Thursday, July 30, 2009

ROBERT : I cannot let go . . . .

I cannot let go of the red letters these days.
Every day — no, four and five and six times a day — something happens, someone says something to me, I see myself doing some dumb thing that does not exactly match up to living a life that becomes the Gospel, I read a bit from the news, I stumble on one of of us doing some thing unbelievably terrible to another of us — and I find myself wanting to say or shout or proclaim or whisper or scribble in the dust some line from the Gospel according to the One Who came.

A few minutes ago, I came across yet another sermon from yet another preacher who gave us yet another set of reasons why the admonition to sell what we have and give everything to the poor was a big deal and yet did not actually apply to his flock.
After some 50 years or so in the Church, I am still waiting to hear the sermon where a minister — a priest, brother, evangelist, prophet, messenger, so on and so forth — stands and says, 'This day, I have sold everything and given it to the poor.'
I am still waiting to see forgiveness being given seventy times seven, still waiting for the other cheek to be turned, still waiting for the self-proclaimed first among us to be willing to go without a parking pass, much less to go last.

I mention this not because I am holier than anyone. I am very certain that I am holier than no one. If you know me at all, you know that this one thing about me is at least the one true thing about me that I have seen and said.
What I am, these days, is a man who is trying to listen deeply, struggle mightily, and pray constantly with fear and trembling as I read the red letters.
No wonder people ignore the red letters of the Gospel and press on to the letters of those who after the One Who came, the One Who wrote no letters, as I recall.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

BEN : I recently read . . . .

I recently read an article where the presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church in America was asked about her beliefs as to the personal salvation of individuals. The answer Bishop Scholori gave struck me as very consistent with what I’m reading in the Gospels these days. (Though, I’m sure it enraged many on my end of the pew.) She said that it was not for her to decide who is saved and who is not; that’s God’s business. Her job is to live a life consistent with what Jesus talked about and taught and to invite others to do the same.

Salvation has always been the central focus of the corporate gatherings on my end of the pew. In fact, every worship service ends with a call to come forward to receive salvation as if we were all still meeting in some pitched tent in the heat and humidity of summer and the guy preaching was wiping the sweat from his brow and the local gospel group was singing one more stanza of “Just As I Am.”

Now that we have effectively learned how to “close the deal” with folks on Sunday morning, we spend little time helping them find their way to the red letters of the Savior they now profess and even less time unpacking what he said and taught and did. And then we wonder why so few people find any depth to their living; we are perplexed that complete integration of faith and doubt, the Holy and the ordinary rarely takes place.

I must admit that Jesus continues to raise the stakes. Every time I turn to the Gospel reading in my Daily Office Book, I take a deep breath. I know I will be asked to change my priorities, give up something, revaluate what I hold to be worth much and rethink what I regard as of little value. I know I will be asked to pay attention to the people on the margins rather than in the middle or on the stage, and to find power in my praying rather than my ability to bring about change through militant reformation.

What makes Jesus a revolutionary figure, as one or two have said since his resurrection and ascension, is that he changed all the rules. He told the rich young ruler to sell everything. He approached lepers and told them they were clean. He rescued women from angry mobs and restored life to the children of devastated parents. He even called a friend back from the dead. In turn, it is my job to look within and leave behind the security of my wealth, seek out the unlovable and rejected, bring life and hope to those who struggle to find it, and to ignite a fullness to life for those to whom I have been given to ensure the death of their passion does not last forever.

All of what Jesus talks about and teaches deals with the here and now, not the world to come.

I have yet to read about Jesus asking anyone, “If you were to die tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?” or “Has there ever been a point in your life when you’ve asked Jesus to be your personal [sic] Lord and Savior?” or even praying what some call “The Sinner’s Prayer.”

I think Bishop Scholori was right. I have enough on my plate trying to work through and live out what we have been given in the red letters to spend much time worrying about how the process begins, if there is such a thing as a beginning in the first place.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

ROBERT : I have long thought . . . .

I have long thought that we Christians were pretty good folks. At least for the most part.

We do our fair share of helping people in need and teaching our children the faith and offering up our prayers. Though whether we do that more often than or better than or with more fervor than people who are Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist is open to discussion, I suppose.

I have long believed that we were pretty good folks and might even be better folks if we actually believed the Good News that Jesus came to tell us. Which begins with actually listening to it.

We spend most of our time wrestling with the Gospel stories rather than listening to what was said by the One Who came, the One Who came to announce the Good News in the first place. It is hard to blame us — it is way more fun to argue over the historical accuracy of the accounts we have received from the Evangelists, or wander our way through a discussion of the social mores of the time in which He lived, or have these theological quilting bees where we connect the old scriptures to the new. Who wants to listen to Someone Who says we should give everything to the poor, love our enemies, live in the kingdom that has already come, love all of our neighbors, and otherwise completely change the way we live and move and have our being in the world? Let there be flannelgraphs, I say, I liked studying the Gospels that way.

We who claim to be the Body of Christ would do well to spend more of our time listening to the Christ than we do talking about the Christ.

I wonder sometimes what might happen to us and among us and within us if we spent a year only reading the red letters.
Perhaps we would grow up to be pretty good folks. Or maybe something even better.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

BEN : The words of Christ . . . .

The words of Christ are strangely absent from the practice of our faith. Growing up on my end of the pew, so many were willing to talk about Paul that Jesus seemed largely ignored. It’s as if we determined that knowing Jesus by proxy was just as good as knowing Jesus himself.
The beginning of this new liturgical season brought a new challenge to mind. Instead of reading the Old Testament and Epistle readings associated with each Daily Office schedule, I have chosen to only read and meditate on the Gospel reading. I have spent the Year so far following the events of our savior’s life, following him from promise to Pentecost, yet it occurred to me that I had heard him speak very little during that time.
If I am to possess any level of sincerity in my claim to be a follower of Christ, I ought wrestle with the Jesus of the Gospels, the One who is strangely silent in my Sunday School education.
Nearly every Sunday, I hear about his death and resurrection. Every Sunday I hear the message captured in John 3:16 in one fashion or another. Not that there is anything wrong with those moments and thoughts. Christ’s death and resurrection was the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption. But if this is the only part of his life we are going to recount, does that mean the balance of his life after birth and until death was inconsequential? Was it time wasted just being human?
And if these final moments are so important, why do the Gospels and Jesus himself spend so little time on his death and resurrection?
Now, there are some questions worth wrestling with, I think.