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Mission and the Disciple’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13)

[Photo by Andreanix]

Here is the text from my sermon this morning.

How many of you have prayed this prayer before (at least once)? How many of you pray it often? What has been your experience with the prayer?

My hope is that we can renew our interest, gain an interest or learn new ways of thinking about and applying the prayer in our lives. Hopefully, we can see that within the simplicity of the prayer there is a deeply revolutionary way to view our relationship with God, with others and with the world. And that no matter what we take away from this set of discussions around the prayer, that we may gain tools for our own spiritual formation.

My own history with the Lord’s prayer is a mixed bag. I grew up going to a Catholic school and mass pretty regularly, I learned the prayer as a young boy and when I said it I meant it like any prayer. I wouldn’t have said that it was or was not meaningful because it was memorized. One of my favorite parts of Catholic mass was when it came time to say the “Our Father.” Catholics have it right, they see it as a communal prayer because when we would say it, we would all hold hands together and in unison begin, “Our Father who art in heaven…”

After my family began going to the local charismatic church things changed and I lost touch with the prayer. There in that community what was important was the ability to speak (and pray) spontaneously prayer as led by the Spirit. For many in churches like this saying something written down, whether it was a prayer (or a sermon), was equal to not being led by the Spirit. It was as though the Spirit could not guide you all week long, you really had to wait until that moment for the Spirit speak. This along with the fact that I was in rebellion against my Catholic upbringing didn’t want anything to do with it at that time in my life. [I’ve since changed my view and think a life of habit is just as important].

—-

Then in seminary things changed for me again. I remember being in a class called, “Jesus the Missionary,” with two professors who have had the most influence on my thinking, the class was about looking at Jesus’ practices within his culture as a model for how we as Christians might interact as the church in the world. Instead of seeing Paul as the first missionary, we assumed that Jesus’ incarnation qualified him to be the first “Christian” missionary. So if that’s the case, why not learn from him?

I remember having one of those ah-ha moments. It dawned on me that the Lord’s Prayer was really more than just a simple prayer to be memorized and prayed on Sunday mornings. It actually contains within it the entire mission and practice of the Christian church. My thought was, what if a church community took the Lord’s Prayer as its mission statement? What would Christians look like? How would they act?

You know, every church has a mission statement, some are really long, some are short and to the point. Here are some examples:

First: Our vision is to be an Acts 2 and Acts 16 Christ-centered community in the diverse and beautiful landscape of our city.  We believe Acts 2:42-47 provides a vision of what it means to be a church of community and vitality.  Acts 16 provides a vision of the life-changing power of an urban and diverse church.  We long to unite people from all walks of life and backgrounds under the transformational power of the love of Christ.  Transformed lives…transforming lives!!

Our desire is to be a church whose doors are open to everyone living in, working in or visiting our great city — a church that truly reflects the diversity that makes ours a great city. Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, whether you’re just beginning to investigate Christianity or you already have a mature relationship with Jesus, we’re here to help you take the next step spiritually and to offer you a place where you can be as involved as you choose.

Second: “Living out the way of Jesus in missional communities, announcing the arrival of his kingdom, working for measurable change among the oppressed.”

And here’s one I really like: Camas Friends: To love God and love people.

But I wondered, “what if a church adopted the Lord’s Prayer as its mission statement?” What if we sought to live out this prayer on a regular basis; praying it, and living it, what would our communities look like? So for me it became a rubric, or paradigm for understanding the Christian life. As I pray these petitions, I can’t help but also reflect on the question: Am I living this? Am I helping to answer this call? Am I creating a roadblock for this prayer to be answered. I like to say, the prayer for daily bread, is a prayer for us to become givers of daily bread. Therefore, what would it look like if we saw ourselves as a new family with God as our father, what if we sought to sanctify God’s name with our lives, what if we lived in the reality of Christ’s kingdom come, what if we sought to only have enough of what we need for today, what if we were people who literally forgave people’s debts, and what if we confessed our need for forgiveness and our weakness to give into temptation?

I want to suggest that this prayer is really not the Lord’s Prayer at all, neither is it the “Our Father,” it is the as the Quaker Elton Trueblood and others (McClendon) call it the Disciple’s Prayer. It is our prayer, the one we are to pray and the one that is meant to truly shape our prayers and how we practice our faith.

It is easy to avoid the interconnectedness of prayer and action, contemplation and movement, listening and response. We too often draw a line between what we believe and how we act. I think the Disciple’s prayer is the very thing that can help to remedy this dichotomy: What if we prayed this everyday, not just with words, but with our very bodies? What if we sought to not only pray this but to answer its call? So when we pray for God’s kingdom to come, we look for ways to join in God’s work to bring that about.

And so I will do my best to refer to this prayer as the Disciple’s Prayer so that we can be reminded that this is our prayer.

