Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Vacation Rain

It's raining in Florida today. I held back from the sun on Saturday so I wouldn't burn on our first day and it's starting to look like that was our sun for the week. Actually yesterday was nice, we just played golf in the morning and had a leisurely lunch indoors. I did get out to the beach for a few late afternoon hours. Late afternoon is my favorite time on the beach.

We had a great breakfast thanks to Liliana's wonderful cooking. Now a couple people are fishing and Steve went to swim in the rain. The sun is coming out but it's still raining. So here we sit.

I've looked at the lectionary texts since I'm preaching on Sunday and I've left the outline for the bulletin. Motivation for scripture study in preparation for some sermon writing might be helped by this rain. But then there's the Museum of Arts and Science in Daytona Beach that we are likely going to visit today. It has a large Cuban art display given to them by Batista just prior to his overthrow. I'm looking forward to seeing this display. I'll be thinking of Frank who reminds everyone that he is "BC" (Before Castro).

So here we are, having fun with our large group in spite of the rain. Yeah for WIFI and lots of good coffee.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Preaching Timothy

This is last week's meditation which I never got around to posting. I think it applies to all the Timothy texts showing up in the lectionary of late. You'll see I read past the verses for the day into the ones about women being silent in church. It's kinda obvious why I have a problem with this. .

"A Word About Preaching"

I enjoy preaching, yet there is a difficult part to preaching that you may never hear about. It’s called predictably, “preaching difficult texts” especially one that the preacher (personally) has a problem with. But there’s a discipline that comes with being a Lectionary Preacher that calls us to preach even those texts we find most difficult. It occurs to me that you too, have trouble with Biblical texts, perhaps for some of the same reasons.
This scripture in Timothy is one of those texts that I find very difficult. Actually, I tend to avoid Timothy whenever possible.

Yet all NT texts have something to say to us, we just have to decide how we will approach them. BEFORE I can hear what Timothy has to say, I have to understand the context. (You’ve heard me talk about the importance of context before.) It is VERY important if we are to ‘get anything’ from the somewhat strange instructions in this letter.
We don’t have time for all the details but let me summarize a few bits of Timothy’s context and you can always ask me questions later. (Whether or not I have the answers.
1st – Timothy is a psuedographical letter, it was not actually written by Paul. It was common in the 1&2nd century to write in someone else’s name to lend authority to what you were saying. This is not as ingenuous as you think. Imagine a painter learning to paint just like a master, possibly under the master artist’s tutelage. Imitation of the master was a way to be part of their “school”. It isn’t an exact comparison but it’s a good way to think of the letter unless you want to do more serious research.
2nd – The letter was written around 125 CE, actually up to 25 years on either side of that date, but we’ll pick a mid-point. This is 100 years after Jesus and times, and “the church” have changed!
3rd – These conclusions about author and time are confirmed by WHAT is written, which is our concern for today.

Timothy’s letters sound vastly different than Paul’s actual letters.

The concerns about behavior, church conduct, and church officers weren’t even dreamed of in Paul’s day. The content then is an important clue for context.

You can be sure that if a certain behavior is PRESCRIBED, then it was NOT the behavior currently found in the church. (Or else why would you write to someone about the behavior?) The specific language used is another clue, but is harder to see in the English translations so let’s just look at content.
3 Concerns come across in these letters purported to be to Timothy:

1. The church’s organization is described as a Hierarchal household with the Father, or Chief patron at the top, and all the children, siblings, women, and slaves stretched out below. This would later become the actual hierarchy in the Roman Church (we know as Roman Catholic) but in Paul’s day, he wrote about small house churches and the equality of all, even slaves and masters. (Remember Philemon?) We have only to turn to Philippians 4:2-3 to see that women were a key part of his ministry and the early church.
" I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life."

            So the first thing we notice about content, is that something has changed drastically since the first decades after Jesus.
2. The church in Timothy, is also the guardian of ‘official’ doctrine. In Paul’s day, doctrine was almost non-existent. In fact, it was from Paul’s writings that the later church developed doctrines.
            When someone writes about the importance of a single way of believing, you can be sure there are other ideas around.
Early Christianity had a plethora of ways of thinking and ways of practicing the “Jesus Way”. There have been many books written in recent years about the “winners” and “losers” of those arguments. We know that some arguments continued to develop for a century and ended up dissolving ‘THE church’ into 2 - WESTERN Christian Church and the EASTERN Church (900 years later.)
3. The content of this letter is Prescriptive of desired behaviors, NOT Descriptive of current behaviors. The author writes about what he wants and from that we can infer what is actually occurring.
If we read further into Timothy,

            "I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument; also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent."

