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Proper 5, Year A

By the way, I'll be participating tomorrow (Wednesday) night in Open Source, a new public radio show that starts at 7:00 p.m. Eastern U.S. time, and can be heard on the Internet here. The show will be looking at how we experience God in online community, and how that changes online community and our perception of God. Online discussion for the show is already happening here; feel free to weigh in on what role this blog, Grace Notes, and other theoloblogical waystations play in your own spiritual journey!

Hosea 5:15 - 6:6 - link to NRSV text
Psalm 50:7-15 - link to BCP text
Matthew 9:9-13 - link to NRSV text

I'm sure you've heard the expression of a "vicious circle" or a "vicious cycle." They come in many flavors.

There's the spiral of violence. In the ancient Mediterranean world, vengeance was mandated for honorable men: you kill my brother, so I kill you. If your brother is an honorable man, he avenges your death by killing me. My brother or my cousin kills him. And he kills two of my cousins, for which surviving relatives kill four ... it never stops. How different is it today? In some ways, not very. Watch this short Flash movie, released just after September 11, 2001, for a reminder of how that works.

There's the cycle of poverty. If you're poor, you're less likely to have access to the kinds of preventative care and treatment that could keep you healthy. And when you're seriously ill, it's that much more difficult to find or keep work that could give you access to the kind of care that could help you get better. In a society that doesn't care for its outcasts, for those who are sick, or very elderly, or otherwise unable to work, the only social security is children who survive to adulthood. And then there's the overlap with another vicious cycle, this one having to do with self-esteem. If you're a young woman whom nobody thinks will ever amount to anything, there's one thing you can do to see that there's someone who looks up to you, who sees you as important, as needed, and that's to have a baby. If you're a young man whose agency and potential for power is unacknowledged, there's always one thing you can do to prove that you're a real man; you can demonstrate your virility by coming up with a conquest. Or, if you're a young woman or man who feels powerless, there's no better short-term equalizer when it comes to feeling powerful than a gun.

There are other vicious cycles that may be less familiar. They don't make the headlines so often. Here's one that I think about a lot, as I commute sixty miles each way to a parish where many, if not most, parishioners who work outside the home commute at least 60-90 minutes each way to their jobs:

The city center is plagued with urban ills, so those who can afford it move further out, to a suburb where they think the quality of life will be better. When they and all they have to contribute leave the city center, things deteriorate, pushing more people and more poverty outside the city center. Urban ills follow, so those who can afford it move further out, to a new development where they think the quality of life will be better, and so on, over and over again, until people sacrifice their quality of life with mortgages far beyond what they can afford realistically (especially if ANYTHING goes wrong with one partner's health, or job, or ... ) and commute in such traffic for so long that they find it hard to spare even an hour a week to pray with friends or read the bible in community. 

There's a reason we call these cycles "vicious." They're all about "solutions" that exacerbate the problem. Watch these cycles in motion in isolation for long enough, and you'll get this sad, odd kind of vertigo, this sense that everything is inevitably going downhill, and the best anyone can do is look after oneself and one's own, and try to retreat from and forget about everybody else. Those cycles draw you in until -- if you've got the energy -- you cry out:


But it isn't hopeless. Those vicious cycles don't have to go on forever. Someone, anyone, any person can declare unilateral forgiveness, remission of all debts and an end to all scorekeeping. Mercy! One person did that with his whole life, and even with his death, and so we know that it's possible; in our Baptism, we receive power from the Spirit who descended upon him at his Baptism.


That's what happens today. Matthew, not one of the chief tax collectors, but a lowly employee of someone. An empire that profited from the conquered recruited people who were just enough on the edge of community, just shut out enough, to take some small chance at profit under tremendous risk. The empire made them pay tolls and taxes up front for the whole region, which they did in hopes that they could collect enough to turn a profit. They recruited those who were even more on the margins, people who didn't have land to farm or means to work a trade, and who would take work by which they might subsist, though it would make them outcast even further from the community.

That's Matthew, someone who took a really lousy job in which he handled everybody's stuff looking for what ought to be taxed, picking up and spreading any uncleanness he encountered, someone who took a position that shut him out of respectability because he knew that nobody would ever let him in anyway.

