Saturday, September 16, 2017

Concluding Romans Rewrite

Dear Siblings in Christ,
         This shall be the final letter I, Paul, write to you all.
         I blush, just thinking of how to sum it all up.
         I guess, if I had to sum it all up, it would be with the single word—reconciliation.

         In Rome, the divisions between Jewish Christian and Gentile Christian came out most fully at mealtime.
The Traditionalist Jewish Christians—I will call them the Weak—refused to eat Meat, because it had been sacrificed to Idols.
The Liberated Gentile Christians—I will call them the Strong—went ahead and ate this meat, assured that if there is only one God, then the Idols are nothing.
        
         These divisions may sound silly to you today—but I assure you these were issues that could make or break the Christian community in Rome—or anywhere else. Issues of Traditionalism and Liberty at tension in community—that’s nothing new, nor I would add, something old.
         The revelation that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed of God
-turns everything upside down,
-it shakes the whole world and reshapes the universe.
         Every division is fractured, every signal of separation is split!
…But then what?
How do we all live together after this earthquake-level shift?
This spiritual flood that transforms the landscape of life, forever?

         You Traditionalist, you Weak Ones!
Everything you held dear, every way of measuring things—just doesn’t work any more. You lack the vision to value this new world in which you live!
Your ongoing judgment is an attempt to take away God’s job—is it not written, “Judgment is mine says the LORD”?
         You need to go back to the font of faith—recommit to trusting God… that even in the strange new world we find ourselves, God continues to act
yes—even here—God is faithful…trust God, even when it feels like up is down and left is right.
Even in the chaos of the world as it now is, trust that God has not abandoned you—in fact, God goes ahead of you, crossing every boundary you’ve decided is the mark in the sand; decided it is the place you will not cross.
If Christ can cross the boundary of death—I assure you he can cross any barrier you try to put up to uphold your understanding of morality and mortality.
         Those things that your fellow Christians are doing that seem out of bounds—look at them carefully, try, really try, to see how they are honoring and giving thanks to God in a new way.
Accept that they are honoring God differently, and how they are living is a matter between them and God.

         Now… you better wipe that smile off your face, you so called Liberated Ones—you “Strong” Ones!
Sure, you’ve figured out how to ride the chaos of this time period, of all these changes.
In fact, you got it right! You are living faithfully in this new world—you’ve read the Spirit’s calling more faithfully than the Traditionalists, you trust God in the midst of all these things…
         You’ve got it right… so don’t make fools of yourself!
Don’t despise the Traditionalists!
Don’t live in this new way in such a way that their consciences can’t handle it.
Make sure you do things with a good intention, and don’t leave room for people to mimic you in a way that makes a mockery out of your new and faithful way of being Christian.
         You need to know, when I discovered Christian Liberty it was the best thing I’d ever known, if you make it Libertine you debase the most excellent of things!
         Do you hear me? Being right in such a way that you ruin someone else’s ability to trust God is always wrong!
         If your liberation means you no longer love your fellow Christian—then it isn’t really liberation!
        
         To you both, both weak and strong alike—I say by way of prayer: “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another as Christ Jesus would wish it, so with one voice you might Glorify God!”

         Glorify God; be an offering to God!
         Be an offering to God, by the way you share with one another and with those in need.
         Be an offering to God, by living your whole life as little Christs.
         Be an offering to God, by being reconciled to one another, and in so doing break open the whole world, that it might be knit together again—that the discordant chords sung about the earth might hear your sweet song and become the mightiest melody to ever exist!

         I sing out to God on your behalf, “bring them pardon and peace. Reconcile them all, O’ Lord.”
         The Church, the Body of Christ
-when its divisions end…
-when Christians come together in love…
-when you say “The Peace of Christ be with you. And also with you.” And mean it…
         That reminds the world of what God has done in Jesus… that is, the ultimate victory of Christ over the power of Sin, Death, and the Devil—its there, in your midst!
         It is what makes Jesus known as Christ!
         Reconciliation within Christian community, reveals that Jesus is the Anointed One!
        

