SpiritStirrer

sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Category: Sin (Page 1 of 2)

Lent is About Discipleship: An Ash Wednesday Reflection

"Jesus in the French Quarter" © 2012 Todd Rossnagel

This past Sunday I had the great joy of baptizing three month old Jane. It is always an honor to gather people around these important times in their life. As she laid quietly in her mother’s arms I asked her mom to renew her own baptismal promises and to make a covenant to raise Jane into her baptism.

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,
reject the evil powers of this world,
and repent of your sin?

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves?

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,
put your whole trust in his grace,
and promise to serve him as your Lord,
in union with the Church which Christ has opened
to people of all ages, nations, and races?

(The United Methodist Hymnal, p 34)

Living into these promises takes the community into which we have been initiated and it takes intentionality and a constant rehearsal of what these promises mean. After all renouncing, rejecting, and repenting takes the continued work of the Spirit in us, accepting, resisting and confessing requires the same.

So as I poured water upon her head I wondered if we ourselves recognized the magnitude of what was happening here? As we welcomed another into our community of the baptized, did we see it as an entrance into the community of those who have made covenant to the Lordship of Christ, to the way of sanctification?

Each time I begin ministry with a new congregation I am thankful for the season of Lent. Here in Louisiana it is common for many to give something up, chocolate, cokes, alcohol . . . As I enter these new spaces I remind the community of something that has transformed my own Lenten journey: Lent is not primarily about giving up instead, at its core, is about discipleship, about those who are preparing to make baptismal vows and our renewal of those vows in light of Easter.

This Lenten season I am thinking about Jane, about how we as a community of believers will model for her the meaning of what John Wesley called Christian perfection, our journey towards a fully sanctified life.  How do we help one another open ourselves to the work of God’s Spirit in sanctification? How do we allow our worship, our devotional life, our service to the world shape our souls into reconciling love? How do we grow into justice seeking, forgiveness, and radical hospitality?

So it begins today, with our recognition of our humanity and our need for divine grace. It begins with God’s invitation to change our hearts and life, to turn from sin and death, and believe the good news. It begins with our gathering as God’s people and the mark of our baptism being made visible.

Here we go again Jane, your family is about to begin a journey we’ll take together for the rest of our lives. A journey into the promise of our constant conversion, our perfection in love, our sanctification, the Risen Lord made evident in us, for the life of the world!

Let us observe our Lent thus, giving our sufferings, our bloodshed, our sorrow the same value that Christ gave to his own condition of poverty, oppression, abandonment, and injustice. Let us change all that into the cross of salvation that redeems the world and our people. And with hatred for none, let us be converted and share both joys and material aids, in our poverty, with those who may be even needier.

Archbishop Oscar Romero

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 . . .

The Incarnation: God’s Work of Interpretation – A Christmas Day Homily

"Nativity" mid 12th century mosaic in the Cappella Palatina de Palermo

In an interview on National Public Radio a few years ago Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, director of the movie Babel, spoke of the difficulty with language. He said: “the points of view of life, what means something for you; there is no translation for that.”

Language is complex. We speak every day, sending all sorts of signals to those around us. We take language for granted, not giving it much thought or attention. The words we use and how we use them carry with them not just the information we are trying to convey but also our feelings, attitudes and stories. All of these come through in our everyday, even if we do not realize it.

Because language is complex translation is difficult. Many times I find myself trying to find the appropriate word when translating. In the end translation is always interpretation – the choice of words and phrases have as much to do with the feelings and attitudes, as they have to do with the actual word or phrase themselves. Many times there is no translation/interpretation that can communicate what the other person is trying to say.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us:

In the past, God spoke through the prophets to our ancestors in many times and many ways. In these final days, though, he spoke to us through a Son. God made his Son the heir of everything and created the world through him.  The Son is the light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being. He maintains everything with his powerful message.

Hebrews 1:1-3a (CEB)

It turns out that the incarnation was God’s solution to the problem of communication. God sent the word, the logos, the active, creative, aspect of God-self, in human form. God did this so that we could finally understand the magnitude of his love. This was the only way that humanity could know that we mean something to God. That at the core of God’s identity is creation, so as a creator, God wanted to initiate a renewed relationship with us.

The story of divine-human relationship found in the scriptures is a story of misunderstanding. Humanity being constantly fooled into thinking that God did not care, that God did not know. In the incarnation God showed the extremes that God was willing to go in order to reach each one of us; God taking on our language, our point of view, and our identity.

St. Athanasius in his On the Incarnation, tells us that “it was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our transgression that called out His love for us, so that He made haste to help us and to appear among us.” (29) Our sorry case, our constant miscommunication, our refusal to understand the language of love!

