The disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-33) were absorbed by the present. Staggered by the loss of Jesus, engulfed in grief, they forgot the central message of the master's teaching: by dying we come to life. Their current distress spiraled them into amnesia. Coming in the guise of a stranger, Jesus pulled them out of their stupor. He recalled the words of the ancient prophets. Acting as prophet himself, Jesus challenged them to recognize anew the pattern of God's fidelity, transforming failure and even death.
The Emmaus story reminds us that the power of the present to rivet our attention often has negative results. We forget the past with its salutary lessons and we neglect the future with its rightful claims. Encircled by the present, we feel protected from unpleasant surprises and the need to change. Harassed by the pace of our hectic schedule, we may complain. But we are secretly grateful for this defense against what the future holds.
The present becomes authoritative as the status quo. We arrive at a way of doing things; soon this becomes the only proper way to act. Brueggeman reminds us how quick our own religious ancestors have been to confuse the status quo with God's mysterious action. This temptation bears bitter fruit in the emergence of "the royal consciousness." Whether in ancient Jerusalem or modern Rome, or the church today, religious leaders are tempted to idolize the present by identifying the established way of doing things as God's unchanging will. Gradually we replace God's surprising presence with predictable patterns and privileged arrangements.
I find it remarkable the number of leaders I've had conversation with that acknowledge there is something wrong, they can't quite put their finger on on it, but rather than rely on the hope and promise of Jesus, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to move us into unchartered land...we'll retreat, re-group, count our losses, assess what worked in the past and maybe tweek it a bit and hope for our best...rather than His best.
This has really got me thinking about Caleb's scouting report of the promised land and the peoples response...time for another look.
Via e-mail Fred Peatross @ Abductive Columns...
In the oral era the pre-modern church's stress was on faith, not so
much as an intellectual assent to doctrinal propositions, but in a
way of living in the commonality of actual community. As culture
transitioned from oral to print the orthodoxy of the modern church
evolved into "right worship" and doctrinal correctness."
The pre-modern emphasis of mystical presence via experience
decisively changed with the advent of the printing press. Formerly
God's Word had been fundamentally experienced as each believer
gathered and lived out the experience. But as books and Bibles
became widely available, even the illiterate could see God's words
tightly regimented and contained on a printed page. Eventually God's
Word was understood not as a presence encountered but as something
set-down in horizontal lines; to be isolated and studied by the
solitary individual. Soon church architecture gave us places of
worship arranged like a page of a book, the people situated in rows
of pews aligned like typeset sentences. It wasn't long before those
in attendance are invited not into a dance in which all community
members have necessary steps, but into a performance where one
person expounds from the printed text. The atmosphere is no longer
one of where every member is a priest experiencing a robust communal
environment; it is now a classroom where the instructor is granted
Imperceptibly, the focus of what people do together moved to what
happens "inside" the individual somewhere during the early 1900s as
culture transitioned from pre-modern to modern. Insipidly it moved
us away from the truth that God's Word is a holy presence to God's
Word as text.
Today as we emerge from a print culture to a broadcast culture
simultaneously into digital culture (a transition unequaled in human
history) the church will discover (some churches already have) that
there is more to being church than just programs and events and what
happens on a Sunday morning. It will take time for the church to
overcome the mistaken belief that a return to a first-century
experience will not rob the western church of its intellectual
vitality. I believe the opposite is true. With a focus on Kingdom
thinking and seeing the invisible church as well as the visible, we
have an understanding of the church that is higher and deeper.
Transition characterizes the times in which we live. Writer Walter Bruggeman speaks of the massive changes taking place in Western culture. He states, "I believe we are in a season of transition when we are watching the collapse of the world as we have known it … the value systems and the shapes of knowledge through which we have controlled life are now in great jeopardy." The rate of social, economic, political and religious change escalates unabated.
The church is being pushed more and more to the margins of society. It can no longer assume a role as the arbitrator of societal values and regulator of cultural norms. Though many bemoan the loss of cozy relationships with cultural structures, a return to the past is not possible. Just as the children of Israel had the options to search for the old paths during its Babylonian exile or to look forward to a new and different future, so the church is confronted with the same options.
