Categories
Featured Sermons The Biblical

Interventions: (The) Feeding (of) the Twelve? (Luke 9:10-17)

From Sunday August 30, 20009

[We used Bagels and Lox as a part of an object lesson during the Sermon, one possible (and tasty) contemporary rendering of loaves and fish.]

This morning we are going to look at three ways of reading or understanding this text.

a. The Manna Society

A women in our church recently shared with me a book she came across that (I hope) we will be studying in more depth this fall. It’s called Manna and Mercy. Among the topics dealt with in the book is how God desires to mend the universe, and part of this includes offering manna to all who need it.

How many of you remember the story?

The story of God providing Manna for the Children of Israel comes from the Old Testament Exodus 16. I think our story in Luke shares important similarities and differences with this older narrative.

First, they both take place in the desert, or Wilderness, where no sustenance can be found. In fact, both of these are connected.

“The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”” (Exod 16:2-3).

Second, God miraculously provides food in both cases. In Exodus there is Quail in the evening and Manna in the morning. In the Gospel Jesus multiplies the loaves and fish.

“Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.” (Exod 16:4-5).

Finally, both stories teach that God is concerned with details of life. God can be trusted to provide daily bread for us. This is evident in the Exodus narrative by how much they were allowed to take.

“When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat. This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.’” The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed.

But what about the differences in these two narratives? What do you notice?

One difference I notice is where this bread comes from. In Ex. it is from YHWH who is somewhat impersonal in this particular narrative, offering the food in a way that is miraculous yet disconnected from human hands.

On the other hand, in the Gospel of Luke, the miraculous is no doubt a part of the narrative but the role of the disciples is essential. Jesus, through his very Jewish gestures, and the disciples through their gathering the food, organizing the people, and distributing multiplied loaves and fish.

A second difference I notice is the amount of bread that is left over. In the first narrative there is no excess, in fact excess is strictly prohibited.

And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning. But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them. Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.” (Exod 14:20-21 NRSV).

Whereas in the second there is an over abundance of the gift.

What Exodus shows us is that Interventions can come in the desert by way of food. God heard the complaining, the grumbling bellies of the Israelites and fed them. This is, as Daniel Erlander calls it, Manna Society. It’s a picture of a community that has all of its needs taken care of directly by God.

But there is an under current of passivity in this Exodus passage, there is a level of consumption rather than participation.

Moses and Aaron are both intermediaries in the story, discussing back and forth with YHWH how best to deal with the complaints of the Israelites but they have no role in distributing the food, just in giving the policies around it. God does the work here. Exodus 16 is as much about showing that God is trustworthy, hears complaints and responds, as it is about anything.

And so when we get Luke’s narrative about Jesus we carry the undertones of the similarities, but we also must take note of the differences. In Luke there is a strong emphasis on participation rather than simply consumption.

b. Feeding the 12

Now let me offer you another version of this story (one that I think help to get at the meaning).

JESUS AND THE FIVE THOUSAND (A FIRST-WORLD TRANSLATION) by Peter Rollins

Imagine that JESUS WITHDREW PRIVATELY BY BOAT TO A
SOLITARY PLACE, but the crowds continued to
follow him. Evening was now approaching and
the people, many of whom had traveled a great
distance, were growing hungry.

Seeing this, Jesus sent his disciples out to gather
food, but all they could find were five loaves of
bread and two fishes. Then Jesus asked that they
go out again and gather up the provisions that the
crowds had brought to sustain them in their travels.
Once this was accomplished, a vast mountain of
fish and bread stood before Jesus. Upon seeing this
he directed the people to sit down on the grass.
Standing before the food and looking up to
heaven, he gave thanks to God and broke the
bread. Then he passed the food among his twelve
disciples. Jesus and his friends ate like kings in
full view of the starving people. But what was
truly amazing, what was miraculous about this
meal, was that when they had finished the massive
banquet there were not even enough crumbs left
to fill a starving person’s hand.


It might look something like this:
[Elder’s come to the front and together the three of us eat Bagels and Lox in front of the congregation]

Now this rather shocking twist in the story makes Jesus out to be inhumane and selfish. It’s one thing to criticize our political leaders, CEOs, and other popular figures for not living up to their words, for not caring for those who they said they would look out for but it’s quite another thing to point the finger at Christ and his disciples.

And I agree with this.
Is this passage really about Jesus feeding the 12?
No, of course not.
But this is how the world can often see us reading and interpreting this text.

The church is the manifestation of Christ in the world.
And so how we act, how we treat others, directly reflects upon other’s understanding of Jesus.

Peter Rollins:

The presence of Christ in the world is said to be directly encountered in the presence of those who gather together in his name. In very concrete terms, people learn of Christ through those who claim to live out the way of Christ. However, if Christ is proclaimed in the life of his followers, if the body of believers is thought to manifest the body of Christ in the world, then we must stop, draw breath, and ask ourselves whether the above tale reflects how Christ is presented to the world today, at least in the minds of those who witness the lifestyle of Christians in the West.

And so we, as Christians, (we’re all in this together whether we want to be or not) this passage may often be presented to the world as Jesus and “Feeding the 12.” As one reading of our sermon title suggests.

c. Participating in Sharing

I want to suggest that this passage, and the entire thrust of our discussions around the Gospel of Luke summed up in short passage (the proper one, not the made up one). [This story appears six times in the Gospels].

First of all it is clearly about who Jesus says he is, and what his mission is.

God intervenes in the world through the incarnation, through his son Jesus Christ. In other words, the miraculous is personal and human.

It’s the ordinary and the weak who respond faithfully to God’s work, lives are changed, people are healed, fed, debts are cancelled, sight is restored, people are given their dignity back, sinners are forgiven, and everyone is invited in to be a part of this growing community.

Yet, it doesn’t stop with Jesus’ mission. It get extended to his followers.

Unlike in Exodus 16, where everyone stands back and let’s God do the work, now in Luke 9, Jesus draws his disciples into sharing this work. Jesus’ ministry is about extending participation in the justice of God to his followers, they, we are the ones who are to help bring this into being. Hunger, Quite literally, is a serious issue not just in our text, but today in our world.

