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Featured Sermons The Biblical The Technological

Interventions: Jesus and the New Family (Pt 2)

This is my reflections on Luke 14:25-35 from September 20th, 2009 and is in two parts, both work independently from one another. Part one has been published here.

It was originally titled: Interventions: Discipleship and the Disavowal of all that Obstructs

This part about hating families is at least for me, the most troubling part of the what Jesus says here. This hating business isn’t something that sits well with my 2009 sensibilities: It doesn’t sound very PC Jesus!

How many of you have scratched your heads at this passage before?

What have been some of the ways you’ve thought about it?

It seems to me that this passage on family is very important for understanding this broader call of discipleship and the decisive break that it entails.

There are plenty of ways in which what I believe and what I practice create tension within my own family, and I am sure that you have experienced many of these difficulties as well.

In discipleship with Jesus there will always be a disavowal, often many disavowals.

One meaning of Disavowal is to deny any responsibility or support for something else. It’s a denial of allegiance, it’s a matter of breaking loyalty, or experiencing as I said above, a breach.

Jesus knew, and even experienced in the Gospels, the fact that family networks and possessions can often obstruct our discipleship to Christ.

Joel Green writes:

“Particularly in Jesus’ story of the great banquet 14:15-24, he had introduced the possibility that one’s ties to possessions and family mght disqualify one from enjoying the feast. As Jesus turns to address the crowds traveling with him, he lists allegiance to one’s family network and the shackles that constitute one’s possessions as impediments to authentic discipleship.” 564

But ultimately, if we can move beyond this idea of the fricition follow Jesus creates in our lives, what he is getting at here is not just disagreements that may call our faith and callings into question, here he breathes into existence a entirely new family rooted where God alone is father.

This passage is about exiting one family and joining that new family. But this new family requires a disavowal of the old.

In Jesus’ time, as in our own, a “high cultural value [that was] placed on family network:”

“In this context, “hate” is not primarily an affective quality but a disavowal of primary allegiance to one’s kin. In a way consistent with other teaching in Luke, then, Jesus underscores how discipleship relativizes one’s normal and highly valued loyalities to normal family and other social ties.” (Green)

These family networks, these possessions, even, as with the legal experts, the pharisees and the saducess, our “right beliefs” will mean noting before God. What matters is one’s life and the fruit they produce in complete loyalty to Jesus’ and the reign of God.

In Jesus’ command to “hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters,” there is an utterance that breathes into existence a new family, one that is not bound by blood, protection, patriarchalism, or possessions, but one that is completely voluntary, rooted in practices of the kingdom of God like hospitality and generosity, and marked by love for enemies. This is truly a love without measure.

He was thus replacing patriarchialism, there are now no fathers “with paternity under God.” There is now only one father, the One in heaven who we call abba. The one who we pray to when we say, “Our father in the heavens…” (Ryan Bolger)

This call would have no doubt been rather challenging in such a patriarchical and hierachical culture as 1st cenury AD. Jesus “called his disciples out of patriarchial backgrounds and introduced a “more collegial grouping that would challenge the empire and its way of thinking” (Bolger, 59). He was thus replacing patriarchialism, there are now no fathers “with paternity under God.” There is now only one father, the One in heaven who we call abba. The one who we pray to when we say, “Our father in the heavens…”

In the same way that “Jesus’ ‘followers are not to take titles…are to maintain domination-free relationships in a disciple of equals that includes women. They must do away with the hierarchical of master and slave, teacher and student'” (Bolger).

So in the renouncing of familial ties and possessions, Jesus saying these things are invalid but was “redrawing them, redefining them in order to create ‘something new out of the old.”‘ (Bolger). He redrew these lines and is now head of the table; as the Quaker mantra goes: “it is Christ himself who has come to lead us and teach us.”

Bonhoeffer wrote:

“But the same Mediator who makes us individuals is also the founder of a new fellowship. He stands in the centre between my neighbour and myself. He divides, but he also unites. Thus although the direct way to our neighbour is barred, we now find the new and only real way to him – the way which passes through the Mediator.”

This new fellowship, the new family of God is voluntary but those who volunteered, volunteered for a new life that requires a new lifestyle. “Jesus formed a comunity under God as opposed to existing authority structures; this new family would bring forth the kingdom of God.”

Not everyone followed Jesus to Jerusalem and lived his nomadic life but we shouldn’t be distracted by that fact. Some stayed home, but that didn’t mean that they didn’t also follow him where they lived.

