Archive for December, 2006

Epiphany and Membership Vows

The MagiThe Magi came from the East (presumably) and unwittingly embodied the membership vows of the United Methodist Church. They traversed a great distance simply to be in the presence of a new king foretold by creation itself. Once finding this anointed one, they fell on their knees and worshipped him in a form of kinesthetic prayer. Of course, we all remember their gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Yet how many of us think of their allegiance and service to this new king? Instead of serving the so-called “king” Herod by serving as his informants, they listened to the message and call of God to protect the Christ-child by returning unannounced to the place from which they came. It’s enough to make one wonder about the decisions they made once they returned home. Did they continue to live out this four-fold pattern of allegiance to the new King? Did they try to share their experience with others and become proto-evangelists? Our lives fill in the answer to these questions. Our life with Jesus isn’t over just because we answer yes to these vows. We’re called to continue to live in this four-fold pattern of discipleship. We’re called to extend this offer to others. Let’s finish the story of the Magi in each one of our lives – that will be our Epiphany gift to the Christ-child.

December 28, 2006 at 4:54 pm Leave a comment

Merry Christmas Everyone!

May you experience the rich comfort and deep challenge of our Lord’s birth!  God bless you today and on Christmas.

December 24, 2006 at 12:48 pm Leave a comment

Jenson: Body of Christ

OK, so the question is: Was the tomb empty? Robert W. Jenson finally answers this at the end of the 12th chapter. He writes,

The organism that was Jesus’ availability – that was his body – until he was killed would have as a corpse continued to be an availability of this person, of the kind that tombs and bodies of the dead always are. It would have been precisely a relic, such as the saints of all religions have. Something other than sacrament and church would have located the Lord for us, would have provided a direction for devotion; and that devotion would have been to a saint, and so would have been something other than faith and obedience to a living Lord.”

This is a complicated position, even though it may not seem so at first glance. Jenson follows 16th century “Swabians,” such as Johannes Brenz, and redefines body in a more rigorous Pauline sense. He eventually presses to the point that sacrament and church are truly Christ’s body for us. It appears that Jenson intends for this to be an ontological equality. This is definitely something to think of, and if it is true would require an extremely high ecclesiology and sacramental theology.

December 19, 2006 at 3:02 pm Leave a comment

Hard Questions About Resurrection

Yes, yes, I know it’s Advent and all of our questions should focus on the coming of Jesus.  Oh well.  While in seminary, I had a conversation with one of my favorite professors.  We were discussing the resurrection, and in response to one of my questions he asked, “If a video camera had been in Jesus’ tomb, what would you have seen?”  Of course, I had no answer and neither did he.  It simply raised the point that saying, “Christ is Risen” isn’t nearly so neat and packaged as many conservative/evangelical/fundamentalists (take your pick) often assume.  For instance, one of my philosophy professors liked to ask the question, “If you had indisputable proof that someone had found the bones of Jesus, what would you do?”  My understanding of the ‘right’ answer, according to this professor, was to give up belief in the resurrection.  However, if resurrection is life after “life after death” as N.T. Wright likes to say, is this necessarily true?

Fast forward to yesterday. I found while reading Robert Jensons’ Systematic Theology, that he was asking and wrestling with the same questions.  “No canonical writing suggests that anyone saw or could have seen the Resurrection itself happen.”  He then quotes Thomas Aquinas from the Summa theologiae, “Christ in rising does not return to the life commonly known to all but to an immortal life conformed to God…Therefore  Christ’s resurrection itself could not directly be seen by humans.”  Jenson continues:

The assertion that the tomb was empty could be true while Jesus nevertheless remained dead.  But if the claim was true that some saw Jesus alive after his death, then Jesus had indeed been raised.  Therefore, whether or not the tomb was found empty, only the appearances could be the actual occasion of the Easter-faith (p. 195).”

