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.

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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.

A Christian Case for Marriage Equality

Many Christian arguments against marriage equality are rooted in flawed — even heretical — assumptions. Though perceived as hateful, these Christians often claim that they “hate the sin but love the sinner.” It is this very statement that indicates the reliance on the heresy of dualism. Our Christian hesitancy to talk about sexuality within churches is also victim to this flaw.

The Heresy of Dualism

Heavily influenced by Greek thought, Christianity developed a strong sense of the goodness of the spirit and the sinfulness of the body. One group of early Christians, the Gnostics, even thought that Jesus did not really inhabit a human body. The divine could not be divine within the profane human body. By the end of the second century, this hatred of the body was declared outside of the Christian faith. Yet, it persists in the mindset of many twenty-first century Christians.pull quote

In Christian thought, human beings are created as Imago Dei, or in the image of God. “Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” (Genesis 1: 26a NRSV). Human beings are spiritual. Human beings are physical. Human flesh is inherently of God. Our self-perceived physical imperfections and our sexuality are the image of God. In our sexual expression within covenantal, loving relationships human beings are Imago Dei. In sexuality, we mirror God.

Yet, an attitude toward our bodies as profane has permeated Christianity throughout the centuries. The Puritans are an American example of groups who have taken this heretical dualism to the level of self-hatred. Modern churches are also places where the belief that sexuality (the body) is so profane that we don’t even talk about it. In the church, we have allowed a culture of titillation to define human sexuality.

The Sin of the Church: Dehumanizing Non-Heterosexuals

Within this context churches and individual Christians weigh in on the morality of homosexuality. When many hear the word heterosexual, “hetero” stands out. When they hear homosexual, “sexual” stands out. For too long we have viewed heterosexuals as whole human beings while viewing homosexuals as only about sex. The common heresy of flesh as evil further dehumanizes our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

In the dehumanizing of and refusal to accept homosexuals as Imago Dei, we allow fanatics to spew words of hatred and violence. In our refusal to accept our lesbian and gay sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, fathers, and mothers as made fully in the image of God, we commit sin. This is the great sin of too many contemporary churches.

Dualistic Thinking in Arguing Against Homosexuality

The argument that one can love the sinner while hating the sin when applied to homosexuality is dualist thinking. The separation of orientation from practice regarding homosexuality leads to a separation of the spiritual from the physical. My heterosexuality is intertwined with my spirituality, with my sense of who I am as a child of God. In the words of theologian Christopher Morse, “The way God makes us in creation, including our sexuality, is [n]ever a cruelty joke. . . .No gift of God’s grace is to be held in dishonor.”

When Christians let go of the dualism, we are no longer afraid to view the gift of human sexuality along its created continuum of homosexual and heterosexual orientation. We are free to let go of our fear of the body as less than “of God.” We are free to accept that each human being is uniquely gifted by God with a physical way of expressing love with another human being.

pull quote2The first testament is littered with examples of God’s loyalty and compassion within covenant to God’s people. In Judges 10, after years of idol worship, the Israelites seek God’s help when under threat from the Ammonites. God is rightfully angry with their newfound faith: “Go and cry to the gods whom you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress” (Judges 10:14 NRSV). Despite rightful frustration, God “could no longer bear to see Israel suffer” (Judges 10: 16b NRSV). God responds in compassion and honors covenant. It is this covenantal relationship that serves as a model for our human relationships, including our sexual relationships. When we express our sexuality–homosexual or heterosexual–within the covenantal relationship of marriage we are living more fully into the image of God.

God’s model of covenantal fidelity has been institutionalized by both the church and secular culture. Though not guaranteeing faithfulness, marriage supports stable, covenantal fidelity in American culture. By rejecting same-sex marriage we are denying homosexuals a tool that supports loving covenants. Americans have a duty to defend equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians. Doing so is consistent with our highest American ideals. We each will benefit from the stabilizing influence on our society.

Followers of Jesus have a moral imperative to advocate for marriage equality. Embracing the wholeness of body and spirit in the Imago Dei, Christian faith is rooted in covenantal fidelity and the love-ethic of Jesus Christ. Supporting marriage equality is fully and wholly consistent with the Christian faith and lifestyle.

Imitation & Transformation

I preached on Philippians 3:17-4:1 at the Condon (Oregon) United Church of Christ on Sunday, February 24, 2013. Listen to it via this player or read the text below.

It was time. The scripture read, the congregation looked expectantly at the girl, a young woman really. She stood up, all 5 feet of her. Her long ginger hair flowed from her head and framed her young, fresh face.

As she made her way to the pulpit on this Sunday in which the youth led worship, the congregation smiled at her. They expected great things out of this girl. You see they’d been here on the Sunday when her parents and godparents came forward and she was baptized in the name of the Creator, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Spirit swirled among them on that day. They remembered the smiles of joy as the congregation promised to support parents and child in a journey of faith.