Gerhard Lohfink writes:

The majority remained with their families. But the families of those who remained home were transformed. They became more disposable, more open. They no longer revolved merely around themselves. They offered hospitality to Jesus and his messengers. They entered relationships with one another. Or, in contrast to this, just the opposite happened. Families divided within themselves. Jesus and his movement became a sign of contradiction. Many individuals separated themselves from the old structures and joined the new family of which Jesus spoke. Thus there arose in the midst of ancient Israel – unobtrusively at first and yet irreversibly – the new society planned by God. (44).

Ultimately, this call for a costly discipleship, one that really challenges our loyalties, our allegiances is a call to the Disavowal of all that Obstructs. It is also a call to join a new family, a new people, the people of God who live out a constrast-society, where we may even be joined again by those in our family. But let’s also remember that in our day family may or may not hold powerful influence over us, there are many allegiances we do have that we place all our loyalty in.

Queries:

  • What does it look like for us to live as this new family?
  • What is our response to Jesus’ words this morning?
  • What are the things Jesus would call us to disavow in our time?
Categories
Featured Sermons The Biblical The Cultural

Interventions: Discipleship in a Permissive Culture (Pt 1)

This is my reflections on Luke 14:25-35 from September 20th, 2009 and is in two parts, both work independently from one another. Part two has been published here.

It was originally titled: Interventions: Discipleship and the Disavowal of all that Obstructs

Reversal of The Sayings: Discipleship in a Permissive Culture

What if it Luke 14 actually went something more like this:

Now large crowds were traveling with him, all there were unaware of the tragic end that awaited the one they believed to be their messiah. He was on his way to Jerusalem and very shortly he would be sentenced to capital punishment in the way they do all traitors of the Roman government, crucifixion.

Thinking about the impossible road that lay ahead and the great suffering that would await those who continued with him to his place of execution he turned and said to them, “Unless you are completely mad and hate everything and everyone around you it makes no sense to follow me. This is the end of the road for all of us. This path is not worth you losing everything you have over. It was fun while it lasted, but seriously, no faith, nor even political statement is worth this much. I’m sorry I’ve cost you this much already, return home, get back to living the life you cherish while you still can.

I am the one who will die on the cross, leave all difficult stuff, the real suffering for me. I’ll pay the price for the both of us. Don’t worry about me I planned on this, but being my disciple should cost you nothing. I never intended it any other way. So here’s you final chance, you can still be my disciple and return to your home and life and keep living they way you have been you’re whole life. It would be a madman to as you to go any you to do anything other than that.

We could go on but I think the point is clear.

This heart of this passage is about the decisive break Jesus called all those to who might consider following him, and in fact did ask them to disavow everything for the sake of the journey they were embarking upon.

Why? Because, what ever would be lost was worth what they would gain by joining God’s kingdom movement.

But this passage makes little sense in a day and age when Christianity is often subject to the whims of the market, every new mass-media innovation and book publishers out to make a dime (often my dime!) on a commodified Christian message. As we enter into the narrative of Luke 14 we are invited us back to the reality of just how drastic and how radical the breach of the call of the kingdom really is.

He was saying: You will in the end disavow everyone, everything, every belief, every practice, all allegiances religious and political to join this movement.

In a culture where we Christians look for the quick and easy, the 5 min prayer book, the 1 min devotional, where churches that allow for anonymity (such as many seeker and mega-churches) and lead people to little or no costly and personal change, Jesus’ message of a contrast society and the real cost to join his movement still rubs the wrong way.

In many ways, we don’t have to try and contextualize this message, we know what it means. The contrast with our own way of life is obvious.

We just don’t like it. I don’t like it. I struggled with this passage. We want to get out of it somehow. In the same way that Jesus’ sermon on the plain challenges our deepest allegiances, this passage makes us wonder if anyone is fit to follow Christ.

I am challenged by what DB wrote in his christian classic: The Cost of Discipleship:

“But men [and women] are frightened of solitude, and they try to protect themselves from it by merging themselves in the socity of their fellow-men and in their material environment. They become suddenly aware of their responsibilities and duties, and are loath to part with them.”

“We must face up to the truth that the call of Christ does set up a barrier between man and his natural life. But this barrier is no surly contempt for life, no legalistic piety, it is the life which is life indeed, the gospel, the person of Jesus Christ. By virtue of his incarnation he has come between man and his natural life…He wants to be the centre, through him alone all things shall come to pass.” 94

My little reversal, or re-write, might help us see that whatever Jesus is really getting at, it flies in the face of what we expect from at least some of our culture today. In a permissive and consumer driven culture we want people to be able to have any and everything they want. If you can’t eat sugar, no worries, we have sugar free candy. If you like the taste of coffee but can’t or won’t drink the caffeine, no worries, we have decaf for that. There’s alchohol-free alcohol. Chocolate laxatives, or the very thing that brings you distress also provides the relief. And there are cars that increasingly use less and less fuel, which I take to be a good thing on the one hand, but the ideaology behind it is continue to drive as much as you always have, make no lifestyle changes, just drive this particular car instead. And of course the most silly example, I hope this doesn’t pertain to you, is the venti non-fat, sugar-free vanilla, decaf latte – extra hot.

