Asking God

“I was hungry
and you formed a humanities club and discussed my hunger. Thank you.
I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly
to your chapel in the cellar
and prayed for my release.
I was naked
and in your mind
you debated the morality of my appearance.
I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.
I was homeless and you preached to me
of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.
I was lonely
and you left me alone
to pray for me.
You seem holy;
so close to God.
But I’m still very hungry
and lonely
and cold.
So where have your prayers gone?
What have they done?
What does it profit a man
to page through his book of prayers
when the rest of the world
is crying for his?”

~ “Listen, Christians” cited in James Cone’s “The Servant Church,” a chapter in The Pastor as Servant (Pilgrim Press, 1986).

When we ask God, “What are you doing about it,” he may respond, “My dear child, you are a part of my royal priesthood. You have my Spirit and my Scripture, so what are you doing about it? I’m already at work. Why don’t you join me?”

Sometimes we may be His answer to the prayer.

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The Vulnerability of a Friendship of Love and Gracious Hospitality

Tommy

Tommy Millirons, born April 29, 1964 and passed thru death to life April 22, 2015. He was baptized into Christ on April 20, 2014. Tommy was a hard worker and jack of many trades. There was very little he couldn’t repair. He loved riding long bike rides and was awakened everyday at 5am for his morning ride. He was generous and loyal friend. Above all Tommy loved the Lord and read the Scriptures daily.

Over the past five years I have lost three dear friends for three very different reasons. All were formerly homeless. All were thrust in to making difficult choices under difficult circumstances. All did the best with what they had. All were ushered in to my life and the lives of God’s people. All were truly loved and became an integral part of my church family. All experienced incredible victories along the way. All died knowing and believing they weren’t alone. But all died.

Over the past 19 years of loving and walking with many who spent much of their lives living through social displacement, I’ve learned a lot. They have not only been my friends and a part of my family, they have been my teachers. 

Of all the lessons I’ve learned it’s that there is an inherent vulnerability in taking Jesus seriously when it comes to friendships of love and gracious hospitality. When a friend passes I am reminded that love and gracious hospitality is a life or death matter.

Doug

Doug Maness, born November 7, 1953 and passed thru death to life October 29, 2015. He was baptized into Christ March 31, 2013. Doug was a talented writer, avid reader and jovial rambler From authors like Wendell Berry, Herman Melville, Leo Tolstoy and William Shakespeare, Doug has read them all. He was a student of history, so much so he taught history for ten years. He loved hiking and camping. Doug was a good and thoughtful friend.

There is also a peculiar kind of fragility present in a friendship of love and gracious hospitality. It is fragile because recovery from addictions, life-reorientation, and healing from the trauma of social displacement is, at times, fragile. But this beautiful and hard, joyous and sorrowful friendship is understood when we are determined to enter into the suffering and find our way home, together. Home becomes more than four walls and food. It becomes a place where experiences are shared, new stories are written, memories are made, and friendships are found. Home is a place of inhabitation where life is oriented toward a life-giving narrative where restoration is made possible in every way.

In a society committed to filing each one of us away in categories of separation and belonging–race, class, etc–people can never be become projects to be fixed, problems to solve, or prospects to save. People must be seen as image-bearers of God who are to be welcomed just as they are and not as they should be. What I am learning is if I am willing to see them as God’s beloved, His love and gracious hospitality will become tangible to all of us as the reign of Christ breaks in.

I, along with my church family, have loved these friends in life and we have loved them in death. And though it is has been heartbreaking to see their lives come to such an abrupt and unexpected end, we are grateful to have loved them.

So we press in and pray onward. We have many neighbors living on the margins of our cities that are still alive. Some are thriving because of friendships of love and gracious hospitality. Others are still struggling to keep one foot in front of the other. Either way, God’s Spirit is out ahead of His Church calling us to join Him.

We must.

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Lonnie Dove, born December 5, 1961 and passed thru death to life July 7, 2017. He loved the Lord and read the Scriptures daily. Lonnie enjoyed long walks. He was a big fan of R&B music, especially Luther Vandross. He was also a gifted poet. Finally, he was a faithful friend. Lonnie was a member of the Williamsburg Christian Church family.

