Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Isaiah 11:1-10

Advent 2 - Year A
A "budding branch sprouts from old Jesse's stump". Yes we refer to Jesus when we read this, but Isaiah's followers turn out to not be so sure. Jesus, in the line of prophets has helped us along, but look around. See any Peaceable Kingdoms? How about spots where hurt and destruction are not so obvious? Not being sure about such a budding branch seems pretty reasonable.
For the moment let's presume that a revelatory experience has convinced you that Jesus is that budding branch. As the church seems frailer and frailer, more and more stumpish, a disciple of Jesus now becomes a budding branch that can move on from that which faltered. This is more than Rethinking Church, it is transformative community.
Whether it is a wet Baptizer John or a desiccated old Jesse Stump, both look beyond the present to something coming later. You're a late arrival, even if not the latest, and it is time to judge the traditions that have come down to us, winnow them, and begin being fruitful by adding some new fiery Holy Holly Spirit manure to past understandings that still have a sense of expansive and expanding love in them. It is also time to be ready for more than contemporizing tradition - to be ready for a new incarnation that may include you.
Stand up. Signal. A Merciful Glory nears.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Matthew 3:1-12

Advent 2 - Year A
Here are two responses to the nearness of heaven come to earth:
• Repent
Receive the "fire" of Holy Spirit
One is claimed to be more powerful.
Question: Is this a necessary sequence? Repentance is required for Holy Spirit fire? Is it an implied prerequisite to, "Follow me".
Regardless of how that is responded to, there is a basic duality here of gathered wheat or burned and scattered chaff that seems to be done away with by Pentecost time and a Holy Spirit that simply tells of Wonder and cuts through all language divisions.
Question: On what basis would a Holy Spirit not be conferred? Preordination? Resistance?
Whether one receives some form of Holy Spirit there is encouragement here to live well, fruitfully. A metaphoric fire from Holy Spirit burns wastrel trees and the fire from those burning trees, in turn, refines others. Around and around we go.
Question: All this may be helpful at the beginning of a movement. What happens after years, decades, millennia of there being no discernible connection between repentance and good fruits, between Holy Spirit fire and abominations? How do these play as part of a play filled with tree-trimming, unstoring creches, and heart-warming noels?
While this passage may have other helpful attributes, but it mostly helps us reflect on a past presence of G*D, not one still before us. At this point it would be more helpful to reflect on the genealogy that begins Matthew and to draw it from the point of Jesus through Pentecost to the present time and asking the question of what folks faced in their day and how they persevered. In anticipating a new heaven and a new earth we could use those reminders and a discerning of what our current situation is and how we might persevere in the midst of us until a surprising new presence becomes known to us.
Question: Given what you know about the lived situations and culture around you, how evangelistic is this passage? It has a feel that it is for the insider.
A note from the Wesley Study Bible: "Wesley connects this "fire" with "love". . . .(Notes 3:11)". Is this some sort of "tough love"? Does this modify the passage enough to suggest that John has a limited view of Holy Spirit and fire/love that will also show up when he sends his disciples to see what Jesus is up to? If there is room for modification because this is more about a projection of John than an experience with Jesus, what does that mean about how you would preach this in 2010?

Friday, November 26, 2010

cloudy weather

Advent 1 - Year A
a cloud of unknowing
descends this time of year
between babel reversed
and manger potential
each cycle promises clarity
asks us to practice questions
about plodding clocks
and jumping tomorrow to today
we hear about choices
divisions being paramount
between who is lost
and who finds paradise here
new mountains arise
even as old ones stumble
promising swords demise
and plowshares ascendency
in between such eras
confusers seeks certainty
without lasting gladness
and common good peace
unknowing is a standard path
to knowing what time it is
a time for honor
and a time for honoring
waking to northern darkening
or southern lengthening of day
we thank dark clouds
and flashes of insight
no one knows day or hour
a mountain of peace is established
an exile is broken
and love overflows law
a once and future advent
prepares such as we are
to open mercy clouds
and become its rain