Why bother? Almost all of us joke about these people where we hear someone say this. (I hope you’re not one of them, I’m not picking on you really!).

The thing is we are used to having the pleasure of what comes from being able to consume without the actual cost or implication of the thing being consumed.

This is how we often approach Jesus in America as well. We want to be able to consumer parts of him, some of his religion, without the harmful stuff. Without those high cholesterol ingredients that are really going to show.

There is no non-fat, decaf, sugar-free Jesus.

We can’t take all the “harmful” ingredients out of Jesus’ teaching and make it as non-fat, as sugar-free, as caffeine free as possible. We want everyone to consume this message with as little after effects as possible. That’s why there has been such emphasis on belief, rather than on lifestyle, daily practice, allegiance, family, economics, politics, etc.

I guess in a way, what Jesus said in Luke 14 is more timely than it may have first appeared.

Query: The first query is a personal one and it arises from my reflection on this passage: Are there places in our lives that have been influenced by permissive consumer culture that have undercut the radical call of discipleship for us?

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Blog Entries Quotations The Theological

Simone Weil: Gravity and Grace

I’m still (slowly) reading through Simone Weil’s book “Gravity and Grace” for part of my daily time of reflection. Here are a couple great quotes I’ve recently come across dealing with obedience and caring for others.

We should do only those righteous actions which we cannot stop ourselves from doing, which we are unable not to do, but, through well directed attention, we should always keep on increasing the number of those which we are unable not to do (39).

‘I was hungred, and ye gave me meat.’ When was that, Lord? They did not know. We must not know when we do such acts. We must not help our neighbour for Christ but in Christ. May the self disappear in such a way that Christ can help our neighbour through the medium of our soul and body. May we be the slave whom his master sends to bear help to someone in misfortune (40).

To be only an intermediary between the uncultivated ground and the ploughed field, between the data of a problem and the solution, between the blank page and the poem, between the starving beggar and the beggar who has been fed (41).

I’ve dabbled in the past with reading some of Weil’s writings, but it wasn’t until I heard Quaker historian Carole Spencer speak at Friends Association for Higher Education that I wanted to get back to her writings. Spencer spoke in part about the deeply Christian mystical experiences of people like Simone Weil, Meister Eckhart, and Madame Guyon and I realized that something of their spiritual experience they had I wanted.

One thing I really like about “Gravity and Grace” is the brief chapters, each with short, almost poetry-like, statements or reflections based on whatever theme the chapter explores. Some of those themes are: Gravity and Grace (as in the natural laws of the universe and how it contrasts with the grace of God), Void and Compensation, Renunciation of Time, To Desire Without An Object, Love, Evil, The Cross, The Impossible, etc. Within each of these reflections Weil takes a variety of perspectives, and dives a mysticism that is rooted in the great tradition of the via negativa and aesthetic life. I appreciate her attention to human suffering and need, and her own life story is rich enough to really ground what she writes with the weight of lived experience.

I have found her reflections to be grounding for me. I’ve often shied away from the mystical, preferring instead a spirituality of the physical. During Spencer’s talked this past summer I became even more aware of my own propensity to avoid this part of the spiritual life and slowly, meditatively reading through Weil has been one of the ways I’ve been trying to level out my own spiritual practice.

I would recommend Weil to you as well, especially if you’re interested in mystical reading. Because of the way this particular book is broken up it’s works well for this kind of reflective reading, and I continue to be challenged, refreshed, and made more aware of God’s presence in ways that are new to me.

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Blog Entries

Alyosha the Pot by Leo Tolstoy

This morning I read Alyosha the Pot, a very short story by Leo Tolstoy. If you’ve got 15 minutes I encourage to take a break, jump over to google books and read the story. It’s beautiful and heart breaking, and would be great to discuss. I won’t say too much about the story because it is so short, but this if you’re interested in reading it don’t read what I’ve written below because it might tip off some of the story.

One quote that stands out to me is this:

Alyosha did not know any prayer and had forgotten what his mother had taught him But he prayed just the same every morning and every evening prayed with his hands crossing himself.

The whole story follows this young man, whose body, rather than his thoughts or savvy dialogue, develop for us a picture of what one is like who never becomes for himself an individual.

Two other aspects that stand out to me as important are his being named “the pot,” for this seems to signify taking on the name and expectation of others, rather than living into and creating his own story. Of course, a deeper question is why was he unable (or unwilling) to do this?