As she made her way to the pulpit on this Sunday in which the youth led worship, the congregation remembered how when she was but three-years old she wrote a poem following her great-grandmother’s death. They remembered the funeral. They remembered how she stood next to her dad in this very sanctuary as he read the words she’d recited as mantra after her Great Granny died,

Flowers bloom in the springtime, 

Sometimes you die, 

Flowers bloom in the springtime.

Yes, they expected great things out of the now fifteen-year-old who was so wise at  three.

As she made her way to the pulpit on this Sunday in which the youth led worship, the congregation wondered what warm and fuzzy thing she would say. They expected great things out of this girl. You see they’d been here on the Sunday when she, wearing her white robe, read her confirmation vows. If they’d been a little more Pentecostal, they’d have sworn that they saw the Holy Spirit descend upon her that day.

Reaching the pulpit, she stepped up onto the stool, so she could be seen. She was a short fifteen-year-old. Expecting much from this remarkable young woman, the room became silent, every face looked toward her with expectation.  And the red-headed prophet spoke these words to the people who had raised her up to follow Jesus the Christ…

The fresh-faced prophet spoke these words to men with grey hair, to women with a few wrinkles, and to the smattering of young mothers and fathers with their children sitting beside them…

The prophet spoke these words, and I quote, “The church sucks!” The prophet’s parents looked at one another. This was not the sermon they’d heard at home before church. Holding hands with one another in the pew, they wondered if they would have a church home after their fifteen-year-old daughter was done.

After her shocking opening words from the pulpit, the prophet continued. She talked about the church’s functional if not outright hatred of gays and lesbians. She told them about her friend who committed suicide because of being bullied for being too effeminate.

That, the teenage prophet said, is not imitating Christ. He ate with the outcast and sinner. He loved all people but called out those who used their power to hurt others. Others like her now dead friend.

She talked about the inconsistency between the country’s war policy and the teachings of Jesus.

That, the teenage prophet said, is not imitating Christ. Why, she asked her faith mentors are you not speaking out for a better way?

She talked about drugs and alcohol. She talked about how she and her friends had easy access to drugs a block away from their school. Why, she asked, is the church silent when her friends overdose?

That, the teenage prophet said, is not imitating Christ. 

She talked about her friend who was sleeping around with boys because she didn’t have the kind of love from her parents that she deserved. Where is the church?

That, the teenage prophet said, is not imitating Christ. 

She challenged those who had raised her in the faith to be consistent. “Open your eyes and hearts,” she said, “you’ve failed too many of my generation.” With a determined look on her face and a tear welling up in her eye, she sat down.

The sanctuary was silent. The sanctuary was silent and though it was not in the church bulletin, the pastor stood up to speak.

“We’ve heard some hard words this morning. We’ve heard some words we’re not used to hearing in church but we need to listen and we need to act.”

Nothing significant changed. Now thirty years old, that teenage prophet is no longer a churchgoer.

***

Hear Paul’s words to the church at Philippi:

Brothers and sisters, become imitators of me and watch those who live this way—you can use us as models. As I have told you many times and now say with deep sadness, many people live as enemies of the cross. Phil. 3:17-18 CEB

Imprisoned, most likely in Rome, Paul wrote to the church in Philippi. From a prison cell in Rome, where he would be awaiting his last appeal, something he was entitled to as a Roman citizen, Paul wrote to his beloved friends, the Philippians. The Philippi United Church of Christ was a church that had supported Paul’s ministry, probably on an ongoing basis. By all accounts they were a “good church” and a “successful church.” They were growing slowly but steadily.

In the middle of the first century, five decades after Jesus, Philippi was not the biggest city in its district. However, it wasn’t just a part of the Roman empire either. It was a Roman colony. This meant that its citizens had “great privileges…enjoy[ing] considerable property and legal rights.” (New Interpreters Bible, p. 470) Because the Philippi UCC was in a colony, its members would’ve been Roman citizens themselves. Their Roman citizenship would have been a point of pride and something of value to protect.

The still-young Philippian church of the mid-first century existed in a time when being a Christian was far from easy, however. The Roman gods and Roman values were dominant among the faithful of the city. Though different religious groups were tolerated by the dominant Roman cult and Christians didn’t have to worry about outright persecution, it didn’t mean all groups received equal respect.

At least one scholar contends the religious culture in Philippi was syncretic, meaning people were accustomed to picking a little of this from one religion and a little of that from another religion to meet their own tastes… And in the process avoiding the hard things that God demands of them in any of the religions.

Imagine striving to grow a church community in a culture of instant gratification, pain avoidance, and anything goes when your church is about loving sacrifice and sharing of resources.