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Romans 13:8-14

Advent 1 - Year A
Jesus doesn't know chronologic time. You, however, know kairotic time.
This is the time to wake from our cultural comfort of pleasure in privilege. We are to live honorably with every one, even those who might be taken away from Paradise Earth newly Heavened.
In clock time there is always an excuse as to why we cannot love beyond our current limits. In honor time it is always time to get on with not only doing one's best living, but doing so publicly.
With ticks and tocks we are working with escapement mechanisms that are always running down. Even batteries have their limit, solar chips their length of life, and mainsprings their fatigue point. This is similar to every law, whether social or physical, it sets limits and pushing those limits wears it out.
Fulfilling the law, rather than keeping it going, is a relationship with others that does no wrong. We don't have control about how the other party is going to act, but we are capable of choosing to first do no harm and to, secondly, do good (love) to others, and thus exemplify or fulfill our creation responsibilities and image G*D.
So how does a refrigerator chart look to you for the week so far. As you tick off the harm you could have avoided and the good you could have chosen, have you seen an improvement over the week? If not, extend the chart to Pentecost last year - progress has been made? Do you have to go back as far as Easter of some previous year to be able to note some movement toward using love to fulfill law?
There is certainly Advent work to practice. If you don't already have a chart, you may want to choose to engage growing in love through a practical use of a chart.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Psalm 122

Advent 1 - Year A
One taken; one left. This is a formula that begs for revision. In this Psalm the movement is from "I" to "we". This begins giving one hint about the intent of Advent - to move us from our divided, individualized lives to that of community.
This process moves from the first two verses of Psalm 122 to the last two. For community to be realized there needs to be an understanding of being joined with others for a common good of peace. For the sake of family (self), neighbors, and G*D we not only say "Peace" but seek the good upon which it is based. Words and actions need to come together.
One of the practices of Advent is that of tearing away the excuses we have cultivated that separate our words and intentions from our actions and results. When we have reduced our hypocrisy we will find that we are able to interchange "I" and "we", for to live for one is to act for the other.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Isaiah 2:1-5

Advent 1 - Year A
The mountain of the "Lord's House" shall be established as the highest. Either things are moving to Tibet/Nepal or some cataclysmic event will uplift the land of Israel (making it unfit for both Arab and Jew?).
Of more import than such literalistic playing, nations and peoples cowed or awed by such an event of power leads to a new kind of arbitration (not between two adversaries, but between the two and a mutually perceived greater need). In this setting, swords for blood can become plows for produce. War qua war becomes no longer possible. In psycho-social terminology, what meme is large enough to capture the imagination of fearful adversaries and lead them so see both their survival and well-being depends on agreeing to a larger vision?
Do your best to state clearly and concisely where common good resides. This is the high mountain that has been cloud-covered for too long. When it comes clear we can see we have been struggling over piddly, middling matters. Advent is a time of clarifying better goals and beginning to practice moving in their direction.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Matthew 24:36-44

Advent 1 - Year A
 Whew! "Christ the King" Sunday came and went without King Christ coming on a cloud. It still holds: no one knows what time holds. One can claim "The Father" knows best or just knows, but even G*D seems to have a rather elastic sense of time (which takes some of the humor out of life, if timing is a key basis for humour).
Being swept away by flood isn't all that different from being swept off one's feet in an expansive and expanding love. We are disoriented and reoriented, all in one fell swoop.
It would appear that being captured by the Love of Jesus is not a universal. One catches it and one does not. Keep alert to the option of being captured by love rather than anger or irrelevancy. Help those around you to so keep alert. You can help one another with expectancy so when you run into expectancy fatigue, your friend can expect for you - and vice versa.
- - -
If you are looking for a daily advent resource, you are welcome to consider the WUMFSA Advent Reflections for 2010.

Friday, November 19, 2010

at the end mercy

Pentecost +26 - Year C
ready or not 
King Jesus reigns 
and life is still falling apart.
"Jesus is Lord"
doesn't solve everything
we've had a year
and 2,000+ years
still no paradise in sight
not knowing what is going on
is as popular as ever
as is gambling power
so "Doom" and "Woe" to leaders
repeating what doesn't work
until all are scattered
paradise is over the horizon
and unremembered
never begun in this moment
time's coming
time's nearly up
light a candle for mercy's sake
forgiveness offering
paradise opening
reconciliation extending
in whatever order we work
every background field reveals
variations on humble mercy

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Advent Reflections

I have developed a daily Advent Reflection for the Wisconsin United Methodist Federation for Social Action based on comments from this blog on the last Year A Cycle. If you are interested in adding this to your Advent Practice, it is available as both a PDF print piece and a daily online reading. Advent Reflections 2010.

