Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Love Feast

I have attended Love Feast at several congregations and although you might think ‘it’ can only be done one way, there are several aspects to a Love Feast that make it unique to a congregation.

Love Feast begins with a time of reflection. This time evolved from the days of the “Annual Visit” when a small group of deacons would visit every family in the congregation and ask three questions: “Are you still in the faith of the gospel, as you declared in your baptism?” “Are you, as far as you know, in peace and union with the church?” and, “Will you still labor with the brethren for an increase of holiness, both in yourself and others?" (Carl Bowman, Brethren Society) If the response was negative, or there were complaints or discord, the concern or dispute had to be settled before the ‘body’ could commune together so Love Feast might be postponed. In later years this practice was discontinued as the Church of the Brethren became less sectarian. I once asked a member if they remembered when the last Deacon Visit had occurred in that congregation. The less that cordial response I received informed me that there were unpleasant memories associated with the old practice. Today, the time of reflection is more personal and contains a form of confession and absolution that fit the broader Christian Church. It is still a valuable time for us to restore our relationship to God and to each other by first reflecting on our “faith, peace, and union.”

Reflection time is followed by “feet-washing” where separate circles of men and women wash each other’s feet. Hand washing is available for those who find kneeling difficult or who prefer to wash hands. A few favorite choruses make this time a renewal of relationship and a reminder of the faith we practice. The Fellowship Meal is shared with conversation and the feeling of community gathered around the table in similar fashion to the last supper. As Jesus did, we then take the bread and cup and share in the ritual he instituted the night prior to his arrest.

The final aspect of Love Feast is clean-up. Yes, it is part of Love Feast for the community, having been restored and renewed, joins together in a simple task of putting away the food, washing plates, and returning chairs and tables to their places.

Just typing these words gives me a sense of joy that comes with this beloved ritual. When we leave our challenge is to enact Jesus' way in all aspects of our lives.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Grace applies to blog writing too so this one is post-sermon. This way I get to reflect on how the message was received. I preached on John 12:20-33 and used Gail O'Day's work in New Interpreter's Bible and some things from Feasting on the Word which referenced Walter Wink's work on non-violent atonement. Four theologies of atonement and I still finished by 12 noon! I even impressed me.

It was interesting to hear someone say they didn't realize there was more than one way to view the cross/atonement. I too felt the same way, freed in many ways, when I first learned it. I have not yet spoken to other theologians in the congregation so we shall see what they thought. But its hard to argue that John's gospel does not include ransom or substitution as a theology of Jesus 'work'. It is all about reconciling God's people to God through Jesus' exaltation which happens in his death and resurrection. Not that John is all that easy to understand.

It is good to question and challenge and think about what we believe, especially what we believe about the cross. It's sad to let our hymns dictate what we believe because most hymn theology is awful. And I love challenging the theories of atonement that require violence to appease a blood-thirsty God. Denny Weaver does a great job of looking at the cross differently (Anabaptist-style) in Non-Violent Atonement. I think I need to read it again. It will be good to see if others mention the sermon as I see them this week.

Ah well, another Sunday and another blessing received because anytime God's people gather for worship it is a blessing. amen

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Greater Grace Gets Going

When I was in high school I brought home a "boy friend" for dinner. My father, a pastor, planned to say the grace before the meal. We bowed our heads and I'm pretty sure my friend was steeling himself for the long haul. Instead Dad prayed, "Rubba dub dub, thanks for the grub. amen"

That's not the kind of grace that is the subject of the lectionary texts this week. Grace is always God's prerogative and grace is always God's nature. "Grace is your sign, gift of forgiveness, chalice that changes water to wine." from God In Your Grace sung at the WCC ninth General Assembly in Brazil a couple years ago. Pseudo-Paul writes a slightly modified summary of Pauline theology in Ephesians chapter 2, but it is beautiful if slightly modified from Romans.
"But God was merciful! We were dead because of our sins, but God loved us so much that God made us alive with Christ, and God's wonderful kindness is what saves you. God raised us from death to life with Christ Jesus, and God has given us a place beside Christ in heaven. God did this so that in the future world God could show how truly good and kind God is to us because of what Christ Jesus has done. You were saved by faith in God, who treats us much better than we deserve. This is God's gift to you, and not anything you have done on your own. It isn't something you have earned, so there is nothing you can brag about. " CEV
Or as my Lutheran classmates are born saying, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God." NRSV

So what of the works that we Brethren like to immerse ourselves in? We are saved BY grace FOR works. Yup, so simple.

