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Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Lectionary Scriptures: Ezekiel 37:1-14, Psalm 104:24-34 & 35b, Romans 8:22-27, John 15:26-27 & 16:4b-15 In John’s Gospel when Jesus is before Pilate (in John 18:37-38, not this Sunday’s lesson), Jesus says to him, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." Pilate responds by asking him a question, "What is truth?" It’s a question that is worth asking in any day at any time. There are many out there who have a ready, supposedly definitive, answer. Many wise thinkers, including some of my mentors, have said that it is not so much giving the right answers as it is asking the right questions. In that way of thinking, living as human beings, seeking our fullest potential, is a lifelong process of answering the question—or questions—as one book title has it: Living the Questions. Ephesians 4:15 calls us to speak the truth in love. Many commentators have noted that "the word ‘speaking’ is not in the text. Literally . . . it is ‘truthing in love,’ and includes maintaining, living and doing the truth." An older form of the word truth is "troth," a word which could also be used as a verb, "trothing." In traditional wedding ceremonies, couples often pledged their troth to each other; they were "betrothed," agreeing to live in a relationship of truth. In the conversation with Pilate quoted at the beginning of this blog, Jesus says that his purpose on this earth was "to testify to the truth." In another place in the same gospel (John 14:6) Jesus says, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." It is not about Jesus speaking the truth. He is the truth. He lives the truth. He embodies the truth. Truth is about more than Jesus’ teachings. It is something that we learn by being in relationship with him, by entering into conversation with him, by letting him love us. Jesus understood that there would be a time when people could not literally walk and talk with him. In today’s lectionary reading from the Gospel According to John he speaks to that reality, pointing us to a spiritual relationship. He promises an Advocate, who is "the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father." (John 15:26) We could get bogged down in a lengthy analysis of the nature of the Holy Spirit and the best words to use to describe the Spirit of God embodied in Jesus. In this passage Jesus speaks of "the Spirit of truth" who "will guide you into all truth." (John 16:13) John keeps coming back to the theme of truth in his portrayal of Jesus until it culminates in Pilate’s question, "What is truth?" Truth is not something that can be easily codified, put into a creed to which all are expected to subscribe. It is something into which we are constantly being led. We don’t have it all yet, but we have a spiritual connection of Love which will continue to help truth grow within us and in our relationships. Truthing is an ongoing process. The lectionary reading from Romans 8:22-27 talks about something groaning within us struggling to be born. It notes that we are sometimes at a loss for words. But the Spirit is still at work "with sighs too deep for words." It is part of the Spirit’s work leading us into an ever-growing relationship of truth. When we ask the question, "What is truth?" we begin with an attitude of humility, realizing that we do not know it all, never will. To be related to God is not about having all the answers. It is about being connected with a Spirit who will help us live with and in and through the questions. I find that a lot more exciting that reciting a creed! Pentecost is not about capturing some creed or experience from the past. It is about the living Spirit of truth leading us into the future when we "will know fully, even as" we "have been fully known." In the meantime "we see in a mirror, dimly" and "know only in part." (I Corinthians 13:12)
Monday, May 18, 2009
IN BUT NOT OF THE WORLD - THOUGHTS ON THE LECTIONARY READINGS FOR SUNDAY, APRIL 24 - BY JIM OGDEN Lectionary Readings for Sunday, April 24: Acts 1:13-17, 21-26, Psalm 1:1-6, I John 5:9-13, John 17:6-19 I don’t know what Rick will be preaching on this Sunday, but here’s what two of the lectionary scriptures (from I John and the Gospel According to John) brought to my mind. Two books from the late 1950s and early 1960s offer perspectives that are still needed: In But Not of the World by Robert W. Spike and The Eternal Now by Paul Tillich. The question to ponder is, How is eternity part of our everyday experience and what difference does it make? The promise of eternal life has been seen by many to be central to Christianity. The reading from I John comes near the end of that epistle and says, in chapter 5, verse 13, "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life." Just before that, he has declared "God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life." But what is life? How do we know that we are alive? What are the signs of life? Paul Tillich, one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century, once preached a sermon entitled, The Eternal Now, included in a book of the same name. His perspective on eternity is that it is always experienced in the present moment, in the now. " . . . every moment," he says, "reaches into the eternal . . . sometimes it breaks powerfully into our consciousness and gives us the certainty of the eternal, of a dimension of time which cuts into time and gives us our time." The title of Spike’s little book, In But Not of the World, comes from John, chapter 17: Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, and those who would come after him, including what we now call the church. We could debate whether Jesus every actually prayed this prayer as we have it today. Probably not, in my opinion, but it’s spirit fits my understanding and experience of the Spirit of Jesus. Jesus is facing his impending death and offers his prayers for those who will carry on the work after him. The part of the prayer that gives Spike’s book its title, In But Not of the World, is found in verses 14 and following. " . . . they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world." Jesus sees us as being like him in that we are in this world, but not of it. Robert Spike reminds us that the church that it is called to bring a dimension to life that might be called "eternal." Jesus has begun the prayer, in John 17:3, by declaring to the Father that, "this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." But eternity is not something off in the future. It is a dimension of life in the here and now, something that touches us daily so that we are in but not of the world. Jesus says much about "The Kingdom of God" and "The Kingdom of Heaven," used somewhat interchangeably, and scholars will debate interpretations until, as they says, "the kingdom comes." The problem with that debate is that the kingdom is already here. In Luke 17:20 and following, Jesus says, "The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you." Eternity is right here, all around us, within us, if we pay attention. When we do, we are the leaven of God, in but not of the world. Returning to Paul Tillich’s sermon on The Eternal Now we hear these words, " . . . praying means elevating oneself to the eternal. In fact, there is no other way of judging time than to see it in the light of the eternal. In order to judge something, one must be partly within it, partly out of it." Robert Spike and Paul Tillich both ended their careers while teaching at the University of Chicago, dying within a year of each, in 1966 and 1965 respectively. There was something in the air at that time about both the shortcomings and possibilities of the church and its people. At about the same time, George Webber wrote two books:: God’s Colony in Man’s World and Today’s Church: A Community of Exiles and Pilgrims." We are called to be in but not of the world, breathed upon by eternity, breathing it in and exhaling it in ways that bring life, the life of the Spirit of Jesus, to the world, because, "God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life." (I John 5:11-12) At the end of the lectionary reading from the Gospel According to John, Jesus prays, "As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world." We are the continuation of his mission. Let’s consider being the eternal now in today’s world. In his sermon on The Eternal Now, Paul Tillich writes: "Can a nation or any other social group have genuine repentance? Can it separate itself from the curses of the past? On this possibility rests the hope of a nation. The history of Israel and the history of the church show that it is possible and they also show that it is rare and extremely painful. Nobody knows whether it will happen to this nation. But we know that its future depends on the way it will deal with its past, and whether it can discard into the past elements which are a curse!" This, for Tillich, and for us, was/is part of the challenge of being the eternal now.
Friday, May 15, 2009
Music can be one of the most uniting forces in human relationships, reaching across the walls that separate nations and cultures. This Sunday, May 17, worship will be almost entirely music. We are hosting the Chehalem String Quartet, which includes Tatiana Kolchanova-Parente as first violinist. We have appreciated the music that Tatiana and her husband have brought to us on several earlier occasions. What kind of music do you like? What touches your soul? One of the delights of instrumental music is that it moves us beyond words. It is as if it exists already in the world of spirit. Religion for some is a “head” thing; it is captured in words. It is true that words can reach deep within, stirring feelings and connections that inspire and comfort and challenge, but sometimes we become dependent upon, get hung up or stuck on them. With instrumental music there is nothing but the sounds and the spaces between the sounds, the rhythms and tempos that speak of the heartbeat of life itself. I’ve come to appreciate a great variety of musical styles and genres, finding in them the presence of something divine. The sights and sounds of Eastern Orthodox worship celebrate the living presence we call Resurrection. I once went to a conference where, after the majestic opening organ prelude, I turned to person next to me and said, “I could go home now and have gotten everything I need and felt it was well worth the registration fee.” I’ve been moved by music in its various forms here at Kairos-Milwaukie. There is lots of musical talent here, including more use of the