Tuesday, October 24, 2017
At the center and core of the Christian faith we meet Jesus. Just as there is a vast variety of names and ways people dance around the divine of God, the same can be said in our encounters with Jesus. For some, Jesus is a teacher...a rabbi. Someone who shows us a moral life. For others, Jesus is savior, the One who is able to help reconcile our relationship with God. For others, Jesus is a Spirit being who is mysterious. Even our own Scriptures present Jesus in different ways through the four Gospels. In Matthew, Jesus' life echoes Moses' life. Jesus, just like Moses, has to go to Egypt. Jesus, just like Moses, preaches a new understanding of God from a mountain. Jesus, just like Moses, is set to liberate a people. In Mark, Jesus is constantly on the move. Mark loves the word, "immediately". Jesus also confronts a variety of storms in this gospel. In Luke, Jesus is on the road. And when he is not out preaching, he is at a table eating. In John, Jesus encounters distinctive people and it is in their conversations that we gain key insights. We might want to cry out, "Would the real Jesus please stand up?" Is Jesus the One who ushers in a new way and new covenant? Is Jesus the One who helps us weather the storms of life and even our own deaths? Is Jesus the One we meet out on the road of ordinary life? Or is Jesus the One who comes to us in our relationships and conversations?
Short answer, "Yes".
Longer answer is that just as God will not be confined or contained by any one box, neither is the One God sent to live among us.
For me, it is important to begin and the beginning. Jesus' birth, the incarnation (literally means the "enfleshment of God."). This is an act of vulnerability. For God to enter the human condition not as a bull in a china shop, but as One in a manger...in a barn...born to two parents who were not even married yet. There is more scandal in the declaring God was born than perhaps we realize. God entering in...not for the first time...but in a way that God believed we could recognize and relate. God has always been about relationships. God walks in the garden in Genesis 3 while Adam and Eve are hiding out among the fig bushes with their make-shift clothes. God chats with Noah, Abraham, has the vision of a ladder for Jacob, and calls out to Elijah in a still small voice. Yet, as several Hebrew Scripture scholars point out, God increasingly grows quiet as the Hebrew Scripture moves from book to book ~ until we reach the gospels.
To start with the mystery of God coming to us and known to us as Emmanuel, which means God with us and God for us. God's very name makes a theological statement in the birth of Jesus. But that is what God has been trying to get across from the beginning. In Genesis 1, God says, "Let us (notice the plural there) make human kind in our image." We are created and crafted for relationship. But relationships are complex and complicated. Relationships get messy and don't ways have happy endings. That truth is one of many that we encounter in the Bible. God who longs for us to respond in full relationship. As a mystic once said, 'There is a God-shaped hole in us all.' But because the ache of that God-shaped hole continually longs, we can tend to try to fill that space with all sorts of other things. From alcohol to drugs to shopping to being a workaholic. But the steady ache persists and insists. The struggle is that because the word, "God" is so big, we often find it difficult to relate to a being that we cannot see, taste, touch, or sense. Which is exactly why we start with Jesus as the incarnation, God in the flesh in our midst. And not only then and there two thousand years ago, but here and now in our very midst. The sacred there in the eyes of a family member or friend. The holy moving in our midst as we listen to music. Grace and love, not as abstract, but found in the beauty of creation or in a holy conversation. Christ as the One who came to remind us that we too embody God's presence. We too know what it means to make God's presence real. We are formed and fashioned in God's image.
What is it that you make of the birth, the incarnation, or the coming of Emmanuel? Is Jesus someone who saves or someone who teaches or someone who shows us a way to life? Again, it doesn't have to be a false, forced choice. It can be all the above and so much more. Prayerfully ponder who Christ is to you and for you in these days. And may those moments open you in real ways to more than a trace of God's grace.
Saturday, October 21, 2017
Consider the final verse we have been centering around..."Called as Partners in Christ's Service".
