Friday, June 30, 2006

Reviewing Nehemiah

To help myself and others review Nehemiah, I recommend this resource from Luther Productions.

Other resources I often use for on-line research include Wikipedia, and the Catholic Encyclopedia. Since Wikipedia is an "open-source" encyclopedia, it's important to remember that it isn't juried in the same way a regular print encyclopedia is. Some may consider this a more authentic intellectual approach in any event.

Finally, there's the Catholic Encyclopedia. This is often a very helpful resource, if a bit dense.

Nehemiah 4

1 Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he mocked the Jews.
2 He said in the presence of his associates and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore things? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish it in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish—and burned ones at that?”
3 Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “That stone wall they are building—any fox going up on it would break it down!”
4 Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their taunt back on their own heads, and give them over as plunder in a land of captivity.
5 Do not cover their guilt, and do not let their sin be blotted out from your sight; for they have hurled insults in the face of the builders.
6 So we rebuilt the wall, and all the wall was joined together to half its height; for the people had a mind to work.
7 But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and the gaps were beginning to be closed, they were very angry,
8 and all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it.
9 So we prayed to our God, and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.
10 But Judah said, “The strength of the burden bearers is failing, and there is too much rubbish so that we are unable to work on the wall.”
11 And our enemies said, “They will not know or see anything before we come upon them and kill them and stop the work.”

I take pride in knowing Scripture relatively well. Of course I could always do better, and I wish to. One of the portions of Scripture that I wish to know better but don't is the Ezra-Nehemiah cycle. I confess to not knowing how to make sense of this text to do it justice, and have decided to re-read Nehemiah first before writing a post on it. I will heed verse 6, and hear it addressed to me, "For the people had a mind to work." Get to work, Clint. But patiently, for walls are not built in a day, nor biblical faith fortified through light work.

[author note: following text added July 3rd]

I am fascinated by the parallel structure in this book:

Chapter 1-7 narrates re-building the walls of Jerusalem, and setting guards around the walls so that the workers can work in safety.

Chapters 8 and following narrate the public re-reading of Scripture (the law) to the people, and then their covenanting together to maintain it, even putting a fence around the law by writing it into their own administrative charter.

It is an example (of which there ar many) of the parallel between Jerusalem and Scripture, both functioning as public signs as well as real places where one can go to live and revive faith, manifestations of God's economy.

"There is too much rubbish and we are unable to work on the wall." What is the rubbish that keeps me from steady work at reading the Scriptures and studying them regularly? Is it the pile of other books here by my Poang?

Sometimes I think our best intentioned and beloved activities are the ones that divert us the most from the devotional life. I'm not talking about responsibilities like caring for children or family, or doing necessary work set before us. But, in my case for example, I invest considerable time reading books, mostly theology, but also a lot of practical stuff and novels here and there. Is this thing that I love too much of an obsession, to the point that there is rubbish all around tripping me up from building a solid wall?

What is the rubbish in your own life?

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Phillipians 3

14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
15 Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you.
16 Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.
17 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.
18 For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.
19 Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.
20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
21 He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

Vote by majority seemed not to be a concept in Paul's time. Instead, they were to be all of the same mind, holding to the rule of faith. If you think differently, you're supposed to wait until God reveals the "one mind", the mind of Christ, to you. Which implies something different than majority rule, where the majority is supposed to patiently wait for the minority to come around to their position, and in any event, majority rules no matter what.

Paul also speaks of body in collective rather than personal terms. "The body of our humiliation." This body is not atavistic, always being conformed back to the humiliated body even though it presses on, with stray anatomies of the Old Adam morphing into place. Instead, the body is eschatological, on the way to heaven, expectant of the Christ to whose body we wll be conformed. My confirmation students often happily misspell it as conformation, possibly a more appropriate term for affirmation of baptism in any event, because confirmation is not simple confirm a faith in propositional terms, but actually is conformation into a body, the bodily death and resurrection of Christ.

Implied also here is holding fast to a level, a Plimsoll line that is important not because we once attained it but have fallen back from such high waters and are again drowning, but because now having attained it, it is the new air we breathe above the waters of baptism.