Each year, 3 million under-five children die because they are undernourished.1 Far more children live with undernutrition than die from it. For infants and young children, the effects of chronic malnutrition in the early years of life are largely irreversible.

In the United States, 11.7 million children live in households where people have to skip meals or eat less to make ends meet. That means one in ten households in the U.S. are living with hunger or are at risk of hunger. (Stats from Bread.org)

This has serious relevance.

Among all the issues we debate within the church, hunger and poverty are the key concerns God continues to point us to within Scripture. In fact, I might goes as far to say that there is no other issue that is more important biblically than issues related to poverty and feeding the world’s hungry. (Not war, not purity and holiness, not homosexuality, not sexuality, not tolerance, not substance abuse, not consumerism – though of course these things are important as well).

It is my conviction that it is up to the church, it is up to us, to carry this mission out (in a variety of ways).

We cannot allow our lives to reflect this second interpretation of the story.

d. The Feeding of the Twelve

But, let’s try another version.

[Elder’s come up and now serve Bagels and Lox to the congregation]

Back to the part about how we, as a collective community, “restored partner people,” or simply “the church,” are invited by Jesus to “Give Them Something to Eat.”

This is in fact what I think this passage turns on.

It seems to me that this passage is about participating in the kingdom activity of feeding people. It’s about the 12 (trying to) feed the 5,000.

Jesus says, “Give Them Something to Eat.” And they don’t exactly get it the first time around, they try to answer this question with logic rather than poetry, they try to understand all this with clear cut math. Even still, though they don’t get it the first time he doesn’t write them off, but has them gather the food, organize the people and distribute the food. They are still invited into the shared work of the kingdom even though they don’t fully get it.

It’s as if the kingdom of God works like this: When you come to a question, to a problem, know that there is already an excess, and act upon the problem from that perspective. Know also, that we as the church are called to respond however we can.

This passage is not about hoarding but the excess of the kingdom of God.
The disciples are invited into the process of sharing this with the crowds.
And by extension, so are we.

When we hoard things a stench begins to rise.
When we pull our resources as a means of providing for those in need, things get multiplied.

Luke shows us that the disciples finally get it in Acts 2:

“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:44-47 NRSV).

Participating in kingdom sharing won’t always add up or make sense to a “business as usual” mindset. There are other things we might rather spend our energy on debating, or our money on resourcing. Even the disciples here still don’t fully get it, they still haven’t fully been converted to thinking in the way Jesus does. The kingdom is not exactly clear cut math, but we wouldn’t expect that by this point. Things don’t add up, five loaves and two fish don’t equal 5,000 mouths fed, at least not when you’re using a calculator.

This is a message, and a lesson, for the disciples. God provides, and will provide through you, through us.

And so we can’t read Luke 9 as if it were Exodus 16, this is not consumption but about participation.

Nor is it about about Jesus and the disciples sitting shoveling their faces full of food. Or we the disciples ignoring these deep calls of Scripture for our own issues we want to chase.

No, the math doesn’t add up but everyone eats, and the disciples are the ones entrusted to, as the Scripture says Jesus gave them the food “to SET Before the crowd.”

They were invited to share in the vocation of sharing. They extend the hospitality of the kingdom.

They will not simply be people who need bread, but who give bread. Who share their loaves and fish, who are a part of God’s radical redistribution and multiplication to those who need it. They learn that in the kingdom of God they can be a part of the answer not only to their own requests but to the needs of others.

The audio version of the sermon is available via iTunes.

Categories
Blog Entries Quaker

Taking Time To Learn About Other’s Experiences of the Light

This comes from the Advices and Queries of Britain Yearly Meeting:

Take time to learn about other people’s experiences of the Light. Remember the importance of the Bible, the writings of Friends and all writings which reveal the ways of God. As you learn from others, can you in turn give freely from what you have gained? While respecting the experiences and opinions of others, do not be afraid to say what you have found and what you value. Appreciate that doubt and questioning can lead to spiritual growth and to a greater awareness of the Light that is in us all.

This was the query I chose to reflect on this morning before I started working and I wanted to share it with all of you. I feel as though each line is worth a response but I won’t do that, I’ll just offer a couple thoughts.

Since arriving in Camas, three months ago (!), I have been asking a couple basic questions of people in the church (and then in turn, inviting them to ask one another these questions). I’ve taken these questions from one of my professors at Fuller, Mark Branson, who has spent a lot of time working with helping congregations move to a more missional orientation. The questions are:

In all of the ways we connect with the local community, the nation and the world, what do you believe are the most important and meaningful? Describe those times when you believe our church was most faithful or effective in missional activities. What have been your own most valuable experiences? If you had three wishes…

While these aren’t exactly, “Take time to learn about other people’s experiences of the Light,” they do come close. And with people sharing their dreams you can often here how people relate to the Light of Christ without ever mentioning it. Yet, I will add this more direct question to my list because I think it opens up the opportunity for even more dialogue around what is essential.

For me I often experience the Light in relationships with other people. When I feel like I deeply connect with someone, have an inspiring conversation, or am able to listen and share in another’s journey, whether painful or hope-filled, I often leave those encounters feeling as though I’ve met with Jesus. There are other ways as well, but this seems to be one consistent way that I find spiritual connection with Christ.

Finally, I have been trying to be mindful of Spiritual writings and find nourishment there. I have been trying to keep up with the Revised Common Lectionary for daily readings within Scripture, along with reading and studying the Gospel of Luke. I have also really enjoyed reading Simone Weil’s “Gravity and Grace” in the mornings, and will continue to share quotes from that as I move along through that book. Finally, I’ve mentioned before that I’m reading James Wm. McClendon’s corpus (I’m currently in his Ethics) as a way of being mentored by his thought.

How about you? How would you respond to this query?