"The dominant consciousness must be radically criticized and the dominant community must be finally dismantled. The purpose of an alternative community with an alternative consciousness is for the sake of that criticism and dismantling." Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, 1978
"To address the issue of truth greatly reduced requires us to be poets who speak against the prose world. The terms of that phrase are readily misunderstood. By prose I refer to a world that is organized in simple formulae, so that even pastoral prayers and love letters sound like memos. By poetry, I do not mean rhyme, rhythm or meter, but language that moves like Bob Gibson's fast ball, that jumps at the right moment, that breaks open old worlds with surprise, abrasion and pace. Poetic speech is the only proclamation worth doing in a situation of reductionism. The only proclamation that is worthy of the name preaching is not moral instruction, or problem solving, or doctrinal clarification. It is not good advice, nor is it romantic caressing, not is it a soothing good humor... It is rather the ready, steady, surprising proposal that the real world in which God invites us to live is not the one made available by the rulers of this age. The preacher has an awesome opportunity to offer an evangelical world: an existence shaped by the news of the gospel. This offer requires special care for words, because the baptized community awaits speech in order to be a faithful people."Brueggman, Finally comes the Poet.
Leonard Sweet, one of the few American church commentators to take culture change seriously, has provided a useful metaphor for the sort of transition which is forced upon Western Christianity in the present era. He describes modernity as a landlocked age dominated by the linearity of maps, whereas:
...the Postmodern Era is a rage for chaos, uncertainty, otherness, openness, multiplicity and change. Postmodern surfaces are not landscapes but wavescapes, with the waters always changing and the surface never the same. The sea knows no boundaries.
Through out God's living and eternal story, He has called people from the desert, the wilderness and from the margins...to speak a language not there own...but that of God Almighty. We live in a time where once again, He calls the prophet to speak into the changing waters...the sea with no boundaries. The language that has everybody leaving the church on a Sunday morning, feeling comfy...is lifeless. When one hears the cry of the prophet, or the words of Christ in the gospels...comfort crumbles into humble repentance and radical change. The status quo is no longer acceptable...only the sovereign reign and power of Christ over all His church will satisfy God Almighty.
We are slow to see what is happening in the Church. God is inviting us to a future that does not include all of our past. The mixed feelings that surround this transformation excite the long dormant gift of prophecy among us. We remember that prophecy is an enduring gift to the people of God. Prophets help us see through the present and the royal arrangement. They urge us to ask what time it is. And they help us grieve: they remind us that new beginnings include painful farewells. They incite us to turn our confusion and depression into lamentation, believing that what is remembered in grief is redeemed and made whole.
In Pastor Ted’s book Dog Training, Fly Fishing, & Sharing Christ in the 21st Century, he describes the church he thinks good Christians want. “I want my finances in order, my kids trained, and my wife to love life. I want good friends who are a delight and who provide protection for my family and me should life become difficult someday . . . I don’t want surprises, scandals, or secrets . . . I want stability and, at the same time, steady, forward movement. I want the church to help me live life well, not exhaust me with endless ‘worthwhile’ projects.” By “worthwhile projects” Ted means building funds and soup kitchens alike. It’s not that he opposes these; it’s just that he is sick of hearing about them and believes that other Christians are, too. He knows that for Christianity to prosper in the free market, it needs more than “moral values”—it needs customer value.( via Mike todd @ Waving or Drowning )
Could this be why Church makes the front page of Business Week Magazine...
Paul's vision of community...Colossians 3:12-17
What does a community renewed in knowledge according to the image of the Creator look like? It looks like the Creator. It "images" this God. How? By embodying in its communal life the virtues that are formed by this God's story.
