Friday, November 3, 2017

Remembering the Lord

I will remember the works of the Lord.  -- Psalm 77.11

Would it qualify as remembering if I look forward in time realizing that God is, and has been, already there even when God is also in this now of mine?  I do remember what God has done and is doing.  From scattering the infinity of star dust across the skies before Abraham to the tap-tap-tap of Martin Luther's hammer on the door of Wittenburg.  From  weeping for the Syrian refugee to leading with a strong hand the advocate for the helpless.  When I pass through a cemetery, pausing to catch a name on the memorial marker, I remember the Spirit's presence that actively was part of that person's life, and is still carrying that person forward.

The now is a fleeting bridge of past and future, and is illustrated by the cross.  The cross stands as a constant now -- the forces of death on the horizontal earthly plane with the vertical other-worldly plane reaching into the widening expanse of the universe.  Even the gesture of crossing myself, ending with my hand over my heart, I remember that I am at that junction point between the past and the future.

Our heart's now-time, as long as it beats time, is the reminder of the Lord's works.  How do we we bridge the past and future but by our testimonies of God's past faithfulness in our lives and in the acts we will perform to create, and even alter the the coming Realm of God?  Within our beating heart, the Realm of God gestates. Each act we do in remembrance of God's grace and our belonging, we grow the Realm's incarnation around us.  

Can we glimpse forward and remember what God is in the future to do?  To lure us in that prevenient way grace has of bringing us toward the eternity to which we strive  - an eternity surer, more stable, hope-filled, and true.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Greatest Commandment

And one of the Pharisees, a lawyer, asked Jesus a question to test him, "What is the greatest commandment?"  --Matthew 22:35

The writer of Matthew has chosen to use this section of his gospel encompassing chapter 22, to provide Jesus-teachings on the hot religious topics circulating in their day.  Matthew utilizes the literary method of test and response to accomplish two basic tasks: to establish Jesus' authority and identity as arbiter of disputes, while also subtly portraying the main opposition groups as chronic quibblers of minutiae who don't grasp the full width and depth of the Jesus agenda.

What is the greatest commandment?  Judaism had accreted rulings, opinions, and laws from the time of the Ten Commandments such that there were over 500 commandments at a Jewish lawyer's disposal.  These could be used either for accusing or defending persons who might have run afoul of the religious powers. Perhaps, only in a lawyer's mind could the question of which was the greatest commandment keep him awake pondering at night.  His obsession with legal details could easily blind him to the simpler more obvious answer.

Jesus shows no hesitation in answering. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.  The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself."  The first part was a central piece of the Shema, one of two prescribed Jewish daily prayers that they were to say frequently as they went about their day.  The love your neighbor half is more rooted in Jesus' own desired life purpose for humanity, which he may have pulled from Leviticus 19:18.

So, let's flip to today.  Let's hear the lawyer's question directed at us moderns.  What would we say is our greatest commandment today?  We are probably faced with even more choices than Jesus.  The law books of our land fill entire libraries, and thousands of courts are operating full-speed to adjudicate these laws daily.  So, pick the most important.  Putting our laws against Jesus' answer, it is difficult to argue for a better one, but how readily do we live out Jesus' answer?  Do we even know how?

Loving God with our whole being is a challenge in a cultural context that injects so many daily distractions and idols: materialism, consumerism, success, fame, fortune, self-fulfillment, family, sports, politics...  The list is endless. 

Perhaps one place that most poignantly provides an evaluative glimpse into our loves is our priority in how we spend our disposable income.  How easily does some new shiny "need" drain away our incomes?  Does that susceptibility to impulse spending reflect love of God?  Ouch.  That is probably not where we want to go, but it is still a legitimate reflection.  Our finances reflect the most glaringly on our life priorities.  So, where does God fit in our financial picture?  How might altering our financial budget to integrate with our love of God/neighbor also alter our whole personal ethos and rule of life? 

Something to think about. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Resist Not Evil

But I say unto you do not resist evil.  But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. -- Matthew 5:39

If we were to take a vote among Christians today on whether we should resist evil, the vast majority would undoubtedly vote in favor of doing all in their power to resist evil and write this verse off as the ramblings of an out-of-touch peacenik.  (Though they would likely not admit out loud to the latter part of that)  Add to it Matthew 5:45 of loving your enemies and I suspect the majority of American Christians privately roll their eyes and think, "What a fruit loop.  Easy for him to say, but he didn't live with ISIS and terrorists."  No, Jesus lived under Roman rule, where crucifixions were handed out with impunity and innocents were thrown into the arena.  Most historians would also characterize most Roman Emperors as a pretty bad, inhumane, and even evil lot.

As I've watched the current American political agenda take a hard right turn and veer sharply into the realm of breaking up families, removing healthcare, deporting immigrants, refusing refugees, planning nuclear war, and castigating the free press and all who dissent, I found myself pondering this "do not resist evil" verse. What should the Christian's view be of evil? Few of us could argue, at minimum, that terrorism is evil.  The primordial blood lust inclination of the lizard brain linked with loyal tribalism has us all hooked into accepting the doctrine of "might makes right."  National policy, supported by the majority, seems to be dictating that violence be met with greater violence.  What does turning the other cheek mean when the unthinkable possibility of nuclear first strike has been publicly put on the table as a way of coping with "evil?"

To not resist evil flies counter to what our government is pressing.  I suspect that for those Christians who actually wrestle with making their faith congruous with their lives, many might go to that brain place of disconnecting their conscience from their government's actions - the internal version of separating church and state -- and turn off the news.  Jesus, might have more to say on that strategy.

