Saturday, May 28, 2005

Stored Value: from Lent 2005

olive garden
Here's a spinoff on one of my favorites (Rivers, Deserts, Identity and...Freedom!) from this blog; for our Lent 2005 Church Devotional Book I reworked it some, so here's the newer version on this eve of Pentecost plus.

Exodus 16; John 6:25-34

A while ago I had lunch at Olive Garden and spent part of one of my stored value gift cards. Since I think theologically something resembling 24/7, I began thinking about the theological implications of stored value and how it could play out in our everyday lives, away from restaurants, malls, and all those shopping scenes where gift cards are easily spendable; I started connecting stored values to events defining us as Christians and as Church.

During those years of being manna-fed in the desert, Israel lived and thrived with the experience of the heavenly gifts and divine justice that meant enough for everyone and too much for no one; under Moses' leadership and Yahweh's Lordship, the wilderness sojourners lived in daily com-pan-ionship. The people Israel called the manna "Bread of Heaven," and for a long forty years wandering through the desert, the "stored value" in the manna nourished them; in trust they journeyed with the One Who bestows the bread of physical provision, gifts of mercy, and gifts of justice!

In chapter 6, John the evangelist calls Jesus, the one born in the Little Town of House of Bread, Bread of Heaven, and today, in the Lord's Supper, we know the benefit of living manna blessed and broken, given to us to supply our needs. Like the Israelites in the journey to freedom, as long as we remain faithful by doing justice and righteousness, that reality of the eucharistic manna's "stored value" will keep working for us and in us, enabling our ministry for the world and in the world.

Via the gospel writer John, Jesus called himself the real manna from Heaven, and promised anyone who ate that manna, that "Bread of Heaven," never would be hungry, would live forever and never die! Talk about stored value! Jesus the Living Word of God is the Bread of Life; Jesus is our manna and the entire world's manna. Along with the Old Covenant scriptures, Paul insists, "the Word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so you can do it." (Deuteronomy 30:11; Romans 10:4) In Christ Jesus we have values of justice, mercy, and righteousness stored in our communities and in our inmost beings to give for the life of the world, to give as manna towards the world's healing and wholeness.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Mission and Evangelism, again:

After posting this morning, I realized including a couple more things would be a good idea; first, here's the entire Article 7 from the Augsburg Confession:

Article VII: Of the Church.
Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.

And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. Ephesians 4, 5. 6.
Then, here's a paraphrase of a scary incident about evangelism and mission shared by a colleague at April's Faith, Order and Witness meeting:

The close to incredible success of the Presbyterian branch of the Church in their evangelical efforts in Korea generally is well-known; however...a Presbyterian from Korea essentially maintained to an American, "We wish you could have brought us the flower of the Gospel without the flowerpot, which we definitely did not need!" As Augustana 7 insists, "Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike." From here I'll say not only not necessary but definitely not remotely desirable, either!

Exclusion and Embrace notes

With the vital currency of mission and evangelism, (and considering the fact I've started a half-dozen ideas but developed none of those sufficiently to let them air on this blog), today I'm posting some notes from Miroslav Wolf's first book of free church ecclesiology.

exclusion and embrace cover
In Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identify, Otherness, and Reconciliation, Miroslav Wolf quotes Daniel Boyarin as he points out although the Pauline solution of 1) relativizing Torah; 2) discarding genealogy; and 3) for the sake of all the families of the earth embracing the crucified and resurrected Christ as the seed of Abraham in whom "there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female," offered a "possibility of breaking out of the tribal also contained the seeds of an imperialist and colonizing practice; Paul's universalism even at its most liberal and benevolent has been a powerful force for coercive discourses of sameness, denying...the rights of Jews, women, and others to retain their difference." –pages 45-46

"...baptism into Christ creates a people as the differentiated body of Christ...[which] lives as a complex interplay of differentiated bodies—Jewish and gentile, female and male, slave and free—of those who have partaken of Christ’s self-sacrifice. The Pauline move is not from the particularity of the body to the universality of the spirit, but from separated bodies to the community of interrelated bodies—the one body in the Spirit with many discrete members." –page 48

When I read this book in early fall 2003, Wolf's articulation of Paul’s universalism really wowed me! However, it's easy to see how some of Paul's theology and ecclesiology – as well as his anthropology – could be one of many factors that has caused all too much cultural arrogance, leading in turn to cultural, economic, political and social colonialism and imperialism.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Trinity Sunday Year A

Since I really like the notes I put together for this morning's Bible study (not that the group did much with them, but – as always – the discussion was interesting, stimulating, thoughtful and even helpful!) and, in addition, since lately I've posted so little, I figured posting this would give people something to read. But a note of caution: not surprisingly, I realized I potentially had enough material for a multi-volume book! And extremely surprisingly, one of the regular participants said he'd always found the concept of Trinity easy to understand. Moving on now with the study notes:

Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a

Psalm 8

2 Corinthians 13:11-13

Matthew 28:16-20

Perichoresis of the Trinity
peri – around – choreo – dance

With perichoresis, the early Church described the Trinity as a dynamic and sometimes indistinguishable interpenetration, mutual indwelling, circumincession in unity, union, harmony, agreement, concord, consonance...