Question: I wonder, can the Disciple’s Prayer have meaning for all of you like it has for me? I don’t know but I hope so. I hope you can find within in it the words, the movements and the patterns you need to help you, as Stanley Hauerwas says, “live as you pray,” or as someone wrote on my facebook page: “The life I live is the prayer I pray.” [A Challenge to pray this daily from now until the end of November].


—-

My guess is we all pray, some of us pray more than others, and even for those of us who are pretty skeptical about whether or not God really “answers” prayers we all have made petitions to God. Even Lily likes to pray. At dinner, Lily will remind us to pray before we start eating and often, she’ll interrupt us and ask us to pray again (sometimes she does this two or three times). She likes to pray when she’s going to bed (we always say the Disciple’s Prayer together) and she even asked Emily to pray with her in the middle of the night a few days ago when she woke up startled.

And while we all pray, many of us do not regularly pray the words of this prayer. I want to encourage you to be creative with this prayer, make it your own. There are many ways to use the words of this prayer: through the repetition of Lectio Divina, broken up with queries like we did this morning, we can use it as a basis for the themes we pray for. The structure can be a guide to how to prayer and what to pray for. I am convinced that Jesus actually meant for us to pray this specific prayer (though some disagree on this point). Not only is it the prayer he taught his disciples upon request, but every rabbi in his time would have had their own prayer that would mark his disciples from others. We know from Luke 11 that even John the Baptist had taught his disciples a specific prayer (and there are others like the Qaddish).  Now this isn’t the kind of thing that if you don’t do it, then well, you’re not a good Christian. We’re not dealing with that kind of guilt ridden spiritually. All it means to say that Jesus meant for us to pray this prayer is that he knew how important prayer is, and how formative it can be. So either way, even though I’m convinced that Jesus actually meant that when we pray we should pray the prayer he taught to his disciples, I’m even more convinced that we are meant to live out that prayer as a community formed by the heart of its petitions.

He also knew that prayer is hard work, just look back to the scene in the Garden of Gesthemene: there we find Jesus sweating blood and his disciples sawing logs. Prayer takes serious perseverance, It takes practice and presumes a lot. It presumes that we have a prayer to give, that we have the courage to offer that prayer, and that God is a hearing God (McClendon 155 #2). Sometimes this is too much to ask. I have gone through many times in my life when I had no prayer to offer, when I didn’t have the courage to offer my prayer, or when I assumed God was in fact not listening.

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas says that:  “Some things are too important to be left up to chance.  Some things in life are too difficult to be left up to spontaneous desire – things like telling people that we love them or prayer to God.  So we do them out of habit.  Thus in church we generally do the same things over and over again, week after week, telling the same stories and singing the same songs.”

I’ve been really getting into Leo Tolstoy’s writings lately and am thoroughly loving it. I came across a very short story of his called “Alyosha: the Pot.” It’s about a young boy who takes the place of his older brother as servant to a large wealthy family. He does this on his father’s demand so that he can help raise money to support his family. Tolstoy describes Alyosha as someone who does whatever he is asked without ever questioning why, and does it to the best of his ability. He runs here, he runs there, answering everyone’s bidding and never thinks twice about himself (even to the extent that he losses the only true love he ever experienced). This story is very much about his deep desire to please others even to his own detriment.  And then in the middle of the story he writes 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, he prayed with his hands crossing himself” (Tolstoy).

Alyosha’s prayer is completely silent – there are no words – but it’s not without content. Now I don’t know about you rather I’ve often felt I had no words to offer in prayer. I don’t think that Tolstoy mentions this prayer to somehow ridicule his simple ignorance but to hold up Alyosha’s faith, that even though he had no words, or could not get the words right, he went through the movements of prayer.

For Quakers we can easily relate to a prayer with no words, a movement and a posture that we practice that we try to make a habit. One where we listen for Christ’s guidance in the present moment. And even though we are silent, we know that we are praying, that we are practicing our faith, that the movement of being still in the silence can be for us a genuine expression of faith. [Sometimes other Quakers do better at this habit]

And I think this is what we’re getting at when we talk about praying out of habit, not leaving it up to chance that we will get it right in the heat of the moment. We need help going through the movements, knowing the language to use, knowing just how to pray and what to pray for. This is what the disciple’s prayer is for. It is our way of being like Alyosha and desiring prayer so much that even though he wasn’t sure what words to say, or whether he had it right, he prayed the only prayer he knew. [Sign of the cross]

There have been many times when I was like Alyosha and “did not know any prayer and had forgotten what my mother taught me,” and then I remembered the words, “Our Father, in the heavens, may your name be sanctified…” This is our prayer. It is our gift from Jesus. It is our prayer when we have no words.

