Monday, April 12, 2010

We must obey God . . .

In the wake of several friends posting on Dietrich Bonhoeffer last Friday, and preaching about the apostles in Acts 5 on Sunday, I find myself continuing to ponder obedience to God and how it shapes our lives.  There is a deep level of discomfort in this country regarding people who claim to act out of obedience to God.  Americans can tolerate a lot of passion from people, but passion about religion unsettles us.  And when terrorists use their faith in God, their desire to obey, to follow their faith's teachings, as rationale, that discomfort becomes set in stone.

But on Sunday in my preaching I asked what we are to do with the apostles in Acts 5, then.  Standing before the council of Jewish leaders only months after Jesus' resurrection, they say they must obey God rather than human authority.  Their confidence in the risen Jesus led them to stand without fear, firm in their conviction that they were called to preach Jesus to the world.  Even if they were killed for it.  Which many of them were.  Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (see my Holy Saturday blog), their faith in God led them to fearless behavior.

There is a deeper truth here which transcends our discomfort and must be addressed.  If in fact we believe in God, then God must have a say in how we live our lives.  And that means that our faith by necessity leads us to act in the world - politically, economically, socially, spiritually.  Obedience is not something we can opt out of.

So we are left with this question: can we learn to live lives of obedience to God which respect those with whom we disagree, but which also take seriously God's call to us to go out into the world and make a difference?  In our fear of religious fervor and passion, we can fall too far on the other side, the side of quietism and private faith.  What would it mean for us to live in the world with that witness of the apostles, "we must obey God and not human authority," not as something to be feared, but as a way of life which could bring life to the world?  Otherwise, can we truly say that our faith is alive at all?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

And with the heavenly blessed sing . . .

Adoring praises now we bring and with the heav'nly blessed sing: "Christ has triumphed!  Alleluia!"
Be to the Father, and our Lord, to Spirit blest, most holy God,
all the glory, never ending!  Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
 -   ELW no. 367, Paul Z. Strodach, 1876-1947, alt.

Thanks be to God for Easter, when all our hymns seem to invite the heavenly host to sing praise to God for Jesus' resurrection.  Thank you, Mother, and all the rest of you heavenly host, for singing with us all today that Christ is risen indeed!  And praise and thanks to God who has raised Jesus from the dead.  Because now we need not be afraid of anything.

Nothing.  Ever.  This is a new creation, a new world.  And though we thought death was all-powerful, the end, the finality, it is no more.  It is truly the last enemy to be destroyed.

And so we sing Alleluia!  For we are no longer afraid.

The dawn has come.  The Son is risen.  Thanks be to God!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Even if not, we will still serve the Lord . . .

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”   Daniel 3:16-18, NRSV

This is the faith of Holy Saturday, waiting in the darkness for what God might be doing.  (In our case, at the Great Vigil.)   Waiting by the graveside in fear, but in trust.  If our God is able to deliver us from what causes us pain, from what life has laid before us, let God do it.  But even if not, we will not serve another.  We trust in the God in whose hands we are, the God who (let it be said) we know has raised Jesus, even though we walk now in Holy Saturday's shadow.

This is how we wait - in trust and hope.  For the God who raised Jesus will raise us.  Though we walk through water, and through fire, they will not overwhelm us.  Though sometimes the darkness seems so deep we cannot breathe.

Even so, we will wait for the Lord.  And serve no other.

For the dawn is coming . . .

Friday, April 2, 2010

This is the kingdom come . . .

I wish I could remember where I found this quote from John Howard Yoder:  “Here at the cross is the man who loves his enemies, the man whose righteousness is greater than that of the Pharisees, who being rich became poor, who gives his robe to those who took his cloak, who prays for those who despitefully use him.  The cross is not a detour or a hurdle on the way to the kingdom, nor is it even the way to the kingdom; it is the kingdom come.”

I find myself like those early disciples after the resurrection, thinking, "OK, now we get it, the Messiah suffers and dies.  But now you're risen, so now are you taking over?  Now we've gotten Good Friday out of the way, we can get on to the good stuff."  (Acts 1, loosely paraphrased.)

But this is the "good stuff," Yoder reminds us.  This cross, this gallows, this is where God really is.  Everything Jesus did was leading to this, where God's love is shown most fully for us.  The Church has spent 2,000 years trying to explain the cross, understand it.  But tonight we stand in awe of a God who is truly with us, whose love for us is not shown in power or domination but in self-giving love, a love which when lived by God's children will change the world.

This isn't a detour, a hurdle.  It is the kingdom come.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

In the night he was betrayed . . .

And so we begin retelling the story of Jesus giving us the Meal of life. But there was so much he did on this night, so many things which tell us the truth about God. Washing the disciples’ feet. Giving the Meal. And making the momentous decision in the garden to go through with this plan. This was a night when God’s will was revealed, and God’s love in all its depth. Jesus, in his actions on these great Three Days, opened the heart of God for us, and revealed God’s will.
The question of will he faced tonight was whether Jesus could fully live in the love he had for us, or whether he would take up power against us. In the mystery of God’s wisdom, God at some point realized that we couldn’t be won back by main force, by violence, by power. So God chose to enter our lives, live with us, and show us the way back to God’s love. Literally, to live love among us and so transform us.
But the risk was tremendous – if we rejected that way, only valuing power and force, we might kill the one who came to love us home. Jesus, who, as we hear in Matthew’s account of the Garden of Gethsemane, had heavenly armies of 72,000 ready to fight for him, had to decide to stay his hand. To commit to the way of love to the end, even if it meant death.
And that is precisely what it meant.
But God’s wisdom is so much deeper than anything we can imagine – it also meant, as we will find out as we come to the end of the Three Days, that death and power and violence and hatred were defeated forever. Because of Jesus we have an unmistakeable sign of God’s will and God’s presence: self-giving, sacrificial, transforming love.
And it would have been so much easier for us if God had chosen the old way of power and law: If Jesus had only come with a list of rules – we could have found our loopholes and not had to change. But Jesus came and asked us to love as he loves – without limits, without stinting, without measure, without counting cost.
If Jesus had only come and told us to rule the world, to force our will on others, to control, to dominate – that we could do. But he came and asked us to let go of the need to win, to open our fists and turn our hands so that they embrace instead of exclude.
I’m often not sure which is harder for me – to live in Jesus’ love in my personal life, at home, at work, in the world – or to find ways in the institution of the Church for it to live in Jesus’ love in its teachings, its decisions, its actions.
But I am certain that there is no more difficult prayer we pray – even if we don’t realize it and say it blithely – than “your will be done.”