SpiritStirrer

sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Category: biblical narrative (Page 1 of 4)

Disciple Them! – Gospels in 90

Go out and make disciples in all the nations. Wash them ceremonially in the name of the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then disciple them. Form them in the practices and postures that I have taught you, and show them how to follow the commands I have laid down for you. And I will be with you, day after day, to the end of the age.

Matthew 28:19-20 (The Voice NT)

It turns out that the real challenge in our life together as a congregation is the issue of discipleship. Guiding others to learn the “practices and postures” that Jesus taught is difficult work. No amount of sermon hearing and hymn singing can truly accomplish this task. In fact I would venture to say that worship reinforces and reminds the community of what they need to be modeling and learning in weekly gatherings with a small group of fellow believers.

As I look at our congregational life I recognize the need for us to become a pathway for these opportunities for disciple forming. The pathway to these in our midst is not clear. There are many in our congregation who gather for these conversations, they gather at the church, in their homes, and even in their workplaces. It is exciting that these actually exist in our community of faith. What is missing is the path to these, the open invitation for new comers to know that we are the kind of congregation that encourages and makes the way of discipleship a priority. We also need some new groups to form as a large portion of recent attenders and members have not plugged in to these opportunities. Along the way we need to be better at communicating the importance of these communities of discipleship to the life of faith.

As a congregation we are recognizing that as we grow deeper in our life with Jesus, as we engage in the ministry of Jesus in our community, and as we keep each other accountable to our life with God and one another that we are tilling the ground of God’s kingdom in our midst. As we continue this journey through the story of Jesus I am thankful that we are experiencing these stories and their effect in our lives together . . . now let us “disciple them” making a commitment to become the kind of congregation, the kind of community of proclamation, that becomes a pathway to communities of discipleship.

Amazing Things! – Gospels in 90

The people saw the mute speaking, the lame walking, the maimed made whole, the crippled dancing, and the blind seeing; and the people were amazed, and they praised the God of Israel.

Matthew 15:31 (The Voice NT)

There is a little chorus that I learned as child called “When the People of the Lord” it says: “When God’s people worship, amazing things happen! There’s healing, liberation, blessing, there’s healing, liberation, God’s presence made known!”

So far in our journey through the gospel according to Matthew we have seen some amazing things! Angels bring “messages” from God, a “savior” born like the rest of us, strangers recognizing what community of promise does not, a baby who is a threat to the powers of the day, a prophet of the Lord after years of silence, a showdown between a savior and the evil one, everyday people (including sinners!!) being called to follow a great teacher, healings, exorcisms, restorations, feedings, liberations . . .

Sometimes in our reason-oriented society we might be convinced that no amazing things like this could happen today. We’ve reduced the presence of Jesus as a catalyst to becoming nice, happy, comfortable, and “feeling good.”

Today I am reminded how powerful and life changing the presence of Jesus is!

I often remind the congregation to expect something when we gather, that the creator of the universe will indeed be present in our worship, that the presence of Christ proclaimed in prayer, song, and homily will be made real in Eucharist. That grace abundant will outpour and amazing things will indeed take place in and through our gathering.

So what would it look like for us to recover a sense of joyful expectation for God’s presence in our worship and in our everyday life?

If discipleship is about our participation in divine life through our surrendering to the Lordship of Christ, what are the effects of that discipleship in our community of believers, in our homes, and in the marketplaces we inhabit?

Exciting journey indeed . . .

Joseph the Dreamer – Gospels in 90

After the wise men left, a messenger of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.

Messenger of the Lord (to Joseph): Get up, take the child and His mother, and head to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you it is safe to leave. For Herod understands that Jesus threatens him and all he stands for. He is planning to search for the child and kill Him. But you will be safe in Egypt.

So Joseph got up in the middle of the night; he bundled up Mary and Jesus, and they left for Egypt.

Matthew 2:13-14 (The Voice)

I’m so thankful that Joseph is attentive to dreams. He obviously is familiar with this way of communication with God. This time his dream was of utmost importance and he took action immediately.