It is also our prayer when we are tempted to have too many words or when we want to bend the words to our own selfish desires. Quaker pastor James Mulholland writes in his book “Praying Like Jesus” that this prayer can act as a muzzle that helps to simplify and redirect what we pray for. It helps to strip our hidden selfishness we often have within in our prayers. There are many ways we pray there are prayers of self-interest, self-preservation and self-righteousnessIt protects us from what Emily calls “Propaganda Prayer.” The other day we were praying before dinner and I said out loud, “God, help us to be good for mommy, to not give her a hard time, and help around the house.” How many of you have done something like this? That’s propaganda prayer.

If you’ll notice there is no I, Me, or Mine in the disciple’s prayer, it is just ‘our’ and ‘us.’ We pray for God’s kingdom to come, not our own, we prayer to our father, we pray that we together might have the bread we need, that our debts will be cancelled and that we will not fall into temptation.

The prayer reorients the me within the Our and Us. It reminds us that we are a part of a global community, a global family who have prayed this prayer for thousands of years. And that together, the church is called to make a difference in this world. This is our mission, to sanctify God’s name by praying as well as living out this prayer.

Instead of all those other prayers we are so often tempted to pray: the prayer of self-preservation, the prayer of self-righteousness, the prayer of self-interest or even the propaganda prayer, this is, we can trust, indeed a sincere prayer. It is the movements, the language, the patten, and the mission that we as Jesus’ disciples have been taught to practice.

—-

You are invited to journey with us this next month and discover if you can make the Disciple’s prayer your own.

You are invited to practice praying this every day, or as regularly as you can. Let the prayer be a reminder of the journey we are on together, and begin asking yourself the question – how can I (and we) be formed and transformed by this prayer?

What would it look like for this to become our prayer and  mission?

[Photo by Andreanix]

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Featured Sermons The Biblical

Interventions: The Final Intervention is Also the First (Luke 24:1-7)

Compost

This is the text from my sermon last week.

Compost: What do you notice about compost? What does it do? Observe the compost — what can you tell from it. Is it at all like resurrection, in what ways, how is it different?

What I want to stress this morning is this: the resurrection itself is the last intervention in the Gospel of Luke, but it is also the the first. Like compost, the resurrection is the “stuff” that brings new life. Christ is risen. Had he remained dead we would hail him as a great rabbi, a good moral teacher, or an annoying activist. But because he rose from the the dead he is the cosmic Lord over all, even death itself.

Christians not only believe that Christ was raised from the dead, but that he is present with us now, helping us make sense of our lives, reading and interpreting the bible and the times along side us, guide us in the ways of the kingdom, and calling us to a deeper truer humanity in him.

[On July 5th I said:] Our reflections this summer, the Interventions in the Gospel of Luke, not only draw on the text itself, what it says, what it teaches, but it suggests that by hearing, and re-telling these stories we encounter the text in a way that transforms us. And when we open these words in our world new interventions can take place. With every re-telling the possibility for God’s kingdom is reborn.

So we have interventions in the text, and in our own lives as well. This second part is because of the resurrection.

The resurrection is itself an intervention. On the one hand it problematizes old assumptions, quite literally Jesus’ resurrection was unexpected within a Jewish culture even though he often predicted that it would happen.God intervened in human history to change the course of history. On the other hand, it is the one intervention that upon our hearing and experiencing in our day to day (Rob Bell says you be the resurrection) we are encountered not with just a really good story, but a living one, one with the risen Christ who transforms us into disciples.

NT Wright says of the resurrection it “the final intervention, that is to wake us up to all new incoming interventions” (Everyday Luke, 289). It is the last, and it is also the first.

Let me explain how this is in three ways. [The resurrection is an intervention that can be viewed in (at least) three ways. (McClendon)]

1. It was an intervention in the life of his own disciples who still did not understand. (This is because within a Jewish religious culture there were differing thoughts on resurrection).
2. It in an intervention in our lives, it has transforming power.
3. It is an intervention that offers new life out of the old.

1. It was an intervention in the life of his own disciples who still did not understand.

This passage we read this morning (Luke 24:1-7) is primarily about the resurrected Christ, but the subtext is about these faithful women and their role in making known that Jesus was risen from the dead. It is obvious that they did not expect to find Jesus raised from the dead. You can tell this by observing what they were carrying. In the same way that if we were to ask each other to reveal what we have in our pockets, wallets, purses, man purses, etc. we could make all kinds of observations about each other that we may never know of otherwise. We don’t know what’s inside the hearts of these women, but we can observe what they carry, and the things they carry of items to care for the dead. [Sometimes the very things we have with us, betray our lack of readiness and preparation for God’s intervention.]

NT Wright says that, “In Jewish culture it was believed that resurrection would be a large-scale that would come after Israel’s great and final suffering, and that all God’s people would be given new life, and new bodies” (290).

The thought was that Israel would be “redeemed from suffering, but the message of the Gospel and the point of resurrection is that we are redeemed through suffering, not from it.”

