Sunday, August 29, 2004

God, Strangers and Saints part 3

God, Strangers and Saints
part 3

But how does this gospel requirement of strange living align with our need for belonging, our need for being at home, and particularly with the gospel assertion that in Christ we no longer are strangers, in Christ we've come home to a circumstance and even to a place where we truly belong?!

Throughout the Hebrew Scripture's witness God keeps addressing (though not always immediately meeting!) the people's need to live on the land, to work on the land and thrive on the land, their absolute requirement for physical provision, as well as for spiritual sustenance. Scope out this New Testament text, too:
Ephesians 2

19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

some words from a haunting song (you need to scroll way down the page for the complete lyrics) sung by Linda and Robin Williams:

Don't Let me Come Home a Stranger

As I walked out one evening to breathe the air and soothe my mind
I thought of friends and the home I had and all the things I left behind

Will there come a time when the memories fade
And pass on with the long, long years?
When the ties no longer bind, Lord save me from this darkest fear:
Don't Let me Come Home a Stranger
I couldn't stand to be a stranger

In this place so far from home, they know my name but they don't know me
They hear my voice, they see my face; but they can lay no claim on me

© Robin Williams, J. Clark

more later. about strangeness and being strangers.

God, Strangers and Saints part 2

God, Strangers and Saints
part 2

Strange lives, still stranger lifestyles and truthfully being very *different people,* since we've already experienced both our first death and our second birth: the apostle Paul resolved to preach "only Christ crucified," and the baptismal theology Paul gives us in Romans 6 is a gospel of death and resurrection, in which each of us takes upon us the life and the death and the actual name of Christ Jesus, *Christian.* How do we, people who already have died and who in the here and now in really real life are alive to new life in Christ, demonstrate our newness and differentness?

...the church needs to attract the world and at the very same time it needs to be attractive to the world...

Some reflections vis-à-vis our identity in Christ:

  • Life of Christ: for starters...socializing, especially eating, with outcasts, ritually impures and just plain unpopulars! And, of course this means violating a lot of the contemporary parallels to the levitical and deuteronomic codes.

  • Death of Christ: the Son of God emptied himself of his God-ness and became obedient to the Father's will, rather than self-defining and self-determining his own mission and call, which as a human, as one "like us," well could have been to comfort, ease and prosperity. In plain English, Jesus became a servant and acted in the image of Yahweh, the Servant-God, so we also need to.

  • God and strangerness: Abraham our faith-mentor, was an Ivri, a Hebrew, one "from the other side," and in his otherness than and differentness from the resident insiders, Abraham still forms the model for our faithful response.

  • God and strangeness: God overcome His *otherness* in Jesus Christ's incarnation…what does this mean for us?

  • Saints and strangerness: living in faith's deep-seated trustingness; living within the imperfection of community; experiencing disarticulation of institutions and infrastructures; learning the finely-tuned morality and consciousness of living in Christ; living with human frailty, vulnerability, brokenness and ultimately, living in and rejoicing in Jesus Christ's resurrection victory.

  • Saints and strangeness: actually, I wanted to write parallels for each of these points, but for this one you basically can compile all of the above?!

God, Strangers and Saints part 1

God, Strangers and Saints
part 1

Disguised as a stranger sojourning among the people is a frequent form of our Living God's incarnational presence in the world; to describe how transitory, impermanent and continually changing God's enfleshment was and still is, St John's gospel tells us God "pitches a tent!" We are created in a polyfaceted Imago Dei,and one of the multitude of God-images in which we're to live is as sojourning strangers, so the Holy Spirit calls the assembly of Saints, the Church, to be and to flourish as people of radical trust (and freedom? Amen!?), people without a fixed and permanent home, who "pitch their tents" for a time and then move on. Being sojourning strangers has major implications for our lifestyle and for our social surprise?! And living as nomads is a way replete with Eastered hope: we know the saga of Israel's wandering trek through the desert as they slowly assumed their identity as a covenanted community while they learned their God, Yahweh's reality as God of the Covenants. Consequently, for Israel, just as for us as the New Israel, the Church, a nomadic *religion* became a way of trust and then one of hope as moving step by step and making a path toward the Land of Promise they gradually learned it wasn't about the destination at all, but rather about the journey. It wasn't about the promised place where they *imagined* they'd be settled and secure, but about learning to trust the God of the Exodus from Egypt's bondage, the God of Life Who never at any time ever was, has been or ever could be other than God of the departure from slavery and the journey into liberty and responsibility!

Given the fact of this call to the Church, how can our lives as tent-making, tent-toting, tent-pitching wayfarers play out every day? This community of the holy, society of saints at very minimum is supposed to be out of the ordinary, "different from" and plain unusual in the world's terms. But the church needs to attract the world and at the very same time it needs to be attractive to the world, so the world will meet it part of the way and so the church will have the nearness it needs in order to respond to Jesus' call to "take the world in a love embrace," to quote Steppenwolf's song, "Born to be wild,"that's currently in a Chevy TV commercial!

