Monthly Archives: May 2014

Unmasking, if not Smashing, Idols in the Church

Today I am glad to have two guest bloggers, John Wilkinson and MaryAnn McKibben Dana.  I have known MaryAnn since we were seminary classmates and John by name when he was in Chicago Presbytery before that, and then through mutual acquaintance (okay my dad) over the last several years.  John and MaryAnn are candidates for Moderator and Vice-Moderator of the PC(USA).

Selecting our next Moderator and Vice-Moderator will be at the top of the agenda of the General Assembly when it meets in Detroit in June.  All our candidates are capable leaders and voices for our church but I personally hope John and MaryAnn’s candidacy is advanced. I cannot sum them up in any tight phrase but their voices will be good leadership and vision for our church at this time: passion and patience, conviction and wonderful deep listening skills, pervade all their work.I am grateful they took time from their busy pre-Assembly writing and speaking, not to mention pastoring and parenting their particular worlds, to write this follow up to my last post in my series on the Holy Spirit section of the Brief Statement of Faith.

Stay tuned following their post for more ways to connect with their work.  And without any more of my babbling, John and MaryAnn:


“to unmask idolatries in church and culture…”

Did you know that the original language in the Brief Statement of Faith was different than the final version? It’s true! According to theology professor George Stroup, the committee suggested this language to the church for use in its new confession:

“to smash idols in church and culture”

The church balked at the word “smash.” We Presbyterians are a polite and peaceable folk, it would seem—even when it comes to idolatry! However, the active word takes seriously the destructive potential of idols in our lives. Idols are those things that we construct or place our ultimate trust in, thinking they will bring us wholeness or security. But as Christians, we know that our only hope, joy, and comfort are in Jesus Christ, our Lord. (And Jesus does not promise us security, but abundant life, which is sometimes risky for the sake of the gospel.)

Still, the verb “unmask” is an intriguing compromise. We all wear masks from time to time, hiding our true selves from one another and from God. Perhaps part of this invitation is not only for us to remove masks in others – church AND culture – but to remove our own, so that we all appear as honestly and openly before God who already sees us as we are and as we are becoming.

Unmasking is both a pastoral and prophetic calling. It requires care, mindfulness, and tenderness. It also requires clarity, fierceness, and tenacity. Some masks go easily. Some don’t.

Andrew asked us to consider: what are some of the idols in the church? The fact is, anything can be an idol if we put our ultimate trust in it.

Consider this list:

  • appealing to young families
  • organ music
  • praise bands
  • the latest ministry fad
  • the denomination itself
  • stability—not wanting things to change
  • change for novelty’s sake or to appear “relevant”
  • growth in dollars, members and programs

Nothing on the preceding list is harmful in itself. In fact, God can and does work through them all. But all of them can become idols if we think they will save us.

We recently ran across this phrase: The foolish one says, “Not allowed,” The wise one asks, “Why am I uncomfortable?” Yes, sometimes in the midst of change, we’re uncomfortable because something essential to us is being threatened. But other times—probably more times than we’d care to admit—our discomfort is a signal that our idols are being threatened.

In the midst of these questions, we go back to the opening phrase of the Brief Statement of Faith: “In life and in death we belong to God.” What a comfort! The core idolatry is in believing that we don’t belong to God. Or, that we belong to something or someone else. Or, that we belong to ourselves. That unfolds in a million different ways, and is both cultural and social as well as intensely personal. And it’s the church’s job to help unmask those idolatries.

Find more vision from John and MaryAnn about the PC(USA), the calling of the Church, and the challenges and possibilities for those who follow in the way of Jesus Christ in these places:

John’s website

MaryAnn’s website

Our Facebook page

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Brief Statement of Faith: Unmasking the Factory of Idols

Part of a series on the Holy Spirit section of the PC(USA) Brief Statement of Faith, Intro found here

  • In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing: here
  • To witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior: here
  • To unmask idolatries in Church and culture: see below
  • To hear the voices of peoples long silence: forthcoming
  • To work with others for justice, freedom, and peace: forthcoming
  • In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit, we strive: forthcoming
  • To serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives: forthcoming
  • Even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth, praying, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

“To unmask idolatries in Church and culture”

This is one of my favorite lines in the creed.  Well, maybe second after hearing the voices of those long silenced… but we’ll get there in the next installment.  It’s part of why I love this section.  It’s power-packed.

