Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Global Manifestation #2: Ordinary Means Patterned

Last week I wrote about how we are called to make room in our resting just as God made room for us in his "sabbathing."  Creation -- our lives -- will not be accomplished best by our driving towards greatness 24/7 like an Egyptian Pharoah.  More than any other time before now, the whole world cries for us to make sabbath not progress so the rest of creation can take its turn in unfolding, becoming.

In the ordering of creation God establishes a pattern that leads to Sabbath.  This is the implication of "ordinary time" after our Epiphany feast: our becoming or manifesting God's presence as we hear the stories of our Lord moving from cradle to mountain top transfiguration is built on that pattern.

Most of what we will read in these days-growing-out-of-darkness are stories of becoming disciples, becoming known, becoming confident, and ultimately becoming focused on the end that needs it's own season to move in its own approach and final confrontation without any trust in a God who rests.  Look ahead to the rapacious collusion of temple and Roman authorities and you'll not see much sabbath.

For Jesus the pattern of becoming includes progressive doses of exemplary obedience, trust, and courage.  How else does one move from infancy to sonship in solidarity with God's covenant to sonship as covenant renewed on a cross to sharing in God's authority from heaven?

In the Jordan God's voice affirms Christ's calling, "you are my Son."  Jesus follows that calling.  Following requires trust.  Not necessarily a trust that the one who leads knows the way but more like trust that the one who leads will never betray his love of us.  That's how obedience works.

After obedience gets us into the habit then trust becomes reciprocal.  God counts on us to act out of the freedom in more and more expansive ways.  And after trust courage helps in those moments when we have grown into being agents and not just children.  Like we say in our prayers, "to do work you have given us to do."

Were we without failing the whole world would be "on board."  Because we will fail we should try doubly to follow God's lead and get out of the way.  That's what Sabbath is for.  Sometimes it takes courage to let go, lay down, apologize and let creation takes it's turn.

The pattern of Christ's manifestation is meant for the whole world not just us Gentiles. It yearns to be ordinary. We may just need to let it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Global Manifestation

Three years ago when I was writing about the need for and the effect of sabbath especially as we distinguish it from Sunday I said this:
Before you think I'm screaming conspiracy theories or fashioning tin foil hats know this:  I believe it was and is meant for the whole planet when God commands those words that help to form a nation: "Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy."  I believe that was and is for the whole planet that on the seventh day God rested -- read slept -- and as a creator was silent. 
There is a holiness intended by God in our Sundays, our sabbaths, our silence, and our sleep.  It is a holiness meant for the whole world.
My focus is on the phrase "meant for the whole world."  I'm pretty sure that what we do as a worshipping community, in a county seat town in "Georgia's Lake Country" has greater implications.  But somehow when we seem too easily to slip into busying ourselves with accounting and carrying around bits and pieces of offence and disappointment our world shrinks.

Whenever we get too insular, too self-pitying, too dependent on "the way things always have been" more than anything we are preventing that expansive, creative, spirit-freeing turn God expects us to take.

Whenever we constrict our hearts, the ego-impulse to defend and enlarge our impact has to overcompensate and drives us to pile on the bits and pieces to build what is really a substitute for faith and trust and grace.

Remember Pharoah's "high control needs" and his ordering the Israelites to work 7 days a week making bricks thus preventing their sabbath observance?  They wouldn't stand for it and with God's help made their way first to sabbath in a wilderness until they came home to the land God had promised.  

Sadly on the way even they succumbed to the beast of control and melted their "bits and pieces" of gold -- much of which was handed to them by the Egyptians -- into a idol, a false god of self glorification.

If we remember that our creator God slept -- gave up control -- and in so doing made way for the world he had made to become something more in freedom and trust and rest, then even we might better live together in this historic middle Georgia refuge and not just for ourselves.  

We each have our part but each of us has just a part.  It will not do for us just to pile up the bits and pieces, or endlessly to pull our boot straps, there's no sabbath there.  

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A Resolution about Resolutions

This past Sunday I referred to an ancient heresy that challenged the faith fairly early in the "church."  It was the one that tried and failed to explain how the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth was at once both human and divine.

Apollinarianism taught that "Jesus could not have had a human mind; rather, Jesus had a human body and lower soul (the seat of the emotions) but a divine mind."  The response of the faithful was to say that "that which is not assumed is not saved."  Even before the heresy was spread John's gospel reminds us that nothing was missing and that what was present was "full of grace and truth."

Most of us are not practitioners of Apollinarianism. That's a good thing.  Also good is that most of us do not lie awake at night worrying about heresies or even worse about being deemed heretics ourselves.  But heresies do not end just because "the authorities" say so.  Most of them morph and evolve into modern iterations.  

Another "heresy" that predates even Jesus has morphed and morphed and morphed and persists even today.  I call it the boot-straps heresy.  Like all heresies it becomes such when it goes too far and allows us to refuse a necessary tension of balancing human volition with divine authority.  

