Friday, April 29, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - April 29, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

More and more, I find Brueggemann one who can see the wide angle of the powers and the need to name them and their ways. Here he looks again at Luther's take on the self-indulgence of the Roman church of his day. This posting will be a bit longer - and frightening.
Luther's critique cut much deeper into the theological substance of the sacraments that had come to be used as source of power and control.
The most helpful comment on that "confiscation" that I that of Regina Schwartz, who observes that in earlier church usage the church was the corpus Christi, and the consecrated host of the Eucharist was termed the corpus mysticum. But by the twelfth century, she reports, "these meanings were reversed....
The outcome of this reversal , Schwartz judges, is that: the Eucharist was given a strategic function: to consolidate the Church, by positing not just the equivalence but the identity between mystical reality and the visible and by making that depend upon hierarchical authority. Hence, the Eucharist became a miracle made possible through the power of the Church - a power seemingly prior to the miracle.  In this way, the Eucharist became a locus where the Church could exercise its control over the sacred. "This Eucharistic 'body' was the 'sacrament' of the institution, the visible instituting of what the institution was to become, its theoretical authorization and its pastoral tool." This co-optation of the Eucharist also vastly accentuated the institution's hierarchy, formalism, and legalism.
So - the Church as institution falls into the same imperial actions - grasping power. And yet, the Church does it by using that which is to be available to the fullness of the church - and making it a contained and secured piece of the institution that becomes tied up within the hierarchy and thus loses its life-giving reality. When empires rule, the bread of life becomes a way to control not a way to lead to new life. It is then a short trip to changing the character of the meal.  Now it must be earned and must be administered by those who act on behalf of the empire (Church) and the living presence of the Body of Christ becomes something that must be handed to us by the 'right' person rather than the life that we are handed by the one we call Lord - above all other 'lords'.  Empires and the empire of Church are very much the same when they take that which is considered sacred and use it (whatever that may be) to secure for themselves, the power and authority to rule 'over' others rather than be the body the 'kneels to serve.'  What is lost in this kind of political grab for power is the Lord of Life who we say is the Son of God - the Resurrected Lord - the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Watch and see - when empires are afraid to trust the body, they will claim control over all that is precious to the people
Connection: We return to life that is available to all. We do not let ourselves be ruled by powers that do not trust - powers that demand allegiance simply because of their position - powers that pronounce rather than collaborate. Within any empire, we must live in hope - even when that means we step aside from the structure that will not allow for the Body of Christ to really be alive among us and as us.
O God who bids us to follow the way of the Christ, grab us and hold us and empower us to follow Jesus as Lord of all of our days. And when we must step away from the powers of the world be our encouragement.  Amen.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - April 28, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

Today Brueggemann brings in the 'empire' of the Roman Catholic church through a look at Luther's images.

Martin Luther famously took the metaphor of Babylon in a very different direction in his context, as an indictment of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church of his time. When I reread Luther's "The Babylonian Captivity of the Church," I was surprised how little explicit use he made of the metaphor.  Other than the title he observes in his introduction, "I now know of a certainty that the papacy is the kingdom of Babylon and the power of Nimrod the mighty hunter.
This opening edict is a double hit. In addition to the figure of Babylon, the reference to "Nimrod the mighty hunter" leads to this proposition: The papacy is the mighty hunting of the Roman bishop.
By this Luther means that the papacy is an arena for plunder and confiscation and the seizure of prey. He does not say much more about his lead image of Babylon. But given Luther's critique of the opulence and self-indulgence of the papacy, he then proceeds in an extended and closely argued statement to consider the ways in which the sacraments of the church - have ben distorted and abused by the papacy and robbed of their effectiveness as channels of free grace. The reference to Babylon and its imperial practice pertain to the ways in which empires - in this read the Vatican as well - seize for their own use and purpose what is not rightfully theirs.
I know that empire in this piece is now branching off into the realm of church, but in this imagery I was more caught up in the final line that ties everything together. (they) "seize for their own use and purpose what is not rightfully theirs." Whenever the power folks of the world - or empire - or church - forget about the well-being of the least among us, we are living in the realm of captivity. How is it for example that a corporation now has the rights of an individual. Is that to level the playing field between the ordinary citizen and big business.  No. It is to set up a game in which there is no playing field -for now, the individual does not even have the power to get up onto the field. And let us remember, powerful corporate interest have always had a voice that was bigger than any other. That's called the world of lobbying. That is where the empire draws its power and support.  So for the sake of corporate profits, they hare handed what is not rightfully theirs - the voice of the common person. Wow.
Connection: At the Lamb's High Feast, all are welcome and all have a seat. At the Lamb's High Feast, there are no seats out of reach or tucked back out of sights so that the few who have bought the table can eat and not be bothered by the ordinary and common. I'm hearing too many voices standing  up for the well-padded, and well-fixed so that their padding can increase and they can continue to fix the game in their favor. So how do followers of Jesus step up in such a display of empire power and privilege?
Again, through stories you call us into new life today, O God. And yet, new life seems like a dream. Ignite in us, O God, the willingness to move along the path of Jesus and speak and act in ways that challenge the powers with lives that do no go along anymore.  Amen.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - April 27, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