As treaders of water in the power of the Spirit, we anticipate heavenly bodies glorious, and so do more than float.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Isaiah 5

5:1 ¶ Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
2 He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.

3 ¶ And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
and people of Judah,
judge between me
and my vineyard.
4 What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?

5 ¶ And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
6 I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.

7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
but heard a cry!

I'm learning as I do this exercise how difficult it is to carve out time every single day to write these journal reflections. We have set this as a study goal in our congregation, and I'm getting a taste of how hard it must be for the average person to do the reading every day. I'm not average at least in this way, that I feel responsibility to do it because of my role as pastor, so that is my goad. What pushes others to make sure they take the time?

I have no profound reflections on this text- it is the kind of passage that saddens me. On the other hand, verse 1 is appropriate for this day- it is our 9th anniversary of married life. Praise be to God!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Psalm 46:10

Psa. 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”

I'm not alone in running frantic. Often busy, trying to parent and pastor and live at a pace set by some pacesetter I don't even know, I run a race that I see many others running as well.

Some even run more frantically than I. Some I don't even know how they do what they do, how they fit it all into one day.

I would be alone, or at least close to alone, if I actually followed God's command to be still. Paused and idled, lots of things (this is imagined) would race by.

But it is in being still that we know God as God. Stillness here is prerequisite to hearing and knowing God as exalted over the whole earth.

It is in being still that we even take time to observe the earth, or pray for the nations. To turn in a new direction, there must be that moment of stillness, however brief, when we go neither one way or the other.

And then the rest is God's Spirit, and we fly.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Babies at the airport

Even before I had children myself, I was never bothered by the presence of small children in airplanes. If they cried, so be it. At least it was a sign of life and liveliness.

Now, as a father of a seven month old, seeing small children while I travel has a new impact. I can only call it an ache. Something wells up inside of me, and I see something of my son in these children riding in strollers or cradled in their parents arm.

Especially at this early age, children are so like each other. Some of the behaviors (watching the people around them) movements (the light hold they have on their parents with one arm while the other arm floats free, ready to grab hold of anything interesting, especially paper) are more identical than different. And so when I see a small child here in the airport, I see my son.

And at that very moment, when the appearance of one is most like the other, it is the profound difference that makes me ache, because that child is not my son, I miss my son, I hope to see him soon.

So, it's a joy to see these kids in the airport, a healthy reminder, but I ache to see the one that is my own child.

Saturday, June 24, 2006


Currently attending the annual conference of the Pastor-Theologian Program of the Center of Theological Inquiry, this year held in Sedona. Sedona is supposed to be the New Age capital of the U.S., but since I"m staying at the Hilton, and have mostly only seen the main streets and very little of the outskirts of town (because the forests are closed as a result of the fires), I see more signs of this being a posh retirement community than anything else. There certainly are a lot of churches, of basically ever stripe. Including the relatively famous Chapel of the Holy Cross.

For theology nerds like me, there is nothing better than lectures all morning, then the opportunity to take a sauna and hike in the afternoon. It's a good place for a conference. Unfortunately, like many of these desert towns, I don't know how sustainable it is long-term, water use, etc.

As a true midwesterner, I've always thought that mountains were for people who lacked imagination. They're beautiful, of course, but they're the kind of beauty that hits you upside the face and says, "Notice me!" I so much enjoy the beauty of Wisconsin, of the plains, of wooded and rolling hills, that mountains take second fiddle.

For a sample of Sedona red rocks, though, click.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

1 Corinthians 3

5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each.
6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.
7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
8 The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each.
9 For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.
10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.
11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.

This seems an appropriate text to read at all installation services for pastors and other church leaders. Each has a purpose, but it is God who gives the growth, Christ who is the foudation. We are builders, this is not pure passivity, but it is not dependent on one, but on a community over time. But the non-passive ministry of the builders is undertaken for the one alone worthy of glory and honor, God in Christ.

I'm at continuing education the next few days, so have done this (albeit very brief) reflection in advance, and will resume reflections next Monday.

