Monday, November 23, 2015

The Great Conversation - Week Thirteen

Last week “Listening and Engaging to come to a right interpretation” was our topic.  This week’s is so much the same that it is apparent that knowing God voice is paramount. Let us deal with Conversation and the company of others we talk to every day – friends, family, co-workers.

Did your fish have bones?” “No.” “Mine did.” “Are you going to the symphony tonight?” “No.

I’m in the library writing just after dinner & those are the highlights of the 'conversation' we had with two acquaintances. Usually dinner conversation is interesting with shared viewpoints or with serious give and take on topics about which it is difficult to agree.  The latter can engender a long time of discussion full of facts, observations and telling stories to illustrate reasons for differences.  Many times we are surprised to find the wait staff hovering hoping we will finish so they can cleanup and go home.  These can truly be called conversations and enrich our lives and force us to be flexible and grow. Anything less is merely a chat, some gossip or a meaningless bit of talk. 

This walk we are taking together  this week is concerned with not merely A conversation but with THE conservation – ours with the God who created us.

Our scriptures set up a series of scenes for us to view, as it were, or perhaps to eavesdrop on three parts of this conversation. Isaiah 1:1-2.5 has a declaration of the origin of the first part, “The Lord has spoken.” This reference to the initiation of discussion between God and God’s people surely includes all the various oral commandments, covenants, calls and communications the Lord God had originated with people on earth.

Romans 15:1-13 reminds the descendants of these earlier generations that these conversations continued in written form in scripture and in the spoken words and life of Jesus Christ.  These forms of communication were to help maintain hope and fortitude so all would continue to praise God and follow the example of Jesus who was faithful and reminded them of God’s promises and commissioned them to continue the GREAT conversation with all humans.

Matthew 9:10-17 gives us a snapshot view of Jesus giving an example of THE conversation as he answers the questioning disciples.

When there is a question especially about faith, God, the meaning of a scriptures, in other words,  how to live there is seldom a single ‘right’ answer.  How, especially with a non-believer or someone with whom you really disagree, do you attempt to engage and come to the essential truth?  Can you listen and learn?  Can you discover why you disagree or agree about some idea? Could you try to imagine this kind of conversation not as a trivial thing and see it as a continuation of Isaiah 1 (knowing what the Lord has spoken).?

What does it mean to you to be part of THE greatest conversation in the world? What have the voices – of God, Christ,  Holy Scripture, human companions- taught you? 

Consider what has happened to your understanding of God through  poetry you read or hear – through those who interpret God through oral and written storytelling.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

WMTRBW 12:Stories That Shape Us

In chapter twelve, ‘Stories That Shape Us’, the topic of interpretation is discussed. Webster’s dictionary defines interpretation as ‘the action of expanding the meaning of something’.  It seems so simple and straightforward, yet many of the problems we experience today (especially in matters of faith) come down to differing interpretations of belief. When discussing the topic of interpretation, it’s important to remember two very important things: 
#1 God’s Word is living and active – “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
#2 God’s Word is revealed through His Spirit – “These are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.” (1 Corinthians 2:10 – 13)

In today’s culture, there are many heated debates on spiritual, political, and other matters. Even if we don’t agree with each other on some of these topics, we as Christians can at least agree to following Jesus’ example in how we respond and interact with one another…
#1  Loving – Jesus taught us about love. On a few occasions, He was asked which is the most important commandment, and His response was, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." Jesus gave us some examples of what it means to love through His teaching and His words. Through His compassion and healing of the sick, Jesus taught us to care for one another and take care of those who are in need. At the last supper when He washed the feet of His disciples, He taught us that we need to serve those we love. One of Jesus' most famous and difficult teachings is to love not just our friends and family, but also our enemies. Jesus explained that there is nothing special or extraordinary in loving those who love us back - even wicked people do as much. He said, "But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back."
#2 Judging- Jesus warned us not to judge others since we are all sinners. Jesus said, "How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
#3 Forgiving – Jesus taught us that when we repent of the bad things we've done and ask God to forgive us, He will hear us and forgive us. But first, we must forgive those who have wronged us, otherwise God the Father will not forgive us. It is not enough to forgive only once - we must forgive every time we are wronged. Jesus said, "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him."

Just as the mother in chapter 12 encouraged her daughter to come to her own interpretation of the Elijah story, maybe we can also demonstrate that kind of grace with each other. When we fully listen to one another, we have a full encounter and are able to understand each other’s viewpoint. Together, we make the road by listening and engaging.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

WMTRBW: Week 11: From Ugliness, A Beauty Emerges

This week, we are reading about violence.  According to Brian McLaren, violence is “an act that intends to violate the well-being of a person or people”. We examine Scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments to understand God’s “stance” on violence.  The author first points us to Deuteronomy 7:1-11 to argue the God of the Old Testament, as understood by Old Testament writers, is one of death and destruction and then to Matthew 15:21-39 to show God wants to pour out mercy on ALL people.

Perhaps, though, the author should be pointing us to Joshua 5:13 (NIV), where Joshua asks the following of a commander of the Lord’s army, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” The commander’s response: “Neither.”

Instead of asking questions such as,
(a) Is God willing to harm others to help some?
(b) Is God part of the violence in the world, and is violence part of God?
(c) Is God asking us to move beyond violence, in kindness, reconciliation, and peace?

We should be asking, “WHOSE side are WE on”?  Are we for ourselves or are we for God? Not an “us vs them” question, but “all of us” moving together question. Then we will move toward peace, kindness, and reconciliation.

Jesus’ mission on this earth was for ALL people, not just the Israelites.  He is the God of all people, but not all people knew Him as their God. I don’t believe it was a surprise that the Canaanite woman asked for healing for her daughter, in Matthew 15:21-39. Jesus simply uses this as an opportunity to invite ALL people to be “us”. 