You see my problem. We can be sure that an instruction saying ‘women should be silent’ means that women were speaking as equals in the church. Why was that important? Because 100 years after Christ, Christians were trying to fit into the dominant culture, not stand apart from it.
For the author of Timothy, it was important Christians to live quiet, peaceful, respectful lives as good citizens of the empire so that tensions with the dominant culture would cease.
In time, due to similar pressures, women disappeared from church leadership completely. The ‘equality of all’ developed into a hierarchy of bishops and priests. And the church changed.

It took from 150 to 1950 for the church to involve women as leaders again. At least that’s when the COB began to ordain women. Some denominations are still not there. It took many years after NT letters were written for the church to hear God’s inspiration regarding slavery. And it took years until people like Alexander Mack were convinced that simple living and the equality of members was true to Jesus’ teaching.

God finds ways to speak through God’s people so we will hear the word needed for the day. This makes God’s word always relevant. We call it the “continuing revelation”. It has always been important in the brethren world to show what we believe by our actions. Like St. Francis of Assisi said,
“PREACH THE Gospel WORD ALWAYS, when necessary use words.”

In the Church of the Brethren we try to balance ‘tradition’ or what was done or ‘heard’ in the past with what is being heard now. It takes years for us to hear. 

You can find many Annual Conference decisions that were non-decisions or decisions to NOT DECIDE YET. Because the wise elders knew that acting in haste is not the way to listen to God’s continuing revelation.

The hardest place to be is in an in=between time, when the spirit-inspired voice is heard by some, but not all. Ask any woman who heard the call to ministry before 1950 and they will tell you how hard it was to try to live out their call, when their church didn’t recognize it.
Read the Martyr’s Mirror of people burned at the stake because “the church” couldn’t understand their desire to be baptized by immersion. Read the stories of slaves who went to their grave counting on Heaven’s goodness to make up for the evils they experienced in this life.

‘In-between’ is the most difficult place to be.

We are in an in-between time again. I believe the Spirit is speaking and has been heard in many places. Arlington COB is one of those places. We are a place that has learned to live easily with differences of sexual and gender orientation. I am sure we don’t all agree or understand the issue in its completeness, but we DO AGREE to live together in love and unity, putting the mission of sharing Christ’s love and compassion above our incomplete understanding.
Those who can hear the Spirit’s voice more clearly need to speak now, as hard as that is to do. And those who can’t hear as clearly but believe in love’s priority, need to speak in support of our brothers and sisters.

In this in-between time, the COB needs to hear from us. In the upcoming listening process, our voices – plural – are KEY to helping this denomination stay together and learn to live together. Even if you think you don’t have a story to share, your experience right HERE, can open eyes and ears in fearful circles.
Our voices, speaking at hearings and in letters, need to share the context we’ve experienced so God’s spirit can continue to reveal the Jesus’ Way for today. THIS is the way WE PREACH THE WORD, balancing spirit-inspiration, & tradition.

This letter to Timothy balanced the revelation of the day with the need to accommodate society’s requirements so that Christianity could flourish. We can criticize it or we can listen for the message that comes through their context.

If we listen, rather than discard this teaching, we will hear the instruction to pray for ALL PEOPLE, making supplications, intercessions and thanksgiving for EVERYONE. And if we FOLLOW this advice,
what we hear,
what we pray and
what we PREACH, will surely be inspired by God’s Spirit.

May God use each of us in ways that “preach the word”.


I have another week of vacation beginning on Thursday, with my off day moved and tacked onto the week. I love taking this last week of September, even if we are going south and it will be hotter. But taking this week reminds me how hard it is to be away in Sept. Even with a smaller congregation, there are program starts and things to do. The fact that our week away ends with World Communion Sunday and I have to come back prepared, means extra work before leaving and probably a sermon while I'm away. (I don't see that getting written today!) District Conference is the week after and all those October start programs begin next. How crazy is that?
Add a good crisis or two in the world and we have this week. It makes vacation look good. Still, I lose sleep over the things that won't get done, merely because there are not enough days left for the situation to resolve. Now for the good news; a congregation of caregivers! These folks at ACOB are really generous with there time and efforts to help wherever they can. So I may have to limited looking at my phone and email, but I know congregational life will be in good hands, the hands of a caring congregation! How cool is that?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Oh Dear Timothy

1 Timothy 2 & Luke 16:1-13 - You might overhear any number of preachers this week groaning a prayer, "Oh dear God, what do I do with this/these texts?" And here I am blogging instead of finishing the sermon which indicates my own difficulties. So tomorrow I will take some time for "A Word About Preaching" and the discipline of lectionary preaching, along with the importance of understanding context for biblical interpretation. That will help us hear Timothy, but what about Luke's "Dishonest Manager"?

I will see where the next couple hours take me on the road to "Preaching the Word". I'd like to travel into the alternate universe of Michael Creighton's Timeline. Because if I could look into Jesus' eyes as he told this story, and hear his inflection when he says, "And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. ." then perhaps I could better interpret this text.

Meanwhile, Joel Green's insights in the New International commentary on the NT and a few from Feasting on the Word will have to help me limp along.

(Plus a little help from my Sermon Writing itunes mix!)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Where Do We Fit In The Story? Luke 15:1-10

Where do you fit into the story of the lost sheep?
        Can you imagine being the owner of 100 sheep?
               We’d be Fairly rich for those days, to own 100 sheep.
                    How much would we be willing to risk the whole flock for just one?
 Are you the seeker who goes after that lost sheep? -OR-
         Are you the sheep?
                Can you feel the joy of finding it? And bringing it home on your shoulders?
                     Are you the neighbors who share the joy and comes to the party?           

We assumed in part of our prayer that we are the lost sheep and feel comforted that God seeks US, when we have strayed. We can be excited that there is GREAT rejoicing when we are found. THIS is true, no doubt. Yet there is much more to the story. Jesus’ parables are always ‘more than meets the eye’ or ear.
He begins with a question we can’t even hear. “Which of you having 100 sheep would leave 99 to go after the lost one?” Let me phrase it differently.  “Which of you having 100 dollars would leave the $99, unguarded, to go off in search of a dollar?”

            The most likely answer is, “none of us”. We’d cut our losses and keep the $99, forgetting the dollar as too insignificant to chase after. (Certainly when the object is a penny, we are unlikely to even exert the effort to search in a pew for a single penny.)

So the first surprise in the story, is the owner or shepherd (we are not sure which) considers the SINGLE LOST SHEEP of such importance that he goes after it. Jesus tells us that in God’s Divine Economy a SINGLE ONE is valuable, every single one.

The parallel story of the woman with 10 coins is also surprising. While we might understand searching for 1 dollar out of 10, we don’t usually picture GOD as a WOMAN tearing the house apart with a broom and sweeping until she finds the lost coin.
In fact, this is the ONLY New Testament story that pictures God, presumably the seeker, as a woman.
For those of you reading The Shack in Sunday School, you might be able to see God this way easier than the rest of us.

There is even another surprise within the context of a woman’s household. If this was an area where many women were in and out of each other’s homes, there is a potential threat that someone might have taken the coin.
We all know the experience of doubting and wondering if we’ve been victimized when we aren’t sure if something is ‘lost’ or ‘stolen’. This dimension could add some real rejoicing AND repentance (for our doubt) to the party when the coin is FOUND and the assurance comes that it was actually lost so there is no thief in the community.

Context is always important for Biblical understanding. Jesus is hanging out (AND EATING WITH) ‘tax collectors and sinners’; ALL of them, according to Luke’s telling, which is threatening to the elite in the audience.
Jesus tells the parables to the Pharisees, the religious literalists, and to the scribes, the most educated of his day who are also the attorneys. And they have been ‘grumbling’ because they don’t like this mixing of classes. After all, The LAW commands separation of those who are religiously clean from the unclean. In fact, the interpretation of the LAW says, that inviting a tax collector into your house makes the whole house unclean.

Jesus (somewhat surprisingly) is both defending his table partners AND interpreting God’s priorities. It’s a message we hear in the gospels in many ways. “The community is not whole, when any one part is missing.”[i]
In HIS interpretation of Divine Economy, purity doesn’t come from separation by type, but by inclusion of everyone for whom God seeks.
We need reminding of this Divine Economy regularly. Those called “sinners” in our text are people living outside of the law. We can guess that the people around Jesus have ‘repented’ and turned to a new way of living.
Jesus redefines categories that set context OVER content; who you are (male/female, Pharisee/taxcollector) Jesus says, is not as important as being found and restored to God.

We might be surprised that we have another place in the story.
We can join God in seeking the lost. This fits into traditional categories of seeking and saving that we are used to hearing. What we must also hear is Jesus’ emphasis because it is a bit different than what we hear in traditional Christian talk of salvation.
Saving is primarily focused on the individual. It’s about power residing in the one doing the saving. While WELCOMING is about the intimacy of eating at the same table. WELCOMING is focused on the community being whole and complete.[ii] Viewing some as in need of saving creates an imbalance of power that puts us into the same shoes as the Pharisees and Scribes. Inviting someone to our table equalizes or balances the community and brings everyone into God’s fold.