One common assumption is that these woman had no faith, but it’s more likely that these people just never dreamed that one person would be raised to life in this manner. Their way of understanding the world just didn’t have this kind of category available.

It’s like in the movie Life Aquatic when they are searching for the Jaguar Shark (no one believed Zissou) — The Shark killed Steve Zissou’s best friend, and he wants to set out to destroy it. “What’s next for Zissou” I’m going to set out to find the shark that ate my best friend and destroy it” Festival Director: [translating] That’s an endangered species at most. What would be the scientific purpose of killing it? Steve Zissou: Revenge.

When everyone aboard saw the tiger shark they were stunned, they didn’t have the category to even imagine something like this.

In a similar way to the discovery of the Jaguar shark Jesus’ resurrection totally reconfigures everything. The impossible is once again shown possible in the Gospel of Luke. We can now add to the list of barren and virgin women giving birth to revolutionary leaders, the resurrection from the dead.

The intervention, the resurrection of this man Jesus from the dead is announced by two men in dazzling clothes! Why Luke? Why Dazzling clothes?

I love the question they ask the women: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

The question could be put more literally, why do you desire to find what cannot be found here, your desire is for life, not for the uselessness of death. The word here for “look” is really about desire, a longing to find something but are not sure where it is.

The men in dazzling clothes say, “wake up, you’re looking in the wrong place! Haven’t you been paying attention? Or in the words of Jesus, listening with your ears? This should no surprise you, this was Jesus, son of Man, God of the impossible.”

2. It in an intervention in our lives, it has transforming power.

And after hearing, this time really hearing, the words of these angelic men, “remember.”

Here’s an important part of this text — they don’t simply hear these words and remember, when they hear they are transformed into messengers who respond in belief and turn around to go and spread the news. Whereas from Luke chapter 9 and following the disciples just don’t really seem to get a handle on Jesus’ mission, now here is a break through. Now, with these women, there is an intervention that wakes them up to who Jesus really is and they respond accordingly.

The word remember here gets repeat a few times in this Luke 24, it is also the word that is used in Luke 22:61 when it says following Peter’s denials, “Then Peter remembered the words of the Lord.” It means to recall, think about again, to have something brought back to the forefront of the mind.

It is the echo of Jesus’ words in the last supper as well.

“Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:18-20 NRSV)

I think that this suggests, among other things, that even when we don’t fully grasp what’s going on, when we are guilty of misunderstanding, disbelief, or are caught in a moment of despair as the women (and disciples surely are here) we need helping remembering, recalling. But in this act of recalling we can be transformed in that moment.

Have you ever been in a moment like that? Where you’re totally off target and not paying attention, and something (or someone) grabs you and says hey wake up! God is here, God loves you, God is present in this situation! Remember, recall, that even the most wretched of situations God is present.

–>It’s noteworthy that the disciples do not believe still after hearing the women, and while Luke shows that God trusts women with the tender message of his son being raised from the dead, even those who heard Christ talk would not believe their message and questioned their credibility. [The word for idle chatter is actually a technical medical term that means “deliruim brough on by a high fever]. Even Peter’s running out to the tomb and is amazed, but does not return with a new message as the women had (Joel Green).

It is only later in the text of Chapter 24 that Jesus, once he reveals himself says, you are witnesses to these things, but we know that these people are transformed, they are the birth mothers and fathers of the church.

The resurrection was an intervention, a final intervention in the lives of Jesus’ disciples. It was the kind of intervention that finally woke them up, transformed them and made them witnesses who would birth the Jesus movement which has continued until this present moment.

This is our heritage, our story – that the resurrection of Jesus is paramount to the Christian church. It is the very thing that wishes to consume us, to grab ahold of us. James McClendon writes, “the resurrection of Jesus Christ lays its claim upon the life of the believer.” Either it really did or it didn’t happen. If it didn’t then we are living out a lie. But if it did happen, our lives really will be completely and totally different. We will not merely change doctrinal allegiences, but will see the all of human life, “the human-self is transformed in all its spheres and strands” in the wake of resurrection.

3. It is an intervention that offers new life out of the old.

And now I want to close with one final thought about resurrection. Earlier we said: Israel thought that it would be “redeemed from suffering, but the message of the Gospel and the point of resurrection is that we are redeemed through suffering, not from it.”

Because the resurrection really happened the world, our way of thinking about reality is completely restructured (or at least it should be!). How are we implicated in this?

The last is also the first. How we live as the church is in direct relationship to the resurrection.

The power of the resurrection and how it shapes the church is seen in early Quakerism and George Fox’s constant mantra “Christ Jesus is here to teach the people himself.” In other words, Christ is risen, and because of that he is here to lead us, to guide us, to give us life, to interpret the scriptures with us, etc. No matter how bleak things may look at times, we live in the wake of the resurrection. [everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:16-17)]

But here’s what I’m really trying to get at, because of the resurrection a new time is here, we might call it the inbetween times (rather than the end times), the old is still present, all things dying around us and in us, it still lingers but the new is here and we live out of the new (McClendon 271).

