Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday 30 October 2009

I wanted to share this wonderful thought of Willimon's as we end this week - just prior to All Saints Sunday.

Note that we affirm in the Apostles' Creed that "he shall come to judge." In the end, as at the beginning, we do not come to Jesus; he comes to us. Christ the Judge is not like our judges - sitting back and dispassionately pronouncing judgment. God the seeking shepherd, the searching woman, comes to us, this time as the Judge who draws near to set things right between us and God, loving us enough to judge us. In all of Scripture, God's anticipated judgment is celebrated as a joyful event, a time when God at last actively overcomes the injustice and inequity of the world and gives evil what it deserves.

Remember within the creation of humankind God steps back to look at everything and "it is good...very good." This is the way we are in the eyes of our God. The final judgment is a liberation from all that would grab us and steal us and twist us and steer us away from such a vision for life. Could this judgment be a once and for all - welcome home my beloved...let us now - all of us in every place and time - dance in the midst of God's love and be shaped by God alone.

Connection: I also like to dream and wonder and imagine.

Be for us, O God, the one you have always promised to be - our loving God who is our foundation and resting place. Amen.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thursday 29 October 2009

This notion of damnation is really one that overwhelms too many of us...and unfortunately, many are under its rule - for it breeds dread and fear. More from Willimon - quoting others.

One of the appealing aspects of reading Origen on our eternal fate is that he manages to make his assertions with admirable intellectual modesty, refusing to explain away or to ignore that scripture that may be counter to his theological claims. He asserts, not a knock-down argument but rather a genuine, though not legally defined, hope that is based upon the identity of Jesus Christ.
My mentor in these matters is, once again, Karl Barth, who know a great deal about Christian theology but, in discussions of our eternal damnation or reward, demonstrated uncharacteristic intellectual reticence. Barth refused to lock God into either an "All are saved" or "Not all are save" position, though I have admitted that Barth hoped for universal restoration. Barth found it difficult to believe that Christ's work for the salvation of the world will be finally thwarted. Still, the resilience and persistence of human sin is impressive. After all, we managed to hear and to see God With Us and still cried, "Crucify him!"

Can we learn to let ourselves live within a religious world in which we do not have to try to be definitive about damnation?!? I only want to be sure about the promise - the hope - the forever that is in the grasp of our God who will abide with us and be for us in and through all that will be. The lessons for this Sunday - All Saints Day - ring out with promise that is more powerful than any other reality in which we may find ourselves. By the God ever "Not With Us"!?!?!? If God With Us is an eternal hell with damnation. In fact the hell of damnation is another place where God is With Us - but it is now a new place defined by the God of Grace and Glory.

Connection: What joy is at hand. There are too many people living under a veil of threat who must be made free. My only consolation if some will not find rest in this joy, is that they will be wonderfully surprise - a greeting that will wipe away every tear.

Invade our lives with your Gracious Reign, O God. In Christ, Jesus, you walked among us and we saw the Glory of your Reign as it is set in motion within the day to day of all the travails of life. We need your Spirit of all Hopefulness to nurture our faithfulness. Amen.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Willimon doesn't stop making us think of all side of this notion of hell and damnation.

However, valid objections can be raised against the claims of contemporary sentimentalists. Jesus as the all-affirming, indulgent, and inclusive therapist must answer to Scripture's Jesus the Prophet, the Judge, the one who hated our sin enough to take its full force upon himself and save us through, suffering for us and because of us. Jesus was crucified for telling judgmental stories like the one about Lazarus and the rich man. If finally our eternal destiny is in God's hands that applies both to the possibility of divine restoration and to the prospect of divine punishment. We just don't know. all we know for sure about any forecasted final judgment (on the basis of Matthew 25) is that there are large surprises because of the surprising Savior.

I don't even know what will be meant by "divine punishment." It could be the most rewarding thing that comes to me. It may be that which saves me from myself and opens up a world beyond my imagination. I don't know. the meantime, the restoration and the judgment are both part of a grand picture beyond what I may know but within my faithful imagination that has Jesus always - for and through all things. Now, how would you define for us. Hmmm.