Secondly, I’m interested in what this might say about spirituality. In the same way that one could say Alyosha’s life was content-less, one could say that about his spirituality (he prayed with his hands). There is no content, only form. Yet, Tolstoy finds it important to mention that this was still his prayer, in the context of the story, it seems as though that was a true sign of faith. Even though he couldn’t express it in his own words, his body did it for him.

Another thing I read into this story concerning this idea of content and spirituality is that the love he is offered, which is in the palm of his hands, was the kind of love that breaks people free from bondage and liberates the self.

How about you, what are you thoughts and reflections on it?

If you’ve read the story: What do you like about the story? What do you think Tolstoy is underscoring in the narrative?

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Blog Entries Quotations

Barth, the Task of Theology, and some Queries

I came across this quote in my reading of Vail Palmer’s manuscript on Friends, God and the Bible this morning. It’s Barth cautioning what we carry to the biblical text beforehand, it’s also encouragement to look for the encounter, or what I’ve been referring to as intervention.

Its searching of the Scriptures consists in asking the texts whether and to what extent they might witness to him; however, whether and to what extent they reflect and echo, in their completely humanity, the Word of God is completely unknown beforehand….The Word of God itself, as witnessed to in the Bible, is not immediately obvious in any of its chapters or verses. On the contrary, the truth, of the Word must be sought precisely, in order to be understood in its deep simplicity. Every possible means must be used (Barth 1964:29-30).

One thing that I love about this short quote is the challenge to pursue the Word.

Put in question form we might approach biblical texts with the question, “where is the Word of God being witnessed too within this passage, parable, narrative, poetry, etc. today?”

“We might also ask, what voices, ideas, and language am I bringing to this text, importing on it that may be obstructing its truth?”

Another question I have been asking as I prepare for Sunday’s is, “what does this text tell us about the missio Dei (God’s mission)? And what practices and what kind of community formation is needed in order to embody that mission today?”

“One final question is, what assumptions whether theological or practice-oriented are getting overturned, reversed, or being responded to? Whose assumptions do these belong to, how is it being reversed, and for what reason?”

There are many other questions that can be useful and get carried to the text, these are just a couple I’m holding onto for the moment.

What are your questions?

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Featured Practices Quaker The Political

One (Growing) Perspective on Evangelicalism and Politics

I was recently asked why as an Evangelical I don’t follow the standard issue Evangelical party platform, here’s how I start to answer that question.

Heated political rhetoric comes and goes in waves. Currently in the United States, we’re riding a tidal wave named “Health Care Reform.” Everyone, especially Evangelical Christians, has come out in all their stripes and colors. Within this dialogue, if we can call it that, there is much debate about whether or not religion should keep its two-cents to itself. Some on the left say, “keep it out of the public square,” while others on the right try to bully their way in, like a party they weren’t invited to. (This all operates under the assumption that there really is some religion-free, neutral space like a “public square,” which I have great doubts about). My confession is that I often feel rather hopeless after hearing both these sides. It is as though both groups are predetermined machines whose course cannot, will not, be altered.

But on my more upbeat days my response to all of this is something different from either of our two caricatures above. I am interested and active in politics because I am a Christian, yes, even an evangelical one at that. Yet, I gladly do not identify with either the left or right because for me to be a Christian is to pledge allegiance to only one political party, Christ’s kingdom. The Christian church is at its very core political. That is it is, or at least should be, deeply concerned about all, or at least many of the things, that often get shoved into our “public” discussions. Things like war, poverty, abortion, capital punishment, caring for the sick, hunger, marriage, etc. are all issues that concern the very practice of what it means to be Christian. These are not voting blocks or single issues to be fought over. These are real life, embodied, questions that impact real people in our congregations.

If I get my ethics from the Sermon on the Mount, then as a Christian I play politics to a radically different drum beat. These are ethics, that is a way of embodying core convictions, that are closer to poetry than they are mathematics. This poetry makes little sense to the logical, rational and the powerful. Yet deep within Jesus’ sayings, his parables, and his miracles is a world of reversals, subversions, and love where the losers are winners, the mournful rejoice and the wounded are healed. It sides with the weak, the poor, the orphan and the widow. This is how the world looks like right-side up. These “ethics” are the throbbing heartbeat of Jesus’ movement and the church.