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Baptism again 6

Baptism again!     6

Right now, as this very particular time, God's mighty action in your baptism is lively and well. Through Jesus, in our baptismal covenant, God calls all of us and God leads all of us, as individual Christians and as a gathered community, to the Cross of Calvary but also to the glorious empty tomb of Easter dawn. The sometimes barely discernible early light of Easter sunrise reveals the Easter Resurrection God has made for us during the depths of night's deepest, darkest moments. The pale but absolutely glorious Easter light reveals the triumph that is all of ours as Jesus walks beside us to our cross and to our new life in him, as we walk beside our friends and neighbor through their pain and suffering, to their cross and to their Easter break of day.

In baptism we become Christians, "little Christs." In baptism, Jesus leads us to the cross; Jesus not only goes to the cross for us; he goes to the cross with us! As Christians, "Little Christs," we are called on a journey to the cross, a journey into suffering, sorrow, anguish, agony, even a walk to the cross of death, in solidarity with others, in solidarity with the world. In the words of the first answer in the Heidelberg Catechism, "My only comfort in life and in death is that I belong, body and soul, not to myself, but to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ." May we, the people of God baptized into the death and resurrection of our faithful Savior Jesus Christ, be the comfort of our world in the world's life and also in its death. May the world belong to the crucified and risen Christ through us, Christians, because of us "Little Christs!"

In baptism God tames us, shapes us into the people of God, to draw us freely and in love into covenantal relationship with our Creator and with each other. We are connected: we establish ties. We've come home to our Creator, to ourselves, and to each other. We've come home to a relationship in which each one of us walks and stands beside the other, beside each other as the Christ. May we always be, may we eternally live as God's baptized servant people of the cross and of the empty tomb!


Baptism again 5

Baptism again!     5

We people of God are the people the Holy Spirit of God sends into the world to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Sent into the world at Jesus' command, empowered, enabled, "Spirited" into the world in the power of the activity of the Holy Spirit of God and of the Christ. And doesn't our baptism, our baptism into Jesus' death and resurrection—baptism into Good Friday and Easter Sunday—reveal the content of our proclamation to us? For Paul, the Gospel is "Death and Resurrection." We are baptized for events like September 11; we are baptized for times of loss and grief and sorrow; we are led to the living waters of baptism in order to make real and to reveal to a world in pain the promised presence of Jesus the Christ. We are baptized to be the Body of the at once crucified and risen Christ to the world, to be and to speak the Word of Life, the life-giving Word.

Our baptism is about Immanuel, "God With Us" (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23) the God Who, as Spirit—and as flesh!—makes Shekinah, makes a dwelling-place, a home and a space in the midst of us and within us. Empowering us with the Spirit of the Living God, the Spirit falling afresh on us every moment. The Spirit of the Living God and of the Christ indwelling each of us individuals, indwelling our community of the Church, the Body of the at once Crucified and Risen Christ. Enabling our response. We are Immanuel, "God With Us" to a broken, shattered and alienated world crying aloud in its pain and to a world suffering in silence. And we are Immanuel, "God With Us" to a world rejoicing in its healing and wholeness!

In 1st Corinthians (1 Corinthians 5:18-19) Paul unmistakably tells us, twice in a row. the content of our lived ministry and proclamation: our ministry is reconciliation; we proclaim the God of Life has overwhelmed and overcome the powers of death. (Romans 6:9) Life and death have contended, but the victory decisively belongs to the God of Life, the God of Life Who hands over to us the defeat of the powers of death in Jesus our Christ. Our triumph is freedom from bondage/slavery, forgiveness of sins/transgressions and homecoming from exile/alienation. Theologian Jürgen Moltmann describes baptism, our baptism as "representation, witness, sign and illumination of the Christ event." He says, "it points away from itself in the direction of Christ alone." So very true!!! Just as Jesus goes to the cross with us and beside us, we are baptized into Jesus' death and resurrection to go to the cross with and beside our neighbors in the world into which we've been sent. We are baptized for events like September 11; we are baptized for times such as loss and grief and sorrow; we are led to the baptismal waters in order to make real and reveal the promised presence of Jesus the Christ. We are baptized to be the Body of the at once crucified and risen Christ to the world, to speak the redemptive and redeeming Word of Life, the Word God promises never will return to Him empty.

