Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Walking with Jesus

Walking with Jesus is a part of my dream life.  More than once I've roused from sleep in a mix of shame thinking I'm not good enough to be here and joy in amazement I was so lucky.  Just once I was afraid I was dead.

One time Jesus joined me on a long run.  I don't remember worrying about his robes encumbering him.  I do remember that it was a field of perfectly mown grass under our feet; mine in Asics Tigers, his in sandals.  Ah, those were the days/dreams.

Part of my thinking these days about the image of Jesus, the role model, the metaphor, the revelation is that we need God to be proximate.  Our theology always pushes God away toward omniscience, omnipotence, absoluteness, transcendence, eternality.  Jesus brings God closer.  Especially as we understand Jesus being the Word of God Incarnate.  Nothing shows us who God is better than Jesus.

So I'm musing again.  I'd be dreaming if I weren't awake.  I'm singing the old hymn, "O Master let me walk with thee."  Here are the words:

 O Master, let me walk with Thee
in lowly paths of service free;
tell me Thy secret; help me bear
the strain of toil, the fret of care.

 Help me the slow of heart to move
by some clear, winning word of love;
teach me the wayward feet to stay,
and guide them in the homeward way.

 Teach me Thy patience, still with Thee
in closer, dearer company,
in work that keeps faith sweet and strong,
in trust that triumphs over wrong.

 In hope that sends a shining ray
far down the future's broad'ning way;
in peace that only Thou canst give,
with Thee, O Master, let me live.

The Jesus we walk with is the best lens to see who God is.  Thanks be to God it's a dream coming true.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Jesus Towards Us

One of the descriptions of grace I remember hearing was from The Rev. Dr. James Carpenter of General Seminary.  When he said "God towards us" he surely said more but I got myself stuck on that and stopped following his train of thought that day.

I knew Jim because he had retired to Augusta, GA when I was serving as Associate Rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd.  He was a gift to my time there. The light of his whimsy and imagination sparkled.  The heat of his ethical gaze was constant.  The demand for excellence in witness to and with a diverse creation was non-stop. 

I count it as one of the many graces from God that I received during my service in the CSRA, years ago.  Working with Rector Robert Fain and staff.  Living in our neighborhood of young med students and pharma reps on Bransford "off the brick" with Cindy, David and MC.  Clericus, Standing Committee, and summers at Honey Creek were some of the other graces given then. 

I've remembered Dr. Carpenter's definition from then because it is now how I understand who Jesus is for me.  He is a grace of God's, not just to me but to all time and space and thus to me, too.  It's what gets St. Paul to write in his letter to the Colossians:

. . . of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing--so among yourselves, from the day you heard and understood the grace of God in truth,  as you learned it . . .  (Col. 1:5b-7a, RSV)
Certainly there was grace on our creation whatever the extent to which sin has broken, removed or altered its original effect.  But it's not so much how much of our "original blessing" remains. What matters to me now is that that same grace of creation continues from God.  Otherwise there'd be little or no "bearing fruit and growing" "in the whole world" of which the church in Colossae is just a part. 

In short, God is always "towards us." There is always grace from God.  And that ultimate grace that was the Gospel's focus, Jesus who died and was raised is also "always."  Jesus is always "God towards us."

So . . . what, who, how is Jesus to you, now?  How do you recognize and receive God's always being towards us?  Are you willing to explore or question the ways in which "God towards us" is localized, embodied, incarnated in Jesus, not just 2000 years ago but now?  How does your appreciation of Jesus help you receive God's always being towards us?

Lots of questions, one Jesus, one God, always towards us.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Jesus as Role Model

From the beginning, Jesus’s ministry modeled the interplay between prophetic utterance, public theology, and intense spiritual renewal.*

Someone I love sent me a link to a youtube video.  The video was a patchwork of clips of evangelicalistic preachers, pop psychologists, and journalistic senationalists.  

I don't they were trying to enrage me or trigger some extreme response.  I think they were looking for a way to make sense without more absolutistic flailing and Facebook-ish anger.  They were seeking advice.  They were seeking peace. 

It is a constant now in ways I've not seen before.  How do we make sense, how do we make a way, how do we live in THIS world?

I've been writing about how Jesus is presented in scripture and how we can relate to his abiding presence in the 21st century.  Jesus as Invitation, Resting in Jesus, Jesus as Jewish mystic, social prophet, as wisdom teacher and more. 

It's important to understand that each of these views takes the risk of fragmenting the whole that in its fullness is beyond our understanding.  The language of our creeds avoids this parceling out of the fully divine - fully human reality that it claims from God in Jesus, the Christ.  

I think is is intentional.  It helps.  Otherwise, with more than "conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary" we'd be claiming to know more of how God did what God did than we can know.  Going beyond this core belief is the slippery slope of most early church heresies.  