Categories
Featured Sermons The Biblical

Being Attentive To the Paths of Intervention (Luke 1-6)

We began the study of the Gospel of Luke back at the beginning of July with an eye towards moments when the narrative turns ever so lightly, or sometimes rather abruptly, in a way that leaves a crack or an opening for us, the interpretative and discerning community of Christ, to enter new ways to look at and live as the church in the world.

We have been calling these turns in the text “interventions.”

Sometimes interventions are disruptive in an apparent negative form: a traffic jam, a job loss, an unexpected conflict, a crying baby in the middle of the night, yet all these disruptions offer us the chance to die to ourselves, die to our own plans, die to our own allegiances and commitments, and be attentive to what might just be an intervention.

As Mary prays shortly after an encounter with the impossible,

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

One thing we must continue to reflect on is how we as a community can follow Mary in this prayer. It’s not that for us everything remains stable, fixed and static for us as the church, rather we are continuing to learn what it means to listen to God’s tender voice in every moment.

Simone Weil, a mystic from this past century wrote,

“We must always expect things to happen in conformity with the laws of gravity unless there is supernatural intervention.”

The interventions we’ve encountered so far in Luke’s narrative are just this, a supernatural God at work within the natural, disrupting gravity, breaking conformity, all at work in the name of grace, justice, love and peace.

One lesson I take from this particular way of reading the Gospel of Luke is that as the church the best we can is be attentive to these paths of intervention. In other words, Luke tells stories about particular ways in which God acts unexpectedly. We are getting a picture of things to look and listen for, and things to be acting upon.

We never know when one of these twists and turns in life will take place, so we must continue to learn ways to be attentive and respond in ways that are in line with our Gospel narrative.

At the beginning of our series I said the practice and the interpretation of the church, the ecclesiology and the hermeneutics of our faith community go together. Both the reading and the writing, the learning and producing if you will cannot be separated from the life of the church.

This is because:
The Church is itself an intervention.
We can look for those interventions.
We can (often) be those interventions.
This is why we must be attentive.

In our response to the unexpected:
We must be more like Mary than we are like Zechariah.
We must be be ready to ask along with John the Baptist’s hearers’ “If this really is true, What then shall we produce with our lives?” (How then shall we live?)
We are open the Kingdom of God short-circuiting our own theological understandings.

Are we ready to live an ethics that is more like poetry than mathematics?
Are we ready to stop simply painting pictures of a new world, set down the paint brush, and go live as if that new world were already here?
Are we ready to feast with the Tyrants and Tax Collectors?
Are we ready to put our reputations on the line, even if means our public image gets tainted in order to dine with our enemies?

This mode of existence for us as a community will require both attentiveness and imagination. And so it is my hope that this approach to interacting with Scripture gives us a language and an imagination for God’s kingdom. I hope that it pushes us out of the normal, opens us up to the unpredictable, the paranormal if you will.

the Everyday.
Another thing I think we can be sure of is this: each of these interventions is another of God’s attempts to make us aware of the sacred within the everyday. It is another of God’s many moves to infuse the everyday with holiness. These interventions as we’ve seen so far, do not divide people up, they do not draw a line between the sacred and the secular, the faithful and the unfaithful, the religious and the heathen, those who are right and those who are wrong, those who are in and those who are kept out. No, none of this is the Gospel.

Luke’s is a Gospel story that works contrast to this, it is of God’s work in the common and everyday. It begins with an elderly couple, a barren woman named Elizabeth who responds in faith to the impossible in her own life.

It is carried forward by the divine gift of the incarnation, birthed through a virgin teenager. Mary responds in open embrace of God’s seemingly absurd plan for her life.

We also learned that Mary’s prayer was echoed hundreds of years later in the life of a Quaker who sought to make better the lives of women in prison. Elizabeth Gurney’s own prayer of openness to God was,

“Alas, what can I do but follow the openings?”

In Luke chapter 3, God was also found at work in the margins of society, in the wilderness, outside the established political powers of the day in the life and firery preaching of John the Baptist. In response to his preaching and baptist the crowds pleaded, “what then shall we produce with our lives?”

Jesus’ inaugural address borrowed from the prophet Isaiah, a text his hearer’s knew well. But then he did something very unexpected, he short-circuited the common interpretation of that text and declared that his work would not be accepted by his own people. Instead, his message, this message about “bring[ing] good news to the poor, proclaim[ing] release to the captives, giving sigh to the blind, freeing the oppressed, and declaring that Jubilee is here now (Luke 4:18-19) was being actually happening in his ministry and it was for the nations.

Then in Luke 5 Jesus got hungry and did the unthinkable. He called a tax collector, someone akin to an AIG exec., to be one of his disciples, and then went and had dinner with all his tax collecting buddies. This was bound the upset people on both the left and the right. But he reiterated that his followers were to be working with the sick, in fact, feasting with the sick, even if it looks bad. This is after all God’s work and somebody’s got to do it.

All those lines we like to draw about who is in and who is out, who is acceptable to be associated with, and who we should not allow in our communities got scrambled by Jesus’ little stunt here. (And it didn’t make him a lot of friends).

Finally, we were faced with Jesus’ sermon on the plain. A sermon not spoken from a mountain side, but at eye level with the people. Here he laid out in poetic form the practices that are to form those communities who bear his name. What Jesus gave us was not doctrine, but living truth. An embodied way of living together that would transform the world. This is seen by some of the particular phrases the sermon turns on:

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
“The measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
“I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them.”

These are phrases that give motion, action, and repetition to what Jesus says. These are the words the kingdom imagination turns on. These are our words, may they form and shape the way we live, breath and believe.

Empathy With The Story.
And so the call for us is to enter into this story, because it is our story. The story of Jesus in Luke is the story meant to reshape our entire lives. We as the church are called to become communities waiting, praying, pleading for God’s intervention, on the one hand, and recognizing that we are all to0 often the very answer, the very intervention God is waiting to use in the world.

The double edged sword we follow as the church is that we are to be praying looking for God’s work in the world, and we are to be intervening as God’s family. We are to be carrying this story forward.