4. So God grant us for tomorrow
Ways to order human life
That surround each person's sorrow
With a calm that conquers strife.
Make us partners in our living,
Our compassion to increase,
Messengers of faith, thus giving
Hope and confidence and peace.
I love that the ordering of human life is first and foremost to the struggle and suffering and sorrow in the world. Our shared humanity is often borne out of a sense of brokenness first...then blessedness. I often think that Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (although misunderstood) points to this when he starts off with the 'Blessed are the poor...those who mourn...those who suffer". When we find our shared humanity in struggle, we suddenly can move from the "us" verses "them" mentality. We can move from judging, because we identify with the "other" in ways we had never seen. Once you see, you cannot unsee. Once you learn, you cannot unlearn. You may forget. You may get lost and leave something behind. But in the end, what brings us together is struggle. Which is why I find the above image so compelling. Different people from different places and with differing perspectives forming a cross...a symbol of brokenness and pain. Christ facing the cross was one of the deepest ways he showed his humanity. When we surround each other's sorrows...our compassion can be increased. Compassion is not just about comprehension. We often want to intellectualize issues such as homelessness or joblessness or death. We use words when what is really being called for is listening. We pontificate and politicize rather than pause and enter into the pain. Compassion is the deepest part of us. Felt in our very gut or bowels. In those vulnerable moments of entering suffering and strife and sorrow that is where we are messengers of faith...not when we grab a bullhorn and start shouting at people or knocking on doors or even inviting them to church. Compassion is the doorway to ministry and we are all called to walk through that doorway into the life of another.
I pray that looking at these words and letting them speak/sing to your life has helped you wrap your mind and heart and soul around the call of the "priesthood of all believers". I pray you felt the affirmation that YOU are called by God. I pray you felt the permission to go forth and be a blessing to others. I pray you will seek out ways to serve and show compassion. I pray that YOU will realize the truth that together we are all a royal priesthood called to work/labor/be collaborators with God in such a time as this.
Grace and peace ~~
Thursday, October 19, 2017
I have to laugh at the above image, because of the truthfulness of it. I might resemble that remark too often. In the last post, I offered you a video of the hymn, "Called as Partners in Christ's Service". This could be considered one of the theme songs or anthems of the Priesthood of All Believers. For some the word, "Priest" is a heavy and even hurt-filled word. It is not a word that would claim as part of who they are.
What images dance in your imagination when you hear the word, "Priest"?
How about "Pastor"?
How about "Minister"?
How about "Teacher"?
How about "Companion on the Way"?
How about Soul Friend...which John O'Donohue says in the Celtic Tradition is the word, "Anam Cara". He writes, "Real friendship or love is not manufactured or achieved by an act of will or intention. Friendship is always an act of recognition." When the soul within me connects with the soul in you. Soul being our fullest, holistic, authentic part...bearing God's fingerprints...made from the same DNA as star dust.
Okay...perhaps now it is really obvious which of the above I prefer.
We need soul friends in a world of surface level Facebook posts and short tweets. We need soul friends in a world where we don't live anywhere near family and friendships can be strained over differences in politics or religion or race or creeds. We need soul friends in a world that moves at a frenzied pace and where there is always "breaking news" coming from somewhere. Look at the second and third verses of "Called as Partners in Christ's Service."
2. Christ's example, Christ's inspiring,
Christ's clear call to work and worth,
Let us follow, never faltering,
Reconciling folk on earth.
Men and women, richer, poorer,
All God's people, young and old,
Blending human skills together
Gracious gifts from God unfold.
3. Thus new patterns for Christ's mission,
In a small or global sense,
Help us bear each other's burdens,
Breaking down each wall or fence.
Words of comfort, words of vision,
Words of challenge, said with care,
Bring new power and strength for action,
Make us colleagues, free and fair.