And then Jesus invited him to his table, to his companionship, to his friendship -- even to his vocation, to come with him as a disciple. Jesus embraced someone seen as untouchable, and in doing that, he showed that oddly enough, the purity of God's people is best protected not by shunning the unclean, but by embracing them. God's perfection is shown most fully not in flaws noted and shut out or scores kept and settled, but in extravagant embrace of flawed people and the end of all scorekeeping:

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
   -- Matthew 5:38-43

What right does any one of us have to demand of anyone else a sacrifice, if we believe what we say about Jesus' sacrifice: that it was full, perfect, sufficient? What right do we have to talk about who's deserving if we really understand the unconditional and unreserved quality of Jesus' embrace of us? Jesus' sacrifice was once and for all, but his mercy is such that it will take all of us who claim to follow him a lifetime of wild, uncalculating extension of unilateral mercy to even hint at the fullness of Jesus' love.

Mercy. As followers of Jesus, that's not a cry of despair, but a testimony of hope: we have seen the limitless mercy that is the most fundamental power in the universe, and we are empowered to extend it in the same wildly extravagant way that Jesus did in calling Matthew, toll collector and outcast, to join him as disciple, evangelist, and saint.

Thanks be to God!

May 31, 2005 in Hosea, Justice, Matthew, Nonviolence, Ordinary Time, Year A | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Proper 4, Year A

Would you like your parish to have an assistant who preaches and teaches like this? (And blog entries are just the first draft of my sermon on weeks when I preach!) I'm on the job market, and am also available for consulting, retreats, and guest preaching. My bio and C.V. are here.

Deuteronomy 11:18-21,26-28 - link to NRSV text
Matthew 7:21-27 - link to NRSV text

Our readings from both the Hebrew bible and the gospel for this Sunday are about something that is somewhere between unpopular and terrifying to hear about for a lot of people (well, for me, anyway):

Obedience. It was in our gospel for last week too, in the “Great Commission,” which commissions us not just to bring people to church, or to get them to say the “sinner's prayer.” We're not making converts. We're making disciples -- people who have not only experienced Baptism, but who also have experienced catechesis, having been taught what it means to follow Jesus in a way that is actually going make a difference in behavior. In other words, Jesus' followers actually do what Jesus taught people to do, as I blogged about last week. This week's readings have a lot to say about that.

Our reading from Deuteronomy for this Sunday also has a lot to say about family. And I've blogged about this before as well. When this subject has come up in the past, it's usually been in response to one of Jesus' consistently negative comments about what we usually mean when we say “family,” namely the group of people who are related to one another by blood or marriage.

People are often taken aback when they discover that Jesus didn't speak highly of that kind of family. When someone in the crowd called out, “blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nourished you” (Luke 11:27-28), Jesus' reply wasn't, “Blessed rather are ALL mothers, as there's no calling in a woman's life that could be more important.” It wasn't even, “No, for your blessing betrays some serious sexism. You should say, 'blessed are all PARENTS,' as fathers are just as important as mothers, and parenthood is the most important thing in the world for men as well as women.” Here's what Jesus said:

“Blessed rather is the one who hears the word of God and obeys it.”

It's very similar to what Jesus says when he's told that his mother, sisters, and brothers are outside waiting to see him: “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mark 3:31-34).

It isn't that all families are awful, in Jesus' eyes. It's just that they are wonderful or awful precisely to the extent that they do what Christian communities do, inviting all members to use their gifts to help the whole community move toward maturity in Christ. Parents are disciples first, second, and always. So are children. For Christians, families are groups of disciples who live together in community, and as very local gatherings of the Body of Christ, the Great Commission is for them as well.

Our reading from Deuteronomy for this Sunday points to one specific way in which families are called to live into the Great Commission: like all Christian communities, they are called to catechesis, to teach and equip one another for discipleship. This, by the way, is one of the reasons I'm such a great fan of Faith Inkubators, and especially their Faith Stepping Stones curriculum. Their motto is “every night in every home,” as that's where most formation for children and youth takes place -- for better or for worse.