Baptism again 4

Baptism again!     4

Immediately before beginning his public ministry, Jesus went into the wilderness desert after his mikvah, his baptism in the River Jordan. All three synoptic gospels: Mark (1:12-13), Matthew (4:1-11) and Luke (4:1-13) record Jesus' time in the wilderness with its accompanying temptations. In Luke and Matthew the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness; writing with his typical sense of immediacy and urgency, Mark says the Spirit drives Jesus into the deserted-ness! One translation says Jesus was "urged on by the Spirit!" And when Jesus leaves his experience of "wild-ness" and returns to his hometown, Nazareth in Galilee, to begin publicly ministering to the world, he returns from to *civilization* "In the Power of the Spirit!" (Luke 4:14) The Great Spirit gives power to Jesus to initiate God's kingdom on earth and to have authority over the forces of death and defeat, authority over the powers and principalities that rule the world. (Ephesians 6:12; Colossians 2:15) Joel, one of the prophets in the Hebrew Bible, promises God's Spirit will be "poured out on all flesh. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old people shall dream dreams, and your young people see visions. Even on the slaves, men and women, shall I pour out my spirit in those days." (Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-18) Then, as Luke records in Acts, on the Day of Pentecost after the gathered followers of Jesus receive the Holy Spirit in its visible, tangible, audible manifestation, just as Jesus returned to the world in the Power of the Spirit, (Luke 4:14) Jesus tells his followers to wait "in the city," to stay in Jerusalem, until they are clothed with, dressed in, arrayed with "Power from on High," (Luke 24:49) which is exactly what happens on the Day of Pentecost, the day that births the church. (Acts 2:4)

The church receives the same Spirit Who is active throughout the biblical witness from the very beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation. It's hardly surprising the Holy Spirit is in the texts of every one of the writers of the New Testament. All four gospel writers begin their gospels with the Spirit's activity. The Spirit's purpose is to bring order, light and life to the people of God, to bring glory to God. The Great Spirit's purpose is to raise us from death into new, resurrected life, and to make possible our witness to the cross and our witness to the empty tomb. The Spirit gathers, nurtures and cherishes the covenant community, the church, the covenant people of God. Again from Luther's Small Catechism "I cannot by my own effort or understanding know Jesus my Savior or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me…calls, gathers and enlightens the church…" In other words, it's all about gift, it's all about immersion in grace, in the presence of the at once crucified and risen Christ in baptism and in the Eucharist, submersion in God's constant, ongoing free, gracious activity in each of our lives. About Immanuel, "God With Us!" About God making Shekinah, dwelling-place with us. The Spirit of God brought Jesus from death to life and moves us into life from death, into life from the little deaths we each experience all the time and ultimately, from the final death of our mortal bodies. Because in baptism we experience the "First death," the second death, the death of our physical bodies, no longer has power or dominion or any sway over our lives. (Romans 6:9) The Apostle Paul talks about that a lot!

Baptism again 3

Baptism again!     3

Just like so many of the Bible's witnesses: like Noah (Genesis 7-9), Jacob (Genesis 32:33), Moses (Exodus), and Joshua (Joshua 1-3), and like Jesus (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:9; Luke 3:21) our journey to wholeness and holiness takes us to the saving fountain of living, lively water: down to the riverside. For Christians, our Christ-walk begins with God's gracious invitation to the waters of baptism! Our Christian pilgrimage begins with our Creator's invitation to relinquish control of our destiny, Her invitation to be fully embraced, restored, and reclaimed from "sin, death and the devil," as Martin Luther paraphrases Paul in his Small Catechism. God's invitation to us, for us to be "the beloved," to enter freedom and forgiveness, to return from exile and to be at home with our Creator and with one another, to achieve our "chief and highest end" of living in Covenant with God and with one another, to partake of the purpose for which we were created, God's welcome and beckoning to us begins with baptism and continues forever into eternity. In our baptism God Himself makes Shekinah, "dwelling place" with us! (Zechariah 2:10-11; Romans 8:9-11) God is our Redeemer, dwells with us in the midst of us, making us the People of God, making all things new! (Isaiah 42:9; 43:18-19) Our baptism is a river in the desert of the wilderness of our lives! (Isaiah 41:18:b; 43:19b)

What a prevalent image and symbol water is throughout scripture! From Genesis through Revelation water occurs and reoccurs constantly and incessantly! (Genesis 1:2 - Revelation 22:17b) Have you ever thought about how essential water is for our ordinary, everyday physical lives and existence? What does water do that makes it so necessary? Water does a multitude of wonderful and necessary things! You probably can think of more than I'll mention right now, but for a short list water helps create and recreate; it cleans, renews, refreshes. Water forms two-thirds of each of our bodies; water covers more than three-quarters of the earth's surface.

Just as the river meant the boundary and the border between the old life and the new life for many of our biblical heroes, the living waters of baptism form the border and boundary between our old, disconnected, alienated shattered and tattered lives and our new life in Christ, our new life in the community, which is the Body of the Risen Christ, the Church of Jesus Christ. The baptismal waters bestow on us a brand-new name, the name "Christian," a name that for us is new but that name also is the name of the One who was present at creation's dawn and through whom everything was created. (Genesis 1; Proverbs 8:22-31; Colossians 1:15-16) To us baptism gives the name of the Holy One who calls worlds into being and who sets before us the ways of life and death, naming us "Christian."