Resurrection is about new life emerging out of death. It is about being redeemed through the suffering, not escaping it.

And this is how I arrived at Compost. When I first started thinking about this idea of resurrection, and things being made new the first image that came to my mind was Compost.

Compost is usually in a kind of middle-state between total decay, rot and fresh food. There is a process that takes place that requires time, but in the end, we can imagine new life emerging out of death.

And I think this is how our lives our. We as the church recognize that we’re in this middle-state. That we’re trying to live out the commands, the ethics, of Jesus Christ that foster fresh and new ways of living and loving in our world today, but we’re trying to do it in a world that is dying, with bodies that are tired, in situations all around us, in our work and home that are decaying. [ We can surely identify with the women in our passage, unprepared, caught off guard, but truly desiring to respond.]

Our lives our a lot like compost, and so is resurrection. New things come out of this, fresh life. Our way, the Christian way of looking at the world, needs to remember this. That there are signs of life all around us, even in midst of death and decay. That we can help add to the compost heap and help the process along. That our own lives are often life compost, something that was once dead but now is alive. This is surely part of what it means for us to live out the resurrection.

“The deep truth is that all of our life is changed by resurrection newness: Our delights now are tinted by the color of his presense, our guilt is redeemed from futility by his sharing it, our blame devoles into the task of judging all things human in the light of his cross, and our willingness to forgive is shapend by one who lives to forgive us (McClendon).

Christ is making all things new, where in our lives have we had our delights tinted? our Guilt redeemed? Everything shifted because of the cross, or experienced forgiveness from one another because of the forgiveness received?

Query: “When was a moment when you were witness to resurrection?” You can take this one of two ways, there’s a play on witness: either you were an eyewitness to resurrection, or you yourself were a sign of God’s resurrection.

Finally, Take some Compost with you and apply it to your garden or a house plant, let it remind you that God can even use dead stuff to bring to new life.

[photo form http://www.flickr.com/photos/shadowpainter/%5D

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Blog Entries Reviews The Biblical

Resources for Studying the Disciple’s Prayer (Matthew 6 and Luke 11)

This Sunday morning we are beginning a series of discussions around the Disciple’s Prayer in Matt. 6-913 and Luke 11:1-4. The Our Father (Catholic) or Lord’s Prayer (Protestant) is also known among Quakers, and Anabaptists as the Disciple’s prayer, that is, it is the disciples who should be praying this prayer, and this one of the key points I will be stressing. The Disciple’s prayer, is a prayer of discipleship, it is meant to form us, both in the kinds of things we pray for (and the language that gets used) as well as the very way we live out those prayers. The prayer is something that I have deeply loved for a number of years and use daily in my own spiritual formation, so I really look forward to doing this. As many of you long-time Gathering In Light readers will know, it’s also something I’ve written on a lot.

Here’s a list of books ((Disclaimer – All links above include affiliate links to Powell’s, if you purchase a book at book after following a link of mine I received a small percentage of the sale. The money goes towards upkeep of the site and of course more books.)) I’m working with during the series, some explicitly deal with the prayer, others mention it, and others simply give background. I have placed stars by the ones that have been influential for my thinking up to this point on the subject.

Book List for The Lord’s Prayer

Elton Trueblood – The Lord’s Prayers

James William McClendon Jr.

  • Systematic Theology Volume 1: Ethics
  • Systematic Theology Volume 2: Doctrine*

James Mulholland – Praying Like Jesus

Stanely Hauerwas and William Willimon – Lord, Teach Us: The Lord’s Prayer and the Christian Life

NT Wright – The Lord and His Prayer

W. D. Davies – International Commentary on Matthew 1-7

Dallas Willard – The Divine Conspiracy*

Gerhard Lohfink – Jesus And Community*

Glen Stassen and David Gushee – Kingdom Ethics

John Howard Yoder – The Politics of Jesus

Joel Green – Commentary on Luke*

Do you have any favorites?

Categories
Featured Reviews The Cultural

My choices for the Quintessential ‘It’s Alright Ma’ Dylan Playlist

dylan_pic_6The other day I got a message from a friend and former professor of mine from our Malone days, John David Geib, who is in the middle of facilitating a class on all-things Dylan. He’s calling the class, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m only Bleeding) Deconstructing The Song That Deconstructs Heads from The 60’s till Now” or something to that effect.  Anyways, back in college him and I would talk about Dylan and the possibility of having a class on his stuff someday and hearing the news that he is actually doing it made me happy (though I will confess a little jealousy too). I had similar visions of grandiose (or should I say Johanna) when I was at Fuller. Ryan Bolger and I often semi-joked around about doing a class on the “The theology of Bob Dylan.” Anyways, these are all still dreams and with my PhD studies relegated to the part-time moments when I can steal away from other responsibilities (and social interactions online) it feels far off.