I’m sure he had many questions, concerns, and fears. Imagine being woken up by a dream that told you that your family was in mortal danger. You had to get up immediately in order to save their life. I can feel my heart trembling, my gut wrenching, my eyes wide open in the middle of the night. Without delay he woke them up and got them on their way.

Once again we have evidence of how dangerous this birth was to the powers that be. The ruler wanted this child eliminated so that there would be no threats to his power. It turns out that Jesus was indeed dangerous, he was going to question the structures of power and the ways of life all around him. Jesus would also threaten the religious authorities of his day, pushing them to remember the core of their tradition, their reason for being God’s people. All this is truly dangerous work, haven’t you heard not to engage in conversations about religion and politics?

I wonder what it would mean for us to ponder how life transforming and dangerous to the “status quo” Jesus still is? What would it mean for us to follow this savior? What difference does this savior make to those of us who claim him as Lord today?

I am thankful for dreams. Time and time again they are used to speak, show, and make clear. I am also thankful for dreamers . . .

The Gospels in 90 Days

As readers of this space know I am a believer in systematic reading of scripture. I have used different reading plans throughout the years from the fast and furious bible in 90 to the two year daily office lectionary. For me is about having a method to my engagement with the narrative of faith. Last year I began 2011 with the Bible in 90 days, this year I have invited my staff and leadership team at the church to join me in reading the gospels in 90 days (actually 89 days, one chapter a day).

My prayer is that we’ll have a common narrative as we engage our leadership this year. Each time I engage the story of faith I am amazed at what I hear, learn, and struggle with, I am sure this time it will not be any different. I am not promising a daily blog on the chapter of the day but I can guarantee that I will have things to say along the way. I am excited to be reading the gospels in The Voice New Testament translation, a different translation forces us to hear the story in a different way, and this one is truly different.

Jacob was the father of Joseph, who married a woman named Mary. It was Mary who gave birth to Jesus, and it is Jesus who is the Savior, the Anointed One, the Liberating King.

Matthew 1:16 (The Voice)

Jesus is the savior, the anointed one, the one who frees us from sin and death. I tell this to myself often as I engage in ministry everyday. It is difficult to recognize our need for a savior, our need for an anointed one, it is even more difficult to recognize our need to be freed. This is why we need this story so desperately, this is also why we need the community of faith to remind us of our common need for God.

In my own life I am still trying to understand what this savior means in my everyday life. And as a father of three children I also struggle with what it means to raise our children in the way that leads to life. Then we read the narrative and recognize that we are not alone, that many others have struggled with it too.

In the end a savior is needed, we need to be made whole, need to be freed. I am thankful that a way forward was provided for, that the way of redemption has been provided. It is amazing to hear, read, and experience how God provided for this way.

I know that this story will be transformational, it always is! Let the journey begin . . .

On the Fourth Day of Christmas

20111228-142159.jpgThis season I’ve been doing some serious reflection on what it might look like to recover the season of Christmas in my life and in the life of my family. What if Christmas Day was truly the beginning? What if our feasting and merry making built up to Epiphany?

As a family we are actually seriously considering this. As a Puerto Rican with a rich tradition of Epiphany we have been gift giving at this time since our first child was born. But we are now thinking about a serious realignment of our practice to match our theological and liturgical understanding.

Christmas Day would be our first day of feasting, gathering, service, and celebration with prayers, songs, and a daily lectionary helping us mark the days. On Epiphany we would exchange simple gifts to remind us of the gifts that the wise men shared that manifested who Jesus was, that would remind us of who Jesus is for us today.

I wonder how all of this would connect to a community of faith? Daily prayer at the church? Twelve days of service in the community? Twelve days of making the kingdom physically evident in our local communities? I am still thinking how this would look like in the congregation I pastor and if it is even possible to change our long North American practices.

I know that Shannon and I want something different for ourselves and our family. We want our children to be filled with mystery and awe but not from a folk hero but from the Word made flesh (and yes, no matter what anyone says I do believe and have observed our over emphasis of Santa Claus in the church). We want our children to receive the gift of Jesus but not from a saturated tree bottom. We want to remember the story not for nostalgia but for it’s power to still change the world.