It is indeed a spiritual battle we are fighting, not one against each other. 

Think about your own life. Pick a situation where you feel like it is “us” vs “them”.  Now, view your situation as if it is “all of us” in a spiritual battle, where we all actually need to work together to find a way to move forward toward healing.  How would that change your perception of your situation, knowing God isn’t taking sides? He wants us all to be working together, looking to Him and working toward healing.

"The Danger of a Single Story"

Today in the sermon I quoted at length from a TED talk by Chimamanda Adichie. In case what I shared piqued any of your interest, I wanted to post the entire talk here where you could watch it and hear it in her own voice. How can the ideas she presents help us achieve a fuller encounter with and understanding of scripture?

(If you receive this via email, you will likely have to go to the actual blog website to watch the video)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

WMTRBW Week 10: Getting the Slavery Out of the People

This week in worship, our focus was on the gift (yes, gift!) of the Ten Commandments to God's newly liberated people. As they left years of slavery in Egypt, they had to learn--probably for the first time--what it means to live as a free people, answering to God rather than Pharaoh. The Ten Commandments were meant to lead them into a very different sort of life!

We spent a good chunk of our time on Sunday just listening to the commandments--hearing them read, and singing them. We read several different versions, including Brian McLaren's version from this week's chapter in We Make the Road by Walking, "Getting the Slavery Out of the People."

At the end of each chapter there are a series of wonderful questions and also a challenge for something concrete to do in response to the chapter this week. This challenge is called "Activate," and I really like McLaren's suggestion for this week:

Each day this week, reread the Ten Commandments as worded in this chapter. (Maybe send them to yourself and others via e-mail or social media.) Look for ways this ancient moral code is relevant in today’s world—and in your life.

To help you in this, here are the commands for you to read. Print this page off, perhaps, and post them somewhere you will see them often, or at least a couple of times a day--by your computer, or on a bathroom or bedroom mirror. 

1. Put the God of liberation first, not the gods of slavery. 
2. Don’t reduce God to the manageable size of an idol—certainly not one made of wood and stone by human hands, and not one made by human minds of rituals and words, either, and certainly not one in whose name people are enslaved, dehumanized, or killed! 
3. Do not use God for your own agendas by throwing around God’s holy name. If you make a vow in God’s name, keep it! 
4. Honor the God of liberation by taking and giving everyone a day off. Don’t keep the old 24/7 slave economy going. 
5. Turn from self-centeredness by honoring your parents. (After all, honor is the basis of freedom.) 
6. Don’t kill people, and don’t do the things that frequently incite violence, including: 
7. Don’t cheat with others’ spouses, 
8. Don’t steal others’ possessions, and 
9. Don’t lie about others’ behaviors or characters. 
10. In fact, if you really want to avoid the violence of the old slave economy, deal with its root source—in the drama of desire. Don’t let the competitive desire to acquire tempt you off the road of freedom.

How does McLaren's wording help you hear them differently? Which one feels most relevant and challenging to you? How do you see the commands working together to shape a different sort of community and society?

Would love to hear your reflections--leave comments below!

PS--Many thanks to Karen and Nicole Kurkowski and Bill and Nancy Lively, who will be taking over blog posting and writing during my upcoming maternity leave! I look forward to hearing their reflections on the chapters as we continue this journey over the coming weeks.

Monday, October 26, 2015

WMTRBW 9: Freedom!

This week we read the story of the Israelites being oppressed and enslaved in Egypt from Exodus 1, and Moses being called to help liberate them from Exodus 3. Read again the description of the suffering people, and the words God spoke to recognize their situation and begin working for liberation and change:

"They set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh...The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them." (Exodus 1:11, 13-14)

"The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them." (Exodus 2:23-25)

"Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them...The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:7-10)

I want to keep the blog simple this week, and leave you with the same questions Brian McLaren leaves us with at the end of this week's chapter from We Make the Road by Walking (Chapter 9, "Freedom!"). They are on the picture above, or printed below for your reflection. I would love it, if a response pops to mind, if you would post it in the comments section...I think these are important questions for us to try to answer!

Name the Hebrew slaves of today’s world. 

  • Who today is being exploited and crying out for help? 
  • Who does backbreaking work for which others reap the rewards? 
  • How can we join in solidarity with them, seeking liberation?

Monday, October 19, 2015

WMTRBW 8: Rivalry or Reconciliation?

Yesterday in worship, as we read the story of Jacob and Esau from Genesis 32:24-33:17, we talked about the big "R-word" of the Christian faith: Reconciliation. We meditated together on the challenging words of the Apostle Paul from his second letter to the Corinthians:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to [God's]self through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation." 2 Corinthians 5:17-18

I spoke in general terms about the many places our world is crying out for us to do the hard work of reconciliation, between individuals and between groups; but I didn't have time in the sermon to talk about some of the many amazing concrete examples. I did a Google search for news stories about reconciliation from the past month or two, and found some really interesting ones. I'd challenge you, in parallel to reading the chapter this week, to read at least one of the articles linked below--whichever one captures your attention. Just click on the description and it will take you to the article. How does the story you read challenge you as your consider your calling as a Minister of Reconciliation?

Film by POW's daughter explores reconciliation with Japanese

Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission Addresses Treatment of its Native People Groups

Reconciliation between Sunni and Shiite Muslim Groups Seen as Best Way to Deal with ISIS and other Extreme Groups in Iraq

Exhibit in Baltimore of work by painter who used her art to promote Racial Reconciliation

Sri Lanka's struggle to use South Africa's model for Reconciliation after long, violent Civil War