The Church [us!] as the Image of the Trinity

How does this Perichoresis relate to our lives in the world in general, our lives with other Christians and as we interact with people of other faiths and of no faith conviction?

Word and Sacrament: the Trinity and the means of grace
  • Written word; preached word; Living Word
  • Baptism
  • Earthy, earthly elements of creation—plain ordinary water; also, anointing with oil: kings, prophets and priests in Israel were anointed and we're baptized into royal, prophetic priesthood.
  • Baptized into the Christ Event in the name of the Trinity—in 325 The Council of Nicaea defined the doctrine of the Trinity; Matthew 28:19 is the only occurrence of the baptismal formula in the Bible, added later than the late 1st century manuscripts; the early church probably baptized in the "Name of the Lord."
  • Eucharist
  • Earthy, earthly common stuff of creation! | Creator
  • Our Lord Jesus Christ...Bread of Life; Cup of Salvation | Redeemer
  • Epiclesis | invoking the Holy Spirit
The Church and the Means of Grace
  • Jesus entrusted his followers – the church – with proclaiming the Gospel in word and action, baptizing and with remembering him by breaking the bread of life and offering the cup of salvation. The Gospel of Jesus Christ also is revealed to the world when we live our daily lives as sacraments mediating between earth and heaven—this is something no one and nothing else in the world can offer! The church as a community and each of us as individuals nurtured and discipled by that community take our cues and clues from the perichoresis of the Trinity and not from the consumer driven programmatic excesses of the world.
  • "The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered." Philipp Melanchthon, Augsburg Confession, from Article 7
  • "Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists." John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 4, chapter 1, section 9.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Pitching Tents!

Easter 6 A

Prayer: from Psalm 66:5-20

God, when we look at the wonders of Your creation and Your faithfulness in the world and in our lives, it takes our breath away! You transformed the raging sea into dry land and travelers crossed the river on foot, making every reason on earth and in the heavens for songs of festival celebration!

You set us on the road to life as You led us through Your refining fires; You pushed us to our limits, road-testing us inside and out; because of Your promises, We knew You were with us even when we didn’t feel Your presence.

God, with all our hearts we bless You; You never turn a deaf ear, but You always hear us and stay with us, loyal in love for us and for all of this world; we pray Your Spirit will fill our lives so we may become loyal in our love for You and all Your beloved creation!

In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Pitching Tents!!!

May the grace, the mercy and the peace of our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer God be with us all!

Seeking God and searching for holiness seem to be basic to our human nature! A couple thousand years ago, Paul of Tarsus, the follower of Jesus we know as a traveling preacher and teacher and as the author of some letters to the early church that made it into the Bible, stood in the town square and told his listeners they no longer needed to look for the Divine Presence they’d been striving to know, because the God of life, the God of all creation already had revealed Himself to the world. As recorded in the New Testament book of the Acts of the Apostles, here is part of Paul’s discourse in the plaza:
Acts 17:22-29

22 So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. “It is plain to me you Athenians take your religion seriously. 23 When I arrived here the other day, the shrines I came across fascinated me. And then I found one inscribed, TO THE GOD NOBODY KNOWS. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you’re dealing with.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it, this Lord of sky and land, doesn’t live in custom-made shrines 25 or need humans to run errands for him, as if he couldn’t take care of himself. This God still gives life and breath to all creation. 26 Starting from scratch, he made all the people and made a hospitable earth for them, marking the seasons and bounding the spaces for living, 27 so we could seek after God, and actually find him. God is not remote but near! 28 We live and move in him, can’t get away from him! One of your poets said it well: ‘We are God’s offspring, created by God.’ 29 Well, if we are the God-created, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to think we could hire someone to chisel a god out of stone for us, does it?”
Humans naturally seek to know God; in our quests for Divinity, we humans also tend to imagine a distant God, far away from earth and far outside of everyday human experience. But as Paul explained to his audience, we do not need to try to find God, because God already has come to us and found us first! Throughout the ages, the church has proclaimed God coming into this world and revealing Himself most definitively in Jesus of Nazareth. In the human Jesus, we meet a God not far away from earth and way outside of familiar experience, but we meet a God Who lived on this earth as one of us and even died a human death. In Jesus Christ’s birth and life, in Jesus’ death on the cross and God’s raising him to new life on Easter Dawn, God not only has sought us out but has done everything necessary for us to live forever reunited with Him, our Creator.