Rather than reducing people and politics down to a single issue as the right does so well, or pretending as though a neutral religious- (or conviction-)free zone could possible exist in our world (as the left obsesses over), Christians following the poetry of the Kingdom of God slice this another way. The church is itself a politic that answers to God, to Jesus’ ethics, rather than the king’s. We are to embody love of enemy, we are to do good to those who abuse us, we are to welcome the “alien” among us, and we are to give daily bread to those praying for it. Therefore, whether or not we live in a country that votes, has soldiers “protecting those freedoms!” or has leaders who believe the proper religious dogmas (often at the expense of actually living those dogmas) is all beside the point. Yes, I (typically) vote and help where I can within the established political system. I live in a country that (still) allows for disagreement and participation (though those on the fringes of the Right seem to favor less difference of opinion, maybe even difference of conviction, with growing fervor even in a free country such as ours), and the outcomes are still (for the most part) not predetermined. But I am not required to do this as a Christian, it is not our duty to transform the world by the means of the world. My duty is to love without measure and pray with my life that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, even if (or when) it costs me everything.  As Christians, or people seeking to practice daily the Sermon on the Mount, I cannot see how this would ever be done with violence, lies, greed, exploitation and other under-the-table charades.

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Featured Sermons The Biblical

Interventions: The Clock of the Kingdom (or Learning to Tell and Understand Time)

Reflections from Luke 12:54-59; 13:6-21 September 13, 2009

Intro.
We have come a long way in our journey of encounters and interventions through Luke. If you have missed some of our previous discussions I invite you to check out our blog (check out the teaching page) or download the podcast from iTunes.

We’ve been reading Luke with an eye towards what we’ve called among other things “the poetry of the kingdom, the impossible, and interventions.” Where in these texts do we find Luke narrating particular encounters that leave lives changed? Or where in these texts do we see the common assumptions, the status quo, the rich and worldly powerful, challenged by none other than Jesus Christ?

One thing we have yet to turn our eyes (and hearts to) is how time itself gets disrupted and reconfigured within Jesus’ ministry.

  • We’ve scratched the surface of questions relating to time when we discussed the fact that God uses both the elderly and barren Elizabeth, and the young teenage virgin Mary for his purposes.
  • We noticed a collapse of time when Jesus announced in his inaugural address, found in Luke 4, that Jubilee was no longer bound by a seven year cycle, it was present and was to remain in the present from now on.
  • We briefly mentioned time when we looked at Jesus’ dealing with the Tax Collectors. There in Chapter 5, Jesus mentions that the new is breaking in, yet many will cling to the old.
  • And we can follow this track out in each of the places we’ve covered there is something to be said for the way in which Jesus deals with and approaches issues related to time.

We might say: If God has something to say about our theology, and how we practice that theology, then God also, even more so, has something to say about time itself.

And to say time is really important to us as human beings is a serious understatement. Time is involved in everything we do. It’s also one of the most valuable things we each have.

One commenter on facebook wrote concerning this topic:

It is interesting (and crucial) to think about “how we use and understand time.” What else are we really given in life, but a little time, awareness and capacity for compassion?

It’s true that time is of utmost importance to us, not just as human beings but as a community bound together in Jesus Christ, and formed by these stories.

I want to suggest today that these short little stories read today can help us learn how to tell and understand time according to the clock of the kingdom. And that along with this we are called to give up our understanding and conception of time and submit it to the kingdom’s own way of telling time. This is something that I believe Quaker process and practice is meant to build into us as a community. Thus, this morning’s reflection is about the clock of the Kingdom and how Quaker practice seeks to discipline ourselves to tell and live (that) time appropriately.

time in the Bible.
So let me cover briefly some basic reflections on Time in the bible:

In the Older Testament time is as important as it is in the New Testament. The creation narrative is told to have happened over the course of six days, and on the seventh a day was set aside for rest.

  • In the garden the past, present and future were together. There was no death, and YHWH walked among the creation.
  • But with rebellion against God the symphony of the Garden was interrupted by the clanging noise of self-will. Thus a separation began, a fissure in time was created, that began to split the past, present and future. Now man and woman hoped for a future where something like the garden might be restored.
  • Noah learned about the time necessary to build a ship large enough to carry the world’s animals on it, and the skills required to live, and help others live, on that ship for forty days and nights.
  • In later times, God called upon the patience of people like Moses and Aaron to continually return to the pharaoh of Egypt calling on plagues of destruction to release the people of Israel from his oppression. This call to liberation was rooted both in the present, requiring long-suffering and humiliation among not only Aaron and Moses but also the Children of Israel, as well as a vision and a trust that YHWH would give them a new future and a land of their own upon release.
  • And we can’t forget that they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. And even though he was faithful, Moses was not permitted to enter the promised land. The future for him, was out of his reach.
  • And we know the rest of the story, how YHWH despised the idea of Israel having a king because he knew with kings come party politics, militaries, corruption, and more rebellion and yet kings were enthroned. And how after the repeated moral failings of those called to be faithful, the Children of Israel saw their own temple destroyed and were sent into exile and held in cruel captivity in Babylon.