Jeremiah 31

15 Thus says the LORD:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.
16 Thus says the LORD:
Keep your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work, says the LORD:
they shall come back from the land of the enemy;
20 Is Ephraim my dear son?
Is he the child I delight in? As often as I speak against him,
I still remember him. Therefore I am deeply moved for him;
I will surely have mercy on him, says the LORD.

God, I am saddened by the kind of despair and weeping witnessed in this text. I worry for children, especially future generations. There are times I refuse to be comforted. I don't know where the comfort will come from. It feels almost as if there is nowhere to go, no out.

Yet it is precisely when there is nowhere else to turn, when we have come to the nullpunkt, that you say, "I will surely have mercy." You make something out of nothing, even faith out of doubt. It is like these moments when I'm despairing, and yet something else, a change in the atmosphere, some kind of beauty, lights up existence and the whole world is transfigured. Ex nihilo is not just abstract doctrine Lord, it is of the very nature of faith and prayer. You do this, Lord. Lord, have mercy.

Have mercy on all who despair, on all who have lost loved ones, on all who are exiled, on all who have no refuge or safe place. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. Amen.

Amos 5

18 Alas for you who desire the day of the LORD!
Why do you want the day of the LORD?
It is darkness, not light;
19 as if someone fled from a lion,
and was met by a bear;
or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,
and was bitten by a snake.
20 Is not the day of the LORD darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?

21 I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an everflowing stream.

Ouch. We just finished up this past Sunday a special celebration we've been conducting each year, Heritage Day. This year our special focus was our musical heritage, and we celebrated it through many songs, instruments, choirs, etc. This theme in Amos, which occurs more often than simply here, is God's address to us to be careful in thinking that our thank offering, our worship, can somehow appease God, or especially, can make up for or cover up in our communities injustice and lack of righteousness.

Of course, there's the conclusion to Psalm 51 that seems to indicate that when we are repentant, and God has re-established a new heart in us, then indeed our sacrifice of praise is pleasing to God, but prior to that renewal of the Spirit, if we sing to and praise God without concomitant works (and very life) of justice and mercy, the very thing we believe God loves will actually be despised. It is a harsh warning.

I would say it is an especially dangerous temptation for someone like myself who likes and enjoys the energy and flash of festivals and worship, but who doesn't like the conflict and struggle inevitably involved in speaking up for the poor and oppressed. Forgive me, Lord. Make me a part of your great river. Amen.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Matthew 23

23:1 ¶ Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,
2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat;
3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.
4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.
5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long.
6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues,
7 and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.
8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.
9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven.
10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.
11 The greatest among you will be your servant.
12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

It is important to notice that Jesus does not say, "Since they do not practice what they preach, don't listen to them." Instead, he says, "Do whatever they teach you." He says this because these teachers, though hypocritical, nevertheless sit in the seat of Moses, that is, they fill an office.

So too in the church, although I do not encourage pastors to be hypocritical, and I strive myself to practice what I preach, people are supposed to listen to and be shaped by the preaching I do not because of who I am or how I am, by the influence of my personality or actions, but because I fill the role of pastor in the congregation in which they have been called to participate. God makes use of these offices for our own good, and sometimes in spite of our own bad.

But now notice, even as I have said this, Jesus goes on to change the authority and power structures substantially in his own instructions to the new community. This new egalitarianism is the result of his profound reliance on one Lord as Father, teacher, rabbi. The One, in Trinity, levels the playing field precisely in His/Their exaltedness. Because God is above, we are humble and equals below.

This is why all those who are baptized into Christ Jesus are called to continued learning and growth in the faith (faith seeking understanding) and can fill the role of confessor and servant, hearing the sins of others, praying with them, serving them. For in humility we are all little Christs to each other.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Resources for the Journey

In case you're wondering what collection of Bible readings I'm commenting on here from day to day, here's the link.

Just download the pdf file titled "resources." It's a six week lectionary style bible study we're using at East.

Exodus 3

13 But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”
14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
15 God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:
This is my name forever,
and this my title for all generations.

David Ford has written a fascinating book in the Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine series titled Self and Salvation . Among other things, it is an exploration of the thought of two rather difficult European thinkers, the theologian Eberhard Jungel and the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. I have found it to be a helpful and at times beautiful book.