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Featured Sermons The Biblical

Interventions: The Drawing of A Sword, the Healing of an Ear

“While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, “Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!”” (Luke 22:47-53 NRSV)

Here are some questions we worked through together before the sermon:

  • What are the first impressions you have from this passage? What stands out to you as most important?
  • What are the contrasts you see here?
  • What are the interventions in this text? Who is intervening and how, why are they doing it?
  • What are the movements in this text?

Luke 22:47-53 is about these two versions of reality: the drawing of a Sword and the healing of an ear.

[During the beginning of the sermon I had a volunteer come up and gave him a sword. He drew the sword as to cut off my ear. Then I had him put the sword down and asked him to act as though he were Jesus and heal my ear. The interesting thing about acting this out is that the two bodily gestures or movements were clear and distinct. One was done at a distance and had an object (a weapon meant to maim) that confirmed and controlled that distance between two people. The other action was one where he had to draw close, and physically touch my ear with his hand. One movement was of self-protection, violence and done at a distance, the other was a movement of compassion, nearness and involved physical touch.]

Everything in Luke has built up to this point. John Howard Yoder says that everything from chapter 19:47-22 “reflects in some way the confrontation of two social systems and Jesus’ rejection of the status quo.”

There are these two  contrasting ways of approaching the world. They are the distance (And violence) of drawing the sword and the nearness (And compassion) of healing the ear.

My guess is that in our text this morning (at least) two ways of approach all of reality are presenting. This is represented by the various interventions we have in the text. But if we can be really simplistic, I would lump Judas, the soldiers and the high priest, and even the disciples drawing the sword together. They are all there for their own purposes, they are there to protect either the status quo (of Rome, of the Temple), or like Judas or even the one drawing the sword, maybe they’re there selfishly.

This first group is there and ready to offer force, or violence if necessary. This first group represents in my view those who are looking out for themselves, those who operate out of a place of protection and safety, those who rely on violence to make things right, those who keep others, those unlike them, at a distance.

Then of course, Jesus represents the other side of this, this other group. He is the one who offers hospitality amidst the chaos. This is a scene where we see Jesus practice what he preached, he offers love of enemy when he heals the ear of the slave of the High Priest (who was most likely more than just a slave, but rather the person in charge of commanding the posse).

On the one hand there is misunderstanding about who Jesus was and what he was doing and this misunderstanding in turn is played out in violence – represented by the posse and Judas, but most importantly, the disciple who drew the sword. On the other hand, there is the rebuke from Jesus to the disciple “Enough of that!” and drawing near, a healing touch and the ear is repaired. Jesus then goes on to voluntarily give himself up.

I want to suggest this morning that these are two paths for the Christian life, and quite frankly these are even two paths for all of reality. And that only one of these paths gives birth to the church. In other words, what would have happened had Jesus succumbed to the temptation of drawing the sword and fitting back (as a number of commentators suggest was his key temptation in the garden?). What if he had drawn the sword along with his disciple? If this is the climax of the clash, it is the final moment of choice for Jesus, will he take the way of the sword, or the way of the cross (which is the path of love of enemy)?

It’s hard to know how that would have turned out but my guess is that it would have turned out badly. There may be no church at all.

It’s in the act of compassion, the drawing near and the healing of the ear, the voluntary arrest, and the subsequent events both on Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday that lead to the birth of the church.

In this garden scene there were two choices. One was the human way, one was rooted in what we’ve been calling the logic of the world. The other way, the way Jesus actually chose was the way of the poetics of the kingdom. One was power, one was powerlessness. And only one of these ways is the birth-mother of the church. Had he chosen the other way, Christianity, if it would exist at all, would be radically different.

Because this is the path that created the church, these very acts, the drawing near, the compassion, the healing of the ear, the voluntary surrender of one of our own lives for those who have not yet found God’s forgiveness, are the very acts inscribed into the church or what we should consider the alternative society of our faith community.

That is, these are some of the essential acts that form the church.

Now let’s try to bring this down to earth a bit more. What does this mean for us at Camas Friends?

A) Well first is the confession that we all have at times operated out of both these realities. But the crux is which one of these do we operate out of?

B) This second way, the way of Jesus’ compassion and peace, the embodiment of his teaching even in hostile times requires serious formation. John H. Yoder calls this “Exceptional normal quality of humanness to which the community is committed.” The quote goes:

The alternative characteristics of this community of disciples Jesus founded was: “a visible structure of fellowship, a sober decision guaranteeing that the cost of commitment to the fellowship have been consciously accepted, and a clearly defined life-style distinct from that of the crowd. This life style is different, not because of arbitrary rules separating the believer’s behavior from that of “normal people,” but because of the exceptional normal quality of humanness to which the community is committed. The distinctness is not a cultic ritual separation, but rather a nonconformed quality of (“secular”) involvement in the life of the world. It thereby constitutes an unavoidable challenge to the powers that be and the beginning of a new set of social alternatives.”