Jenson then launches into a discussion of what it meant to see Jesus and makes a careful clarification based on Jesus’ appearance to Paul, “This does not, of course, mean that the Risen One was visible only to the ‘eye of faith’ or something of the sort; Paul was decidedly an unbeliever when the Lord appeared (p. 197).”

This is a tricky question, but I think that we have to wrestle with these kinds of issues or our faith remains remedial.  Let’s keep pressing on.

December 18, 2006 at 2:02 pm Leave a comment

A Father’s Tribute

I wrote this poem a little over two years ago for my daughter that just turned four in October.  Poetry is nearly impossible to format the way I’d like on this blog, but here it is:

Ancient-future faith – a continuous line

Future expectations – our daughter in time

Born on this day – the Feast of Saint Francis

A precious two years – caught up in dances

Water and Spirit – drenched in the Name

Forged in the fire – of the cross and the flame

Family tradition – we thank God every night

You look at stars – and see God just right

Angels captivate you – can you still see

The God who surrounds – and forever will be

A promise to watch – a promise to share

The faith of forever – the One who is there

December 14, 2006 at 8:44 pm Leave a comment

Motu Proprio, Anyone?

Catholic World News reports that Pope Benedict XVI may release a motu proprio that will broaden the world Catholic’s access to the Latin Tridentine Mass. This initiative will give priests permission to use the Tridentine rite, the primary form used before Vatican II, without getting the permission of the local bishop.

I have yet to hear about this being released, so I wrote my insider Roman Catholic source who informed me that it is being held up by the French. In France, there are more who follow the currently schismatic Tridentine rite than those who use the authorized rite. The French bishops would see the motu proprio as a true defeat. At this time, they have held the Pope’s hand in all of this.

I know this isn’t related to United Methodism, but sometimes it’s nice to know we’re not the only ones who have ecclesial battles. Let’s offer a prayer for our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers. Perhaps it could be the other prayer that Jesus prayed in John 17, that we may we all someday be one.

December 13, 2006 at 4:13 am Leave a comment

Divisions, Divisions, Divisions…

Our district’s nominating committee recently met and contacted each pastor with their committee assignments for 2007. These announcements have me thinking about the committee divisions we have in the United Methodist Church. No, I’m not talking about the old liberal-conservative divide (I am of the mind that these labels becoming increasingly useless); I’m talking about the division between Discipleship, Church Development, Evangelism, and Mission. I’m not exactly sure where these particular divisions came from, but I am sure they are fairly false distinctions. Is mission to be separated from evangelism? Is discipleship something distinct from being involved in mission? Is development of the church something that happens when removed from evangelism, mission, and discipleship?

For the most part, I tend to sit back and observe the overarching structure of Methodism. I really don’t have much influence in these areas, and don’t want to complain for complaining’s sake. However, I do think it would streamline our committees if we would think about things holistically instead of dividing everything up along what I believe are false distinctions.

Think about this. A true missions committee would spearhead initiatives locally and globally. They would be involved in everything from evangelism and social work (once again a dubious distinction) on the local level to short-term and long-term mission work on a regional and global level. Church development would be integrated into the local mission work, seeking to establish new church plants and working to help local churches embody the missio Dei locally. Somehow, the Committee on Discipleship would need to be the umbrella under which all of these committees functioned, because we’re called to make disciples of Jesus Christ, right? Discipleship isn’t just bible study and small groups. It is the holistic development of authentic apprentices of Jesus. It’s calling and leading women and men to follow Jesus in all aspects of their lives. Discipleship is growing in the love of God and neighbor, and if that doesn’t involve the overarching mission of the Church, then I don’t know what does.

Do I have a solution? No. Do I want us to start talking about these things? Yes.