 

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Come on

Christ of the Breadlines, a woodcut by Fritz Eichenberg

To people of significant religious and political power, Jesus said:

“People will come from east and west, north and south, and sit down to eat in God’s kingdom.” (Luke 13:29)

While at a party hosted by a man who enjoyed significant religious and political power, Jesus said:

“When you host a lunch or dinner, don’t invite your friends, your brothers and sisters, your relatives, or rich neighbors. If you do, they will invite you in return and that will be your reward. Instead, when you give a banquet, invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind. And you will be blessed because they can’t repay you. Instead, you will be repaid when the just are resurrected.'” (Luke 14:12-14)

Welcome the people who can’t pay you back, require the most need for the most resources, and are most often excluded–that’s the point of Jesus story told in a context of power. It would do society good if the Church would listen to Jesus rather than find reasons (and other programs) not to.

Because Jesus chose to welcome us, even when we could have remained excluded, we must choose to welcome others, especially those most often excluded.

Come on Church. Let’s do better. Relinquish some programs. Takes risks. Extend God’s hospitality and generosity to those who need it most. Let’s learn to love. We have the Spirit of Christ and the resources of God’s kingdom.

And Pastors, let’s model the lives we proclaim. Say no to some church folk so you can say yes to marginalized folk. Take courage and call the Church to join you and meet Jesus in the margins where the excluded are found. If they don’t want to, fine. Maybe they’ll eventually come around. If not, I assure you they’ll find dozens of other churches to join where they can remain comfortable and complacent (and I don’t say this lightly). As for you and me, let’s obey Jesus and trust him with the consequences.

The city to which God has called us needs us to.

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The Contrast

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Sermon on the Mount by Laura James

This morning I was reminded that throughout the stories of Jesus (the Gospels) there is a contrast between those who are well-integrated in society but are too busy and those who are excluded from society and have too much time. (Thank you Jean Vanier.)

Maybe Jesus knew that those whose lives were deeply connected to the norms of society–good jobs, well educated, a measure of influence and privilege–would be too invested in the lives they’ve already built than to consider rebuilding. No wonder he didn’t travel to cities like Tiberias, a wealthy city on the western shore of Galilee, or spend much time networking in other centers of power. Maybe Jesus knew that they were too preoccupied with the promises made by the Roman Dream.

Instead Jesus travels to the cities where the poor and marginalized are found. He spends time with those society called “sinners.” Their dreams were up for negotiation because their standing in society offered them little power and privilege to pursue them. The only government willing to let them dream again and welcome them to the center of blessing was the one Jesus called the Kingdom of God.

It makes me stop and ask, who will I become and what kind of life am I building?

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You Are Loved

As you journey into your week, don’t forget that you are loved by a triune God, an eternal community of three distinct Persons of diverse participation in faithful self-giving love and perfect unity (what a mouthful!). There are three simple implications to this beautiful truth.

You are made in the image of our triune God, so you are made for relationship. Don’t allow sin to create isolation or division in your life or in your relationship with others. Our society misguidedly prioritizes the individual over community. Don’t give into the temptation to elevate yourself to the point to isolating yourself. The triune God as eternal community and communion opens outward to invite us into his life.

As one made in the image of our triune God, you are made for self-giving participation. The Father gives himself, the Son gives himself, and the Spirit gives himself, all for our good and as a signpost to the Lordship of Jesus. As the Father gives us the Son who gives us the Spirit who gives us God’s presence, he summons us to join him in this beautiful dance of mutual submission expressed in the diverse participation of God’s story of redemption. You have a distinct place within God’s purposes and among his people. Trust in his Spirit’s leading as he bears witness to the Lordship of Christ working within you, around you, and out ahead of you in the lives of others.

As one made in the image of our triune God, you are made for love. We yearn to be known and loved as we are and to feel secure in this love, so much so that no other kind of love will satisfy us. Our God, who is eternal communion and love, knows you best and loves you most without caution or restraint. His love is anchored in the covenant he made to his people. When God makes a covenant, he keeps it. God’s faithful love can liberate you into the kind of life his Spirit longs for you to experience. Trust in God’s love and listen to the King as he whispers, “Abide in My love. Follow me.”