Connection: A simple exercise may be to simply imagine how God if "for us" in and through all that takes place today. It will take stretching our imagination...but I think it is within our powers to imagine.

Take us up into your arms, O God. Lift us up to see the grand vision of your Reign and the place that is set for each of your beloved. Amaze us again and again so that we will not fear what the day holds. Amen.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tuesday 27 October 2009

There is just something about how we think we know or need to know what will be.

I fear that Augustine allows his sense of human original sin to overcome his sense of Christ-initiated divine grace "for the sins of the whole world." Augustine gives too much credence to sinful Adam and too little to the triumphant Christ. How does Augustine know for sure that some are irretrievably damned? Damnation is possible, but is it probable? Neuhaus asks if biblical talk about hell is predictive (this is the way it shall be) or cautionary (this is the way it can be if one turns away from Christ's outstretched hand). Whereas Origen has nobody in hell, Augustine appears to have just about everybody there. How do either of them know this much?

In the meantime, what does it matter what they think about hell and who will or will not be there. What does it add to the life of the followers of Jesus each and every day. Do you go about your day based on what you know or have been taught about hell? you go about your day being drenched by the grace of God and the life of promise that is available for all - even as I write this and forevermore?! Just within the past week, I have been thinking about this simple notion. The Reign of God is the road before me - what now?! There is for me a sense of urgency but not a sense of coercion. It is there/here. It is not waiting for my response to its availability. It is for me and you without any condition or excuses. Now what!?! In some ways, I am a bit afraid to answer or even talk about that question. It has an impact on what comes next. That's kind of powerful.

Connection: So, now what!?!

Grant us courage and wisdom as you once again invite us to share in the unfolding of your Reign within this day, O God. There are so many other ways to walk - and yet you alone bring us into the fullness of our humanity. Amen.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Monday 26 October 2009

We will continue in the section called "Damned" in William Willimon's book, "Who Will Be Saved." seems to me that valid objections can be raised against Augustinian claims of eternal, widespread damnation and a crowded hell. One objection is that 'eternal' is not something that is a possession of humans, be they damned or blessed. "Eternal" is a gift of a living God who raises the dead. To ascribe immortal, everlasting life to the damned seems odd. Second, advocates of this eternal, penal, irrevocable misery must surely contend with the Savior as depicted in Scripture. Jesus the Judge must be held in tension with Jesus the Savior, the Evangel, the one who was criticized, not for having too strict a standard of justice, but rather for seeking, inviting, and saving the lost.
Jesus is the Judge who is also our Advocate
"My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)

"Eternal is a gift of a living God who raise the dead." Would it be a gift if it was something with a hellish "forever?" I don't think so. And yet, we are very willing to keep wanting to make much of "eternal life" that is spent in a gift-less state. Unfortunately, as long as the gift of life eternal is spent wondering about what will be after we die, we will continue to speculate by writing in the air. Eternal life rarely is placed within the context of now. We are invited and handed the eternal life that is the Reign of God...and it is handed to us now...for now. Our Advocate is already on the job changing us in the midst of life and changing the world as we are alive within the Reign of God even as we are walking and living within the ordinary brutality of today. Better to live anew than wonder about what if...this....or...that.

Connection: We must remember to keep our eyes on the life that is already before us as we enter today established within the Reign of God. It would be good if we would think less about hell and more about "leaving a bit of heaven around" (Cornel West).

When you bring us life, O God, it is for now and forever. We give you thanks for the many ways you invite us to share the life of your Reign as a part of our own. Praise to you, O God. Amen.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thursday 22 October 2009

Leading into today' piece from "Who Will Be Saved" was this sentence from yesterday's devotion.
"Heaven is the delightful, disarming place and time where God gets what God wants."

As he was led away to be hanged by the Nazis, Alfred Depp - friend of Bonhoeffer and powerful preacher - said to the soldier who took him to the gallows, "In a few minutes, I'll know more than you do."

We do horrible things to one another in the name of what we now know. We do them in the name of so many good things and all that we think will make the world and our lives better. Alas, the Reign of God is already given and the peace of God prevails even when death appears to be the victorious power of the day. The soldier knew the orders and what would keep things just as they are - a world of the good and the bad...a world where we try to destroy everything that is bad (or not like me). But...whenever we attempt to control our world, we make a real hell of it. In Depp's death, he reminds us of that for when we claim to know more than the other, it is often used in such a way that we make life a hell for us all. That soldier may have thought he was being a part of all that was supposed to be good.

Connection: I'm not sure. Already we must be open to that which will surprise us so that we do not claim to own the hour or the day or the lives of others.

Within you Reign, O God, you continue to open up doors for us so that we can catch a glimpse of the shalom of your coming among us. We humbly thank you. Amen.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Here is another take on hell...and all of us.

Slaves, working out in the cotton fields on a hot Sunday morning in the Old South, looked up from their forced labor. They saw the master and his family getting into their fine coach, wearing their nice clothes, and preparing to go to their fine church for Sunday morning worship. One of the slaves began singing the spiritual, "Everybody Talkin' 'bout Heaven Ain't a-Goin' There."
At other times they sand, I got shoes, you got shoes, all God's children got shoes. And when I get to heaven, gonna put on my shoes, I'm gonna walk all over God's heaven." That was the song of slaves, many of whom did not have shoes in this world. Hell is that time and place where those who have had everything that this world can give are made to see the poverty of their lives. Heaven is that time and that place where those who had to go barefoot in the world, at last have shoes. Heaven is the delightful, disarming place and time where God gets what God wants.

Let me start with the last sentence: "Heaven is the delightful, disarming place and time where God gets what God wants." All God's children will be one. No one left out...all are renewed. No one is punished...all are healed and set free...all have shoes. Those who have...come to see the world in a new light so that they become familiar with how God is God of all. Those who have not...receive dancing be reminded that God does provide. In the meantime, the two peoples begin to look at each other face-to-face and human community begins to see how full and blessed it can be with the whole house of the Lord is full with all God's children.

Connection: It is amazing how many times I am unwilling - experience the fullness of God's Reign by reaching across to touch the world of one who is not me. It is quite embarrassing. But then again, it is always an available scenario for all of us...the beginning of life within the restorative power of our God.

When you heal us, O God, you are also healing the world. As I am made whole, I become available to others. When you inspire us to be available to others, your creation shines and we are given a glimpse of the more into which you call us every day. Amen.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Here's Willimon sharing a bit more from Origen.

When someone is "lost" does that mean simply that he or she has not yet been found? Origen expects that the torment of bishops and other sinners will not last forever. In a crescendo of divine resolve, all shall be restored. God's punishment is not an end in itself but is yet another example of the ways that god weaves even the worst of calamities into God's good purposes. Until that time of eventual restoration, the drift of sinners into hell and the torments endured there must bring torment to the loving Savior, if the Savior's goals is to save, to return all things and all people to the perfect harmony that the Creator intended at the beginning . Origen taught this, not on the basis of any sentimental or optimistic assessment of human nature but rather on the basis of his unqualified faith in the essential benevolence and mercy of God.

I find that a leap is made here. There is this wonderful comment" In a crescendo of divine resolve, all shall be restored." There is no need to add anything. Can we not settle on the wonder of this action and consider who gracious is the one who restores and the life that come within the restoration? And yet...there is that need, by some, to wander into the abyss of hell and torment - as though we must explain that in order to get to the gracious and merciful restoration that knows no end. The bottom line for Origen is a good one in my book. He has this "unqualified faith in the essential benevolence and mercy of God." From that reality as we walk out into the day, our gait is quite different from the legalism and fears and threats that usually attempt to rule us. We can do is part of the promise where God's Spirit takes us into God's future each day.

Connection: Today is another opportunity to hear that "crescendo of divine resolve" and be a restored people - again.

God of Life Eternal, show us the way - again. In the midst of threats and fears, show us how bountiful is your grace and love and mercy that is eternally inviting us to walk with you. Amen.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday 19 October 2009

Today we are given a bit of a historical look at eternal punishment from Willimon's "Who Will be Saved?"