One point Ford makes in the book applies to this passage from Exodus. Ford points out that even though many passages in Scripture speak of our life "in Christ", being in Christ still does not negate the reality of our also "facing" Christ- we are not "in" Christ in the sense that we no longer face each other, but rather, our life in Christ is constituted in facing Christ who faces us.

Another way of saying the same thing is that the phrase in Christ does not imply that we become Christ without remainder, nor does Christ become us without remainder, but rather we become who we are precisely in being in front of, facing, being there with the other.

In this sense, another translation of what God says to Moses in Exodus might be, "I AM HERE." Or, "I Am the One Facing You." Being, existence, is existence before God, and God is the one who is there for us. We are not God, nor is God humanity, but God is precisely the one who is there for us while not in any way being us.

God's transcendence, and just so the power of Moses' message to Pharoah, is comprehended in this name. God is God and there is no God but God, but this God speaks and acts and accomplishes in the world we inhabit and know, from generation to generation, beginning with Abraham, and continuing with us.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Psalm 139

1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
O LORD, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.

7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
24 See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

Being known completely is, in the end, hopeful. Along the way, it may be refining like a fire, and only the truly intrepid keep themselves mindful of it, but knowing you are known "all the way down" is salvation at its uttermost. In this way knowing, remembering, and redeeming seem to be somewhat equivalent terms.

And as verse six reminds us, the sheer wonder of it means we will not attain it, but again, in hope, it isn't necessary that we understand fully how we are fully known, but only trust that it is so, and stand in awe.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Luke 4:14-20

Today I'm interlining a one sentence observation on each verse:

Luke 4:14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.

Jesus is filled in his ministry with the power of the Spirit, so that we see that the ministry (Christ's ministry) to which we are called is not something we do of ourselves, but only in the Spirit.

Luke 4:15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

How did Jesus become a teacher? By virtue of his education, or based on the praiseworthiness of his teaching, or something else?

Luke 4:16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,

It is difficult to go home and preaching, but it was his custom always to go to synagogue on the Sabbath, thus showing that even Jesus, who is often enlisted as spiritual but not religious, had a regular habit of worshipping with others.

Luke 4:17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

This text was given to him to read. He does not select the reading on his own.

Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,

The Spirit is re-emphasized, now in the reading of Isaiah, and the Spirit annoints for a very specific purpose (pay attention) to bring good news to the poor, relesae to captives, to set free, and to heal.

Luke 4:19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And even more radically, to declare total debt relief, something our culture and world can scarcely imagine- not to mention the rich would never let it happen, even if it was imagined.

Luke 4:20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.

What is he going to do or say now?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Psalm 137

Psa. 137

By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How could we sing the LORD’S song
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy.

I'm not sure I have ever missed home as much as this psalmist does. Of course, I have also not been forcibly taken into exile, with tormentors gathering around asking me to sing a song from home while they taunt me in the land to which I have been taken.

This is a haunting Psalm. The Christian hymn "how can I keep from singing" is modified, re-written itself as a song, that goes, "How can I sing? We can't."

There is in this Psalm a contradiction. It is a song that asks, "How could we sing the LORD'S song in a foreign land?" Could it be that this song was written far away from Jerusalem, but then only sung for the first time upon a return to Jerusalem? Did the harps remain hanging in the willows until they once again crossed the rivers of Babylon? Conjecture, yes, but certainly within the imaginative horizon of this psalm.

Finally, the prayer, that if we do not remember Jerusalem, may our tongue cling to the roof of our mouths. What is my Jerusalem? I have never been patriotic in the way many people are patriotic. So am I therefore silenced? Am I a stranger in a strange land? I have certainly felt that way at times, especially when I've lived abroad for a while and returned.

I do not consider myself unpatriotic either. I guess I am patriotic in the same way an atheist is religious- by way of protest. Shall I put this in song?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Genesis 3:8-10

8Late in the afternoon a breeze began to blow, and the man and woman heard the LORD God walking in the garden. They were frightened and hid behind some trees. 9The LORD called out to the man and asked, "Where are you?" 10The man answered, "I was naked, and when I heard you walking through the garden, I was frightened and hid!"