In baptism God calls us "Christian" and we're forever transformed! Just as Jesus rose from the moving waters of his baptism, his mikvah in the River Jordan and the Great Spirit hovered above the waters as the Father declared Jesus "Beloved Son," (Matthew3:17; LK 3:22) so also the Dove is on the wing at each of our baptisms, as our Beloved Creator names us "Beloved." Since baptism changes us forever, what is this transformation? What does it mean for us, what does it mean for the community into which we're gathered, and, perhaps most of all, what does it mean for the world into which God sends us as Christians, as members of the baptized Body of Christ? At the end of his gospel, Matthew records the words of Jesus: "Go now into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19) Then, quoting Jesus, in the book of Acts Luke writes: "But you shall receive Power from on High when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. And you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8) In other words, we are "Spirit-sent people," sent into the world by the command of Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit. In baptism we seek to discern and delineate our call to ministry, to service: we are baptized for events such as September 11; we are baptized for times of loss and grief and sorrow; we are led to the baptismal waters in order to make real and to reveal to the world the promised presence of Jesus the Christ. Above all, we are baptized in order to enter into the joy! To quote from 2nd Isaiah again: "You shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands! (Isaiah 55:12)

Baptism again 2

Baptism again!     2

In his letter to the Church at Rome (Romans 6:2-11) the apostle Paul tells us we're baptized into Jesus' death and resurrection; we're marked forever with the mark of the tomb and the mark of the empty grave. In the epistle to the Galatian assembly, (Galatians 3:28) Paul says we're baptized into an inclusive community, a community without any borders or barriers to fully belonging. Because it holds the enduring promise of the everlasting Word of God, Baptism has a definitive, unrepeatable character: in addition to the binding quality of God's Word given to us in the font of life, there is "One Baptism," (Ephesians 4:5) so we need to be baptized only a single time; there is "One Baptism" so whether you're baptized in a church that defines itself as some kind of protestant, as Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or simply as evangelical or other or just plain independent, there's never any need to repeat the baptism. Just as we speak of the "Christ Event" when we talk about God's invasion into human history with the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus the Christ, we also can speak of the "event" of our baptism: the eternal, transcendent God, the God beyond time and beyond history once again enters human history, coming into each of our lives, and becomes present to us, revealing Herself in the everyday activities of our daily lives. Baptism transforms us forever! We're both dead and alive: the apostle Paul says, "Dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." (Romans 6:11) Like the Israelites of the Exodus, we're at the same time both wet and dry. (Exodus 14:22) Both free from all peoples yet slave to all. (Romans 6:18; 1 Corinthians 9:19) Central to Paul's theology is his conviction our human Redeemer, Jesus, becomes the Divine Christ, God Himself, in his death and resurrection. (Romans 1:4) Central to Paul's theology is his conviction that we, the people of God, are Christed, meaning we ourselves become the Christ so we can live as the Christ, as we are baptized into Jesus' death and resurrection, into Good Friday and into Easter. (Romans 6:2-11) For Paul of Tarsus—and for us—Jesus of Nazareth, the man of Galilee, our Crucified and Risen Lord, our Lord of Life, is always at the same time both the Crucified and risen One. In fact, for Paul the Gospel is Death and Resurrection! In baptism, we become Gospel; we become Good News! In this daily Christian walk by trust in the Son of God we constantly dance both as people of the cross and as persons of the empty grave of Easter dawn!

In baptism we've been drowned in the font, drowned and revived in the fountain of the River of Life (Revelation 22:1). We've been crucified on the tree of death, the cross that paradoxically at the same time is the tree that bears the fruit of the healing of nations, the life, the healing and the reconciliation of all. The tree that at the same time is the Tree of Life: in the words of the Colonial American hymn, the Tree that is "Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree." No longer is the tree our separation and our "fall" from Paradise but the Tree of the Cross is our entryway into the Paradise of covenanted community. (Revelation 22:2) We are drowned in the floodwaters to be the Christ who suffers, grieves and rejoices with every breath creation takes, with every step creation makes. We are baptized to be the covenant community of the Living God, people of the Holy One of Being; we are baptized for events such as September 11; we are baptized for times of loss and grief and sorrow; God leads us to the tomb of death and font of life in order to reveal and make real the promised presence of Jesus the Christ. We are baptized to be the Body of the at once crucified and risen Christ to the world, to speak the redemptive and redeeming Word of Life, the Word God promises never will return to Him empty. We are baptized to be who we were created to be: in covenant with our Creator and with one another. "To glorify God and fully to enjoy Him forever," in the celebrated answer to the first question in the Westminster Catechism.

