Monday, January 17, 2005

Martin Luther King Day 2005

Micah 6:6-8 MSG
6 How can I stand up before GOD
and show proper respect to the high GOD?
Should I bring an armload of offerings
topped off with yearling calves? ...

8 But he's already made it plain how to live, what to do,
what GOD is looking for in men and women.
It's quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don't take yourself too seriously—
take God seriously.

Reflections on Multiculturalism and its Cognates

What feels like a long time ago, I lived and served in very inner-city Boston; today I'll begin with a panorama! The local church I served as lay associate pastor was highly diverse in terms of class, race, age, ethnicity, economics and culture, but some time before I began serving that congregation the immediate neighborhood had experienced blockbusting, white-flight and redlining, with a subsequent decline and disarticulation of the public education system. Those particular dynamics of change followed by insurgent gentrification plus underclass growth on the neighborhood's fringes meant there was no way any mainline church could have survived unless they'd been looking at and trying out very different untraditional models for evangelism and ministry ages earlier.

Nonetheless, some streets were (re-)gentrifying, resulting in multi-generational welfare families and yuppies living within hailing distance of one another. As the senior pastor I served with once said to me, "a lot of the folks in this neighborhood never have even been in Harvard Square, let along inside a Harvard classroom"; yet again, quite a few yuppies with advanced academic or professional degrees came to the church seeking volunteer opportunities and sometimes church homes for themselves or their offspring.

Since the void the departure of the White working-class population left in the area also had meant the dissolution of most mainline-affiliated local churches, given such a large immigrant and underclass population a whole lot of independent – mostly Pentecostal and other related Wesleyan offshoots – storefront congregations gathered, evolved and prospered.

Regarding the difficult work of bridging religious and cultural differences, the church building's immediate vicinity included families and individuals whose families historically were Irish Roman Catholic, Blacks - primarily African-American with a growing influx of Caribbean islanders - and an increasingly disenchanted surfacing minority whose forebears originated in the United Kingdom or Western Europe. One of the major problems I constantly dealt with were the genuinely concerned and truly well-meaning White liberals who at the same time were extremely eager to be helpful and culturally almost completely unaware, insensitive and actually gauche! It amounted to dismaying cultural arrogance and ignorance and not remotely the "evangelism in the vernacular" we endeavored to do.

But the society full of compassionate fairness and justice for all, the impartial way of righteousness that recognizes separate means inherently unequal, the "Beloved Community," that formed a large part of the heart of MLK's quest - as always - was a tough one! Participating in the church's programming were nominally Roman Catholic kids, but when I'd visit their home and suggest they begin attending worship, a parent would inform me, "My child is Catholic!" (Typically I'd never seen any evidence of that possibility.) Or, people who seemed to be taking advantage of us for transportation and various handouts...sometimes I wonder if those of us on church staff were gullible or were we faithful servants?

On MLK Day 2005, in what feels like *now* and actually is *now*, I'm living in San Diego; these days, the very words "Southern California" by default signify a fundamentally multicultural and multilingual environment! With Baja California's city of Tijuana just south, this is the busiest land border in the world, and San Diego is very much a conventional border town; in San Diego city and county there are so many neighborhoods that carry an ethnic designation.

Practically all of the signage and most of the announcements everywhere are bilingual English-Spanish at minimum; lots are in Tagalog and Vietnamese, too, with some in an least a half-dozen more languages. Restaurants, food courts and other eating places offer an vast variety of ethnic food and Americanized-ethnic eats, too. But how much evidence of actual living in community with, celebrating with and truly understanding the folks of different-from backgrounds do I see around here? I'm not referring to the frequent Festivals of ethnic foods, dance, arts and culture: I'm searching find and longing to experience understanding and true equality that moves far beyond stereotypes and surface tolerance into making this large town a welcome place and a real sanctuary safe for differences!

As God charges us through Micah the prophet, each of one us needs to take God more seriously and ourselves less seriously, or as Bible versions a little more conventional and familiar to us than Eugene Peterson's The Message version of scripture expresses it, we need to "Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God!" In the power of the Holy Spirit, God's desire can become our lifestyle!

Still, for this day forward and counting...

Happy Martin Luther King Jr., Day, World!!! You've Come a Long, Long Way!!!

Saturday, January 15, 2005

wilderness handbook: the desert again

wilderness handbook: the desert again
desert living... in the desert.
wilderness: freedom living!
the whole world changes: you shall be called Israel!
...and live as God's chosen people...

This evening I've considered these ideas just a little more and finally I'm getting them out of saved stuff and up on to my blog.

Repeatedly I've written and spoken about the desert's precariousness, life-giving and transformative austerity, as in this pair of citations:
In the desert Israel first rendezvoused with Yahweh; in the desert – driven out by the Spirit – Jesus first met the Spirit; possibly our first meeting with the real presence of the HS happens in the desert, too...not the presence we imagine we need but the Presence God knows we need.