         Cling always to Christ Jesus revealed to us by God the All-wise, to whom be the glory forever, through that same Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Some Thoughts on the #NashvilleStatement

Here are some thoughts on the Nashville Statement

Preamble
              I wonder, in this moment in time, with so many things going on—white nationalism on the rise in this country threatening people of color, increasingly severe storms causing havoc both at home and across the globe (most noticed in Houston), nations threatening nuclear war… in the midst of all these things… I wonder why the Nashville Statement was released?
              You attack individual autonomy when it comes to issues of sex, gender, and orientation. I wonder if a similarly strong attack will be made regarding how individual autonomy shapes economic, ecological, and political life in this country? I shall not hold my breath.
              You declare gay and trans lives to be shortsighted, ruinous, and dishonorable. Then you pat yourself on the back as an unashamed courageous and clearly counter-cultural force in this country. I wonder how such counter-cultural people have gained a seat at the table of the President of the United States, and I wonder still more why this document was released to coincide with his administration’s roll out of anti-trans and anti-gay agenda items?
              I marvel at how you have sold yourself for pottage. You claim our “true identity” is as male and female—but scripture declares that our true identity is the one we have been given in baptism—we are Children of God.
In fact, you double down on this point and link a person’s gender, being male and female, to a person’s salvation. “Design” and salvation are tied together for you. There was a time when my denomination’s namesake, Martin Luther, stood against what he believed to be salvation by works. I think you go one step worse—salvation by right self-conception. As a Lutheran I must deny this—our actions, or thoughts, or anything this is ours, will not save us. We are saved only because God is gracious.

Article 1
              I have noticed you have dishonored every marriage that does not produce children and any remarriage after divorce. You also ignore the reality that when clergy perform marriages we do so partially as officials of the state. There is literally a human contract involved in what we do.
Article 2
              How often do you wed two virgins in your church? How many of you were virgins on your wedding night? I worry that these types of statements, that ignore the facts on the ground, often serve to make the church look foolish, out of touch, and easily dismissed. I remember being told not to lust by a pastor, that if I looked at a girl with lust I truly ought to pluck out my eye. I was a teenage boy going through puberty, this scared the hell out of me. When I finally went to a lay adult with my genuine struggle to be perfect, his response was, “just don’t listen to the pastor, no one ever actually does anything like that.”
Article 3
              In what ways are male and female distinct? Which differences are the ones that matter, which are the “divinely ordained differences”? I would venture to guess that decision will be made by mainly men, at least judging by the average signer of this statement.
              I wonder, if sexual difference does not render inequality of dignity or worth, does that mean you will work to close the gender pay gap? That you will fight for the Equal Rights Amendment? That you will ordain women…
Article 4
              It seems to me that discerning what aspects of our present life are part of “the fall” and which are “divinely ordained” is not an easy thing to discern. After all, when God showed up on earth the religious leaders of his day crucified him, and the Apostle Paul, no slouch when it comes to biblical interpretation, attacked the early church on account of his reading of Deuteronomy—he who dies upon a tree is cursed. If you think God’s will is clear, you will likely crucify Christ and persecute his church.
Article 5
              Taking this affirmation seriously for a moment, this would mean part of a man’s self-conception ought to be non-monogamy, as our “reproductive structures” contain enough sperm to knock-up the whole planet a hundred times over. Natural Law arguments only work if you ignore nature.
Article 6
              You seem to mean well.
Article 7
              Again, you’ve tied self-conception to redemption, you lean toward salvation by self-conception. How does God save me based on my manliness?
I wonder as well, how this and article 5 play out. One looks to natural law, the other to scripture. For that matter, what all does the bible say about sexuality, gender, and orientation?
Article 8
              I wonder how many married gay people you’ve talked to? By and large their marriages and relationships with their partners have made their lives richer and more fruitful. I’ve seen the fruits of the Spirit blossom on account of homosexual relationships.
              I also wonder how this article squares with your natural law arguments. If homosexual sex is found in most every animal in nature, how then is it unnatural?
Article 9
              Again, if article 5 means anything you have to take seriously sexual desire as natural.
Article 10
              If supporting homosexual marriage and transgender people is a sin, then I’ll sin boldly.
              By the same token, there are ways in which fellow Christians can disagree, respect for the bound conscience of the neighbor. But if you aren’t practicing it in your statement, I shall not do so in my response.
Article 11
              This is a strange article. I hope it is not saying we ought to purposefully misgender people. Maybe its call for truth about one another as male and female calls us to fight toxic masculinity and sexism?
Article 12
              You all are pietists!
              You seem to believe people might be holy before the general resurrection. Yet we are both justified and sinner—claiming otherwise leads people to hide their sins and foster hypocrisy. We’re only as sick as our secrets. Don’t make people sick with false promises.
Article 13
              Your ongoing assumption that you know God’s revealed will reeks of self-aggrandizement. At the same time you don’t know if you are affirming “natural law” or “scripture” and seem not to have actually thought through any of it beyond that you require gender, sex, and orientation to align for everyone in the way that it does for the majority of people.
              Also, have you talked to transgender-folk about their struggles to “forsake transgender self-conceptions”? Have you talk to them about the liberation they have experienced when they’ve become who they believe God has called them to be?
Article 14
I like The Denver Statement’s response to this:
“WE AFFIRM that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners and that through Christ’s death and resurrection forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available to every person; this is a supreme treasure.