Baptism again 1

Baptism again!     1
I'm not sure all of this will fit on one post; besides, it's somewhat dense reading.
Recently a friend wrote to me:
Leah, do you "belong" to a church.... I mean, do you have membership, have you signed on the dotted line for any church? I have not, and so I wonder about other bloggers. I desire to be re-baptized. I was baptized as an infant and now I need some sort of a public announcement of my faith. What do you think? Do you belong to a church?
Here's the substance of my immediate reply to her, and after that I'll say more:

I'd like to respond particularly to your feeling you might like to be rebaptized, which, I believe denies the efficacy of God's Word and action, since in baptizing it is God Who by water and the Word covenants with us, but more about that later. But I also know God calls us to live out our discipleship in Christian community just as God calls us to live out our baptism in the world, so though that dotted line's not at all essential, belonging to one of those always highly imperfect though resurrected communities of faith absolutely IS of the essence.

Here's sort of a summing-up of what I wrote about baptism in a paper that later I presented as a talk:
As you read this, please remember I identify specifically with the theological tradition(s) of the continental European Reformation of the 16th century, the church bodies and the theologians that evolved from the Reformation.
In all of their theology, though particularly in their theology of the sacraments, Luther and Calvin explicitly and powerfully recovered for the church the pervasive biblical metaphor of the descent of God to creation, God's willing embrace, redemption and indwelling of everything created, not solely human creatures, but hills, trees, rivers, mountains, deserts and streams and finally the redeemed and restored city into which God pours the glory of His presence; to the extraordinary extent the commonest *stuff* of creation—like water, grain and grape—in the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion become the vehicle of God's hidden yet evident self-revealing.

In grace and freedom God calls every baptized person, offering us gifts and inviting our response. To live baptized means to be a people both of the empty cross and of the empty tomb. People of Good Friday and people of Easter Sunday, so we're both dead and alive. Both wet and dry. Both slave and free. Later I'll say more about this paradoxical state of existence, about thriving within the embrace of the faithful God Whose passion always is Life, the God of Life Whose answer to death and defeat remains Resurrection. God's faithfulness to our baptism, to Her complete and unconditional, gracious Divine embrace of our life and being remains the central reality of the church's life.

Our baptism is the event that defines our individual lives and designs our community in Christ, here in this city, beyond the gates of this city, beyond this country's confines and throughout the world. (Romans 6:2-11; Galatians 3:28) Our baptism, the cosmic event in each of our lives that defines our ministry and God's call to each of us, is the absolutely cosmic event that describes and delineates the inclusive community that is the Body of the at once Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus Christ, the Church.

After Jesus himself, baptism is central for us Christians, as baptism defines the Christian community and enables its witness and response; in baptism we seek to discern our call to service. We are baptized for events such as September 11; we are baptized for times of loss and grief and sorrow; the Spirit leads us to the baptismal waters in order to make real and to reveal to the world and to one another the promised presence of Jesus the Christ. We are baptized to be the Body of the at once crucified and risen Christ to the world, to speak the prophetic and redemptive Word of Life, the Word God promises never will return to Him empty. To quote God's Word to us given through one of the prophets we know as Isaiah: "…my word that goes forth from my mouth…shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and prosper in the thing for which I sent it." (Isaiah 55:11) Above all, we are baptized in order to enter into the joy of covenantal community with our Creator and with the world! (Matthew 25:21) Baptism is a sign of God's presence and the embrace of the baptized community of faith may be the primary evidence we know of God's unconditional, graceful, and faithful baptismal embrace of each of us. Although both of the sacraments, baptism and the Lord's Supper or Eucharist, are God's free and gracious gifts, as you also know in the sacraments the Living Word of the Living God encounters earthly, created matter in order to become vessels and vehicles of grace for us. Although they are gifts of God, the sacraments actually depend upon us humans for their existence! The living Word of our Living God evokes God's presence in our sacraments calls grace, freedom, forgiveness, unity and reconciliation into the gathered community enabling the people of the Font and of the Table, we people of the Table and of the Font who are sent into the world, to proclaim grace, freedom, forgiveness, unity and reconciliation to the world. God sends us into the world to be the Body of the Risen Christ and to speak the healing Word of God.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Voice of the Holy Spirit again

Anita Van Ingen posted on "Moving Godward":
When in pursuit of God, we need a method for identifying the voice of his Holy Spirit. What makes His voice different from whatever voices may be in our heads?

...When the voice of the Holy Spirit spoke, the words did not race, in fact, they sort of stepped out where I could "see" them, slowly persistently, never changing.

That's NOT a solid teaching, now is it?

...When I pray, I connect with that wholesome place of my psyche and the voice of God is just there. He sounds like words that I already know, or words that I have at least heard before. In a way, he doesn't sound like words at all. He sounds like an "attitude" of compassion that I can associate with a word. As the attitudes flow from compassion to love to holiness to whatever, different words leap into my memory and line up to become sentences. ...

The voice of the Holy Spirit: real... or a symptom of illness?

I answered Anita on her comments link, and I'll include my reply here as well as some additional thoughts:

"What makes [the HS's] voice different from whatever..."