And so by the time we get up to Jesus’ day, the Jews are being held captive by the Roman empire in their own land. And some want to make things easy and so they cooperate with the political officials, others see this as all wrong and resist the accommodations made with the pagan people.

the Kingdom of God.
For the Jews, they had since the days of king David longed for a time when another “Son of David” would take the throne and ride Israel back to bold victory before the world’s eyes. The kingdom of God would be established through his military might and religious purity. Finally, at this “return of the king” they would be again on track and find favor with YHWH.

The kingdom of God for the Jews was an ongoing dialogue about time, about waiting and being faithful. In Jesus’ day there were many who questioned:

  1. why God had not returned yet
  2. how were they to wait (should they do it by withdrawal, political accommodation, religious purity or violent resistance?)
  3. and what was it exactly that they were hoping and waiting for? (Ryan Bolger, Jesus For and Against Modernity)

This thread of waiting and hoping for some future to arrive ran through the Jewish tradition.

But as we see in our text today, “Jesus changed the notion of what time it was in Jerusalem,” and “The kingdom did not represent the end of space-time, but would happen in the here and now” (Bolger).

the Redemption of time.
In this text today, a number of things get said about the kingdom of God and it’s relation to time, but the essential point is that the future is no longer being delayed. It has collapsed into the present. The future is no longer our objective, the present is (Simone Weil). The kingdom is now, there is no more waiting.

In it’s original context these particular stories about crisis and understanding the times were Jesus’ way of calling his people back to faithfulness to God, and to repentance before it was too late for the pending judgment. Historically, we know that there was a physical, actual judgement in AD 70, not 40 years after Jesus spoke these words. This is a call to repentance before Rome comes after the Jews. In AD 70, the Jewish temple is destroyed again, for the last time.
According to Jesus, the Jewish way of life was changing, the way of being God’s people in the world was going through a radical shift. His ministry was ushering in a new time, a new way of relating to reality.

Given this background here is one basic (theological) point about four of these passages:

In the fig tree passage: Time is related to bearing fruit. The tree is sterile, it is not producing fruit and is about to be cut down for the simple fact that now, when the Vineyard owner visits the tree there is no fruit. And what the gardner suggests about this fruitlessness (akin to faithlessness) is that more time is needed, more cultivation, better compost, and more care. This is about clemency and disciple.

In the passage on the Bent woman, one observation I have made about time is that while some want to wait, put time, or in this case Sabbath, in the way of Justice for others, there is no time for waiting. The kingdom is here now, breaking in, and cannot wait. It doesn’t do away with Sabbath but as Walter Wink suggests, fulfills it.

“Christ did not do away with the Sabbath but gave it full significance as the eschatological day, the day that prefigures the leisures of the end of time. Clearly, it was not to be a day of servitude, but the premonitory sign of supreme liberation God is accomplishing for the whole creation. Freed on this day from all that disfigures and frustrates the divine will for the fulness of time.” (Wink)

Here Jesus enacts what Sabbath is really about, liberation and care for all of creation. There is no waiting for this, the kingdom has broken in, the kingdom is now.

Next, we find in the short parable of the mustard seed the importance of remembering that it is the kingdom of God that often works through the most unexpected of things. In this case, it is the insignificant, and small (or weak), mustard seed. Jesus was saying, God’s kingdom is here among you, it just doesn’t look like what you expected.

Finally, it seems to me that the parable of the yeast says that change comes not quickly but through a slow and tedious process. But it always comes!

So in summary we have:

  • The fig tree – Clemency and cultivation.
  • The Bent women – The nowness of the liberation of the kingdom of God that cannot and will not wait.
  • The Mustard seed – The unexpected and insignificant appearance of God’s kingdom
  • The Yeast – Change comes and it comes slowly.

Cultivation, nowness, unexpected and insignificant, slowly?

this reminds me a lot of Quaker process.

I had a conversation this week with a friend who I just recently met who is not a Quaker. We talked about Quaker process.
One question he asked me was does the process work? Do we ever get things done?

At our elder’s meeting this week we talked about the need to follow Quaker process, but also the need (and the desire) to get things done. To not get caught up in the process so much that nothing is ever accomplished.

Simone Weil wrote, “We [often] want the future to be there without ceasing to be the future.” In other words, we want to continue to enjoy the desire without having to taste the final product. We want the chase, not the commitment.

Take for instance, the story of the bent woman. What would it look like to put things off until the future as was suggested by those who witnessed the healing? She would not have been healed.

What we have is present, it is now. It is not locked away in some past. Jesus does not act in a way that jives with “how things used to be.” He is not held back by the past (the way Sabbath laws had been interpreted in his time). And in the same breathe, neither does he delay the healing for the future, as though waiting for something similar to a rapture scenario where we convince ourselves that responsibility is to be delayed (or avoided) in the name of coming judgment. This mode doesn’t renounce the future, it idolizes it.

