Thursday, November 16, 2006

This is a post I made to about this coming Sunday's scripture. It's a way of sharing first thoughts on the lessons with a community of preachers.

Here is a poem by Rainer Maria-Rilke, which someone posted on a Yahoo group:

A Walk

My eyes already touch the sunny hill.
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has inner light, even from a distance-

and charges us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave...
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

Translated by Robert Bly

In our local text study group, we noted the two (or perhaps three) categories of people who shall awake from the dust of the earth in Daniel 12:2. Some shall awake to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt, and some, perhaps, shall not awake at all. This is a text that raises the specter of uncertainty: to which group do I belong? Am I damned? What must I do to be saved, to find my name in the book of life?

Our text group would agree with Dumke: the Hebrews 10:11-25 passage is a word of comfort to us who have heard a word of judgment in Daniel 12. It’s not about what we do, but what Christ has done for us. We can “approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith” the sanctuary, the holy place. We can enter the Holy of Holies through the curtain of Jesus’ flesh, not through our own worthiness or sacrifice but by the divine self-giving of Christ. I love the first person plural ‘hortatory’ subjunctives in this passage:

Let us approach... in full assurance of faith

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering...

Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together... but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

There seems to be a biblical logic of gift and gratitude. Salvation is a free gift given to us through Christ regardless of our worthiness or work. THEREFORE, let us live a life of gratitude and love toward God by serving our neighbors. The author of Hebrews challenges us first to “provoke one another to love and good deeds.” Second, we are challenged to continue to meet together regularly in the fellowship of believers and encourage one another, “all the more as you see the Day approaching.” As Christians, we live in an in between time, between the coming of Christ and the fulfillment of God’s kingdom. We need to encourage one another with the good news of God’s salvation, and we need to exhort one another to live faithfully in these end times. Whether the kingdom comes tomorrow, in a thousand or a million years, or at our physical deaths, it seems that the Christian life is both urgent and placid: urgent because we see the Day approaching; placid because we have “full assurance of faith,” we have “hope” in a “faithful” God.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Against the Despisers of the Body

Click here to read a translation of Jurgen Moltmann's article, Against the Despisers of the Body: Dietrich Bonhoeffer Today. I've recently begun reading Moltmann again, and writings like this one remind me why he is an important theologian for our world come of age.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Prayer and Politics, Part 2

I need to get back to this theme. I have been reading Obery Hendricks' book The Politics of Jesus : Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of Jesus' Teachings and How They Have Been Corrupted

It's a wonderful book, and I'll write more about it soon (promise!). For now, however, I shared some of the facts in the book in my sermon today, on the Widow's Might. It's an example of being political in the pulpit, in the sense that Jesus took sides on political issues - siding with poor widows against rich scribes. It is simply a factual and historical error to say that Jesus was concerned only with individual sin and private piety. When you read the gospels' accounts of his last week in Jerusalem (and the rest of the gospels) in the light of what we know about 1st century Israel under Roman rule, Jesus' very political and economic critique of structural injustice and inequity becomes clear.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Prayer and Politics

An oft-quoted statement by Martin Niemoeller (1892-1984):

When they came for the communists, I was silent, because I was not a communist; When they came for the socialists, I was silent, because I was not a socialist; When they came for the trade unionists, I did not protest, because I was not a trade unionist; When they came for the Jews, I did not protest, because I was not a Jew; When they came for me, there was no one left to protest on my behalf.”

Niemoller was speaking, of course, about the Nazis. During the summer, I happened to hear (not by choice), on ‘Christian’ talk/hate radio, this quote misused against proponents of gay rights – as if people who support gay rights are out to get anti-gay, ‘pro-family’ people; as if gays and lesbians were not one of Hitler’s targets in ‘pro-family’ Nazi Germany; as if gays and lesbians are ‘anti-family;’ as if it is ‘pro-family’ to deny equal treatment to gays and lesbians or tear their family bonds apart. It is a typical tactic of religious right: use a statement of tolerance and courage in the face of oppression to advance an intolerant, oppressive objective.

But the misquote got me thinking, and reading. While the religious right is out in the public square and in your face, we progressive Christians are often silent. Of course, when we do speak, we are often ignored by the media – it seems that a thoughtful progressive statement by, for example, Bishop Mark Hanson of the ELCA (and president of the 60 million member Lutheran World Federation) is not as sexy as the latest stupid thing to come out of a televangelist’s mouth. Another example: October 15, a Guinness world record was set by the Stand Up Against Poverty campaign for the most people to stand up for one cause on one day - 23,542,614 – and yet it did not seem to be covered by mainstream media.

Too often, progressive Christians are silent in the face of injustice, racism, militarism, and other demonic spirits in the world. We seem to have lost our voice – or at least I have, to some extent. This is partly due to my calling as preacher: partisanship in the pulpit is a misuse of pastoral authority. I can advocate a partisan position as a citizen and as a Christian individual; I can share my political beliefs in private conversation or forums. But given that Lutherans, at least in Northern Minnesota, are too polite to publicly disagree with their pastor when he or she is preaching, partisanship inevitably turns the pulpit into a bully pulpit. That is not to say that a sermon should always be apolitical, for that is frankly impossible. Whether you are silent in the face of evil or injustice, or you speak out, you are being political. Failure to take a stand is still a stance.

As I have often noted, Bonhoeffer wrote that the Christian has two tasks in the modern world: prayer and righteous action. Through prayer, we communicate with God. Through righteous action, we communicate God’s love, peace, and justice with the world. We must be both grounded and fruitful. Both tasks are political, as Jesus knew so well. I propose to take a break from uploading my sermons to this weblog, and reflect on both tasks.

A college professor of mine, Dr. Stephen Bouma-Prediger, defined wisdom:

Wisdom is sound judgment based on

keen discernment informed by

cultivated memory developed over time into a

habitual disposition and aimed at

knowing and doing the truth.

I propose to seek Christian wisdom in this pregnant age by (re)turning to the source, to scripture, informed by some wise contemporaries: to cultivate a deeper memory of Christian thought, informing keen discernment, to guide sound judgment, for the purpose of forming a habit of knowing and doing the truth. I do not come to this as a tabula rasa, a blank slate, of course. My choice of wise contemporaries will reveal as much.


He who bends to himself a joy

Does the winged life destroy;

But he who kisses the joy as it flies

Lives in eternity’s sunrise.

- William Blake