Saturday, March 18, 2006

Remembering and Belonging

It must be Lent! A few days ago this year's edition of the Church Prayer Rug (exactly the same as last year's and the year before last's) arrived in the snail mail. My remarks during Lent 2005 still stand but I need to say more. For the past week I've been reading Walter Brueggemann's Texts That Linger, Words That Explode: Listening to Prophetic Voices. I've read enough of what he's written to consider myself both moderately Brueggemann-ized and close to Brueggemann-ian, but in this blog, which includes permutations of my own ideas influenced by and/or combined with WB's, I won't refer to any particular books, passages or chapters, since it'd be difficult to separate out one of his books from another and almost impossible to differentiate my ideas from his.


The scandal of baptism! I've blogged so very much about the sacraments, though possibly(?) more about baptism than about the Eucharist, and as months and years hasten by, I've arrived at an increasingly sacramental worldview, but still I'll go on record with the protestant "two only" formally liturgical aka dominical sacraments. Baptized, we no longer belong to ourselves or to a simply nuclear biological family of origin, but rather God and the church claim us in covenant...baptized, we live reborn into the water of Jesus' birth and we are alive in the fire of his death—the transforming, rebirthing power of the cross. Baptized, we no longer live under the reign of death, its idols and its artifacts, but we thrive in, with and under the sovereignty of Life. Baptized, we live together as an alternative community countering the individualisms of covetousness, greed, commoditization, consumption, superfluity, satiation, and (ultimately) despair. How do you like my Pauline list?! :) ;) Living baptized, we need to remember the story of God's people, our story, and our mutually covenanted identity, leading us to the joyful responsibility of...


Remember, remember: tell the story, relate the history, recount the narrative. WB points out that proclaiming and teaching Heilsgeschichte memories is not mainly for the outsiders but primarily for us insiders, who easily, quickly and guiltlessly forget the liberating desert experiences that forged and continues shaping our identity, which, after all, is living in the freedom and responsibility of covenantal community, gathered in the shadow of the cross around Word and Sacrament. He also suggests that most likely during the deuteronomic period of Assyrian dominance Israel first began celebrating the Passover liturgy with its sacramental reenactment of deliverance from Egypt...and he mentions Deuteronomy's intensely covenantal theology. These days the powers-that-be also are violently (and sometimes deviously) brutalizing ones that we cannot avoid coming in contact with. How, then, will we respond? Will we remember who we are?


Brueggemann always is huge on obedience! In at least one of his books I've read, he describes the Church as the assembly that observes the Commandments, the Sabbath and the Tithe. Again I'll mention his reminding us Luther begins his Small Catechism, traditional preparation for First Communion, with the Ten Commandments—Sinai Covenant, specifically. After all, says WB, it is the God of the Commandments with whom we commune! And he observes that Holy Communion is "pre-Eucharist," though our receiving Communion is but one facet of the Eucharistic liturgy...

Sabbath: not only an aspect of our in-God-created-ness, but Sabbath-keeping reminds us we are human beings and not human doings.

The Tithe: who owns us? To what Lord do we answer? Of whose property and assets are we stewards? It's about caring for the gifts we have, about sharing and using them in service to others—Church Prayer Rug and its ethos notwithstanding, the way of the prophets and the way of Jesus of Nazareth is not exactly about petitioning heaven and getting a windfall in investment capital, real estate or social position! Yahweh of Shalom sufficiency is the God of Jubilee Justice, Lord of commonwealth, not a deity of superfluous particular wealth. Jesus' God is the One who gifts with extravagant mercy and boundless love and whose Spirit draws us together in Pentecostal fire. Now really, does that sound like the tawdry emptiness of the Church Prayer Rug god's casino-style payoffs?