Does it seem too obvious to remark that we all hide from God? This is truly everyman and everywoman, because we keep looking for God, and wanting to be God, but when God actually arrives and we can hear God, then suddenly what was sought is feared. I'd be scared enough if I heard God walking in the woods if I had my clothes on. If I had some sin that was recently exposed and imagined God was near, how much the worse.

Like so many of these Genesis moments, the story stands as a kind of explanation for why we do what we do. So, ask yourself the question- In the summer, why do you wear clothes? The Genesis answer: Because Adam and Eve ate from a tree. Questions like these don't often come to mind- they're one aspect of how we hide from God, by not inquiring into our basic nature. Why do we kill? Why do we wear clothes? What does a rainbow mean to us if we see it? Our inability to know God well is reflected in our inability to know ourselves.

Now ask yourself the question again- why do you wear clothes? The answer: Because you'd feel self-conscious, ashamed, whatever, without them on, especially in mixed company. Now extrapolate- God can see to your very heart, so will you hide from God? What if you were confronted with Deus Nudus ?

These are the questions that come up in my mind when I read this passage. Of course God already knows me fully, but there is a difference between expressing that article of faith, and actually making the leap of faith to accept the fact, and open myself up to the one to whom I'm already open. Sounds a bit like Tillich's "accept the fact that you are accepted."

Be consoled also by this, that God also, because of our weakness of faith, wears clothing. God began this practice with Israel (through Moses) and continues it with us as well, the clothing of God now being regular things we encounter often- bread and wine in the Eucharist, water in baptism, the Word of God preached, the confession and absolution of our sin.

God cannot be found in God's "bare majesty", is not visible through our speculations about God, or the images we project upon God. We rightly run away from this God of our own making and choosing. Instead, God comes to us fully clothed, in God's masks, the sure and certain places (sacraments) where God works. And in these masks, like a loving Father with his prodigal, God runs to us and embraces us even in our shame.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Lectionary reflections

This is the beginning of a daily series of reflections on a lectionary we are using in our congregation for a six week period. You can download a copy of this lectionary resource and study guide at:

I'll be providing the reading each day in block text from the Contemporary English Version (CEV).

Romans 12:1-8

Christ Brings New Life
1Dear friends, God is good. So I beg you to offer your bodies to him as a living sacrifice, pure and pleasing. That's the most sensible way to serve God. 2Don't be like the people of this world, but let God change the way you think. Then you will know how to do everything that is good and pleasing to him.

3I realize how kind God has been to me, and so I tell each of you not to think you are better than you really are. Use good sense and measure yourself by the amount of faith that God has given you. 4A body is made up of many parts, and each of them has its own use. 5That's how it is with us. There are many of us, but we each are part of the body of Christ, as well as part of one another.

6God has also given each of us different gifts to use. If we can prophesy, we should do it according to the amount of faith we have. 7If we can serve others, we should serve. If we can teach, we should teach. 8If we can encourage others, we should encourage them. If we can give, we should be generous. If we are leaders, we should do our best. If we are good to others, we should do it cheerfully.

I have recently completed an essay on a verse from Colossians, chapter 1 verse 24, that is similar to this opening verse of Romans 12. Paul writes in Col. about his completing the sufferings that are lacking in Christ's own sufferings. This is a radical notion, one not reflected or preached on much in our day, for a variety of reasons. Possibly because suffering has never been popular, and so to celebrate it seems contrary to the "comforts" of the gospel as the gospel is often construed today. Second, it does not sit well with our piety that says we cannot complete something that Christ has already done.

Nevertheless, Paul encourages us here to offer our very bodies as a living sacrifice to God, and however you slice it, this in all likelihood means that our "giving" over of ourselves is a participation in Christ's giving over of himself to death for us.

"Let God change the way you think." This is the hardest word to me from this text, because I like the way I think already. Hard to change thinking, especially when the thoughts are connected to justifying how I live and act in the world.

