Communal Healing

Communal Healing

You may listen to Communal Healing by clicking here.

They were bright yellow with bold black letters. I don’t know if they made it to Condon, or even to the west coast, but they were all over the Bible belt. Like someone had sprinkled cinnamon sugar on french toast, “I FOUND IT” bumper stickers were sprinkled on cars all over my north St. Louis county neighborhood. One of my friends even plastered three of them all over her notebook.

Screen Shot 2013-06-04 at 1.43.26 PM

I was confused. Asking someone about it was like being present at the anti-Pentecost. Those I could understand one moment suddenly began to speak unintelligibly. They spoke

in words I didn’t understand. They asked me questions I couldn’t answer.

  • Have you been saved?
  • When did you find Christ?
  • Do you know where you’re going when you die?
  • Did you know God tricked the devil?
  • Jesus died because of your sins, did you know that?

And in this high-pressure peppering of questions I suddenly realized I was being evangelized. I was being pushed to attend a specific church or, rather to embrace a literalistic and non-questioning faith. I was being asked to give up the tradition of thinking for myself. I was being asked to give up the kind of Bible study we did at the storefront Disciples of Christ church my family attended.

I was being told to stop asking questions, to stop listening for a new word in the turbulent 70s. The answer had been found. All I had to do was follow someone with an “I FOUND IT” sticker to their church.

***

This kind of high-pressure evangelism is exactly why too many Presbyterians, Methodists, Disciples, ELCA Lutherans, and UCCers are afraid of the word evangelism. I think it may be a factor in why more than one of you in this church have said that your faith is a private matter.

You have rightfully been hesitant to share your faith with others for fear of being pushy, for fear of being overbearing, for fear of telling someone else how they should believe. But fear is not a faithful perspective. It reflects a lack of trust in the Divine. The all too human emotion of fear, leads us astray from trusting in God.

***

Like many of you, I am a universalist. That is, I perceive that the one we call the Holy Spirit, the one others call by other names, manifests in different ways for different people. The extravagant love that is within all, is between all, and is over all leads some to follow a Buddhist way of life.

The same Love leads some to follow the teachings of Muhammed or Krishna or the Great Spirit. Faithfulness to Love is for some found in the ancient traditions of Judaism.

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 9.29.10 AMFor you and for me it is in Jesus, the one who breathes in God and breathes out Love, that we find our faith. It is in Jesus that we meet God. It is in the Great Healer that our wounds are wrapped in healing balms. It is in the Great Challenger that we are called by God to seek justice for our kindred across the globe.

Before you say I’m ignoring what the Bible says…

Before you say I’m being swayed by misguided political correctness…

Know that Universalism is a justifiable position based upon the whole of the biblical witness. When we interpret John 10:16 through the expanding circle of God’s love rather than by its original meaning. When we interpret John’s words through the expanding circle of God’s love that is manifest from the Hebrew Bible to the gospels and to the book of Acts, we see that the One we call God loves all of God’s people.

Says Jesus in the book of John,

I have other sheep that don’t belong to this sheep pen. I must lead them, too. They will listen to my voice and there will be one flock, with one shepherd. John 10:16 CEB

And, so, we don’t have to be afraid to share our faith with others. We don’t have to be pushy or intolerant to share our faith. We can share our faith without being like those who “found it” and who have settled answers to all questions.

We can share our faith without using approaches like those that offended each of us at one time or another.

***

But, some say, “I am spiritual but not religious.” Some suggest that they don’t want to hear about any communal faith.

Though there are many good reasons for rejecting institutional religion, from historical atrocities to pushy evangelism and hate-filled theologies, we must be careful not to define faith as an individual matter.

To avoid those who want to define your experience of the Great Mystery, of God, is rational and good self-care. So, I absolutely empathize with those who mean that they want to have nothing to do with institutional faith when they tell me they are spiritual but not religious. I dance on the same stage as those who struggle with institutionalism. Many of you, I know, dance there with me.

But…

But a healthy and growing faith cannot be spiritual but not religious in the sense of being a solitary act. We need one another. Writes Lillian Daniel, the pastor of First Congregational Church UCC in Glen Ellyn, Illinois:

There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.

As we’ve been journeying through the book of Acts, we have learned that community was critical to our ancient kindred, the apostles and others, who sought to follow the teachings of Jesus in the early decades after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.