Paul calls the community members to " clothe themselves " with certain values. They are called, if you will, to drape themselves, surround themselves, present themselves with and embody the character traits of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness and love. They are called to be a people rooted in and dedicated to peace, living lives characterized by gratitude, wisdom and worship...an act of worship that our lives, the life of the community is one of living sacrifice. The tension comes when living sacrifices want to climb of the altar. While there is merit in attending to each of these virtues in turn, it is important that we first get a sense of the whole. In this passage Paul conjures up a sense of the style and ethos of a particular type of community, shaped by a particular story...a biblical story of hope and reconciliation of all things.
In Paul's vision this community not only abandons the discourse of violence and exclusion that characterizes the empire; it manifests an ethos that embraces the pain of the world, a compassion, a shared passion, that pays attention to the deepest brokeness of its human and nonhuman neighbors. This is an ethic of compassion, because the God of Israel revealed in Jesus is a God of compassion who hears his people's cry and knows their suffering ( Ex 3:7 ). Jesus calls his followers to be compassionate and just as their Father is compassionate (see Lk 6:36 ).
In contrast to the coldhearted bottom line of profit margins and market shares, Paul envisions a community that places something as ineffeicient and unprofitable as kindness at it heart.
In stark antithesis to the self-assurd bravado of the modernest or postmodernest self-constructed ego, this community values meekness...replacing the clenched fist of self-protection with an open hand of welcome and service. It abandons the arrogance of cybernetic mastery and global economic dominance for the humility of people who recognize that the fruit of creation is recieved as a gift from the hand of the Creator. Only in such humility is there the possiblilty of a wisdom that can never be achieved through the mere accumulation of information. The immediate gratifiication of insatiable desire has no hold on a community that is suffused with patience. We are here for the long haul, we measure time in terms of eternity, and our hope is for the restoration of all creation. And since we know who finally accomplishes such a restoration, we can afford to be patient...waiting in hope.
This is not a naive or romantic view of community. Community can only be sustained in an ethos of forgiveness. Paul uses the word forgive three times in one sentence, because he know community is only possible where there is forgiveness. Forgiveness must characterize this community restored in the image of its Creator precisely beacuse its very existence is founded on the forgiveness that has set it free from the empire ( Col 1:13 ). When people manifest the the vices Paul has just called the Colossians to put off rather than the virtues he enjoins them to clothe themselves in, the path of healing, reconcilation and renewal will not be through condemnation but through forgiveness. A community is a place where people " bear with one another " in repeated forgiveness.
Such forbearance is possible, however, only when there are deep resourses of love. Paul portrays love as the garment that wraps it all together, beacuse he knows that love holds the very creation together. Wendell Berry puts it this way:
I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love. I believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world, summons the world always towards wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with God.
It is such love, in the face of all the violence, selfishness, narcissism and self-enclosure of our times, that establishes community and sustains it.
For this community, it all begins and it all ends with Christ. " Christ is all and in all." When the community so indwells His story that its very imagination is transformed by this narrative and its daily life in the empire embodies these counter-imperial traits, " whatever " thsi community does, " in word or deed " will be done " in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him " ( Col 3:17 ).
Again, the comprehensive nature of Paul's vision must not be missed. What ever we do... voting or shopping, writting a poem or a check, shaping educational ciricula or a sculpture, establishing a household or a business, having babies or caring for the elderly, paying taxes or lobbying the government, singing paraises or singing the blues, making a film or making a pie, buiding a house for the homeless or protecting an endangered species...will be done in the name of the Lord Jesus and will thereby be giving thanks to the Creator in whose image we have been renewed.
a collection of reflections from Brian Walsh's and Sylvia Keesmaat's," Colossians Remixed "... chapter 10, "an ethic of community."
Having picked your way through a rather lengthy post...is this community possible today, was Paul just fantasizing and just put the bar to darn high for anyone to get close to? What are communities today reflecting as far as image goes?
Over the past few years, as the poor got poorer, the health care crisis worsened, wealth and media became more and more concentrated, and our political system was bought out from under us, prophetic faith lost its voice. The religious right drowned everyone else out.