Although Christians affirm Jesus of Nazareth is the most accurate representation of God ever found anywhere, God always has desired for creation to receive a truthful picture of Himself.

Throughout the earlier witness of the Bible, God partially revealed himself in ways humans could see, touch, hear and feel—sometimes apparent in a cloud, or in the midst of fire, in dreams or in audible speech. Although none of these images completely revealed God’s nature, they did give people an idea of a God close to creation rather than far-away and distant. Many of you probably know the biblical narrative of the people’s journey through the desert of the Exodus, as they left oppressive slavery in Egypt and then spent a very long time getting to the Land of Freedom God promised to them. During those years, just as always, God’s passion was to be with the people of His creation.

The wilderness desert is not a place we typically find solidly-built houses or permanent habitations, but in that kind of setting tents are very functional: the type of light-weight shelter a person can fold up, pick up and carry along with them to the next place works best. That’s exactly the kind of arrangement the people who left Egypt had, and there in the desert, God shared their nomadic, wandering lifestyle, going before them and sojourning alongside them, frequently giving them visible, tangible or audible evidence of His Divine Presence with them—evidence such as fire, a cloud, bread from heaven or water from a rock. The Hebrew texts talk about God making Shekinah with the people, and that word, “Shekinah,” comes from a root meaning dwelling, so with the people and actually within the people, God found a home!

As recorded in the Old Covenant scriptures in the book of 2 Samuel 7, through Nathan the prophet, God counseled King David:
5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? 6 I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling.’”
In the passage we read earlier, Paul told the Areopagites we no longer need to seek God, but God seeks us out and actively reveals himself to us. uite a few years later than the Exodus, God was born into human history in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, as someone people could relate to as they talked, ate, socialized, walked, prayed and worshiped together. To describe God’s fluid, responsive and continually changing presence among the people in His incarnation, God’s enfleshment in Jesus Christ, the gospel writers tell us God “pitches a tent” among the people, in order to be with and to move alongside the people wherever they go!

After the resurrection, when Jesus was preparing to leave this earth, he gave some essential instructions to his followers; John the gospel-writer recorded Jesus’ words:
John 14:15-21

15 “If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. 16 I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another encourager so you will always have someone with you. 17 This counselor and advocate is the Holy Spirit of Truth. The rest of the world can’t take him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and even will be in you!

18 “I will not leave you desolate and abandoned; I will return to you. 19 In just a little while the world no longer will see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive in me. 20 At that moment you will know I am in my Father-God, and you’re in me, and I’m in you.

21 “The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that’s who loves me. And God my Father will love the person who loves me, and I will love him and make myself plain to him.”
In this portion of John’s gospel, the word Jesus uses for love is agape; agape-love is the kind of love with which God loves us!! Agape is God’s all-embracing, unconditional love, and Jesus says we can love with God’s love when we follow his words and the example of his life. To make this kind of love and living a reality, Jesus promises to send a Holy Presence—an advocate, counselor and encourager; Jesus promises the companionship of the Holy Spirit of God living with us. Jesus assures us when we love with God’s impartial love—always acting in the best interest of others—the Holy Spirit of God and Christ Jesus will be alive in the world.

Throughout all of history, God has been with creation, constantly pitching a tent and making a dwelling-place within the people, showing the world evidence of His embracing presence. God has created each of us and the community of the church in a multifaceted image of the Divine, and one of these in-God-created images is for us to live as the presence of God in the world now, in this year 2005, as we trust the Holy Spirit of God within our community and in each of our lives enough to be people who “pitch their tents” for a time and then move on to the next situation of need, exactly like God did during the Exodus and the way Jesus of Nazareth did during the years he lived on this earth.

God wants us to be tent-making, tent-toting, tent-pitching people, day in and day out, and Jesus promises to those of us who live with God’s agape love the Holy Spirit making a home with us and living within us so we can be the embracing presence and visible evidence of God’s still making tent-pitching Shekinah at home with the world and in the world; God has come to dwell with us to make us people of God; now let us go out into the world to be God’s presence in the world; let us pitch our tents wherever the world has need!

To God alone be Glory!