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This beautiful piece of art is entitled, “The Burning Bush” and is by Scott Erickson (scottericksonart.com). Scott is one of my favorite artists. I have this print and will soon hang it in my study.

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When I See Jesus in the Gospels

My perspective shifts when I look at Jesus in the Scriptures. When I turn through the pages I see the crucified, resurrected, and ascended liberating Lord and redeeming King I’ve always needed. And still do.

I see Jesus as Lord and King teaching the worshippers in synagogues, healing tormented people, and proclaiming good news in Galilean neighborhoods. I see him holding the hands of unclean lepers, showing compassion to the vulnerable, and sharing a table with people religious leaders labelled as sinners, just to prove his love.

Jesus as Lord and King welcomes a religious skeptic too fearful to be seen with him in the light of day, just to prove his love (John 3:1-21).

Jesus as Lord and King pursues a woman at the well hiding from her shame, just to prove his love (John 4:1-26).

Jesus as Lord and King refuses to let a newly married couple suffer the reputation-ending embarrassment of running out of wine at their wedding feast, just to prove his love (John 2:1-12).

Jesus as Lord and King refuses to leave a widowed mother in her grief and frightened father in his fear, just to prove his love (Luke 7:11-17; 8:40-56).

Jesus as Lord and King refuses to leave the hungry without food and thirsty without drink, just to prove his love (John 6:1-15; Mark 8:1-10).

Jesus as Lord and King honors a Roman centurion soldier, a leader in the enemy’s army, and embraces a desperate foreigner, a Gentile mother from Canaan, and even heals her child¹, just to prove his love (Luke 7:1-10, Matthew 15:21-28).

Jesus as Lord and King refuses to kill his enemies and chooses to die so they might be saved, just to prove his love (Luke 23:34; Romans 5:10).

The people religious worshippers deem irrevocably unclean and unholy he makes irrevocably clean and calls holy. The ones considered stained and profane he welcomes as sacred and honored. He gives the poor kingdoms and the guilty freedom. And he does it all just to prove his love.

What becomes clear to me when I look at Jesus in the Scriptures is a display of love that demonstrates God’s stubborn refusal to let us be held captive to the divided ways of a divided world prone to fear, exclusion, and violence. The love I see in Jesus’ teachings and actions enables me to see God’s heart-healing, mind-freeing, wholeness-making, life-giving love made available to all of us.

The good news for you and me is that his love hasn’t changed.

Christ Mural in SF

I took this picture of when visiting the chapel of St. Joseph’s Prep and Gesu School building in Philadelphia. It is called, “Christ of North Philadelphia.” You can read more about the incredible work here.


¹  Matthew’s use of the old term “Canaanite,” is different from Mark’s description of the woman as “a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia” (Mark 7:26). Writing to a Jewish audience, Matthew recalls historical animosities to remind the reader that significant social barriers existed between Jews and non-Jews, a.k.a. foreigners.
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Praying & Delaying

“I was hungry
and you formed a humanities club
and discussed my hunger. Thank you.
I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly
to your chapel in the cellar
and prayed for my release.
I was naked
and in your mind
you debated the morality of my appearance.
I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.
I was homeless and you preached to me
of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.
I was lonely
and you left me alone
to pray for me.
You seem holy;
so close to God.
But I’m still very hungry
and lonely
and cold.

So where have your prayers gone?
What have they done?
What does it profit a man
to page through his book of prayers
when the rest of the world
is crying for his?”

~ James Cone, Speaking the Truth, 113.

The Church must awaken to the possibility that as the Spirit-filled royal priesthood of God we will often be his answer to the prayers of others.

It is not about activism. It is not about party-politics. It is not even about justice. It is about faithfulness, both to King Jesus and the integrity of our confession. We are co-laborers with God and prophetic witnesses of his kingdom.

Anything less is a parody of Christianity.

And it begins with you and me.

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