In-Sight: For the Bride (4)

Calling this brief series “For the Bride” does not mean that I am only concerned about the Body of Christ.  I grieve for all those who are harmed by the Church’s attitudes and actions.  My focus on the Bride simply means that I take seriously Peter’s reminder that God’s judgment begins with the Church (1 Peter 4:17).  And I believe we are experiencing that judgment.

Concern for the Bride means that our attempts to make an authentic witness in the world cannot commence with credibility until we have taken our own sinfulness seriously.  We have spent too much time and energy looking over the fence into other people’s yards (even the yards of other Christians), while ignoring the weeds in our own.

I am greatly encouraged by the call for internal reform in the Roman church by Pope Francis, and I believe it is something God wishes to see throughout the Body of Christ.

The Bride is naked for more reasons than the homosexual issue. She is in shame for a host of things–things like material opulence on the part of denominational and parachurch leaders, things like “good old boy systems” that protect unacceptable behaviors, things like fostering narcissistic lusts for power, things like making one political view appear to be the only Christian one, and things like excluding women from the opportunity to respond to God’s call to ordained ministry.  The list goes on.

But a fresh Wind of the Spirit is blowing.  We are not the first generation of Christians to say, “Enough is enough” and begin to work for renewal.  Ours is not the first age of reformation.  But it is one, like previous reformations, that calls for a rare combination of courage and humility–one that moves forward with a broken and contrite heart, and one that requires the restoration of the supremacy of love.

The Bride will escape the grasp of those who have made sport of her.  And when that happens, the world will once again receive from the Church the life-giving witness of the fruit of the Spirit, not the waxed fruit of counterfeit Christianity.

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In-Sight: For the Bride (3)

My lament is leading me to pray for, and seek for, a new way forward in the current debate about homosexuality. I have decided to call the new way “the way of love.”

To do so is not an indictment, it is an inspiration. I know there are people who have taken sides in the homosexual debate who love the Church. To use “the way of love” as the name for the third way is only to choose what I trust all of us would agree is “the more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31).

As some of you will know, E. Stanley Jones has been my primary mentor over the years.  During Lent, he has become so again.  There are more ways he has been speaking to me recently than I can share in this blog, but here is one example from his book, ‘Growing Spiritually’….

“The greatest of Christians [St. Paul] said: ‘I am controlled by the love of Christ.’  This cuts deep.  It is possible to be controlled by the love of achievement, of success, of a cause, of one’s fight.  To be controlled by the love of Christ is different not only in degree, but in kind and quality.” (p. 124)

To be controlled, even by “a cause, of one’s fight”—when I read this, all I could say was Lord, have mercy!  Reading Jones’words was the end of something in me–a divine, “enough is enough.”  Now, I face the challenge of discerning what kind of “beginning” must arise out of the “ending.”

The Lenten/Easter metaphor is all I have to cling to in the first baby-steps of this decision:  I have gone into the tomb (dying) as one kind of person, but I must now come out of the tomb (rising) as another kind.  That is all I can say in the early dawn of a resurrection, and it is what I am trying to say when I tell you I have chosen “the way of love.”–for the sake of the Bride.

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In-Sight: For the Bride (2)

My lament for the Bride has arisen as two streams converge–the stream of news events showing how split and contentious the church (and society) is over the issue of homosexuality, and the stream of prayers which I use every day in praying for the church.  When these two things converged, my heart began to break.

Today, I want to invite you into my prayer closet and let you hear a few of the prayers that set my lament in motion.  For some time, I have used prayers from The Book of Common Prayer to guide my daily prayers, and this classical prayer book has led me to pray along the lines of these illustrations…

“For all who fear God, and believe in you, Lord Christ, that our divisions may cease, and that all may be one as you, and the Father, are one…” (p. 390).

“Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord…” (p. 818)

My lament began as I realized how often I pray without allowing the prayers to “come alive” in me.  Words remain on the level of words, even when they are words I believe.  But incarnation is our model–the Word becoming flesh.  And so with prayer. Until then, we have not prayed fully.

The Bride’s gown is torn, at least in part,  because we pray the right prayers without living them.  So, I continue to pray…

“Grant, Almighty God, that all who confess your Name may be united in your truth, live together in love, and reveal your glory in the world…” (p. 388).

“Build up your Church and glorify your Name…” (p. 549).

The way of love emerges from prayer; that is, realizing afresh what we have been saying, and offering ourselves to God as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), so that the written prayers might become living prayers–for the sake of the Bride.