Idols

John Calvin is known for many things (it’s up for debate if they add up to him being famous or infamous).  One such thought that sticks with me is the idea that humanity is a factory of idols.  And just because everyone should be subjected to some Calvin here is a larger piece of that quote (skip it if long posts make you break out in hives):

Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols…. Man’s mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; as it sluggishly plods, indeed is overwhelmed with the crassest ignorance, it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God…. To these evils a new wickedness joins itself, that man tries to express in his work the sort of God he has inwardly conceived. Therefore the mind begets an idol; the hand gives it birth…. Daily experience teaches that flesh is always uneasy until it has obtained some figment like itself in which it may fondly find solace as in an image of God. (Institutes of Christian Religion 1.11.8)

I’m also reminded of anthropology courses in college reading the work of the late Joseph Campbell (one of the world’s leading authorities on myth… you absolutely MUST watch his interviews with Bill Moyer one day) and particularly his work on the masks of God.  In a nutshell we cannot approach the infinite mystery that is God and so we created masks of God… stories, icons, etc.  Campbell warns we must not, however, mistake the mask for God.  This is the trouble.  We stop short after a while and stop seeking the God beyond the mask we created and we settle for the mask alone.  This is when an icon becomes an idol.  That which is meant to point beyond itself to the larger holiness of God becomes not a launching platform, but a stopping place.  We sit and worship that which was never meant to be the object of worship but only subject or tool or way to worship a larger reality beyond it.  We become limited by a particular reality of God to the larger holiness and wonder of God.

Take Moses for example.  There is a lot going on here that could be unpacked in a whole book but let’s just focus in on one aspect of the conflicted way Moses becomes a mask of God for the Israelites: the golden calf.  We all know that the Aaron and the Israelites melt down their gold to make a calf to worship as their god.  But do you recall why?  What is it that they lack that drives them to create a god of gold?

“When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” (full story in Exodus 32)

The people miss Moses.  They aren’t feeling a need to make gods to replace God.  They are feeling a need to replace Moses, their mask of God (Moses even wears a veil to protect them from the reflected glory of God).  In his prolonged absence they need to replace the mask (Moses) that had already become their god in the place of God, the God of Abraham and Isaac.

I could speak a long time on idols.  Let us have that suffice.  I think what we need to hold on to is this (which is by no mean all there is to say):

  • Idols are human, and thus limited, creations.
  • Idols become objects of devotion or devoted-ness.
  • Idol devotion is the worship of a particular reality to the exclusion of the larger work and being of God.
  • Idols often start out as good things, may even still be good things.  The problem isn’t the idol – it’s how we choose to relate to it.

 

Church and Culture

I love that the Brief Statement names idols of Church.  We can so easily fixate on the problem that is culture.  But first and foremost the idol factory is the Church itself.  After all it’s the Church that is a type of vehicle for the worship of God.  It stands to reason then that the Church is the most in danger of relating in unhealthy devotion to a limited representation of God. We are in the God-people business, but how easily does that become being in the Church-people business?

Culture isn’t left out, nor should it be.  The Church always lives in context.  And the Church is, I think, never more than a subculture within the larger potting soil of the culture in which we live and have our being.  Culture too presents objects of devotion.  They are perhaps more slippery because they do not claim to be gods, and yet they crave your full attention and allegiance, and billions of dollars are spent in evangelism.  Just start watching TV commercials but imagine you are watching an advertisement for community of faith.  What god are they selling you?  What way of life are they trying to convince you that you yearn for?

This hardly scratches the surface but we create idols of parenting styles, of sports, academics, success, and achievement.  Anything that seeks your whole attention as a goal in and of itself to the exclusion of a larger reality is, in some way, seeking to become and idol and object of devoted-ness. The world is a factory of idols – good, bad, and indifferent – the question is how we choose to relate to them

 

Unmasking

I’ve said enough.  Whatever work here that was mine is done.  Connect the dots now.  What are the idols we need to unmask among us?  And what’s more – how can we unmask God from the idols of our well-intended creation?  What are we devoted to, to the exclusion of a wider reality, a larger circle of love, and deeper sense of connection to all life?

