thinking theology

Archive for June, 2017

Renovations in Discipleship

Reflection on Matthew 9:35-10:8

In Matthew 9:35-10:8, we read about Jesus’ commission to the disciples. Unlike the idea of a message for the nations, this set of expectations is about renovating one’s own home first. Jesus compares the needs of the communities they visit with their capacity to respond. The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few. In Exodus 18, Moses’ father in law reminds Moses that the work of leadership, must be shared to be effective. Similarly, Jesus tells the disciples that they are to go into the villages, not as judges but as healing servants.

Jesus recognizes the consequences of feeling powerless and disrupted, so he encourages the disciples to rouse again the hope of Israel. Their task is to remind the people of their sacred calling as the people of righteousness, the people of mercy and compassion. The task is not at this point to align themselves with the messengers from other faiths and nations, but to restore the vision and mandate of God’s chosen.

If the villagers refuse the help, the spectre of destruction and judgement that the names Sodom and Gomorrah evoke, will be all that is left of their hope. It is a harvest of tears and despondency or a harvest of new beginnings. They will become a people of ashes and judgement or hear and respond to the good news of restoration and renewed purpose. The disciples are to invite the villagers to live in the light of hope and promise of liberation and health, by the example they set of courage and service.

For ourselves in our time, we might want to ask if we have set our own homes in order. Do we believe that by service, by faith, that we can reflect the light of Christ? Or do we look harassed and lost? Are we waiting for a shepherd, or are we ready to pick up the instruments of the harvest: healing, vision, hard work, encounter with change? Are we committed to the harvest or are we hiding, expecting disaster and failure? Are we the people of the resurrection, the people of the outrageous Spirit, or did we forget to leave the tomb?



I would like to offer this empowering poem by Marge Piercy, “The low road:”

What can they do to you?
…They can do anything
you can’t stop them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.

But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter,
ten thousand, power and your own paper,
a hundred thousand, your own media,
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

Trinity: Where We Meet the Divine

Trinity Sunday, a day senior pastors hand off to junior clergy, a day when children are offered inexplicable and unscientific explanations of a mystery, a day when we sometimes want to detach our intellects from our faith. Over the years, however, I have come to appreciate the idea of the trinity.

The concept of a trinity developed aa a way to explain the nature of the Jesus of history and the Christ of theology. The council of Nicaea in 325 created the confession of faith that we use now as a way of settling the various arguments. Before and after, theologians continued to look into both Hebrew and Christian scripture to explain their stances.

What are we to do with this? If we resist thinking of theTrinity as a thing and more as a focus for consideration, I think it becomes a useful formula for us. I am going to suggest a way to think about the Trinity and invite you to test your own thoughts too.

Basically, I tend to think of “god” as the mystery that both inhabits every atom of the earth and surrounds the earth with blessing. I think of Jesus as the human expression of the divine. In other words, as Marcus Borg said, “If God filled a human, this is how they would be.”  The Spirit is the force that has ultimate freedom to awe, to invite, to inspire, to connect the deep presence of the divine of all that is and to help us to experience that oneness in our own lives.

So, to find words or ideas to express this and to test our theological positions, I propose this exercise: Trinity as…
a noun: Lover, Beloved, Love
a verb: recreate, relate, communicate
an adjective: mysterious, compassionate, exciting
a colour: blue, green, silver

These are my reactions to this question, now. To explain them tells me how I am experiencing the Holy right now, what has the greatest focus for me right now. Sallie McFague, the eco-theologian, in her book A New Climate for Theology, says,

As I have come to realize that we all live and move and have our being in God, the names of each person, species, creature, and element are superimposed over God’s name. God is reality; God is the source of reality of each of us. Panentheism — seeing the world as in God — puts God’s “name” first, but each of our names are included and preserved in their distinctiveness within the divine reality.

The Trinity then is a synthesis of who and where we meet the divine, in the world, in our minds and imaginations, in other people, and in the experiences that are beyond speech or definition.

