Fidelity that matters for a world in pain

Parties in a relationship – God, self, and the neighbor which includes the planet – flourish in fidelity that is recognized by these marks:

1. Fidelity requires face-to-face address that sounds like oath-taking and uses direct speech as the medium to communicate.

2. Fidelity entails making and keeping promises, and requires commitments of reliability into unforeseen futures.

3. Fidelity pertains to the common good, a prospect that pertains to all parties, where the common good exists under the banner of shalom.

4. The common good is experienced in bodily shalom, never tilting toward simply “spiritual”, and always concerned with the political, social, bodily well being of all the members of the body politic.

5. Fidelity is grounded in unmocked holiness that checks profanation, for this is the God before whom shoes are taken off, and where profanation is most fully understood in Ezekiel 16:49-50: This is the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughter had pride, excess food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did abominable things before me.

*Adapted from God, Neighbor, Empire: The Excess of Divine Fidelity and the Command of Common Good by Walter Brueggemann.

Even the Crocus

Isaiah the prophetic imaginer (Did you notice how I said that?) offers a poem to express the world he sees coming:

The desert and the parched land will be glad;

   the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.

Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;

   it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. (Isaiah 35:1-2)

The crocus; the very crocus. Think about that – how the poet, Isaiah, the prophetic imaginer, really means everything, everyone will burst into bloom, which seems like an apt description of a vital faith – one just bursting into bloom. That’s what I’m going to start telling people when someone asks me what First Christian Church is like. I’m going to tell them, “This church is just bursting into bloom.”

We have yet to see the how beautiful this faith can be.

Retributive Justice is Stoopid.

There is a thing called justice.

Being Open has led me to grow clear on something inside of me. Part of what became clear was that the thing inside of me was there all along. It makes sense because I am a creation of God, the offspring of a very loving Parent. A loving Parent.

The thing that was there inside of me all along is that God has no commitment to or interest in retributive justice. I imagine God thinks retributive justice is boring. Retributive justice is plain and simple: You mess up, God gets the rod; You straighten up, God embraces, while keeping a close watch on you; Ready with the rod when you mess up again. God has no commitment to or interest in retributive justice. I think it’s stoopid.

That’s not to say, You mess up enough times, there’s no consequences. As we tell our children, “Look, you don’t study, you just can’t expect high marks on Gradespeed.” When I taught humanities at Milligan College, I told my students something. Here they were first year, right out of high school, away from home for the first time, some of them palpably scared to death. (It was my first time teaching on a college level; I was way more scared than they were … but I didn’t tell them that.) I can remember the moment in the beginning of my first class when I saw that fear on half their faces. And I told them, “Look, this is all built for you to succeed. Show up for class. Read your material. Participate in the discussions. Ask questions. It’s all built for you to succeed.” But we all know what’s on the other side of that, don’t we? You don’t participate in class, or read the material, or just show up, you’re going to fail. This can’t be all one way. You’d never learn anything. But, Jeez!, that’s a far, far distance from retributive justice that puts the rod in the hand of God, a loving Parent!

What was inside of me that was there all along is distributive justice. Distributive justice is just as plain and simple as retributive, just way more interesting. I imagine God thinks distributive justice is pretty cool. Distributive justice is simply the freely chosen desire to distribute resources so that all people, all living creatures have what they need. Read that again, and think globally.

One of the distinctive marks of the early church described in Acts is captured in chapter four. Take this one slowly:

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. [I bet they did!] And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all [I bet it was!] that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. (Acts 4:32-35)

This is really amazing, when you give it some thought. It’d be amazing for a person to sell property and give it away. That’s pretty amazing, in and of itself. But what is really, really amazing – as in awe-inspiring – would be a person who sold a piece of property and gave it to the church to distribute. I mean think about that for a moment. That says a lot about the church described in Acts. Can you imagine the level of trust and deep relationship required for someone to turn over a bunch of proceeds to the church, a church who must have also been in deep communion together with God and the Spirit. That’s a community I’d be a part of.

That’s anything but boring!

More than an open mind

From many people’s perspective a Trump presidency begins in deep uncertainty. This is my own perspective. At the very least “we owe him an open mind”, to quote Hillary Clinton – if for no other reason than he is a fellow human being in whom God’s generosity is abundant. Do you remember that we said that the last two Sundays? That I asked you to make that a kind of mantra for your self? God’s generosity is abundant in all creation. 