I know that we are not alone so we hope to find conversation partners to join us in our desire to make Christmas an important part of our formation in the way of the kingdom.

I wonder if any of you would want to join us in this journey?

Advent: We Are Not the Light

A man named John was sent from God. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light.  He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light. John 1:6-8 (CEB)

As a pastor I often remind myself that I have been sent. Although in our tradition we are indeed sent to places of service by the bishop, I like to remind myself that in the end I have been sent to serve and lead by God.

It started long ago when my parents brought me forth and made the claim that I belonged to God. The prayers of a community of faith, the waters of baptism, and the many voices that helped me clarify my vocation. Each of these moments were “sent” centered as these varieties of people helped form me as a fellow “sent” one.

To believe in being sent is easy, what is difficult is to recognize why we are sent. I’ll have to admit that at times I have forgotten. My passion, my dedication, and my ego have gotten in the way. It is almost as if my mantra needs to constantly be “I am not the light, I am not the light, I am not the light.”

We are called, empowered, sent . . . to “testify to the light.”

It is easy to believe that we are indeed the light. How many times have I spoken of My church, My ministry, My calling? It has taken many wise sages in my life to remind me that is God’s church, God’s ministry; God’s calling in my life. These fellow sojourners have called me back to our shared vocation, to our baptismal call, to the light.

Here comes Advent again, getting us down from our high horses, pushing us to recognize our desperate need for God, getting us ready for God’s in-braking in Jesus Christ. Here comes Advent with its call to reality and new life. Here comes Advent with its proclamation of promises to be fulfilled.

This Advent I am keenly aware of our search for answers as a church. We hear the reports, the statistics, and calls to action. Many of our congregations are trying to survive, in the midst of economic uncertainty and a shrinking pool of resources.

I struggle with many of these conversations because at times they seem to be self-serving.  I hear a fear of our “demise” as a denomination, a fear of closing churches, a fear of losing “market share.” Could we say that we are living in the darkness, in the shadow? Could we say that we are groping for our way forward? Maybe a mantra is needed, “We are not the light, we are not the light, we are not the light!”

I pray that John’s proclamation helps us focus our attention to our light proclamation, to reminding God’s people of their God given mission, to tell the world that

“the people who lived in the dark have seen a great light.” Matthew 4:16a (CEB)

Advent: End Becoming Beginning

Who will put a prophet’s eloquence into my words
to shake from their inertia
all those who kneel before the riches of the earth –
who would like gold, money, lands, power, political life
to be their everlasting gods?
All that is going to end.
There will remain only the satisfaction of having been,
in regard to money or political life,
a person faithful to God’s will.
One must learn to manage the relative and transitory
things of earth according to his will,
not make them absolutes.
There is only one absolute: he who awaits us
in the heaven that will not pass away.

(Archbishop Oscar Romero)

On the eve of what is normally dubbed the “biggest shopping day of the year,” a day we reflect on the many blessings given to us, the economy continues to struggle. We are not alone; our struggles, it seems, are common with other nations in the world. Fear, uncertainty, and suspicion abounds. Many corners of our world are in the midst of war and strife, injustice abounding, power struggles widespread. From whom shall our help come?

The least everywhere find themselves living their everyday. While many others who could make ends meet just a year ago are finding themselves with less and less, with little hope ahead. Some of our citizens out of frustration and anger have taken to the streets to “occupy” places of power. Can we stand aside while the rich become richer and the poor poorer?

Our politicians are in a gridlock. Extremes abound and I can’t see any sign of helpful conversation and a way forward. I wonder if the “common good” will ever dominate our decision making.

This Sunday we’ll gather in the midst of uncertainty only days after many will spend beyond their means hoping to make this season meaningful. They have struggled through early mornings, long days, and crowds of people, all for the chance at the “great deal.”

For so many this is no season to be merry. So many have lost jobs, others have lost loved ones, still others have lost hope. It might be better to skip this all together.