If you are interested in the 2010 Advent Reflections or the previous 9 years of Advent Reflections by a variety of authors, you can go to http://www.wumfsa.org/reflections/lentadventindex.html

It is helpful to know how widely these Advent Reflections went. You are invited to report its use to me.

Colossians 1:11-20

Pentecost +26 - Year C

Colossians 1:11-20

There are a lot of words here. It is parallel to the obsequiousness used by any servant fearing they might be overheard. To try to cut through the fog of images, all good, all the time, we'll focus on: "what is a reconciling mechanism that will reconcile all things?"

Here is a quote from David Buttrick in The Mystery and the Passion that points in a helpful direction:
God's mercy is not merely therapy for a few individuals beset by guilt....God does not dole out mercy like cookies only for good, repentant children. God's mercy is not conditioned by our response. God is mercy. So, wide is wider than we guess.... Our calling is to live in mercy.... Recalling God's unmerited mercy ... we absolve one another, enacting the good news. 'In Jesus Christ,' we say, 'we are forgiven.' So we look into each other's eyes without illusions; we are sinners all. Yet we embrace each other in the mercy, the wide, wide mercy of God.

To the extent that Jesus participates in mercy, he is revelatory of G*D. To the extent that a Church participates in mercy, it is revelatory of G*D. To the extent that you or I participate in mercy, we are revelatory of G*D. To the extent G*D participates in mercy, G*D is revelatory of creation's purpose.

Every internal and external difference is bridgeable, but only in a way that transforms both ends of a divide as mercy is a two-way street, a mutual embrace.

Here is a "king" at work, modeling mercy. Here is a "servant" at work, modeling mercy. Here is what we might have learned this past year - to model mercy. Apparently there is more to learn as the mercy quotient in the world continues to get short shrift compared to power, revenge, anger, and competition.

So, King Jesus; so, Queen Church; so, Prince or Princess You; so, Brother Paul; drop all the fancy words and doctrinal constructs and get on with clarifying mercy. Reconciliation isn't through blood itself but a response of mercy wherever and whenever blood is spilt - a merciful, "forgive them, they don't know what they are doing" and a getting up to keep at that wide, wide mercy work of welcoming and working together. Everything else is accruing righteousness for oneself and giving up that same self to be on some perceived winning side.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Luke 1:68-79

Pentecost +26 - Year C
"And you, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go before G*D to prepare G*D's ways, to give knowledge of wholeness to people through forgiveness of sins."
This charge to all who are dedicated, blessed, baptized, is an ordination to the work of communal and environmental peace. Take your authority and prepare G*D's way.
If you can't yet see yourself following in the ways of Jesus' peace, can you see yourself following in the way of John's prophecy that is oriented toward that same peace? It may be that you sense your call to the ways of peace follows after neither Jesus nor John. Whatever you see as a model is your call to demonstrate that you understand that it is not a starting point that is our measure, but our ending point of a way of peace. Blessings on your awareness and your follow-through.
Again, listen to this liturgy and see how it applies in your life:
"And you, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go before G*D to prepare G*D's ways, to give knowledge of wholeness to people through forgiveness of sins."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Jeremiah 23:1-6

Pentecost +26 - Year C
Everyone is welcome but the leaders of flocks (congregations, denominations) have not done well with keeping up with the variety of creation that is to be welcomed. The huge temptation is to start and stop with ourselves and those like us. Anyone else is welcome to do their best to meet this impossible mark, but when they don't the body is divided over a non-identity (me and mine, not the wideness of G*D's mercy).
The promise is that new shepherds will be raised up from the outcasts and that their experience of being outcast will mean a special sensitivity to other outcasts and none shall be missing. Well, time and time again, new leaders have claimed mandates, thought their technique universal, and otherwise fallen into the same trap as their predecessors.
This is not claim or theory. Look around. The reality is overwhelming. Another lesson needs to be learned. This is not a rejoicing end of a Church Year passage that lets us rejoice. It is, once again, a call to recognize that we have gone around the circle from divider to outcast to divider with no particular visible gain.
So, if at the end of our year we can't put the words, "The Lord is our righteousness (welcome)", comfortably in our mouths, what do we put there?
Pity a well-intentioned G*D caught with that G*D's image throughout creation, chasing its tail. Pity a well-intentioned creation doubly caught as in a tarnished mirror. Pity us all, the days may yet be surely coming . . . but they surely are not now.
What will need to change in the coming year that we not end up at the same place. Whatever you come up with is what needs practice during Advent and after.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Luke 23:33-43