Jesus responds by collapsing the past (it was sabbath) and the future (the kingdom coming) into the present (the bent women, there right in front of him is healed).

Quaker Process in Our Times.
This is about who we are right now. Quaker process reminds us we are here now together with our history and with our future, but only now in the present are we called to listen and respond. We cannot live in the future, and we cannot live in the past, we are here for the present. We are called to listen to Jesus Christ himself, speak and lead us together. And is this not increasingly difficult to do? Is it not as backwards as much of what we find in the Gospels themselves? These ideas of the kingdom being here now, the unexpected appearance of it, the need for cultivation, and the slow change that occurs, all this is backwards according to modern sensibilities.

In our world where voting is an integral part of decision-making, how do we create communities that not only value the careful (and sometimes tedious) process of discerning the “Sense of the Meeting” (similar to, though not equal with, the more popular notion of consensus), but who are disciplined enough to actually do it?  While we are Quakers and we pay lip service to the present Christ, and the importance of silence, and slowness and listening, we don’t have to follow this. We can short-cut these methods and do things the way of our world. The way of the manager in a bearucrtic environment. But the day-job manager is a modern construction, not an image of the kingdom. The kingdom is a mustard seed, it is yeast, it is a failing fig tree, and a doubled-over woman healed at an inopportune time.

So when we come together as Quakers to do business we must return to these passages, and see the intervention that takes place.

Our process requires cultivation, and clemency. It’s not perfect (no system is).
Our process is rooted in the nowness of the kingdom. Christ is here now to lead his people.
Our process is unexpected and looks rather insignificant, but has proved itself very powerful.
And our process allows for the slow movements of innovation and change, it takes time, but it always arrives, it does not rest in a future coming, but in the eternal present.

a Closing image.
Tom Smith wrote on my blog this week: http://bit.ly/Lu38u

I am reminded of a talk by Tom Mullen he gave to Moorestown Friends School almost 30 years ago. One of his premises was that the digital watch/clock was a symptom of our time that needed to be carefully watched. He said that with a digital time there tended to be no past and no future. When asked what time is it, people often now say the “exact” time. Fifteen past the hour, 20 til the hour, etc. were leaving our [everyday] conversation[al] language. “Living in the moment” has not assisted this trend.

Friends process, including waiting and listening, requires attention to the past, present and future implications… Slow down and smell the roses, might be adapted to “Slow down and feel the Spirit.”

I visualized this togetherness of past, present and future on Friday when I spent sometime at LaCamas Park. It was there that I realized that we can visually see the past, present and the future at work among God’s creation. Here is a poem I wrote to close with it’s called Movements: Past, Future, Present

Here among the beams of light, the greens and brown,
things decay, die, and creep back into the ground.

The downward movement carefully works its way back into new life,
revealing the necessity of the past we often hold in strife.

There are things just now sprouting and crafting their webs,
the future is unfolding all across the earthen bed.

In the middle of this past and future the present movement is a-spin,
sometimes so slowly only a patient silence can catch the tick-tock of creation.

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Blog Entries Quaker

Celebration of Quakerism and Ben Pink Dandelion

I’m not going to make a habit out of announcing events that Pendle Hill or other organizations do, but I will tell you about the ones I think you should know about, or the ones I would attend if I could. This is no exception. Ben Pink Dandelion is going to be spending sometime at Pendle Hill and there is no reason why, if you live close, you shouldn’t try to make one of these events. Plus, since Ben doesn’t have a blog (and refuses to get one no matter how hard I try) I don’t mind helping him out some.

Ben is going to be leading a weekend retreat based on his new book “Celebrating the Quaker Way.”

There you will:

Reflect on the riches of Quaker insights and the legacy of Quaker heritage. Quakerism springs from the experience of direct connection with God, an experience of communion which leads us into the world guided by our faith. Say ‘Yes’ to our faith and all it has to offer. There will be time for discussion of themes such as witness and the use of silence, but the heart of the course will be Quaker worship, reflection, and the ministry given to us. Deborah Shaw will serve as elder for this course.

The retreat “Celebration of Quakerism” happens November 8-12. You can click here to find out more about the event.

Ben has been a big part of my own theological training and PhD process over the last 3 or so years. I have been deeply impacted by not only his scholarship and tutelage, but also his friendship. I would highly recommend taking the chance to join him in this personal spiritual journey if you are able.

BenPinkDandelion

Ben Pink Dandelion is professor of Quaker Studies at the University of Birmingham, England, a tutor at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, and the author of numerous books on Quakerism, most recently, The Quakers: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2008) and An Introduction to Quakerism (Cambridge, 2007). He edits the journal Quaker Studies. He is passionate about trying to live faithfully and about letting Quakerism feel its own power.