In the church we might be tempted to get on the celebration bandwagon, while ignoring the plight, the hurts, and the reality of so many. We might ignore our own uncertainties, the ways that our ecclesial world is also changing. We could act like no end is needed and jump to the celebration of new beginning but the reality of life speaks to the great narrative of our faith in the promise that only in an end can a beginning be found.

There is no better time for Advent!

Advent comes to remind us that God’s story unfolds towards a renewed creation. The brokenness in our world will not prevail, God’s kingdom of justice and peace will have its last say. In the meantime we wait; we continue experiencing loss, despair, and pain. We continue experiencing ends and wonder if that is all there is?

During these special times of the year, seasons of so called “celebration,” we are more aware of ends experienced. Yet in surprising ways these “ends” can become agents of new life, of renewed relationship, of a transformed world. The story of faith seems to know these rhythms of life: Fruitfulness after a fall, an olive branch after a flood, a journey home after settling as strangers, a child in old age, empowerment after captivity, freedom after slavery, a word of the Lord in a strange land. . .

Here are the words of Jesus from the Gospel for this Sunday:

In those days, after the suffering of that time, the sun will become dark, and the moon won’t give its light. The stars will fall from the sky, and the planets and heavenly bodies will be shaken. Then they will see the Human One coming in the clouds with great power and splendor. Then he will send the angels and gather together his chosen people from the four corners of the earth, from the end of the earth to the end of heaven.

Mark 13:24-27 (CEB)

So today I pray for the in-braking of God in our world:

Come once more gracious God, shower us with your grace, and empower us by your Spirit so that we can become agents of your kingdom. Heal our brokenness; bring justice to our world; make love our way of life. Come, Lord Jesus, come make our endings into beginnings, come bring us your salvation!

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I’m excited to be part of the Common English Bible Blog Tour 2011. To find out more please LIKE the Facebook page http://facebook.com/LiveTheBible. You can also follow on Twitter @CommonEngBible #CEBtour

Bible in 90 II – Genesis

I can see my kids sitting on the floor asking me questions about what they observe in their world. Questions about the blue sky, why ants bite, how birds fly, and why people don’t always get along. I gather them and say “Once upon a time . . .”

I am always taken by the amazing primal story of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Its liturgical rhythms are stunning, its detailed account both exciting and painful to hear. This is obviously a story of a people curious to know about how their experience of the world connected to their understanding of divine life.

So the grandmothers and grandfathers passed on the stories told to them, stories of identity and belonging. These stories were passed down from generation to generation and gave meaning to life experienced as it tried to explain their uniqueness in the world.

I wonder what I would say to my children about the world if I, like the ancient Hebrews, did not have a written narrative? How would I answer their questions of identity and belonging? Would I begin with chaos? Would God’s “wind” be part of the story? How did we get here? What does God have to do with us? Would I just explain the nice and good things of life or would I try to explain the struggles also? Would I tell stories of perfect ancestors who always did things right, or would I use them as examples of what not to do?

I am thankful that I have these stories and I am also thankful that they serve as a starting point for conversations about the world, humanity, and God. Each time I approach the narrative I am in awe of how much these stories still speak to the human condition and to our need for divine grace.

I’ll keep on reading, wondering, and telling . . .

Leadership as “Story Telling”

In his book One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells us the story of humanity, the humanity of his experience, the primal story of his people. The story is haunting, at times confusing, but it seems so real, the human condition lined out in each sentence, the possibility of grace always around the corner. It’s first lines sets us up for an adventure into our own story:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.

-Gabriel Garcia Marquez in One Hundred Years of Solitude

Each time I encounter writings like this I am reminded of the primal stories of the Christian faith. These stories are about re-membering, about home, about promises made and promises broken. At the beginning, like at the beginning of Garcia Marquez epic, the world is recent and we find ourselves having to point, in order to be made aware of the story that is being told.

I say all this to say that at the core of congregational leadership is story. More specifically story-telling and story listening. We are constantly re-calling, and recasting the great story and it’s pointing towards our world today. We too have a rootedness in this epic, our “Macondo” is the land of promise, our “Colonels” are the story tellers that narrate the story of faith.