This is our task, to know that we will seek out idols.  We will create them.  We will find ways to make the infinite finite and we will worship short of the full mystery and wonder of God.  But, with the Spirits help, we can also seek out idols to unmask them, to undo them, and to release the infinite creativity of the divine from the trappings and cages and limited understandings we possess.

What unmasking is the Spirit calling upon you to do in your life: your community, your church (and our Church), and the wider world in which we live and have our being?

Brief Statement of Faith: Witness and Lordship

“To witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior”

Part of a series on the Holy Spirit section of the PC(USA) Brief Statement of Faith, Intro found here

  • In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing: here
  • To witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior: see below
  • To unmask idolatries in Church and culture: forthcoming
  • To hear the voices of peoples long silence: forthcoming
  • To work with others for justice, freedom, and peace: forthcoming
  • In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit, we strive: forthcoming
  • To serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives: forthcoming
  • Even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth, praying, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

“To witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior”

Witness

It is a powerful word, and a powerful reminder.  In the courtroom of life we are not the lawyer, the defendant, the accuser, or the judge.  We are a witness.  We are called upon to speak of what we experienced firsthand.  Not to evaluate it, analyze it, interpret it for others and certainly not to command it to others.  We speak of what we experienced firsthand.

We are witness.  We are those who have experienced the Lordship of Christ in our lives in some way.  And we called to share that experience with all peoples.  We are God’s living word in the world of how Jesus makes a difference in our lives.  How is Jesus making a difference in your life?  What is the word, what is the action, what is the experience, you are called to share with all peoples?

Among all peoples

We are to be among the people.  Not over them, not projecting to them, not making them come to us.  We are meant to that living word of experiencing Christ where people are, among them, among all of them.  Not speaking at them, or about them, or about how they need to be.  We are to be doing no more or not less than being among them as a living word of our personal experience (firsthand accounts only) of Christ.

Christ as Lord and Savior

I remember a great question from the late Dallas Willard in his book (a collection of essays and speeches really) The Great Omission.  He essentially asks us, “would you consider Jesus to be an authority in your field of expertise?”  Physicist, doctor, teacher, security, accounting… whatever – would you think of Jesus as an authority of how to be, and do, your job?

An intriguing question that makes me wonder – do we really think of Jesus as Lord? (I think we have the Savior part more than covered.)  Do we really imagine that Jesus gives us insight into our whole lives?  Does following Jesus alter how we understand wisdom, not just at church, but in all that we do?  When we say, Lord – what happens if we mean the presence of Jesus, as the one we are following, is ubiquitous – all over the place!  There isn’t anywhere that our status as Jesus-follower doesn’t make his way our way of being.  So in all the places we go in our lives, and with all the people we find ourselves among – everything is done as a witness to Christ – Jesus’ way, God’s love, the grace and mercy we experience firsthand.

“To witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior” = to imagine that our firsthand God-experience of Jesus Christ is not a robe that can put on, or taken off, but it is the heart, bones, and flesh of our whole existence.

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  Colossians 3:17

Idaho and Marriage Equality

Two quick reflections on tonight’s federal court judge decision in Idaho throwing out the ban on same gender marriage (story here).

1) One small step; one giant leap. The Governor’s statements aren’t a surprise and remind us that the entrenched conservatives will fight this to the end and then probably even more. (Much like they will continue injustice beyond the grave.) This is still a small step towards making this state open to marriage equality and full rights of LGBTQ persons. Life will not be safe in Idaho for these neighbors tomorrow just because of this decision. And yet… this is still a vital and major leap towards the day when that will no longer be the case. “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)

2) In both Revelation and the apocalyptic visions of Daniel 7 “the Beast” is actually easily “defeated” by God. However, in the Beast’s “death throws” it continues to plague the world. It seems to me at this point the injustice of refusing to defend LGBTQ persons as equals under the law, and to recognize their marriages as binding under the State is dead. Its death throws are still horrific. Its death throws still cause real and tragic consequences. But know this: this injustice is dead.  We just won’t all admit it yet, and often this is the most dangerous time for the victims of  such injustice.