Luke gives us “paths” or clues into what we are listening and looking for, how we’re to respond when beckoned.

We are to be attentive as an interpretive community to these paths of intervention, so that when the Angel Gabriel appears, or the fiery Baptist prophet peals around the corner, or when Jesus calls us to an ethical life that chafes against everything we know, we respond, not as the the religious and political insiders who missed the boat, who opposed Jesus’ work, but respond as those on the margins, those who were attuned into the purposes and work of God.

These paths can be embodied by our community. So let me finally repeat at least some of the paths or practices these interventions take:

1. They tell hopeful stories, about a new world already here. We called this narration as proclamation. (Luke 1:1-14)
2. Interventions in Luke remind us that God is a God of the impossible, explanations will never fully get a handle on God, God cannot be domesticated and control by our doctrines, our theologies, or rituals, by what we deem is realistic or even possible.
3. Through these events fruit will be produced, lives will be changed and it will lead to lives of peace, charity and generosity.
4. They point to God’s universal love and good news for all the nations, for every tribe, and ever tongue, it is for all of creation.
5. Feasting with the unexpectedgat, the strangers, the sick, the Tyrants and Tax Collectors is part of what it means to embody God’s mission in the world.
6. Show us that God’s ethics point the world right-side up. While they make little sense to the logic of the world, they are the poetry of the Kingdom of God.

Open Worship:

  • How have these texts, these stories, effected you over the past two months?
  • What stands out to you as something essential in your own life of following Christ?

(The podcast of the sermon is available through iTunes just search for Camas Friends Church)

Download the slides.

Categories
Blog Entries The Political

Views on The Current Political Milieu: McClendon and Bonhoeffer

Yesterday, I read through McClendon’s chapter on Bonhoeffer’s life. In the chapter he explores Bonhoeffer’s influences, his theological and spiritual development, and his work with an underground seminary that sought to support and uphold the confessing church in Germany during Hitler’s reign. Finally, as his fellow Christians in the confessing church gave into, surrendered and many even joined Hitler’s cause Bonhoeffer returned home and joined his family and close friends in a plot to ultimately assassinate Hitler.  McClendon explores the question of why did Bonhoeffer resort to this plan as he was himself a dedicated Christian pacifist? I want to offer McClendon’s conclusion as a reflecting point that seems fitting for the Church in our current religious and political milieu of the United States:

“My Thesis, then, is that Bonhoeffer’s grisly death [He was sent to the gallows] was part and parcel of the tragic dimension of his life, and that in turn but an element in the greater tragedy of the Christian Community in Germany….they had no effective communal moral structure in the church that was adequate to the crucial need of church and German people (to say nothing of the need of the Jewish people; to say nothing of the world’s people). No structures, no practices, no skills of political life existed that were capable of resisting, christianly resisting, the totalitarianism of the times” (211).

Do we have as Christians have the practices and structures not only to resist the violence and the capitalistic impulses that seek to overrun our own allegiance to Christ’s kingdom first? So often we reject what we know is right to go out and do it alone, yet the call is to obedience rather than vigilantism. Over the last year and a half, or so, I’ve seen Christians on all sides of the political spectrum acting rather unchristianly towards those on the opposite sides (regardless of whether those on the other side are Christians or not). We need to remember that whatever the government does, whether it is our own U.S. government or another government in another part of the world, those acts never nullifies our ethics. We must continue to be formed around Jesus’ call and parable in Matthew:

“And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’” (Matt 25:40-43 NRSV).

We are never relieved of the duty to love our enemies (typically calling someone socialist or fascist, at least in the context of the US, is not a form of love), do good to those who HATE US, love without measure, see the Light of Christ in ALL people, to feed, clothe, and yes, even care for the wounds and sicknesses of those in need (Luke 10:29-37, etc). Today the totalitarianism we face is hatred, anger, fear, exploitation and allegiance to someone, some thing, some political party other than Christ’s Kingdom alone.

This is a call for the whole church, on every side. We are all responsible to be witness to the Present Christ within us, as to witness the present Christ in those we most despise. The only way we will be able to do this is through the practices of confession, repentance and the most difficult of all, forgiveness.

We need to turn the crux of the problem off “them” and bring it back to “us.” We must refuse this binary, we must continue to turn this back on ourselves. McClendon does this at the conclusion of his chapter on Bonhoeffer:

So the correct Bonhoeffer question to put ot one who believes as I do that violence is not an option for the disciples of Jesus Christ is not the often-heard “Then what would you do about Hitler?” Quite possibly there was nothing that Dietrich Bonhoeffer alone could have done about Hitler, except possible to help a few Jews escape Germany and help a few friends of a better German future make contact with their Christian friends in other countries. The correct – because realistic and responsible – question has been better put by Mark Thiessen Nation: “What would you do with a church which choose to go along with a government that systematically eliminates Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals, and mounts a war that would lead to the deaths of more than thirty-five million people?” (Nation, 1999). That question makes it clear that (from the standpoint of Christian solidarity) it was not Brother Bonhoeffer but we who failed:

Not the preacher nor the deacon but it’s me, O Lord, Standin’ in the need of prayer.

James Wm. McClendon Jr. Ethics: Systematic Theology, Volume 1 p. 212

We need to learn to sing this from deep within our hearts. And if we cannot do it in our hearts we need to prayer for the desire to do it, for the strength, and for a community who will do it together, rather than continuing to create the (very unJesus-like) split between us and them. May our real-life actions, as well as our facebook updates, blog posts and comments, twitter posts, text messages and forward reflect the Kingdom of God, and no longer the kingdom of this world.

May God help us.

Categories
Featured Practices The Pastorate

Meeting with a Mentor

I’ve been slowly working through one of Eugene Peterson’s books on pastoral ministry called “Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness. ” The book is a lot about Peterson’s own journey as a pastor, and how he relates often with Jonah from the Hebrew Bible. Jonah was, in a word, reluctant. He’s the kind of guy you imagine always trying to sneak out the back door before he gets committed to something he’d rather not do. Jonah is famous for trying really hard to avoid the work God called him to, something I think we can all resonate with from time to time.  Anyways, this is all beside the point for the moment, though I must confess I can relate to Jonah’s reluctance and have often named him as the biblical character I most identify with. The real reason I’m writing is because I’ve been getting all kinds of great treasures out of Peterson’s writing. One particular thing that’s stuck with me is this.