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Blog Entries Quaker

Learning How to Tell Time and Quaker Process

I’m enjoying the process of Reading and reflecting on Scripture weekly as I prepare my reflections for our Sunday. This week we’re looking at Luke 12:54-65; 13:6-21. These passages are some of Jesus’ challenges, actions and stories around re-orienting time. They also seem to be good passages to begin a dialogue around Gospel Order, and how as Christians we are oriented around practices of (how we use and understand) time?

I have many questions that run a long the lines of how we might employ this passage in a way that helps us understand and interpret the times. I do think that joining God’s kingdom work is as much about learning how to tell (the) time(s), as it is about responding appropriately when it is time.

In our world today everything is instant, high-speed and choatic. What does Jesus’ short little stories here teach us about time that challenges our own 21st century understanding and practice?

In our world where voting is an integral part of  decision-making, how do we create communities that not only value the careful (and sometimes tedious) process of discerning the “Sense of the Meeting” (similar to, though not equal with, the more popular notion of consensus), but who are disciplined enough to actual do it?

How does Jesus’ action in this passage with healing the “Bent Women” reframe the Jewish understanding of Sabbath? And if it stresses the now-ness of the Kingdom, a sudden impulse that cannot, and will not, wait, then how are we to hold in tension that follows from these two parables below?

What about the final two stories of the kingdom in this short selection?

“It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”

And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”” (Luke 13:19-21 NRSV)

I think, based on some of the reading I’ve been doing, that both these passages are oriented around how time is understood.  Two key insights Ryan Bolger writes about in “Jesus For and Against Modernity,” is that the first story indicates that the kingdom was in-breaking, but in small and unexpected ways.  I might add, following John Caputo’s own perspective, that the kingdom appears weak and relies on the power of powerlessness to transform. Secondly, the final parable above is related to the slow process of change that took place in Jesus’ ministry. “The leaven is to work itself through all of Israel and it will not be a quick change.”

I see all these questions, and the final two reflections as bearing weight on our understanding of Quaker process, silent or Open Worship, and our taking time to develop as people who can sustain these practices.

We do need to constantly learn how to slow down, and at the same time listen within the choas and noise of our world. This is far easier said than done, and because of this I believe that Quaker process and Gospel Order are relevant concepts, and practices in our world today. We still need to learn how to tell time.

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Blog Entries

Art Simon and Bread For the World Event In Portland

I’m planning on attending the Bread for the World event tomorrow morning. If any of you are in the area and care to join here’s the information from Bread.org:

Bread for the World In Portland: Reflections on Building the Movement to End Hunger

Rev. Art Simon, the founder and president emeritus of Bread for the World, will share the surprising story of how God uses ordinary people to make an extraordinary difference in the lives of hungry people. Hear him talk about his new book The Rising of Bread for the World: An Outcry of Citizens Against Hunger and reflect of his decades of advocacy for hungry people. With both humor and insight, Art recounts how he and his older brother Paul, the late renowned Senator from Illinois, grew up and began their remarkable careers. In the 1970s, Art served as a Lutheran pastor in New York’s Lower East Side. He brought together Catholics and Protestants in an organized effort to urge Congress to address the root causes of hunger. Today, 35 years later, Bread for the World is the nation’s foremost Christian voice against hunger. He’ll share this amazing story—and talk about why urging our nation’s decision makers to end hunger at home and abroad is as important now as ever.

Rev. Art Simon, the founder and president emeritus of Bread for the World, will share the surprising story of how God uses ordinary people to make an extraordinary difference in the lives of hungry people. Hear him talk about his new book The Rising of Bread for the World: An Outcry of Citizens Against Hunger and reflect of his decades of advocacy for hungry people. With both humor and insight, Art recounts how he and his older brother Paul, the late renowned Senator from Illinois, grew up and began their remarkable careers. In the 1970s, Art served as a Lutheran pastor in New York’s Lower East Side. He brought together Catholics and Protestants in an organized effort to urge Congress to address the root causes of hunger. Today, 35 years later, Bread for the World is the nation’s foremost Christian voice against hunger. He’ll share this amazing story—and talk about why urging our nation’s decision makers to end hunger at home and abroad is as important now as ever.

Event Information

Please register by Thursday, September 3. $7 for breakfast or $23.95 for breakfast and a copy of Arthur Simon’s new book, The Rising of Bread for the World: An Outcry of Citizens Against Hunger Additional copies will be on sale for $16.95.

Parking available in Westminster’s parking lot to the north of the church.

Date: Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Time: 8:00 AM – 9:30 AM
Address:
1624 NE Hancock St
Portland, OR 97212

If you’d like to attend this event you can purchase tickets online.