The idea of eternal punishment was challenged by Origen (ca. 185-254) who argued for some sort of apokatastasis, the final restoration of all things. Though Origen's ideas (or at least what the church understood of them) were condemned at Constantinople 543m and though he had some strange metaphysics backing up his soteriology, I think we ought to listen to Origen one more time. Origen agreed that love must take sin and rebellion seriously but stressed that God in Christ has a peculiar way of taking our sin and rebellion seriously. Origen agreed that hell is real but disagreed that it was eternal. Hell is more purifying fire than eternal torment, more educative than retributive. The fire is God who purifies sinners. Hell is more remedial than retributive, a kind of horribly bitter pill that is taken in order to cure us of our sin and its effects. Paul says that Christian leaders who are unfaithful must be purged and thereby "will be saved, but only as through fire" (1 Corinthians 3:15)

I find that it takes quite a bit of energy to come up with the whole notion of hell and damnation. Then it even takes more energy to support it. What I don't understand is why is all that work necessary? What witness is it to the Reign of God - that is sheer gift!?! In many ways, all of this necessity to develop a system of damnation seems to turn on how it can all profit those who are working so hard to make sure the system is in place and unmovable. From my perspective, I like to remind myself of the wonderful picture of the gates of hell not being able to prevail against the Good News of Christ, Jesus. Hell has no chance. Right when the language of hell-fire is at it hottest, the Good News is the quenching water that not only puts out the fire but brings new life to those who are swept up by God unbounded grace and love. The motivator of this new life is not fear of what might be, it is the truth about what is already - salvation for all. It is this announcement that become for power for changing the status quo of religious games and all other games.

Connection: I think we are handed moments of joy when we are brought to new life by God's gracious embrace of us...all of us. Remember what the angels sang over the hills of Bethlehem, "Joy to the World..." There is nothing conditional about that.

Lord of All Hopefulness, you open the door and invite us to come and gather around the fullness of your eternal life. Inspire us again and encourage us to come and rest and live and be filled with the joy of your Reign. Amen.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday 16 October 2009

Here is a week's end note on sheep and Goats...again, William Willimon.

Please note that in Jesus' parable, both the blessed sheep and the cursed goats are ignorant - both ask, "Lord, when did we see you?" Neither the sheep nor the goats were out looking for Jesus, nor did they know Jesus when he stood before them. Both were encountered by him incognito as he pushed into their lives in the faces of the poor, the imprisoned, and famished. This suggests to me that the parable of the Great Judgment is not a lesson in how to shape up and, therefore, avoid God's judgment but rather a statement on the impossibility of circumventing God's judgment. We shall be judged, says the parable, no matter how zealously you worked for the defeat of George Bush or the hours you gave to Habitat for Humanity. And the judgments shall be those of God, not those urged by either progressive or conservative preachers.

So now what!? In a situation that could bring much anxiety - we are being called to rest on God alone. In the meantime, we follow Jesus...always serving and making sure that the joy of God Reign is among us as the gift that it is.

Connection: The power of the story pulls us into the life that is already ours. We can go there!

O God, you are the light of this day and the power that enables us to be a part of that light within a world that can suck it all out of us. Abide with us - as promised. Amen.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thursday 15 October 2009

Today - the surprising aspect of Christ's Reign - William Willimon.

Recently, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina, in a radio interview, declared, "If you live a good and righteous life here on earth then hopefully there will be no surprises in the afterlife." He was obviously not talking about the Christian faith where, according to Matthew 25, there will be surprises for everyone! Surprising Jesus was notorious for welcoming whores into the kingdom of Go and telling the presumed righteous that they could go to Gehenna. The Judge who sits on the throne surprises because his judgments are unlike ours.

The surprising aspect of this Judge is that we have no way of controlling what this Judge will do. We have been told that there is already a decision for us. That kind of judgment is surprising. We can always come up with reasons why we should or should not be a part of the Reign of God. Then again, none of our arguments or concerns or opinions matter - do they. And yet, the temptation is so great. We want to somehow - know and be able to help it along...just a bit. When this is all about us and our goodness, the storyline never changes. We become chained to it and miss the life that comes when we start each day as already on the beloved list - a list that always surprises us because we (and all of them) are one it. Surprise!