For the Philippians in a Roman colony, there was a constant tension between the values of following Jesus and a culture with contrary, sometimes even hedonistic, values. And many in the church undoubtedly were tempted, as Jesus was in the wilderness, to compromise. To take the easy path.

And so, the apostle Paul writes to affirm and warn the struggling Philippians,

As I have told you many times and now say with deep sadness, many people live as enemies of the cross. Their lives end with destruction. Their god is their stomach, and they take pride in their disgrace because their thoughts focus on earthly things. Our citizenship is in heaven. We look forward to a savior that comes from there—the Lord Jesus Christ. Phil. 3: 18-20 CEB

Imagine striving to educate your young and attract members in a time when the culture teaches values contrary to those of your faith. When the culture is filled with those Paul calls “enemies of the cross.”

***

Can you? Can you imagine striving to educate our young and attract members to the Condon UCC when the culture teaches values contrary to those of Jesus the Christ? When even some other churches teach adherence to dogmas that exclude and lead to hatred of “the least of these”?

It seems to me that though Christianity is still the dominant religion in our time, secularism and capitalism and individualism have far more sway over our children than the church does. Sadly, our culture reflects a faith in acquisition more than in sharing. In winning more than in being community. While we all believe in hard work, some in our culture take that to an extreme anti-biblical position. They suggest the survival of the fittest and rugged individualism when our upside down Savior teaches that the meek shall inherit the earth and that peacemakers are called children of God.

***

The teenaged prophet challenged those who had raised her in the faith to be consistent. “Open your eyes and hearts,” she said, “you’ve failed too many of my generation.” With a determined look on her face and a tear welling up in her eye, she sat down.

The sanctuary was silent. And nothing significant changed. Now thirty years old, that teenage prophet is no longer a churchgoer.

***

What are we to do? We live in an era when fewer and fewer people are members of a church. According to the 2010 U.S. Religion Census released last year, 80% of Americans claim to be Christian but less than 49% are members of any congregation. In Portland only 36% are attached to a religious body be it Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or Christian. Many media outlets called Portland the least religious city in the country, based upon this data.

But what about us? What about Condon? Well, of the people in Gilliam county only 26% are attached to a religious body. Twenty-six percent! That means three-quarter of the people in this county are without a faith community. We live in a time when the church of our youth is but a shadow of what it once was.

And despite prophets that have cried out to us for decades we keep doing the same things. We keep waiting for people to come back through the door. We think theologically shallow music or flashy screens will recreate the crowds of the 1950s. And, while good music and technology can be important tools in doing Christ’s work, they are not the answer in and of themselves.

Neither is offering a simplistic faith without obligation. Our faith is a sacrificial faith. It is one in which we are called to joyfully give up the earthly for our citizenship in the realm of God that began to unfold with Jesus.

Hear the words of the apostle Paul,

Our citizenship is in heaven. We look forward to a savior that comes from there—the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil. 3:20 CEB)

And, so, when we offer an easy or simplistic faith, we are not offering Christ. We’re offering something else. And why do we do it? Well, I suspect we think expecting little is the way to increase numbers. And, you know, a good number of churches have successfully grown in number with easy answers.

But our calling is not to fill pews. It’s not even to save the institution called Condon United Church of Christ. We’re called to make disciples. We’re called to spread the Good News of the One who breathed in the Divine, and breathed out extravagant love. A love so powerful that it can and does overcome death.

Dietrich Bonhoefer, a theologian writing as the German churches failed to stand up to the Nazis called this kind of faith, “cheap grace.” Writes Bonhoefer,

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” (Dietrich Bonhoefer in The Cost of Discipleship)

Our faith is a faith in which we think about the whole community not only ourselves. Following Jesus means self-care and other-care. Remember, our Savior told us to love others AS ourselves not more than ourselves.

Following Jesus means leaving these walls and being Christ’s loving arms, hands of justice, and feet of action in the world as a response to the love that overcomes death.

***

So what do we do? Well, as I’ve said once or twice, we need to pray. We need to pray as individuals every single day. And we need to ask, what God wills us to do in this time and place. We need to prayerfully read our Bibles regularly seeking the still-speaking voice. We need to worship together as community because our faith is not a solitary act. And while I can’t say when you will hear God’s voice or how God’s voice will manifest to you, I know God will respond. Our God is a dependable God.

But what do we do?  For now, as we journey toward Easter we need to get into the habits of daily prayer, of Bible reading, and regular worship as community. Then, sometime after Easter we need to gather as community. We need to gather in retreat. We need to pray together, read scripture together, and plan together with the Holy Spirit.

We need to be open to the transformation promised by our God. If our God’s love is so abundant and so extravagant that it can overcome death  than God certainly will lead us to a transformation in this time and place.