The immediate response to Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the people, was a sense of awe and a desire to follow the teachings of the apostles and

“All the believers were united and shared everything.” Acts 2:44 CEB

Those whom the Holy Spirit touched on Pentecost did not disperse to pray privately. No,

they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. Acts 2:46b-47a CEB

Even when their lives were threatened by those who valued power more than God and for whom institutionalism was a tool for their own well-being, rather than a way of spreading the Good News, the apostles depended upon a sense of community. They depended upon one another. When Stephen was arrested in today’s reading, notice that

his face was radiant, just like an angel’s. Acts 6:15b CEB.

Though Luke, the writer of Acts, undoubtedly was implying that Stephen was a good and faithful man, that faithfulness was developed within the community of followers. Stephen’s strength to face the council who in verse 54 respond to his words by becoming

enraged and … grind[ing] their teeth at Stephen (Acts 6:54 CEB)

comes from living in a community of others who follow Jesus. And, though, Stephen will ultimately be stoned to death, he remains faithful to God.

That kind of faith can only sprout and grow when others water and till the soil around you.

We need one another.

***

Likewise, Jesus in our gospel reading today affirms that faith is not a solitary act. He affirms that faith is communal. That we need one another.

The Roman centurion seeking healing for his servant would never have gotten to Jesus had it not been for the community of Jews who spoke on his behalf. Writes Luke in the gospel,

some Jewish elders [went] to Jesus to ask him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they earnestly pleaded with Jesus. “He deserves to have you do this for him,” they said. “He loves our people and he built our synagogue for us.” Luke 7:3b-5 CEB

And, so, it is a community — in this case Jews who helped a faith in Jesus sprout within a Roman soldier. It is the Jewish community who watered this faith as it grew toward the sunshine. They and the Roman friends of the centurion enabled him to reach Jesus with his request of healing for his servant.

After the community of Jews and Roman friends had spoken to Jesus, he turned to the crowd. Luke tells us that Jesus was impressed with the centurion after hearing the community’s words on behalf of the soldier. Writes Luke,

He turned to the crowd following him and said, “I tell you, even in Israel I haven’t found faith like this.” Luke 7:9 CEB

With our rugged American sense of individualism, we’ve traditionally interpreted Jesus’ commendation of “faith like this,” to refer only to the centurion. As if his faith sprung up in a room by himself, we assume Jesus is affirming ONLY the centurion for his strong faith.

But Jesus — who himself lived the communal life of a good Jew of the early first century — had just witnessed a faith fertilized, watered, and sprouting within a community. It was only after the community of witnesses to the centurion’s faith spoke that Jesus affirmed the strong faith of the centurion, a man within a community.

***

We need one another to fertilize and water our faith. And though we will each have solitary spiritual practices — various forms of prayer and meditation and reading our Bibles ourselves — we need to talk with one another about our experiences of the Divine.

We need to participate in Bible study and other learning experiences together. We need to worship together.

Just as our children need spiritual mentors to grow in their faith, we as adults and near-adults need spiritual kindred to affirm us and sometimes challenge us. We need a tapestry of different ideas, a plethora of gifts of the Holy Spirit, and others to journey alongside us.

Our pews are more than half-empty…we also need those other folks. We need to listen to their experiences of the Divine and we need to share our faith with them…even if they never walk in the door of this church.

We are called to be the Body of Christ, to be the Good News in the world. We are called to be faithful in our own right but also to plant seeds, to fertilize young sprouts, and to weed the garden. We are called to lift up and share the Good News of God’s love with everyone we meet. Amen.

Following Jesus Requires Opposing Economic Injustice

Following Jesus Requires Opposing Economic Injustice
A banner at Occupy Portland the evening before eviction. November 12, 2011. Photo by Tim Graves
A banner at Occupy Portland the evening before eviction. November 12, 2011. Photo by Tim Graves

Community capitalism, in which people make a fair profit while providing a service or product needed by the community, builds up community. In its concern for community, it is consistent with the teachings of Jesus.

Community capitalism, however, is a very different economic system than the radical, corporatism that dominates us today.  The radical capitalism of the twenty-first century demands extreme profits while convincing people wants are needs and corporations are people. We each become, not a neighbor with needs that another can provide, but someone to manipulate to increase someone else’s power and wealth.

Radical capitalism (corporatism) diminishes the value of human community. In its disregard for communities and the people who live in them, it is inconsistent with Christianity. Community living and the Imago Dei (image of God) within every person, are core values taught and lived by Jesus.

Just as the early church struggled to practice and maintain these values in the face of external pressure, particularly from the powerful, the twenty-first century church faces pressures from a contrary culture. When we allow the values of radical capitalism and endless acquisition to ooze into the church we have lost our way.