Connection: Within the gracious Reign of God, we need only close our eyes for a moment and then open them. Everyone we see (including the reflection in the mirror) has been judged as one of the beloved. That is the power that ignites life within God's Reign among us.

As you come to us, O God, you open your arms and we are made welcome into the heart of your promises and into the life that comes through promise. That is beyond our understanding but it is within the faithful imagination you have given us as a gift. Amen.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Sometimes the notion of hell looks like the world as we know it - Willimon.

Was the psalmist celebrating or perhaps complaining when he sang these verses:
Where can I go from you spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. (Psalm 139:7-8)
Something in us does not want the God who wants us. The rich man when offered eternal life, walked in the other direction, finding his stuff more loveable than Jesus. Thus hell remains a real, but nevertheless inexplicable, possibility, a failure not of the resourceful love of God, but rather of our own disordered desire. Hell is getting what you think you really want. In Dantes "Inferno" those whose main pleasure was lust are allowed to burn forever and gluttons are doomed to unending engorgement. The heaven we craved is the hell we got.

Our own "disordered desire" really becomes something other than the heaven we are promised. Recently someone was talking about how they would like to change our country. Many ideas were given. I'm sure it sounded like heaven to him. I could only see it turning into a relentless hell. I'm sure we all have ways of turning heaven into hell. Thus there is the need for critical discussion with one another. We are always in need of the voice of our God to question our choices. In that questioning is the inspiring word that helps us to see the kind of hell we crave as we push forward toward our own vision of heaven. It is not always an easy word to hear....but it is necessary.

Connection: What is the hell we often choose to walk in rather than walk within the Reign of our God that is eternal available for us?

You promise to be with us, O God. That is a promise that sticks through those times when we would rather not have you with us or near by. Remind us that your promise of life has no end and will not be left for others when turn and walk away. In many ways, we need to be grasped by your love as we long for other things. Amen.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tuesday 13 October 2009

Let's keep listening to this "damned" stuff - more from William Willimon.

And yet the God who loves us has made us as those who are able to turn aside from God's move toward us, those who are able to refuse God's outstretched hand. I am reluctant to call such stupid refusal an aspect of God-given freedom, for it hardly seems "free" to reject whom God created you to be. How odd that the creature who is created to be with the Creator is (in the words of the old hymn) "prone to wander." Something in us finds it quite attractive at last to be where God is silenced, and we are free at last to be as we damn well please. C.S. Lewis said that, in hell, the door is locked from the inside.

We are really given quite some "room" in which to run. Free to go here and there and to say "yes" and say "no." If creation was up to us, I'm sure we would fix it in such a way to let us direct things as we would want them to be. It is not easy to lift up our eyes and follow the one who bids us to rest and live boldly without being coerced into one way of living. We are free to live "as we damn well please." Unfortunately, we miss out on the gift that carries our burdens from us and promises to make our lives full of new adventures that make us fully human because we are not restricted from being fully human.

Connection: When the door is locked from the inside, how long does it take you to realize that that is the case in your life?

Precious Lord, you continue to abide with us and we continue to turn aside and look for something more like we would want the world to be. In the midst of turning, you stay within our sight and keep speaking a word of love and forgiveness that becomes the way you draw us to yourself. Continue to walk with us and show us your ways. Amen.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Monday 12 October 2009

Today begins a run into the chapter Willimon calls "Damned." This is the logical place to go after what we have been running through up until now.

Hell is the opposite of heaven. Hell is that eternal separation that is contrary to what God wants: eternal reconciliation. If we have little firsthand experience of heaven, that time and place where God is all in all, we know next to nothing, since Jesus came among us, of hell, that time and place where God is not. It is the nature of the risen Christ to intrude, to encroach upon empty places of the heart, to fill each drab void with radiant light. So forgive Christians for not knowing much about hell - the void where love is not, where Christ's victory is null. Those of us who have been stalked by the risen Christ tend to believe that it is difficult for any human to keep the Hound of Heaven forever at bay.