And they hijacked Jesus. The very Jesus who stood in Nazareth and proclaimed, “The Lord has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor.” The very Jesus who told 5000 hungry people that all of you will be fed, not just some of you. The very Jesus who challenged the religious orthodoxy of the day by feeding the hungry on the Sabbath, who offered kindness to the prostitute and hospitality to the outcast, who said the kingdom of heaven belongs to little children, raised the status of women, and treated even the tax collector like a child of God. The very Jesus who drove the money changers from the temple. This Jesus has been hijacked and turned from a champion of the disposed into a guardian of the privileged. Hijacked, he was made over into a militarist, hedonist, and lobbyist…sent prowling the halls of Congress in Guccis, seeking tax breaks and loopholes for the powerful, costly new weapon systems that don’t work, and punitive public policies.
Let’s get Jesus back.
Our times call out for a new spiritual revolution. Our times cry out for a new politics of justice. This is no partisan issue. It doesn’t matter if you’re a liberal or a conservative—God is neither. It doesn’t matter what political party you belong to. God doesn't belong to a political party.
To see whose side God is on go to Deuteronomy to read: “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor…Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do.” Go to the Psalms and read: “For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy…From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.” Throughout our sacred text it is the widow and the orphan, the poor and the stranger who are blessed in the eyes of the Lord; it is kindness, relief and mercy that prove the power of faith, and justice that measures the worth of state. Poverty and justice are religious issues. Kings are judged on how the poor fare under their rule; prophets speak to the gap between the rich and the poor as a reason for God’s judgment.
Jesus in the Gospels, and in the earliest Christian communities ( Pre-Constantine ) there was huge separation between earthly empires and God's Kingdom...these alternative christian communities subverted the earthly empires not by violence or force...but by compassion and love. They were the living reality of the kingdom to come.
And Jesus moves among the disinherited. In one of the greatest sermons ever preached we hear from his own lips: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me.”
Let’s get Jesus back. Let’s recover the faith that takes on the corruption of power. A faith that challenges complacency at both parties. Jesus drove the money changers from the temple of Jerusalem. We must drive them from the temples of democracy.
But let’s do it in love.
Let us love our neighbor, but let’s not allow him to poison our well—from ignorance or intent. Let us love our enemy, even as we resist his aggression. We cannot defeat the terrorists if we become like them. We cannot stand up to the religious right if we imitate them.
And it’s true—theological formulations give shape to our beliefs. Doctrine provides a foundation to our faith. But when the church was young and fair, and people passed by her doors, they did not comment on the difference or the doctrines. Those stern and taciturn pagans said of the first Christians: “How they love one another!” It started soon after the death of Jesus. His disciple Peter said to the first churches, “Above all things, have unfailing love toward one another.”
St. Augustine shows us how: “One loving soul sets another on fire.”
Thoughts and reflection by Bill Moyer as He spoke at Riverside Church in 2004, To read and hear more go here...
Ouch!!! You sort of easily forget when you have a blog...you can become a stationary target. I recieved a not so gracious e-mail from a first time visitor. I could cut and paste the e-mail along with the address, but that wouldn't make me much better than the person who sent it. But if I could sum up the content and intent of the letter it would be something like this;
If I have nothing good to say about the church, I should just keep my mouth shut. People like me are just trouble makers in the church...and the church would be better of without people like me.
Now, I would be lying if I said when I first read it, that I didn't get a little angry. But, the person does have right to their opinion, and if others feel the same way, I ask for your forgiveness. I love the church with all my heart and soul...as I love Jesus. In my critic, I challenge the church to be the worthy bride of Christ, to envoke questions, coversation and discussion.
And on the topic of the "emerging church", which people either seem to love or hate. It has become so many different things, to so many different people. Maybe we could just say, " fresh expressions " of church. In a world that has become so open to communication, people who just sat in the pews of churches are now having conversations about everything in the structure of " church." This is a good thing. There seems to be a move towards new monasticism...smaller christ centered communities. I am part of denominational church and a fresh expression of doing church in a Cafe'. At this time I see value in both.