In one of our classes at church, we've been discussing Mark Allan Powell's book, Loving Jesus . In it, he says that faith is a gift from God, and that different people are given different measures/levels of faith. So, we aren't supposed to try and grow our faith, or compare how much we have to others. Instead, the Christian life is a call to grow in understanding of the faith we've already been given. Fides quaens intellectum (if I've spelled that correctly?).

"Measure yourself by the amount of faith God has given you." Faith is pure gift, not something we create, but we are reminded that Jesus said to his disciples that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains. Instead of sitting around worrying whether I have enough faith, I am simply called to understand the faith I already have, and to, in a sense, make use of it through preaching, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, and doing good cheerfully. A simple list so difficult in actual practice.

I imagine these reflections will vary in length and profundity from day to day. I also will take one extra day off from the lectionary writing each week for my own sabbath time. Since I preach on Sundays, I need to take another day off at least from the writing portion of this for the sake of balance.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Peculiar Identity vs. Lutheran vocation

When it comes to the "shape" of the Christian life and the visible nature of the church, I tend to be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I was shaped and influenced in seminary by the deep Lutheran concept of vocation, that the Christian life is lived out in our daily work and various vocations.

At the same time, I have been persuaded by a variety of theologians that this Lutheran understanding of vocation may itself be the product of Christendom. In post-Christendom, are we in a new position vis-a-vis our culture so that the church, and our own participation in it, should be markedly peculiar?

So, I came across these two quotes today that I'm going to pair up for the sake of reflection.

First, from a review of Robert Benne's book A Christian Approach to Social, Economic and Political Concerns in Lutheran Forum:

While [Benne] is drawn to it-- radical orthodoxy is 'attractive and compelling' with a 'confidence in and clarity about orthodox Christianity' that is 'highly persuasive' (p. 114), Benne cannot in the end embrace it. What causes the drawing back? Put briefly, it is his belief that, since God, in his two-fold rule of the world through providence and grace, Law and Gospel, has not abandoned this fallen world, neither should the Christian. It is not for us to construct a redemptive 'parallel culture' but to struggle in the ongoing culture war for civility, decency, justice, and peace under God's providential 'Left Hand' rule. Rather than turning our back on post-modern culture, we are called to witness to its under-God accountability, what an earlier generations of Lutherans called its 'sacred secularity.'.. So we must continue in 'critical solidarity' with the fallen world and its structure of responsibility (58).

The second quote is from Walter Bruegemann's engaging collection of essays, The Word that Redescribes the World:

Jacob Neusner, in his study of Jewish ritual practice, judges that the stylized gestures and words of ritual are aids in the daily work of being 'Jews through the power of our imagination.' Indeed, Neusner opines that Jewishness is hazardous and venturesome enough that it requires a daily[!!!] act of imagination, without which there would not be Jews.

[W.B.] propose[s] that in Christendom Christians needed no such effort, for identity simply came with the territory, as it always does for dominant faith. The depositioning of Christian faith in the west, however, makes the community of the baptized a community more fully dependent upon daily acts of imagination for the maintenance of identity. The daily acts evoking Christian identity are likely to be ethical as well as liturgical. The beginning point is the recognition that clear identity is not a cultural given, as it might have been in former times of domination, but is now an oddness that requires courageous intentionality (152-153).

These two conceptions stand in tension with each other, at least in my mind, and I have been continuing to work out how they might be reconciled.

Lutherans and the marriage amendment

Three Lutheran synods in Wisconsin, including the South Central Synod of Wisconsin, passed resolutions opposing the proposed constitutional amendment on marriage. I am fully in agreement that our synod has taken, and I find the Fair Wisconsin web site to be a helpful resource for engaging this often emotionally charged topic. See their resources for religious communities.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Protestant Rock Ethic

Jonathan Rundman's new album has a a most suitable title. His is a solid "work" ethic- 40 odd songs on the two discs. Like a previous album, Sound Theology , it contains a mix of tracks for use in the church that don't sound like the Christian music you typically hear on the radio.

The first seven tracks are a new setting of the liturgy, The Heartland Liturgy . Our congregation will be hosting Jonathan September 10th, and he'll be leading us in this new setting. Get the album and check it out. It's worth the time.