Peterson explains that during a really rough time in his ministry, about 10 years in, he began feeling very dry spiritually and began questioning his call (thus Jonah). He searched high and low for mentors, and having found none discovered with delight the Russian author Fyodor  Dostoevsky. He dove head first into Dostoevsky’s writings, and offers some tasty summaries in his own book on a few of the important narratives he came across. Dostoevsky became for Peterson a mentor. He wrote in his daily planner three meetings a week with “FD” for two hours each, and over the course of about 8 months, or so, worked through the Russian’s entire corpus. He writes that Dostoevsky saved his ministry, it was that process of reading such deeply human narratives that sustained his imagination from that point forward.

Of course, what I gleaned from this was the importance of meeting regularly with a mentor, someone I want to emulate and who deeply inspires me.  I already meet with a couple (living) people who I deeply value both spiritually and theologically, but this was encouragement to meet with someone who has gone on before. I spent sometime thinking through who this might be, and whether or not it needed to be just one person, or a series of people. I considered authors like Steinbeck and C. S. Lewis, Chesterton, Kierkegaard, and others but what I decided was that I would start out by reading through the late theologian James Wm. McClendon’s corpus. Reasons for this include I love what I’ve read of his already, his corpus is not overwhelmingly large and thus manageable from my point of view,  he was an academic as well as a pastor, and finally, I love his narrative approach to theology. Currently, the book I am reading, Ethics, has a number of biographies of Christians such as Dorothy Day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Jonathan and Sarah Edwards to name a few. These biographies precede whatever theology he sees exemplified in each particular person’s life. In other words, for McClendon, every theology, every confession, every Christian practice must be embodied in real people’s lives if it is to make sense to the church today. It’s great to talk about grandiose theological claims, but it’s quite another to actually live them out. McClendon helps to bridge the gap between these two things.

And so, I’ve begun meeting with McClendon, allowing his words, these narratives, his “baptist” (pastoral) theology to mentor me in these meetings.

Categories
Blog Entries Quotations

Simone Weil on Interventions

I’ve titled my sermon series on Luke “Interventions” and so was happy to see Simone Weil was (unsurprisingly) way ahead of me. Here she sums up the approach I’ve been taking with the Gospel of Luke.

We must always expect things to happen in conformity with the laws of gravity unless there is supernatural intervention.

Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 1

Categories
Blog Entries Convergent Friends

Plan Ahead – Convergent Friends and New Monastics at Pendle Hill

Martin Kelley and I will be facilitating a weekend workshop at Pendle Hill this coming May (2010) that explores how tight-knit faith communities, such as convergent Friends, carry on and expand their witness via the web and participatory culture. The dates for the workshop are May 14-16 and there will be some recommended pre-reading for the weekend as well.

If you’re interested in joining us hop on over to Pendle Hill and register online.

Or for more information you can download this flyer and registration forms:

Categories
Featured Sermons The Biblical

Interventions: Poetry on the Plain (Luke 6:20-49)

We opened with this video from Peter Rollins.

[The part from this video that stood out to me and I drew on in the sermon and the poem was towards the end when he talks about laying down the paintbrush and living into the new world.]

first a Confession.
If I am upfront, I have to that that I would like to now is go line by line and explain what every thing means. This is a temptation I face as this morning’s preacher.  But I cannot give into this temptation.

For one, the temptation would be out of a desire to try and make this safe, explain it all in a way that you can understand it in every situation. Here is how you apply it here and there. But this would take the poetry out of it. We have to have imaginations to really get this.

Secondly, to give into that temptation would give an air of accomplishment, if I can explain all of it, then that must mean I’m living all of this. And that is just not true.

I don’t not love without measure.
I condemn.
I do not always forgive. Withholding forgiveness makes me feel powerful.
And while I profess pacifism, I can be rather forceful and coercive about many things.

All in all, I still hear the call. I am seeking to act on this and allow this to be the measure of which I know I must live and be judged.

So I will continue to read this poetry along side this community as we learn how to act it out.

the Plain.
Today we’re calling this intervention “poetry on the plain.” And I think it’s worth an explanation why that’s the name of what otherwise is known as the Sermon on the Mount.

For one thing, Luke’s version of Jesus’ main sermon does not take place on a the side of a mountain the way it does in Matthew’s version. This is significant to Luke’s plot. Luke is not a paperback novel writer, he writes for a reason.

Remember we said in the first week, this is a history being put in the service of persuasive theology. It is history being used to preach, it is narration as proclamation, or as I spun it, narration as intervention. Luke is showing that God of the impossible, is making things possible, in bringing about a new world, and it’s going to be like a great banquet where everyone is invited, even the Tyrants and Tax collectors.

“The good news is for the nations” as Jesus said at his inaugural address.

Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount (in Chapter 5) takes place on a mountain side,  high above everyone else, with his diciples being the ones privy to his words. However Luke’s version stresses the universality of Jesus’ message. It says, “He came down and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people…” from all these places that would have included both Jews and Gentiles in the mix.

Thus Jesus comes down, gets on level ground and speaks to all the people. The world he speaks into reality through this sermon is not for a select for, the  chosen ones, it is for the great multitudes.

This is not the sermon on the mount, it is the sermon on the plain.

the Poetry.
Painting a new worldDo you remember a few weeks back when we talked about the difference between the logic of the world and the poetry of the kingdom? When we said like the kingdom of God is more like poetry than it is like mathematics (with apologies to the mathematicians), and I gave you that classic logical formula on the screen about Socrates being a mortal man?

Well here it is, here is Jesus’ longest poem in the book of Luke.

I think our perspective when reading this should be that Jesus’ words are more like poetry than they are a typical sermon.