The first time a boot-straps heresy shows up is in Genesis 11:1-9.  Verse 4 says, ". . . let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth."

The end result was that the tower fell and God made it so that the people were separated by their languages.  Most scholars understand the story as answering the question about from where all the different human groups and languages come.  Whether or not it works for you as an explanation -- don't we prefer something more scientific? -- you have to admit that it begins with a quintessential boot-straps moment.  

There are many other biblical stories that remind us to be careful and respect the tension that our "boot-straps only" efforts avoid.  Human volition says we must choose faith in order to be faithful while recognizing divine authority says we must always yield to God's authority and power.  Both/and not either/or and thus an uncomfortable tension.  Babel was a choice that failed to acknowledge God's power and authority.  

The tension is there whether we acknowledge it or not.  That tension is with us now as we join our neighbors and friends to celebrate the new year and . . . make resolutions.  

Making resolutions is not heresy.  But it is easy to slip in our resolution making and think that our "improvement" depends solely on our muscle, our plans, our resolve.   

There are many choices before us as the people of Advent, Madison.  There are always moments and will always be moments when our faith calls on us to decide, to choose, to want.  These same moments will just as much call on us to trust in God, to honor God's authority and to have confidence in God's power.

Let's resolve together to trust in God AND keep pulling.  

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Christian Indentities #8: In Relationship

Still thinking about the different ways we identify ourselves as Christian, especially those that go deeper than being nice, punctual, thrifty, strong, etc.  Each of these traits or habits have a place in the world of choices and actions but each on their own will not be enough in defining an identity.  The same is true of the “letting go” from last week’s writing.

That’s true for every characteristic that we would want to use to explain the complexity that is Christian identity.  You can see that truth acted out in the history of heresy that has been the struggle of Christians from the 1st century AD to today.  Take any one of the many traits we would list as part of a whole Christian identity, exercise it at the exclusion of others and you end up with an -ism, or an -itis, or a -phobia.

I’m exaggerating because most of us are not so secluded or without others that we go that far.  Most of us are not that idiosyncratic.  Quirky, unusual, opinionated but measured by the love of family, friends, neighbors, by the limits of social norms, laws, language, etc.

All of this is to say much of who we each become is not simply the result of choices we make or actions we take as individuals.  We are formed in relationship.

That’s how identity works and that’s how God worked when Jesus entered the story that was already full of relationship with God.  It would not have been enough for God to simply expect one behavior or action over another in order to be fully present.  It would not have worked for God to appear as a full grown human — male or female.

Even with the intent to set things right God had to “suffer” relationship born in Bethlehem so that everything that makes us human, that forms our identities, that individuates each one of us could get caught up in a relationship with God.

Christian identities aren’t simply an imposition of one behavior or action over another.  Christian identities aren’t miraculous anomalies that ignore the fabric of day-to-day, person-to-person living.  Christian identities are the result of relationship and resolve other identities through relationship.

The season of Advent helps us to prepare for the ultimate relationship with God. Through the shared work of judgement and redemption (It could just as well be said in reverse order) all that is us—our identities—is made ready to meet the reality of God’s identity in the one of a kind way that admits, honors and saves the complexity of humankind.

“And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”  ‭‭Luke‬ ‭1:30-33‬ ‭KJV‬‬

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Christian Identities #7: Letting Go

I want to get back to the series on how we define ourselves as Christians both within and beyond that thing we call a church family.  Before I do that I want to thank the members of the vestry and others who contributed to the conversation necessary in moving from budget year to budget year.  There several excellent "testimonies" and some of them were repeated in the space my 'blurbs" usually occupy.  Thanks to you each and all for enriching our lives and our understanding, especially about from where your giving comes.
It's an easy segue to talking about this next way of describing faithful living because the interlude of testimonies was an adaptive process.  The vestry responded to the "facts on the ground" relative to budget, pledging and expenses and talked straight from the heart to their fellow parishioners.  I hope you heard them.  I hope you heard them witnessing to appreciation, gratitude, grace, honesty, commitment and much more.
I hope you heard a critical distinction about giving in faith as it compares to paying dues or helping those in need.  I hope you heard something about letting go in your giving.  Letting go is how our giving becomes an offering.
At Boulevard Baptist in Anderson, SC back in the early 60's our family sat behind a church lady I have always called Mrs. Phillips.  One Sunday night as the offering plate was passed she fussed and fidgeted to put something in the plate.  As it continued to the back of the church she craned her neck to keep an eye on that plate.  When we stood for the presentation she lunged toward the usher reaching as if to get out whatever she had put in earlier.  She lost her balance and fell.  The usher's first move was to protect the plate and its contents so he spun away from her causing most of the change and bills to spill out onto the floor.  It was a fiasco!  I think my dad turned to the organist and said, "play another stanza."
I learned something that night that informs my appreciation for giving, pledging, and budgeting now in the life of our church family.  Offerings aren't offerings until we let go of them.  Even worse we can make a mess of other's giving if we fail to finish our own giving by letting go.
Letting go is our imitating the sacrifice of the one we claim to follow.  It's that simple and it is a sacramental act that everyone of us is capable of accomplishing.
My prayer is that we can learn from our current reality both as a function of Christian identity, as a function of giving and budgeting, and as a function of meeting our obligations and helping those in need to find new ways to let go.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Christian Identities #6: Trusting Servants