This is the beginning of something alternative, something different from what we’ve seen before and in order to live this way, it requires formation and different qualities of life.

I like that in the previous passage of the garden there is the contrast between prayer and sleeping. Jesus prays and urges his disciples to pray, yet they sleep. It’s interesting to see which one is more prepared in the following passage when the arrest comes. Jesus was composed and present in the situation, able to provide a humanizing touch even to his enemy. While the other was agitated, off guard, and responded out of character with the teachings of Jesus.

Preparation for response that flows from one side rather than the other. In other words, one path Camas Friends can take in the coming days is one that remains at a distance, self-protection mode of existence, one that may try to enforce and even be coercive towards one another or outsiders (note: coercion isn’t necessarily force, it can be with words, body language, etc).

The other path looks to be prepared at every moment, be present within each moment, and be available to the risk involved in joining God’s kingdom. If we choose to take this route it is much harder, and will require that we will work together to be formed into people who can discern where God is already at work in our world. Where and how we can join that work is our big question. We will not thinking in limiting terms, why we can’t do this, or shouldn’t do that, because of our size, our budget, perceptions or what have you. If we are operating out of this second vision for reality, there is it does not look to limit but to respond. The question isn’t why should we do this or that, but how do we get it done faithfully.

This passage is very much about two visions, two realities. And I want to set before all of us this morning that we’re being called to form our mission, the very things we do, the very questions we ask, our outlook on what it means for us to be Quakers in Camas around this second pole of existence. (Yes we will stumble, we will struggle, but even as this disciple slipped, we can assume he too found forgiveness at the foot of the cross.)

Closing Prayer

Lord, though we call you Lord, we misunderstand your message with our own message.
Though we want to pray we sleep.
Though we want peace, we draw the sword.
Though we want to see your kingdom come, we give into the trials and temptations of finding all the reasons why it won’t work in our world.

Help us have the faith to trust even in the midst of betrayal, arrest, and being small in number.

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Blog Entries Practices Quotations

Simone Weil on Idolatry

I’m sitting with this one for awhile:

Idolatry comes from the fact that, while thirsting for absolute good, we do not possess the power of supernatural attention and we have not the patience to allow it to develop (Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace 53).

What helps you, if anything helps you, develop patience and the power of supernatural attention?

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Blog Entries Practices

Are We Too Sleeping? Presence in Chaos, Hospitality Amidst Hostility

Last week as I was working through Luke 22 I was struck by what seemed to be almost an off-hand comment I read in Joel Green’s commentary about the garden scene with Jesus and the disciples. He reads the interaction in the garden, the contrast between Jesus’ own struggling in prayer and the sleeping of the disciples as a hermeneutic for the following betrayal scene (the one I preached on for last week).

That the time had now come, so it is enlightening to see how Jesus and his disciples respond in its context. Jesus, who had struggled in prayer, comes to this encounter in a state of composed mastery; his disciples, who have been sleeping rather than praying, face the ordeal with agitation and miscomprehension (Green 782).

This to me is a rather compelling “spiritual” reading of the scene’s unfolding. John Howard Yoder points out in “The Politics of Jesus” that from Luke 19 on there is increasingly a “a confrontation of two social systems and Jesus’ rejection of the status quo” (Yoder 44). In Luke 22:47, the betrayal scene, we see this confrontation in its full-effect. Judas, the disciples, the high priest, the temple police are all there representing this clash with Jesus and the kingdom he’s bringing about. Some are there and simply misunderstand the nature of what Jesus is doing, others are there for fear of their own power that Jesus’ movement threatens. But whatever the reasons why people are there it is clear that there is a contrast between not only “regimes” or as John Caputo puts it, the logic of the world and the poetics of the kingdom, but also between sleeping and struggling in prayer.

Jesus was fully present in the middle of complete chaos and hostility. In that moment he was not only able to offer full presence to everyone there, but was able to extend hospitality in the context of hostility.The contrast between the one who drew the sword and the one who healed the ear of the high priest’s servant (who was by all accounts the commanding person in charge of the posse).

Are we sleeping or are we struggling in prayer, prepared for every moment, ready to be completely present and extend hospitality – or shall we say, “love of enemy” – even in the most hostile of situations?

[Another thought along these lines is that the other time (I know of) in Scripture where sleeping and praying is contrasted is in the story of Jonah. “The captain came and said to him, “What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.”” (Jonah 1:6 NRSV)]

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Blog Entries

Podcasts I’m Enjoying Currently

Here’s a list of some of the podcasts I enjoy (or at least enjoy in theory – when I take time to listen!).

How about you? What podcasts do you like to listen to.