chimes soon. A little over a week ago, we attended the lecture by Archibishop Desmond Tutu, which was preceded by an hour-long concert featuring instruments and voices across many cultural and religious lines. Put together by Darrell Grant, Professor of Music at Portland State University, it was called “Voices of Reconciliation.” Some of it featured works from his album, Truth and Reconciliation, including a poem from “The Geography of Music (I Am Music)” spoken “over his soft, steady piano riffs and some percussion.” Here are a few lines from that poem: I am music/Worship I raise in human hearts/Bonds of peace for jaws of hatred/Spirits I comfort, minds I soothe/Truth to all I serve/I am music. If you want to check out more of his work go to http://www.darrellgrant.com/truth_and_reconciliation Here are a few lines from another poem of the same name (“I Am Music”) this time by Allan C. Inman: I AM MUSIC, most ancient of the arts. + I am more than ancient; I am eternal. + Even before life commenced upon this earth, I was here in the winds and the waves. + In all ages I have inspired men with hope, kindled their love, given a voice to their joys, cheered them on to valorous deeds, and soothed them in times of despair. + Through my influence human nature has been uplifted, sweetened and refined. + I have myriads of voices and instruments. I am in the hearts of all men and on their tongues, in all lands and among all peoples; the ignorant and unlettered know me, not less than the rich and learned. + I have taught men gentleness and peace; and I have led them onward to heroic deeds. + I comfort the lonely, and I harmonize the discord of crowds. Again, if you want to see the whole poem or check out more on Inman, go to http://www.bluebookofpianos.com/music Both Grant and Inman remind us of the universal power and appeal of music. Take a moment (maybe several moments on more than one day) to meditate on the ways in which you have been touched by music.
Monday, May 04, 2009
Margie’s preaching this Sunday, May 10. It’s Mother’s Day and she’s chosen texts that fit the day—Proverbs 23:22-25 and I John 4:7-12. I’m not going to comment on them. You can look them up and read them, if you want. We have a great variety of experiences with mothers—some good, some not so good. And, of course, not everyone is a mother, not even every woman—and there are varieties of mothering arrangements—adoptive, step, and others. I think Margie’s emphasis will be upon the fact that we all had a mother—but even within that assertion there is great variety. Some never knew their biological mothers. Some were abused. So, what does it mean to be a good mother or father, and, how does our understanding of mother or father inform our understanding and experience of God, and vice-versa? The God most of us have heard about has been depicted as a father, sometimes stern, sometimes compassionate and loving. Many of us have become aware that, when someone has been the victim of a violent and brutal father, describing God as a father is not helpful. Most of us, I imagine, have moved beyond seeing God only in male terms. God is beyond male and female, yet those images are part of the way we understand relationships. Some of us have come to appreciate images of God drawn from the feminine side of humanity, but to call God “mother” doesn’t help if our experience of mother has been less than positive. What positive images can the “feminine” bring to our understanding of God? There are a number of scriptures that picture God as a mother. Here are some of them that may help further the discussion: In Isaiah 66:13, God says, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” And again in Isaiah 49:15, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” And my favorite, Jesus, through whose life and teaching we see God, says of the people of Jerusalem, in Luke 13:34, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” These speak of the comforting, nurturing, compassionate aspect of the best of motherhood to remind us that God is, indeed, Love, as state in I John 1:8, part of one of Margie’s texts for Sunday. Mothers (and fathers) also providing strong role models, teaching curiosity, encouraging creativity and self-development, demonstrating justice and reconciliation, and on and on—enough for several blogs. Are they not all expressions of love? Finally, coming at the whole subject from the opposite direction, we might ask how biblical, and other, descriptions of God as mother or father can and/or do inform our understanding of what it means to be a good parent? If we truly experience God as Love at work in our lives, can that not guide us in our mothering and fathering and all other types of relating and relationship?
Friday, May 01, 2009
Hi, this is Jim Ogden. Rick noted last week that he would be off the air for a while. He asked if I wanted to pick it up in the interim. I said I'd try. You don't know it, but this is my third try to get my words even posted. If you see this, it worked. I'll probably just follow the custom of commenting on lectionary passages, although sometimes I may be inspired to do something else. We'll just have to wait and see. Will start in the next few days.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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