WE DENY that God is a boy and has actual arms.

Romans 12

Dear Siblings in Christ,
         It is worth reflecting on what I’ve said up until now, before we move on to a new subject:
         Remember, we are infected and used by that parasite Sin.
         Remember, that we are saved by that unstoppable love and promise of God revealed to us by the Holy Spirit.
         Remember, that we continue to try and clog up God’s mercy, and yet God continues all the more to hold us fast with the mysterious works of His grace.

         I remind you of this, because it speaks to the seriousness of our actions, and also, the gentle / power of God’s actions.
         Just as the cultural and religious practices I wrote to you about can muddy the clear love of God for all people
—our actions may also show God’s love forth more clearly… a mirror can be scuffed or it can be shiny—what it is reflecting doesn’t change.
We’re all made in the image of God, reflecting God’s love
—I hope we as a community might be as reflective of that love as possible.

         Some might jump out of their seats at this statement—they might ask, is that Paul I hear? Because, you see, I often get a bad rap.
         There is a whole genre of screed—a whole way of talking about me—that I find hurtful, and for that matter, only works if you’ve not actually read what I’ve written.
         There are people who point out that I never knew the Christ before the resurrection. This is clearly true, but what follows is less so…
         They then go on to say, okay, maybe Paul’s fine at talking about what Christ has done for us on the cross and in the empty tomb—that he’s saved us.
But, they add, he never knew the Jesus who Mary and Peter and Matthew, and all the Disciples, knew. So, they say with smug satisfaction, he never knew Jesus, his teachings, or his commands, and therefore his witness is invalid and untrue. He doesn’t get to tell people about Christ.
         And to be fair to them, the Creeds of the Church that followed several centuries after me, did focus on death and resurrection, seemingly without a focus on Jesus’ teachings.
         “Born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate”—skips 30 crucial years, right?
That said, if we take seriously our confession “Jesus is our Lord” it seems obvious that we ought to ask, what does my Lord require?
        
-I will admit I am one who was late born, I did not have the opportunity to know Jesus before the resurrection, but I would add that the same can be said of you, yet Jesus still speaks in his Church today!
-I would add, that if you see Christ’s death and resurrection as a small thing, you may need to take time to consider them again.
-I would add, that if you don’t see the freedom won by Christ for us as having ethical implications for your life, you need to look more deeply in your heart and more squarely at your neighbor’s needs.
-Finally, it is worth stating that I did spend time with the disciples. Some even suggest the church of Antioch that produced the Gospel of Matthew was my home congregation—which would explain all the fixation on strained community life in that Gospel—after all, wherever I go, it seems Christian Community gets all stirred up!

But perhaps I need no other defense of my Apostleship and my knowledge of Jesus’ teachings, save my own words to the Romans, and to you today
—if you are feeling ambitious, read Matthew 5-7 and Romans 12-15 together… it will be eye opening.
All I’m saying today, is the same thing Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount, my words earnestly expound upon Jesus’ Beatitudes—those blessings he called forth on that majestic mountain!
My words just happen to be pointed to a particular congregation. I’m just helping them, and you, reflect God’s love as a community!
This deep love from God, which you all reflect…

I hope it is genuine. I hope it is as real as the love we see between siblings or best friends or lovers.
         I hope you take yourselves seriously. You bear the image of God—don’t sell yourself short, and don’t let anyone else sell you out either.
         I hope you consider regularly how you can shine that light, which is already there, to the whole world!
         I hope you consider how you can honor that image in others, remind them of how beloved they are, no matter who they are!
         Remind them through hospitality, charity, patience, prayer, and hope—through all these, God’s love might be reflected to the whole world.
        
         What I’m calling you to is a hard thing for all of us, whether we’re beginners in belief or have trusted God for a good long time, yet it helps people see what God is doing in Christ Jesus our Lord!
         You will be persecuted, in those situations do not curse those who persecute you, but bless them—as Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for my name’s sake.”
         You will come across folk in all kinds of moods, rejoice with the joyous, cry with the mourners. Didn’t Jesus say, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted”?
         Live together in harmony, don’t be haughty, know the limits of your wisdom and make your home with the lowly—after all didn’t Jesus says, “blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth”?
         Do not repay evil with evil—that just makes more evil, our Lord did instruct us, “if you are struck, turn the other cheek.”
         Live peacefully with everyone, for Jesus said, “blessed are the peacemakers.”
         Love not only each other, not only the stranger, but even those who hate you and spitefully misuse you.
         Love as completely as God loves—for in so doing, God’s love, mercy, and grace might be known to all.

         Live with the assumption that the goal of life is the redemption of all of us—after all, evil isn’t to be destroyed, it is to be redeemed!