But not so simple to live. peripatao is a favorite sounding Greek verb meaning to walk around; or to live. "Walk This Way" would've been a great Brethren slogan if Aerosmith hadn't taken it for the song.

Easy to say,
fun to sing,
hard to do.

The powers that Pauls speaks of (as so does the pseudo-pauline author of Ephesians) are real and we begin a faithful following or "walk" by admitting so. (Adam Eckhart, Feasting On The Word) We practice our faithfulness by naming the specific powers that influence our unique communities of faith. Consumerism is high on the list of late and it seems the "Powers" believe that more consumerism will free us from where consumerism has landed us. We are to 'spend our way out' of the recession. whoopeee!

We might also share some honest stories of how susceptible we are to the powers that so prevail around us. Let's meet in the weeks ahead and tell the stories of how this recession has hurt and even where we've contributed to the downfall ourselves.

Then we might find in our weakness that God has a way of using us, uniting us and helping us stand TOGETHER against the 'Powers That Be'. When we do so, with God's help and God's grace, we'll be walking the talk, peripatao, walking and living Jesus' way.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Psalm 19 challenges me to hear the word LAW in the larger context and definition of Torah or teaching. Teaching comes both from words and from living and I often choose one over the other. In this week's sermon I'll consider ways to read God's Torah using the outline of a "Goof-Proof Skits" on the Family of the Simpletons. (who sound a lot like the Simpsons)
Homer wants to 'devour' the Bible without considering what a treasure it really is.
Lisa receives it intellectually without engaging the teaching with faith.
Bart wants to use the Bible as a weapon to harm others.
Marge is confused and has no community of faith to lead her to belief.
Maggie, the little baby tries to read, but just hasn't grown up yet.

Instead we are to immerse ourselves in God's teaching and experience it as sweet. We are to 'get drunk' on God's law and return again and again to the stories that comfort and challenge, that cause us to laugh, cry and be shocked. We are to drink our fill of the sweetness that tells us how to live. Only then can we grow in faith and be strong in our living so we can affirm God's presence in the world.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

ccbloggers 'speak'

In a joint effort initiated by Christian Century Blog editor, Gordon Atkinson, 30 ccbloggers wrote about Lent. All the links are to the side of this blog. I encourage you to visit and enjoy the talent of these bloggers and comment on your reading.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Lenten Refuge

It sounds strange to say there is comfort in Lent and its rituals but in this time of discontinuity I find comfort in some church traditions. The daily devotional, the color purple, litanies of confession and assurance of pardon and a weekly chorus that reminds of God's presence. Yet many of these are rituals available to us all year long so why the feeling of having returned to a comfortable place? I'm not really sure. Perhaps it is tied to the longer days of sunlight (even tho the dreaded daylight savings is coming far too early THIS weekend!) Or waking up to birdsong and seeing the crocuses pop up through the moist dirt. Maybe it all comes together in this season of Lent to give comfort in the familiar in the midst of crisis all around.

I listen to the radio more now that I drive in traffic for an hour to get into the church and every day there are more reports of closings, lay-offs, bankruptcy, and the market falling, falling. It is unfamiliar territory to most of us, but when I talk to some of our older members, they remember. Just this week I spoke to someone who graduated in the years of depression before World War I. She encouraged schooling for those who can do it with the words,
"No one can take education away from you. Your savings, retirement, all may go, but a degree and the knowledge you gain..well, they can't take that away."
Yet I look and see a full and good life and know she made it through. Maybe I am taking comfort in Lent because it is a time we go through every year. With added ritual and sacrificial practices we are to turn away from self and look at the bigger picture. For Christians, and descendants of Abraham, the bigger picture is God at work in the world. And our God has covenanted to be with us and in fact is IN us and is here everywhere we turn.

I guess the comfort in following Jesus' journey during Lent, knowing his crisis is the story of Lent, brings comfort and reassures me that we too will live through this time and even through death into a time of renewal and resurrection.
Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who trust in him! Psalm 34:8