Christ's example was to call disciples, soul friends. Christ's example was to reconcile the difference that too often kept people apart. Christ's example was to see all people as God's beloved. But there is a new pattern for such a time as this. The world today, while there are still echoes of the world in which Jesus lived, is different. The walls and fences are real. We need words of comfort to sooth our souls. We need words of vision that evoke and awaken what it really means to live in God's realm. We need words of challenge because the work we are called to is not easy. But it is work with courage and conviction and more than a trace of God's grace we can act in faithful ways. We won't always get it right...but sometimes we learn more by doing it wrong. Although I often wish in ministry that wasn't so true!!
Keep letting this hymn sing to your soul and speak to your life in these days.
Grace and peace ~~
Tuesday, October 17, 2017
Along with Sola Scriptura (on Scripture alone), Martin Luther wanted to empower and equip the lay people of the church. He wanted to bridge the gap between priests and the people...between the pulpit and the pew. I would argue that five hundred years later, we are still struggling to live and lean into what Luther was talking about. Perhaps that is also true with Scripture. There is still a separation between pastors and the people we walk with. Sometimes this is because of professional boundaries. Sometimes it is because of power struggles and surges. Sometimes it is because of history and hierarchy. Sometimes it just is. Like Pastor Ames in Gilead walking down the street seeing people laughing and joking, who reflects on how that often such playfulness stops in his presence. How people become sober and serious and say things like, "Good afternoon, Padre". Like people who hear you are a pastor and want to justify or apologize why they don't go to church or maybe uncomfortably try to make an excuse to leave the awkward silence that arrived the moment they found out what I do. Good time!
Perhaps this is way people don't always live into the priesthood they are called into the moment of their baptism. Take the first stanza of the hymn of the video above, "Called as Partners in Christ's Service."
1. Called as partners in Christ's service,
Called to ministries of grace,
We respond with deep commitment
Fresh new lines of faith to trace.
May we learn the art of sharing,
Side by side and friend with friend,
Equal partners in our caring
To fulfill God's chosen end.
I love that line, "We respond with deep commitment, fresh new lines of faith to trace." That what we are about as the church is tracing a line that began before any of us took our first breath and even before Luther came up with the idea of the Priesthood of All believers. But we have to do it in a fresh new line. It is not routine rut to re-trace through rituals, it is fresh and new. I remember years ago my daughter would study spelling words by writing the same word over, but each time use a different color. The end result was both beautiful and practical...she learned to spell and created art at the same time. The same is true of ministry. You are called to pick up your crayon box, pull out a color that you want to add to the mosaic of ministry, and start coloring. As good Protestants, we may not always color inside that lines...that would be boring. But we do find limits and edges in the paper we are called to stay upon. We work side-by-side as equal partners.
I invite and encourage you to go back and listen again to the hymn. How are you being called to be a partner and a priest in these days? May this music move you and sing to your soul with more than a trace of God's grace.
Sunday, October 15, 2017
The dynamic and dramatic dance with the divine throughout the pages of Scripture has today been too often reduced, compartmentalized, or simply left behind. So, we end up talking about the God of the Old Testament as "judgy" or "violent" and the God of the New Testament as "cozy" and "all about love". But such distinctions don't do justice to what is actually written. Such simplifications, while easily said with authority, are often based a hand few of verse. God in Genesis, crafts and creates (in fact Genesis 1 don't use the past tense when God created...rather when God began to create, as in this whole project remains unfinished after thousands of years. This is not only confirmed when I read the news, it also makes me feel a whole lot better about myself leaving working lingering). God in Genesis changes God's mind after the flood with Noah. God in Genesis blesses the trickster, Jacob. God in Genesis works through a broken and dysfunctional family of Jacob's children, so that Joseph of many color coat fame is able to say to his brothers at the end, "What you intended for ill/bad, God intended for good." Of course, that is easy of Joseph to say when he is caught up in the political power of Pharaoh and life has turned out well...that might not have been his perspective when he had been thrown in a pit by his brothers or in prison a few years earlier.