Well, I'm not sure the voice of the HS necessarily is all that "different from!" Let's look at the biblical record of God's manifestation in a myriad of various and *differing* forms or modalities: light, fire, water, rock, cloud, tree, Christ Jesus, the lively presence of the Risen Christ in the humanity of the gathered church: every single one of those is a form we're familiar with from our common, ordinary everyday lives. Think of God's sacramental self-revelation (realizing I'm from a tradition with strong sacramental theology, and, over these recent years, my own theology has become highly sacramental): God self-reveals in water, in grain, in the fruit of the vine, all of which are highly charged and polyvalent biblical images and all of which have meaning and currency and respond to a need of everyone in every culture that's ever lived on this world of the earth of God's creation (at least in some form, though different cultures grow and eat an assortment of basic starchy food, with some, like our contemporary American, claiming wheat, rice, corn, oat and a bunch of others—you get the idea!). I'll draw out those ideas a little more.

Indeed the Bible does include many instances of the supra-normal, of the Divine exploitation and transformation of the mundane and of the spectacular, but in assessing the broad sweep of the biblical witness, it's clear God's preferred manner of acting, God's most common way of revealing Godself is in the super-ordinary, the anything but sensational and above all in the paradoxical, like the hiddenness of Divinity manifested in the infant human babe in the Bethlehem manger, in the vulnerability of the human one dying forsaken on the cross on Calvary Hill.

Water, bread, vineyard fruit: sacramental elements, basics, fundamentals and essentials of earthbound existence. For you, Anita, for all of us, affirming the voice we hear *belongs* to God also is a life-necessity?
Responding to my comments, Anita observed: "one more significant 'form' of the presence of God... silence 1 Kings... mmmm 19? Elijah, the caveman prophet, senses God in the silence."
Yes, I absolutely agree! Then, Anita, you said something really really interesting:
...When the voice of the Holy Spirit spoke, the words did not race, in fact, they sort of stepped out where I could "see" them, slowly persistently, never changing.

That's NOT a solid teaching, now is it?
I believe according to Scripture, your experience does reflect a pure, a solid teaching! Your experience of envisioning the words accords with what I call God's persistently sacramental action... you probably know the convention of calling the sacraments *visible words*? (Though I don't remember who began it, maybe Augustine?!) In interpreting scripture, Calvin and Luther both affirmed a God Who reveals his glory and majesty by pouring-out Himself onto all creation: do you know Luther's Eucharistic formula describing the real Eucharistic presence of Jesus Christ as "in, with and under" the elements of bread and cup? God's self-revelation in, with and under all creation is a model for the way God most often self-reveals, which is one of the many reasons we, the people of God, regularly need to gather around Word and Sacrament.

You began your Saturday, August 14 post with, "When in pursuit of God..." pursuing God? That's something we always need to do while still knowing God first searches for us (but you already knew that!); I trust when visions, sounds, relational events and history cause us to pause and ask how God was there and sometimes even if God was there is one of the multitude of manners in which God seeks us out!? Amen?!

Sometimes it's about signs and wonders, but more often it's about the presence our senses can attune to or occasionally the being-there-in-silence of the One Who in passionate risk has come to dwell with us and among us, to make us the People of God, the Holy Other yet Immanent One Who still lives with and among us!

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Parched Tinderbox Part 2

Parched Tinderbox

Part 2

Where are we in the story of our Exodus into freedom? For sure we imagine we've left Egypt (yes, despite the biblical-style grumbling we're all so adept at doing); for sure we know we're currently not even in sight of the Land of Promise, though most of us remember maybe having an occasional glimpse of it—or maybe that was our wishful thinking? But really, what experiences have we had that for us have been a foretaste of the promised-landed feast to come, in the land of milk and honey, the rich sweetness of life that's possible when the people of God trust their God to help them *be* God's people? How can we recognize the many ways God already has provided for us, not only in spite of our shortcoming but maybe especially in spite of the immensely faulty defectivenesses and really and truly real imperfections of our faith communities, work communities, families and other various affiliates that we can't live with but know we can't live without, either?

Another sure thing: you've already tried everything imaginable to undry yourself and your all-too-often deserted life. Maybe you've even "tried God," to cite a bumper sticker and lapel pin from some time past. But what does God promise through 2nd Isaiah, the prophet we know as one of the word-speakers God used to keep hope alive, to keep the promise of Easter alive, during Israel's time in exile in Babylonia? Yes…during that terrible exile Israel experienced after they'd already lived in Zion, after they'd actually arrived in the Land of the Fullness of God's Reign, the land of milk and honey?! Through Isaiah 43:18-19, God pleads and promises:

Isaiah 43:18-19
Do not remember the former things,
          or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
          now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
          and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me,
          the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
          rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
          the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.
God will not demand from us without also promising us: all of this paradoxical, ultimately paradisiacal and humanly almost unimaginative activity on God's part is because of us and for us: waters and rivers … for any kind of life to exist, let alone thrive, water is absolutely essential! God, the Uncreated One, created and formed the People of God, so they might declare His praise, so we might declare the praise of our God: "the people I formed for myself, so that they might declare my praise," in another Isaiah phrase reminiscent of the Westminster Catechism's 1st question and answer, proclaiming "our chief and highest end is to glorify God and fully to enjoy God forever," but once again, God will not command us and demand of us without providing the reason for us to do his demands and commands, without our experiencing the gifts of God for the people of God.