It is not impossible to see beyond the power of the empire. It is necessary.

Note that Revelation's accent on commercial consumerism does not give much airtime to the drastic economic consequences of such luxury (the production of poor people) nor does it use much energy on the military spending and recruitment necessary to sustain such luxury, nor does it comment much on the theological dimensions of the extravagance.  All of that, surely, is implied. But we should not miss the focus on the songs of lament and celebration. It is the characteristic self-indulgence of empire that brings an end. Clearly for the Book of Revelation the community gathered around the Lamb in doxology is to keep itself remote from all such practices and seductions of empire.
Sunday at a family dinner we had lamb. The image was too great. On the day of the Resurrection of our Lord - on a day when we gather for the Lamb's high feast, we serve up lamb on a platter. I'm not being critical of the cooks for the day.  It was simply an image that really hit me as I read this piece from Brueggemann. We follow the Lamb and live in the way of the one who is known among us as the Lamb of God. We are not talking diet - we are talking life. Maybe the only diet we might consider is one in which we take on more acts of love and justice and peace and shed from our plates the parts of our imperial diet that is involved in a never-ending consumption of the resources that could sustain us all and not just the few who usually gain from such a self-serving diet.  
Connection: How do we help one another live at the Lamb's High Feast? This may simply begin with words of encouragement. Too often when we are caught up in following the way of the Lamb - there is a temptation to become oppressive in our own "lamb like way". Each time we can help one another pause and reconsider how we participate in the expansion of the empire over the expansion of the Reign of God - is a simple, and good exercise.
Again, through stories you call us into new life today, O God. And now within the stories of our lives, you encourage us to turn to you alone and walk in the way of the promise one - our Lord, Jesus. Thanks be to you, O God.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - April 26, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

Yesterday Brueggemann wrote of the 'indictment of empire' and today we move to another part of the word against Babylon (a longer excerpt)

