Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Monday Moravian

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Watchword for the Week -- For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we
will see face to face. 1 Corinthians 13:12

Admitting uncertainty is apart of healthy faith. Being open to mystery is a sign of growth, not regression. Franchised spirituality promises that if we believe without questioning, then all fear will disappear.

But courage is not the absence of fear, it's the presence and patience of love in any situation. It's assurance and trust in God's love even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Church growth consultants notwithstanding, the need to sell certainty is more about market share, not spiritual care. And the farther we travel from our own true calling and gift, the more energy we waste and the more exhausted we become. Clarity is good, when it's about our honest lack of clarity.

When Job demanded an answer from God, all God seemed to offer was another question that opened the door to more enigmas and questions, not fewer. "Why do you talk so much when you know so little." Job 38:2 CEV The apostle Paul's verse for this week is an invitation to receive heavenly wisdom -about yourself.

You don't need to have an opinion on everything. If you don't know the answer, do what the best teachers do--admit it. In that, may the restraining and renewing power of the Holy Spirit be yours.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Front Runners

Suddenly the New Orleans Saints have our attention. But even now, on the edge of their first ever Super Bowl appearance, they're still the underdog. Nonetheless, their feel good story is attractive to long suffering fans of any sports franchise.

Front runners can't appreciate the disappointments inherent in loyalty to one team. Nor can they understand the depth of joy and celebration that we see in New Orleans today. If the front runner always has your attention, then life is a continual refocusing, nothing more.

We are all susceptible to the front runner syndrome as fad-driven people. The Olive Garden used to poll a region and cook whatever Texans thought Italian food was in Dallas or Houston or San Angelo. Churches try to cook up a ministry based on a plan that's effective in another universe. If we only copy the recipe, we'll get the same results, maybe better!

But following Jesus doesn't come prepackaged anymore than front-runners make fans. So Jesus had sharp words for Peter, whose own words and actions resembled that of a front runner. (Mark 8:31-32) Like focusing on one team only, the heart of ministry is about our willingness to enter into the pain and struggle of others, not our need to look successful.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Monday Moravian: Of Gifts and Grids

Watchword for this Week:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same
Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord.
1 Corinthians 12:4,5

When fitting into the grid becomes the goal, the grace of the Spirit's gifts challenge us. The gift that I have may not be the one that I wanted. Or, there may not be room for my gift to fully function. A combination of these concerns, complaints, and doubts could easily be underneath Paul's words here in Corinthians. As "basic" as we might think these words are, if we truly claimed and accepted our giftedness as from Holy Spirit, we would be different people.

Holy Spirit gives the vast array as the Lord, the Giver of Life, will. Instead of asking people to seek God in that giftedness, we often give them a form to fill out or a test to be scored. Pray about it maybe too. Thus, we classify people and call it equipping. We "plug people in," with all things neat & tidy.

In Quitting Church, Julia Duin suggests that many who feel they are spinning their wheels in our churches may be doing so because we have turned to inventories- and away from the Spirit- in discerning our true gifts. We then make "purpose driven" clergy and laity who fit the right containers. No wonder there's burn out! We spend our energy trying on the equipment of others and never bother to see which armor fits for ourselves. We then try to "purpose" or "re-purpose" others into roles that don't fit them either.

The God we worship doesn't live in schemes made by human hands. While some questionnaires may be more helpful than others, especially those that further more self awareness and acceptance than self -concern, all the surveys in the world do not replace the gift giving of the Holy Spirit received in prayer. The Lord is in the gift that the Spirit has willed for me and Christ's body, a gift that I first receive from God in prayer.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

In: Backlash

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Ephesians 4:14

Does the proverbial pendulum ever stop swinging from one extreme to the other? Whatever happened to reason and moderation? Or keeping your thoughts to yourself? I really hope that "I rage, therefore I am" is NOT the byline of the new decade.

2010 is year of the backlash voter. They are driven, in part, by the outrage of being on the minority side of a majority rule democracy. Those who don't see the big changes they expected are also aghast. Regardless, the rage and rant clowns of political punditry chime in with their own special brand of "me saw it too."