We too often fail to call-out the sins of the economics that diminish our kindred in our own communities and communities across the globe. We have feared alienating members who rely on an unjust system for a living and have kept our mouths shut. We have compromised ourselves into irrelevance.

The only economics followers of Jesus should be committed to are those that build up the unfolding realm of God (sometimes called the Kingdom of God). Radical corporatism does not build up the realm of God. Responding to others in love and grace with all of ourselves including the sharing of financial resources is consistent with the biblical witness, especially as reflected in the early church (see Acts of the Apostles).

Though not easy in a contrary culture that idolizes things and power, we must focus on the teachings of the one we claim to follow and be open to the voice of the Spirit who continues to speak. Doing so, requires us to give up sacred cows and think in ways that feel uncomfortable. It means taking social risks when we stand with the oppressed, with the poor, and with the powerless.

The church is not a building. It is a people, a community, concerned about striving to be God’s extravagant love in every moment. It is a humble love that calls out and actively opposes injustices within and outside itself. I pray for a resurrection in myself and the church that we might be a part of the unfolding realm of God, that we might speak and act in love and justice, whatever the risk may be.

He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you:
to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 CEB

“You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8b CEB

Related Posts:

Capitalism & Christianity

Ignoring Jesus & Injustice

Boldness in the Spirit

Boldness in the Spirit

I typically script my sermons. It keeps both my time and topic under control. Sometimes, however, that process Screen Shot 2013-05-10 at 9.12.41 AMleaves too little room for the Holy Spirit to speak through me. That is, scripting sometimes prevents the unexpected epiphany, the words that even I do not expect to come out of my mouth.

Last Sunday, I veered from my normal style and preached primarily from notes. The result was that my sermon ran nearly thirty minutes. More significantly, however, was that my sermon spoke even to me. The Holy Spirit surprised me with epiphanies and challenged me.

I discovered through preaching this sermon that though I had told myself that during the years we lived in West Virginia we were secretive about my daughter’s sexual orientation primarily to protect her; we really did so to protect ourselves. While there was some truth to protecting her, it was a secondary reason. We hid who she was and failed to talk about our joy at the love she’s found with her partner because we were afraid the church that my wife was serving as pastor would react harshly.

But the Holy Spirit spoke to me last week, nudging me to confess this past sin of self-protection while refusing to allow me to do the same again. Listen to Boldness in the Spirit using the audio player below. The text for the sermon is Acts 4:23-31.

Called to Earth

Art by Wilby. http://iasos.com/artists/wilby/
Art by Wilby. http://iasos.com/artists/wilby/

“Isaac, go find your shoes so we can go to the store.”

We’d say that.  

Most of the time he’d even cooperate. That is, 2-year-old Isaac would go into his less-than-immaculate room to find his shoes. When he didn’t come back we’d go looking for him. More times than I can count we’d find him standing in the middle of his room staring at the ceiling.

“I can’t find my shoes.”

Sometimes, he’d even do a little spin around as he looked on the ceiling for his shoes.

***

We’ve spent the last six weeks or so on a journey with Jesus and his disciples to Jerusalem. When we finally got to Jerusalem, we, like the disciples were overjoyed. We waved palms, we laid our coats down on the ground for Jesus. We rolled out the red carpet and thought we’d finally arrived at God’s promise.

God in Jesus was called to Earth to fix everything. Like a repairman we thought Jesus would fix things up and make us all better. Or so we thought.

Within a week things went bad. By Friday, Jesus was dead. The disciples scattered, hiding for fear of the same fate. Peter even denied he knew Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times. All was lost or so we thought.

“Hello, yes, uh huh, yes the repairman didn’t fix the fridge. We’re gonna need another guy out.”

Then, rather than sending a new guy out to us and the disciples, God did one better. Jesus rose from the dead. Ahhh, now it was all better. The fridge was humming away. The kingdom of Israel was getting a new king. Rome was on its way out and all was cool in the fridge.

Then, according to Luke’s gospel, the repairman, Jesus that is, hung around very briefly before leaving.

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.Luke 24:50-53 NRSV

And so ends the gospel of Luke.

God in Jesus was called to Earth to fix everything. The fridge is fixed and humming away. And, so the repairman leaves and the disciples go about their business of praying in the Temple.

Fade to black. The movie is over. We’ve had our happy ending.