...the sentence of empire, continues to reflect the luxury of Babylon (Rome) and the drastic end to that luxury:
With such violence Babylon the great city will be thrown down,
and will be found no more;
and the sound of harpists and minstrels and of flutists and trumpeters
will be heard in you no more;
and an artisan of any trade will be found in you no more;
and the sound of the millstone will be heard in you no more;
and the light of a lamp will shine in you no more;
and the voice of bridegroom and bride will be heard in you no more;
for your merchants were the magnates of the earth, and all nations were deceived by your sorcery. (Rev. 18:8, 21-23)
The repeated "no more" of the end draws a line against Rome's (Babylon's) imagined autonomy. The indictment (couched as sentence) marks the vast commercial commitments of Rome that stood at the center of the world economy. Thus the empire stands under judgment by the familiar practice of autonomy, arrogance, self-indulgence, and greed. The poetry takes some delight in providing a complete inventory of consumer goods that reflect extreme consumer temptation, and then more delight in imagining the abrupt loss and the ready reduction of the empire to a "haunt: for every hateful beast. 
The way of the empire - the way that it loved - the way that made it appear to be something beyond any other power - the way it appeared to rule all things and make all things bow to the order of the day - is no more. In fact, it never was all that it appeared to be or wanted to be. Empires rise and they fall. The get a big sense of themselves and then what - they fade. Yes, they do leave behind great gifts to the societies that follow, but their power to rule and threaten and dominate are gone. It is quite important to take a look at what it is about being a part of an empire is vital to our life? Is it the illusion that we are safe if we are a part of the empire? Is it the expectation that we all will have the opportunity to celebrate and live within the wealth of the empire? Well, empires are never safe. To live within that illusion, look at what an empire must do. We must send our youngest people out to fight wars that have historically never been able to secure the empire. We ask what if...and then we go to war because we cannot see any other possibility than empire. On another note, we insist that everyone in the empire is able to reach into the wealth of the rule that is - and yet, more than enough people are forgotten - deleted - left out so that only a portion of the empire will prosper and work to keep the ways of empire intact. 
Connection: I really love being a part of our country.  We do so much good. But we must never be blind to the reality of empire that is so arrogant and self-centered that we will almost anything - against anyone - to keep what we have and make sure we bring in more and more without caring for more and more.
Again, through stories you call us into new life today, O God. Deliver us from ourselves when we become nothing more than people who work to sustain the way things are rather than step into the restorative power of the resurrection. Amen.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - April 25, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

On the day after the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord, it is important to be reminded of the alternate life that Jesus lived among us - a life into which we are invited to live.  This is a life contrary to the ways of empire that can be heard in Revelation.
First there is the indictment of empire:
"As she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, so give her a like measure of torment and grief.
Since in her heart she says, "I rule as a queen; I am no widow, and I will never see grief" (18:7)
The core indictment concerns unrestrained, unlimited luxury that produced an arrogance that echoed the arrogance of Babylon in Isaiah 47:7-10. In its imagined autonomy Rome (Babylon) engaged in enormous self-indulgence.
The resurrection is quite the opposite from the self-indulgence of the empire. In fact, the self-giving love in the stories of the past days (Maundy Thursday - Easter) marks us as a people who are at all times - aliens within the empires of our day. Unfortunately, it is so very easy to let ourselves be shaped by the self-indulgence that is so visibly accepted as the norm for everyday life. Somehow, we must be willing to nurture in one another the kind of love that empires never knows. Within the realm of empire, love is tied up with what we can get back, how we can fit in, or a mere sentimental expression - that the love that is raised up on Easter is cast aside as unproductive. And yet production is measured in what we are able to earn for ourselves and keep for ourselves. Within the realm of Christ's love, what is 'produced' is a community of loving kindness that creates peace and make sure the least and lowest have a place that is secure and safe.
Connection: The 'we' of empire can only see some of the people. It is thus a easy walk to develop systems in which only some of the people are consider worth saving. Only when profits for some become secure and enough will the least be served. But as we know, there is never enough to make the few feel secure. The result, the rich never really consider the welfare of all. There's no time and there is never enough to offer to the least among us.
Again, through stories you call us into new life today, O God. And yet we are pulled away from the love of your Reign by the life of luxury within the empire - a life that is an illusion and pulls us from you gift of community. Help us keep in mind all your beloved that our lives will be shaped by the Advocate who is the bridge to your reigning life. Amen.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - April 21, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

The language of biblical storytelling is wild. We tend not to speak so boldly.
The metaphor of Babylon is of course carried over into the New Testament where it serves as a surrogate for the empire of Rome that is viewed on occasion as the great enemy of God's rule, as "the great, mother of whores and of earth's abominations: (Revelation 17:5) The intense lyric of Revelation 18 celebrates the anticipated fall of Babylon:
Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!....
Alas, alas, the great city,  Babylon, the great city!
For in one hour your judgment has come. (Revelation 18:2, 10; see 14:8)


