Sunday, October 23, 2005

Words to anyone Wise

Cryptic title, but I had to name it something in order to save my file and in the meantime I haven't thought of anything else, so I've kept the original. Here's another post I began mainly for myself, then it spun into something more all-purpose.

One more time I'm celebrating the fact the Chinese pictogram for crisis points to potential peril and possible providence. As discouraging as much of almost everything has been and as frequently as I focus on the failures, I cannot help but acknowledge certain things have gone almost amazingly well. Mainly theology! Not that I'd intended to become theological beyond the base truth everyone, everywhere is a theologian of sorts, but I'll admit God has compensated for a little of the loss by encouraging my involvement in more formal, more academic theology. I'm also excited to be part of the new genre of Blog Theology! Not at all sure anyone officially has termed it such, but with the internet's ubiquity and the incalculable count of online blogs and related editorializing, undeniably it's happening.

I'd imagined my life had a few guarantees(!), though with fallout dust from too many events, non-events and disappointments pretty much settled and those other imaginary assurances totally proven null and void, one, only a single and way outside of the ordinary guarantee remains: God's constant unmediated presence, relentlessly yoked with evidence thereof. I've talked and taught about the other gods of the Ancient Near East requiring sacrifices, entreaties and rituals, while still remaining far away from the sacrificers and entreaters; bear in mind—even the gods of the Egyptians could do the signs and the wonders! Yahweh's most show-stopping feature was not pyrotechnics but rather constant, unmediated presence and unrelenting provision for creation's need. Privately I've talked about learning the heart of God, though so far I haven't risked a public blog about it...maybe this one will qualify as an Initial Public Offering on that theme!

Early this morning fog, a.k.a. ground clouds, and to sound biblical, a.k.a. thick mist, covered this corner of Paradise. From the familiar narratives we know Yahweh, Lord-God of the nascent people Israel, journeyed before them with sensory substantiation: cloud by day, fire by night. In the exodus desert, Yahweh shaped and transformed the one-time slaves into persons of trusting freedom; in responsive relational reciprocity the people themselves participated in their own identity-formation into a community in the shape of Yahweh's own heart. What is Yahweh's own heart? After God's own heart implies the heart of a Holy and Wholly Other-than-us, willing to live as a stranger, an outcast, a resident alien, in order to be with and live among all the people and all of creation all of the time. From the beginning, the God of Adam and Noah, God of the covenants, ventured wherever the people went, meeting them, revealing His presence to them wherever they were. God never has been a deity predictably present when people were praying or otherwise being typically religious, but God always has been Lord of the Ordinary, God of the Sacredness of everyday life, His unmediated presence defining any time and any place where God and the people of God encountered each other as "Holy." A while ago I heard a New Mexico-based preacher talk about "Yahweh, the Wilderness Guy." I've written about God "pitching a tent" and living among the people during those exodus desert wanderings; I've told about God pitching a tent by becoming incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, and I've talked about our becoming tent-toting tent-pitchers who some times - but not every time! - live on the edge of conventional culture and reputable society, ministering as the Spirit moves, always carrying our temporary shelters with us so we can set them up and stay for a while as long as that corner (or periphery!) of the world needs us. Those scratch-for-life times are among God's specialties, and God calls us, his people to make them part of their expertise, as well. In these New Covenanted days of 2005, to help us live in the image of our Wilderness God, we still have physical, sensible evidence of God-with-us and God-among-us, first, in the pair of signs the Reformers insisted was enough for the existence of the Church, the risen Body of Christ—Word and Sacrament.
  • "The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered." Philipp Melanchthon, Augsburg Confession, from Article 7
  • "Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists." John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 4, chapter 1, section 9.
Baptism and eucharist are mighty acts of God, but particularly in the Reformation tradition, now and again we fail to emphasize the necessity of human cooperation for the sacraments' existence! Just like the Israelite community born in the exodus wilderness as a result of Yahweh's gracious initiative paired with the people's response, the community of the Church first birthed on Crucifixion Friday and Resurrection Sunday continually becomes re-formed by Word and Sacrament. Exactly like the exodus desert gang, we partner with God in our own revival and renewal by responding to the Holy Spirit's invitation. God also offers the church - and offers the world outside the technical boundaries of the church - evidence of His gracious abiding presence in the community distinctively formed by God's action in the earthy, seemingly finite vehicles of Word and Sacrament, a people shaped into the shape of God's own heart. For a second time born—in baptism's waters of life, sustained with the bread of new birth and the cup of salvation, fed with the Living Word, in the most ordinary times and commonplace locales God's people walk alongside each other and the rest of creation, often one step ahead, clearing the way to make the journey safe, wherever anyone anywhere has need!

In these New Covenanted days of 2005 we still have physical, sensible evidence of God-with-us and God-among-us, in the reasonably objective symbols of Scriptures and Sacraments, and still astoundingly in the resurrection community of the Church and the churches, which is an extremely subjective sign, chosen by grace and for grace. This sounds scary, because as our highly esteemed colleague in ministry Martin Luther insists, although baptized forgiven and free into Jesus Christ's death and resurrection, those same people in that identical Eastered community are simultaneous both sinners and saints: in an aging bumper sticker's parlance, "not perfect but forgiven." But the church is not exclusively or even primarily a human institution, not a club we choose to join or not, but it's the Holy Spirit's creation! Maybe you've heard (or possibly you have the CD) of Daryle Singletary's version of "Amen Kind of Love," written by Trey Bruce and Wayne Tester? It's one of the abundance of supposedly secular love songs full of theological significance! Here's a text clip:
We are moved by the spirit, we are here to testify
We found an Amen kind of love
The kind that makes you fall down on your knees and reach for the sky above
The kind that your soul can never get enough
We've found an Amen, Amen, Amen kind of love
  • Holy and ever-living One, I need a sign of Your Presence—please show me a sign of Your Presence!
    • There it is: right there!
  • What, where, when and how?
    • What?
    • Word
    • Sacraments
    • All creation—rocks, rivers, forests, hills; streams, animals, canyons, prairies; cities, suns and stars—where the Risen and Ascended One always abides
    • The baptized, Holy and ever-alive community
  • Where? Right here!
  • When? Right now!
  • How? Not by power, not by might, but by My Spirit!
A few days ago a conversation reminded me of that essential word, countercultural! A people shaped not by consumerism, nor by greed; not by any type of trendiness, or by addiction; not by superfluity of finances or possessions... ...a community formed in the shape of Yahweh's own heart, an assembly convened and possessed by the One Who is Lord of All—Pantocratur...where the resurrection people of God in Christ Jesus always abide. Let's call that community "Christians, the Wilderness People!" Amen? Amen!!!

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