It's just not possible to outsource this to Sunday School teachers or youth pastors. Here's what happens when a family tries this: for one to three hours (maybe as much as five, if the kids never miss a youth group meeting) each week, kids are exposed to one or two adults who at least pay lip service to the importance of formation (one would hope that it would be WAY more than lip service, but when churches pay those who work with children and youth least if they have a designated staff person for it at all, sometimes congregations end up with children's or youth minister who has a great heart but very little training, if any). And each week, the kids spend the rest of their waking hours either on their own, or with adults who don't talk with them about the faith and stories of God's people as we see them in the bible. Here's a pretty primitive visual aid representing the number of waking hours a young person has in a week:


Each red 'o' represents one hour of intentional Christian formation outsourced to church workers: five hours in a week, assuming a young person who goes to Sunday worship, Sunday School, and youth group every week without fail. Each blue 'X' represents one waking hour in which young people are being formed with mentoring from their teachers, SpongeBob (who's a great guy, as far as animated characters go -- and I'm glad he's received an unequivocal welcome from the United Church of Christ -- but I wouldn't say he's necessarily the best person to teach my kids about who God is), and by what they observe of their parents' priorities.

How much effect do you think that the 'X' hours have in comparison to the 'o'?

God is immeasurably gracious, and can work powerfully even in a climate least hospitable to the work of the Spirit, but let's face it -- we're seriously tempting fate if we expect that Sunday School and youth group will on their own provide sufficient catechesis for serious discipleship ...

Unless, that is, we take Deuteronomy 11 seriously. In the ancient world, people were seen as the sum of three 'zones': thought and feeling, listening and responding, and making and doing (once more, props to Malina and Rohrbaugh). By saying that we are to take God's word into our heart and soul and write it on our forehead and hand, Deuteronomy is telling us that God's word is to permeate our whole selves -- body and soul, at all times and in all places. When we do that, our children can see for themselves what's important to us. Nothing else could be a more powerful influence to form our children as disciples who love scripture. And when we treat our home and the set of those who live there as an intentional Christian community, every bit as much as any parish or monastery, we find that each member has gifts to build up the whole for mission; our children will teach us and minister to us as well.

Not everyone who cries, “Jesus is Lord of this family!” or plasters fish alongside the American flags on the minivan will experience the fullness of what God wants for us, the rich blessings of living in a community in which Jesus really is received as Lord. Blood relation, adoption papers, a seal of approval from the state, and the right combination of genders for parents don't make real family any more than hours of shuttling to soccer practices and SAT prep classes will. Jesus never said anything about “family values,” but he said a lot about what kind of community he values, whether it's a parents and some children, a set of roommates, a monastery, or a parish.

Real family, real community, is found wherever members hear Jesus' words and follow him. That's what's solid, no matter what state laws or genetic ties say. It's true what they say: love makes a family. And not just the love of members for one another, but the kind of love that Jesus showed, a Great Commission kind of love, that says that this group of people are members of one Body, given not just for their own joy, but for the sake of others, for the sake of the world.

That's Jesus' view of family. When we hear this word on this and put it into action, we will find and value our family whenever and wherever we meet sisters and brothers in Christ of any generation and whatever their genetic or legal relationships. And our children, having grown up steeped in God's word, Jesus' love, and Christian community will, like Abraham, be blessed so that they will be a blessing (Genesis 12:2) -- to us, to the world, and to the God who made and loves them.

Thanks be to God!

May 25, 2005 in Christian Formation, Deuteronomy, Kinship/Family, Matthew, Ordinary Time, Scripture, Year A | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack


A warm welcome to folks arriving here from Real Live Preacher! I've been a fan of RLP for a long time, and I'm flattered and just a little blushy after seeing his very kind words about my work.

Please do join the conversation! I'm looking forward to hearing your own stories, observations, and visions surrounding these texts and our journey with them.



May 17, 2005 in Personal Notes | Permalink | Comments (11)

Trinity Sunday, Year A

Trinitysmall Please feel free to check out this sermon from a previous Trinity Sunday and this lectionary blog entry from Trinity Sunday last year if you're looking for additional inspiration. I found myself going in a rather different direction this year! 

Genesis 1:1-2:3 - link to NRSV text
2 Corinthians 13:5-14 - link to NRSV text
Matthew 28:16-20
- link to NRSV text

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
-- 2 Corinthians 13:13

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday, a time when we celebrate especially the communion that is God's very Self, and remember the Great Commission that the risen Jesus gave us to baptize people from all nations.

But the commission Christ gave us doesn't stop there, and too often what follows is the Great Omission in the life of the church. We're called not just to baptize. We're not called to make churchgoers, people who include religion as one among many respectable civic activities. We're called to make disciples, people who really follow Jesus as Lord.