Can we speak like this?! If we do.  If we use this kind of language with these kind of images, more than likely we will be labeled as being "extreme" and even "alienating." And yet, we read these words of the great prophets and we want to cheer. Then again, there is something about saying such things and then having everyone disagree with the images. I remember a conversation in which there were some critical images thrown out onto the table about the United States and its actions around the globe. As the light was turned on - with language much softer than that which we hear in Revelation - several people quickly had to speak of the good our country does - as though they could not stand to hear about the dark side of our nations actions. Prophets seem to be able to put it out there and not matter what other views are being held.  The truth is, the empire shows both sides - the whore and the healer. Unfortunately, too often, empires dabble more in the shady business that makes one look whorish.  To be quite frank, we may need to replace the "mother of whores" with the "father of Wall Street."  I think the critical image is the same. People are being bought and sold for the benefit and profit of a few.
Connection: Isn't the pimp the one who destroys both the culture and the prostitute? And yet, like most biblical storytelling, the images of women carry the brunt of our negative and abusive language.  
Again, through stories you call us into new life today, O God. Be with us as we look out and see the devastation that takes place all around us. When the powers of empire rule without consideration for the welfare of all, encourage us to say no  to that rule by saying "yes" to the rule of the Christ.   Amen.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - April 20, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

 I realized again that all this talk of Babylon must be getting old.  Then I realized that the story of Exodus never gets old for the Jews - it is always present and new. Again from Brueggemann.
The variety of texts exhibits the ways in which the tremendous expansiveness of "Babylon" continues to feed and evoke the imagination of faithful Jews. They consistently recognized and affirmed both that the world of imperial power is a dangerous place and that the reality of the hidden rule of YHWH is more than competent to override the rapacious, exploitative claims of Babylon. The world in which both Babylonians and Jews must live is a dangerous world.  It is, however, a dangerous world in which "help is on the way" that permits Jews to live a viable, safe, faithful life of mercy and righteousness.  The imaginative capacity of these texts continues to insist that Babylon is at best penultimate in a world governed by YHWH.  This is indeed "critical realism," realism about empire, but realism that does not give in.


"Help is on the way!"  That is a call to life - I love it. In the middle of everything that can and does go wrong and is broken, help is on the way - the present situation is not the end. This is always meant to be the power we take into the day at hand. Our story tells us what is not readily available as we look around our world.  It is what takes us beyond what is and calls forth from us the life that we say is on the way. We are encouraged to live as though the help that is coming is beginning to have an impact on the help we become in the midst of the communities of our life. Therefore, as Jew or as followers of Jesus, we are free to begin shaping our lives with acts of mercy, reconciliation, forgiveness, justice and the love that dismantles all the powers of the world. Hey - help is on the way!
Connection: When help is on the way, even the most frightened people are able to step up and act within God's gracious reigning power. That is called faithfulness.  
Again, through stories you call us into new life today, O God. Knowing you are on the way is the empowerment of our lives. It is as we hear of your coming - again - that we are lifted up to fully be your beloved in life. We give you thanks.   Amen.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - April19, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

 Today, Brueggeman turns to another use of Babylon as an image of life that moves through generations and empires. the historical end of the Old Testament is the Book of Daniel, which most scholars judge to be situated in the Maccabean crisis of 167-164 BCE. In the narratives of Daniel 2-4, Nebuchadnezzar is taken, on a critical reading, as a stand-in for the feared and despised Antiochus Epiphanus. In these narratives two matters recur.  On the one hand, Nebuchadnezzar is ferocious, violent, and unrestrained. On the other hand, the wise Jew Daniel is capable of outflanking the Babylonian kind and the entire Babylonian apparatus of intelligence.  That is, the wisdom of the empire turns out to be in adequate if not foolish - and the faithful wisdom of this representative Jew prevails.
If you want a good read, go to the Apocrypha and read the books of Maccabees. They are all about the horrible times of Antiochus and the brutalities of his reign. And yet, by using images from hundreds of years earlier (Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar) the people are given a word of hopefulness in the midst of the worst of times. The stories of our faith do shape us in the present. It is as though the themes carry on and we find ourselves in the middle of the same scenario as those of old. Unfortunately, too often we do not let those stories inform us and the life we enter each day. As the stories tell us, we are to remain in the loving embrace of our God and live from there. That transforms the day even when the world or empire or country in which we live tries to shape us into someone other than one of the beloved children of God - who live as though we are alive in God's image. 
Connection: Listen to the stories of Holy Week and the Resurrection of our Lord. They are alive with life. They are meant to engage us. They pull us back in time for the purpose of bringing a character of life into the present. This is a good week to listen to old stories and find the life that is being made available to us all.
Again, through stories you call us into new life today, O God. Walk with today as we become a part of the stories that will be told down the line when others need to hear about how faithful people live within your Reign.  Amen.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - April18, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