Just last night I was part of an Interfaith Service of Lament and Hope for another year (after many years) of failure to get Idaho’s legislature to Add the Words (sexual orientation and gender identity) to the Idaho Human Rights Act. As much pain as we heard in that service… I was struck by how palpable the hope was also.  So many lives lost, so many more people willing to put their lives on the line for – and in – love.  At the end we passed out stones.  We reminded ourselves that these stones weren’t weights to carry – like the world gives… shame, guilt, oppression.  And we reminded ourselves they weren’t weapons to be thrown.  That would be the way of intolerance and hate.  These stones reminded us that throughout history and in all our faith traditions the “corner stones of justice” have been rejected, and yet these same cornerstones have become the building blocks of a better, safer, more just future. (Psalm 118, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.)  We carry these stones with us now.  And we commit ourselves again to be the those who dedicate our lives to paving the way for that future… today.  And to let love and compassion for all people be our cornerstone.

 

Update: I was reminded of an older post on why I support marriage equality.  If you missed it back then you may read it here.

Brief Statement of Faith: Broken and Fearful

This is the second in a series on the “Holy Spirit Section” of the PC(USA) Brief Statement of Faith.  If you missed the first entry you can find it here.

“In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing,”

I will try not to say too much… and probably fail.  I broke down our section of the Brief Statement of Faith into more manageable thought-bites, but some of these selections stayed longer than others.  This is a long one and I wish to break it down further:

“In a broken and fear world…”

Confessions in the Reformed Tradition are conditional statements.  They speak as the community of the church, as we experience it now, articulated to a world, as we perceive it now, the truth of the gospel, as we hear it now.  So while it must articulate what we believe, it is of equal importance to name the conditions of the world to which we speak.  The Brief Statement of faith here names that our work is broken.  It claims that our world is fearful.

There is a powerful testimony here.  There is nothing to be gain by avoiding the elephants in the room.  We do not avoid being open about hard realities.  Like Max in Where the Wild Things Are we must confront the wildness within and around us.  We name it and look it straight in the eye in hope that doing so we can learn much about ourselves, and much about God.  We speak God’s word to it, in sure and certain hope that such a word will prove transforming.

I resonant with the words the church chose here: broken and fearful.  The angels and messengers of God again and again repeat the refrain: Do not be afraid.  We are afraid of failing, we are afraid of not being good enough, we are afraid to be known, to be alone, sometimes we are even afraid to succeed.  We fear the unknown, and we fear being lost in a crowd.  There is much that we fear and this fear leads us to a kind of despair that Soren Kierkegaard likens, “a sickness unto death.”  Scripture then reminds us again and again to allow the power of God as love to cast out such fear.

So it is that God comes to those who are broken.  …broken shards of pottery… broken identities… broken lives… it is to those who are broken in body, spirit, and emotion that God comes to speak peace and good news.  It is through such brokenness that God displays the only kind of power to which God aspires.  If you read through scripture again and again you will find God’s vitality being lived out through broken people.  Conniving Jacob, stuttering and hiding Moses, bloody David, Peter of little faith, Paul in his affliction, and Thomas in his questioning.  The only figure that God ever led God’s people through that wasn’t broken was Jesus… and you know what? In order to fulfill himself he had to become broken.  God comes to, and speaks through, our brokenness.

“…the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing.”

Praying is a strangely daunting task. I am amazed how often in a group of passionate and faithful people there will be no-one willing to lead us in prayer.  Why?  Perhaps we think too much of prayer.  Perhaps we think too little.  Prayer isn’t a magic spell and there is no way to say the words wrong.  Beautiful prayers don’t get better hearing and results.  Flat and fumbling prayers are not without meaning.  Prayer is simply the process of speaking our thoughts, hurts, hopes, and cares to God.  We may speak them in emotive silence, with water color paints, with mindless chores, and with poetic words.  We may just say them in short clipped bits of rote prayers recalled from childhood.  The form doesn’t matter, and God is quite clear that it isn’t meant to be a public performance.

I think prayer is really about the same task as confessions – speaking ourselves into a new reality.  Just as a writer has to write as a creative discipline, practicing getting thoughts out on a page, I think that prayer is rehearsing the Kingdom of God.  Not for God’s benefit, and not as petition for some action on the part of God.  I think prayer is a thought experiment in reminding ourselves for what we aspire: mutual care, thanksgiving, good news for those in distress, the fulfillment of our hopes and dreams with regards to God’s creative enterprise.  Prayer is a litany whereby we remind ourselves of the work we are meant to be about in the world, but also a cathartic expression of dashed hopes.  Prayer is a speaking of the promises God has made to us and us to God where we essential rehearse the covenant in which we live together.  And this is important work, and so in a world of broken people with much fear – fear even to speak our hopes and name our fears – it is daring work that the Spirit encourages us to pray, and to make our life a prayer – without ceasing.