Divine Economy is a balanced economy of equality before God.

Perhaps it is time to ask again, “Where do we fit into the story?”
Are we still in need of being found? Or are we the inviters, setting the table for those coming to repentance?
Unfortunately, the widely-publicized Christian community is often as exclusive as the Pharisees and Scribes. I read a story by Penny Nixon this week where --
a Christian church refused to give communion to people wearing rainbow sashes, “Indicating their solidarity with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people.
A person who WAS offered Communion took his wafer and began to break it into pieces to share it with those who had been denied and deemed unworthy. The church officials, (the religious insiders,) called the police.[iii]

Where do WE fit into the story?

This week’s news blasts have challenged many Christians to answer that question. Some have cringed to hear Christianity identified with one pastor in FLA who threatened to burn a Qur’an yesterday on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 tragedy.
Maybe your co-workers or neighbors had something to say about it. . .
Maybe you commented on it too.
            I wonder if our neighbors know we are Christians so instead of Rev. Jones as the IMAGE of what a Christian is, they have US as an IMAGE OF A CHRISTIAN. ?

I keep asking where does Pastor Jones and his ideas of exclusion fit into this story about lost and found? (b/c I’m convinced it does)
If Divine Economy includes a party for the lost, who are the invited guests today?

In each of Jesus’ 2 stories, the lost ‘object’ is dependent on the Seeker’s DILIGENCE in order to be found.[iv]
The lost sheep is immobilized by fear and unable to make a sound or move from the extensive weeds it has wandered into. It is stuck and can only WAIT to be found.
The coin just lies there, without voice or movement, whether in a corner or under a hymnal, a coin can’t contribute to its own ‘salvation’.
God seeks the lost, without condition of their wanting to be found - - -yet we know  there is a role in the story for repentance.

Once found, some sheep will wander away again, others will TURN and follow the shepherd. We get caught in Jesus’ puzzling images wondering how all the pieces fit into these stories. -?-

There IS a Divine Economy that puts the highest value on repentance. Thedefinition of repent is ‘to turn around’. “The TRUE NATURE of repentance is not to FEEL bad but to change one’s mind.”[v]

Perhaps today’s Divine Party (then) includes rejoicing over one pastor who ‘changed his mind’.
(and) Is our biggest challenge to invite even Rev. Jones to our table?
Even this one who made us cringe and want keep our distance as Christians.-?-

If God’s RADICAL HOSPITALITY is represented in these stories by inviting ALL to rejoice that the lost are found;
 all our family, friends, and neighbors, including the LOST ones, shouldn’t our table include, even those with whom we disagree when they have ‘turned around’?

Now that we are all turned around in these stories, what might also ask, “If we define the ‘lost’ as those whom God seeks, how do we define the found?”

I think that Jesus purposefully makes it difficult for us to answer that question. It may be that it is not our question to answer.
Whether we stay with these 2 stories about sheep and coins, or read on to the son  (we know as the prodigal) who gets ‘lost’ and then returns
‘when he FINDS himself and is FOUND by his father’,
we encounter challenging definitions of God’s ECONOMY;
            Value is placed on one penny out of 100.
            Value is placed on the people who are known to cheat others.
            Value is placed on the helpless who can’t find their way to repentance on their own.
            Value is placed on a son’s return even after he’s done the MOST despicable things in our eyes and received coverage by all the world’s press corp.
People, of all kinds are VALUED so highly in God’s Divine Economy that a party is thrown for the whole neighborhood when even ONE of these is ‘found’.

Where do we fit in the story?
            as lost?
            As found?
            As seeker?
            As rejoicer?
It’s your question and its mine, where do we fit in God’s Divine Economy?

[i] Scott Bader-Saye Feasting on the Word Bartlett and Taylor, eds. Theological (Louisville, WJK, 2010) p. 70
[ii] G. Penny Nixon  Feasting on the Word, Bartlett & Taylor eds, Homiletical (Louisville, WJK, 2010) p. 71
[iii] ibid p. 71
[iv] Scott Bader-Saye ibid, p. 70
[v] G. Penny Nixon ibid p. 73

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Thinking about Baptism

Only one of these appears to be in the "proper" Brethren direction but it was fun to watch.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Confronted and Convicted

Ever been really convicted of something? So much so your eyes were opened to a new reality?