December 12, 2006 at 3:15 pm 2 comments

Jenson: Christ’s Preexistence

Today my wife and kids are out of town for a birthday party, so I had to opportunity to read Jenson’s chapter, The Christological Problem, after finishing both worship services. In this chapter, Jenson thinks critically about the Antiochene/Alexandrian christological controversy and begins to offer a constructive alternative. Citing Maximus Confessor and following his Christology to an extent Maximus did not, Jenson writes, “If we adhere to this and follow Maximus’ arguments to their end, we will say: the second identity of God is directly the human person of the Gospels, in that he is the one who stands to the Father in the relation of being eternally begotten by him (p. 137).” In the footnote, Jenson argues that sufficiently drastic NT scholarship should reach this same point.

One of the questions that arises from his discussion concerns the preexistence of Christ and is especially relevant as we contemplate Christmas. Where was Jesus before his birth and incarnation in Bethlehem? Jenson responds:

“…in the full narrative of Scripture, we see how the Son indeed precedes his human birth without being simply unincarnate: the Son appears as a narrative pattern of Israel’s created human story before he can appear as an individual Israelite within that story.”

“In the triune life, what ontologically precedes the birth to Mary of Jesus who is God the Son, the birth, that is to say, of the sole actual second identity of that life, is the narrative pattern of being going to be born to Mary. What in eternity precedes the Son’s birth to Mary is not an unicarnate state of the Son, but a pattern of movement within the event of the Incarnation, the movement to incarnation, as itself a pattern of God’s triune life (p. 141).”

Admittedly, this presses the boundaries of the ability we have to even speak and understand. However, I think it is important to consider these difficult questions – ironically the kinds of questions that children love to ask! Somehow we have to craft an answer from this deep theological reflection. Where was Jesus before he was born? He was somehow eternally moving toward incarnation within the life of the Trinity. Would that satisfy your 4 year old? It wouldn’t mine. I think we can safely answer this for a pre-schooler (and have any of us really developed much theologically beyond pre-school?) by saying before being born to Mary, Jesus was God and was with God. Clear? 🙂

December 10, 2006 at 8:32 pm Leave a comment

Signs of Spiritual Enlightenment

Gordon Atkinson at Real Live Preacher posted these signs of spiritual enlightenment back in November. I know many folks have already read this, but it was interesting enough that I wanted to link to it even now. Here they are for those of you too busy to click the link:

  • The embracing of paradox
  • The love of mystery in the presence of unanswered questions
  • The acceptance of your small place in reality
  • The willingness to engage in spiritual exercises without knowing how they will work or even what it would mean for them to work
  • The increase of love, grace, forgiveness, and patience visible in your life

Part of me wonders if these are true signs of spiritual enlightenment or if they are signs he has interpreted as enlightenment in his own life. I can say that I share some of these traits, but I haven’t necessarily considered them signs of spiritual enlightenment. Befuddlement…perhaps.  Hopefully we can embrace a blessed befuddlement as a kind of grace that we can receive.  I’ve heard theologians talk about the simplicity beyond complexity, and I think blessed befuddlement can be that simplicity that we should strive toward.  Is this the goal? Maybe the true end of our search is realizing that creation is so darn complex that we just have to shake our heads and smile a perplexed smile of amazement.

December 8, 2006 at 3:00 pm Leave a comment

Jenson: Sin and Righteousness

“Throughout Scripture, the central moral and historical category is ‘righteousness.’ Since Israel’s God is invested in Israel’s community, her righteousness consists in faithfulness in that community; thus righteousness in Israel’s Bible is the vigor of the entire network of communal relations within which participants divine and human live…Scripture’s many words for sin are mere contraries of ‘righteousness’ and denote one or another betrayal of community (pp. 71-72).”

How often do we portray sin and righteousness in this way? So often, it seems to me, sin and righteousness are defined by participating in or refraining from particular acts. For instance, some traditions forbid dancing and drinking alcohol as sins. I think these can be sins, but only in the sense in which Jenson here defines sin. Only as authentic community with God and neighbor are compromised are these sin. We can easily see alcoholism as a sin. Dancing? Maybe if it is dehumanizing in some sense. So, let’s start to define sin and righteousness communally, and maybe we’ll make some strides in our conversations about sin.

December 8, 2006 at 1:41 pm Leave a comment

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