Pentecost

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Thinking of Pentecost Sunday and how God’s Holy Spirit isn’t working to secure our vision of comfort, but to secure God’s vision of what is good—for all of us and each of us. The peace we want comes by trusting the Spirit of God in the midst of the interruption, not from the absence of disorientation, tension, and even conflict the Spirit may create. All of this disorientation, tension and conflict arises from the Spirit’s inclusion of many, and often unexpected ethnicities, cultures, voices, and perspectives of those we’d rather not include. The interruptive Spirit of God is no respecter of comfort levels, schedules, or agendas. We are reminded that God’s Spirit may fit “inside of our hearts,” but not inside of our preferences.

When the Spirit was poured out on Pentecost God interrupted society’s organized world, including the institutions, social classes, and categories of control that organize it. Will the Church follow the way of the Spirit?

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A Memorial Day Prayer

We call upon you Prince of Peace, Savior and King. We confess that you are all powerful and all present, great and gentle, firm and forgiving, holy and healing. You who created us and sustains us, who call us to live in peace and love, hear our prayer. And for hearing our prayer, we thank you.

We remember all who have died in fields of war, those whose hearts were known to you alone.

We remember their loved ones, those left to finish their lives without the company of their beloved lost to war. Meet them in their remembrance and bring them a special sense of your peace.

Create in Your people, in us, a longing for a time when the promised words of Isaiah who said that you, our Lord will once and for all “settle disputes among the nations and provide arbitration for many peoples. They will turn their swords into plows and their spears into pruning knives. Nations will not take up the sword against other nations, and they will never again train for war.” (Isaiah 2:4)

Help us remember our baptisms, that this world you are re-making through the resurrection and ascended Christ is beginning now. And even now we are called to lay down the arms of war and turn our swords into ploughshares for a harvest of justice and peace.

Hear our prayer this Memorial Day weekend, and in your mercy answer us and convict our hearts as we call upon you, our Prince of Peace, Savior and King, Jesus our Lord, amen.

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Inside or Outside of the Church

“How can or should processing things like mass shootings work in the Church? How can or should followers of Jesus process these things? Lord, who do we need to be in this moment and in a society like ours?!?

Is it really as simple as saying, “Well, as long as sin is at work in the world there will be death?” Is that really a reason informed by the vision of God for the world as revealed in the Scriptures? Even the Church is left trying to react impulsively out of our grief and anger to what we see, because our processing of these issues usually happens outside of the Church.

I hear people say that these matters are political so we shouldn’t talk about them “in Church.” True, they are political. So is morality—at least the moral majority thought so, led by Jerry Falwell and joined by James Dobson, Pat Robertson and others as they worked to advance “conservative social values” on political levels, centering issues like prayer in schools, anti-abortion agendas, and the so-called sanctity of marriage advocating against gay marriage as Christian political issues. Greed is political. Justice is political. Violence is political. And yet all of these things are also theological. Violence is theological. Morality, greed, justice—all theological.

What I have come to believe is that when Christians say that matters like these are political and shouldn’t be talked about “in Church” they are most likely side-stepping the issue, because if Jesus gets involved in the discussion it might cost us something.

So then let me ask, what discussion should a Christian have that doesn’t include the Lordship of the Ascended Christ?

If the Church cannot learn how to process these societal sicknesses that evidence so clearly the reign of sin and death in the world we will be stuck to react in the way society reacts. We will inadvertently betray our own witness.”

This is a question I posed to the WCC family today (and many times before). I’m thankful to be a part of a church family willing to thoughtfully consider our faith in the real world.

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Jesus, Truth and Freedom: A Contextualization from John 8:30-37

Jesus found himself in a debate with religious and political leaders after standing with a woman whose life was being used to prove a political point. We often call her “the woman caught in adultery.” I won’t get into whether or not that is fair description, but here is how the debate eventually plays out for Jesus in John 8:30-37.

30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him.
31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you continue in my word, you really are my disciples. 32 You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
33 “We are descendants of Abraham,” they answered him, “and we have never been enslaved to anyone. How can you say, ‘You will become free’?”
34 Jesus responded, “Truly I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. 35 A slave does not remain in the household forever, but a son does remain forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you really will be free. 37 I know you are descendants of Abraham, but you are trying to kill me because my word has no place among you.

The religious and political leaders (it was one and the same for them) we caught up in the ideology of their theology. We aren’t always much different from them. So sometimes we need a different reading of the text. I wrote this back in 2016 so to be read often during a series we called, “The Politics of Truth.” It was a series the shepherds requested I preach. Here is the contextualization of John 8:30-37 I wrote in order that we might here like they would have heard it, but in our time and place.

Here is a contextualization I wrote back in 2016 to be read often during a series with WCC.

“As He was saying these things, many believed in Him. So Jesus said to the Christians living in the USA who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

“As He was saying these things, many believed in Him. So Jesus said to the Christians living in the USA who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

“We are descendants of democracy,” they answered Him, “and we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. We aren’t enslaved to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will become free’?”

Jesus responded, “I assure you: Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. A slave does not remain in the household forever, but a son does remain forever. Therefore, if the Son sets you free, you really will be free.

“I know you are descendants of democracy, but you are trying to explain my teachings away because My word is not welcome among you.”

We have to do our best to resist our tendencies to get our theology confused with our ideology. It is hard for all of us. It is hard for me. But one of the best ways we resist this tendency is to submit our ideology to the greatest command and choose to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and treat them as we want to be treated.

But we have to do this in concrete particular ways. Loving our neighbor has to be practical and specific, and do whatever it requires to be faithful, by the Spirit of the Spirit working in us.

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Idols

If there is one thing I’ve learned (and am learning) in two decades of vocational ministry is that you don’t reason someone out of idolatry. There may be some who are beginning to see the fragility and futility of their idol and may awaken. But beyond that, to try and reason with someone whose grip is tightened to their idol will result in defensiveness and justification accompanied with forms of sentimentality, like “thoughts and prayers.”

So press on in a different way, my friends. Hold conversations with those who want to converse. Engage those whose hearts are broken in such a way that it opens them to critically engaging their faith, and even the idolatry of their ideology, because of the tragedy, not in response to the tragedy. There’s a difference.

And in the end, talking will get us no where. Actionable efforts that follow our prayers will.

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