***

Like a lot of good movies, there’s a sequel. The writer of Luke is commonly believed to have also written the book of Acts. We don’t know exactly who he was. Some think he was Jesus’ disciple Luke. Probably he wasn’t. Scholars do think he was well-traveled and a Greek gentile with an understanding of Judaism. According to Acts, he sometimes traveled with the Apostle Paul.

And though he almost certainly was not the apostle Luke, we refer to him as Luke. We know that he wrote Acts sometime between 60 and 125 of the Christian era. That’d be three decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection at the earliest and most scholars place the writing of Acts closer to the year 80 or 90.

In any case, we know that sometime after his first installment, Luke set out to write the sequel to his gospel, Acts of the Apostles.

Only thing is the ending of Luke and the beginning of Acts don’t literally agree with one another. At the end of Luke, the risen Jesus only hangs around for a short time. While in the beginning of Acts, the resurrected Jesus hangs around for a full forty days.

This should not alarm or surprise us. As one scholar says,

“Luke had no intention of writing a scientific, disinterested history…” (Johnson, Sacra Pagina, Acts of the Apostles, p. 7)

Ancient Historiography is not the same as what we think of as a history. It is far more biased than any of our history books.Acts is a selective account of what happened in the days and years following Jesus’ resurrection. It is shaped by Luke’s theological beliefs and his pastoral purposes. In other words, the narrative unfolds to support Luke’s theological aim. It was written for believers to assist them in their faith.(Wall, New Interpreter’s Bible)

In other words, Luke can have a contradiction between the end of the Gospel and the start of Acts because his purpose in writing the sequel is different than his purpose in writing the original story. The gospel is a biographical theology about Jesus. Acts is a selective historical theology about the early church.

Acts is like movies that are “based on true events” but that don’t always get the facts exactly right. In the words of Methodist Bishop and scholar William H. Willimon,

“Luke was an artist, not a newspaper reporter.” (Willimon, Interpretation: Acts, loc. #583)

***

From the perspective of the disciples, God in Jesus was called to Earth to fix everything. I mean, he said so himself. During his human lifetime, Jesus kept talking about the kingdom of God, what I oftentimes call the realm of God.

And, so you can’t really blame the disciples when after the resurrection, while Jesus is inexplicably hanging around for forty days, they keep wondering when Jesus is gonna establish the Kingdom. And so they ask the risen Christ,

“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Acts 1: 6b NRSV

They were getting antsy. They’d seen remarkable things. I think a guy rising from the dead AFTER three days counts as remarkable. But from their perspective he just hangs around then for forty days teaching them some more. I imagine they were getting impatient. I would.

And so like disciples, we get impatient. We want to know all the answers, all the details. We’re uncomfortable living in the ambiguity, in this time of the world’s and the church’s history when answers are not so simple…

We’re uncomfortable living in a time filled with rapid changes that we can barely understand. We want to sew up all the answers, put ‘em in a box, and tie a bow around ‘em.

Some of our evangelical friends even get so focused on the end-times that they see signs all around us. They see signs that have been misinterpreted from the Book of Revelation. They want to know — now — when Jesus is establishing the Kingdom. They want to know all about the end-times…every detail.

But its not just our more evangelical friends. It’s not just about the end-times. We, too, want to know and control the future, we want to know and control how we’ll eat, who we’ll marry, how our bodies age, and who gets into the Kingdom (us) and who does not (the folks we don’t like.)

We want the hopefulness that comes from God having the final word–especially in these troubled times and world–but we focus too much on that future and not enough on doing God’s will in the here and the now. We’re too worried about ourselves and what will happen to us rather than focusing on others and doing God’s will.

Like the disciples who were getting impatient during those forty days after the resurrection, we want Jesus the repairman to fix things all up for us. When the disciples ask,

“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Acts 1: 6b NRSV

he responds just as he did during his earthly life. He’s not telling.

The risen Christ replies,

“It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. Acts 1:7b NRSV

After rebuffing them about worrying about when the Kingdom, the realm of God, would be established, he told them that their concern was not about when God’s love would finally be established throughout creation. Rather their focus should be about being his loving, “witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Luke 1:8b NRSV)

He told them that they will be given the gifts of the Holy Spirit that they need in order to do as he commands. (Luke 1:8a) But after Jesus ascends, the disciples act like they didn’t hear what they should be concerned about. Their focus is misplaced.

After Jesus ascends the disciples stare at nothingness, staring at the clouds, looking backwards to the past, spinning around in a circle. Just like 2-year-old Isaac spun around looking at the ceiling for his shoes, the disciples spin around staring into the clouds.