 is notices and es, Babylon has been an image in many discussions - again from Walter Brueggemann

I have already cited the major texts in the Old Testament portraying Babylon as a place of dislocation and as a place from which rescue will come.  The name is much used in historical texts a well as in the prophetic-poetic texts I have cited. In addition I mention four other texts that show how helpful a reference can be:
  • In Habakkuk 1:6, Babylon is raised by YHWH to assault Assyria.  This is in line with Jeremiah's identification of Nebuchadnezzar as "servant of YHWH.
  • In Micah 4:10, in a later elaboration in the poetry, Babylon is both the place to which "you shall go" and from there "you shall be rescued." The double usage is a summary of the "scatter-gather" pattern in Jeremiah 31:10, and summarizes the entire narrative of deportation and restoration.
  • In Zechariah the name occurs twice, In 2:7, there is yet again the declaration of rescue from Babylon; in 6:10 the oracle is addressed to those who have arrived from Babylon." The two uses are consistent with the recurring pattern of deportation and restoration, though the accent is on the reconstruction of the political economy of Jerusalem.
  • In Psalm 87:4, we are offered a most remarkable use of the cipher. A safe, conventional reading is that Jews scattered in Babylon (and other places) should all look to Jerusalem as home.
Brueggemann takes a wider step by quoting someone who notes that not just the people of God are to call Jerusalem home - so are all the nation - the Babylonians. That - is the vision - the call of the people Israel: to draw all people to God's way. When we as followers of Jesus hear that, it is important for us to hear how wide God throws the net. We live in the way of Jesus - under Jesus' domain of forgiveness, justice, mercy, loving-kindness, serving love -- and then, the witness is seen and that life draws others to it. This is a powerful image. The power of the Reign of God is life it hands to us. It not only shapes us, it begins to shape others who may well be seen as far off from us. We can take these old texts and use them again - right here and right now. They all must draw the present into question just as they did in the days of old. Prophetic imagination continues to crack open the day with a call to life.
Connection: I find that it is not always easy to listen to the prophets of old and make sense of it within the days of my life. And yet, as we read them, they speak to us - unless we, like the people who lived in the days of these prophet, turn them off and choose to go our own way.
Again, through stories you call us into new life today, O God. Continue to tug on our lives and point again to the life you bring into the world for all your children. Amen.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - April14, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

Here is something we all skip over as we simply go about the motions of being God's children.  
In ancient times and in contemporary time, it is the anticipatin of the faithful that God's sovereign rule will become visible and effective in the world. We Christians end our most elemental prayer, echoing the doxology of Revelation, with the conviction  "Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen."
In that familiar phrasing, we deny the claims of every empire, including the one in which we live. We "do time" there, but it is not our true habitat.