The Christmas season is the celebration of God’s incarnation in the person of Jesus Christ. We celebrate that God broke the barriers of communication and became one of us in order to redeem us. We are made new because God made God-self new. We are able to understand because God went beyond translation and instead transformed God-self into human form – God speaking the language of the created order. In this gracious act God made clear God’s “points of view” and “what meant something” to God.

It turns out that the world still needs to hear about this divine activity. Many in our world still cannot imagine a God who speaks their language. Many faithful followers of Jesus still struggle to recognize their need to become incarnate too, to learn the language of those in need, to practice meaning-making in our world, to become themselves the bearers of God’s being in the world.

Incarnation means that the world is God’s language also, it makes sense that it is for it is God’s own creation. Sometimes in an effort to be set apart the Christian church proclaims a gospel that does not celebrate the beauty of what it means to be human and the gift of the created order. We then settle for a disembodied word, a “spiritual” world, and intangible grace.

The incarnation reminds us that the language of God is embodied, earthy, tangible, accessible and at the same time, Spiritual, mysterious, wonder-full, and awesome!

During this season of Christmas may we become bearers of God’s grace-full language, bearers of the holy, faithful interpreters of the Good News of Jesus, not just what it says but its point of view, what it means for each of us, for

 The Word became flesh
and made his home among us.
We have seen his glory,
glory like that of a father’s only son,
full of grace and truth. John 1:14 (CEB)

We Are A Thought in God: A Christmas Eve Reflection

This is the Christian’s joy:
I know that I am a thought in God,
no matter how insignificant I may be –
the most abandoned of beings,
one no one thinks of.

Today, when we think of Christmas gifts,
how many outcasts no one thinks of!
Think to yourselves, you that are outcasts,
you that feel you are nothing in history:

“I know that I am a thought in God.”
Would that my voice might reach the imprisoned

like a ray of light, of Christmas hope –
might say also to you, the sick,
the elderly in the home for the aged,
the hospital patients,
you that live in shacks and shantytowns,
you coffee harvesters trying to garner your only wage
for the whole year,
you that are tortured:

God’s eternal purpose has thought of all of you.
He loves you, and, like Mary,
incarnates that thought in his womb.

Archbishop Oscar Romero from The Violence of Love

Nativity with Mary, Joseph and the New-Born Christ by J. Le Breton 1933

As a pastor I have the honor and privilege to walk alongside people at different times of their life. There are times of celebration – baby’s being born, the news of a promotion, graduations, and weddings. Then there are the difficult times, when life seems to be going downhill, when it turns on us and our hearts are broken, when illness takes over, despair comes near, sin and death knock at the door . . .

It is at those times that the good news is most needed.

Christmas in the Christian tradition is the answer to the good news needed in our broken world. It reminds us year after year that sin and death is no longer our inevitable path, the child born in Bethlehem becoming the sign and symbol of God’s purposes for the created order.

Gift giving becomes the reminder of God’s gift of his Son. At its best it should become a catalyst for our difference making in the world. Like God gave us his Son, we then give of one another to the work of salvation, to the world of justice, peace, and hope.

Christmas is most understood by those who long, hunger, and desire for a better day. What a gift it will be to them if something changed, if there was hope after all, if justice would come; as Romero reminds us “God’s eternal purpose” thinking of them.

As we gather in our churches tonight, as we gather with family, around trees and gifts, may we not forget the message of salvation to us and to the world. And may that message become incarnate in us; incarnate – an essential aspect of our identity – so that we can become difference makers in our world.

We are a thought in God so the savior we have been expecting is here!

Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11 (CEB)

Advent: No End to His Kingdom

"Annunciation" by Lawrence OP

We have been waiting, we’ve been preparing, and we’ve been counting the days. Now we are drawing near, salvation around the corner, I wonder if we are ready.

I don’t mean to be a cynic but I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas. I guess to be more specific I struggle with our cultural celebration of Christmas and how, in the lives and practices of Christian people, it has taken over our religious commemoration. I know I am not alone in all of this, and I don’t want to be another religious leader complaining about our cultural Christmas celebration. But I do struggle and I approach these Sundays of Advent with much reverence and care, hoping to hold the space for preparation, reflection, and realization.

Now we enter a final week. After hearing about an end that becomes a beginning, about one who prepares the way, about us not being the light, now we hear how salvation will be made possible:

‘Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.’ Luke 1:31-33 (CEB)

Salvation made possible by one like us and unlike us. By one holy, promised, and whose kingdom will have not end. I needed to hear that this season. God’s kingdom still unfolding, Christ still making all things new, the Spirit . . .