Hear the words of the apostle Paul,

Our citizenship is in heaven. We look forward to a savior that comes from there—the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform our humble bodies so that they are like his glorious body, by the power that also makes him able to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters whom I love and miss, who are my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord. (Phil. 3: 20-4:1 CEB)

Tears

Tears

Breetel and IsaacTears can be many things. They can be a cleansing liquid that washes away the pain. Tears can be like baptismal waters that renew and refocus our souls. They can indicate deep sadness or profound joy.

For me, tears are often a sign of Divine presence. They flow when the One breaks into my awareness. Tears are “of G-d.” I well up when I intuit the presence of the extravagant love that binds us together as one human family.

Yesterday, the day of my son’s wedding, was one of those holy times when G-d’s tears flowed like a waterfall. The One who is within us, between us, and surrounds us was palpable as two families united to celebrate the love between a rabbi’s daughter and the son of two ministers. It is an unlikely and likely story.

Unlikely because too many Christians have learned the false doctrine that G-d’s love is limited to those who profess Jesus as savior and turned love into hatred. Unlikely because a people who have endured millennia of persecution, including genocide, must be cautious of those who are not one of their own.

Likely because the Divine never breaks covenant and never gives up on us. G-d’s love broke through yesterday. G-d’s extravagant desire for us to be the one human family we were created to be, lured two souls together.

And when the One lured two souls together, two families celebrated together. Not only did two young people covenant to journey together in love, two families began the journey of accepting, getting to know, and growing to love one another.

In the presence of the One, our tears of joy, a palpable sign of the Divine, flowed together reminding each of us that G-d’s extravagant love is for all of us.

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War on Christmas? Considering Our Motivation

Images like this button miss the loving message of Jesus.

The first memes declaring that “it’s Merry Christmas not Happy Holidays” showed up in my Facebook stream on Thanksgiving day. I long ago grew tired of the so-called war on Christmas as it distracts us from the significance and meaning of the season.

Consider why it is you choose to wish another person a Merry Christmas. If it is to offer another good cheer, then a hearty Merry Christmas is appropriate — if you know that they celebrate the holiday. If, however, you know they do not, and you do so to win a battle in the Christmas war then you’ve missed the core message of the Christian faith: extravagant love overcomes even death.

A loving response to another is sensitive to their sensibilities. To cynically offer a Merry Christmas to others to prove a point is not a loving response. It wins no friends for you, it gains no friends for Jesus, nor does it make our culture more Christian. It is contrary to the teachings of Jesus who reminds us that the most important commandment is,

“Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31 CEB

Talk Love, Not War

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.”

The language we use frames our worldview. We choose the language we use. We can frame fog as a bad thing that obscures our view or as a thing of beauty as the clouds gently kiss the earth. Photo by Tim Graves

Contrary to this childhood chant, language matters. Words break more than bones, which are relatively easy to heal. Words can critically maim a person’s spirit and emotional health. Words define and interpret what is happening around us.

The language we use frames our worldview. We choose the language we use. We can describe fog as a bad thing that obscures our view or as a thing of beauty as the clouds gently kiss the earth.

Likewise, when faced with the ups and downs of life, we can describe low points as attacks or as challenges. If we consistently refer to them as attacks we begin to perceive the world as a hostile place. However, if we describe them as challenges we are less likely to feel overwhelmed. If we describe ourselves as “a train wreck” when we make a mistake, we begin to think of ourselves as flawed in some fundamental way. Talking about our struggles instead of demeaning ourselves, however, helps us to maintain our integrity as people created in the image of God.

And, so, when followers of Jesus use militaristic language to describe sharing the Good News, we begin to think of other human beings as objects to be conquered. For example, in a recent Facebook post the death of a church member was noted this way: The “Church is saddened to report the passing from the church militant to the church triumphant of our brother.” Likewise, I grew up hearing the old hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” sung with vigor. Even some contemporary Christian music spends a little too much time using bloody or militaristic metaphors.

The language we use frames our worldview. We choose the language we use. We can frame fog as a bad thing that obscures our view or as a thing of beauty as the clouds gently kiss the earth. Photo by Tim Graves

The problem is this is not a war. The militaristic metaphors of the past created the colonial church, the inquisition, and many other sins. We are called not to kill and conquer but to love others, to seek justice, and be Christ’s loving arms and hands in the world (Micah 6:8)

It is time to renounce militaristic and aggressive language of the past, so that we can more fully love. Jesus did not come riding in on a white horse leading an army. The upside down savior came into an imperfect world as a baby, grew up in that world, but still breathed in the divine and breathed out love.

It’s time that our actions and language reflect the One who loves extravagantly. It’s time for followers of Jesus to follow Jesus. Perhaps then others will see Christians not as hypocrites but as people who love with abandon.