Our praying - such as the Lord's prayer and the ending noted above - is meant to carry us into that life about which we pray. Hearing those words again and again is meant to help us walk into that Reigning power of God's rule even though we are so in line with the ways of the empire. For example, just today - after a retreat on 'hospitality' I was working with a family in the neighborhood who just lost their mother. I really wanted to be a help to them and treat them with respect and honor and grace. Then, after a comment made by one of the people, I could feel my head turn around and come out with a comment that was not as gracious as I would have hoped.  And yet, I had the next moments to back off what I said and again attempt to make this a moment of grace and hospitality for all of us. Duh. How can I be so dumb and short-sighted?! The reminder within the most basic prayer is one meant to keep us grounded in that Reign that is shaped by God - not our wants and desires.
Connection: Some days, the empire rules and I let myself be one of the subjes - if not one of the eager participants in that rule. I hate it - and yet it happens. That is why we continue to say "come, Lord Jesus' when we share the Eucharist. Come and help us stop being knotheads.
Again, through stories you call us into new life today, O God. Open our hearts that we may join in the liberation of God's Reign.  Amen.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - April13, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

Faithful living is always contemporary and therefore as Brueggemann notes, the stories of old are ones that bring about the fullness of faithful living even as we simply listen to them.   
It is the contemporaneity that causes the metaphor to continue to be powerful in the life of faith. The generation of the faithful in Babylon reused old memories from Moses. The first generations of the church used the Babylonian memory of Israel in order to face up to the empire of Rome. And now, in our time and place and circumstance of empire, we may attend to the allusions to Babylon yet again, as pertinent to our faith and practice.


We are always called to be faithful. And yet, if we are honest, there are so many ways that we are pulled to be nothing more than another part of empire. As we hear, the stories of old become the stories of substance that help us to walk in the present.  Well, I was just thinking. Those great stories were always a bit of a stretch. Faithful imagination does that.  It takes us beyond ourselves so that we will walk into the faithfulness that is a part of God's Reign. Like all storytelling, stories get stretched a bit.  But that doesn't take away the power of the event in the memory of the people.  These stories are always meant to tie us up into them.
Connection: So how do we tie ourselves into the story of liberation we call the cross and resurrection? It is to be a liberation story - a story of new life that is to be a part of the story of this day.
Again, through stories you call us into new life today, O God. Open our hearts that we may join in the liberation of God's Reign.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - April12, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

Today we begin the chapter "Durable Metaphor....Now Contemporary  
"Not with our ancestors did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. (Deuteronomy 5:3)
"The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever." (Revelation 11:15)
The Bible is no mere history lesson.... the Bible is the 'Scripture of the church,' then it is nonnegotiably contemporary in every time, place, and circumstance. It was the ancient practice of Israel to keep reusing and rereading and rehearing the old text in fresh and pertinent ways. The classic case of such reuse is the way in which the book of Deuteronomy represents the Sinai covenant to a new generation of the faithful.  When we read the Bible as the Scripture of the church, we simply continue that ancient practice whereby we say, ' The Word of the Lord - Thanks be to God.' We purport to be listening for a contemporary word from God to us.
Reading through the book of Revelation is quite like this. We are hearing a word of life brought to us today. Though we (as Christians today) are part of the privileged people within the US, we must always hear about the dangers of taking on the life of the empire and making it our own. So the book shocks us with imagery meant to put us into that reality of faithfulness or faithlessness in the midst of empire and the need for a witness to the one who is the Christ in and through all ages. As people who read the Scriptures for life, we are always being invited into life through old texts.
Connection: So when we hear the stories of Scripture in worship - what are they telling us about the living of these days. What do we listen for in the reading?
Again, through stories you call us into new life today, O God. Help us listen to the way of your Reign and to walk into the stories of faithfulness now alive among us.  Amen.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - April11, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

Brueggemann points out some aspects of departure that repeat themselves in biblical stories and -  probably all stories of empires.
Brueggemann notes that the story of Exodus has an impact for the ongoing story of departure at the time of Babylon.

The Exodus narrative of Exodus 1-15 no doubt continued to be edited and reshaped in the long traditioning process; and no doubt some of that continued editing occurred among the sixth-century deportees who are the subject of our study. But however the Exodus narrative reached its final form, clearly it gripped the imaginations of the sixth-century deportees. It became the master plot for those who viewed YHWH as the defining character in Israel's public history. All historical hope in ancient Israel was a retelling and a reperformance of that narrative. At the center of the narrative, moreover, is the bold, obedient act of departure, when the God who summoned to departure was embraced as stronger and more reliable than the gods (or the human agents) who sought to prevent departure.