Pentecost +26 - Year C
A captain of a ship is to go down with said ship. You are to ride a horse that brought you to your present occasion. Nowhere is it mentioned that we are in this business of leadership, of community fellowship, in order to simply save ourself.
Warnings have been out for quite some time that the powers that be were going to extort their pound of flesh from Jesus (& you?) for subversion of the common-sense of the day.
How might a leader respond at a time of their evident overthrow? Usually they have staked their reputation and life on a particular process and they will keep at it. So it is with Jesus (& you?).
Luke records four last acts of Jesus in this 23rd chapter.
  • Jesus stands simply mute before accusation
  • Jesus blesses mourners with an affirmation that their experience is real and will be realer
  • Jesus blesses an unbaptized, non-creedal request with a promise of welcome
  • Jesus commits his past, present, and future into a larger picture

On this last Sunday of another exhausting Church Year (it is hard work to participate in creating a new heaven and a new earth) we come to a final measuring question about our progress and in anticipation of work to be done in another Church Year - welcoming without boundaries.
We know that to do so will be the set up for more Judas opportunities for others, more disappointments, having to go through the same re-education we have gone through before. Imagine the eventual havoc of a thief loose in heaven. Who else might be there, even without a formal welcome this side of a great divide? It just throws everything up for grabs.
We know that to do less will be the set up for our playing Judas in our day.
Since there seems to be no escaping - keep your eye on what you understand Paradise to be about. When others fall by the wayside you can still invite them. When you fall by the wayside you can still be invited. To see through the illusion and ratify the experience of suffering is to set it in a larger context, a part of which is Paradise.
You may want to leave a note for yourself where you will regularly see it as an affirmation of your ongoing work, "I am a door-opener and welcomer of Paradise." It is that upon which you can survive the realities of this past year and upon which you can build for next year.

Friday, November 12, 2010

not one stone

Pentecost +25 - Year C
still have some hope?
everything you see
will fall down
and not just lie there
but be buried
under sixty-six feet
of wind blown sand
still joyful over beauty?
false leaders
promising golden chickens
in every pot
and nary a chipped tooth
or cost to you
just vote them in
still on the full side of a half glass?
empires come
but mostly go
emptying their center
bursting their boundaries
still playing the Glad Game?
the very earth falls apart
cracks beneath
eruptions above
and bodies the same
has Dr. Pangloss prescribed for you?
betrayed by parents
say it isn't so
laughed at by siblings
say it isn't so
executed by friends
it seems so
now without hope?
and my beloved says
when I'm not living in hope
hope still lives in me
who can explain it
who can tell us why

Thursday, November 11, 2010

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Pentecost +25 - Year C
Jesus who once was heard to say, "Go into all the world", now is commanding that we stay away from fellow followers of Jesus who are of a different class or follow a different Jesus tradition. No longer are they to imitate a Jesus they have experienced, but the Jesus someone else has experienced.
Or we could say that the community of real Jesus followers takes place in a location where there are sufficient jobs for everyone to have one or two or more and that everyone has been healed so they are able to work hours on end. The Church, here, requires a healthy economy or there can only be a few leaders who can command the rest to do Jesus as they do (no, there are not multiple ways of reading that).
We have moved from the feeding of 5,000 at a time a shared meal to feeding one at a time their individually earned meal. In such a short time as it is from the stories of Luke to a letter to Thessalonica, a dramatic difference has happened - moving from an egalitarian, socialist call to have G*D's presence enfleshed in a sharing community, all the way over to a class-based, individualism that has everyone pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps (as if that could happen without cultural and communal rules and securities to protect what has been individually gathered!).
Yes, Advent is needed and is on the horizon. We have moved far away from the early Acts of the Apostles, it is but a dim memory this far along the Church Year. We are much closer to the desolation requiring the birth of a new imagination, a new word. (Don't tell anyone, but more than Church culture rises and falls.) In this brave new world of desperation there are no excuses, no arguments - everyone's on their own. To remember a hope for life to be otherwise seems so distant, so quaint. How might it mysteriously appear this time?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Isaiah 12