Reverting to the here and the now, a phenomenon (an abomination, an anathema such as the Church Prayer Rug) explicates the fact that overall, at this time in history, the church does not have the well-educated laity that was such a Reformation hallmark. Last Saturday evening I participated in another session(!) of Presbyterian Bingo (notice I'm not linking to the church that sponsored it?!)...a friend in attendance, who also is theologically inclined, told me Martin Luther loved games and since we were playing for prizes rather than trying to spring souls from timeless torment, the activity qualified as big "P" Protestant. That's the church where the youth held sidewalk sales during Sundays in Advent a few years ago! Sales on Sundays!?

Cornel West

To paraphrase Cornel West, "We are people of hope. Why do we party on Friday night? Why do we go to church on Sunday?" People of hope! A living hope set on the Living One Whose final Word always is resurrection. Those Friday night parties? Payday in the inner city, sustenance for living beyond subsistence existence once again, but not just for a single solitary person—for everyone! How do we party? With dance, song, talk, by laughing, celebrating together with savory food, the fruit of earth's harvest. Together, because everyone has gotten a slice of the wages, a piece of the common-wealth: an irresistible foretaste of the feast to come. Many of us observe Sundays as our Sabbath and worship day. We worship together, because we hold God's promises in common and, after all, every Sunday is anamnesis of Resurrection, of Easter, realization of the fullness of salvation and also a foretaste of the promised feast to come. This isn't a proprietary "personal Jesus" an individual might imagine they could own—it's the crucified and risen Christ Jesus who is our Lord, who has bought us and owns us, and to whom we owe allegiance, responsiveness and our very lives.

Remembering and belonging? When you remember, you will know you do belong!

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Desert, the Cross and Easter

Screen capture: Desert Sonoran Easter, ground zero
Pascal daybreak: Lepus sits tamed at Orion hunter's feet
evoking the kairos past when
Noah's God hung his weapon bow
high in the sky, surrendering disarmed
Divine capitulation to creation
for earth to claim covenant
Desert dawn's eastered hues quietly course throughout creation
equal desert's constant colors
Friday's cross seemed desolate
but from mortality's tree
on Sunday's morn bursts forth the Tree of Life:
earth all-living breathes again!

© Leah Chang

Check out this related blog from Good Friday, 2005.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Lent 2B Considerations: Abraham and Us

Texts: Genesis 17:1-7; Romans 4:13, 16

Opening and closing prayers are based on Marty Haugen’s Gather Us In.

God of Heaven and Earth,

Here in this place, new light is streaming; now is the darkness vanished away.
See in this place our fears and our dreamings, brought here to you in the light of this day.
Here in this room the new light is shining; now is the Kingdom and now is the day!
Gather us in and hold us forever; gather us in and make us your own
Gather us in, all peoples together—fire of love in our flesh and our bone! Amen!

Genesis 17:1-7

Now when Avram was ninety years and nine years old, Yahweh was seen by Avram and said to him: I am God Almighty, El Shaddai, the real God of the Mountains! Walk in my presence! And be wholehearted! I give my covenant between me and you, I will make you exceedingly, exceedingly many.

Avram fell upon his face. God spoke with him, saying:

As for me, here, my covenant is with you, so that you will become the father of a throng of nations. No longer shall your name be called Avram, rather shall your name be Avraham, for I will make you father of a throng of Nations!

I will cause you to bear fruit exceedingly, exceedingly, I will make nations of you, (yes,) Kings will go out from you! I establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you, throughout all generations, as a covenant for the ages, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.

Translation from The Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Everett Fox (The Schocken Bible, Volume 1)

Abraham and Us

When Abram was 99 years old, God appeared to him and God called Abram by his name. But why did God start a conversation with Abram? The passage we just heard tells us: to make a covenant, a binding agreement, to form an endless, everlasting relationship.

Throughout the witness of the Bible, time and time again, God reaches out and speaks to the people of his creation—God still speaks to us today! Of course, God knows each of our names, too…

Maybe you noticed in this account God is the person who acts first, speaks first, and begins the encounter into relationship? Not only does God call Abram by name; God comes to Abram right where he is, in common, familiar surroundings, in the same way God meets us right where we are, in everyday places—like right here today, for example!