. . . who made Christ’s body in Mary’s womb and keeps re-making the church…is a Spirit that is hovering – in the words of Genesis – over a new creation. –Archbishop Romero

A new creation is dawning: justice, peace, reconciliation, and love still unfolding, still available in the world, no matter how difficult, how distant it seems. Year after year, season after season, celebration after celebration, it keeps on dawning.

And it just so happens that this new creation is birthed through each of us. Each of us transformed by the Spirit, each of us ready to become agents of Christ’s in-braking in the world as we become the incarnation of Christ to our struggling world.

As I prepare for this last week of Advent I recognize more than ever our need for a savior. I am more thankful than ever for Jesus Christ and for Christ’s body the church. I am also deeply aware that there is little that I can do with the cultural celebration, but that I can continue to hold the space in my congregation, in my family, and in my own heart, for the return of the one who will make all things right.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Till then I’ll continue to proclaim God’s kingdom, to call God’s people to the way of Jesus, and will remind myself of the words of Archbishop Romero,  that God’s Spirit is still “re-making the Church . . . hovering over a new creation.”

“No end to his kingdom” indeed!

Advent: Salvation’s Way Prepared

The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah:

Look, I am sending my messenger before you.

He will prepare your way,
a voice shouting in the wilderness:

“Prepare the way for the Lord;
make his paths straight.”

John was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark 1:1-8 (CEB)

Last week I struggled with endings that become beginnings. It struck me that this season of Advent, if taken seriously, could truly prepare us for God’s repeated in-braking in Jesus Christ. Each Advent reminds me of my own need for salvation and the need of the world, of all of creation. The reality of an end, of all that is not right in the world, causes me to pay attention to the ways that God’s kingdom is birthing forth a new beginning; just like God promised.

Soon it becomes evident of how difficult it is to take that step. The narrative of faith reminds us time and time again that human nature prefers the familiarity of slavery and exile to the uncertainty of freedom and home. Those that came to John came to the wilderness, obviously they wanted something, needed something, so they came. “Change your hearts and lives,” he proclaimed. But as this passage nears a close we hear more uncertainty, “One stronger than I am is coming after me.”It is good to know that the way of salvation has been prepared; God’s own initiative at work long before we become aware. The prophetic words from Isaiah were a call to return home from exile. God was indeed making a way, preparing the path, no stumbling blocks would be left, and no excuses could be found. God making it possible, the people of Israel just needed to follow the path.

On Sundays I stand before my congregation with the goal of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Like the writer of the gospel according to Mark, I too recognize that what I am to proclaim has been at work from long ago. The words that I say are a repetition of the great narrative of our faith. Yet each Sunday I am amazed at how difficult it is to recognize our need to walk away from our “slavery to sin and death” into the freedom of God’s grace.

The way has been prepared. Advent guarantees that we know that year after year. The way has been prepared because a way was needed, because we are not to stay in the comforts of exile and slavery, because God wants us to be freed to enter into the work of God’s kingdom.

May this season be a one where we “change our hearts and lives,” a season where we recognize our slavery to sin and death and accept the freedom that God offers to us. May we in recognizing that freedom work diligently by the power of the Spirit to be preparers of the way so that all of creation can experience the final consummation of God’s kingdom as revealed by Jesus Christ; Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

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

Reflections on Leaving – Part 4: Forgiveness

It’s amazing what you find when cleaning out your office: messages, meeting minutes, worship bulletins, things done, things left undone. It is hard to pack and clean up an office when every other piece of paper is an opportunity to stop and reflect on your pastoral ministry.

I pride myself in my hard work. I love being a pastor: preaching, teaching, leading, gathering, sharing good news are the highlights of my pastoral life. I get up every morning thinking about my calling and how to be faithful to its rhythms. Then I find the evidence as I try to pack . . . maybe I did not work hard enough, try enough, take enough risks, maybe I could have done better.

No wonder the short Order of Farewell to a Pastor in the United Methodist Book of Worship includes these words:

I ask forgiveness for the mistakes I have made.
As I leave, I carry with me all that I have learned here.

Admitting our pastoral failures is hard. There were visits forgotten, phone calls not made, classes not taught, sermons not prepared for, and meetings not attended. There were also unkind words said, people ignored, and soap boxes preached. There are signs and symbols of all of these in shreds of paper and notes all over my office. Each of them a reminder that God’s grace is truly sufficient, that in the end the Spirit of God was at work through my humanity.