Just like God's self-revelation, God's activity tends to be paradoxical, so we need to expect the unexpected, like the paradox of fire making us less thirsty, like the wonder and surprise of a river running through the parched tinderbox of the deserts of our lives; we need to expect God to be "the God of great surprises," as graphic artist Corita Kent aptly described Him; we need to trust we'll find evidence of God's activity in humanly unexpected places and particularly at unexpected times, since God created kairos time for us but always acts within the fullness of divine chronos time. Have you noticed how frequently scripture uses images of fire and of water as symbols of the presence of the Divine?

Although every one of us sometimes feels dry, parched, lifeless and totally inadequate, the all-consuming fire of the HS paradoxically *waters* us and brings us back to life, resurrected life! Although you may feel hopeless, alone and desperate in need of life, God's first claim and passion is human need, your need, my need and our neighbors' needs!

We've heard God's promise; now, how can we claim God's promise for ourselves and for the world we live in; what vision can we see and claim for the future? The frequent parchedness of our lives says a lot about our readiness and potential receptiveness to the Fire, the Wind and the rivers of life-giving Water we're already experienced in the form of the Spirit of the Living God, the God Who in Jesus Christ owned us in baptism and then re-claims us every moment of every day; our too-often too-dry plain dull existence declares we're ready for those wilderness streams and desert rivers. To claim them? Well, to begin…be obedient! Obey the Word of Life, first by not remembering or even considering those things of old, those old-fashioned attitudes, habits and other fruitless behaviors or those old-timey places, either. Also speaking to the exiles in the strange land of Babylon, Jeremiah the prophet told them to "bloom where they were planted," by telling them to build houses, plant gardens and seek the welfare of the place where they lived in the right here and right now.

It's time to rejoice in your feeling like Parched Tinderboxes; it's high time to open yourself to the dance of the Spirit's paradoxical movement, to the searing baptism with the fire of the Spirit and the daily remembering of your water baptism in the font of death and fountain of life.

to be continued again.

Parched Tinderbox Part 1

Parched Tinderbox

Part 1

Recently I read another wonderful phrase, "parched tinderbox," so I need to start unpacking it!

To begin: in WebSpeak, what is a tinderbox? I found this definition:
A tinderbox is system designed to test builds and report failure. In the FreeBSD case, tinderboxes build world (the base system), GENERIC, and if applicable LINT kernels.
and continuing:
Also, hypertext software for "personal content management" tool from Mark Bernstein of Eastgate Systems.

At its most basic level, Tinderbox is a hypertext note-taking application. Like the Brain, notes can be linked to each other, viewed and browsed.
In terms of the historically customary use of "tinderbox," here's another definition, from

n 1: a dangerous state of affairs; a situation that is a potential source of violence; "the Balkans are the tinderbox of Europe" 2: a box for holding tinder

Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
"Tinder" also reminds me of Glenn Tinder, my political science professor now emeritus at UMassBoston, who wrote a book with the fabulous title The Crisis of Political Imagination.

Back to Parched Tinderbox, which of course says a whole lot about the Holy Spirit's action in our lives and world! (Well, yes, and of course I always interpret everything biblically and theologically.) As People of Pentecost, we claim both the wind and the fire: the fire and the wind can stir up a much mightier blaze when the kindling, the tinder it has to ignite is very, very dry! Actually, the dryer the better, if you want your fire to start fast, to warm the chilliness of the desert night...or even the parchedness in your heart. The fire will start quickly, specially when the tinder's exceptionally dry, as in "parched"...since this site is called "Desert's Spirit," lets make that Desert Dry, as in the some times, some things or some peoples who truly are *desert-ed*…individuals, communities and even churches who truly are *desert-ed*, like Israel was during the desert wanderings we read about in the biblical books of Exodus and Numbers. In the dryness of the Exodus desert Israel learned its identity at the same time as Israel learned the identity of Yahweh, its God. Identity-forming crises of wandering dry in the deserted wildernesses happen to us as well, and when as dry, deserted people we need and thirst for life-renewing and life-sustaining water we generally also crave need the warmth, even the intensity of the heat of the fire of the Spirit that gives us life!