So it appealed to me when I read the quote above.  Jesus modeled the interplay -- and I added in my mind -- between all our fragments of him.  His modeling was just as much in a world clamoring for absolutistic righteousness as is ours.  

We will always be the ones who break it down, who pick apart, who clamor and cry for final answers, for absolutes we cannot hold, much less hold against each other.  

Our following will be part prophetic utterance, part public theology, and part intense spiritual renewal and more.  It will not do for us to deny or avoid the interplay.  

Because ours is the hard work of following the one who died and was raised.  

*Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, second edition (Fortress Press: 2017), 9-10.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Jesus as Invitation

One of the old hymns I learned as a Southern Baptist child was "Jesus calls us o'er the tumult."  We have two tunes for in our hymnal at #549 and #550.  Neither are the tune I learned to sing.   The words work no matter:

Jesus calls us; o'er the tumult
of our life's wild, restless sea;
day by day His sweet voice soundeth,
saying, "Christian, follow me."
Jesus calls us from the worship
of the vain world's golden store,
from each idol that would keep us,
saying, "Christian, love me more."

In our joys and in our sorrows,
days of toil and hours of ease,
still He calls, in cares and pleasures,
"Christian, love me more than these."
Jesus calls us-- by Thy mercies,
Savior, may we hear Thy call;
give our hearts to Thine obedience,
serve and love Thee best of all.

The image of Jesus calling is a powerful one for me because it has been so much a part of my understanding for years.  It is the one that gets me to be constantly reminding us that following him is as much or more of what we should be doing as worshipping him.

In this Sunday's gospel, the complaint Jesus returns to those who cry about his and his disciples' hygiene is to quote Isaiah's prophetic critique that "in vain do they worship me." (Isaiah 29:13)  He is not at this point issuing an invitation to follow him but he is clearly indicating that worship is not enough.  Indeed because worship may be hijacked by pretence and power we must always check our hearts.

For sure following Jesus can be just as undone by human competition and pettiness.  Remember how the disciples argued over who was greatest.  But seeing Jesus as inviting us to follow, especially over tumults and toil clears a path for our hearts that the concerns for regularity and order in worship may obstruct or misdirect.

Jesus calls us over difficulties he has already confronted.  Jesus calls us through our own struggles.  Jesus calls us even as we create our own stumbling blocks and distractions.   Jesus calls us to give our hearts to love and service.  Jesus calls us saying "Christian, follow me."

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Inviting Jesus

Thanks for going with me last week through the difficult news of Dick and Jim and Martha's lives coming to an end.  Our prayers continue for those whom they loved and those who mourn.  Grief is how we send love to those we've lost.  Let's keep sending love.

If you would please add Coy Wallace Carson to your prayers.  He was Papa to my David Wallace Brown and Mary Carson Brown.  Their mom Cindy was with him as his long descent into dementia and physical failing ended while he was sleeping.  Sending more love.

Part of how we can still have love to send is because of how Jesus continues to abide with us.  I characterized our wanting to "rest in Jesus" as kin to making Sabbath.  The rest we take away from the world's troubles is a good place to meet the one who goes before us to death and was raised.   We can trust him to be present.

But we must be cautious about how we allow our expectation of his being with us and protecting a place of sabbath rest and sanctuary for us to develop.  Simply, he wants to be invited and our presumption may not be the best way to call him over the threshold.

Maybe if we think about the character of the one we are inviting it'll help us to ask him in.  In a sermon delivered to Calvary Episcopal in 1999 during Lent Marcus Borg suggested 3 ways to see Jesus at the door.

First is to think of Jesus as a "Jewish mystic, as one who knew God, who knew the Sacred, who knew the Spirit. He was one for whom the Spirit of God was an experiential reality."

Secondly, Borg saw "the historical Jesus as a wisdom teacher of a way or a path,  the road less traveled, the narrow way, a subversive way to an alternative wisdom."

Thirdly Borg saw Jesus as "a social prophet, a radical critic of the domination system in the Jewish homeland in His day. Indeed, it was His passion as a social prophet that counts for Him getting killed.
To put that three-fold summary into three phases, there was to Jesus first, a spirit dimension, secondly, a wisdom dimension, and thirdly, a justice dimension."

These may not be the Jesus you have in heart and mind when you are seeking rest from grief, stress or struggle.  But these pictures of Borg's can inform how we move back into the world from our sabbath sanctuaries, from our grieving.

From Jesus the mystic we can return with a renewed sense of wonder and marvel at how the world continues to hold places and times for joy and celebration.  From Jesus the wisdom teacher we can expect new learning and new truths as we move forward.  With Jesus the social prophet we can be encouraged to find and fashion a better world for others and ourselves.

In each instance God in Christ waits on our invitation.  Ready to grieve, to wonder, to learn, to grow, and to strive again . . . with us.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Resting in Jesus

It is an Advent hymn that comes to mind today.  Following the close watch my friend David and I kept with others for his mother as she lay in hospice and the sad news of the passing of former parishioner and vestry member Dick Hodgetts, just days after hearing from Ellen Warren about the passing of her little brother Jim.

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee

So many in this community have been keeping watch and the news is only a little comfort.  We mourn with Pat and family. And Ellen. And David. And we thank God for their release and rest now it has come.

Our need to meet Jesus never diminishes, never ends.  Back when I was writing about the difference between Sunday and Sabbath I perhaps focused too much on the church and our activity in it as a sociological reality.  I don't remember identifying "being with Jesus" as a "sabbath rest."  

But that is exactly what the hymn expresses and it is echoed in the Collect for Saturdays in Morning Prayer:

Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested from all your works and sanctified a day of rest for all your creatures: Grant that we, putting away all earthly anxieties, may be duly prepared for the service of your sanctuary, and that our rest here upon earth may be a preparation for the eternal rest promised to your people in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Christian version of Sabbath is not just absence from labor, stress, struggle, or pain.  It is to be caught up in the abiding presence of Jesus.  We understand that rest as provided or gifted to us and not as something we've earned or gained.  

Yes there are things we do to move ourselves into place, much like all our sacramental "regulars."  Dimmed lights, reduced noise, comfortable seating, empty schedules, rise to the level of liturgy.  They are our first part in what is finally fulfilled by God's blessing, God's effecting the very shalom/peace in which and for which God created us.  

Sabbath is encountered by God's grace not accomplished.  A grace that God knows and has experienced in the very first Sabbath.  Dick and Martha and before them Jim are in that grace -- a gift of Sabbath from God in the presence of their "long-expected Jesus."  

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Meeting Jesus, Again

Marcus Borg died in January of 2015.  He was an important apologist for Christianity because he shared his recovery of faith by remembering how it felt to believe when he was young and allowing himself to feel that way again about stories and explanations that academic criticism and challenge had deconstructed and dismissed.  

Remember when we all were fascinated by the power and magnitude of Jesus' miracles or those Cecile B. deMile-ian moments from the Old Testament?  Like last Sunday's story of Mose's shining face after his encounter with God on the mountain, the stories are so big our wonder keeps us remembering until some challenge rises up out of textual variance or historical contradiction.  

Borg, who introduced himself to a wider audience with his charming and comforting "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time"  helped more than those whose nostalgia was darkened.  He helped the same scholars who had frightened away a generation of believers.  

Thanks to Phillip Clayton, PhD,  Ingraham Professor, Claremont School of Theology for his development of these four aspects of Borg's impact so worth our attention, especially as we work through these Sundays informed by John's "I am the bread" gospel readings.

  • Borg was hopelessly Jesus-centric. Nothing in the history of Christianity or its present-day institutions could turn him away from this Jesus — not the great ideas and theologies of intellectuals, not the debates over the historicity of the New Testament, not the frustrating trivialities of bureaucratic functionaries. If the entire institutional side of the Christian church should go down in flames — and many think that it is — Borg’s faith would be untouched. Borg was unwaveringly drawn to the Jesus of the gospels; he couldn’t imagine building his life around anyone else. I’d like to think that Emergence Christianity at its best does precisely this.

  • Borg described a God worth believing in. Borg’s writings (and his person) consistently convey belief in a loving and compassionate God. He wasted little ink on theological disputes. The only thing he consistently wrote about God was that he was a panentheist: God is immanent in the world, as the world is immanent in God. The rest of the metaphysical debates about the divine went into the “optional” category for him. So did the battles over Christian orthodoxy, from substitutionary atonement to pre-incarnate Logos to pre-millennial eschatology.

  • Borg’s unencumbered Christianity didn’t negate other religions and spiritual paths. It didn’t tell you that you have to hate gays or proselytize Buddhists or be wary of your neighbor’s doctrine of Scripture. Love is not a zero-sum game. Following Jesus is not first about propositions, stacking up true ones on your side and attacking the false propositions of your enemies. Borg’s humility, which so many of us experienced, was the natural expression of a Christian faith built around Jesus’ radical way of compassion first, with everything else a distant second. Isn’t it fair to say that what has drawn so many to the emergence movement is this same message: a Christianity without exclusion or intolerance?

  • Borg knew that we have to pare Christianity back down to the basics... or else. The age of Christian Empire has passed (thank God). The Church is no longer the center of American society, as the Harvard Pluralism Project has so clearly shown. The fastest growing religious group in America are the non-affiliated. As the famous process theologian John Cobb said in a talk recently, “The more progressive denominations on the whole have been losing members and resources. There are many reasons. But I think the deepest one may be that what we do and say does not seem to be terribly important.”
We can use these highlights to help us read and understand the Gospel this month and maybe meet Jesus again for the first time ourselves.