Isaac & the disciples are both desperately in need of guidance. Neither are able to find their way, to find the shoes without help. Isaac needs to look under his bed, in the corner, and under his covers.The disciples need to look toward Jerusalem, in all of Judea, and to the ends of the earth. They are called to earth not to the clouds.

And like the disciples, like the 2-year-old, we too are spinning around confused when we try to do it alone, when we try to be in control. When we make ourselves in the image of this earth rather than being Christ’s witnesses to this earth, we fail to do God’s will. We fail to heed the risen Christ’s call.

We have been given the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We have what we need to be Christ’s witnesses in Condon, in all of eastern Oregon, the Northwest, and to the ends of the earth.

Listen to the Holy Spirit’s luring voice. Stop staring at the ceiling complaining:

“I can’t find my shoes!”

“I don’t know how to be a witness for Christ!”

“I don’t know what to do!

or

“Nobody comes to church anymore, “I remember when…””

Listen to the two men in white robes standing next to you while you stare toward heaven.

“Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1: 11 CEB

We are called to earth. We are called to be witnesses for the risen Christ.

We’ve been praying. We’ve been reading our Bibles. We’ve been worshiping together weekly. Those things should not stop. We will always need prayer, and Bible study, and worship.

Called to earth, however, we’re expected to do more than spin around in circles looking up at the clouds waiting for Christ to establish the realm of God on earth.

We’re called to participate in being the realm of God on earth. What is it that we, that you can do? What can you do to be the presence of God to someone in this community without a church home? How can we as the koinonia — as the people of God — witness to those in this community who are hurting, who need healing, or are wandering aimlessly looking for shoes on the ceiling?

These are not academic questions. These are questions that we need to answer…in the short term and concretely. By the beginning of next month, we will create small groups to prayerfully consider what we can do to be the risen Christ’s witness in Condon, in eastern Oregon, in the northwest and to the ends of the earth.

These groups will meet regularly for about six weeks. One group could meet at 3 in the afternoon on Thursdays. One might meet over breakfast on Tuesdays. One could meet at Summit Springs at 10:30 in the morning.  I don’t know. That’s to be determined yet.

The key is we will have choices to suit your schedule. I’d like to see full participation as we strive to respond to the still-speaking voice of God.

God calls us to earth to be the risen Christ’s witnesses. The Holy Spirit has gifted us with all that we need to do and be Christ’s witnesses. 

The time for staring at the clouds or the ceiling is over. The two men in white, the Holy Spirit is nudging us to be the church we all know we can be.

Please pray with me,

God of Mystery,

We Seek You.

We Desire You.

Yet we run the other way, 

filling our lives with noise and busyness,

seeking to hide your voice from ourselves.

Slow us down.

Cause us to hear You in the unexpected places, 

Cause us to hear You,

   in the doing of laundry, 

in the wheat field or the office, 

and as we sing along to our iPods.

Cause us to hear you amidst the noise, 

in the quiet,

and in the struggles.

Persuade us to heed your call,

to act as agents of your justice and love,

in Condon and to the ends of the earth.

In the name of the risen Christ,

Amen.

This sermon was preached at Condon United Church of Christ on Sunday, April 7, 2013.

Tough Times Call for Generosity

In everything I have shown you that, by working hard, we must help the weak. In this way we remember the Lord Jesus’ words: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35 CEB

Being human is to be full of contradictions. Not any one of us is fully consistent in our habits or beliefs and actions. Sometimes, that is a good thing. Contradiction and hypocrisy can be the moral thing.

generosity-giving-hearts-love-pay-it-forward-Favim.com-418398_large

It is no secret that the last four or five years have been tight financially for my family. In this way we are not unlike many Americans. Twenty-eleven was a particular challenge as I was finishing up seminary and my wife was cobbling together work to support us. We are still cleaning up the mess called 2011 and will be for quite some time.

A few months ago, my wife was having a particular struggle with our financial situation. In other words, she was freaking out about money. As she left for work, her stress level was high.

But here’s the remarkable hypocrisy: she didn’t hesitate to share what we had with someone in need. In her role as hospital chaplain, my wife is responsible for administering a system of disbursing small amounts of money to help those down on their luck. When the bureaucracy did not meet the needs of a particular man, she dug into our personal funds.

I don’t think she even realized as she told me about the debit on our account, that she had contradicted herself within the span of eight hours. The divine love flowing through her overshadowed her feelings of freaking out about money. She chose to be part of the unfolding realm of God, characterized by extravagant love.