"In the desert Israel ...and the desert frequently becomes the place of our meeting God and of self-encounter, as well." In that post I added, "For us as Christians, baptism is our primal liminal experience. As we enter the waters, should we be prepared to drown? Yes! And we should be equally prepared to be surprisingly raised from that death by drowning!"
Exactly as for God's original people Israel, for us, the contemporary People of God, the desert provides the dynamic reciprocity of intimate relationship, and doesn't relationship test us and ultimately transform us into being truly the person for others in addition to our becoming most authentically ourselves and respecting of our self? Living in the desert means living in risking trust rather than assumption and comfort; it means learning about, interacting with, about relating to an "other"; reconciling and reuniting; shedding the past while [hopefully] learning from it. In the wilderness we learn about moving into the future with hope and about thriving in spite of scarcity; fearlessly learning not to hoard during times of prosperity and relative abundance. Ditching self-reliance, depending on the human *other* and – finally – depending completely upon the Divine *Other*.

wilderness: freedom living!

Trekking through the wilds means living in liberty at that very moment just as much as our desert exoduses are passages to the land of promise. True in our wilderness as individuals and particularly for our community we seek a metaphorical Jordan, but on the way, what do we find? We find and meet insistent others with needs and gifts parallel to ours; we discover natural resources above, beneath, before and around us, assets that will help everyone meet the requirements of daily existence. Freedom living? Either in solitude or in community, when we’re in the desert we do not have a whole lot of choice about our responses; we have little choice if we seek substantial quality of life, so in the desert wilderness our easiest and most free course of action becomes obedience to God’s demands to love one another and bear each others’ burdens, eventually and ultimately holding not only a single Feast in the Wilderness but countless Feasts in the Wilderness!

Isaiah 35

Isaiah 35:1-2

1 Wilderness and desert will sing joyously,
the badlands will celebrate and flower—
Like the crocus in spring, 2 bursting into blossom,
a symphony of song and color.
Mountain glories of Lebanon—a gift.
Awesome Carmel, stunning Sharon--gifts.
GOD's resplendent glory, fully on display.
GOD awesome, GOD majestic...
6a Springs of water will burst out in the wilderness,
streams flow in the desert...
7 Hot sands will become a cool oasis,
thirsty ground a splashing fountain.
Even lowly jackals will have water to drink,
and barren grasslands flourish richly.
Rivers in the desert!

Once upon a time, as in ages ago, I put together a photo-collage of desert images and phrases; one of my favorites was "Don’t go bare into the wilderness," followed with, "You have the words of eternal life" and "Claim it today!" The Words of eternal life is exactly what Jesus took into the desert with him right after his baptism in the real River Jordan; Moses'people left Egypt led and accompanied by a Word-speaker who in real life interacted with the Word-giver and even mediated the celebrated Sinai Covenant. In theology, water is a recurrent metaphor for the Holy Spirit; each individual and each community has a quadrivium of needs that includes water, food, shelter and places of nurture. Scripture calls us to choose between life and death, blessing and curse and as I've stated here before, I believe the Reconciling Christ Event is so drastic, so inclusive and so all-encompassing of everything and everyone created, all creation is born, lives, dies and rises in Christ. However, God sets before us the ways of life and death, and to a limited extent, the choice of salvation, wholeness and reconciliation becomes ours.

Streams in the wilderness

Streams tend to be smaller and generally less extensive than rivers? But primarily because they're littler, streams have other attributes, such as compelling us to careful stewardship of the essential gift of water, such as making us thankful; such as leading us to bless the Giver of the Gift—including the gift of the wilderness desert that makes us so aware of its concealed beauty and unseen life.

Desert rivers

As we more and more live in trust, those "rivers in the desert" slowly and imperceptibly become desert rivers! In other words, the rivers take on characteristics of the desert. Paradox? Yes, of course!!!

Wilderness streams

In the same way rivers in the desert become desert rivers, "streams in the wilderness" become wilderness streams. How and why?

the whole world changes...

The whole world changes? Not just my, your, our smallish and more-or-less self-contained worlds? A lot of life is synergistic in a lot of ways. The "World" goes far beyond and transcends our little, proprietary universes and begins touching, reaching and transforming people, places and ideas far, far beyond our immediate heres and nows and this world of ours becomes huge! Astounding? Both yes and no! As we approaching our Jordan, we're on the cul-de-sac of life, a place with no outlet except to continue – you cannot go back (if you keep looking back you won'’t know where you’re going). Because – really! – God does not see our past...

you shall be called Israel!