Restless for Peace

“Restless for Peace” (an approximation of the sermon preached at First Pres, Boise, ID on the third Sunday of Easter)

Deuteronomy 3:16-20

16And to the Reubenites and the Gadites I gave the territory from Gilead as far as the Wadi Arnon, with the middle of the wadi as a boundary, and up to the Jabbok, the wadi being boundary of the Ammonites; 17the Arabah also, with the Jordan and its banks, from Chinnereth down to the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, with the lower slopes of Pisgah on the east.

18At that time, I charged you as follows: “Although the Lord your God has given you this land to occupy, all your troops shall cross over armed as the vanguard of your Israelite kin.19Only your wives, your children, and your livestock—I know that you have much livestock—shall stay behind in the towns that I have given to you. 20When the Lord gives rest to your kindred, as to you, and they too have occupied the land that the Lord your God is giving them beyond the Jordan, then each of you may return to the property that I have given to you.”

 Luke 9:57-62

57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”61Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Luke 24:13-35

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

 

Today’s text continues us on a theme – how do we know Jesus? How will we recognize the risen Christ?

We asked that on Easter because no-one seems to know Jesus when they see him after his resurrection.  Here in this text today we get some explanation given: their eyes were kept from recognizing him. What does that mean?

It probably easiest and most comfortable to presume that God kept them from knowing they were talking to Jesus. That is the conspiracy theorist way of explaining it – that God is play a game with us – whatever the endgame of that game would be I cannot guess.  I think it’s far more on target to imagine that what keeps them from recognizing Jesus was themselves.  I’m reminded of early in Jesus’ ministry when he arrived in his home town.  Where he grew up, where he was a snot nosed child, where his baseball crashed through someone’s window.  Where he ran wildly, and dug up worms in the bushes, and tried to find his moral compass.  Where his neighbors heard his mom complain about how he ditched out on his family that time in Jerusalem like some juvenile delinquent.  Because – you know, the Temple is exactly where all the pre-teen runaways go when they ditch out on their parents.

When he came to his home town they couldn’t imagine that Jesus would be wise, they couldn’t imagine that he was a learned and insightful teacher – this son of a carpenter – and the last thing they could imagine was he would be a miracle worker and healer, a prophet of the Most High and so the text tells us he was able to do no works of power there because they couldn’t imagine it.  Our imagination is able to limit what is possible – we can keep the awesome power of God at bay with our fear, and doubt and skepticism.

So what do we think is the more plausible scenario : that God doesn’t want them to know Christ until the rabbit is pulled out from the hat at the dinner table or that their own fear and skepticism – like Jesus neighbors in his home town – causes them to close their eyes to the miraculous presence of God at work in their lives.  The story isn’t about God’s artistic timing, but God’s desire to make us aware of God’s transformative presence in our lives.   Like we said last week we can imagine that nothing is miraculous in the world or that everything is.  These disciples are coming from a place of just such skepticism; just listen to their account of the women’s experience of the risen Jesus.  There is no sense that they believe the women’s account to be authoritative.  “They claim to have had some encounter with angels or something… yah – you heard me right… angels.  Sure.”

It is not surprise they do not know that they are talking to Jesus.

And I’m not trying to beat them up.  Because it’s no surprise that we don’t know we are talking to Jesus either.  We live with clouded imaginations; we live as skeptics at best and cynics at worst.  We cannot imagine God is actually walking with us on the road.  We limit what is possible – we limit even God’s imagination and work in the world through our close minded and hard heartedness.

So what do you think?  How do you imagine Jesus at work in the world – because oh my! Jesus is at work.

This is the phrase that jumps out at me in this text today – this is the phrase I cannot get rid of, “And he vanished.” What is up with that?  This was just getting good and then Jesus is gone!  Why couldn’t Jesus stay a little longer, have a couple of drinks at the table and talk about what it’s like to die… to rise.  What is the plan now? What comes next?  So many things to sip wine and discuss at length…  except Jesus is gone, in that moment of recognition he is gone, vanished, right before our now open eyes.

Several things about this vanishing intrigue me and play at my own imagination.