It is about painting a picture of what is possible, these are statements about actions and has nothing to do with doctrine.

It is about reorienting life, his sermon does not end with an altar call. That would let us get off far too easy. We can’t dismiss an entirely reoriented life, we can dismiss a trip to the front.

This sermon is a call, but without the opportunity to resolve it. The resolution comes in the living it out. The tension isn’t resolved, people leave hungry for this new world.  They are called beyond themselves and into the world that awaits.

Here is poetry that takes a plain white canvas and paints an image of a new world on it.

I’m calling it poetry because quite honestly it doesn’t always make a lot of sense. The same  way poetry is often unclear. (And this is why we often stop at arguing over whether or not we should really take it seriously).

I think this sermon, this poetry, reveals God’s divine madness, to borrow a phrase. (God doesn’t do things our way). But this madness is tantalizing, it re-imagines our world in a way that makes so little sense, but is exactly what we hunger for, we know it is absolutely the way things should be.

Here is Jesus the painter, the poet, the master craftsman, drawing on words, and images to speak into reality a community that loves their enemies, and operates out of an excess of love, mercy, and forgiveness. This community is called to reject the old ways, the old wine, the things that often make the most logical sense, and act out of an imagination that is fueled by God’s divine madness.

It doesn’t make sense if you’re doing the math. If you’re a philosopher this will not follow patterns of logic. Those are exercises in exactness and even in a kind of power. But this is poetry. Poetry can be inexact, even powerless because it cannot force the proper reading. (Why would Jesus leave it this way?)

This poetry on the plain is God short-circuiting expectations and reversing things, here we see the power of powerlessness:

“[W]henever one would expect an exercise of power form a classical hero, Jesus displays the stunning power of powerlessness—of nonviolence, nonresistance, forgiveness, mercy, compassion, generosity” (Caputo WWJD? 84).

We cannot forget Christ the divine man is defeated. This is a display of what Paul calls the “weakness of God” (1 Cor. 1:25) and the foolishness of the cross.

And so we must approach this not head on, but see it as something cockeyed. Look at it as poetry rather than logic. Looking at it straight on, reading it as something powerful, something logical, doctrines to be disputed, it won’t come into focus.

The poetry on the plain is the imagination of the kingdom of God being painted on the canvas of our psyches. This imagination wants to rewire the way we live.

This is the impossible being spoken into reality, we are being told in effect that is not impossible at all, this is how things are to work from here on out.

the Turning points.

Jesus’ poetry on the plain is about acting out of a conviction that things are turning, a new world is at hand, and like a delicious smell that wafts through the air that you can taste because it is so thick, we can taste this new world now. (Lk 6:20-49)

The new world is turning, and Jesus was the one who put it to spin.
With these words he speaks it into existence.

This is Jesus’ longest sermon recorded in the Gospel of Luke and within it there is not a lick of doctrine. It is about living the truth, not signing up for particular truths. We can continue to debate it as doctrine, which will relieve the pressure of ever getting down to the business of living it.

We can see that this has little to do with doctrine and much more to do with actual practice by noticing where it turns on particular phrases that cannot be ignored:

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

He repeats this only a few words later because it is the throbbing heart of Jesus’ poetical ethics.

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Here is the call to be, in the words of Paul, imitators of God. Don’t simply believe in God, imitate God.

“The measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

“And finally, I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them.”

These are phrases that give motion, action, and repetition to what Jesus says. These are the words the kingdom imagination turns on.

These are not things to simply skim over and dismiss, as in the video we saw at the beginning, believing something is right is not enough to get you convicted of being a Christian, it is the acting it out that is so troublesome to the world.

And this is what Quakers have done as well. They have sought to remind the church that it cannot dismiss these words, the are the practices of the church.  Our tradition is one that holds feet to the fire, and the fire is the poetry on the plain. They were the ones willing to lay the paintbrushes down and live into this new reality Jesus inaugurated.

Open Worship

Queries for open worship:

  • How/why might these be considered the poetry/poetics of the kingdom?
  • Who are our/your enemies today?
  • What would it look like, or what does it look like, to live these ethics out in the life of the church today?

The Cockeyed Poem on the Plain

Categories
Blog Entries The Biblical

The Cockeyed Poem on the Plain (based on the Sermon on the Plain Lk. 6)

Here’s my own take, a remix if you will, of some of the things going on in the Gospel of Luke and Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:20-49).

This is a new version of the poem [added august 9th, 7:45pm]

This poem is for all people,
but only those who act on it
are the ones who it is really for.

It matters little whether you believe it is true,
if you don’t live its truth.

To really see what is real,
You’ll need to shift your perspective.
Eveything should feel a little cockeyed.

Some things are more difficult to understand when you look at them head on.
Sometimes a short-circuit brings things into focus.

Things are not as they seem.
The winners are really losing,
the losers’ winnings are subtle.

Those with brokenhearts and broken bodies
know that everything will be mended,
it’s on the mend now.

To those whose bellies are hungry and who are crushed by lies
know that what was looks as though it is nowhere
is really now here.

What was to come at the end is taking place right now.
There is possibility in the impossible,
That’s how God works.

Don’t take things into you own hands,
that rarely turns out well.

Remember, we are waiting for bodies to put all this into action,
we are wiating for people to stop (just) believeing and to start living.

Who cares if you believe the truth if you don’t live the truth?
Pray for God’s imagination.
Pray for the paintbrushes of the kingdom.

And woe to all of you who keep working on the sly.
Woe to you who take what isn’t yours,
Who are the cause of those who cry.

Your day is looming,
your bell tolls too.

All of God’s creation is good,
unfortunately, not all of creation realizes this.

God’s way of thinking is no doubt cockeyed, harebrained and pungent,
God’s way of theology is more in line with poetry than with mathmatics or logic.

So don’t be surprised if you find yourself scratching your head,
in fact, if I were you, I’d expect it.

In the kingdom, inside is inside, out is out, and up and down follow accordingly.
it just seems like everything is flipped upside down,
but it’s the logic of the world is backwards.