In religion, like politics, extremism sells lots of media coverage. But why project hate and rage onto God? Why add to the harm? Leaders who speak of God's rage betray their own wounds, nothing more, nothing less. And that becomes the basis for heaping on others and claiming that God did it.

Jesus' ABBA doesn't do earthquakes! In Haiti or anywhere! Not even if an apostle of hate craved the attention the statement would generate.

God of all people, Lord of the universe, deliver us from our foolish ways. Forgive our misuse and abuse of your holy Name. Heal our brokenness that spawns hatred and violence of any kind. Help us to pray daily for the grieving, the injured, the homeless of Haiti. Help us to pray every day for the relief workers in their efforts. May no one grieve alone. Send your safety and peace on all. For the sake of Jesus' love and grace. So be it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Do Not Fear

Reflecting on the Watchword for the Week

Do not fear, for I have redeemed
you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
Isaiah 43:1

This passage had endless possibilities and I've heard it used in countless settings; whether you prefer to read it in the context of Isaiah of Jerusalem, or as the preaching of a prophet of the return to Palestine from Babylon, the words are some of the most reassuring, comforting, and encouraging in all of Scripture.

While 43:1 is in itself a great memory verse, most of us appreciate 43:2 as well: "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you."

Passing through the waters of our own deliverance from and captivity to panic is not easy and can be terrifying as we confront ourselves as we are, not as we'd like to be. Sometimes the struggle peaks after you have made some movement toward wholeness and healing, I don't know why. The demons of fear and panic that have taken up residence prefer the way we have arranged things for them. (Matt. 12:43 ff.) But we are passing through and in passing through the waters, God is with us.

Once we've decided that we no longer want to live ruled by anxiety and terror, it's possible to think that we have gotten in too deep, that our support system is not enough, that we are too fragile, and that we will not make it to the other side of the river's rip tides. You can do this with God- you are not in over your head, you will not be overwhelmed. That's the reality and the truth for those who live by faith.

The reference to fire not consuming us is more to the point since fire is, in this passage, probably imagery for judgment or trial. But the tense is future, not past. Here is not a reference to the consequences of unfaith and exile now passing, but rather, a looking ahead, when Israel is saved from being consumed by the dangers and obstacles that have to be negotiated in returning home from exile. Our recovery from fear is also a time when the old resistances are renewed, or may even change face. Not being consumed by the forces of anxiety within and without, we are in fact renewed and freer, stronger in Christ's love.

Protection from burning is one of the intercessions included in the Breastplate of St. Patrick. The danger of believing and living as a disciple of Jesus is present for us and more obvious depending on where home is. Protection though is holistic, and ultimately it's about trusting- resting- in God and in the peace of Holy Spirit for ourselves, and for everyone, not just a few of us. For God's peace is for everyone if it's for anyone.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Epiphany Reading

From Celebrating the Seasons:

Reconciling Peace, sent to the people,

Gladdening Flash, who came to the gloomy,

Powerful Leaven, conquering all in silence,

Patient One, who has captured the creation little by little.

Blessed is he who became small without limit

to make us great without limit.

Ephrem of Syria

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Monday Moravian

Watchword for the Week of January 3:

God has made known to us the mystery of his
will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ.
Ephesians 1:9

How is God made known to us? The Festival of Epiphany is January 6. God is "manifest" to us in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. In the words of the Charles Wesley Hymn, 'mild he lay his glory by.' It's in the gradual persistence of God's patient and forbearing love that we know God.

Sometimes beginning with the mind's fantastic wanderings, our normal way to change may not even include us! Humans try to do it via "will power." The changes that Epiphany invites connect us to God and are about experiencing relationship with God, knowing God. In what ways will we see God who is in the flesh of our living and breathing and being?

God doesn't set us up for failure. The changes wrought in us are not violent but gentle and genuine. While the world is making resolutions to improve this and that, we know that if Holy Spirit is apart of any change, the whole structure of our living and seeing will also shift. Like leaven in a baking dough, a very little is needed.

Happy and Holy Epiphany to those near and far off!

Oldies but Goodies