Then there are those unfulfilled plans and broken dreams. Expectations were high, mine and many others, forgiveness of ourselves is also needed.

Although difficult cleaning out is needed. It helps heal the wounds, however small, of life together. As I throw away, pack, and give away, I am reminded of the landscape that I have walked. Each moment becomes a confession, each moment a prayer, each moment provides a new awareness of God’s grace.

My Response to Bin Laden’s Death

I joined the many others who watched with surprise the news that Osama Bin Laden had been found and killed. It was almost unreal, the face of terror for almost a decade was now gone. What would our response be?

I can only speak about my response. I say this carefully and humbly knowing that we all respond to things very differently. My feeling last night (and as I continue to reflect on it today) has been sadness.

I am saddened that thousands have been the victims of the madness of one mastermind.

I am saddened that fear continues to influence so much in our world.

I am saddened that many lives have been lost in search of a madman.

I am saddened that in the end this inevitable act does not mean that justice has been done.

So I am struggling today, I cannot celebrate, although I can understand why some might feel jubilant. I am struggling today, I cannot celebrate, although I understand why some think justice has been done. I am struggling today, I cannot celebrate, but I can pray for the world, for the common good, for people of faith, for God’s kingdom to come.

May we respond to each other honestly, humbly, and lovingly. May God’s people, who continue to celebrate this season of Easter, may reflect on what our loving response should be, to each other, to the events happening around us, and to the way forward, as a people of resurrection!

A Suffering Savior: Lenten Blog Tour 2011

6 Like sheep we had all wandered away,
each going its own way,
but the Lord let fall on him
all our crimes.
7 He was oppressed and tormented,
but didn’t open his mouth.
Like a lamb being brought to slaughter,
like a ewe silent before her shearers,
he didn’t open his mouth.
8 Due to an unjust ruling he was taken away,
and his fate-who will think about it?
He was cut off from the land of the living,
struck dead because of my people’s rebellion,
9 His grave was among the wicked,
his tomb with evildoers,
though he had done no violence,
and had spoken nothing false.
10 But the Lord wanted to crush him and to make him suffer.
If his life is offered a as restitution,
he will see his offspring;
he will enjoy long life.
The Lord’s plans will come to fruition through him.
11 After his deep anguish he will see light,
and he will be satisfied.
Through his knowledge, the righteous one, my servant,
will make many righteous,
and will bear their guilt.

Isaiah 53:6-11 (Common English Bible)

"Crucifixion" by Giotto Assisi

We have all wondered away, says the prophet, done what we wanted to do, lived the way we have wanted to live, made decisions. Maybe we have not realized that we have wondered away, our lives might not be full of self-determination, or the ability to choose differently. We have lived separate lives, “each going its own way.” One way or the other humanity has not lived up to the wholeness of God’s intent, to the possibility of new creation.

Who shall rescue us from such a place?

According to the writer of Isaiah, it is not who we might suspect. This “savior” is not coming with power like we are familiar with: violence, manipulation, control, intimidation. Our return to God’s place is dependent on one who carries our brokenness, who suffers our fate, and who takes our sin.

Sin is not something we are comfortable talking about. Missing the mark is something we would rather mention about someone else. They need salvation, they need repentance, they need to be restored. We are not good about “bearing each other’s burdens” or suffering on behalf of others. At this point, Ash Wednesday, with our confessions, I’m sorry’s, and promises, seems so long ago.

Now we are reaching a point in the story we can no longer ignore. We have been focusing on our own practices, learning about the meaning of discipleship, and preparing for Easter. But before we can celebrate we have to once again face our mortality, face our brokenness, and acknowledge that God became one of us so that we could be restored, so that we would not have to die. We also need to remember that the call of discipleship at its core is a call to deny self, take up the cross, and follow Jesus.

Maybe this is what caught the attention of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). A savior who is a suffering servant does not make sense. “Tell me, about whom does the prophet say this?” asks the eunuch. Thankfully the Christian community had already answered the question for themselves. They had mined the wisdom of the prophets and had interpreted the utterances in light of their experience of Jesus. Philip, as a follower of the way, proclaims the good news and the eunuch immediately wants to receive baptism.

There are many today who might read this text and wonder who the prophet is talking about? What kind of savior is this? As we enter these last days, the most difficult days, of the Christian salvation narrative let us not miss an opportunity to tell the story, so that others will be able to be rescued from sin and death, so that others will be able to find their way home.

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It has been a blessing to be part of CEB‘s Lenten Blog Tour. Do not miss yesterday’s post by Tracey Bianchi & tomorrow’s by Jennifer Grant.

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