Saturday, January 31, 2009

Teachers and Preachers

Well the sermon is done on ! Corinthians 8 and I've been to this text before, it's a good one. As soon as we finish at the local idol meat butcher shop, we can go off to hear Jesus teach, "with authority". Who wouldn't be excited to hear Jesus teach and the interruption by a sick and possessed person is most unfortunate. Thank goodness Jesus heals him so quickly so we can return to listening and learning. After all what is more important that learning from the best there is!!
It's an individual's world we live in. "It's all about me" has been our motto since Reagan was in office and long before. It's not an easy thing to change. We rely on ourselves and value self-sufficiency. How can we change? How can we listen to Paul or Jesus and really hope to put other people before ourselves? How?
We're promised that we don't do it alone. Just as Jesus had the power to exorcise the demon, so too he can get rid of the demon of individualism so that we can live in community and care for community. This is good news.
And when we get too idealistic we can look closer and realize we have the responsibility to work with God for our transformation until we can leave the self-priority behind and limit our own freedoms for the sake of our sisters and brothers.
whew, i think I have a way to go.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Contemplating Discernment

Several texts this week focus on call, Jonah 3 and Mark 1:14-20 yet there is a deeper theme emerging as I look at Psalm 62 and the words,
For God alone my soul in silence waits.
That sentence is worth exploring. I remember sitting in silence with my first spiritual director after reading these verses, just sitting and listening. As a seminarian early in my studies I wondered about this experience of spiritual direction. I wondered what I would hear and for what I was listening. It took several weeks of exploration to learn to sit silently and center myself for the conversation. I took even longer to learn that it didn't matter what I shared or thought was important. My director was able to ask a key question no matter what was my topic. Where did you experience God in this?

The ability to discern God's presence, God's "will" and God's call takes time and silence. The skill called for is simply listening. The practices of journaling and prayer with scripture can help but there is no substitute for time spent with God. It is funny to be working on a sermon full of words to convey the importance of silence. I guess that's what preachers do at times, use our words to talk about that which is far beyond words.

We all need the ability to discern God, to see where God is moving in our midst and to hear where God would have us work. In this time of change with so many places of need, we can each find a spot to work, and a place where we can be used. When we discern this place we are freed from being overwhelmed by the need of the world because we have our place of call, one spot to pour in our talent and gifts to help God bring about change.

It all begins with discernment, that quiet time of listening.

"Trust in God at all times, O people; pour out your heart before God" (v. 8) then "Be silent and wait for alone for God." (v.5)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

After The Fact

What do you do with a week that is too full to post on your blog? You write on Sunday evening after the day is done. I couldn't leave the political commentary of 1 Samuel 3 alone. I found myself quoting a commentator on Eli's 'administration' and it could have been written anytime in the last year.
It is time for the “overthrow of the old order. . . an overthrow evoked because of the failure of [leadership] which has been greedy and disobedient.” “this failed order has exhausted its authority and credibility”
It was a good combo with the John text of "come and see" as thousands are pouring into DC to do just that. They are coming to see the inauguration of Barak Obama. God calls us to come and see and then equips us to go and do. I wondered with the congregation, what God might be calling us to do. We are challenged not to ignore the injustice around us, and not to be passive like Eli was when we see wrong. We are to participate in the needed change and seek to know where God would have us work and walk and do.

Change is coming, on Tuesday. Where will we be?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Mark 1, the penetrating spirit

Our baptism is a special day. It’s one we prepare for with classes in order that we will know what we are getting ourselves into.
I remember when someone unfamiliar with COB asked “I don’t have to sign over my 401K, do I? We do make commitment in baptism and we receive something also. How that works, the giving and receiving of promises- is a great theological topic.
It begins with water, do you remember the water of your baptism? Was it in a nice warm (mostly warm) baptistery, or a cold river?
I’ve always wondered about the 1st Brethren baptisms, Dec. 25 , 1723
They say no one has ever gotten sick by being “dunked” in a cold river during a winter baptism. I’m sure December would not be my choice for an outside baptism.

Mark's story of Jesus' baptism is remarkable, not because of the water but because of the Spirit. God’s Spirit is a vital part of our ability to follow Christ. It enables us to hear and discern a call. It enables us to enter a particular type of service and feel certain that we are following God’s guidance. The Holy Spirit is key to the service of baptism.

BAPTISM marks a new start, a fresh beginning. And a new direction. This was true even for Jesus. although theologians debate why the ‘one w/o sin’ came to be baptized, it marked a turning and the beginning for his ministry.
We choose to be baptized when we recognize our need for covenant with the author of life and when we choose to follow Jesus’ Way.

Brethren believe:
1. Baptism is a response to God’s saving act thru Jesus, the Christ (God is the actor, we the responder. We act in free will, by choice, deciding to follow Christ.)
2. Baptism is an act of obedience to the teachings and example of Jesus. (In discipleship class I ask youth, “Why do we baptize the way we do--by immersion?” The answer is, “Because Jesus did.”)
3. Baptism is a symbol of cleansing and new life. It is an outward and visible sign of an inner experience of new birth.
4. Baptism is a public witness of the covenant relationship with God. (Baptisms are usually done in a public service and certainly with witnesses. While the inward experience is private, this outward expression has to be public.)
5. Baptism is an initiation rite into the church; the body of Christ. It is the moment of entering a congregation and assuming responsible membership.
6. Baptism is an ORDINATION into ministry. “All people, as they join the church thru baptism, are called to minister thru their life and work to their neighbors in the world.”
7. Baptism is a beginning.
a. It is understood not as something completed but as the start of the Christian’s pilgrimage of faith.