That language of lordship has fallen out of favor in a lot of circles, and I completely understand why: too many people have used it for too long to support their own agendas, ones that undermine the radical freedom which is Christ's gift to us. Case in point: the “Bush fish,” which literally enmeshes the bearer's identity as a follower of Bush in the symbol which is supposed to identify the bearer as a follower of Jesus. BushfishFor that reason, I have to agree with Slactivist's observation that “this isn't quite 'the abomination that causes desolation, standing in the holy place' -- but it comes close.” I'd feel just the same about it if it was the “Kerry fish” or the “Dean fish.” I'd also feel the same way if it were an American flag, or a Canadian flag, or any other flag, embedded in the fish, and this Sunday's gospel is one reason why I've got such a problem with the idea.

In this Sunday's gospel, the risen Jesus says, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” That's what we mean when we confess that Jesus is Lord. And that's actually Good News, “liberty to the prisoners,” for the very reason that the confession has that troubling edge in our history. It's Good News because there are a great many people in the world who want to be lord.

You had to win, you couldn't just pass
The smartest ass at the top of the class
Your flying colours, your family tree
And all your lessons in history.

-- U2, “Please,” Pop

You know that among the nations, those whom they recognize as their the rulers of the nations lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.
-- Mark 10:42

The bad news is that there's a lot of competition for the title of “lord,” and most of the candidates will enrich themselves at your expense. But those candidates haven't heard or heeded the news that they've lost the race. The position has been filled, once and for all time. And the really Good News is that the winning candidate is Jesus, the one who gave this vision as an alternative to that of the rulers of the nations:

It is not so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant ... for the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.
-- Mark 10:43-45

In other words, the Lord of all is someone whose only agenda is to serve the servants. The one to whom all power belongs is using all of that power to empower the powerless. And this one Lord is the one to whom all of our allegiance belongs. Furthermore, the Great Commission is to make disciples of all nations through baptism, in which all of us from all nations die to our former ties; from all nations, those of us who were once not a people are called as God's people, in which all barriers between Jew and Greek, American and Iraqi, fall away. We participate in national affairs as paroikoi, pilgrims who live in and among the nations, but whose baptism calls us to seek and serve Christ in others, and to serve Christ only. Putting one of the rulers of the nations in the same category as Jesus and allegiance to one nation's agenda in the same category as our citizenship in God's kingdom indicate a fundamental category confusion, a tragic mistake.

I use that phrase intentionally. New Testament texts have a name for the sort of confusion that puts “God and country” in the same category: they call it hamartia. It's a word that can mean “mistake.” Aristotle in his book on tragedy used it to refer to a particular kind of mistake, a fundamental category confusion that leads to the downfall of a great hero, like mistaking your daughter for a sacrificial lamb, or your betrayer for your most faithful friend. It's a “flaw,” as in “tragic flaw.” We don't usually translate the word as “flaw,” or even as “mistake” when it occurs in the New Testament, though; we translate it as “sin.”

But for a moment, let's look at it in an Aristotelian context as a tragic mistake, the instrument of a fall. I think that's what it is. It's a mistake, and usually an honest one from honest people who love their country and quite rightly want to work with those who work for what's right. That's what makes it so heartbreaking. Such pure and strong intention makes it easy to push that much harder, take it that much further. Just enough awareness of what Jesus asks of us may inspire someone to believe that following the way of the Cross means that violence is inevitable, or even that the kingdom can be brought about by violence.

Your holy war, your northern star
Your sermon on the mount from the boot of your car ...
So love is hard
And love is tough
But love is not
What you're thinking of.

-- U2, “Please,” Pop

That's not it at all. The Cross doesn't belong to you, or to any of us, any more than the crown does. In religious language, Jesus' sacrifice was full, perfect, sufficient. In plain terms, if Christianity is right, then no one ever need die again because of sin, just as no one ever need follow the rulers of the nations as lord. All of that's over, and here's what remains:

God's kingdom coming, making all as it was when the world was born: lands as borderless as the skies. Humanity in the image of God, invited into communion with the God whose very Being is Triune communion. The grace of the Lord, Jesus the Christ. The love of God. The communion of the Holy Spirit. With all of us, always.

So please, get up off your knees. The risen Christ invites us to into the world bearing this Good News!

Thanks be to God.

May 17, 2005 in 2 Corinthians, Baptism, Current Events, Evangelism, Genesis, Justice, Matthew, Trinity, Year A | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Day of Pentecost, Year A

Pentecost_window[This is a contribution to the Pentecost Grid Blog, in which bloggers around the world are celebrating Pentecost in their entries on or related to May 15 and the season of Pentecost. Feel free to join in!]