The Good News of God's Reign is filled with the stories and the images of God, in Christ, walking into our lives even when it means walking into rooms where the doors are locked. This saving God does not stop pursuing us. So, hell gets to be a closet filled with some ways. When the Good News has not yet overwhelmed us and pulled us into new life, hell is brought out by those who feel the need to control the story so that it makes some kind of logical sense. We then get the language of "If....then..." I just heard that yesterday as I was watching one of the local "big name" worldwide preachers doing his have threat based word that is not Good News at all. We are people who have found ourselves in the room with Jesus because Jesus will not stay out of the room even when we have done everything to keep him out. This is going to be a good chapter.

Connection: Hold close the stories of Jesus walking into the places no one would think he would go. Then, rest...simply rest.

When you are for us, O God, it is quite unbelievable. The world is not that way and we live here. So, continue to send you Spirit to whisper this everlasting truth into our ears each time we are do no let our lives go along with your gracious presence. Amen.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday 9 October 2009

In referring back to the last two posting about Job, Willimon writes this:

I take this as a kind of parable of the way salvation is sometimes experienced. some people are terribly and undeniably battered by life. It is only natural that they should feel enmity toward the giver and author of life. They want answers. They yearn for vindication. Rarely, from what I have observed, are they given answers. They are given God. The gods of the Greeks, when things get bad, drop down occasionally from heaven, deus ex machina. This God saves by being there, with us. Salvation is no mere tallying to determine guilt or innocence. Salvation is finally being with God, God coming to us in our need, and then our wonderment at the greatness of God, reveling in the mystery. The mystery that previously was a threat, a dilemma, now, in salvation, in the presence of God, is a great joy. This is what Wesley called God's "darling attribute" - "universal love."

There is a wonder-filled place called the mystery of God. It is a mystery, in some ways, because the love of God is so dramatic and so intense and so eternal, we just cannot come to grips with it all. Therefore, we often run from it. We run from it because it is the power the transforms us into loving beings in the image of God. Yikes! Sometimes it feels safer to be just who we are. When we are just as we are, we can bitch and gripe and tear at one another and merely talk of this love that will not let us go. No wonder I know I do a lot of running away from God. Do you work, like me, at keeping dividing wall least some of them? Well this God present with us and for us keeps shaking us to help us see that any and all of our walls must tumble so that we will see the wide open spaces of God's salvation of all. Geez...that's radical stuff...alarming stuff...and...often threatening stuff when I am damn sure I know how thing should be...for all. The mystery of God - a love that really does hold on and on and on...whether we agree with it or not.

Connection: So how do we live with such a God so present - so loving? It is a present reality in which we are urged to enter and enjoy and share.

Come, O God of Unbounded Love. Come and take us by the hand again to liberate us and bring us into the land of your joy. For we are not going to be there when we keep thinking we can find the way and make it ourselves. Amen.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Thursday 8 October 2009

Today I will add a bit onto yesterday's piece from "Who Will Be Saved?" by William Willimon.

God never questions Job's protestations of innocence. Guilt or innocence, goodness or badness doesn't seem to be of great interest to God in the book of Job. Finally, when God speaks to Job, it is out of a whirlwind, and God doesn't talk about guilt. God brashly asserts cosmic lordship and ridicules Job's smallness in the great scheme of things and never really entertains any of Job's searching questions. The God who meets Job in the whirlwind seems beyond and above any philosophical answer, certainly above easy moral calculation about the deserving or undeserving of reward or punishment. The God of the whirlwind is loud and swaggering, leaving nothing settled or stable while speaking.
And yet, after Job's failed attempts to dialogue, what is there? Communion and communication with God. No philosophical, reasoned response is given to Job's searching questions. Something better is given. God. There is presence, availability (38:1; 42:1-6). God speaks personally to Job, restores not only Job's fortunes but more important a relationship. Job says that previously he had heard of God. Now he sees God (42:5).