And now we turn the page to the “most divine madness of all.”

Do good to the enemy?
Reverse worldly wisdom on this issue.

Do good to the bad guys?
This will likely make more enemies than friends,
but that’s okay, because I call you friend.

Don’t stop at just loving your friends,
It’s great to do that, but seriously who doesn’t like to keep things easy?

Those who threaten your way of life,
those whose own love has turned to the black soot of hatred and strife,

Love them as well.
Love them deeply.
Love them even if it you costs you everything.

This is going to be difficult to do,
but do it all the more.

It is your duty.

Then go beyond this, and do the impossible.

Demand to be treated as an equal,
demand them to look you in the eye,
and offer them forgiveness.

That’s the only way you’ll get forgiven.

Love without measure,
the only way to measure love is that it has no measure.

Gift is God’s economy,
so give what until it hurts.
and then hope and pray that
nobody sees you doing this deed.

Stop the hypocrisy,
nobodies likes a lying cheat,
nobody likes endless sarcasm,
and fear and condemnation are not a part of this kingdom.

Take care of the weeds in your garden,
before you start weeding your neighbors’.

And forget about living life for yourself
forget about continuing in your old habits,
this is going to take a new outlook and new disciplines.

Be careful who your teacher is,
you may just end up like them.

Be the kind of person who produces goodness through and through.
Be the kind of person who has an abundant heart and room for everyone.

Be an avacado tree, an apple tree, a lemon tree, just something that grows beautiful fruit,
and remember in order to do this you’ll need to consider your soil, and your access to water and sun.

Take into account what your surrounding is too.
Your fruit may dry up otherwise.

Remember you can cultivate the soil, but you can’t make it grow.
God’s  loves farming.

I don’t believe much in arguing over foundations,
if they crumble so does what’s built on top of it.
But since you’re going to be building,
you’re first need to build down.

Resist the urge to have more and to get bigger, deeper is best.
It is what will keep you standing in the storm.

Then we’ll know the difference between those who just hear and those act on these words.

We will see who has truly heard this poem.
They are the ones who lay down their paintbrushes and live into the new world coming.

Categories
Featured Sermons The Biblical

Interventions: Feasting with Tyrants and Tax Collectors (Luke 5:27-39)

Here is the text I preached from on Sunday 8.2.2009. The reflection is on Luke 5:27-39. You can also subscribe to or download the audio version of the sermon from iTunes (or our Church’s blog).

AIG

This morning our text raises questions around newness of God’s work in Jesus, who will follow that new work and who will be reject it in favor of the old.

When  I first started reflecting on this passage, I kept seeing it largely within an older framework of my own. Always hearing it to be a conversion story, I saw Levi as the main character, and his response was the main action.  (Sometimes I find it hard to shake off old readings of the text.)

And this certainly is important to our narrative, but I hope that we can get a fresh look at this story by shifting our focus just a little.

In fact, if we start at the end of the passage 5:36-38, Jesus’ explanation and commentary on what he is doing, then we can start to bring the rest of the passage into focus.

At first this passage about the new garment and the old wineskins may seem a little confusing, but the main gist is that the new ways, new teachings and practices of Jesus just don’t fit into the old.

I think what Jesus says about the cloth is that it is a waste to both the new garment as well as the old if we tear one up to sew the other. One reading of this is that Jesus’ challengers here should not expect to tear up what he’s doing to try and make it fit the Pharisees or John’s work, it doesn’t fit, it won’t match.
They are based on the old, his is based on the new.
The same goes for this stuff about the wineskins. Jesus effectively says that a disruption is happening, the wineskins are bursting. By trying to force Jesus’ categories into older wineskins they are missing a very serious point.

NT Wright points out that this last line about drinking old wine, is a warning, that many will not appreciate the shift in allegiance that Jesus is calling for. In fact, many will reject it, fearing the new, and decide to stick with the Old. (cf. Wright 65).

Many of us are familiar with Facebook today, in fact, aren’t many of you on facebook? I know some of you are holding out, for what I don’t know, but there are a number of you who have accounts and use it to varying degrees. But how many of you remember Friendster? It was a social network setup in 2002, which feels like a really long time ago when it comes to the Internet. I remember joining Friendster and using it a little here and there, but now it seems like a thing of the past. It doesn’t have the innovation, or the newness, that networks like facebook and twitter have.

Often, the new things just don’t fit into the old, even when the old are precursors to the new.

And Jesus is saying, the reason this doesn’t make sense to you is because it’s new.  Have you ever read a book, or used a program or a tool, that was so new you couldn’t understand it at all?  Maybe you needed someone to explain it to you, or maybe you needed to look at it completely differently before you could figure out what was going on.

That’s what is happening here.
The New Ways and the New World
However, unlike facebook, twitter and other technological advances that will continue to get outdated by newer innovations, God’s work in Jesus was “new once and for all, and would never again be outdated” (Wright, Everyday 63).

And this passage, with Levi, and his buddies, who I’ve caricatured as  the “tyrants and tax collectors,” something like an Indie Rock band name, is a picture, a glimpse, of “Jesus putting into effect the new world God is bringing about” (Ibid).

These old ways no longer fit the new world, as NT Wright says:

“They are obsolete, not because they were bad in themselves but because God’s new age has new power, new possibilities and new hope that simply weren’t there before. Novelty is deeply threatening especially when people have built their lives around the old way.”

Remember how it was when CD’s first came out? Actually, some of you probably remember when Cassettes first came out, but I’ll stick with CD’s since most of my memories only goes back to the late 70’s and 80s.

For me, to see these new CDs was equally exciting and frustrating. Here’s this new technology that offers better quality sound, a longer life, and new possibilities about how music can be experienced. But at the same time what am I going to do with all these cassettes!?

They are no loner useful, they’re practically obsolete.Jesus was inaugurating a new way of thinking about, as well as a new way of actually being the people of God. Something far less trivial than what medium we listen to music on. His movement was announcing a change in who could be included in this new world, the new ethics of the people of God, a new way of relating to God (through himself).
But if this is so threatening to those invested in the old way, who would respond to this movement he was inaugurating?
Tyrants and Tax Collectors

Jesus ‘calls‘, an important word in Luke appearing 40x, a tax collector named Levi.