Acts 2:1-11 - link to NRSV text
1 Corinthians 12:4-13 - link to NRSV text
John 14:8-17
- link to NRSV text
John 20:19-23 - link to NRSV text

In John 14, Jesus promises the Spirit that he breathes upon them in John 20, and which comes upon the believers gathered to observe Pentecost in Acts 2. As Christians, we celebrate at Pentecost the coming of this Holy Spirit.

That statement doesn't have a lot of content for a lot of people, though. Coming on the eve of release for Star Wars' Episode III, we might be tempted to think of the Spirit Jesus promises as being like “the Force” that Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars describes impersonally as “an energy field created by all living things” that “surrounds us and penetrates us,” a mysterious phenomenon that gives those very few who can perceive and channel it hidden powers, as well as the temptation to become rulers of the galaxy.

But in John, the Spirit is described in far more personal terms. In John 14:16, the Spirit is an “advocate,” a term for a person who defends others. And John particularly emphasizes that the Spirit Jesus sends is “the Truthful Spirit” (14:17, 15:26, and 16:13  -- I go with Malina and Rohrbaugh in that rendering of the phrase usually rendered as “Spirit of Truth”), a phrase that describes someone with nothing to hide, a person whose character is fully manifest. “Truth” (aletheia -- with the 'e' being an eta) can also mean “reality”; a truthful person is one who makes what's real manifest for any to see.

If we look at what the Spirit does, not only in John, but in Luke's (the NT author, not the Skywalker) and Paul's works, that seems an apt description. The Spirit manifests and makes visible in the community of Jesus' followers, the Body of Christ (to use one of Paul's favorite images) what is really the case, what God is doing in the world. If a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of God's grace, you might say that the Spirit is what makes sacramental living possible, who makes the Body of Christ an outward and visible sign to the world of what God's grace is accomplishing.

The Spirit is the person who binds Jesus' followers together in such a way that our life together and our ministry in the world make clear for all to see that God is at work in the world, proclaiming and manifesting Good News for the poor and release for the prisoners, bridging barriers between men and women, between nations and ethnicities, between rich and poor, healing and reconciling the whole world to one another and to God. The Spirit takes a dream, the dream God gives to the prophets:

I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh;
your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit
-- Joel 2:28-30

... and makes the dream manifest, showing it to be reality for the world.

In short, the Spirit does everywhere and upon all flesh what Jesus does. That's why Jesus describes the Spirit in John 14:16 as another Advocate, and 1 John (2:1) presents Jesus as our Advocate as well. The Spirit is not an impersonal Force, but the Truthful person who leads us all into all aletheia, making God's grace manifest in the Body of Christ and therefore in the world.

In other words, the work of the Spirit is a lot like the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the world of Buffy, one person in each generation is chosen, infused with an ancient spirit and extraordinary gifts to fight evil. As the Chosen One, Buffy has spent the series with her friends saving the world. The final season of the series has Buffy gathering from around the world “the Potentials,” those who, if the Chosen One dies, might become the next to be chosen, given the lonely task of using her extraordinary gifts to save the world. And in the final episode, Buffy's cadre of friends do something more extraordinary: they change the rules, releasing the Chosen One's power so that every one of the Potentials is Chosen, every young girl around the world who might do what Buffy does is empowered to do what Buffy does, and more.

That move does two things in the story world of Buffy. First, it puts evil on the run in a big way. The Chosen One was powerful, but now the Chosen in countless numbers reach around the world, across every nation, class, and race. What evil could stand against that? And second, it changes the experience of being Chosen. The Chosen One had a small band of friends who tried their best to be loyal to her though they could never fully understand her, but the Chosen in every nation are surrounded by others who share their vocation and have been given gifts to make it happen, not just in one town, one state, one country, but everywhere.

But the story of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is fantasy and fiction, and the powers we're facing off against make the monsters of Buffy look tame. We live in a world where racism, sexism, and economic injustice are entrenched, not only in individual lives, but also in systems that both perpetuate it and amplify its effects. We live in a world where even Jesus' name and the scriptures have become tools used to justify schism, persecution, violence, and furthering the privilege of the rich at the expense of the world's poor. We live in a world where the barriers to the justice, healing, and reconciliation of God's kingdom are immense and powerful.