And finally, from Sallie McFague again:

We meet God in and through the world, if we are ever to meet God. God is not out there or back there or yet to be, but hidden in the most ordinary things of our ordinary lives. If we cannot find the transcendent in the world, in its beauty and its suffering, then for us bodily, earthy creatures it is probably not to be found at all.

So what does that mean from the passage from Matthew:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

What kind of disciples are we to make? Somewhat prosaically we have thought it meant making more Christians, but what if the intention has a wider focus? What if we are called to invite others and participate with others in seeing the holiness that surrounds and permeates our lives? What if we are to be earth disciples, shielding God’s garden from further harm and healing what has already been done? What if we are to be the protectors of all the vulnerable, acting out Jesus’ radical inclusivity of love and concern for all people? What if we are called to abandon our obsessive self concern and open ourselves to living in the unprotected, wild whirlwind of the Spirit? Maybe we are not called to believe in the Trinity but act in the Trinity, to display in our lives who to love, how to see ourselves and everyone else as beloved, to free ourselves from the ramshackle debris of the past and open ourselves to a new world that has peace and justice as its political platform, that values human life above all forms of violence, that takes seriously God’s desire for us all to become christ-like without necessarily becoming christians.

What if this is the question the doctrine of the Trinity presents to us?

The Spirit of Change and Hope

It is the anniversary of Pentecost, 50 days after Easter or, possibly, even many years later. The narrative is set at the time of the Jewish festival of Shavuot, one of three agrarian festivals. It also became the time when people celebrated the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. This is important because it gives us room to speculate about what the events in Acts want to reveal to us.

At Shavuot, the land owners would bring the first wheat harvest, which meant that the poor had the opportunity to harvest from the edges of the fields to feed themselves. The commandment of Torah was to remember the poor always because all people were poor once. So the themes of the festival were gratitude for abundance, for God’s steadfast love, and God’s justice for all. The Book of Ruth would be read to remind people that everyone was also once a stranger, an outsider, who was embraced by God. In a story in the Book of Numbers, the Spirit of the Lord falls upon seventy elders in the camp, and also two young men outside the camp to share the burden of prophecy with Moses. When the young men start to prophesy in the camp rather than in the tent of meeting, Joshua is scandalized, but Moses says to let them be.That means that God’s Spirit is not contained by the designated holy place, nor by the elders. In fact the Spirit rests where it will and cannot be contained or restrained.

This feast provides a wonderful opportunity for Luke to write about how a group of sometimes inept, poorly educated, frightened fishermen, became a force to shake the world. Our story begins with them gathered together in Jerusalem. They have probably been talking about the feast and its themes. Morning breaks and as it does, they experience the holy Spirit rushing through them reminding them of what Jesus called them to do in his name. Immediately, like the young men outside the camp, or like Ruth, they are possessed with courage and the need to speak of …what? What do they say that everyone can hear with their ears, but not all with their hearts and souls? Remember those themes of Shavuot: God’s love for all people. generosity for the poor, justice, God’s freedom to raise up and to lower. We know who would be scandalized. Anyone who prefers the needs of the comfortable to the needs of the poor; anyone who thinks people can be sorted into categories by gender, class, age, or ethnicity; anyone who thinks that having a vision of a healthy earth at peace with justice for all, is naive or misguided. Those people will complain and scoff.

But we, with those fishermen, are invited to hold the vision of Jesus like a fire leading us on, like a cleansing wind that brings fresh air behind it, We are called to speak the words of hope and promise to anyone who can hear the language of compassion and healing. We can leave the confines of the house where we have hidden. We can be all in the open with our message that welcomes and includes, that promises forgiveness for everyone: life that is more real than death.

Sometimes in the church, when we have been through a time of despair, when it seems as if there is no hope, we might want to remember that the Spirit will ignite us again. It is after all not our message but the message and the mission of Christ that matters. Everything may be remade, everything may change in what seems like the blink of an eye, But it is the Spirit who leads us and it is the Spirit who will give us the words, the courage, and the energy to work for the city of God where all are welcome.