There is relationship. The image of God - when we look to Genesis one - is humanity in relationship. It is in the middle of that dynamic aspect of life that we come to see our God and see how God is available to us in, with, and under those around us and in the events of the day. I was once told that Job should not end with Job getting back all of his possessions and things of life that he prized so much. Rather, the story ends with this primary and creative relationship the entry way into a fullness of life in which Job will blossom. It would be my desire to see how God restores everything that was taken from Job...and then the story continues to tell how Job enters these relationships anew with God in dialogue with him. That, I think, is our journey - to be in relationship with one another in a ways that reflects our ongoing dialogue with God about God's Reign in which we have been called to live.

Connection: When we see ourselves in relationship with God - a relationship God initiates and draws into it fullness - how do we relate to others...those who share this relationship and those who do not? It could all change the day.

Bless us with your presence, O God. It is so easy to drift off on our own and expect to be able to make the world our own. We too easily turn from you to make ourselves into something other than the ones you call beloved - before anything takes place in our lives. We call upon your Spirit to hold us close to your love that will shape us and all things. Amen.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wednesday 7 October 2009

Here's a look at Job...and God...and their relationship.

God never questions Job's protestations of innocence. Guilt or innocence, goodness or badness doesn't seem to be of great interest to God in the book of Job. Finally, when God speaks to Job, it is out of a whirlwind, and God doesn't talk about guilt. God brashly asserts cosmic lordship and ridicules Job's smallness in the great scheme of things and never really entertains any of Job's searching questions. The God who meets Job in the whirlwind seems beyond and above any philosophical answer, certainly above easy moral calculation about the deserving or undeserving of reward or punishment. The God of the whirlwind is loud and swaggering, leaving nothing settled or stable while speaking.

I will repeat this portion tomorrow with the next brief paragraph. As for this bit of reflection, is the picture of God as loud and swaggering. It really is the swaggering part that gets me. And yet, it is God's creation. No other voice will rule here. God's voice will be voice that resound through all time and in every place. When we want to play games with God's intentions and act as though we can and do have some say in how God is to be God, God is not going to back down. Swaggering God...that's an image that is meant to turn our heads and our hearts. Right when we begin to think that our questions and our answers make the comes our God showing everyone who rules through and in all things. Just try and rule the'll doesn't happen.

Connection: Try and take note of when you see or hear God swaggering into this day while you are in the middle of your stuff.

You lead us, O Swaggering God, into life that we do not anticipate. Remind us to let go. Encourage us to lean into your love. Grab hold of us and help us see your face in our face. Amen.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tuesday 6 October 2009

Again we look at the notion of saying "no" to God's "yes" - Willimon.

...Barth warns us not to build fences around God's grace by making God's grace into a general principle whereby either salvation or damnation is inevitable for everyone no matter what. Christian salvation is not an idea but an agent. Some form of universalism is always possible for those who are convinced of the persistence and are hopeful for the ultimate triumph of God's grace. Yet there is also an inevitable tension in the possibility of an incontrovertible rejection of grace by a sinful human being. Sin in this context is any human opposition to the prior divine disposition to be God pro nobis. Sin is an name for the various human forms of "no" in the face of God's "yes." If there is some sort of universal restoration and salvation, Barth said "it can only be a matter of the unexpected work of grace" working upon a disobedient and death-deserving humanity.

Isn't that "fence building" one of the ways we so often work. Rather than letting this grace of God be just what it is, we fence it in...we all our own ways and in many different times and situations. I really enjoy the idea of Christian salvation being an "agent." It is working. It is moving. It is working the crowd even as we sit back and do nothing. I also like the way Willimon ties the God "pro nobis" (for us) back into this conversation. We may want to limit when God is for us or even to whom God will be available...but...God is still "pro nobis" without limit. How do we deal with such a God? How do we deal with such a gift? Well, that's us. We are free to deal with God as we want. Then again, God continues to be "for us" in and through all things. It is as though God expects that we will be so touched by this endless love...there will come a time when even our hard hearts are turned in a new way. So we sing or say in the Eucharistic liturgy "come, Lord Jesus" and "come, Holy Spirit."