Categories
Blog Entries Green

Michael Pollan’s NY Times Food Rules

Michael Pollan of the “In Defense of Food” fame has compiled a list of 20 do’s and don’ts for food on the NY Times. It’s not only a great list with some provocative thoughts, but it’s also just kind of fun to flip through. Here are my favorites.

Emily and I are really into eating well and we try our best to follow some of our own rules we’ve picked up along the way (from folks like Pollan and others). Some of ours are: eat fresh organic foods when possible, the more veggies and the more colors the better, foods bought at the store with lesser ingredients (and ingredients you can actually pronounce or know what they are) are best, local foods farmed by people you know the names of are ideal, whole grains are good, and meat is a treat not a necessity.

Anyways, we recommend reading Pollan. You can see more of his the list here.

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Church in Mission Featured The Pastorate

Unexpected Visitors

Things have been going well at my new job as pastor. I’m enjoying the work and I’m enjoying the steep learning curve that comes along with it. Things have been by-and-large steady, no major crises or anything like that which has been a really good way to start off. Throughout this summer, I’ve been relying on knowledge as well as a variety of skills I picked up in seminary but there have been other things that have happened that there’s just now way you can really be prepared for. They’re the kinds of things you have to learn in the moment (or not learn in the moment as the case may sometimes be) and with the help of those in your faith community.
This past week things have been really kicked up a notch, we’ve had a couple unexpected visitors that have really forced me into a different space of “preparation.”

Last week a young man, 28, walked into our office and asked if we did funerals at the church. I had arrived on my bike only minutes before him and was still standing with my right pant-leg rolled up, my helmet on, and breathing heavey from being out of breathe. This first question was not something I anticipated on my bike ride to work that morning and it wasn’t something I was ready for. But I was even less ready for his second question, “will you perform the funeral for my mother?”

I’ve never officiated a funeral and I guess I expected that the first one I would do would happen in some far off distant future when I was “ready” and it would be someone I knew. Well, I took my helmet off, settled in a little, and after suggesting that if they had a minster that knew the family that would be better, I realized this was a family I was to for and that it was no mistake they were there. So last week I spent a lot of time thinking about death, working with this family, and finally, spending time with them on Sunday during and after the funeral. Being with this family I’d only known a week on their day of intense grieving was very powerful for me and an experience I felt honored to participate in.I learned more last week in a crash course in preparing for a funeral and helping others grieve than I could have done in a quarter at Fuller (though a couple of books from seminary proved very helpful).

Our second unexpected visitor was a homeless lady (who said she went by no name) showed up at our meetinghouse yesterday. We talked for a little while, she sang me a Quaker song (tis a gift to be simple), and began to weep. She said she doesn’t fit in anywhere, and feels a deep sense of loneliness. She also said she felt selfish for thinking about how lonely she is. Then she said she needed to sleep and wondered if she could sleep on the floor of the foyer, I brought her into the santuary and offered her to sleep on a pew.

After she went to sleep, I began calling around to find a shelter for her. I called 5 or 6 shelters in Vancouver, the emergency shelter hotline (repeatedly), and a couple other organizations and a church. No one could help, everyone was book, or they just didn’t answer the phone. It was extremely frustrating. I spent more than an hour on the phone, along with the help of a Friend in our meeting, and between the two of us we could not find her any shelter. This whole time I’m thinking, “I have no training for how to help homeless people! What am I am supposed to do to really help this woman?”

So we decided to at least feed her something good, so Emily cooked up a wonderful batch of polenta and ratatouille, along with some desert. Emily, L and I along with our visitor ate together in the fellowship hall of our church building. It was fun, albeit a little intense; the lady certainly is dealing with some form of paranoia. When we could get her off her cycle of conspiracies she was very pleasant, tender and had a great sense of humor.

A couple in our meeting who saw my facebook message, “We are eating dinner at the church building with the homeless lady. Come join us.” Did in fact drop by and since we had no place to send her they outfitted her with wool socks, a fleece, and a rain jacket. We also packed her up with some basic food items.

I felt terrible knowing she would be sleeping out on the streets but wasn’t sure what else to do.

I realized at least a couple things yesterday through this situation. Every situation is completely different and there is no way to really be prepared for each circumstance. I can only be present in that moment and listening for the Light of Christ there and then. I learned that I need to be open and compassionate and willing to “do to the least of these,” and that bureaucracies can certainly be helpful at times but are often just a distraction from us doing the work ourselves.

I am also struck by the simple fact that in Camas and Washougal there is nothing for homeless people and I find this a deep need. There is a charity but it only helps people with addresses. There’s nothing, as far as I know, available if you’re on the streets. And from one conversation I had with a women at a shelter, the shelters are even more full this year and some have up to a 3 month waiting list. This woman dropping by made me aware of something I’ve been asking since I moved to Camas, what does this town need? I think the surface has now been scratched. I look forward to working through this question with our meeting.

(The image is borrowed and is CC-licensed.)