When I was younger, someone asked me about tithing. I was a tither since mom & dad first gave me $7.50 a month and said to give 10% to the church. Someone asked “Do you tithe your net or your gross income?” My eyes opened wide. I had never thought about it like that. I had worked for just enough years to think of my income as the amount on my paycheck, (pause) NOT the amount on the stub before taxes and social security. I had some thinking to do, this simple question, ‘cracked me open’ it CONFRONTED me with a new reality, a new way of thinking about giving that still challenges.

When we are cracked open, we are left RAW, like a ripe fruit we are vulnerable to rapid change once the skin is pierced. Someone either enjoys the fruit or it is quickly spoiled.

I knew a man who was a fellow at the Sorenson Institute when I was. He was an ardent anti-abortionist. The Institute offered us learning opportunities in a great variety of public policy areas and the key issues of the day. AND since we were together for a full weekend, we had many opportunities for deep discussion with a group so diverse that all beliefs on the spectrum were represented. I shared with this man how difficult I found the issue of abortion. While I believe in the sanctity of life, I also understood some circumstances to be so complex, so painful, and medically dangerous that abortion seemed to be the answer; certainly never ideal, but sometimes the better choice. He told me that he and his wife were firm in their belief that abortion was never the answer.

Several of us talked about strident believers who propose no answer for children born without parents, without love, or into tortuous conditions. Then he told us that something had happened to he and his wife (I never learned what) but something that ‘cracked them open’. Once they were CONFRONTED, they became so convicted that they couldn’t continue to promote a strict anti-abortion stance unless they also acted to relieve the stress on children who were born into a system without parents to raise them. So this couple began to adopt children that had been in the ‘social service system.’ They raised a family of adopted children and when their kids got older, they became foster parents too.

Brethren would say they ‘walked their talk’. All the fine points of the group’s debate disappeared after that. Tho WE still struggled with the issue and individual choice, WE could only look at our colleague with admiration for his conviction AND his action.

Have you ever been confronted so deeply and surprisingly that it cracked you open?

Jesus did this again and again. He told stories with twisted endings, where the hated and unclean person turned out to be the hero. In Jesus’ stories a Samaritan rescues a mugged stranger left for dead, an unclean, ethnically undesirable, does what priests and religious people wouldn’t stoop to do. In Jesus’ life, a WOMAN, perhaps shamed that life has left her without a living spouse, deserved his personal attention and precious time.

Jesus confronted, he challenged, and many people walked away, convicted.
But others, just walked away.

Paul did the same thing and it landed him in jail again and again. As surprising as this letter to Philemon is for its day, its just Paul being Paul, CONFRONTING people out of his own CONVICTION. Paul reminded Philemon of the brother-and-sisterhood we ALL share in Christ – equality of person, gender, and position. Paul wrote this in a day when NO equality was assumed.

Men and women weren’t equal, the relationship between Greeks and Jews remained a debate in the 1st century church, and slavery was the way of the world for captured populations or those sold into slavery to pay debts. Paul challenged Philemon’s rights, asking him to give up what he was entitled to. He even confronted Philemon’s status, asking him to ‘step down’ from his position as master and accept shame from his peers by allowing his slave to return, not only unpunished, but as an equal. Because they were equal; EQUAL members of Christ’s body.

Paul did this with tack, he did it with cleverness, he did it with gentle force, he was clever in the ways of the world in order to promote the ways of the kingdom.

Have you ever been CONFRONTED and CONVICTED of a new reality?
This is what Christ’s Kingdom is, - a new reality of equality. If you have - you may have found yourself visiting someone in prison, writing to someone on death row, marching in a demonstration for peace, or giving up a meal to give the money to someone who was hungry. Maybe you gave up thanksgiving with your family to work in a soup kitchen…. Or found yourself handing out groceries on a Saturday at AFAC..

Discipleship is a word we use easily in church. YET living the Jesus’ WAY has a cost. It takes away from our disposable income to tithe. It takes away from our safe, predictable lives to visit – in a prison OR a nursing home. It takes away from our VERY precious time to volunteer with programs that reach the most needy. It takes away our security and our status to reach out to those Jesus saw as the least, and the lost.

Giving up family thanksgiving dinner may be the hardest thing you can imagine. Or maybe beginning a correspondence with someone sentenced to death is the thing you are challenged to do. How hard that can be, especially knowing how the relationship is likely to end. We don’t do these things because they make us feel good. (Although that sometimes happens).

We do them, because somewhere someone, named Jesus, confronted us. And once convicted of HIS WAY, we have to change our way.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Still working

I'm still working on the sermon. Almost done, but had to post this picture, if I can. You can find it at http://twitpic.com/2l6ckk  Can you imagine the business meeting that voted on this logo?

W T F  on Twitpic