God in Exodus, not only hears from a distance the cries for liberation...God feels the pain as a way we are called today to not just hold the oppressed/hurting at arm's length as a cause for sympathy or even empathy, but to form relationships with people. As God forms a relationship with the people of Israel following their liberation from Egypt...they are kind of whiny and grumpy and generally not all that fun to be around. Moses' calls them a "stiff-necked people", which I am pretty sure was the edited version of what Moses' might have actually called them. This God of liberation discovers that having a relationship with us as humans is, as Facebook calls it, "complicated".
We could continue in this vain. God in Numbers show a love for details. God in Leviticus, besides that passage you always hear quoted, shows a love for the stranger and foreigner. God in Deuteronomy shows compassion and care for God's people and this is one of the most quoted books of the Hebrew Scriptures by Jesus. In fact, Jesus isn't Jesus without the formation he would have received by learning the Torah (first five books of the Bible). He is steeped in these stories, drawn into the dynamic and dramatic dance with the divine. The difference is, he let's his story get caught up in the stories from these pages. Too often our intellectual approach to the Bible means that we hold it at a distance. Too often we'd rather exert power over these pages than to let them embrace us and hold us and challenge/change us. Reading Scripture not as informational but as intended, as a way of transformation.
For me, you start talking about God (theology) recognizing that all theology is personal. When I write this blog about God, I am talking about myself with a megaphone. Sacred stories about God are found in Scripture, so that is why we return to these pages Sunday after Sunday. We keep coming back to the stained-glass window of Scripture to see the way the light of God is streaming/shining through in such a time as this. And God is not able to be compartmentalized or categorized. God is. We are. Together, there is a dynamic, dramatic and divine dance in which we engage. I pray you are able to get up and start dancing this week with the creating, liberating, grace-giving, blessing, still moving in our midst God who feeds and fuels our souls every day.
Grace and peace ~~
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
The above close up of the famous two fingers - one of G-d and one of Adam (or earth being) for me points out a profound truth about the One whose love makes us whole and holy. G-d finger is on the right. Notice the strain and the stretch...the yearning and fully extended. Then notice the human finger on the left. Lackadaisical and limp...almost uninterested in actually touching the divine. I also love that there is a crack in the ceiling right there. This image preaches a profound truth to me. G-d reaches out. G-d in the prodigal son parable runs to the wayward son, embracing him before he can fully offer his rehearsed speak. G-d in the prodigal son goes out and listens to the older one vent his frustration, the unprocessed pain of life. G-d longs to be in relationship.
There is always a yet. Relationship is always a two way street. There are prayerful hopes and dreams G-d offers us to embody as a way to travel the pathway of life. In Micah G-d says, "Seek justice, show loving-kindness, and walk humbly." In a world where we constantly over-complicate everything...this is as simple as a sugar cookie recipe. Notice it says, "seek"...not achieve. That is hard for my Type-A, achiever, measurable goals personality. Seeking means that I haven't found and it means that justice is not all up to me. Seeking means that I strive but may never fully grasp. Seeking involves constant involvement. In a time when compassion fatigue is real, to continue to seek is challenging.
Showing loving-kindness isn't any easier. There are lots of folks today I find it hard to show loving kindness toward. But I don't get to select. Jesus made it clear that we are to love even our enemies. That is not exact the way to build membership in a society that loves to sort out into "us" and "them"; "republican" and "democrat"..."with us" or "against us." Loving kindness, Hebrew word 'hesed', is one of those words that can change everything if you let it.
Finally, walk humbly. If the first two don't challenge you...this one will. In a world that loves to prop up and shine a spotlight on the ego...humility is not seen as anything we would want to aspire toward. As Richard Rohr says, we have a downward mobility spirituality. The point is not to achieve, the point is to be. We will learn more by doing it wrong, then right.