Things don't change much, do they?

John Chrysostom writes in a homily on St. John:

"Still, such is the wretched disposition of the many, that after so much reading, they do not even know the names of the Books, and are not ashamed nor tremble at entering so carelessly into a place where they may hear God's word. Yet if a harper, or dancer, or stage-player call at the city, they all run eagerly, and feel obliged to him for the call, and spend the half of an entire day attending to him alone; but when God speaks to us by the prophets and apostles, we yawm, we scratch ourselves, we are drowsy.

And in summer, the heat seems too great, and we betake ourselves to the marketplace; and again, in winter, the rain and the mire are a hindrance, and we sit at home; yet at the horse races, though there is no roof over them to keep off the wet, the greater number, while heavy rains are falling, and the wind is dashing the water into their faces, stand like madmen, caring not for the cold, and wet, and mud, and legth of the way , and nothing keeps them at home, and prevents their going thither [This paragraph reminds me of Badger football games]

But here, where there are roofs over head, and where the warmth is admirable, they hold back instead of running together; and this, too, when the gain is that of their own souls. How is this tolerable, tell me?"

This written in 390 A.D., approximately 1600 years ago. Things don't change as much from century to century as we would like to think, do they?

Monday, June 05, 2006

Journals and magazines to which I subscribe

1. Sojourners
2. First Things
3. The Christian Century
4. Pro Ecclesia
5. Word and World
6. The Scottish Journal of Theology
7. Theology Today
8. Leadership
9. The American Scholar
10. Paste
11. Runner's World
12. Readymade
13. The Lutheran Quarterly
14. Lutheran Forum
15. Church History
16. Wisconsin Trails
17. MacWorld

There may be others.

Magazines I've stopped subscribing to (not always for any particular reason), but used to read:

1. The Atlantic
2. Harpers
3. New York Review of Books
4. The New Yorker
5. Christianity Today
6. Books and Culture
7. Madison Magazine

Magazines I'd love to subscribe to, but just haven't for reasons of time and expense:

1. Tikkun
2. The Wilson Quarterly
3. Rolling Stone
4. Adbusters
5. American Bungalow
6. Dwell

This was really fun. If you make your own list, send me a link and I'll link to it on the blog.

Jan Pelikan Blogschrift

Pontifications has a nice discussion and remembrance of Pelikan. His two most recent books, Whose Bible Is It? and Acts are wonderful, and function well as introductions to this theologian.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

10 Commands for Exegesis

I read at least one non-Lutheran magazine (actually, I read lots of non-Lutheran magazines, a list of which is fun in its own right. I'll list in a separate post and invite you to list further suggestions). Leadership magazine, an offspring publication of Christianity Today, had this list of hermeneutical commands which I borrow:

I. You shall not make for yourself an idol out of Scripture.
II. You shall honor the Scriptures as sufficient.
III. You shall remember the meta-narrative and keep it wholly.
IV. You shall not neglect the context.
V. You shall honor the church as guardian of the Scriptures.
VI. You shall not ask questions the text doesn't want to answer.
VII. You shall remember form and content are inspired by God.
VIII. You shall not covet the professor's knowledge.
IX. You shall exegete your culture and not merely the Scripture.
X. You shall remember the simplest interpretation is usually correct.

I invite commentary and analysis of these commands. My comments: #1 is correct, although many people in the communities I live make Scripture an idol in this way, by seeing it as so holy that they never touch it. As to #2, I'm not sure what it means. #3 is humorous and wise. #6 is true but difficult. #5 and #10 stand somewhat in contradiction. #7 isn't given much though in our churches, the "art" of Scripture being more attended in the academy than in the parish.

I could keep commenting, adding my own, etc., its a pleasant way to pass the afternoon, but for the time-being, have at it, all readers and non-readers of the Bible. What commands do you follow or break when reading or not reading the Scriptures?

Friday, June 02, 2006

Do try this at home

Here's the link where, if all goes well, you can download a copy of "resources", which is the lectionary study resource I'll be journaling from as a method for informal exegetical daily reflections starting next Monday.

There's also a bonus book review available for download. For those who enjoy such things.