 We all need a story to help us move along with the stories of our lives.  This is particularly true when we need to move in a new direction and we are not sure if we want to take the leap and begin again. When we can hear that others have made the journey and others have resisted and others have face death and still come out just fine, the next group is made bold to act.  That is why we need these stories of liberation. All of need some help moving on along the way of faithfulness - even in times of oppression.
Connection: I tried to come up with stories that I use from my past - or the past of others that have been told to me - to see how many I carry around with me. I realized that they are quite varied and the ones whose stories inspire me come from many times and place.  They all help in different ways.
You, O God, already have us moving in a new direction even when we are stuck in what is old and overwhelming. Within this day remind us again of stories of hopefulness and new life.  Amen.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - April 8, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

Brueggemann points out some aspects of departure that repeat themselves in biblical stories and -  probably all stories of empires.
There is no doubt that the master narrative of departure is the Exodus narrative (Exodus 1 - 15). The characters in that vivid encounter continue to reappear in the many replications of the narrative, always in new circumstances that juxtapose empire to local tradition. There is, of necessity, always Moses, a human agent who summons Israel to a alternative historical reality. There is always Pharaoh, who comes in many guises but who always seeks to reduce this peculiar people to a pawn in the large game of imperial production. And there is always YHWH, the God whose signature command to the empire is, "Let my people go" (Exodus 5:1). Most often the command is, "that they may serve me." Sometimes it is that "they may celebrate a festival  to [worship] me." Either way, the summons subverts the empire's claim of ultimacy, reducing it instead to a recalcitrant vassal of YHWH.....  The culmination is a great doxology that asserts the abiding rule of YHWH, even over empire: "The Lord will reign forever and ever: (Exodus 15:18).
 The trinity of confrontation and departure repeats itself whenever there are people being oppressed by other people and whenever there is word of God helping to set people free. As we look back at these kind of dynamics - even with Babylon - the leading power is the word of God. God longs for a people who will live within a deep relationship with God. That will always mean that they will live a certain kind of life that will not be the way of the empires who are trying to dominate or rule the people. In the case of the Exodus and Babylon, this meant that the people were let go to live that life in another place. In this storytelling that could have to do with the simple fact that conquering empires once took people from their homeland to the land of the conquering power. So, God's people are brought out of Babylon and out of Egypt and led to the promised land. But what about today. What happens when your homeland is the land of the empire and we are called to live in a way that will be contrary to many of the ways things like to be run in the empire. How are we brought out - rescued?
Connection: We need to remember that this is not about a place. It is about the one who claims us and will always lead us to life. It is vital for us to remember: "The Lord will reign forever and ever." In that way, even now and here is where this Reign is to rescue and bring life.
You, O God, already have us moving in a new direction even when we are stuck in what is old and overwhelming. When we remember that it is you alone who Reigns, your Spirit lifts up our lives onto the way of your gentle rule. Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - April 7, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

Though we hear so much about the Jews needed to leave Babylon. We must remember that it is a part of leaving the control and rule of empire.  It may not be in our day - a physical movement out of a country. Rather one of character.
The contestation between empire and the local tradition of Israel exhibits the complexity and ambiguity of faith in relation to hegemonic culture. Though the contest may have been vigorous and the rhetoric intense, the outcome was never in doubt. Exile is not home. Babylon is not and could never be the land of promise. Thus the outcome of the contest - is that YHWH's chosen people in displacement must never sign on to the grip and ideology of the empire. As a consequence, this community with it peculiar vocation and identity always dissents from the empire's claims to ultimacy. Put more sharply, Jews must depart Babylon and return home.
 You probably heard the biblical notation that as followers of Jesus we are "aliens." William Willimon wrote about being resident aliens.  We live within the empires of the world and within their rule, and yet, this is not who we are. We are not now and never can be defined as part of the empire. To do that would mean that we are a part of its system of values that are always at odds with the Reign of our God and the life we are offered in that Reign. So we are never at home.  We must live as part of a contrary rule no matter where we might be. There is this necessary tension. We can be citizens of a land and empire, but we must never become a  part of that power. That alien nature is apparent when we look at people like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Dorothy Day or - what alien would you put next?
Connection: Sometime it is knowing another person whose life is one of resistance and faithfulness that enables us to go along with being an alien and one who is always drawn to follow the promises of God and not the power of the empire.
You, O God, already have us moving in a new direction even when we are stuck in what is old and overwhelming. Remind us to look around and find those who faithfully walk within your Reign so that we can walk alongside them.  Amen.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - April 6, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