We don't always teach or talk about this in the church. It is easier to bring the world into the sanctuary and talk about membership and finances and whether we liked the hymns and sermons. We critique the church because...quite frankly as a very human institution...there is much that isn't right. Like Adam in the painting, we hold a limp finger rather than leap into the embrace of a grace and love that will always catch us. Always. Not with the promise of pony rides and chocolate rivers. Not with Annie singing, "The sun will come out tomorrow." But catch us nevertheless. It will still sting when we fall. But there is grace even in moments of pain and struggle. Not a grace anyone can name for us.
So, today, find a way to reach out that finger toward the One who is reaching for you.
And may you find more than a trace of G-d's grace and love in this holy, broken moment.
Monday, October 9, 2017
As we dive and delve into the mystery that is just beyond our grasp and yet (paradoxically) is as close as our next breath. The holy and wholly other, as Barth said. The ultimate concern and ground of our being, as Tillich said. The One who left fingerprints upon our lives and crafted us from star dust and breathed the holy ruach - Hebrew for wind - into us. God...or as our Jewish brothers and sisters like to write to help maintain the mystery, "G-d". I want to start this with a beautiful hymn written by Brian Wren. I love the evocative and expansive sense Wren invites us into. Listen to the hymn. Then slowly, in a savory pace, read the words below...
Bring many names, beautiful and good,
Celebrate, in parable and story,
Holiness in glory, living, loving God.
Hail and Hosanna! Bring many names!
Strong mother God, working night and day,
Planning all the wonders of creation,
Setting each equation, genius at play:
Hail and Hosanna, strong mother God!
Warm father God, hugging every child,
Feeling all the strains of human living,
Caring and forgiving, till we’re reconciled:
Hail and Hosanna, warm father God!
Old, aching God, grey with endless care,
Calmly piercing evil’s new disguises,
Glad of good surprises, wiser than despair:
Hail and Hosanna, old, aching God!
Young, growing God, eager, on the move,
Saying no to falsehood and unkindness,
Crying out for justice, giving all you have:
Hail and Hosanna, young, growing God!
Great, living God, never fully known,
Joyful darkness far beyond our seeing,
Closer yet than breathing, everlasting home:
Hail and Hosanna, great, living God!
What names do you bring for G-d? How have those names changed? Has G-d changed or you?
Those are good questions to let sit and simmer in our souls as we take up what is at the center of our God-talk, theology. May there be a trace of grace that is both real and beyond words in your life this day.
Grace and peace ~~
Friday, October 6, 2017
Let the words of my mouth...
Sometimes the words of scripture are sweet as chocolate
And other times it can feel like my mouth is full of marbles.
Some words strength and sustain...
Some words are sour and make my stomach churn.
Some words are like a lukewarm tuna sandwich...
Not bad but not great either.
Let the meditation of my mind...
With all these thoughts of what I have to do
And what the co-worker said to me yesterday
And the frustrations that fume on simmer of the back burner of my soul.
These meditations right now...as I am trying to engage Scripture.
Be acceptable to You, O God...
Which kinda sounds like you are grading me, God.
It sounds like I might mess this up or do it wrong.
So now the meditations of my mind are on a downward spiral.
Because I didn't know that You were here, God.
I thought I was just reading the Bible.
The Bible is full of words I can mutter, some lingering on the tip of my tongue.
Those intersect and interrupt my own thoughts.
And I want to encounter, engage You, O God.
Let this prayer be more than a cul-de-sac...
Let it be an invitation that keeps me coming back to the possibility that the tiny words on razor thin pages of my Bible might be a holy, Moses-before-the-burning-bush, kind of moment.
Let it be. Let it be in my words, meditations, and sing to our lives in these days.
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Scripture as an offering and opening.
Scripture as an encounter and experience.
Scripture as an art of reading deeper.