So much to say here thanks to the way in which Jesus of Nazareth instructs his followers and then takes on the duty of dying.  Just go to the upper room as John's gospel relates those moments before and at the table.  Especially poignant is the answer Jesus gives to Peter who can't stand it that his teacher is on his knees preparing to wash the feet of the disciples.  "Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”(John 13:7)

We risk much in thinking that the wisdom to respond in such a way is based on Jesus' being the Son of God having some kind of foreknowledge. It likely is as much that Jesus is indicating a kind of "servant's obedience" that acts without the benefit of power or authority.  He is modeling for Peter and for us.

Servants are supposed to do what their lords command without the benefit of knowing all the reasons or intentions of the commander.  So what Jesus says to Peter he says from his heart not just his head because everything that he is doing is from an even more profound obedience.

By demonstration Jesus extends the opportunity to Peter and by default to all disciples to take on their own obedience.  If he had explained everything he would have not allowed Peter's -- or our -- obedience to be an act of trust in the person of God. 

We know from our own experience and should remember the distinction between strict adherence to law or flawlessly following orders when it is compared to the trust that is forged in our obedience to a person. 

Sadly our experiences are just as full of moments when a person has said "trust me" and then . . .

That's not the case here.  Jesus, especially as John portrays him is resolved and stays on the course we can also follow. The words he last speaks are not the anguished cries we hear from the synoptics but the words only a trusting servant would speak, ". . . ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." (John 19:30b)

He has not stopped trusting the person of his "Father in heaven."  My sense is that he understands the value of God's foreknowledge or omniscience.  He just as much understands the value of God's omnipresence.  That is to say that God is always God -- in space and time -- and always trustworthy. 

We have a chance to rehearse our own version of trusting servant every Sunday when we obediently make our way to the altar and extend our hands and hearts in communion.  We don't need to have the "magic" of transubstantiation figured out nor do we need to totally comfortable with mystery of the word made flesh.  But we are allowed to trust that God's presence is with us. 

It's as if Jesus is saying to each one of us, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Christian Identities #5: Untimely Saints

The apostle Paul calls himself "one untimely born" in his first letter to the Christians in Corinth (1 Cor. 15:8).  He is referring to his having not been one of the twelve or of those surrounding the disciples, like the cohort out of whom Matthias was chosen. (Acts 1:21-23) 

He was a young man when Stephen was stoned so we can safely understand him meaning at least that. (Acts 7:58)  It matters because he is trying to be faithful to his own experience of surprisingly being called on the road to Damascus to cease his role in the persecution of Jews who believed Jesus was the Christ and to begin instead to proclaim the gospel to Gentiles.  Read Acts chapter 9 for the whole story.

Proclaim he did and he traveled throughout the Mediterranean world helping communities of Jews and Gentiles to live together in faith.  Often he wrote them letters.  Just in terms of a simple word count in english, Paul is responsible for more than a quarter of the collection of writings we call the New Testament. 

Five times he clearly identifies the recipients of his epistles as "saints."  He means the entire assembly, not just the heroes or elders who have died or the famous ones of each community but the regular living members of the churches in Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, and Colossae. 

So here it is "All Saints'-tide" and we are remembering and honoring those who have "gone before us in the faith:" famous ones, elders, relatives but alive on earth no longer. Traditionally that is who we have named as our saints.  Why, especially when the witness of Paul so clearly indicates another standard?  Perhaps humility has us deferring to these deceased saints as such because we know that sin is still a problem for us who are living. 

Regardless, we need to ask the next question, "why not."  Also, "is that why don't we embrace our various callings as comparably saintlike to those of the first Christian communities?"  Especially when we read about their intramural fights and troubles.  Stay with Paul and you'll see that they had their "parties."  Those for circumcision and those not.  Those for eating meat, those not.  Those for women in leadership, those not. 

Paul called them saints . . . even in their disagreements. And he must have understood that trouble was not simply an internal reality.  His having been a persecutor himself gave him all the evidence he needed to understand the societal pressures that challenged these fledgling churches.  So when Paul calls the Philippians "saints" he is probably giving them credit for enduring not only "in-house" squabbles but a persecution similar to ones he meant to perpetrate in Damascus.

Maybe we could understand our roles as untimely in the sense that as 21st century dwellers we are left to rely on the witness of scripture, especially Paul's letters to have any connection with those first "to go before us in the faith."  We too are born late.  Untimely, yes but we are potentially just as saintly.