Tinderbox as "a dangerous state of affairs; a situation that is a potential source of violence..." and therefore tinderbox as a condition and a situation thatneeds the HS's intervention and (I'd hope) would be open to the HS's life- and world-transforming action! Remember the Chinese pictogram for crisis? It carries the double meaning of danger and opportunity, so it looks as if our states of being parched tinderboxes put us onto the horns of a similarly two-pronged dilemma.

To help us think about *Parched Tinderbox(es),* here's a text from 2nd Isaiah; we know him as the exilic Isaiah:
Isaiah 43:18-21

Isaiah 43:18-19

Do not remember the former things,
          or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
          now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
          and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me,
          the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
          rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
          the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise. NRSV
So the Word commands us: do not remember the former things or even consider those old-timey things, that ancient but so familiar way of doing and being, those worn-out ideas and accoutrements of different kinds most of us keep insisting we *need* to keep hanging onto...for dear life itself? Don't even think about and definitely don't take to heart those ways of being, thinking and doing that at the same time are both familiarly comfortable and undeniably ineffective. The Word commands and the Word promises: a new thing, and that new thing is something we have evidence of, something we can see, taste, touch, feel and hear; in the words of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, we can perceive! Ultimately the promised newness is down-to-earth, here-and-now, brand-new, resurrected life in the reign of God on earth, just as it is in heaven. Then, we receive another promise: God will make a way and we'll be shown a way, a road in our wilderness and a river in the desertness of our lives. I've mentioned how Israel's experience in the Exodus desert became the way they learned their identity as the precarious people of God while they were learning Yahweh's identity as the God Who, unbidden, does the humanly impossible in response to human need. For Israel, exactly as for us, it was about the journey rather than about the destination, the People learned about and lived with the God of Israel and the God of Christ Jesus Whose responsiveness is anything but uncertain or precarious, but always a sure thing, if we'd only look and if we'd be open in trust, open to the completely unexpected.

to be continued.

Baptism and Communion

Although the regular United Church of Christ forums have gone on vacation for a while, there's currently a liturgy topic on the seminarian site, so not surprisingly I posted some about one of the current topics.

Here's a more-or-less quote of the ideas I posted I'm wondering how many times I've written about this topic on this blog?!:

Still more about one of the theological topics I think about most persistently! Rather than being "my decision to be obedient to God," my baptism was God's free and gracious embracing action that Romans 6'ed and Galatians 3:28'ed me through the proxy of the person who administered the water and the gathered community that in the power of the Spirit received me as representative of the historical and ecumenical Church. I'll agree the eucharist is supremely Jesus' meal, but it's also the church's feast with its insistent, longing cry of, "Come, Lord Jesus!", even as we experience the presence of the Crucified and Risen One in all creation and in the gathered people of God that already has been buried into its first death and raised into its second birth. And yes, the eucharist is the messianic banquet of the promised eschatological time in which all creation will in very fact be reconciled to itself and to its Creator, as well as one of the signs the Church displays to the world of the One who freely offers himself to the world despite betrayal and desertion…in the same way the Church is called to be a people both crucified and risen, a people of the cross and of the power of God to new life. But we always need to remember despite God's bountiful gift to us of salvation and freedom, there also is a cost to us of repentance and obedience, part of the obedience being for each of us to enter the waters of baptism, the boundary uniquely separating Church and World. So no, "it don't come easy," as the song would have it!

At this particular time in my own history I'm in the process of discerning not so much the what of God's current call to me but more the where and the exact how, as I'm also struggling with the high imperfection of the trio of faith communities I've been associating with since my last call ended. But tomorrow is Sunday, our Christian sabbath, and I need to attend worship not only in obedience to God's extravagant gifts and to God's baptismal claim on my life, but also because the baptismal words are "we, us, and our," referring to the community into which each of us individuals has been baptized. However, to take a somewhat middle road regarding receiving the sacrament, I'm almost in accord with the Methodist Book of Discipline's suggestion if a person receives HC they need to be preparing for baptism, since receiving the Eucharist is identification with the way of Jesus, and baptism is the initiatory reality into that Way that marks us forever with the cross.

From what I understand the sometime practice of less-than-weekly communion is, as suggested, a remnant of anti-Roman-Catholicism on the laity's part, something neither of the magisterial Reformers wanted to have happened, though as you know, Zwingli and the Zurich community had a different view regarding frequency of celebration as well as their quite different theology of the Lord's Supper. Once again, your reference to "liberal or progressive causes" is a telling one: the HS calls the church into being and equips the church for service in the world but not to be of the world, and it seems to me all too often those well-meaning liberals ask more about current cultural and social trends than they do about biblical mandates.

On a final note for this Saturday noon, two of my current faith communities practice weekly communion, with one of them insisting on baptism somewhere at some time and current state of repentance, the other publicly issuing a *y'all come* to everyone regardless; the 3rd generally celebrates the eucharist about once a month, with the Table invitation being to self-examination coupled with an admonition if you do not intend to identify with Jesus to please not receive communion today at this service.