When we read Scripture the first step is to slow down. The prayerful practice of Lectio Divina (which means sacred reading) is one that emphasizes this. Or as one author said, Scripture is about balancing information and formation. It isn't only about trying to understand, but let these words seep and soak into our very lives. This takes a different pair of eye glasses/lens. When we read Scripture slowly, savoring the words...the images...the questions...and insights.
So often we are quick to turn to scholars or experts. We trade in the common currency of the Reformed church that Scripture belongs to everyone, which is why Luther translated the Bible into German so everyone could read. If we are too quick to shrug our shoulders and assume that the Bible is just ancient or arcane, we are letting go of something that still sings to our whole lives. To sit with Scripture. Don't rush through the words. Don't jump to trying to figure out, "So what or why should I care?" Listen to the words. Let them linger even or especially if the words make you uncomfortable. Sometimes the light that Scripture shines is bright and beautiful....other times it is blinding and baffling.
Take each word...each verse...each chapter...each moment not as an end to your own self-improvement but as a witness to God. Just as not every book or every interaction or every person is equally awesome, so too with the Bible. Sometimes Jonah annoys us and other times can cause us to ponder what we are resisting. Sometimes Paul frustrates us and other times he creates a vision of a world where the divisions are meant to disappear in the church community.
But, reading slowly...at a savory pace...takes practice. I often learn more when I talk to others or when I completely miss something in a story only to discover a deep truth now that makes me return to Scripture time and time again.
I encourage you to engage and encounter Scripture...opening and offering your whole self to these words.
Grace and peace ~~
Monday, October 2, 2017
Eugene Peterson once wrote that giving a Bible to someone and telling the person read it...is like giving a 16-year-old the keys to a car and saying, "Drive it." There are several reasons for this. First, Scripture evokes and elicits a variety of reactions/responses. One story can comfort us...the very next can challenge us to the point of frustration...the very next can just leave us confused. That kind of emotional roller coaster can leave us weary and wondering, "What in the world." Second, Scripture longs to be communal. From the moment the stories of the Hebrew Scriptures were shared out-loud around the fire to Sunday mornings, there is something about these words that cannot be read as isolated individuals. Our Jewish ancestors would sit around discussing, even debating Scripture. Luke tells us about a precocious Jesus staying behind in the temple to talk with rabbis about the faith. Third reason is that the Bible is (as C.S. Lewis once said), a book for adults. These words are challenging and force us to face glaring issues we'd usually would rather ignore. Issues like racism, slavery, objectification of women, and treatment of others. At the same time, a thread throughout the pages of Scripture is welcoming the stranger and sojourners and those who were set apart. Finally, Scripture was set in a different day. When my kids look pictures of me as a kid in a Smurf shirt and denim shorts with a mullet hair style...they laugh. But they don't understand...I was trying to be cool. Emphasis on the word, "trying"...success is never guaranteed.
Every time we open the Bible, we are peering into a world that is distant. Yet, Scripture writes about deep issues of the human condition. We know the laments of Psalm 22..."My God how can you forsake or leave or desert me??" We know that love makes a difference and can cause us to want to set aside our own lives. When my kids are sick or in pain, I would gladly take that suffering and struggle on to relieve them.
Part of the problem with how we approach Scripture is that we tend to think that we already know how to read it. We believe that because the words are in English we should be able to fully comprehend. But this isn't some manual or textbook or even a novel. Scripture is something else. And part of Scripture always remains out of our grasp...just as we don't fully know ourselves or another...there is something in these faithful words that are elusive.
When we open the Bible it is an offering and opportunity. An offering of our own selves to engage and encounter these words. And it is an opportunity for God to enter into our mind, hearts and soul. Offering of ourselves and opportunity to be embraced by God. I encourage you to find your Bible. Hold it. Open it. Engage it. And talk to others about what you are reading. Not every story can sing or soothe your soul...but there is a beautiful art to reading Scripture. That is why Luther talked about Sola Scriptura...on Scripture alone. I pray we can reclaim this reformed notion to nourish our faith in these.
Grace and peace ~~