Perhaps what Jesus could see about the nature of evil is that the more it is resisted, the stronger evil becomes.  It is the nature of evil that the more one engages with it, the more likely you are to get sucked into doing to the other likewise.  For instance, can anyone really make the claim that responding to the evil of the 9/11 attacks by going to war, which has caused an untold number of innocent civilian casualties, is a different act?

To break through the evil fallout, one has to be willing to put down the primordial urge for revenge and listen to the pent up grievances that have caused evil to take hold of hearts that can't take the injustice, hurt, and loss any more.  I think Jesus argues pretty explicitly that the response to evil should be compassion and love.  Just hypothetically, what if our governmental perspective were to shift in the opposite direction?  What if, instead of maintaining a budget of billions of dollars aimed at making enemies pay a heavy life toll, we were putting that into food production, medicine, education, and diplomacy to aid overthrows of repressive dictatorships?  In judo, the most effective defensive move is to flow with the force the opponent is using against you.  Perhaps that is the understanding Jesus had of opposing evil?

There is no political party in the United States that embraces a "Jesus ethic"  The Christian Church has largely been absorbed into a silence of despair and/or encouraged by the majority evil to hold the same small spirited, violent, self-protective, and unimaginative approaches we've been pursuing.  The result has been declining memberships and irrelevancy of the Church in most people's minds, and even overt hostility toward our hypocrisy.  The greatest reformation that the Church might undergo would be a coming together to actually advocate en masse for instilling a true Love ethic into secular government like it has never been done at any time in Church history? 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


"I will remember the works of the Lord." -- Psalms 77:11

Is it still "remembering" if we look forward in time, realizing that God is already there working in this now of ours?  I remember the works that God is doing and has done. For instance, among the memorial markers in a cemetery, I remember the Spirit of the Lord is present with the one each marker represents.

The Now is a fleeting bridge between past and future.  The cross is one of the Lord's works that stands at the intercept point.  Within each present moment, the redeeming work of Christ continues - resetting the past, opening the future.  Even the gesture of crossing oneself ends over the heart, the body's consistent beating - keeping our own personal Now-time.  Our now-time, as long as our hearts beat time, is the reminder of the Lord's works.  How do we bridge the past and future but by our testimonies of God's past faithfulness in the world and the acts we will perform to create, and even alter, the developing Realm of God?  Within our beating heart the Realm of God gestates; each act we do in remembrance of God's leading grace we expand the Realm's incarnation in our midst.

If we keep faith with the beating of our hearts, listening closely, we can hear, see, or sense how we move forward in time.  Let us then remember what God is doing there in that place of destiny toward where we can strive to be-- stronger, surer, more stable, hope-filled, and true.  Let us remember the works of the Lord.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Church Directions

"The church by its very nature is composed of tent dwellers." -- Paul Minear

Is your church "too rooted?" Churches that have been in the same community for decades have a way of becoming so staid and predictable that it's hard for them to break out of having always done the same thing forever.  Frequently, these "rooted" churches tend to be mainline denominations.  They are the tried and true, steady as she goes, traditional places of worship.  Some people, people who are nervous about change, tend to do well in these places of worship. They don't like their boats rocked, and like always knowing what to expect.  We don't have much of a concept any more about frontiers. Yet, according to the Biblical witness, people of faith are called to the frontiers.

The old frontier used to be a wild place for people to migrate to when they started feeling too hemmed in by city life.  When a place started getting too closed in, people would sort through and throw their most valuable possessions in a wagon, sign up with a wagon train, and head west.  All kinds of adventures could beset them from extremes in weather, illness, injury, wild animals, to happening upon the territorial defenses of First Nation peoples.  They had to depend on one another and then, when they arrived at their chosen destination, they often homesteaded on a 5-acre parcel of land. Rugged independent survivalists is what they could be called, where every day held the potential need for an urgent response to a new problem.

Abraham and Sarah are Biblical people who set out from their safe home in Haran to an unknown place they had never seen nor heard of before.  There were numerous others who took up wandering away from their homes.  The 11th chapter of Hebrews is full of brief remembrances of those who left security for the unknown.  Each new remembrance begins with the phrase, "By faith...."

By faith where are you headed each day? By faith where is your church heading?  It does not really take any faith at all to stay put and keep doing the predictable.  Most mainline denominations are struggling with declining membership and recognition in their communities.  Volumes have been written analyzing why this decline is happening.  Many churches are shuttering their doors, unable to remain viable.  One common denominator though may be they're akin to those hemmed in city places that sent many people packing to populate the Wild West.  There's no sense of adventure, excitement, or urgency to respond to change, and let's face it -- it's boring.

Change is happening all around us.  In order to move with it and to make faithful responses to it churches need to keep an attitude of being tent dwellers.  All the Biblical people that the church reveres were nomadic.  Jesus "had no place to lay his head." (Matt. 8:20) Churches on the move are those welcoming the stranger and exile - be that in a literal sense, or in a more figurative or spiritual sense.  We don't attract the vulnerable needs of the world by appearing like we're all put together and perfect city snobs. 

So, by faith let us look at ourselves with the discerning eyes of outsiders.  By faith let us feel the urgency of leading the way to a promised hope-filled future.  By faith let us all be in conversation with how to undertake the mission of Jesus Christ anew, the mission of gathering, healing, growing, loving, and transforming the lives of all.