Connection: It is always good to catch ourselves in the fence-building mode of life. It can be surprising to see it coming and even frightening to see it. And yet, it is good for us to be given the gift to see those times. It is then that we are reminded of the God who is beyond our control and yet is eternally for us.

Continue to be for us, O God. There are so many ways we try to bring the world under our rule. And yet, we rule nothing at all - no matter how much we try. Grant us your Peace. Amen.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Being out of town always messes with what I am doing when I come back - here is today's devotional reflection that continues with William Willimon's stuff.

Does affirmation of the ultimate triumph of God in Jesus Christ, and the possibility that all might be saved, mean that human beings are rendered irresponsible, that grace is ultimately irresistible? Our salvation is a gift, and yet it is a gift that is offered along with God's gift of human freedom. If God loves us in freedom, then the very nature of grace entails the possibility of refusal and rejection. If Grace is automatic or assumed, it tends to be neither gracious nor grace. John Wesley (along with Paul) taught that even our receptivity to the gift of grace is also a sign of the working of grace.

If "our receptivity to the gift of grace is also a sign of the working of grace," then it is the work of God for us. It is not our own receptivity. We are claimed...pulled...coaxed...and always within the embrace of this God who is gracious - forever gracious. In the middle of this Reigning grace, we still have that human capacity to say "no." We have that freedom to do as we will and to run away and to attempt to make the world in our own image. In and through all that freedom, God waits alongside us continuing to let us see signs of grace and new life so that by the power of God's Spirit, we will be overcome by this God who will not let us go even when we try so hard to move away and start another story for ourselves. When we talk like this, I think we continue to open up our hearts to more than we are able to absorb. That is good. That is also a taste of the feast that is to come. Always - beyond where we are - there is another taste we have yet to experience. Therefore we are drawn more deeply into the wonder and life of God's grace.

Connection: Some days it is a good reminder to hear about our God's never-ending grace. Some days can give us too much evidence of how far we are walking from the life within God's Reign. And yet...that Reign is always at hand and utterly available.

We count on your grace, O God. It is too easy to go our own way and think that we have all things in control and as we would like them. But then we are given the opportunity to hear and see how your grace transforms life all around us. It is then that we too, being pulled by your Spirit, enter again in to the ways of your gracious Reign. Amen.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Thursday 1 October 2009

Today's reading is an expansion of what was printed yesterday.

Christian salvation is another view of humanity that arises out of faith in a God who has chosen to be for us. Our lives are not the sum of our choices, but rather the results of the impact of God's grace upon us. Evangelism is an imaginative act that enables people to describe their lives in the light of the purpose of the world. For some, that narrative will mean the relinquishment, letting go of their false and erroneous loyalties in light of the good news. For others it will be the embrace of something fresh and new, a living into a whole new world. Still others will experience it as a new sense of themselves as valued, cherished people who now have a self-knowledge that the world could not give them. The existence that once was outside them (the salvation wrought by Jesus Christ in cross and resurrection) will now be internalized, igniting them, so much so that they may speak of having been thereby "born again," as if their previous existence were one great confusion, nothing to compare with their lives having been found by the searching shepherd, the seeking woman, the waiting father, the inviting boss, the reckless farmer.

The Good News is Good News to all people because it brings new life no matter who we have been and what we have experienced. In all ways, this opening of the Reign of God - this persistent love of God will interrupt what we have been and introduce us to something just beyond what we have been willing to be. No matter how radical the change may appear in some one's life, the change is always radical in that it calls us to let go and then...grab hold of a whole new word of truth about us and all others. This can be an alarming time for all of us. It needs to be...otherwise we will think that what we do and how we run our lives is always consistent with God's Reign. I think the Good News keeps reminding us of how easy it is to settle for what we have and forget about the wonder and joy that is available for all God's people.

Connection: The way the Good News sets my heart on fire may not be the same way it happens to you. both cases there's fire brewing. That is probably why it is so important to listen to other stories and take notice of how wide a foundation is this vision of God' Reign.

Be our life and our light, O God. Continue to touch us and turn our lives around. When we are set in our ways be the power that draws us to you. Amen.