Years ago when I was a kid, you could only buy " leaded gas ".there was no other choice or option. But then " unleaded gas " came on the scene, it was more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly. But the revelation for me is, there was a time when both were available, atleast until most of the older leaded burning vehicles were gone. Now there is only " un-leaded gas."
That is sort of where I see the church now, I think it is important the older, traditional, denoninational churches embrace these fresh expressions of church. The important thing also is, that these fresh expressions of church also learn from the ancient faith, and take that which is most precious and of the greatest value to the Kingdom. And that the church would again enthrone Christ as the sovereign ruler over all.
I'll leave with this timely quote...
"The reign of Christ is jeopardized when any organizational structure becomes an end in itself This happens whenever the institution places all its energy in its own maintenance. When the visible church is primarily concerned with its image, its growth, its success, and its security, then it is ripe for conversion to the reign of Christ, who lays bare and sets aside all these idols. Just as flirtation with false gods remained a continual problem for Israel, the Christian community must contend constantly with temptations that would set up idols to replace Christ the King."
If you read one blog today...please read this post from Alan Creech
Fastest-growing Christian movements in the world are outside traditional denominationalism - 20,000 'Neo-Apostolics' Networks & Movements
While researching his soon to be published book 'Apostolic Genius', Alan Hirsch, author of 'The Shaping of Things to Come' "stumbled upon some extremely notable, even astonishing, discoveries by important observers of the global Christian scene." Already in 2001, Professor David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson mentioned that there were already 111 million Christians without a traditional local church.
Barrett highlights particularly the development of the so-called 'Neo-Apostolic' networks and movements, of which there are already over 20,000 around the world, numbering around 394 million Christians. According to Barrett, these Christians reject historical denominationalism and all restrictive central authority, and attempt to lead a life of following Jesus, seeking a more effective missionary lifestyle.
They are the fastest-growing Christian movements in the world. Barrett estimates that by the year 2025, these movements will have around 581 million members, 120 million more than all Protestant movements together.
Hirsh, who has invited all of Australia's missionary movements to a conference in Victoria (Forge National Summit, 1-3 July 2005), confirms the trend from his own experience, and believes that these new Christian movements "are simply under the radar of traditional Christianity", at least as long as it holds on to the classical Constantine church structure (pastor + building + programme = church)...Link
I have decided not to fall in love with God's hand in my life, but with His heart, and His heart only. I have decided to live my life from the heart of Jesus. I have decided to make my home in the center of the world, in the heart of God himself...and in the hope of the Kingdom to come. I have discovered this heart of God in Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, in this Jesus who said to Nicodemus, "Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the future Kingdom of God."
I have experienced Him in myself, how He came to me and said to me too, "When you are crucified with me through the Spirit of God, then the Spirit of God's future has come to you." Where Jesus is present, there is the Kingdom of God. Where Jesus is, we are able to defy the existing state of affairs and live according to the nature of the future Kingdom of God. Where Jesus is present, we can dare to live from love alone. When Jesus is present, we can perceive in Him the Spirit of community that makes us identify with all men and stand with them. Where Jesus is revealed, we become people of community, people of love.
But how do we come to Jesus? To experience the heart of God we need Jesus; to experience Jesus, we need that moment in which His heart was wholly sacrificed. It was a moment in Jesus' life when He sealed the surrender of His life with His last drop of blood, when His eyes dimmed and His heart broke. It was the hour when He comforted the criminal. It was Golgotha. Golgotha is that point of time when we come into pure, unclouded fellowship with God's eternity, God's heart, God's love. The hill of Golgotha is the window through which we can look from this darkened earth into the light-world of God's heart...it is where I'm blinded by the Glory of the Kingdom and have eyes for nothing else. When we discover this moment of divine mystery...we discover what it is to be created anew.
Immediacy--and divine experience is immediacy--exists only in the moment, because what I experienced once upon a time I may have forgotten, and what the future holds I cannot know with certainty in every detail. But what the moment gives me I know and have and am certain about. Only the moment is alive.