Okay. So God met Abram in Abram’s here-and-now. But what else was happening?
Abram was extremely unhappy with his situation; IOW, he wanted and needed a lot that he didn’t have, and no way whatsoever was Abram – or any human – in a position to make that happen. Besides Abram and his wife having the sorrow as a couple of not having the children they desired, being childless in that era placed them in a position of cultural dis-grace: unenviable, to say the least, exactly the way every one of us finds ourselves in a situation (or sometimes multiples ones all at the same time) no one would desire or choose.

Yes. Abram wanted someone to carry on his family…and his name! But in addressing Abram God not only proposes his side of a covenant; God has a request of Abram, asking him, “Walk in my presence!”

Reading through scripture, we keep meeting God as Maker of covenants with creation, initiator of gracious agreements, partnerships with creation! Later on in the world’s history and in our own lives, we meet Abram’s God – and Jesus Christ’s God – as the One who rolls death backwards into new life! This God, whose final word always is resurrection, tells Abram, “Walk in my presence!!!” Live your days and your nights beside me, simply be in the same place as the God whose Word calls new life our of death.

We could admit Abram – now given a new name, another identity of Abraham – wasn’t yet physically in the grave, but in finite, human terms, his physical existence could evaporate at any moment and he had no human hope of receiving his heart’s desire. What else did God ask Abraham? To be wholehearted! Some versions say, “be blameless.” For his heart, his desire and his will to line up with God’s heart, will and desire–surely impossible in solitary human terms, but since he’d be walking with the Lord of Life, it definitely could and would happen, and by God’s action alone. That’s known as grace!

God promises Abraham not just one or two or a few offspring, but a throng, a noisy assembly of people as his descendants! And that’s where we come into Abram’s/Abraham’s story, the story of the people of God. Children of Abraham! That’s us! Let’s hear what the apostles Paul says about us in chapter 4 of his letter to the church at Rome:

Romans 4

13 God did not give that famous promise of inheriting the world to Abraham and his descendants because of something Abraham did or would do, but because God decided to put everything together for him;; Abraham entered into that covenant when he trusted God. 16 ...the fulfillment of God’s promises, God’s covenant, entirely depends on trusting God and taking what God does into our lives as pure gracious gift.Remember, Abraham, is the father of us all – not our racial father – that’s reading the story backwards! He is our faith father, our ancestor in trust.

Not because of anything Abraham did or would do: not through any rule or law or rule of law, but simply through trusting God’s promise enough to say “Yes” to him and to begin walking and living God’s way.

Fast forward: Abraham to Jesus to Paul to San Diego 2006. We know that in the cross of Jesus Christ, God has made the ultimate, the last covenant of grace with all creation, with each one of us. In Jesus Christ, God draws all of us into his life so we can walk with him in trust. By trusting God in Christ, we not only live as Abraham’s children, but also as sons and daughters of the Living God, who now gives us a new name, Christian!

God charged Abraham, “Walk with me and be blameless.” In Jesus Christ, God sees us as holy, complete, wholehearted and without blame: In God’s world, ultimately death, disappointment, grief, betrayal and loss are rolled backwards into new life, renewed hope and abounding joy.

In Jesus Christ, Abraham’s story becomes our story. God calls each of us by name, invites us into his gracious presence, makes an unbreakable, eternal covenantal agreement between each of us and him and…the exceedingly, exceedingly large assembly of Abraham’s descendants known as the Church of Jesus Christ. God charges each of us to trust his Word of promise enough to walk with him, to live in the way Jesus shows, one step at a time, all the rest of our days. God promises to remain with us and God’s greatest joy is for us, Abraham’s daughters and sons, to be in his presence.

Let’s close in prayer:

God, you always meet us,
Not in some heaven, light years away, but here you shall call your sons and your daughters, call us to you to be light of this day.
Gather us in and hold us forever; gather us in, all peoples together.
Call to us now, and we shall awaken, walking with you at the sound of our name
In the name of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for the life of the world,