11.29.2010

Food for thought from Seth Godin

Our normal approach is useless here

Perhaps this can be our new rallying cry.

If it's a new problem, perhaps it demands a new approach. If it's an old problem, it certainly does.

Memo to the ELCA

Good morning, ELCA. Today's question is simple: What "business" are we in?

The faith formation business? Or faith preservation?

Changing the world through living out justice and global connection and interfaith dialogue?

Certainly not, to paraphrase Brian McLaren, warehousing souls until they can be shipped to their final destination?

Preserving the "Lutheran" way of doing church?

Making disciples?

Hint: Look at where your people's energy, creativity and time are spent.

What business should we be in?

Turning outside-in

Listen. Do you hear the inbreaking of God's kingdom in this story? 
When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour. (Matt. 8:5-13)
Jesus has been traveling around Galilee, preaching the revolutionary good news of the Sermon on the Mount, healing, and drawing crowds from far beyond the territory. He's taught the people how to have dignity in the face of oppression, to suffer persecution for a greater good.

Returning to Capernaum, he is approached by a leader of the occupying Roman army.  This centurion is not drawn by religion; he is under Caesar's law, not Moses'.  Yet he is drawn to Jesus, because he has heard the buzz and sees that Jesus is to go-to guy if you seek healing and wholeness.  I imagine the centurion as a non-nonsense kind of man, one who has seen the world and knows how power works.  And the word has gotten back about Jesus' healing power.  Convinced of that power, the centurion doesn't need to have Jesus come to his home to prove it.  He knows that Jesus' word is good, if he says the servant is healed he is healed -- just as the centurion knows that his orders will be carried out by his men.

Jesus is amazed by this complete and unusual trust. What he tells his followers is equally stunning:  My Father's kingdom is not about being born of the right race, espousing the right religion.  It's not exclusive -- true faith exists even in people who have not heard of, scoff at and even oppress religion.  And more to the point, don't think religion can trump true trust in what God can do, or you're in for an unpleasant surprise.

Imagine if the church today were seen by society the way that centurion saw Jesus -- as the go-to place for concern about the sick, the hungry, the marginalized.  What would it take for people of no or other faiths to know that they could bring their hurts to the church, and trust that we are as good as Jesus' word?

11.28.2010

Which way are you flowing?


The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.  
2In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 
3Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 
4He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. 
5O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord! (Isaiah 2:1-5)

Isaiah’s vision opens in an unsettled and anxious time, with scenes that would fit in today’s evening news.  The “Israelite Dream” has not come true.  Visions of success have turned to despair.  Self-interest has trumped justice, leading God to turn a deaf ear to Israel’s valued traditions and rituals. Yet here Isaiah’s prophetic imagination kicks in.  He reminds the people of God’s dreams for them – that their energies would flow toward God and not to their own individual concerns; that they would see their interconnectedness rather than seeing themselves as adversaries; that honest labor would prevail rather than seeking unfair advantage through might.  God will make this happen!  If only the people could look past their fear and uncertainty to grasp God’s mercy.

In perilous times such as ours, it is tempting to seize on the certainty of Isaiah 1: The obedient will thrive; rebels will fall to the sword.  “The Word of the Lord” will conquer all.  But in today’s passage Isaiah invites us into reflection.  Which way is the stream of my life flowing?  Am I journeying toward the mountain of the Lord, or have I exalted my own desires?  When am I too quick to grab the swords of anger or indignation to support my own positions?  How can I be the Lord’s messenger of peace and justice?  Grappling with these questions can be a first step or a next step in walking in the light of the Lord.

O God, direct the rivers and trajectories of my life so that they flow always toward you.  Help me to release the desires and concerns of my life so that I might perceive and experience the large, beautiful dreams that you have for your people. Amen.

(Originally published in The RevWriter Resource)

11.02.2010

Leaven, ferment or froth?

Sermonations on Mark 8:11-21


How does Jesus' message in the so-called "Yeast of the Pharisees" story speak to the church in emerging culture?  I'm crowd-sourcing an upcoming sermon, and I would appreciate your thoughts about what this text means to us today. Please share -- the more voices the better!

11The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him. 12And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13And he left them, and getting into the boat again, he went across to the other side.
14Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” 16They said to one another, “It is because we have no bread.” 17And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? 19When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” They said to him, “Twelve.” 20“And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21Then he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

OK, friends...help me out. Use the headline link to go to my Facebook note, or add your thoughts in the comments below.

What was the leaven the religious establishment (Pharisees) and the culture-makers (Herod) brought to the batter of spiritual and political/economic life?

What form do those yeasts take today?

Why are the disciples so fixated on bread?  What is Jesus trying to get across to them?

How does it feel to see Jesus be so exasperated?

What about our paths of discipleship would cause Jesus to "sigh deeply from his soul?"