Jacob refused to leave without a blessing: God loves, God blesses people who persevere, who are tenacious! After Jacob wrestled with the spirits of the [Genesis 32] human and the Spirit of the Divine, God conferred on Jacob his new name; Jacob left Gilgal and went to [genesis 28] Bethel, "House of God," because he needed to go there to get established in God’s house. After [Joshua 5] Gilgal and then at Bethel, no longer was it "God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,"” but rather the Jacob of God, the one newly-named Israel! Named and called by your name by the Word of Life!
22 And [Jacob] arose that night and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed over the ford of Jabbok. 23 He took them, sent them over the brook, and sent over what he had. 24 Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. 25 Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob's hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. 26 And He said, "Let Me go, for the day breaks."

But he said, "I will not let You go unless You bless me!"
27 So He said to him, "What is your name?"
He said, "Jacob."
28 And He said, "Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed."
29 Then Jacob asked, saying, "Tell me Your name, I pray."
And He said, "Why is it that you ask about My name?" And He blessed him there.
30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: "For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved." 31 Just as he crossed over Penuel the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip. NKJV
Long later, the New Covenant scriptures give us this amazing text:

"To the one who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except the one who receives it."...and I will give her the Morning Star!... Revelation 2:17

...and live as God’s chosen people...

Well, yes, of course! The whole idea and purpose of learning to live through hot, dry days and chilly, dry nights is to learning how to live as People of the Covenant, learning how to live as people elected by grace and enabled in the power of the Holy Spirit…did I say something about water symbolizing the Spirit? Throughout the witness of scripture and in the course of our daily walk, water, wind and fire equally symbolize the gift of Divine Life!

Exodus 13

From Exodus 13:
3 And Moses said to the people: "Remember this day in which you went out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the LORD brought you out of this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten. 4 On this day you are going out … 5 And it shall be, when the LORD brings you into the land...a land flowing with milk and honey, that you shall keep this service in this month. 6 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the LORD. 8 And you shall tell your son in that day, saying, "This is done because of what the LORD did for me when I came up from Egypt.

14 So it shall be, when your son asks you in time to come, saying, "What is this?' that you shall say to him, "By strength of hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
[scripture text heading: The Wilderness Way]

17 Then it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, "Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt." 18 So God led the people around by way of the wilderness of the Red Sea. And the children of Israel went up in orderly ranks out of the land of Egypt.

21 And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. 22 He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people.

Prophecy Word Sacrament

In Israel the prophet, the speaker of the Divine Word of Life, had ultimate authority and primacy; in the New Israel, the church, the prophet, the Divine Word-speaker, also has primal authority; both in those former days and in these latter days the just and righteous Word is manifest and apparent not only in audible, vocal speech, but the Word is hidden in the Spirit-filled people of God and the Word is paradoxically visible in the sacramental ordinances of baptism and holy communion.

In The Prophetic Faith, Jewish theologian Martin Buber writes,
"[for Jeremiah] Not the priest but the prophet he regards as the mediator between heaven and earth, messenger of God and intercessor in one. The contact between godhead and manhood in his view is not bound up with the rite but with the word...the word comes again and again from heaven as something new, and makes its abode within man...and the man who has to make it heard is over and over again subdued by the word before He lets it be put in his mouth. This is not the expression of a familiar deity, with whom man comes into regular contact in fixed places and at fixed times. He, Who speaks, is incomprehensible, irregular, surprising, overwhelming, sovereign. Therefore it is the virtue of this word, and of this alone, to lead, that is to say, to show the way. [emphasis mine] ...In order to speak to man, God must become a person; but in order to speak to him, He must make him too a person." (pages 164-165)
Jeremiah's New Covenant proclamation:

Jeremiah 31

31 "The time is coming," declares the LORD,
"when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,"
declares the LORD.
33 "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time," declares the LORD.
"I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,'
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,"
declares the LORD.
"For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more."

Sunday, January 02, 2005

On Holy Communion for this New Year 2005

Text: Luke 22:7-20; 28-30

Here's the complete text for Luke 22:7-30

Or check it out in The Message

This morning, the first Sunday of the New Year 2005, we celebrated Holy Communion; Luke 22 traditionally has been a Maundy Thursday text, but it also is highly appropriate for this early January winter Sunday.

Because of our humanity, our lives need meaning if they are going to be bearable; we feel almost compelled to seek meaning in our own individual worlds and often in those worlds beyond our immediate grasp. We may passively be able to endure in surroundings not of our own making or choosing, but we're unlikely to keep on deliberately performing an action unless it says something to us and about us, unless there would be an empty space in our lives without it. Every Christian community throughout the world keeps celebrating Holy Communion as part of the community's life together: since that adds up to a lot of people in a lot of very different countries and cultures, there must be a lot that's meaningful about this sacrament!