We must take this story telling seriously. In conversations, in decision making, in sermon, and in teaching we are to constantly frame and re-frame in light of the great narrative of faith. Constantly pointing towards realities not yet named and asking the community of faith to take ownership and claim the unfolding future, the unexpected turn, and the surprise ending as part of God’s continued story in us and through us.

Leading as a story teller and story hearer can be difficult work. It takes patience, time, and a rootedness in the narrative. It also requires our constant immersion in other stories and those who tell them. From novels, to short stories, from songs to poems, from essays to blogs, the leader as story teller immerses him/herself in the narrative of everyday life. At each turn we as congregational leaders ask the God questions, the questions of the human condition, and begin to exegete these as part of our dealings with the sacred story.

Little by little, each story heard, read, and seen becomes part of who we are as congregational leaders. The stories become the narrative extension of the great story of faith: spoken, sung, & prayed. It is our task to connect the dots and call the community to see their own stories, their own narrative, to be a narrative of redemption, a narrative of grace, to be part of God’s activity in their life, even when God might seem absent, when God’s presence is not “felt,” when life seems to be out of control.

I am thankful for the stories that live in me, for those that I am honored to hold, and for the many that I am yet to hear. I am also thankful for the story I get to share each and everyday, a story that I am constantly pointing towards, a story that reminds the community of its name!

Leadership as “Vision Casting”

"Whitby" by James Whitesmith

I’ve been wearing glasses since the 8th grade. I can still remember attending chapel with my parents during my 8th grade year and having my dad ask me if the preacher always wore the same suit and tie to chapel to which I responded that he was too far away for me to see him, he looked blurry. The next day I went to the eye doctor for the first time. A week later my first pair of glasses arrived and when I put them on it was like a miracle! I could see far away, I could see the leaves on the trees, and the birds flying in the sky. I also could see that the preacher did wear the same suit and tie to chapel every week.

To cast something is to make a copy of it, a representation in three dimensional form, from a mold. The mold is not the actual item, the final product is, but the mold itself has to be made, has to be formed by an original of something.

Another definition of casting is throwing a fishing line. Here the fisherman chooses the bait that will be attached to the line and casts that line with the bait in the appropriate place for a successful catch.

I’ve heard many congregational leaders refer to vision casting as the second definition. Here the leaders chooses the bait and throws out the vision in hopes that the congregation will “bite.” More often than not, like fishermen, the leader finds him/herself bringing the line back and throwing it out there over and over again. Frustration sets in, the bait is changed, but little else does. Is the congregational leader really a “vision caster?”

Yes!

I’ve been thinking that the casting that we do is not of the fishing type but of the mold type. The mold is the shape of God’s kingdom and we as pastors come with the symbols, images, stories, and gestures (thanks Gordon Lathrop) of the Christian faith and begin to give shape to God’s kingdom in a particular place at a particular time. The vision is cast and if observed carefully and interpreted, the vision will begin to bear fruit in its particular place and time.

The leader is constantly pointing back at the vision of God’s kingdom. Constantly reminding the community of its shared story, of its identity, of its mission in the world. At each turning point there are decisions to be made about life together, about bills, buildings, resources, and relationships. The pastoral leader goes back in each case to the cast vision, to how these characters of life together can best be utilized/deployed for the vision that has been cast, for the re-presentation of God’s kingdom in this place.

Many times as pastoral leaders we find that the vision is fuzzy, blurry, in need of adjustment. Our temptation is to cast it again as in fishing, changing the bait, or maybe changing the location. I am reminding myself that no such movement is needed. Instead I’ll immerse myself in the narrative of faith, in the symbols and gestures of the assembly, and in the life and work of the people of the community around me. Each of these will allow me to help the congregation “see” their way forward, see God’s kingdom made flesh by their life and work.

May God give me the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the hands to cast a vision of God’s Kingdom through the people of St. John’s UMC, knowing that

“. . . no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we’re asleep.”

Wendell Berry (Sabbath Poem X 1979 in A Timbered Choir)

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