At baptism we take vows,
1. Affirming that We “believe in Jesus Christ as the revealer of God’s love and purpose for the world?”
2. Second vow – Will you turn away from all sin/brokenness and promise to live -according to the example and teachings of Jesus; taking the NT as your rule for living?
3. Third – Will you be loyal to the church, upholding it by your prayers, your presence, your substance and your service?

Then the waters symbolically wash us clean as we are baptized in the TRIUNE name, and we rise as a new creation, in and thru Christ. Then comes the laying on of hands and invoking the Holy Spirit. We know and trust that God’s spirit comes to us –it is the heart of our new beginning.

Perhaps you have experienced God’s spirit as a soft, descending dove – it is a favorite way we interpret Mark’s phrase
“he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.”

Yet, God’s spirit also comes as a burning flame, purifying, igniting with passion, stirring waters and usually stirring up trouble. This spirit doesn’t seem so gentle. (Someone said, when you think of God’s spirit as a dove, think of a dive-bombing bird aiming at a predator trying to protect her young. Or if you’ve seen Alfred Hitchcock’s classic movie, THE BIRDS, you might have a different picture of the Spirit as bird.)

Looking back at today’s scripture in Mark, how do you think Jesus experience God’s spirit?
This visible spirit drove him into the wilderness for a 40 day encounter with fasting and devilish temptation. And yet it was this spirit that gave Jesus the POWER TO withstand the trial of the desert and the trial of the next three years. How?
‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

This not-so-gentle spirit, this igniting and piercing/penetrating, all-powerful spirit states with a voice that breaks into our humanity, “You are my beloved”.

What could you do if you heard these words? You are my beloved? How many people that you know, feel beloved? “Our culture is competitive and judgmental. We never feel good enough. And yet our baptism is the sign that we are good enough thru Christ.” (Sarah Beck)
The words of affirmation cause us to look at the spirit differently, no longer are we likely to imagine the soft white feathers of a dove, but a strong presence of acceptance. This spirit presence is an intrusive power FOR life that only God commands.

We hear God command the spirit in the scriptures. --- -God commands that there be light and there is new birth and life for creation.
-God’s voice echoes over the waters and new life comes after a flood, and the same peace comes after our personal devastation, when we hear God’s spirit in reassurance.
-Christ speaks the words, “Your sins are forgiven.” And lives are changed forever.
- God’s spirit gives voice to God’s blessing when Jesus is baptized and thru his life of giving, we are blessed.

Our baptism makes it possible for us to hear God’s spirit say, “You are my Beloved”

In our response to God’s loving act, our ears are open to hear God bless us.
Our eyes can see the places God intends for us to work now that we have been granted the power of God’s Spirit.

YOU ARE God’s beloved and we must hear God say it, or we will continue to fall back with hesitation and we can’t act with conviction until we realize we have already been accepted…
YOU are accepted. If you are baptized, you have already acted in response to God’s acceptance. If you are not, the invitation is always open because God love us and desires that we embrace the Holy Spirit and know that we are God’s beloved.

We are all accepted, we are touched by God spirit. We are pierced and filled and empowered FOR something and it takes being reminded that we are God's beloved so we can have the strength to share it with others.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Light Dawns; John 1

Happy New Year! A bright and sunny one where I'm at, cold but not as frigid as some parts of the country. Isn't it amazing how much easier it is to stand the cold when the sun is out. Perhaps it is a good metaphor for life. When you live in the light, you can withstand all the darkness that comes with sadness and tragedy.

John 1 lets us glimpse the beginning of life; whether of creation or of our own enlightenment. We begin with awareness (says Wm. Arnold in Feasting on the Word) of that which comes from beyond us. Once we are aware it can enter and offer us life. Like the dawn that begins with only the slightest awareness that there is something out there in the dark, we too begin by moving our center outside ourselves and realizing there is MORE.

The rising of the light begins with a hint of pink which often spills into a golden ruby hew. It's like a jewel rising from the ground some mornings and the Light of the World comes with the same richness into our lives, offering more than we could 'ask or imagine' (Eph. 3).

Then the light comes. It floods the earth with color and allows all the richness already present, to be seen. Trees comes alive in any season and the colors, even of winter, become visible as we become attuned to life around us. Christ's light invites us to enter the world fully, taking in all seasons of life with confidence that his light is enough to guide our path.

Then, if you look away from the sunrise you can often see a reflection of gold and pink in the opposite sky as if the earth was answering the gift of sunrise with a mirror of color. It shows up in the sky that will later hold the sunset, a promise that even when the dark returns, the light will be present in God's creation to carry us through.

We carry Christ's light in us and offer the gift of enlightenment to the world. Not in the gnostic sense of pure knowledge, but in the heart and soul sense that when we take in the light, it shines through us and offers life to the world. Ah, the sunrise, on this first day of the year is a beautiful moment of promise for everyone.