Pentecost +25 - Year C
I like moving away from anger and toward comfort. Whenever such happens, an extravagant response seems to be in order - forgiveness of Self and Neighbors and G*D.
We are all in this together and we all take the consequences of poor choices. We also reap the difficulty of repairing our relationship after digging in our heels with our respective and incompatible choices.
Moving from dealing with an angry G*D to a comforting G*D throws us off our game and we overcompensate from blame for absence to praise. This misses the interrelationship aspect of G*D, Neighbor, and Self.
Perhaps this is all said too soon as Chapter 12's song of thanksgiving is to be "recited in the ideal age" (The Jewish Study Bible). We are certainly not at such an age. Our season of Pentecost began with great hope that we might get there. The first chapters of the the Book of the Acts of the Apostles had people's coming together who would otherwise be discounted by one another. Here at the end of another Church Year we are getting apocalyptic, disappointed that what started out as anti-Babel (universal response to great deeds) has again devolved into threat and a set up for a need to jump back into Advent thinking.
So, yes, in an ideal age my forgiveness will sound like praise. Until then my praise is tempered by the the inability of Self, Neighbor, and G*D to come together. I'll take my blame in this, but I won't excuse others more than myself.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Isaiah 65:17-25

Pentecost +25 - Year C
For what purpose was creation begun? Because G*D said so? To have people have dominion? That all might fall in order for a hero to redeem some of them ("believers")? Even G*D need a Galatea?
Note that a creation of new heavens and a new earth is all wrapped up in the creation of Jerusalem as a joy.
One might surmise that where joy is present new heavens (plural) and earth (singular) pop into being. Joy may be one thing that religion has a most difficult time with because of its obsession with G*D or ultimate authority. Religion needs great seriousness to approach such.
Joy here is defined as justice implemented.
  • No more weeping or distress - justice at work, joy results.
  • No preventable deaths, early or late - justice at work, joy results.
  • No homelessness or hunger for houses will be built and gardens tended - justice at work, joy results. 
  • No violence of stealing another's property - justice at work, joy results. 
  • No idle idleness for meaningful work is available - justice at work, joy results.
  • Labor will sustain one and all - justice at work, joy results.
  • A workable community and environment will build a holy mountain - justice at work, joy results.

So, as we close off the joy of a surprise at Pentecost, we might ask whether our joy quotient is higher than it was a year ago. If it is, we are building in a creative direction. If it is not, we are tearing something down. If we let things like an economy or wedge issue raise our anger, but not our joy, we have missed an important learning. G*D is about to create joy and invites us to be glad and rejoice sufficiently to join G*D in so creating.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Luke 21:5-19

Pentecost +25 - Year C
The end of the church year is fast approaching. It doesn't appear that there is any change to arc of history that we have been on. In America, as analyzed from afar (Canada) by Jim Taylor's "Sharp Edge" column on Election anger, grief resulting from a fall from a tall pedestal is manifesting itself in a nation banging back and forth between poles, not knowing what has happened nor how to change our larger circumstance. And the same is happening to churches within said nation.
The same confusion was evident in the disciples - what's going on? what's the sign of getting back to business as usual or utter collapse? when is something going to come clear?
In Jesus' usual way he says, "Its going to get worse. The only thing you have going for you is deciding where you are going to hitch your star and hang on for dear life."
We are nearly through another Church Year. Has it made a difference for you or anyone else? Now there is something worth grieving over!
We don't have much to say for ourselves as we've been co-opted for so long. Our voice is but a whisper. Issues of individual greed and aspirations to more and more and bigger and bigger have stolen our power of testifying to a better way of living together.
No matter which way you turn, it's not going to be pretty. Remember, love G*D with everything you have, even unto becoming G*D, and love your Neighbor as you would have your Neighbor love you after walking a mile in each other's realities. This remembrance is all you will have until we move through this latest falling apart.
The end of turning last year's advent expectation into ordinary living has again mostly gone bust. There is not much expectation of being able to turn that around in two weeks. Gird your loins. Culpa mea. Endure anyway.