This raised eyebrows then, and really, it should raise eyebrows now. Why on Earth would Jesus  select a Tax Collector, people who were known to be extortionists?! Not only were they employed by the Roman government to collect cripplingly high taxes, but they were in constant contact with gentiles, making them unclean and unfit to participate in Jewish worship.Let’s put it this way, Levi was most likely someone with about the amount of popularity among mass public as an executive from AIG.

You can see why Levi’s fellow Jews might be a tad bit scandelized by one of their own doing such dirty work.

But by now, you’ve certainly caught on to the fact that Levi isn’t the first questionable person invited to be a part of this new world Jesus is putting into effect. In Chapt. 4, he heals people possesed with evil spirits. Then in chap. 5 we see that it is three fishermen, Simon, James and John, who first leave everything and follow him. Then he’s with a lepar, then the paralytic, and then a tax collector. This is not to mention the four elderly people, and the young teenage virgin who appear in the first two chapters of our narrative.

I love that Jesus calls Levi and then heads over to his house for a celebratory dinner. A Feast with Tyrants and Tax Collectors. He meets Levi’s friends, who, unsurprisingly, are in the same line of work as he is. (This is more than likely because no one wanted to associate with these kinds of folks other than more of these kinds of folks.)

But as an aside, if we’re thinking about the mission theology Jesus is operating under, I think it’s important to realize that unlike many churches today where if you want to join us, then you’ve got to come to us, you’ve got to come onto our turf, play by our rules,  Jesus, does the exact opposite.  He heads over to Levi’s house.

He makes himself vulnerable to people who have really bad reputations, he opens himself up to the criticism of others who see him with these folks, and he allows there to be questions of perception and have his reputation challenged.

Here’s the thing, If you want to have a nice and neat group, where everybody is the same, every doctrine and theology is tidy, every possible misinterpretation is guarded against, every possible stumbling block is guarded against, then Jesus has a really bad outreach strategy.He’s not going to be the clerk of the outreach committee. He’s not the professor you want to take for mission theology. He’s not the Sunday School teacher you’ll be joining for that class on “God’s mission in the Bible.”

But, if we’re operating under the rule and reign of God, the reality that God’s movement is often an intrusion into our neatly defined categories. If we’re working with this new world, these new hopes, and new way of being the being of God then we will seek Gospel Order. If we’re open to the inventions, as well as the short-circuits of God, then I think we might just start to get what Jesus is up to.

Forgiveness Is For Everyone

In conclusion, I want to mention two things that make up this new movement Jesus creates in our narrative today.

First, God’s people are not determined by the nice and neat social boundaries and classifications that were set up by the political, cultural and religious powers of their day.  That is one thing I love about this church. Last week we talked about who the poor were, those who had low social status, or those who had no or very little honor depending on their education, their family heritage, their gender, their physical makeup. This week we see just who some of the people are that Jesus really had in mind when he read Isa. 61.

It isn’t about who is in and who is out, don’t we all experience a little bit of being in and being out (Carolyn)? Don’t we all desire to be with some in crowd, or to at least be accepted by others?

In Lk 5, Jesus cuts through all these barriers, boundaries, classifications, and rules and regulations and says:

“There are no longer two uncrossable chasms of people: those who have God’s favor and those who don’t. Now everyone can have forgiveness. Anyone willing to repent, and remember repent means more than a mental change, it means taking the very risky step of changing your allegiances, can have it right now and become a part of the new world coming.”

The new covenant is rooted in an open-ended forgiveness for everyone, Jew and Gentile, Tyrant and Tax-Collector, Barren and Virgin, the Sick and the lame, the clean and the unclean.

Forgiveness is now here for everyone, it is for all of us.

It was offered by a man who people are whispering behind his back saying, “the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (Luke 7:34).

If you want to say you’re open and offering forgiveness to people, then you have to be willing to get dirty in the process. It won’t be on our terms.

Fasting or Feasting

Finally, Another thing going on in this passage is that it happens over dinner, actually, it happens at a celebration.

Pay attention to food, discussions around the table and celebrations in Luke’s Gospel. A sign of the new age is that God is throwing a party and everyone is invited. For Jews, the image of a banquet one often used to describe the messianic age. It is a symbol of what heaven looks like.

This whole passage is about the new reality God is bringing about. It moves from Jesus’ calling new people, like tax-collectors, into his movement to a feast, a celebration with even more unwelcome characters who end up giving Jesus a bad name.

And you’ll notice that the last portion of our passage is a number of sayings about this new kingdom movement.

Jesus is asked: “Why don’t you’re disciples fast like John’s disciples do, or better yet, like the Pharisees do?”  If they can’t trap Jesus because of the people he’s associating with, maybe they can appeal to theology to trap him.

Fasting in the Jewish religion was about waiting for the messiah, it was about remembering the individual and collective sins, remembering all of her troubles in the past, and praying for God’s mercy so that the messianic age would come.

But the messianic age had come, Jesus was inaugurating it with his life – thus it is no longer appropriate to be fasting, now it is time to be feasting.

The wedding-banquet image is a standard Jewish picture of God’s new age. And it’s really important to look at who is following and who is feasting, who is at the table of the celebration.

It’s much easier to draw lines around the fast than it the feast. Fasting is a discipline, a marker, that sets people a part, while feasting is open, everyone is invited, it is an invitation to celebrate the new covenant, the new hope, and the forgiveness of God’s new world in Jesus.

It is practicing now what we believe eternity will be like.
And these are just some of the new things that those invested in the old didn’t get.Queries:
Are we willing to engage God’s mission, and follow the example of Jesus, even to the point of raising eyebrows in the process?

How do we respond to the new work of Jesus?

Are we offering forgiveness to everyone who desires it?

How can we operate out of a celebratory faith? Where in our lives are we fasting when we should be feasting?