First it doesn’t bother the disciples at all.  These two who were journeying to Emmaus, who wanted to pause and have a leisurely evening meal and rest before continuing on their way.  They aren’t bothered by Jesus disappearance.  There is no talk about the inconvenience or even weighting what to do next.  They immediately get up and go back to Jerusalem.  In the story Jesus was walking as if to continue on and then they wanted to stop.  Now that Jesus is gone, presumably to wherever he was headed when they asked him to stop, now that he is gone they turn around and go immediately back to their community in Jerusalem to tell them the news.

This gets me to two more observations.

Jesus presence is catalytic.  Jesus causes things to happen.  Jesus causes them to turn around and turn around immediately.  Jesus transforms what you see and the Jesus type of transformation requires action – immediate action.  They don’t sit around and talk about it.

Jesus catalytic presence wants to be shared.  Where do they go?  On their way?  No – back to their community, their neighbors, and their friends- to share what they have learned.  Jesus catalytic transformation is also contagious and it requires being spread and shared.

And then one last observation.  The moment Jesus gives us that catalytic spark – Jesus is gone.  Because Jesus has things to do.  When these two disciples get back to Jerusalem did you notice what has happened?  That community is already ablaze because Jesus has appeared to Simon – presumably at the same time Jesus is appearing to them or maybe that’s where Scotty beamed him up and sent him to after he vanished from the two on the Emmaus road.  But that community is ablaze with this fire.  Some other day we can talk about why they believed Simon but not the women but for today it’s enough to note that Jesus is lighting sparks all over the place.  He appeared t the women, he appeared to these two, and to Simon, and who knows who else we don’t know.

I think the Gospel writers language of vanished, and the seeming teleporting Jesus is not about Jesus having some magic resurrection powers but it’s to remind us that Jesus is at work – God is at work everywhere whether we are able to see it or not, whether we can imagine it or not.  The on-the-move-Jesus is passionately driven to spark life.

Movie convention would have us believe that when we die we write on our tombs, “Rest In Peace.” But the Risen Christ’s tomb has very different words on it – Jesus is restless for peace.  Not his peace, he has nothing but peace.  But he is passionately driven by a desire to share that peace with the world.  Jesus is, and will be restless, until the world knows the peace he has.  The Risen Christ – it would seem to me – has every reason to be able to rest on his laurels, that he has done what he needed to do and now he can rest.  Instead he is appearing all over opening minds and imaginations and giving peace and he’s a catalyst for transformation in the world… off to light that spark somewhere else leaving the work of spark sharing in our more than capable hands.

I’m reminded of the passage we started with in Deuteronomy.  Because in my head it is possible to imagine that an “it is finished” minded Jesus could consider his work done on the cross.  That Jesus dying sinless for the world had done his job.  That in resurrection and conquering sin and death the victorious Christ could proclaim his mission fulfilled and his victory won.  But none of this is what happens.  There is nothing in the behavior of Jesus that he has completed anything. So I’m reminded of Moses talking to the tribes of Israel as he leads them to promised land, to what will becomes their ancestral home and having procured some initial promise and apportioning that lot to one and half of the tribes he tells them however that their job isn’t done.  You cannot rest in this land… none of you can rest until everyone has land.  You are responsible for making sure all of your brothers and sisters have land, have inheritance… have peace and place.

You may not rest just because you have what is coming to you – you may not rest until everyone in the community is cared for.  God is a communal God, not my God or your God – God is our God.  I believe that Jesus in that Luke 9 passage picks up this thread.  The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. I’m restless for everyone to have a place to lay their head, I have a mission to bring good news to all people – healing and teaching; transforming and opening – until all people can know peace, and until all people can have somewhere to lay their head than I will have nowhere to lay mine.

It was true of Jesus then, and it is true now.  Jesus doesn’t rest on his laurels: he doesn’t say, ‘I’ve done my job and I’m going to sit on my throne now.  When you have done your work, you will have earned the right to join me in rest.’  That is not what Jesus says.  What Jesus says in his actions is, “I’m restless to share peace with all people. Life is stronger and death And my life is lived with great imagination that we can indeed secure life for all people and place for all people and peace for all people, I imagine / God with us imagine that all people can have a place to lay their head in peace and wholeness.  And I will go wherever I need to go – even hell itself – to spark that fire in my people.

Jesus is risen, he is on the move, and it is good!