Wherever in the Bible we read an account of the eucharistic "founding meal"—we can find it in one of Paul's letters to Corinth as well as in three of the gospels—whenever we read about it, it evokes familiar images and rings with unforgettable phrases. Possibly the central picture is Jesus' sharing a meal with his friends; no matter if it's Leonardo's Renaissance Italy or first century Palestine, the reality is the same, and precisely what Jesus shows us with his entire life is how very, very transferable and translatable that supper is. We hear a familiar phrase when at the supper, while Jesus breaks the bread and blesses the wine, he tells us to do what he does—"in remembrance." Do this religious ritual? Jesus' world already had plenty of religious rituals. Our world has enough of those, too—plus rituals for just about every other facet and aspect of our lives.

Throughout his life Jesus shows us in words and actions the way it's supposed to be in God's world, in God's sovereignty, and four times in the seventeen verses of Luke 22:7-20 and verses 28-30 Jesus mentions the Kingdom, telling us it is his Kingdom and our Kingdom. Jesus shows us how God participates in our world so we are able to participate in God's world; Jesus reveals to us a worldview that is at a 180-degree angle to most common ideas of religion and religiousness.

Jesus calls the bread his broken body and calls the fruit of the vine the blood of the New Covenant; Jesus tells us, he tells us here in this city and now in January 2005 the bread is his body broken for us and the wine is blood of that New Covenant of grace he came to bring to us and for us, and says he'll take part in this festal meal again when the worldview of the Kingdom of God is a fact among us; then, at that time, he'll celebrate with us once more.

A religious ritual? There are plenty of those. "In memory?" We keep on celebrating this sacrament, this communion, this eucharist, with each other. And we're not likely to keep on performing an action unless it has meaning, unless it says something to us and about us.

If we are to remember Jesus, do we need bread and wine? Aren't there other ways? Well, throughout the records of Jesus' life there are accounts of Jesus feeding other people and feasting with his friends; Jesus repeatedly talks about those who will banquet in the Kingdom...and about giving his body for the life of the world.

Here's how The Message version of the New Testament says it:
24 Within minutes they were bickering over who of them would end up the greatest. 25 But Jesus intervened: "Kings like to throw their weight around and people in authority like to give themselves fancy titles. 26 It's not going to be that way with you. Let the senior among you become like the junior; let the leader act the part of the servant.

There it is again, that old human thing of wanting to be powerful, great, important and admired by all! In Jesus we meet one who shows us all creation, all life and all persons are sacred or holy and worthy of being served. In addition, the Kingdom of God we meet in Jesus is nothing like a traditional kingdom where the have-nots and the have-a-littles wait on the haves; in its place, we find real community with God's justice and mercy graciously at work in the world so hunger, greed and need, judgment and exclusion are wiped out—so forgiveness of the past means and becomes the beginnings of new life. The Reign of God, this Welcome Table, and Jesus given for us on Calvary are tightly bound together.

Again in Eugene Peterson's Message version of the Bible we hear Jesus asking:
27 "Who would you rather be: the one who eats the dinner or the one who serves the dinner? You'd rather eat and be served, right? But I've taken my place among you as the one who serves. 28 And you've stuck with me through thick and thin. 29 Now I confer on you the royal authority my Father conferred on me 30 so you can eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and be strengthened as you take up responsibilities among the congregations of God's people.

Not only do we anticipate, celebrate and commemorate as we break bread and offer wine, but we carry with us beyond this building this microcosm of a redeemed world that has been created by us and God, between us and God. As we live lives in service to others and service in the world, remembering Jesus, who lived among us as "one who serves," we ourselves become a living and a life-giving memory of Jesus so in us, the Church of Jesus Christ, called by the Holy Spirit to be a servant people, Jesus again becomes alive in the world and we become sacraments mediating between God in Christ and the world, offering the world a living connection to the heaven of God's Reign here on earth.

" and drink at my table in my kingdom and be strengthened as you take up responsibilities among the congregations of God's people!" Towards the end of Luke's Gospel, regarding one of Jesus' appearances after the resurrection, it says, "when Jesus was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him." Like God called Jesus of Nazareth, God calls us to be visible, tangible signs of God-with-us, God-for-us, God-among-us, of the Kingdom belonging to God, to Jesus, to us and to all creation!

So what are we, God's servant people, planning to do during this newly-minted year, 2005? Where are we, God's representatives in Christ Jesus, going to be when the world cries and grieves with pain and hurt? Where will people find us when our neighbors are in need? Will we be making our world into a sanctuary, a holy place, a foretaste of the Royal, Kingly Reign of God on earth, giving the world reason to celebrate? Will the world recognize us as the body of Christ when we pour out our lives with compassion just as we break this eucharistic bread? I hope so!