But those barriers are not the final word. God so loved us that in every generation, God chose prophets to speak truth to power and point us toward God's kingdom. God so loved us that in the fullness of time, God sent Jesus to teach and heal, love and forgive, and to gather to himself a community in which God's love rules. And now, God has breathed the Spirit that came upon Jesus at his baptism upon each and every one of us. We celebrate at Pentecost that as Jesus gathers us in community, we are empowered by the Spirit to do the works that Jesus does, and even greater (John 14:12). In Christ, God's chosen and anointed, all of us “Potentials” are Chosen, and we who were not a people have become God's people, one Body of Christ living into the truth that all of the old divisions between men and women, between the nations, between the haves and the have-nots have been overcome and will be overcome throughout the world.

That's not fiction: that's Gospel. That's the Good News we've received and are called to spread throughout the nations. And that Good News means that the dreams of the prophets, the dream of God that some might dismiss as fantasy, fiction, or wishful thinking, is being made manifest among us and in the world with a power that no dark power can overcome.

Thanks be to God!

May 10, 2005 in Special Feature | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year A

John 17:1-11 - link to NRSV text

The phrase that comes to my mind when I think about this Sunday's gospel is "free flow."

That phrase seems to characterize the relationship described between Jesus and God the Father. The glory for which Jesus prays is the glory he had before the world was made, the glory he has in the Father's presence. Whose glory is it: God's or Jesus'? The question is pretty silly. As the Father's son, any glory that Jesus receives both reflects and returns to the Father, elevating the family name. Any glory that belongs to the Father belongs to the Son and heir as well. The same goes for power, and everything else: "All mine are yours, and all yours are mine" (John 17:10), Jesus says. So all gifts, all glory, all power flow freely between Jesus and God, neither holding back from fear or grasping from greed, each rejoicing in all honor, glory, and power the other receives. Jesus and the Father are one.

And Jesus' prayer for us is that we would be one in that same way.

I just got back from a retreat with the high school youth group with the theme "Under Pressure," and in preparing for and going through that retreat, I've spent a number of weeks thinking and praying a lot about the vision Jesus sets forth in Luke 12:22-34:

He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

What's holding us back from living into Jesus' exhortation not to be afraid, not to worry about our lives? And what would need to happen for us to experience that consistently and fully? I think that both Luke and John give us some hints, and considering how much they differ in other ways, their prescription for freedom from anxiety is remarkably similar, and if I had to sum it up in a word, I'd say the word is 'unity.'

Take a look at the way that Jesus describes his relationship with God in John 17, that free flow of every good thing between them. What if we answered Jesus' prayer, if we related to one another as he and God relate to one another? It might look a little like Acts 4:32-37. Acts 4 describes a community with that kind of unity, that free flow of gifts.

I read that and I think about the things that I get anxious about. For me, the big anxiety at the moment is about how I can live into my vocation and still pay the bills. But the community described in Acts 4, the community for which Jesus prayed in John 17, would have no anxieties like that, because the whole community's resources were there for anyone in need -- and so there was no one in need. That clearly wasn't the limit, though. We're talking about a community in which every good thing is offered freely. Those with power use it to empower those with less. Those who have respect and trust extend it to those counted as worthless, giving them a place in the community in which they can know what it's like to be valued, and can give that experience to others.

Think of the spiritual power of such a community. Small wonder that Acts 4:33-34 says that "with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all." It's a shame that most English translations don't include the conjunction (the Greek word gar) that starts the next clause: "FOR there was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned houses or lands sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold." The great grace and power they experienced proceeded from the grace that those in power showed in giving up their advantage to the advantage of all.

Think of the freedom from anxiety in such a community. Not only does no one worry about paying the bills; no one worries about who is getting more recognition, or power, or status. That's freedom, real freedom from the constant vigilance exercised by those who are in the rat race, and in it to win. That kind of freedom is glorious -- glorious like the free flow of glory and honor between the Word and the Creator from before the world was made. And each time we break bread and share it, seeking others' advantage, healing, and honor above our own, we get a glimpse of othat glory. We are the Church, the Body of Christ engaged in Christ's work of reconciling all people with one another and with God in Christ, and there's nothing more glorious to see than the Church being the Church Jesus prayed for.

Thanks be to God!

May 3, 2005 in Acts, Community, John, Justice, Year A | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack