hearts with justice; your way - the path untried;
your truth - the heart of stranger; your life - the Crucified.

This is poetry. This is vision. This is taking what we have at the heart of our faith and bringing us together around word that inspire. For those who can only hang on to what is literally written in Scripture I think there is a gap. We have always counted on the poets to open our eyes and help us see what might be beyond us and yet is a part of how God is working among us and leading us.

Having said that, it is important to note that musician Paul Manz is ill and suffering from colon cancer.

good day. pastoral

Wednesday Blog 1 ELCA Assembly

Over and over again there seems to be a return to a common couple of themes. Some on the side of passing the recommendations on ministry policies hold up the banner of fear as they look across the aisle to those who are against this proposal. Then again, those who want to defeat the proposal point at the other side and say they are appealing to mere emotion and experience.

I find it quite odd that as we consider this issue (and any issue that has to do with the life of the body of Christ) people would find that we can divorce thoughts from emotion - or theory and tradition from experience and concrete action.

At the continuation of the "quasi committee of the whole" the two sides arrived at the microphones ready to offer their considerations and stories. The first person against the proposal said that Scripture can be used for the ordination of women and the end of slavery even though many passages in Scripture put women in secondary positions in life and that slavery was a common part of the society of the day. She said that there are still some places in Scripture that show woman were given places of authority and helped to build up the community and slaves were their freedom and treated as brothers and sisters. She went on to say that "no one can make an argument from Scripture for same sex relationships."
One of my thoughts at the time was that she is has become so absorbed in what this verse or that verse says about a specific time and place that she is not hearing or seeing the vision of the Reign of God that is always pulling us away from all of our attempts to find meaning in the dotting of each "i" and the crossing of every "t". Vision does not mean that we dump tradition. It may mean that we let ourselves live within the gracefulness of re-viewing tradition and re-viewing Scripture with the promises of God's eternal Reign out in front of us. This will keep all of us from thinking we have arrived at and have control of the life of God's Reign - as we want it.

A self-described Transgender Latina from Colorado talked about the place she thought she could never have in and around a church. But...she realized that she too is saved...."because (and here is the sweet and simple power of a few words spoken through a vulnerable heart) Jesus is LORD." That is the defining promise and truth that has sustained her and brought her into the ELCA and now into a position of being a voting member at our Churchwide Assembly. She also noted that she has found that Christians have a hard time with the second half of the greatest commandment - love neighbor as self.

For the folks who come to the microphones demanding that we look at what the Scripture says, I saw an interesting difference in how the Scriptures were brought into the conversation. Some in opposition to the ministry proposal are good at drawing up a verse here and there that can be used to give the church guidance. From the side that would like to see change there were many more biblical stories being shared - parables - community life within the early church. One pastor apologizing for how uncomfortable he was at microphones at assemblies open up the story of the Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. He simply noted how amazing and wonderful and inspiring it was to hear that Philip overcame the historic rejection of such people like this Eunuch. He said "he went and sat down with him in the carriage." Again, a powerful image. What does Philip - this apostle blown by the winds of the Spirit - do when addressed by this outsider/defiled one? He sat down with him. We don't know all that was said but we can be assured that vision was shared as the Scripture was being opened wide. The pastor then added this question with a sense of wonder. "How was Philip changed by this experience?"
I think that is a question many do not want to face. When the Holy Spirit sweeps us up and pulls us into God's Reign, we will be the twinkling of an eye. Changed and brought into a completely new way of seeing and living. A way we previously thought was a complete absurdity and against all that we held so dear and close.

Still not sure how things will go this week. I do know that the ELCA is now behind an active program for the elimination of malaria. Something every congregation will be able to grab onto and be a part of providing something as simple as approved, chemically treated netting for people in countries overwhelmed by malaria.

So...not everything is about sex. Then again, I think these conversations make us consider more than ourselves and urge us to come in and sit down next to the "other" and let's begin to see what is needed to make life more full and whole for all of God's beloved.

Wednesday 19 August 2009

I read some of this stuff and it is stuff we know...and yet it is never old is always so GOOD.

Although the question of your individual, eternal destiny is important, Paul says that it is tied to a consideration of the whole of God's purpose for Creation. First Timothy declares that God "desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4). Considering the incredible lengths to which God went to retrieve us, in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, is it possible that god's desire will be thwarted? (Richard) Neuhaus asks, if God is severely limited in God's attainment of God's desires, can we call the one so limited "God"? It's one thing for God's purpose to be stymied by our sin in the present moment, but will God never ever get what God wants? I would be the last to claim that everything that is happening right now is "God's will," but will God purposes for humanity be forever contested? John 3:16, the first scripture I was made to memorize as a child, says, "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son." has god's love of the world been reduced by the world to apply to only some of the world? Was the incredible sacrifice of Christ on the cross truly, universally effective for all or only conditionally effective for a few?

Can one that is limited be called "God"? Wow. And yet again and again, religious folk are busy attempting to make arguments as to how and why we must open up the door but make sure we have control of the door so that we can close it when needed - because we are "doing God's will." Ha! God's will!?! God is on the outside gathering in all...throwing out the net and pulling us in with the "them" and "those" and all else that might be pulled in. God has set the party guidelines and as is often the case, we play with them so that they will fit our vision. When we let ourselves do that, the banquet - the party - is taken away from God and it becomes our party...and not the grand, festive party of promise. Personally, I have such a hard time keeping the door open. It becomes a daily reminder...a spiritual adventure in hilarity because I can be such a fool.

Connection: Wide open are the arms of God. What an wonderful statement to consider as we enter into whatever will come next in our God's beloved.

We will fight with your way, O God, and therefore we count on your unbending love that will not let us go even as we kick and scream and want to make our way into the way of truth. Thanks to you for never letting go and daily showing us glimpses of your saving power. Amen.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tuesday Blog 2 ELCA Assembly

This morning there was time given for what was labeled a "Quasi Committee of the Whole" so as to allow for discussion - no voting - not amending....just conversation on the Human Sexuality Document. The lines for and against the statement assembled quickly and folks registered at the microphones so that their place in line will be held by computer for when we come back for another one of these conversation sessions.
My first reflection has to do with presentation. Again and again those who were in favor of the proposed teaching document were people who told stories. The stories were about how lives were made open and how closed doors (of all shapes and for all reasons) did not help to bring about the new life that we are promised. I was stuck by a couple and I will share some of those. There was the voting member from NE Ohio who started by saying he is a reformed homophobe. He said he must be careful what I do and think - he said I am always needing to keep being open and listening. "I am a poor and miserable sinner" and "I am to love my neighbor." Therefore, he must always battle what he was and be open to a love for neighbor that is the power of the good news. He is an Asian-American and said that 45 -50 years ago he could not be married in his wife's church - because of his ethnic background and because it would be a mixed marriage. He quickly brought his thought to an end by saying: "Change is good. Rabble-rousing is good."

A pastor used this comment to touch me: Sexuality does not need to divide the Body of Christ." I simply shook my head. And yet, we let it. We let sexuality be of greater power than the love of God for us and the call to love neighbor.

A high school teacher said that in alll of this discussion we must remember that we are already in the "middle of it all." The changing is happeing already in the speaking and talking. It made me think of a rabbinical note on the ten commandments. In the first spoke work of the first commandment "I am..." God is already making us into a people before anyone acts. The saying goes on to say in the breath before the first word - God has already put in place that which will be. Anyway, this teacher talked about a conversation in the teachers' lounge. It was a mix of people and he was taking about our Sexuality proposal. Folks in the room were interested and one said, "I never thought the church talked about sexuality." - that was a good thing.

Finally, a pastor talked about faith being a relationsal trust (Gift and Trust defines the sexuality statement). There is a couple in his congregation who have adopted twins. The two men are wonderful parents. One of the twins had brain cancer - became very ill - died - and was buried on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. He said that during that whole time these parents were ever-present with Hailey (sp). Then he said "Hailey trusted them." I lost it. We can be so afraid to trust that we forget to even go there. We can be so concerned about "getting it right" or "getting it as right as we need it" that we do not trust and we also do not experiencde this gift of life that is whole and holy.

There will be another session of the Quasi Committee of the Whole on this proposed document and I will share more then. There will also be a similar set up for discussion of the proposed ministry guidelines. I'm hearing good, faithful witness.

Tuesday Blog ELCA Assembly

It took me forever to figure out how to get online...but here we go. Last evening, in what can often be the most boring part of a church assembly, there was the issue of whether or not the votes for teh ministry recommendations would have to have a 'super-majority' in order to pass. This had to be ironed out before the Assembly could really go on with the rules that would cover the whole week of Assembly action. Though the vote on these four recommendations is not due until Friday of this week - the "rules" must be set. I once again simply admire the way Bishop Mark Hanson presides at these meetings. What a gracious presence. He is able to work his way through the almost "legal" working of Robert's Rules and he is also able to listen, respect, honor, and show no bias when people are presenting their arguments. One example of his leadership was the simple ability to remind the Assembly of the limits of his role and that the decisions were to be made by the body. He was always able to demonstrate that presence - a leader.
Back to the 'super majority' issue. The ELCa church council had already made the decision that the vote on the ministry recommendations about Gay and Lesbians in the church and as rostered leaders and in committed relationship would be decided by a simple majority. This was being contested. As the voting members were taking part in the arguments and discussions, it was quite clear that this vote could be a precurser to how the votes later in the week would go. As it turned out, the motion to change the voting procedures to a 'super majority' was defeated (approximately 42% for the 'super majority' and 58% for a simple majority as recommended by the Church council. As it turned out, another vote dealing with other procedural issues around this vote again was decided by a vote of the same percentage.
What could this mean? Well anything could happen. Then again, it may mean that when the ELCA votes on ministry recommendation, we may see the ELCA passing the recommendations by this kind of percentage. For those of us in the room who would like to see the ELCA step into this new way of seeing ourselves together, there was a bit of excitement in the room...but as I always say, let's wait until the vote is complete.
This morning as I talked with someone who is very much opposed to such new directions in the ELCA (and he voted and spoke in favor of the super majority), he said that it looks like we will be going in a new direction and that it will take some deliberate work with some congregations in every Synod to make the best of our future.

Several points in the argument around the 'super majority' were quite good. One that was repeated several times was that in 1970 when the ALC voted for the inclusion of women in the clergy, the church in many countries were lifted up as a concern...they would not stay in relationship to would slow down if not end ecumenical relationships - all repeated almost verbatim today. Well, the vote on women was a simple majority...and we are blessed by that historic vote. It was also noted that a 'super majority' is never used for such issues. It has it's place in the functioning of the ELCA constitution and to move for such change of voting policy over this issue could send the message that we are always willing to set aside the rules by which we govern the ELCA whenever the a hot-button issuse arises among us.

Well, that enough for now. Christ's peace! pastoral

Tuesday 18 August 2009

I found this one to be fun - from "who will be saved?" by William Willimon.

Salvation is not only for humans but even for the whales? Behold: a fallen, silenced Creation healed. Our post-Genesis 1-2 situation has been fixed. The creatures are singing. Creation and redemption are together. Revelation 5 leads us to suppose that this life in a fallen world is but a long choir rehearsal. One day, there before the throne, we shall take our places among the myriads of myriads, with those whom we have loved (and, presumably, with the myriads whom we have despised), all singing with one voice, "Blessing and honor and glory and might to the Lamb!"

We must truly let ourselves be lifted beyond ourselves so that we can be a witness to what God has done, is doing, and will do forever and ever. God saves. God rescues. God heals all the brokenness that we cannot tolerate. Something "new" breaks into the world when God is saving all things. We are shaken up to see that reconciliation and forgiveness and unbounded love are some of the character traits of the festival of God's salvation that is breaking out even now. When we let ourselves imagine a myriad of myriads it is like looking in a mirror and with a mirror behind you. The images never stop. They may become so small that we can no longer count them or see them...but the reflection keeps going - a myriad of myriads. Beyond us and with us and around us and in front of us and behind us and...forever. What I am always interesting in is why and how I ever can come to a place in which I make a ruling (maybe you do too) that the numbers must end...that the party is too big or too open and free. Then again, I cannot fully comprehend the expansiveness of God's love even to see that I am always and forever beloved. Duh.

Connection: Imagine who is in that gathering.

Precious Lord, remind us of all your beloved who are in the room and how we are not able to find peace with those who are not like us in the room unless we are already pulled into your Reign of Peace and grasped by your Saving Love. Amen.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Monday 17 August 2009

This week I think it is appropriate to move into a section of Willimon's book that asks: Who is saved?

The Revelation of John pulls back the curtain of eternity and give us a glimpse of salvation completed (Read Revelation 5:11-13)....
One might think that the Revelation - addressed to a persecuted and struggling church - would stress the fortunate few rescued and safe before the Lamb's throne. Although Revelation is not above such limiting judgments, here Revelation's stress is upon the "myriads of myriads and thousands and thousands." A huge crowd is gathered before the throne, a massive, constantly processing choir made up not only of myriads of people, but even "of every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea."

Too often - even in the places where people say that they trust in the the God who chooses us and we can do nothing at all to gain God's acceptance and salvation - we are ready to limit numbers. We cannot have them!! They are not the kind that would fit in here!! There are some restrictions that must be in place!! And yet, our God opens wide the door and gathers in "all." We are not told that the ones who are saved are "all of this kind" or "all who are like this" or "all who act and live like this." Those are designations of "all" that are really a comment about some. If it is all...if it is a cosmic "all"...if it is an "all" that is more than can be counted, then I would say we need to consider "all" as unlimited. In the meantime, rather than debate that glorious act of God or fight about what it "really means," we would do well to live as though it is the truth. Imagine how we might act with one another? Imagine. There is something groundbreaking about when faithful people imagine the wide open arms of our God dragging in the whole net full of "all."

Connection: It is quite an experience to see "good religious people" talk about the unbounded love of God for "all" and yet see them talk and act within a domain of fear and anxiety when the "all" is something that is becoming a reality. It is often manifest in the day by excuses and conditions....lots of them.

Keep us open to the movement of your Spirit that continues to gather us in and bring us into the presence of others who are beloved - even when we are unable to love them as you love. Amen.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday 14 August 2009

Today there is a bit of a connection made between Israel and "all" who are saved.
NOTE: Next week in addition to the weekday devotions, I will attempt to offer comments from this blog site in regard to the actions and images of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly. Something new for me to do....but these are important days.

Christian salvation is thus inextricably linked to the story of Israel's salvation. "All Israel will be saved," says Paul (Romans 11:26), repeating what Israel had always believed. But now Paul expands "all" to include even Gentiles. It is not that Christian salvation supersedes Israel's salvation but rather that Israel's story could now be a story for others as well. We Gentiles had, in an amazing act of God, been engrafted into the promises of God to Israel. What Israel expected from their beloved Torah, Jewish and Gentile Christians in the first centuries after Jesus' death and resurrection claimed to have experienced in Jesus. Paul makes the astounding claim that Jesus Christ saves people that nobody thought could be saved.

The "all" is expanded. We must always remember that. In the amazing story of Jesus, the "all" is expanded...forever...and ever. It never stops. There is always an "all" that we do not want to consider as part of the "all" that is us. And yet, imagine how ticked off the Jews were when this bunch of mixed-race folk started claiming to be a part of the promise and the life within the promise that had been reserved for Israel alone. Pretty bold! I find this interesting in the week prior to the ELCA's Churchwide Assembly in which there will be many voices trying to say that "all" does not mean and cannot mean "all." There will be all kinds of reason as to why the church cannot be open with no conditions to "all." Then again...there will be other voices attempting to keep promise alive and salvation as expansive and powerful as the one we call Lord of All.

Connection: I can only keep reconsidering this reality of "all" that is the banner word of the Reign of God in which we say we abide both now and forever. One little word really does have power within the dynamics of the day.

Hold us again, O God. Hold us and teach us and carry us within your ever-expanding Reign that we will become a sign of the fullness of your love and grace. Amen.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thursday 13 August 2009

Once again Willimon has a wonderful way of looking at the experience of the early church.

You know how people fear public speaking. To speak in favor of a criminal who died on a cross must have been even more fearful. Yet they preached. the the experience of homiletical boldness, the disciples added testimony to "peace", "joy" even amid suffering, as well as "faith, hope, and love." In short, they claimed many of the gifts and dispensations that Israel had come to expect in the messianic age as their own. Get it! The Christians believed that they were the first fruits of God's promised salvation of Israel, only in a form that was wider, more extravagant and reckless than even Israel imagined.

These were ordinary folk living as though their were inheritors of God's Reign that was available to them in their time and in their day. Willimon notes that they "claimed many of the gifts and dispensations that Israel had come to expect in the messianic age." There was to be no more waiting. They were within that age and they took off into the day saying and doing and being children of the Resurrection...children of promise...children of the new age. When you give it just a moment to settle in, that is also us. That's right. Rather than sitting around waiting for something to happen, all that is to happen has happened. The end of the story is secure and we are, like those first followers of Jesus, expected to live as though it is true...that is believe the story in which we are a part by grace. This is not a heady message. This is a message that grabs hold of hearts and offers a way of life that is "wider, more extravagant and reckless" than any of us let ourselves consider.

Connection: When we stand with each other, it is often more possible to walk within this promise that is waiting to see what life comes from us as we take part in it. What do you need to help you walk there. We are already given the Holy Spirit...but it might just come in the shape of someone that as real as those around you.

When you take hold of us and bring us into the vision of your Reign, O God, we still need a hand that will guide us into the pathways of life that reveal your Reigning glory with the life that we call "everyday and common." Continue to abide with us and nurture us. Amen.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wednesday 12 August 2009

A preaching note from Willimon.

As a preacher I note that a principal evidence put forth by early Christians as proof of their salvation was their experience of bold, free speech. The same Peter who couldn't find his tongue to tell about Jesus when confronted by the little servant girl in the courtyard at midnight (Matthew 26:69-75), after the Resurrection, stands up and delivers the gospel with boldness (Acts 2:14-47).

I am always asking myself if I am being bold enough in my preaching. Do I hold I not say this or that...and if so why not? Too often I hear comments about how the preacher should not offend people. And yet, the need for boldness is because this Good News that becomes life among us is offensive. I know there is the need to be politically correct or socially correct or business correct, but that is all a part of the "powers in the air" that rule the world in its present shape. The Good News pierces the bubble of the powers so that they are exposed as powers antithetical to God's Reigning presence. But say those kinds of things....again and again...that is always an abiding question and concern. I'd like to sit down with a group of people (from out in the pews) and talk this one through. Maybe this is why Christian education is so important in the congregation. We all need to be munching on this Good News and the life of liberation and freedom it promises...and it delivers.

Connection: How do we faithfully consider how bold we will be as we move through this day?

Empower us, O God. We are instruments of your Reign. Heal us again and again so that we will sing out with the boldness of your loving presence that rocks the world to new life. Amen.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tuesday 11 August 2009

Sometimes I like the way William Willimon simply goes for it.

The basis for these effusive claims about God's salvation was something that had happened to them. Nobody is more extravagant than Paul in his sweeping declaration of what has actually occurred in our salvation. No longer jerked around by "the elemental spirits of the world" (Galatians 4:3,9), the otherwise intimidating "powers" (Romans 8:38; cf. 1 Corinthians 2:6-10), they stood up and spoke up, now free from sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). They spoke not about an opinion that they shared, a new theory they had devised; they spoke of a series of events (they often said they were being saved [Romans 1:16; 10:10; Ephesians 2:5-8]) that had happened to them, something even now happening. "For freedom Christ has set us free," (Galatians 5:1) Paul preached on his way to jail. Note that he spoke in the past tense claiming a gift presently received rather than only a future expectation.

It is already a gift. What a remarkable reality to grasp onto as it is handed to us! A freedom that is not coming down the road...but already embracing us and wooing us to be free, indeed. Within our faithful imagination, it is a good daily exercise to consider just what this salvation means for how the day unfolds. Where will we be held back.....and why? Who will we sell out to....and why? What forces in the day are able to control us and bind us up...and why? Salvation is a brewing stew already tasty and ready to be served at any time and in any place. In today's piece, do you hear the movement toward something real? Paul speak because of what has taken hold of him and moved him and become so real his life is changed beyond recognition. Imagine his rabbinical teachers listening to him go on and on about this freedom of life and the boldness with which he is willing to enter the day as one of God's saving people. I think it is a powerful image.

Connection: This day is already a gift that is enhanced by the fact that God has delivered us into new life...

Within your saving embrace, O God, we are brought into this day as a people free to be the beloved people you call us. When we are unsure about this freedom, let you Spirit tickle us again and show us your way to new life. Amen.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Monday 10 August 2009

More thoughts by William Willimon on the expansive "all" that is the Reign of God that brings life to simply....all.

On Pentecost, Jews from every nation in the world gathered (Acts 2). In a miraculous descent of the Holy Spirit, this little sect became multilingual, universal. The church was thrust everywhere, showing up all over. Not twenty years after their Savior had been humiliatingly crucified by the authorities, Paul told them that they would judge the world and the angels (1 Corinthians 6:2-3). They were God's major means of reconciling the world (Romans11:15; 2 Corinthians 5:19). God's whole plan for all the world was being revealed through them (Ephesians 3:9-10). "This was not done in a corner" (Acts 26:26), Paul stood up and preached to King Agrippa. "This salvation was huge, cosmic (Acts 28:28). All.

It is through the people - the many...the varied...the good and the bad...the learned...the left out...the least likely of contributors - that the Reign of God becomes as real as everyday experiences. The church was to be an alternative life. In reality, it was to be a life blessed and a life that was the intention of God when humanity was put in its place and given responsibilities for the well-being of all. The invitation to come within the body of Christ was and is an invitation to be a part of the embodiment of God's gracious Reign that we see in Jesus. It is not a nice and neat pathway. It is a way that had already lead Jesus to the cross at the hands of societal leaders who attempt to control how life is to be lived. a concept beyond my consideration. Each time I try to consider this cosmic salvation, I can only see it in limited terms. I try not to limit it...but that is what happens. Therefore, this notion of "all" is something that must be put on my daily agenda and something that finds its way into the contemplation of the actions and life at hand. The insistence on "all" will always lead us into surprises beyond our expectations and well-thought-out plans for life.

Connection: Just how huge and cosmic is God's saving power within this day...for you?

Bless us Lord God. Pull us and stand with us to open our eyes to see the way your Reign spreads out beyond all that we think we can be. And then, be with us as we walk in the way of your beloved, Jesus. For out there and yet right here is the face of your glory. Amen.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Friday 7 August 2009

Today Willimon comments about those first generations of the followers of Jesus.

Previously they had made careful, religious distinctions between Gentile and Jew, male and female, now they claimed all such distinctions were destroyed in the inclusive embrace of Christ. Though they appear to have had next to nothing by way of security or property, Paul told the raging crowd of Christ followers at Corinth, "the world or life or death or the present or the future - all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God" ( 1 Corinthians 3:22-23). There was a sort of reckless extravagance in their behavior. They took everything they had and piled it all together to be used for the care of all (Acts 4:32). They bragged about having no personal property or possessions, now having "all things in common." All.

The "all" is much more radical than - all people. It is also the all of all people. It is as though as we are pulled into the Reign of God it is really quite a holistic pulling. All things...all people. It is as we enter into the cosmic nature of "all" that we begin to be set free of the notion that everything is for me or has to be about me. As that is the character of the community, life becomes wide open and unburdened and takes on a new understanding of being safe - that's quite the meaning of salvation. When God saves, God saves us for life that is unfettered by the powers of the day and the power we give over to those powers in our life. Free Indeed, is the shout of those who have come to see the way life really does open up no matter what we have. Relationship may flourish as they were not able to flourish previously. Grace brings an amazing zest to all life.

Connection: How do you define the "all" of God's saving Reign and how does it help to shape how you are about to engage the day?

Lord of All Hopefulness, your word of new life gives us a new day. Continue to be the encouragement to be free and whole as we share our lives with those who are all about us. Amen.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Thursday 6 August 2009

Please excuse the late posting - a busy day of art. This is more from Willimon about that Christmas event.

Here is a tiny sect in a forlorn corner of the empire, centered upon devotion to a Jew, a criminal who was tortured to death by the authorities, a little fringe group of extremists holding on by their fingernails. They had managed to establish a few pitiful congregations here and there in the hinterland. Though Jesus had once called them the
"light of the world" (Matthew 5:14), their light seemed fragile and dim, no real competitor with the brilliance of the Empire. yet when they spoke of salvation they told of an event no less cosmic and world shattering than the end and the beginning of all things. They felt commanded to proclaim this salvation to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8), to enlist disciples from all nations, both Israel and Rome, without distinction. (Matthew 28:19). All.

All may start with the few...the tiny...the other than powerful...the forgotten. From there, that is as we make sure these are brought in and made a part of the saving story of our God, all things comes within the realm of God's Reign. It is too easy to make sure the people with names and titles are comfortable and made to feel welcome. But when the "all" is the wide open address of 'all y'all' - it is for each and everyone who has take a breath and entered the day as God's beloved...that is all without a doubt. It might be that too often we doubt the "all." Can this really be? Is this really the story in which we place ourselves and the story into which we invite others? Wow. We are a much more radical cadre of people than we may think. Under the banner of the Reign of God, comes that world shattering reality that is always alive and yet at any moment may be rejected completely. On the other hand, the Spirit of our God always seems to pull a community of people out into that fringe land of "all." It is an odd group that sing "All are Welcome" and they are truly caught up in the vision of the song and the life it holds up - like a bright light for all to see.

Connection: Be radically lit today.

Spirit of God, help us shine with a light that is available for all in all times and places. Amen.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wednesday 5 August 2009

Another quick reflection of "all" by William Willimon.

When i stand and read the Christmas Epistle, I announce before the congregation that the Incarnation is not just for those who are here on other Sundays but even for those who show up just on Christmas - "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all" (Titus 2:11).
In my classes at the university, it was my custom to grade more or less "on the curve." After all, I can't give A's to everyone. So to avoid grade inflation I was careful to give A's only to some, those in the upper 20 percent. God, Jesus says, is not like that.

There are always cries of that cannot cannot be all that free and easy. Right!?! And yet this is completely wrong. It is what God does. Completely and always and eternally for us, God passes out the highest marks to each of us - beloved of God. It is that mark...that cross traced on our forehead - that sets the course of what will be. Before any performance, there is this awesome reminder of where we stand before God and the rest of creation. From that place we are pulled into the humanity that is ours from the very beginning of creation and will be at the end of all things. Then again, in the meantime we are too easily seduced by other words that are set on grading and weeding and throw some out. This "all" really must be an "all" or it is nothing new compared to the ways of the world.

Connection: It is difficult for me to imagine how Good News works. Although, some days and at some times, this striking Word of love lifts me up and helps me see things with new eyes. The promise is that it is always a Word available to all of us in all the days of our lives. When will we each hear it today - for us...and for all!!?!??!

Come, Lord Jesus, come and breathe upon us this breath that blows death and its many powers aways so that we can see your life that you hand to us and begin to stand within its bounds. Amen.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tuesday 4 August 2009

Here's a clip of part of a sermon by Karl Barth as William Willimon continues this look at "all."

"Joy is born when you renounce any attempt to be something more than one among all those whom God has made prisoners of disobedience, that he may have mercy on all." There is great joy in knowing that one's greatest claim upon God is that "I'm disobedient" because we now know a God who has mercy only for the disobedient.
All the perpetrators of disobedience; all the recipients of mercy. "This salvation of God" (Acts 28:28) is the great mystery of a God who refuses to be God alone. All sin; God's mercy is actively available for all sinners.

Joy is that deep...deep, reality that creates a place to stand and be the fullness of who we are. It is from this joy that living begins within the Reign of God. The angels sing out "Joy to the World" because the world in which we live is about to change and never be the same." This is not merely on the hillsides of Bethlehem, it is is is in the middle of our turning away and running off to make something of ourselves. Our God brings joy even when we would have things be quite otherwise. It is a gift - completely. It is without speculation on what could is a living will for life that will not expire and cannot be controlled. Just a moment of this joy is enough to give us a space to breathe when all the breath has been knocked out of us. I think that might be called resurrection.

Connection: Breathe. It is the beginning of promise and the rich beginning of joy dancing around us and within us.

God of All Times and Places, you continue to draw us in because you long for that which you created to be that with whom you enter into play and utter joy. Grant us again that joyfulness that is your Reign. Amen.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Monday 3 August 2009

Today we continue with Willimon's comments from Karl Barth on "All."

Disobedience to God is our primary enslavement, says Barth. We have relegated God to the "man upstairs" so we can "go our own ways" downstairs. Sometimes our disobedience becomes downright religious as we attempt "an impossible ascent" up the mountain as "foolish mountain-climbers" who arrogantly refuse to let God descend to us as we piously, stupidly attempt to ascend to God through our rituals, churches, beliefs, and deeds. Whereas I've heard people define religion as something that all people do to get up the mountain to God, Barth defines religion as a means God uses to descend down the mountain to us.

But...what do we do with this God who descends to us and to be for us and to be with us without condition. We try to turn it into a game...a very serious game of access where we may not have to climb a mountain - but we certainly have to clean things down here so God will be with us. I like Barth image...but. God is not the problem. We are. We find ways to turn utter announcement of God for us into God waiting for us to get our act together and be right. It all happens so quickly it is difficult to catch ourselves sin the act of acting and being like that. It may have been wrong for President Obama to use the word stupidly to describe how the Cambridge police department acted several weeks ago, but stupidly is a good word to put onto any attempt we make to ascend to God...or to take control of God's action that is meant to be eternally for us.

Connection: The openness of the Reign of God is baffling. That doesn't mean we need to be able to control its abundance. It might be good to take note of how often the Reign of God will be something that baffles us just within this day.

Lord of All Life, it is by your grace that we are filled up with the breath of life that brings about a new domain right here and now...right in this moment...right when we thought we knew another way. Praise to you. Amen.