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In-Sight: For the Bride

I have come out of Lent with a heavy heart for the Church in general and my particular expression of it, The United Methodist Church.  The debate about homosexuality has reignited with great heat, enflamed by radical actions by one side and dogged resistence to those actions by the other side.  The longstanding drama has now entered another act–continuing the 40+ year plot of pain, provocation, partisanship, polarization, politicization, and (at the extremes) persecution.

I have come out of Lent convinced that the Bride of Christ is being abused. The Father of the Bride is hurting. The Son (Bridegroom) is in anguish, and the Spirit is grieving.  The Trinity is weeping.

The Bride’s gown is torn, being pulled apart by her siblings as they engage in a theological tug of war, leaving the Bride with nakedness, embarrassment and shame she was never meant to have.  And no matter what we think about it, no matter how we think it got that way, or what we think should be done—can we not at least agree to cry?

I have come out of Lent believing that now is a time for “the prayer of tears.”  Now is the time to say, “Enough is enough” and to seek a better way. We have passed the time when any Bride lover can believe that we are treating her as we should. 

I am in deep prayer about this, and I know that others are as well. Between and beyond the opposites, I believe God is beckoning Christians (siblings of the Bride) to a third way–a way that declares the traditional ways of debating the issue “worn out” (after decades of trying them). I am no longer on any “side.” I no longer believe any “side” is the way forward. We must pray and work for a new way–for the sake of the Bride.

I will write more about this each day this week. I invite you to join me–for the sake of the Bride.

(Please Note: For this brief series, I am removing the “Comment” option. On controversial matters, I often find the comment streams of social media unhelpful and sometimes distracting from the point of the primary post. I am writing this series to communicate my thoughts, not to initiate a string of points and counter points. This is a departure from my usual style, but I believe it is best for this series. I am writing a lament, not having a conversation, and certainly not wanting to create another debate)

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Ancient Wisdom: April 20, 2014 (Year A)

(Note:  The revised Common Lectionary substitutes readings from The Book of Acts for lessons from the Old Testament during Eastertide.  Consequently, the meditations during this season will be based on the Acts passages)

Read:  Acts 10:34-43

Meditation:  “But God Raised Him Up”

Peter was the preacher on the first Pentecost in Jerusalem, and he was the preacher on what some call the second Pentecost–the event recorded in today’s lesson.  On both occasions he declared, “but God raised him up” (2:24, 10:40), making the resurrection the pinnacle of the Gospel message.

Easter Sunday is the “Mount Everest” of our faith.  It is the highest vantage point from which to view the person and work of Jesus Christ.  The empty tomb connects the Jesus of history and the pre/post incarnate Christ.  The last word is not death, it’s resurrection.

What is true for Christ is true for us–death is not the last word, resurrection is.  No matter what tomb life may place us in, the stone will be rolled away!  It may happen through some on-earth restoration, or it may not come until we mortals put on immortality.  But it will happen.  Peter’s words spoken about Jesus will be spoken about us, “But God raised him/her up.”  We are Easter people!

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Lenten Break: Fasting from Oboedire

Hello!

Today we observe Ash Wednesday and begin our journey through Lent.

I have decided to “fast” from writing on Oboedire during Lent. This includes the suspension of all three weekly postings. 

I will resume writing on Saturday, April 19, with the “Ancient Wisdom” meditation for Easter Day.

I pray that the following words from Henri Nouwen will describe your experience of Lent…

” Lent is a time of returning to God. It is a time to confess how we keep looking for joy, peace, and satisfaction in the many people and things surrounding us without really finding what we desire. Only God can give us what we want. So we must be reconciled with God … The season of Lent, helps us in a special way to cry out for God’s mercy.”

Blessings!  Steve

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Lumen Fidei: The Ecclesial Form of Faith

When we begin to live in the light of faith, we see that our salvation incorporates us into the Church.  We come to Life as one member of the larger Body of Christ.  We cannot live apart from the Church any more than one part can live separated from the body.

This is why “churchless Christianity” will never work, even though some of the concerns it carries are valid.  The cure for whatever damage the Church has inflicted on our faith is not our separation from it, but the renewal of it.

Christ gathers all believers to himself, functioning as our Head.  We are “one” in him.  We cannot individualize or privatize our salvation without destroying what Christ gave himself to accomplish–namely, the joining together of what sin had separated.  No family is complete when there is an empty chair at the table, created when someone decided to leave home.

So, as Pope Francis says, “Faith is necessarily ecclesial.”  This does not mean the Church is perfect; in fact, it is often very flawed.  This does not mean it always lives up to our expectations–even legitimate ones.  But it does mean the Church is “of God” (Who must both praise and purge it), and it is the family into which we are incorporated when we believe.

And like the individual parts joined to the larger body, as we are joined to the larger Body of Christ, we find the life of God present and active in us so that we can continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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