We really owe him much much more. Jesus said it most plainly. Love God and love neighbor; this is the heart of the gospel. I can rationalize this completely away, but God keeps telling me it’s true and to trust him: Donald J. Trump is my neighbor. That’s one of the hardest sentences I’ve had to write lately, because now that it’s in black and white I’ve got to be a Christian, a disciple of Christ. 

In this political climate

I want to encourage anyone who reads this to read it slowly and daily during these final weeks of the 2016 Presidential Campaign for the President of the United States of America. This comes from a correspondence written between 130 -200 CE titled Letter to Diognetus, who recorded these observations about Christians in the early church:

“The Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor by language, nor by the customs that they observe; for they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. They marry, as do all others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet they make many rich; they are lacking all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are spoken of as evil, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evildoers.”

 

A Reminder in this Fear-Filled Political Home Stretch

Well, we are entering the home stretch, aren’t we?  The home stretch of the 2016 National Election, for the human being, who will be the next President of the United States of America.

It is – this time around – a particularly fearful time, a fear-filled time, it seems to me.

I opened up the Guardian this morning to catch up on some breaking news that I realized I missed and didn’t know anything about. It was another Trump rape allegation. Rape isn’t just about intercourse; you all know that, correct? This time, by the way, it’s a matter of public record. (I’m just going to stop there.*)

But it wasn’t only that. Alongside that Breaking News was a headline that read: “Hacking/Entire U.S. political system “under attack” by Russia, experts say.” Why do newspapers do that? Sometimes I think they’ll say anything, in any way, to attract more consumers; and suck in people like me!

Hard to believe that our choice has come down to this – Donald Trump, and, yeah, I guess, Hillary Clinton, too.

We are in the home stretch of another National Election, and – this time around – it is an unusually fear-filled time. I know that some of you are feeling that and some of you aren’t. Or maybe you each feel it to a greater or lesser degree than me. But it’s hard to argue that this home stretch has elevated the fear.

It’s in that context that I want to remind us – and remind myself – of what Jesus said, “Go, into all the world … making disciples … baptizing them … and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

*We can talk about all that… But in the words of an old friend: “If you’re wanting to talk in order to straighten me out, I’m not really all that interested. That to me is just downright boring; and I’ve got better things to do with my time.”

My Prayer for HCH Sports Authority

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Opening Remarks:

I’m really happy to be with you today. Thank you for the invitation.

I grew up in Virginia, and spent twenty years in Tennessee, and then my wife and I moved our family to Houston in 2001. We drove into Houston on Go Texan Day, and my not-quite three year old daughter had her pink cowboy boots on the whole way. I appreciated Edie very much when she emailed me, and she remembered that I brought two of my daughters with me the last time I was invited here. Some of you remembered that when I came in.

Whenever I visit Virginia and Tennessee, where my mom and three brothers still live, I will meet someone who asks, “What’s it like to live in Houston?” Anymore I answer this way: “We live in a city where we hear, literally, 4,5,6 different languages spoken, every … single … day.” And then I say, “And, … it’s in Texas!” And it’s always a surprise to those who have stereotypes about Texas. Houston is a remarkable city.

Mayor Turner recently opened me up to something I think is really important for our city, something I hope people are getting. He said, “Houston is a diverse city; and our challenge is to be an inclusive city.” It’s clear that the work you do serves to meet that challenge to be an inclusive city  in a way that serves the common good. And so, I hope you hear this enough: Thanks for what you do for the well-being of our remarkable city.

Prayer:

I invite you to pray along with me:

O God, Who is in and through all, and in Whom we live and move and have our being.

Thank you for the Good Will that is represented in the people around this room, and for the good work they do – both through Houston Sports, and in the many other activities they’re involved in, activities that bring life and life to the full for so many.

We ask that You help these leaders to continue to be Open to the newness you desire for us all. Give each one a renewed energy for the work, an even greater clarity of vision, and the strength and wisdom needed to live with integrity to follow through with the commitments made.

And we pray for this city, which You love, for all to be well, even to those considered least and last among us.

We ask this – with humility and gratitude. Amen!