The words of Isaiah provided a look at how the "Departure from Empire" begins to take place at the time of Israel.


In parallel fashion, the contemporary news of the gospel is that God invites and summons the faithful to a life beyond the demands and gifts of empire.  In the New Testament, that offer is a call to discipleship.  In contemporary practice, it is the joyous possibility of joyous existence of what I have elsewhere called the "therapeutic, technological, military consumerism" of our society. While the texts portray this homecoming as a joyous alternative, it is at the same time a costly alternative.  Just as the erstwhile slaves in the book of Exodus yearned to return to Pharaoh's Egypt and just as many Jews preferred life in Babylon, so the imaginative possibility among us for an alternative life in the world is not cheap. But to "go out in shalom" is a mantra that continues to ring in the ears of those gathered in the "local tradition" of Yahwism.
It is not easy to live a new life. It is always a matter of stepping away from that which is known - even if that which is known is not at all like the world we hope would exist among us. To step out into the imagination of a new world is to risk what is. That is easy to say and easy to call forth, but it may just be the death of us. Therefore, those prophets keep leading us beyond our fear and into the domain of trust in God alone. When we are out in the wilderness between here and there, life can be hard to take from day to day. When promises are not yet a part of what is, it is easy to break down and fall out of line. But then, we are encouraged again. That can often be enough to see us through to the next place we begin to doubt that God will and does provide.
Connection: It is easy to trust in the short course.  Maybe that is because we can see and touch the end - the promise.  But in the long haul, trust is not easy.  There are too many other promises and rewards that can take our hearts.
You, O God, already have us moving in a new direction even when we are stuck in what is old and overwhelming. We need you constant word to keep pulling us into the promise of your Reign that is at hand - always.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - April 5, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

Once again we will begin with Isaiah 35:8-10
A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God's people;
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there. but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and the sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
It is precisely life beyond the reach of the empire, given in the resolve of YHWH, that is the core claim of Israel's hope. In order to give specificity to that claim, the poets of Israel offer imaginative scenarios of homecoming. In this instance, it is traveling on a safe "Holy Way," safe from the treat of ravenous beasts, all made in joy. The possibility of a new beginning of life in a safe place of promise, beyond imperial coercion, is the long-term hope of Israel. 
Again we hear of imaginative scenarios. Isn't that where all hope begins - out there beyond what we can see - out there where things are impossible and absurd - out there out of reach? And yet, God keeps calling into that which is not! What are we to do!? The prophets would poetically tell us to stop whining - stop being so turned-in-on-ourselves - stop crying long enough to look up and look beyond that which is in hand. Damn those prophets! Don't they know that we have convinced ourselves that we do best with what is in hand and that we should never venture out beyond what is prudent and sensible?! But prophets never listen to us.  They listen to the God of all things who rattles their heads and hearts so that they will speak up even when they know they will be ridiculed and push away. I don't know how prophets do it, but it sure is necessary for all of us that they open their mouths and speak with the vision of God's Reign.
Connection: When will it happen today?  When will a prophetic word move across your path? How will it touch us? Who will hear it with us - if anyone? Let's all listen and consider what may come.
You, O God, already have us moving in a new direction even when we are stuck in what is old and overwhelming. Open our ears and our hearts, O God.  Amen.