How are you catalytic for Christ?

How are you on the move on behalf of your neighbors in Christ?

How are you restless for peace?

 

Amen.

Speaking Ourselves into a New Reality

Many people, wise and experienced, will tell you that we actually act ourselves into new ways of thinking more successfully than we can think ourselves into new ways of acting.  This is to say we can’t theorize ourselves into being better people and no amount of “the Think System” (sorry Music Man) actually makes you grow and improve.

I like the thought – I agree with the thought – and yet…. words are important.  Thoughts are powerful.  And our imagination shapes the way we see the world.  It was many many moons ago that I first remember saying, “rhetoric shapes reality.”  The way we speak and think about the world can alter what is real for us.  Perception is more powerful than fact.  And we need to acknowledge this as true, without abandoning the wisdom that we need to act our way into new ways of thinking, and hold these two ideas together as if they aren’t some tidy Either/Or but more a symbiotic process of reflection and practice that together transforms who we are and HOW WE ARE in the world.

I share this here because it gets right to the heart about why I said a fond farewell to weekly reciting of the Apostle’s Creed.  I am a Presbyterian and we are a creedal/confessional people.  We love our statements and affirmations of faith.  We love to acknowledge that contextual people of God speak a gospel word to the world that is time sensitive and context bound and yet somehow simultaneously shared with the larger covenant people across space and time.  And a time in worship of speaking together our faith lies at the heart of the Reformed Worship Tradition of which we are a part.  We speak our faith as reminders to ourselves of what our foundation of faith is, as a proclamation of that faith to the larger community in which we are called to speak truth to power, and as commitment to this way of Christ as we have, are, and will experience it through the guidance of the Spirit and in our corporate witness as the Body of Christ.

The Apostle’s Creed is the most traditional of statements to use in worship.  It was formed as liturgy (baptismal), it is known (nearly universal to the Western Church), and it reads just about the right length (after all worship has to be 59 minutes and 59 seconds or less).

But most of us realize in study of the document is that it misses a lot.  It skips most of Jesus’ ministry for instance jumping from his birth to his death with a single comma representing everything in between.  And it covers our life of faith with only the ambiguous words of “communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting,”  It is clearly Trinitarian and its structure and formula has been very formative of many (most) of our faith statements since its adoption over a thousand years ago.  I don’t suggest getting rid of it.  I like it because its familiar and its solid and it has guided many generations of believer faithfully.

But it is only one voice in a chorus.  That is what made me start to move around – to use the wealth of our Book of Confessions in our place of Affirmation during our worship service… until I settled in a new home.  It’s not the most comfortable of homes.  It’s not a nice solid foundation like the Apostle’s Creed.  It’s challenging and prophetic and it spends as much time holding us accountable as affirming us… that is to say, it’s a lot like Jesus.  What I have come to use almost every week and what our community proclaims together is a portion of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Brief Statement of Faith:

In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.  In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit, we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives, even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth, praying, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

If the words we speak shape our reality, could there be better words?  Jesus proclaimed of himself that “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  And again three chapters later to John the Baptists query if he was in fact the one to come, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.” (Luke 4 and 7)

This is the reality to which we are called.  Not an affirmation of the Lordship or Messiahship or Divinity of Christ (not that these are a problem, but they are a jumping off place, not a destination).  For what we are called to, what we affirm and commit to, is joining the work of the one whom we name Lord, Messiah, and Christ. So we speak these words, these words that are probably rarely true of the way we lead our lives.  And yet, we speak them as a calling of accountability and in the hopes of living more into making them a reality: we endeavor to live this life, the life of the one who was, and is, life itself.  And somewhere in the speaking and the hearing and the endeavoring and the imagining… it will become so.  And it will be very good in-deed.

So I hope you will join me in journeying over the next couple of weeks (I’m out of town for 4 days next week so I won’t get to it as quickly as I’d like) in going through these creedal lines one at a time. We will spend time wrestling with its calls on our life, and absorbing its proclamation into the marrow of our bones that the Spirit might “make it so” in our life together.

Thanks be to God, Amen.

 

Blogposts to come in this trajectory:

In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing,

To witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior

To unmask idolatries in Church and culture

To hear the voices of peoples long silence

To work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.

In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit, we strive

To serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives

Even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth, praying, “Come, Lord Jesus!”