God of Abundance: May we be filled with personal generosity for your sake. May we give generously assured that you have created enough for all of us. Amen.

Extravagant Community

I cringe when I hear Christians respond to the “spiritual but not religious” by extolling the importance of community. Yes, we all need community for spirituality. We are social creatures. 
But, while there is truth in this response it is based upon an unproven assumption. That is, that the “spiritual but not religious” lead the lives of hermits never talking with friends about their faith journeys. The community-defensealso assumes that community must take an organized form. It does not.

They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Acts 4:35 NRSV Photo by Tim Graves

More troublesome about the community-defense, however, is that it allows followers of Jesus to avoid our own failings. Too often churches are not places of community. Community is about caring for one another in deep ways. It is about assuring that everyone has their basic needs met. The reality is we spend more time worshiping consumerism and capitalism than we do sharing with our neighbor–even those within our churches. 

Too many churches have within their midst those struggling in very real ways while others live in relative laps of luxury. Aside from this being contrary to the teachings of our purported savior, the attitude of the relatively wealthy community members disturbs me. In my experience, when help is provided it comes with strings and pettiness. We reflect the resentment of a culture that elevates rugged individualism to idolatry.

Within this context of blaming the victim, we operate not out of extravagant love but out of begrudging duty. We do not believe that Jesus fed the whole crowd with a few loaves and fish. We fear that if we give too much to someone, even someone within our own community, there will not be enough for us. 

Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ Mark 12: 29-31 NRSV (Read in context.)

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.  Acts 4: 32-35 NRSV (Read in context.)


Trustworthy God of Abundance,

You give extravagant,
   undeserved grace.

We give out of love,
   limited by our human fears and worries.

Help us to trust in your abundance,
   help us to love you as you love us.

Help us to give lavishly to others,
   within the koinonia,
   and to the whole human family.

Amen  



Capitalism & Christianity?

“The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied…but written off as trash. The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing.” -John Berger

I’m as guilty as the next American. I have more than I truly need while others, in this country and world, do not have what they need. We are part of a sinful system. This is the systemic sin of radical, globalized capitalism. Do not misunderstand me; this is not the community-focused capitalism of the past. 

In community-focused capitalism a shopkeeper, for example, provides products to the community. The shopkeeper, who lives in the community and is invested in its survival, provides this product because it is needed. Product decisions are made primarily based upon what is good for the community. The shopkeeper earns a fair profit for his or her troubles. This model can co-exist with the values Jesus taught because all in the community play a role in seeking the common good.

In radical, globalized capitalism products are marketed to communities based on profit potential. The corporate shopkeepers, who make decisions, do not live in our communities so they have no idea what is good for it. Profit is the prime motivator. If profit could be raised by moving a factory from one place to another, it is done. Because profit is the goal, the devastation to communities is irrelevant. This model cannot exist with the values Jesus taught because the common good is not the goal.

The culture of radical, globalized capitalism creates a mythology that teaches that wealth equals high morals. It teaches that poverty is the result of poor morals. It teaches that our purpose in life is to accumulate things. Things, using creation and others for our own profit are the focus. 

This is not the gospel of Jesus. The teachings of Jesus lead us to economics that focus on relationship, on the one-ness of humanity, on the wholeness of creation.  

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2: 43-47 NRSV Read this passage in context.


An Irritated and Loving God

Daily Lectionary Readings
Job 38: 1-11
Matthew 17: 14-21
Acts 2: 43-47

God is so faithful to us and, yet, we forget our morning prayers or have the faith of a mustard seed not believing that God will do as God promises. I appreciate the image of the irritated God in Job and the aggravated Jesus in Matthew. It truly does remind me of parenting. As we step on a lego left in the middle of the floor we shout in aggravation, “How many times do I have to tell you…?” And, sometimes, when our children are whiny and they want what they want and they simply don’t understand the big picture of bills and work and adult responsibilities, we just go on a rant as God does when he is fed up with Job’s lamentations. I suppose I like these images of Jesus and God because 1.) I don’t feel as bad about my aggravations as a parent, and 2.) I know how very much I love my children even when I lose my cool with them. If God and Jesus love us even that much, and the Bible tells us they love us even more than that, then there truly is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8: 38-39)

Loving and forgiving father,

Thank you for all that you have done for me even when I forget my morning prayers because my routine has changed, even when I treat someone poorly because of my selfish feelings or needs. I am grateful that you love me as a father loves his child.

Amen

Cross-posted from bigroundwindow.blogspot.com